Anything really is possible.
This race report unusually starts 21 months earlier in the first week of January 2016 when I found myself lying in a French hospital bed – recovering from an operation to pin and plate my shattered tibial plateau – six pins and a titanium dinner plate required to keep the scrambled egg that was now the top of my left knee together. My left wrist was not much better with three pins and a plate but at least my hand no longer dangled uselessly and my fingers still worked.
The next day was my darkest day – in pain and unable to even get out of bed the doctor explained to me the scale of my injuries and that I had a very long recovery ahead of me – I could not put ANY weight on my left leg for 3 months and after that another 3 months of intensive physio before I could expect to walk again. – SIX months before I could walk again. For someone used to training 10+ hours a week that was going to be tough.
I desperately needed a goal to keep me going through what was going to be a very difficult year. I should explain that I had completed my first Ironman just 3 months earlier in Mallorca and I had made a right mess of it – walking the last 6 miles and coming in just over 15 hours. Then it suddenly came to me – that was it – I would do another Ironman and I would complete it is sub 15 hours. After all I figured – if I was going to do one, I may as well aim for a PB!
Something about the scale of the challenge and the fact that no one thought I would actually be able to do it made it the perfect goal. Aspirational, out of reach and frankly ridiculous! What followed was 21 months of hard work, pain and sheer bloody minded determination not to give up.
There are so many people who I am grateful to for helping me get through those 21 months that this would be a very boring article were I attempt to list them all but 3 people do deserve a special mention. Ed Nicolson my Personal trainer who as a qualified Physio at York District hospital was brilliantly qualified to help rebuild the strength and mobility in my left leg and wrist. Steve from Off that Couch – who had to build a very long training plan to get me to the start line of the Barcelona Ironman – “trust in the plan – stick to the plan” became our mantra ! Finally my sister Tess who runs the fabulous Tessfit in Devon – her encouragement and input on all matters physical, emotional and nutritional was invaluable.
Between the three of them (and over 600 hours of training) they managed to rebuild me. Standing on the start line on 30th September 2017 was quite an emotional experience – although to be honest I was rather distracted by the thought of what lay ahead.
My plan was pretty simple – swim the 2.2 miles in 1 hour 20 mins – 10 mins in T1 – (I know shocking but I have always been terrible at “the fourth discipline”. ) So I wanted to be on the bike for 1 hour 30 mins after starting. Aiming for an average speed of 18mph on the 111 mile bike leg to get that done in 6 hours 20 min – 10 mins in T2 – on the run 8 hours into the race – a 5 hour marathon -my leg injury meant I had to run/walk the entire marathon. To give me a target time of 13 hours.
I was doing the race with a good friend called Mark – this would be his first Ironman and he was targeting a sub 12 hour time. We were evenly matched on the swim and bike however he has the advantage of two fully functional legs so was always going to be faster on the run than me. He is also taller, leaner and fitter than me but I am sure that has nothing to do with it !!
We had done the Barcelona 70.3 earlier in the year as part of our preparation and had bumped into each other in T2 –He ended up finishing half an hour before me so we were expecting to be neck and neck until the run and then for him to put something like an hour into me on the marathon.
The swim was a tale of two halves for me – It was a single lap course – out and back along the coast. The outward leg was fine – I was sighting well and could see the yellow buoys clearly but I as I turned from home I couldn’t see any buoys – I was just swimming between the safety kayaks and some other swimmers I could see. I thought just keep going and looking up every other breath and you will see the buoy soon enough. It just didn’t happen! I could feel someone on my feet and felt like stopping and telling them not to follow me because I was lost!!Eventually I saw the buoy and it was WAY off to my right – I started to head diagonally towards it but was cursing as I had clearly gone way too far to the left not helped by the current which I only then remembered would be pushing me to the left!! I ploughed on pushing myself harder than I had planned in an effort to make up for the additional distance I now knew I would be swimming.
Eventually we turned for the shore and scrambled up the beach – I checked my watch 1 hour and 17 mins. Happy with that – especially as my watch told me I had swam 400m further than I needed to – I tried not to focus on the fact that I could have done a sub 1 hour 10 min swim had I not got lost and rather just focused on getting through T1.
T1 – well let’s just say there was room for improvement and perhaps blow drying my hair was a mistake but I still managed to get on my bike 1 hour and 30 mins after the start so that was job done for swim and T1 !!
The Ride on the Barcelona Ironman was meant to be fast and it was going to be even faster now as the cycle route had been changed at the last minute back to the original two and half laps straight along the coast route as part of the negotiations to let the event go ahead despite the independence referendum taking place the next day. We had been told during the race briefing that The race had actually been cancelled when Catalonia announced the independence referendum but that Ironman had managed to persuade the authorities to let it go ahead by bringing it forward a day to Sat 30th and changing the bike course.
The ride was manic – 3000+ cyclists on a very fast two and a half lap course meant that at times it was pretty scary. I just kept my head down focused on keeping safe and ridding to my target Normalised power.
Steve had worked hard with me to drive up my FTP level and Ed had done a lot of work on my aero position – I was also wearing shoe covers, shin covers and had shaved any part of me that was going to see light of day! I had decided against wearing my aero helmet the day before as I was worried about getting too hot – a decision I regretted as the clouds rolled in halfway through the ride!
As I hit half way I couldn’t believe my average speed was +20mph. I checked my NP that was in range, my heart rate was fine – I was just on a flyer. I was worried I would put too much into the ride and blow up on the run like last time so watched my power for the last half very carefully. I was also careful to keep the fuel and hydration levels topped up as I always found it hard to fuel on the run without dire gastro consequences!!
I finished the ride sub 5 hours 40 mins – that was 40 mins faster than planned with an average speed of 19.8mph. I was very happy with that and felt I had more than made up for my extra long swim and slow T1.
T2 wasn’t too shabby – I was half expecting to bump into Mark reckoning that I must have caught him up by now. Alas no sign of him – damn I thought he must be just ahead of me and I would never catch him on the run!
I set off on my marathon sticking to my long-term plan of running 9 mins – walking 1 min. This was the Plan My physio and I had settled on to enable my titanium Knee to cope with the distance. After that ride it was hard not to get carried away but every time I had gone out too fast on my long training runs I had really struggled towards the end and I was determined this time to run/walk the whole marathon and not end up walking the last 6 miles like last time!
About 3 miles in I saw Mark’s wife Laura in the crowd and asked how far ahead Mark was – she told me she had not seen him yet! I couldn’t believe that I was ahead of him so just assumed she must have missed him. I looked out for him as we started to passed people coming back down the other way – the run is a long 3 and a half lap course. No sign of him – I passed the northern turning point and started running back towards the finish line – which you had to pass 3 times before entering the finish funnel. Still no sign of him. Eventually I saw him he was about a mile behind me! That gave me a real boost. I must have passed him on the ride without realising it.
I knew Mark would eventually come past me but I was determined to keep ahead of him for as long as possible – eventually just after the 10 mile point he drew alongside me. It was great to catch up and have someone to talk to and take your mind of the marathon all be it briefly! I run to my Heart rate and it soon became clear there was no way I could keep pace with Mark and keep my heart rate within the range Steve and I had calculated. I also didn’t want to slow him down and damage his chances of getting his sub 12 hour target, So reluctantly I let him go and he accelerated away into the evening light.
After that things went downhill quite quickly. I was approaching the halfway point on the marathon and had stopped to get my nutrition and some hydration tablets from my special needs bag. DISASTER – my special needs bag wasn’t there – I couldn’t believe it. I needed that fuel and I needed those hydration tablets badly. I told myself to calm down obviously, they were there and I was just being an idiot. So, I forced myself to slowly check again and again – nope IT WAS NOT THERE. Now I faced running the last 13 miles without the second half of my long-practiced nutrition plan AND I had wasted what seemed like an age searching for the bag!
My head was a mess – filled with anger, frustration and exhaustion. For the first time in the day my spirits flagged, my head dropped and at that point it started to pour with Rain!!
The next ten miles were the hardest 10 miles I have ever run. I ran for 20 mins without walking – breaking my plan for the first time in the day – I was just too angry to walk – I had wasted so much time looking for that bag !! I came to a fuel station and forced myself to walk through this. After all I needed to rethink my fuel plan on the way through it ! I grabbed half a banana and a cup of Coke – I had NEVER tried drinking Coke on a run before but figured a lot of people swore by it and I needed the fuel without taking on board too many solids.
It was now raining, dark, the roads were covered in puddles, my shoes were soaking wet and I was slowing down. It is fair to say I was not having fun! As I past the finish funnel to start the last Long loop I was shattered. I desperately just wanted to start walking – I figured I could still get sub 13 now even if I walked the last few miles. I have no idea how I managed to keep going over the next few miles. I would look at my watch to find I was only 2 or 3 mins into my 9 min run and then eventually when I got to my 1 min walk it was over all too quickly and I had to force myself to run, telling myself “just run for 9 more mins – one more time “- every time but it was getting harder and harder each time!
Then something rather wonderful happened – I turned around the northern point for the last time and it stopped raining! I was now running TOWARDS THE FINISH line – it might still be 3 miles away but I was running towards the funnel and this time I would be turning right and hearing those words “you are an Ironman”. I started to think back to that day in the French hospital – what a journey I had been on and just how far I had come. I found a new resolve and determination – there was now absolutely NO QUESTION of me walking anything other than my planned 1 min walks and I started to run faster and overtaking people. I suddenly knew I would do it and it all became quite overwhelming – I was now glad for the cover of darkness so no one could see this idiot running through the night with a huge smile on his face and tears running down his face. Ironman events can take you to some very strange places!
The last mile was a buzz like no other. I had been so down half way through the marathon that I wasn’t sure I would manage to finish. I think it as only the thought of all my family and friends watching me on the tracker that kept me going – now here I was smiling and running like it was my first lap not my last. Turn right and into the lights over the finish line at 12 hours and 19 mins. I was an Ironman once again.
Mark was waiting for me at the finish – he had finished in 11 hours and 49 mins so we had both smashed our target times and finished within half an hour of each other. You couldn’t have wiped the smiles of our faces that night if you wanted to!
I am not sure what comes next – I am taking a few weeks off. I have put those closest to me through quite a lot over the last 21 months and for now I just want to give them something back. I could never have done it without them.