Long report ahead sorry!!
I made a deal with my friend Claire in 2015 if she would enter a marathon I would enter a triathlon. Fast forward 2 years; I completed my first triathlon Lincolnshire Edge and a week later did a half Ironman at Steelman. After Steelman I casually mentioned to Steve do you think I am capable of an Ironman and was surprised to hear him say yes! So I went home entered both myself and Craig and began to train for the biggest event of my life. I am quite experienced at endurance events being a marathon runner, but I wasn’t underestimating that this was going to be a massive learning curve for us both. I was willing to do what it took to become an Ironman and that meant trusting Steve to train us.
Training I fell into the routine quite well although it was hard; rest days were quite a mental battle as I felt guilty I wasn’t training. Swimming through winter in a pool is frustrating when you have people that don’t follow pool etiquette and timetables that don’t allow you the time to get your full sessions in, so we did the best with the time we had. Also early morning sessions at 5am on the turbo fasted were interesting.
Luckily with Craig training for the Ironman we were able to support each other & we also have the most amazing support from our friends from running laps of park run in the ice and snow, to the long bike rides in all weathers.
Training started to pay off early on as I found I was PB’ing all my races, so I was getting faster but running a lot less, at one point only 11 miles a week.
3 weeks before Ironman we took part in a Half Distance Triathlon at Hatfield. I had a great race, swimming faster than last year, cycling stronger and having one of the strongest runs off the bike. It gave me so much confidence going into Ironman and after doing 2 recce’s of the Bolton Bike course I felt strong enough to complete the course within the cut offs something that I had been worrying about during all my training.
The week leading up to Ironman was a massive emotional rollercoaster for me. We found out on the Tuesday that the bike course had changed due to the fires that had occurred on Sheep House Lane and to add salt to the wounds the course was going to be cut short by 17 miles and it was still touch and go whether the swim would go ahead due to the blue algae. I was gutted especially when I read all the negative comments from various social media posts saying that even if the swim goes ahead you still won’t become an Ironman because of the bike distance.
The race we had been training towards was looking more and more likely to not be happening. It was emotionally draining, and I had basically made the decision that the whole race was going to end up being a bike/run so I’d given up on the idea of becoming an Ironman. After a pep talk from Steve and some words of encouragement from amazing people I tried to push the negativity back & focus on the race.
Anyways fast forward to Saturday morning…we headed to registration & I felt so queasy and nervous. I didn’t know still at this point if the swim was going ahead and I was starting to doubt my abilities, something I know is completely normal during tapering.
Registration was so efficient, the lady who served me made me feel at ease and gave me an “I will become one” wristband. We then headed to race briefing and were put at complete ease as “Paul Kaye” IM Legend as he briefed us through the day ahead of us. The first thing he talked about was the negativity that was surrounding the 10th anniversary of Ironman UK. He said that no real Ironman would judge someone on the distance given the fact that most Ironman courses are short and the fact it is a huge task to complete one. He basically told us to ignore the negativity, take pride in achieving the end goal and after the new hill they had added we would be glad it was 112 miles as it was tougher – “Oh crap” I have a hill I don’t know if I can get up. He also informed us the swim was going ahead which was such a relief. It then hit home I was going to be doing an ironman the next day.
We then went back to the car filled the individual bags with our kit and headed off to T2 to drop the bag off and familiarise ourselves with the layout; then headed to Pennington Flash to go rack the bikes up. Once racked and we’d deflated the tyres we headed to the swim start. It didn’t look as scary as I thought, and I was stupidly excited about it by now. Tomorrow I will become an Ironman eek!!
After a relaxing afternoon and carb loading at Frankie & Benny’s with friends we headed back to the hotel for an early night. Tomorrow was going to be a long day and we had to be up at 3am.
Why can I not sleep the night before a race? I saw every hour panicking I had slept in and finally got out of bed at 3am. I prepared my porridge, calmly got ready then headed off to Bolton to catch the bus to the start. Probably the quickest I have ever got ready in my life.
I was nervously trying to force down my porridge at 4am which I can tell you is not an easy thing to do and kept looking at other athletes thinking how are you all so calm? We arrived at T1 & headed to the bikes to do our final checks of the bike.
Then it was wetsuit on, drop off special needs bags and finisher kit bag and toilet stop. I was relieved once I had been to the toilet (I’m sure everyone can relate to that) and we then headed to the start zones where our amazing support team were waiting for us.
I lined up in the 1hr 30 pen kissed Craig goodbye then they played the national anthem, followed by with Thunderstruck by AC/DC. I was now in the zone & on my way to the water. I remember entering the water and thinking “Wow it’s like a hot bath” but I just placed myself to the side and I was off. I was straight into a comfortable pace (Steve said start steady and build) but within 100m I got kicked in the face and my goggles moved so I had to stop readjust them and continue. I began reaching out just that little bit more to ensure I wasn’t too close on someone’s feet. I was quite surprised I didn’t panic as it was my worst nightmare so a result for me.
I had a few more near misses and was swum over a few times but I just kicked faster when people got close. Heading back towards the shore the buoys were too small to see with the sun so I just followed everyone else and hoped for the best. I was out at the Australian Exit I seemed to be the only one running when I got out and made up a few places and before I knew it I was back in for my second lap “Only 1 more lap and I’ve survived the swim”. This lap I manage to avoid any hiccups until I was headed back to shore. I had 2 people swim over me and kick me which I managed to swallow some water not ideal but kept composed. Then this bloke swam so close to me that as he went to catch his right arm he managed to dunk my head with his elbow and I swallowed a full mouthful of pond water…gross! Now I was getting mad, not good and I probably swam harder because of it.
Phew I’m out of that dirty lake & onto T1. I stopped at the feed station and downed 2 cups of coke I was so dehydrated from the swim that I took my time walking. Into T1 I grabbed my bag and sat down on a bench and started to get changed. I felt shattered from an exhausting swim, but I had to now concentrate on the next stage the bike. Stupidly I didn’t keep an eye on the time and before I knew it I’d been in transition 20 mins what I am I doing!! I honestly didn’t know where the time went and it was a massive fail on my part.
Onto the bike and I really struggled to get going sat at 13mph. It took me 5 miles to find my legs but then I was rising to 16-18mph which was more like it. I was so dehydrated that I had drank one of my bottles in the first 30 mins. This was not what had happened in training so I was a bit concerned. First hill a lady shouted to me get in your bottom gears and I soon realised why. Wow steep, people falling off, people walking, ok spin and play the piano. I was soon up then a turn and up again I’d climbed it! “Sheep house is easier than this” (words I didn’t think would pop into my head). Then the wrestlers oh they were amazing; made me smile which got a response of “You’re the only one still smiling love”.
Ok technical descents are not my strength, I was on both brakes and I was still doing 22mph dodging pot holes and the wall at the bottom. Sadly I saw an ambulance and a lady in a bad way, I made it!! It wasn’t long before I was lapped by Lucy Gossage so I shouted support to her and continued eating and drinking at regular intervals. Next feed station there was some friendly faces and I picked up fresh bottles managed to not drop any after advice from Steve to practice!! It was then onto the second big climb, Hunters Hill. It was here I witnessed a grown man throw a very expensive bike into the hedge because his chain came off. I thought wow got settled into my spin and climbed up my first ever Tour De France style climb it was amazing, the crowds were fantastic. And I was up, no walking only 1 of each left to do and I’m on a home stretch.
Just about to start the second loop and I see my amazing friends so I stop for a hug, pep talk something about not being shit and I head off. Let’s do this!! Back through the feed station refuel, getting slightly concerned I have drank mainly water (4 bottles now) and not tailwind as I am so thirsty but I had been eating regularly. Up the hill of hell everyone is now walking but I force myself to keep spinning and I’m at the top in no time and ready for the descent which luckily there were no more casualties this time. The remaining time flew by although I had started to get back ache by this point probably from the beast of a hill I hadn’t prepared for and I was thankful I was heading towards my strength. Back towards T2 I was passing the runners, it was hot and I was looking for Craig as I was making my way past them.
Into T2 I racked my bike took off my shoes and jogged to the tent. It was scorching hot so I applied sun cream extra Vaseline but still managed to end up in T2 for over 10 mins; I need to work on transition next time. Had a quick toilet stop & then headed out. I managed to run 0.25 of a mile and I had to walk. I couldn’t breathe and my legs were like jelly. Oh no, this is not good. Ok run to next feed station without walking, I failed miserably. My head started to drop and I knew it was going to be a long day. I kept run walking until I saw friends and stopped to tell them how I was feeling. They tried to encourage me and I started to run again but not managing to go for long.
I was getting mad but worried which was making me hyperventilate. My head was screaming at me to run but I couldn’t. So I just kept trying to run walk and sipped Pepsi at the feed stations. Once I had got through the first lap I saw Craig with 200m to go. He asked me if I was ok and I told him I couldn’t breathe. He didn’t want to leave me but I told him to go and become an Ironman (I still well up now thinking about it). I was so proud of him! I continued a fighting battle with my head and body and ended up taking off my heart monitor which helped me feel less restricted. On my third lap I was joined by a couple of friends who basically distracted me from the pain I was in. I started to feel loads better and I was coping with sipping coke and walk running. I was slowly ticking off the miles. Last lap, ok this was not pretty. The last feed station before entering the park had run out of coke so I had 2 miles to go to get more coke. The climb through the park broke me. I felt dizzy completely empty was sick and had to lie down. I had a talking to by a certain coach Cannings and after a few minutes I got up and continued to the next feed station. By then the thought of Pepsi made me sick, but I knew I had to take it. Approaching the turn point I gave up. I can’t do it; I’ll not make the cut off all the above came out of my mouth. I was broken a state I hadn’t been in since doing the wall the year before. Craig appeared; he had run 5k to get to me as he’d heard I was in a bad state…my hero!!
I then had Mr Cannings give me a few choice words “You will f***ing finish this Ironman” (I made Steve swear oops)! The officials had told me I had to get moving or they would have to pull me off the course. So I began the hardest park run I have ever done in my life. I ran the down hills, had a quad, bike marshal, friends, drink station crew & Craig run behind me to get me to the finish. The last half a mile my calf started to cramp (argh!!) so I had to keep walking then running. 200 meters to go this was it I was going to make it. It took everything I had to keep moving. I turned the corner and there it was my finish line so I ran, it hurt, but I had the best finish line experience ever. I crossed the line then sat on the podium. Paul Kaye called me back said those magic words “Gemma Scott you are an Ironman”, and then I was presented my medal by Lucy Gossage my heroine!
In a nut shell I want to thank everyone that has supported both Craig & I, those that stayed until I finished, those who ran/walked with me, friends at home tracking us, trained with us, Steve for being there through all my training listening to my stupid questions and lastly Craig for doing another lap to make sure I finished.
To sum up my Ironman Journey, it’s worth it, it’s not easy and yes I have signed up to do it next year!