So when I was asked to write a race report for Ironman UK 2019 I would never have expected in the lead up to this race that I would be writing about the outcome that I had.
2018 I took on an Ironman for the first time and literally got my arse handed to me on a plate, Ironman chewed me up and spat me out but I did complete the race as the last finisher within the cut off. I didn’t get that sense of achievement I had hope for as I felt cheated & defeated. So how does one overcome this feeling, they sign up to Ironman UK 2019. I had some demons I needed to put to bed!
This time I was determined I needed to work harder, no way was I going to go through that hell again so I enrolled on Steve’s Swim lessons (highly recommended) and set out trying to get stronger on the bike too. I worked hard through winter pushing myself out of that comfort zone on the bike and in swimming. I worked hard on my mental wellbeing too. A lot of people work so hard on the physical aspect but fail to exercise the mind too and I can guarantee as long as you are not injured the mind will be what gives up first.
Training was going well until the beginning of March and I just began to go backwards. I had no energy, I felt so ill and I had no idea what was happening. I managed to continue the training but as soon as that was done I was in bed for the rest of the day. I finally gave in and went to the doctors when I lost a stone in 4 weeks and was referred to see a consultant. I had some tests done but they couldn’t see what was wrong so I was referred to another consultant but wouldn’t be seen until July so I had no choice but to go private. After extensive tests they confirmed I had SIBO & I was suffering with Malnutrition & dehydration because I couldn’t digest any food. I had to take medication to ease the symptoms but it was agreed we couldn’t treat the illness properly until after Ironman. So with the help of the medication I battled on through training and although the issues didn’t disappear I did start to feel better.
The pinnacle of my training was to take on The Tour of the Peaks Sportive in May. 2018 I attempted to tackle the 115 miles and 13000ft elevation ride, but wimped out after Winnatts Pass & only completed the medium route of 62 miles & 7000ft (still tough but not what I set out to do). In 2019 i completed the full distance way inside the cut offs required with no walking and finally put that demon to bed. The biggest confidence boost I could’ve asked for. I knew I was so much stronger than last year already.
So heading into race weekend I set myself 3 goals for Ironman UK 2019:
• Aim to swim a sub 1 hour 30 minute 2.4-mile swim
• Bike within the cut off time of 10 hours and 20 minutes which includes the swim time too.
• Finish in daylight
I knew it was going to be hard and painful but I was ready for this, I was strong both mentally and physically.
We arrived in Bolton Friday afternoon and headed straight to registration. We then caught up with Shawnie & Aaron and headed to the race briefing. It was after the briefing I began to feel a sense of calm. I knew what the cut offs were on the bike so I had more of an idea what I needed to do in order to survive the bike which had been changed drastically since 2018 9500ft elevation as opposed to 5500ft and an extra 17 miles.
Saturday we got up early and after spending the previous evening prepping the bikes and ensuring our race bags were packed and ready to go we headed to T1 to rack the bikes. Best move, it was quiet and pain free. I headed to the portaloo before we collected the race chip. I saw something move on the floor and had a moment of panic (I thought it was a big spider) but it turned out to be a small frog. How cute. I safely rescued him and returned him to a safe place. There was actually loads of tiny frogs all over transition. Hope they all survived race day!! We then headed to T2 and it was there where we caught up with Coach Clark and Rhydian (after he had got lost bless ya mate!!)
The rest of the day was pretty stress free we kept hydrated, ate little and often and stayed off our feet as much as possible. That evening the majority of Team Off That Couch Fitness had a last supper talking race strategy and how we were all going to survive the challenge ahead! We were fortunately then in bed by 7.30pm watching Jurassic Park.
Race morning, up at 2.50am. Quick shower, kit on and out of the door by 3.30am and heading to the town centre to catch a bus to the start. Nerves were starting to creep in, but I always believe that nerves are a good thing and I should be more worried if I didn’t have any.
I ate my overnight oats on the bus 2 hours before the start as planned. Pulled up near Pennington flash and pulled a blinder we used the toilets at the holiday inn and no queue whoop!
Once in T1 I filled the bike up with food and drink for the day ahead. Then back in the toilet queue whilst Craig kindly sorted my bike for me!
Once sorted we headed to get rid of bags and get ready for the swim. After pictures hugs and general encouragement from
Coach and the team we headed to the swim start.
I seeded myself at the 1 hour 20 minutes sign on the start line. Last year I ended up being slowed down a lot by breaststrokers despite seeding myself at 1 hour 30 minutes. Aaron joined me but it was so squashed I literally couldn’t move at all. Then Thunderstruck began to play and I went into my happy place. This song sends chills down my spine in a good way and I knew we were off, no looking back.
First 100 meters I took my time (Coach Clark drummed that into us on the bus) got into my rhythm the water was a nice temperature (unlike lakesman brrr) and quickly got into my stroke. There was weeds everywhere think swamp
Monster lol but I just got on with it and before I knew it we was approaching the turn buoy. It was heavily congested here and the only option was to breaststroke around the buoy. It soon freed off. The remaining first lap swim felt quite comfortable just sat in what felt like a steady rhythm & in what seemed no time I was soon at the Aussie exit. Out the water and I ran as fast as the breathing allowed. Some guy in front waved to an adoringly fan and just so happened to elbow me right in my face. Cheers Pal! It hurt but I wasn’t bleeding so just sprinted past him and straight back into the water. Some guy slipped entering in front of me which sounded painful so I took my time. 2nd lap I was much more fluid. My arms were free, I was gliding through the water and ticking off buoys. Half a lap to go…then the guy who couldn’t swim straight. It felt like having a dolphin plow into the side of you with every stroke as he kept knocking me off my swim line so I had to kick a bit harder to pass him. Up ahead The exit approached Whoop I’ve survived part 1. Climbing out of the water I glanced at the watched. 1:22 what!!!! That smile began!! I was buzzing 18 min PB whoop!! Ran past the cheer squad smiling buzzing, and ran all the way to T1.
Grabbed the bag sat down & hurried as fast as I could. Helmet on shoes on gel necked I was off. Quick toilet stop where I nearly lost my tailwind but I saved it!
Bike grabbed I could see Paul waving frantically and I was still smiling. I’d just knocked 9 mins off my T1 in 2018 so all was going to plan. I needed the biggest buffer for this bike course so I already had an hours grace.
Pennington Flash to the bike loop was so much nicer than I remembered I was happily sat around 17mph but last year I barely got above 13mph. Still smiling.
Saw fellow team mates Aaron & John looking strong which is an enormous buzz. I kept my speed up on the fast sections and eased the light climbs. I had the advantage I knew this course and what world of pain was about to be unleashed.
I kept on top of my nutrition and was nearly empty as I approached Oompa Loompa Alley. I also Saw some familiar friendly faces from Our number one supporters! You guys are immense. After id been rattled by the cobbles no exaggeration I head off to embrace the beast of the course.
The first lap appeared to pass by quite quickly I took my time climbing and it paid off I actually passed people climbing and descending more so. What’s happened to that timid petrified girl of 2018. I was flying down the hills taking technical sections like I’d been doing them all my life and I was enjoying it. I’d become a cyclist I was strong. The moment that it really hit me how well I was doing was on the fast technical section after roman road. A German lady in my age category caught up said “how on earth can you descend so fast and not fall off with all those pot holes!” Complete credit goes to my no 1 bike coach & hubby Craig who sacrificed some of his training to get me this strong. Plus I had remembered where those pot holes were.
I had the usual peaks and troughs of energy but I have now learnt to ride those waves and just eat it soon comes back.
Was lovely seeing friendly faces on the bike course and the Tour de France experience climbing sheep house with Dave Hinch running alongside you is priceless. Top effort mate heard you had some incentives for the others including coach lol!!
Second lap passed with a blur. I tried to be disciplined and not go too hard but Before I knew it I was heading to the brow of sheep house and got to see those wrestlers for a last time. Thanks guys you made a girl keep smiling.
I also have to thank all of the spectators on the bike course that made a day of it with bbqs and mini festivals. You all were so welcoming and I made sure I thanked everyone as it sometimes is hard to think outside the bubble you’re in when it’s tough!
Before long I was heading into T2
I sat and span my legs out on the descent to prepare the legs for the run. My back ached but after that beast I wasn’t surprised it certainly wasn’t as bad as 2018.
Bike racked I felt such relief to hear no penalties so I ran to the tent and grabbed my bag. The second Relief was that I had safely made the cut offs with a big buffer so second expectation met. Visor loaded shoes on lubed up and I was off. About 5 mins faster than T2 2018. Boom!!
First lap I saw everyone & I was able to run so kept it going plodding away and using the feed stations. I was smiling something I was being consistent at throughout the day and slowly tapped away. I walked through the hills in the park I learnt that lesson from last year and continued on my way. The troughs came more on the run than the bike.
So I just walked through them ate a tortilla and kept sipping tailwind and water.
Heading towards the feed station at the turn point they all recognised me “she came back well done Gemma you’re our favourite”!
These guys remembered me from last year when I gave up at the turn point on the last lap in 2018. Now a year later I was in a smiley happy place and they all said they were so proud of me! I was their inspiration. Queue holding back tears.
First lap done the wheels were beginning to fall off. No no no keep smiling walk when you need to but don’t stop moving.
I was annoyed I’m not going to lie I wanted to run faster and to my capability but that bike course had taken loads out of me. I just needed to survive and finish.
Second lap still smiling (some was grimacing my stomach was beginning to hurt and the chest was getting tight).
Halfway through lap 2 I felt weird light headed and unfortunately was sick. I felt better as soon as I was. I actually got mad at this point. I was not going to be the last over the line again id worked hard I’d proved that on the other 2 disciplines and also the fact I was able to run up to this point so I embraced this anger had a word with myself and soon enough I was out of that trough! I headed to the next feed station got some coke and tortilla sipped tailwind and progressed on it made me feel better so this became the remaining race strategy. I saw fellow team mates on the course dishing out hugs high five’s and loads of encouragement. This helped channel my mindset for the remaining 2 laps and I just kept smiling encouraging people and plodding on. It was nice to see how elated coach was when he saw me! And of course Craig massive relief from him.
Loads of support from the cheering squad as I headed through the town centre to head out on the final lap. I was hurting but I wasn’t letting anyone know that I was determined to finish in day light. Time was running out but I was hoping somewhere strength would come. Last hug with my cheer squad at the feed station who I thanked profusely for all of their support this year and last. I was eternally grateful for their selfless acts of kindness.
In times like these you realise how amazing people can be.
After the turn point something ignited inside me. I was doing this I had a massive PB, I’d survived a bike course that is now regarded the toughest Ironman Bike course. My pace just came. I had another lady just sat on my shoulder and I just knew she wasn’t getting past. Competitive mode kicked in. I collected my gold band and I went. Kicked through the park and didn’t look back. The down hill part of the park hurt but I pushed through I had only half a parkrun to go. Refuel on coke and tortilla no stopping though I ran through the last 2 feed stations. 1 mile to go I’ve got this. The faster I went the less my legs hurt and before I knew it I saw cobbles. I saw Hinchy shout yes youve done it! I saw That finish line. I gave everything I ran as fast as my legs would go I wanted to fly down that finish line. Round the bend friends were cheering High fived Craig and attempted the most ridiculous aeroplane known to man more like a bird flapping down that red carpet! But who cared
I had become a double Ironman and finished 1 hour and 21 minutes faster than last year on a course with 4500ft more and an extra 17 miles. I did it within my expectations set and all with a smile on my face.
Massive thanks to all friends and family who’ve supported us both at Bolton, from home, for understanding when We couldn’t spend valuable time with you, for believing in me probably more than I did. Thanks to Steve for tailoring the training to make me stronger, getting my swim technique better (extra shout out to Sarah too), Jo for keeping me stretched out and most importantly Craig for supporting me so much despite also training for his own Ironman. It’s been a hard journey but one where I’ve discovered myself and what I am really capable of!
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