Ironman UK by Neal Markham

This may be the longest yet, sorry!

Bolton 2018 My Ironman Journey So my journey starts in 2017 after my 30+ year love affair with rugby came to a natural end I was looking for a new challenge. And there it was, my inspirational friend Steve Cook taking part in an Ironman as a Para Athelete following a horrific road traffic accident, I decided there and then that I would complete an Ironman. The fact that I hadn’t even attempted a triathlon before wasn’t even a consideration.

I decided I needed help so tagged along with Steve Smith and came to a GRY TRI swim session, I used to swim a bit (24 years before) how hard could it be? It took about 25m to find out, as thats all I could manage without stopping for breath. I thought to myself shit how many lengths is 2.4miles! Next up I joined the Chain Gang, not really ridden the bike much (and when I did I wasn’t good) so which group fast, medium or slow? obviously fast! (my stupidity knows no bounds!). And we were off 22,23,24 mph, I was just spining the legs, this is brilliant, I feel great, in fact so great I think I’ll take a turn of the front, and I work my way to the front, effortlessly move to the front and pull the pack along, at least thats what I expected in my mind, the reality was a little different and went something like, ‘Oh my god whats that? Wind’, ‘shit wheres that been hiding?’ ‘Come on Neal don’t make yourself look stupid, come on legs!’, legs -‘sorry that us finished’ and after 15 secs I start to slip gracefully down the middle of the chain, and as I passed Steve I manage to gasp ‘Whatever you do don’t go on the front’, surely Steve would listen to my hard earned advice, and 5 mins later as Steve slide gracefully down the middle of the chain I thought to myself ‘nope!’. Next up my first ‘long’ distance run (10K) after a couple of 1 mile training sessions, and as expected my performance was less than inspiring.

So if I was really going to achieve this I needed help, thats were Steve Clark of Off That Couch Fitness comes in, and following a swim assessment Steve started to build a training programme specifically for me (I have a medical condition called Crohns and a damaged AC ligament). So the training started and through the winter I spent many an hour in the pain cave (also know as back bedroom), watching movies and box sets (if anyone needs to know anything about American history I’m your man). It was at this point I decided to set some targets; swim 1hr 15, ride 8 hrs (adjusted to 7hrs 30 following route change), run 5 hours, weight 175lbs (I was 189lbs). I followed the training set by Steve, followed the advice about diet and committed fully. 6 weeks out from the Ironman I held the Neal Markham Half Ironman Invitational Classic, completing the distances in order to experience some of the feelings, it was great to get through it and gave me huge confidence for the big day plus I came in first place (out of 1😀).

So as the big day approached I started to taper and it was here that I really noticed the improvements in all 3 disciplines, I was feeling confident that I could achieve the times I’d set, and then disaster, my Crohns started to flare and I wasn’t very well at all, I was doing all I could to get myself sorted but it wasnt looking good, howeverthere was never any intention of not doing it.

Registration I registered on the Friday and went back to the accomodation and spent a relaxed evening with friends. Then up early to go rack my bike, arriving at the same time as Steve we start to walk over and we see Ben Barton Bycroft with his new steed, and in true Ben style rides up and down the road once ‘to get used to it’ and that was it🙄 We racked the bikes and blue bags and walked the route from the water trying to remember the bag and bike position. Next we were off to Transition 2 and again we walked the route from the dismount to leaving transition. Great now to Frankys and Bennys, sat near the experienced guys Les Thompson and Dan to see if I could pick up on any pearls of wisdom, main subject was tyres bursting in transition due to heat (thankfully I’d let some air out before I left, still had a bit of doubt though😨). And then back to the hotel for an early night, I couldnt sleep, not through worry or excitement but heat, it was boiling, I was so pleased when the alarm went off!

Race day- weight 172lbs Breakfast was porridge with water rather than the usual milk and it was disgusting! No worries it was a minor thing, more importantly my Crohns had decided it also wanted to be involved in the day, and I couldn’t get off the toilet, this was bad, very bad! We arrived at the Flash, checked the bikes tyres were good, releif (went to the toilet), meet up with everyone (went to the toilet) and then into the wet suits. There were a lot of worried faces, but for me I felt ready and was looking forward to starting.

Swim 1hr 13mins 12secs

Transition 1 – 8mins 47secs I was straight in, wetsuit off, everything in my bag was in the correct order and it went on as practiced, then out, oh look a toilet without a queue, it would be rude not to!

Bike – 5hrs 57mins 41 secs I was so looking forward to getting on the bike, not because I dislike swimming (I love the swim), but because I’d bought a new helemet with intergrated visor and it looked great😎

Transition 2 -12mins 09 secs I dismount, rack the bike (toilet – obviously), and take my time, kit off, fresh pair of socks, suncream, grab some food and coke from my bag.

Run – 5hrs 34 mins 35 secs I walk out eating (i had read to do this somewhere), got a bit of banter from the crowd, ‘thats it Neal you have a picnic no need to rush’, I finished eating and started my run, everything is feeling fine, I don’t feel overly tired, I’m stopping at every feed station for water (ive brought my own salt tablets – Lee told me about them) and I’m carrying gels that I’m used to. First lap I run completely I pick up the first band, back through the town centre and into the park and that hill!😲. It was at that point I realised I still had 20miles to do and that I needed to be realistic (it was blisteringly hot), I decide to walk / run, walk up hills and run down and that was the tactic. I’d seen Damo and Paul come in on the bikes and as I was walking up the hill I saw Dave come in on the bike, I can’t explained how pleased I was to see him (it gave me such a lift). And then ‘Band Envy’ starts, I find I’m looking at everyones wrist, and when I have more bands, inside I’m laughing, but when i have less I’m erm less than happy! I think it was the second lap when I saw the travelling GRY TRI support crew and it was so great to see them😁😁, the encouragment they were giving was just fantastic ‘you’re looking great, you look strong’ I know theymust be lying because I feel knackered, but it gives me a huge lift 😎😎😎😎 Also all the families of the GRY TRI guys were going crazy everytime they saw the shirt and the banter we was getting from the crowd it was excellent. But the heat was relentless and had it not been for the guy with the hose pipe I’m sure I’d have stopped #hero Somehow I’m on lap 3 and then I see Ben come in, I remember thinking thats it we’re all in, and again I was bouyed, until the blisters started on both feet I was gutted, same socks and trainers that I’d used throughout my training, I knew they were bad but kept going. I recalled something I’d read the night before ‘run if you can, walk if you must, crawl if you have to, but just keep moving forward’, and that was my mantra for those last two laps. That kept me going, that and seeing everyone else, i kept seeing Steve and he looked so cool and relaxed and I was telling myself ‘come on Neal man up, everyone else is managing this’. Later Steve explained that everytime he saw me I looked stong and it spurred him on, that might have been the case but he was spuring me on too. Third lap down, I hear my name its Steve Cook in the centre, I go over he gives me a big hug and im off again.

If you are still reading I’d like to say a couple of thanks, firstly to the club in general everyone has been fantastic and the travelling supporters to commit to that travel awesome, second to the more experienced and stronger members, who on rides, swims or runs give a simple well done (it means a lot to us newer developing members), thirdly Steve Clark for the programme and making adjustments when my condition demanded it, fourthly Paul the Charirman for the advice and for answering my stupid questions but never making me feel stupid, and to Sarah who has given me so much support during this.

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