My IRONMAN Journey 2017 Steven Johnstone

My IRONMAN Journey 2017


Steven Johnstone

It all seems a little strange being asked to write a race report for a flippin IRONMAN! Up until 2013, I had spent the majority of life donning the cricket whites or perhaps spoiling a good walk by hacking my way round a golf course. Yes, I did the London Marathon 2 and a half stone ago, but very little time and energy had been devoted towards individual pursuits. Apologies in advance if you get to the end of this report and realise that you will never get that time back, but I do hope that I can pass on some seeds of contemplation, inspiration and action to others, similar to those which I benefitted from having read race reports in the past. In late 2013, my nephew Charlie, then 2, developed Neuroblastoma (childhood cancer) and as you can imagine it had a huge effect on family and friends. We arranged numerous fundraising activities including a Coast 2 Coast bike ride as well as deciding to take on the ‘Bomber’ Quadrathlon. This for me was the first significant step up from the sprint distance which I completed for the first time in 2013. Charlie taught me so much during his recovery (yes, he is now 2 years into full remission), that despite how hard triathlons are, you are not fighting for your life! I saw Charlie a few days before the big day and asked him to write his name on my arm, so that I could glance down at any point and remind myself that things were not as hard as they sometimes seem. He was and continues to be my inspiration! Hitting the button Lucy, the kids and I were abroad in August 2015 when the registration opened for Staffordshire 70.3 2016. I remembered that we had just got back from the pool and I asked the question….Can I go for it? Lucy’s reply was ‘yes’, so I hit that button before she asked the next question ‘how much is it?’ The confirmation of entry appeared on my phone with a couple of seconds to spare…I’m in! Fast forward 10 months and Staffs 70.3 is complete, got the t-shirt, medal etc In the build up to the event Ian McBride had given me a 15 point advice guide on completing a 70.3. Point 15 said…. ‘BASK in your well-deserved glory, contemplate how the hell do people do a full then a few days later start looking for a full’n ’ I remember thinking during the 70.3 that this was my Everest. While Ian’s guide was really useful and much appreciated, point #15 would not be followed through! Lucy was more than happy with this as she was not at all open to the idea of going long! Four weeks later on a Sunday morning I turned to Lucy and said ‘I think I want to do a full IRONMAN’. Oh shit, that wasn’t the response I was expecting, lets just say that she did not share the same excitement as I did. Looking back, I realise that this was just because she was anxious about me taking on this sort of challenge. In August 2016, while Lucy was on a girls weekend away, some of the lads and I were enjoying a couple of beers in the garden when the subject of a full IRONMAN came up. Cut a long story short (thank goodness I hear you say), within 3 hours I had received ‘a sort’ of approval from Lucy via text (she must have had a few) so I hit that button! I then set about making sure that the house was absolutely spotless, dishes done, washing out, kids fed etc before Lucy arrived back from her weekend away!!


The ‘so so’ Training Despite making sure that I recovered ‘very very’ well following my 70.3 which was now over 2 months, I took the decision to get the family summer holiday out of the way first before getting into the ‘serious’ training. While up in Scotland, I did go for a couple of 3 milers and my goodness, did I drag my arse around that loop! I was out of shape and I knew it. How the hell was I going to complete 140.6 miles of torture? After spending the next 4 weeks considering the answer to that question, I decided that I best get cracking. Up until Christmas I decided to get back into enjoying my sessions again rather than focussing on data and what Strava said!. I started getting into a training routine and set myself a goal of getting through the storm that is Christmas, with minimal waistline and multiple chin damage. I borrowed a Watt bike from work for the festive period and can honestly say that no clothes were hung over it! This is when I suggested to Lucy that I get a coach, to basically guide me to the start line. We had a chat about it and agreed that this would be a good idea all round. I just felt that this would be the right option for me, making sure that ‘Big Brother’ was watching and that there was nowhere to hide. I had followed Don Fink’s programme for the 70.3 but it was too easy to adapt the sessions or skip one or two here and there. I contacted Steve at Off That Couch Fitness and met with him just before Christmas to go over a few things and find out how it would work etc. We agreed that I would start a formal training programme at the start of February and before then to concentrate on base fitness.

The Training

The Swim


I was pleased that by the time I had arrived at the main loop my Kevin and Perry episode with myself had passed. I was now on the scalextric track as I referred to it, just 3 laps of this circuit and I’m over the line. Ok, reminder to self, 3 laps is 26 minus the 8 I’ve done, which equals 18 miles….bloody hell! Thankfully, I was in a strong place mentally, and just reminded myself that this was my longest run in training, but in this case, I get fed, watered, sprayed with water hoses and get to see family and friends along the way…you don’t get that on the Brigg, Scawby, Brigg, Bonby, Worlaby etc route! Just as I entered the loop, I heard my name being shouted, it was Steve Clark aka ‘coach’…shit..stand up straight, get a stride on, look busy, smile etc. Steve shouted to keep going and while this was over in a second, my gosh did it help to refresh the focus and spur me on. It didn’t take long for me took me to realise that Steve was in fact 2 miles away from the finish line! I was so lucky to have friends dotted about on the run course, some whom I had not seen for years and it was great to stop and have a quick chat with them before moving on. Lucy, the kids and the rest of the gang had positioned themselves in the town centre and it was absolutely amazing to pass each time to check in and have that time with them to assure them that I was feeling strong and for them to give me that much needed boost. I was fortunate to speak to a number of people on the run, all of whom had an amazing story to tell and some who by simply knowing their chosen charity gave me some insight into their motivations and drivers. There were some amazing people out there and it was a privilege to share the course with them. The other people who are incredible are the volunteers who just keep going and ensure that they dish out the same encouragement to all athletes. The army cadets were particularly impressive, ensuring that they were so well organised with their refreshment feed station. They took particular delight in pouring water over my head! While on the topic of feed stations, one bit of advice would be to not eat the tortilla crisps after you have left the feed station and no longer have any water…do you remember the cream cracker eating challenge? You know what I mean then! I must say that I did warm to the volunteers who were issuing the lap bands. ‘Band envy’ is strong when you are on the course and the feeling of going through that final checkpoint and receiving your red band is amazing, you literally feel on top of the world, knowing that you are about 6 miles away. The roads are now not as busy as they were when I first joined the loop. I had programmed my Garnin to just display running pace on the main screen, knowing that this would keep me on track. I figured if I was watching the seconds or distance tick over this might play with my head a bit. The overall aim was to get somewhere between 14 and 15 hours and I was confident that I was going to be close to the 14 hour mark. It was at about the 23 mile stage as I turned back towards the town centre when I knew that I was pretty much there and that the next time I saw Lucy and the kids I would be running down that carpet. My pace started to pick up as I felt a new bounce in my stride, working my way into the centre of Bolton. This is where you can sense the well wishes from total strangers, noticing that you are the owner of 3 bands and that you have less than a mile to go. I realise that I’m grinning from ear to ear at this point, enjoying the various turns as you weave your way through the final stages of the run. Bloody hell, I think…..that is the turning point to run down the carpet…..I check over my shoulder to see if anyone else is there and the announcer confirms that I have it all to myself…. “I’m on the carpet, I’ve only bloody gone and got to the carpet”. This is it, just a few seconds of the journey left…a quick look to the clock which displays 14 hours and 6 minutes as I aeroplane my way into the finish line (I have apologised to Steve Clark for pinching his celebration) with a massive smile on my face and feeling amazing. As I cross the line, and this was not pre-meditated, I jump, clenching my fist before driving towards the photographer shouting ‘come on!’ (not sure where that came from, totally out of character), I’m buzzing, totally pumped, I am an IRONMAN!

I receive my medal and tin foil before being ushered into the tent for a jacket potato with chilli, which to be honest I’m not really too fused about. I collect my finisher t-shirt and head out of the tent to meet up with Lucy, the kids and friends. It was great to see them all and to also receive some outside assistance in the form of a bottle of Black Sheep real ale! Looking back, would I do it again, absolutely, it was an incredible experience and a great day out! I would not change anything about my personal journey. For those considering the challenge themselves, if you believe you can do it and you want it, then hit that button! I decided to seek support from Steve at Off That Couch Fitness – best decision, he got me to that start line in good shape and with the mental mind-set that the hard work had been done. It was a pleasure to represent OTCF! Thanks to all those who also helped with advice and support along the way. Thanks to those who trained with me at various points during the journey, you know who you are. Thank you to all those who turned up to support on the day, especially the Fish and Hayton families, as well as the Moore gang from Adlington who made everyone feel so welcome and hydrated!




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