A First Ironman……

 

My race report is finally done. You’ll need a spare 10 mins to read it though!

“Never, ever, will I do a full Ironman!” I cried as I staggered across the finish line of the Marazion Middle Distance Triathlon 2007. Thirty minutes later, whilst eating my free Sunday Roast courtesy of HayleTri I was heard to say “So, about this Ironman then?”! 

And so began my journey into the world of Ironman Triathlon, over a full year before I would eventually take to the warm water of the Langener Waldsee Lake just outside of Frankfurt for the start of Ironman Germany 2008. It was a journey full of ups and downs. A journey my wife probably wished I hadn’t taken. A journey that was incomprehensible to most, if not all, of my work colleagues. A journey of self discovery. But most importantly, a journey that was quite simply – amazing. 

In all honestly perhaps I should thank, or is it blame, my good friend and training partner, JP Gusterson, for persuading me to do the Ironman in the first place. If it wasn’t for his incredibly positive attitude and confidence in my ability I’m not sure I would be sat here now typing this, and for that I am eternally grateful. 

Preparation began in earnest for the race with the first of many, completely necessary purchases! My wife would disagree. The first thing to be bought was a Felt B2 bike with carbon everything. Next to come was a set of expensive deep section carbon HED wheels, which my wife still doesn’t know about! By now my credit card was maxed out! Between then and the race hundreds more pounds would be spent on gadgets, clothing, nutrition and more gadgets! 

The actual act of training and getting to the start line of an Ironman, some would tell me, was the hard part. I didn’t believe them. The training was planned meticulously with hours if not days spent browsing the internet in the hope of finding that sure-fire, can’t fail training plan! I was like a sponge, absorbing as much information as I could from the likes of Gus, TimD, GS, HFS and ScottM – MBH athletes that had been there and done it. Eventually I had it organised and knew exactly what was required over the forthcoming 6 months or so. My wife would get annoyed with me for waking her early on a Sunday morning for my long bike, for the constant early nights and for the lack of energy or interest I had for anything other than Ironman. Most of the training seemed to be done in the dark and in the rain and wind. I couldn’t wait for the summer arrive which never seemed to come. By the time April arrived, I was doing well; I had missed just a few days early in January due to a bad case of Man-Flu, but I was getting stronger in all 3 disciplines. I’d even been to sea with the Navy in the Gulf for 2 months which meant swimming limited to a few sea swims whilst the ship was in Oman, and cycling reduced to 3 hour spinning sessions. Then on return to the UK, disaster struck. I decided that the training was going too well so I thought I’d make things a bit more interesting by throwing myself off my bike and into a telegraph pole at 25mph. The result: a broken collar bone! Well at least I saved the bike! I sank into a depression for a couple of days thinking that I had blown my race. However, after an appointment with a physio I cheered up a bit and started to plan what I could do whilst I healed. Within a week I was on a spinning bike and running. Things were looking up. I can do this. The swimming will just have to wait and I can concentrate on my bike and run. So I re-planned my training program and got on with it. The collar bone was healing really well and I was pleased with the speed at which I was recovering. Soon I was back in the pool and eventually I was able to swim properly albeit with a bit of soreness afterwards. Incredibly, my swim speed hadn’t been affected too badly (still slow!) and it didn’t take long before I was swimming pain free and regularly putting in 2-3K sessions. My confidence was boosted when I completed the swim distance in the pool with just 2 weeks to go.  After an intense final Base 3 phase, which included my toughest week of 20 hours training, and the rather frustrating taper phase I eventually had done all I could do. I had done the 100 mile rides and the 20 mile runs. It was now time to pack. All of a sudden it was time to stop talking and start doing. At this point, after 7 months of training, I was still unsure of myself, still unsure if I could actually finish an Ironman. Gus turned up at my house with the van and now for the first time I really felt the nerves. We loaded the van and I hugged the kids and kissed the wife goodbye and we set off for London Heathrow like excited kids on a school outing. 

Arriving at our hotel in downtown Frankfurt was an epic journey in itself! Having collected our bikes we headed out of the airport terminal to work out what to do next. The easy option was to get a taxi, but not for MBH triathletes. No, we decided to lug our bikes and bags on and off buses, up and down escalators, on and off tubes and trains and then yomp across town to get to the hotel! Two days before the race of my life and I’m knackered already! Still, we made it to the Ibis Hotel and now I could flake out and relax in a nice big bed. Well, not quite! Gus had told me the hotel was advertised as small but comfortable, but I didn’t expect a broom cupboard with two tiny beds and barely enough room to swing a track pump! We decided to get straight off to the Expo and register which involved more walking, but not far this time. The Ironman atmosphere was developing and I was getting quite excited. Well actually I was sh***ing myself. We didn’t stay long because we wanted to get back and assemble our bikes. We took the bike boxes down to reception to be stowed away, so we would now at least be able to open the bathroom door in the room. We gave the bikes a short test ride during which a friendly local tried to run Gus off the road, giving a rather ominous start to riding around Frankfurt. Everything seemed okay with our trusty steeds so it was back to the hotel and time to shower and get off to the Pasta Party.  

Entry to Ironman Germany gave you free travel on Frankfurts public transport, so off we go again on the underground and I was getting concerned about the amount of time I was spending on my feet. By the time we arrived at the Pasta Party I was starving and needed to sit down. After taking in the atmosphere of 1000s of people filling an Ice Hockey stadium we realised that there was a massive queue for the food. An hour later we finally sat down and proceeded to try and eat our own body weight in pasta. By the time we got back to our enormous hotel room I was ready to crash. Sleep ensued and Day 1 was complete. 

All that was required of Day 2 was to get to the lake and rack the bikes. After breakfast we spent a couple of hours preparing the kit for the race, which involved sorting out swim, bike, and run bags, putting race numbers on and checking and re-checking the race instructions. It was at this point that I discovered you could get a 6 minute time penalty for peeing on the bike! We decided to ride the 12Km to the lake to give the bikes one final check over. I must take my hat off to the Germans, they had this event really well organised and bike racking was a seamless affair. We went through a security and bike check and then we each got our own helper who took us to our numbered rack and helped set things up. We walked the transition area and made sure we knew where to find our bikes, which is not as easy as you’d think when there’s 2400 bikes all lined up! One last check of the bikes and then we headed down to take a look at the lake and the incredibly steep hill up to T1. They didn’t mention that in the race literature! The lake looked lovely and thankfully it had been declared a wetsuit swim. Panic over! After a quick drink we jumped on one of the many free Ironman buses and set off back to Frankfurt. We had earlier sourced an Italian restaurant so after a shower we sat down for another large pasta dish and a beer. Yes, the night before an Ironman and I’m drinking beer! Only the one, mind you, then it was off to bed for some rest with a knowing feeling that I probably wouldn’t sleep. 

Race Day 

I awoke to sound of my alarm and Gus snoring, thinking – where am I? Oh yes that’s it I’m about to do an Ironman! Surprisingly I had slept really well and even then lying there contemplating what to eat for breakfast I felt quite relaxed. Gus awoke and a little bit of confusion set in as he was sure it was 0300, but he had forgotten which time zone he was in and hadn’t put his watch forward the extra hour. I convinced him it was actually 0400, jumped out of bed and race day had begun. Breakfast went down okay, cereal, toast, juice and coffee. Sitting there in the restaurant with all the other athletes was just a taste of the highly charged atmosphere awaiting me. The hum of excitement was electrifying and terrifying at the same time. I wondered if I had eaten enough. Back up to the room for one last visit to the little boys room and we were off. Just before getting in the lift Gus asked me where my timing chip was. He already had his on his ankle. I was sure it was in my bag but a quick check revealed that after all the checking and rechecking I still managed to forget something! Timing chip sorted we headed off in the dark and rain to get on the bus to take us to the lake. About 30 minutes later I was stood in transition looking at my bike and wondering what to do. I was in a bit of a daze. Am I really here? Is this really me? Gus snapped me out of it and reminded me of what needed doing. At this point there wasn’t actually a lot to do. I set up my nutrition and pumped up my tyres and wandered down to Gus. He too was ready so we walked transition again and made sure we could locate our bikes. I was still feeling quite calm and after another visit to the little boy’s room we simply sat at the side with about 45 minutes to go and watched this incredible sight of thousands of other athletes rushing around sorting themselves out. Eventually it was time. We donned our wetsuits and walked down to the lake. We watched the pros start and then we were down to 15 minutes to go. I was keen to get in the water and check my goggles were okay so I shook Gus’s hand and wished him luck and that was the last I saw of him until the finish.  

The Swim 

The helicopter hovered overhead, all the athletes and spectators counted down the last 10 seconds, the gun sounded and off I went. After about 10 metres it was impossible to swim, we all piled in to one another as we tried to round the starting pontoon. I had started about half way back and over to the right hoping to find some clear water early on. Eventually I was round the pontoon and swimming again. I never found any clear water. I was knocked and kicked and even had to stop because someone had grabbed my leg and almost pulled my timing chip off. But I was actually enjoying it. I gave as good as I got and I just stuck to the task, taking each buoy as it came. Before I knew it I was back at the beach where we had to get out for a short run before getting back in for the second lap. I couldn’t believe people were walking this short 50m run. I waved to the crowd and ran back into the water. It was still bedlam with arms and legs everywhere, but having rounded the last buoy I found myself actually pushing hard and I was on my way home. I was now sighting on the transition funnel and I thought “Blimey, I’ve done it!” Coming out of the water was an amazing feeling. I wanted 1hr 20 mins. Time check – 1hr 15mins 38 secs! Happy days! I was more apprehensive about the swim than anything else and now I was running up the hill with a big grin on my face. At the top of the hill I took my wetsuit off and headed straight into a portaloo! Slightly annoyed that I had to waste time in the little boy’s room I ran to my bike. MBH cycling top on, cycling shorts on, race belt on, socks on, cycling shoes on, cycling gloves on, sunglasses on and finally cycling helmet on. I grabbed my bike and headed out of T1 a little slower than I wanted but I was still grinning like a Cheshire Cat. I was determined to keep smiling throughout and whatever happened, to enjoy the event. 

The Bike 

The bike course consisted of a 12Km leg into Frankfurt and then 2 laps that took us out into the German countryside and back into Frankfurt. I was really happy to be on the bike back in my comfort zone, but within half a mile people were shouting things to me and pointing. Oh great I thought here we go mechanical problems already. But it wasn’t until a fellow Brit shouted to me that my race number was hanging off that I realised what the problem was. Somehow I had lost one of the toggles that secure the race number to the race belt. I spun the belt round and faffed around trying to think what I could do. In the end I just tucked the corner into the belt and spun it back round not too concerned. Back to the job in hand and I got back on the aero bars. The first leg into Frankfurt is fast and flat and I was enjoying cruising at an easy 20mph thinking if it’s like this all the way round I’m laughing. But Ironman racing is never easy so I reminded myself to pace properly and not get carried away. Reigning myself in I stuck to 20mph although I was aching to put the metal down. Soon I was back in Frankfurt and starting the first lap. After about 25 miles I was well into my nutrition plan with my watch beeping every 10 minutes to remind to eat/drink. Things were going well until all of a sudden I started to get stomach pains. My body was having trouble digesting the energy bars so I opted to ditch the bars and stick with just gels and energy drink, picking up the extra gels I need at the aid stations. This seemed to help but it was obvious now that what I really needed was a poo! I really didn’t want to stop but it was inevitable, so at the next aid station I decided enough was enough I will stop and sort myself out. Arriving at the aid station I grabbed an extra gel and then jumped off at the portaloos. Into the blue turdis and having struggled to get my cycling top off and tri suit down I managed to…. well let’s just say my stomach felt a lot better! Clothing back on and I was back on the bike. The bike was great fun with some fantastic support from the mad German spectators. In every little village and town we went through they were all out in force having a party. Music pumping out, lots of beer swigging, bells ringing, so much noise. I was smiling constantly; almost laughing because it was so much fun. I was high five-ing the kids with their big inflatable hands and waving as they seemed to do a Mexican Wave just for me every time! Towards the end of the lap, back into the city centre and all of a sudden I found myself in a tunnel.  I was temporarily blinded going from bright sunshine in to a tunnel wearing sunglasses, but there was just enough time for my eyes to adjust before I crashed into the wall! Onto the second lap and things were still going well, my average speed was above my race strategy, no cramp, no soreness. My stomach was still not playing the game though which annoyed me and I was worried that I was not getting enough calories in to sustain me for the run. I decided that I would have to stick with liquid nutrition and so started taking onboard more energy drink and a gel every 30 minutes. Soon I was busting for the loo again, so another stop at the little boys room, where again I found I had to…..well you know sort my stomach out! With about 40K to go some mad man tried to overtake me on the inside as we were flying around a corner. Obviously drafting, trying to overtake me on the wrong side, he skidded into the curb and promptly fell off. Not wanting to have to stop again, it is a race after all, I carried on going; it was his own fault anyway. However, my conscience got the better of me and having read in the race instructions about DQs for unsporting behaviour, I stopped and looked back. I couldn’t see him and then someone went passed and shouted ‘Its OK’, so off I went again assuming he was alright. The last 20K seemed to drag and my neck was starting to ache. I was looking forward to getting off the bike now if anything just to stretch out. Coming down the final street I glanced at my watch. I wanted a 6 hour bike split. Time check: 5 hours 55 mins. Not too bad I thought considering the number of stops I had. I took my feet out of my cycling shoes and got ready for transition and 26 one mile jogs.  

The Run 

In keeping with the whole race, T2 was well organised. A helper took my bike away and I ran straight to the bag stowage, shouting my number, where another helper handed me my run bag. I headed into the transition tent where another helper took me to a bench. It seemed there were helpers every where. I emptied my bag and started going through the motions: Helmet off, shoes off, clean socks on, running shoes on, hat on. I threw my cycling stuff into the bag and the helper took it away for me. I got as far as the end of the bench when I realised I was still wearing my cycling shorts and MBH cycling jersey! I ran back to the helper, who couldn’t find my bag, so I just ripped off said clothes and gave them to him, not really caring if I saw them again. I then got about 100 yards into the run when I realised that I was still wearing my cycling gloves! What am I playing at! They were soon ripped off and discarded. Now finally I was ready to tackle the marathon. The run consists of four 10.5 Km laps around the River Main, which apart from a couple of small pulls up to bridges, are completely flat. Each lap earned you a coloured band to wear on your arm. The first lap felt great. I was glad to be off the bike and my legs felt fine. No niggles and I seemed to get pretty much straight in to my stride. My run strategy consisted of trying to average 70-75 mins a lap, taking on water at every aid station and a gel at every other aid station. My stomach was still not right and I was concerned that it would cause me big problems on the run. Sure enough I found that half way through the first lap I needed to use another portaloo! I again sorted my stomach out and got going once more feeling a lot more comfortable. By the end of the first lap, amazingly, my watch told me that I had got round in just under an hour. Too fast, but I was running well and apart from my stomach, felt good. I decided to keep plodding on expecting to hit the wall at some point and have to do some walking. The crowds were just as big on the run course as they were on the bike course, all shouting and cheering, lots of music at the aid stations and the helpers were fantastic. With your name printed on your race number, it’s really nice to hear your name being called. Each lap there would be the same people cheering me on and I would look forward to reaching them each lap and with a big grin I’d tell them ‘thank you’. At the start of the third lap my right leg began to hurt where the timing chip was strapped and thinking that it must be the chip digging in I kept telling myself that I should stop and sort it out. If I’d had to bend down though I doubt if I would have ever gotten back up! So on I went. I was getting a bit sick of gels so I took on a few bananas instead and started having the coke. The coke tasted great and really seemed to pick me up. Each lap I was getting slower but still well within my race plan and by the start of the final lap I calculated that I could be on for about 11:20. My mind was all over the place and I couldn’t believe it, trying to work it out in my head, unsure if what I was thinking was right. I was buzzing now, although I think at this point the smile had gone from my face and my leg was really beginning to hurt. I gave a cheer as I got the last coloured band and now with 4 bands on my arm and just 2K to go, I knew I was going to finish.  

The Finish 

Each lap you had to pass the finish chute entry which was like trying to access a heavily guarded military installation! Without 4 coloured bands on you arm, you ain’t comin’ in! On my third lap I witnessed some poor disorientated bloke trying to get through just to be told to crack on and do another lap. I had a little cry myself as I went passed on that third lap! But now I was grinning again, proudly sporting my 4 coloured bands. The barrier was moved allowing me access and I saw the best sign in the whole race – 200m to go! I’m on the red carpet now and there are thousands of spectators lining the way. Arms aloft, punching the sky, I shouted and screamed. I ran into the grandstand finish going from side to side, arms outstretched now like an aeroplane for more compulsory high-fiveing. I look up at the clock to see 11:35:02 and with arms in the air I crossed the line. My medal was placed around my neck and then without warning and without due regard for my appearance I blubbed like a baby, overjoyed, overwhelmed, exhausted, proud.  

So that was it, my adventure was over. I lost nearly a stone in weight. My right lower tibia has a stress fracture or two. My wife nearly divorced me and my overdraft is huge! Would I do it again?  

Hell yes! 

Just dont tell the missus!

Shawnyg

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