Lining up at the edge of the murky lake at 6 o’clock in the morning the Ironman had finally arrived. After 6 months of hard training in a variety of weather (much of it bad), hundreds of miles swam, cycled and run it was finally here. Preparation for this event had gone pretty well – except the last 3 weeks, which had included a cut foot, sore throat, a scare with my knee and camping the final week in a Glastonbury style mud bath. The feeling at this point, surrounded by 1,574 other wetsuit-clad triathletes was an intense mixture of nervousness and excitement. I was feeling ready and desperate to start.
We all had to swim about 200m to the start line. I didn’t really know how to play the start. It was going to be chaotic in the water once the hooter went off. I decided to get fairly near the front, but over to the left hoping to avoid being kicked and punched too much. In the end it was a good call, as I didn’t suffer too much in the ensuing scramble. The start was delayed a little, which was slightly annoying – I didn’t want to cramp up while we floated there. The hooter sounded, I started the stopwatch and we were off! I took it steady for the first 500m avoiding arms and legs as much as possible. The murkiness of the water made this difficult, as you could not see people in front of you until the very last moment. After about 600m I managed to get some clearer water. I didn’t push it as it was going to be a very long day and pacing was going to be the order of it. We had to swim 2 laps around the buoys in the lake and then back to the edge to enter transition. I felt good for the swim. I knew I could swim the distance and just had to make sure I took it nice and steady. Exiting the water my watch said 59 minutes – a great start and much faster that I had expected. 1 leg down and now only a 112 miles to cycle and a marathon to run!
I flapped a little in transition. Over 7 minutes, which isn’t the quickest. This has never been a strength of mine. I always carry too much and it was taking me ages to get everything on and comfy. I finally exited transition after what felt like a millennium, flapped a little more with my bike was at last on my way. The bike course was a tale of 2 halves. The first half down to Dorchester was fast. A couple of meaty climbs, but was generally flat and fast. However at the turnaround point it changes dramatically. The trend from now on was up. Nothing too extreme, but long straight roads that were undulating upward in front of you. The strong headwind did not help here either. We had to complete 3 laps of this. My average speed appeared to be stuck between 18 and 19 mph, which was slightly slower than I wanted, but with over 2000 meters of climbing it was a hard bike course. Having only gone round the course in the car I took the first lap cautiously – a little too cautiously I think. I tried to pick it up in the second and third lap, but by the last 20 miles I was really beginning to suffer. The last section of the third lap was really hard. It had started to rain and the wind was picking up. It was such a relief to see the 100-mile marker. The final miles seemed much longer than 12 however – especially as they were mainly hills.
Coming into transition 2 was great. Lots of people lined the road into the castle, and there was even more inside. I spotted both Caz and Olivia (my ever present support team), as well as my brother Duncan and his wife who had come to watch. Transition 2 was a much more polished performance at just over 3 mins. I loaded up my pockets with gels, which was a complete waste of time as they give them out every 1.5 miles so ended up carrying them for 26 miles. I had felt really tired at the end of the bike, but now felt really strong starting the run. The first part of the run consisted of 2 laps around the castle grounds (about 4 miles or so each). Its great as there are loads of people to support you here. This is definitely the best part of the marathon. As I started the second lap here Lisa Picton ran out of transition so we ran together for a mile or so. She then dropped back as my pace was a little faster than she intended at that point. At mile 8 my problems began. I started to get really bad stomach cramps and an increasing need to visit the toilet. This dominated the middle portion of the marathon. I visited 5 toilets in total, including having to find a public toilet in a little shopping arcade in the centre of Sherborne.
Disappointingly, these stops lost me at least 10+ mins (which made the wrong turn I made at the end of the A30 even more costly). The lesson to learn here is not to consume so many powerbars on the bike. The second half of the marathon is dominated by a death march along the A30 to Yeovil. This was a 3 mile stretch of dual carrigeway that undulates out in a straight line in front of you. We had to run back and forth along this twice. This part of the run is sole destroying. My legs were hurting by now, pace had dropped and I was still getting stomach cramps. There was no way I was giving up here however. I would crawl home on my hands and knees if I had to. There was no way I was not going cross that finish line now. I finally left the A30 section (of which I ran about 400m too much of at one point due to marshal error), and turned to see the 23 mile marker. I was nearly home now. Just 3 more miles to run/shuffle/hobble. Then 500 meters round the corner was the 24 mile marker. What was going on here? There was no way that was a mile. I wasn’t complaining – even less to run/shuffle/hobble. The final stretch into the castle and into the finish was amazing. The sound of the roaring packed crowd, the out stretched childrens’ hands that I slapped on the way past, that sometimes annoying Canadian calling me an Ironman on the loud speaker, Caz and Olivia in the crowd… The feeling as I crossed the line was incredible. I had finally done it. 10 hours 44 mins. I was an Ironman.