At 6am I entered the water to begin the day that had really started 7 months ago – the 5th of December was when training started in earnest (I seem to recall with a rest day, as all good training plans should).
When I entered this event towards the end of 2011, I was firmly starring the swim cut-off, 2 hours, in the face, I hadn’t cycled anything over 60 miles and my only attempt at cycling 80 miles had ended in disaster. Easy peasy then.
The day before I had ventured down to registration and had my first sighting of the lake. I would say I saw the turn around point 1.2 miles away but I didn’t. There was the slight issue of the curvature of the Earth being in the way. It just went on and on and on. After registering, I racked ‘Barney’ Ribble and prayed that my back and neck problems that had hindered my last month of training wouldn’t repeat themselves after all the rest.
The Swim – 2.4 Miles
I sneakily conjured up a plan to join on the back of the Pen 2 swimmers (Pen 1 was sub 60 mins, 2 was 60-80 mins, 3 was 80-100 mins & 4 was 100 mins+). I really should have been with 3, and perhaps even 4. My logic was though that Pen 2 had a slightly straighter swim and they’d soon be off into the distance leaving me a clear swim.
Any nerves couldn’t have time to come as I was too busy talking to Des about a rip in his wetsuit and what effect it would have on his swim. We parted to find some space, wishing each other the best of luck. Fortunately he was to get through the swim with no problems.
The swim was busy but not competitive. There were a few flailing arms, but no punches or unsavoury kicks, just everyone in the same boat attempting to find some space. What did happen though was the swim went on forever and ever. We approached a yellow buoy and I thought this must be the turning round point, but alas no. We just kept going and going. When we did finally reach the turn-around point I did wonder if I should just drop out after the swim, thats how tiring it was.
The return journey seemed quite a bit easier as I think the swimmers had finally spread out a little. I had been warned from swimmers the day before that the distance signs on the waters edge were still in place for rowers and bear no resemblence to the distance we had left to swim. That little nugget of information from Razor really was a life safer. Anyway, an uneventful swim back resulted in me exiting the water in 1hr 32mins. Best predicted time prior to the event was 1hr 30, with a more realistic aim of 1hr 40m being my goal, I was delighted with that time.
Transition 1 – Swim to Bike
I had no plans to rush this. I was going to take my time and get everything right. I was also prepared to slow down further today with the gained time from the swim. I dried and then put on my cycling gear. Upon exiting the tent I spotted the portaloo so quickly dashed into the toilet. Upon exiting I ran straight into the guy doing the commentary. A massive cheer from the Pirate supporters and any worries about trying to find my bike quickly vanished with just a handful of bikes left in transition!
The Bike – 112 Miles
Setting off round the lake, I went past plenty of pirate support and then saw Rox and John (@OgdenRunner) with a home made banner of ‘Ride, Plastic, Ride’.
Two tight corners at the end of the lake and my back wheel skidded out on each one. I cycled back to the start to find a track pump to do up my tyre, praying it had just somehow deflated whilst sitting in transition. Adding about 10 minutes to my time at the start of the cycle wasn’t the start I was looking for or needed.
The first 30 miles flew by and everything was fantastic. The Garmin had been hard reset due to a software fault weeks before and I’d forgotten to set the stats back up properly so couldn’t accurately determine my pace. I knew though I was going pretty well by the occasional glance of the ‘current pace’ time. But it was a lonely ride, I wasn’t doing any overtaking and plenty of people were streaming past me.
On the first loop we turned. Into headwind. And it knocked me for 6. This headwind was to effectively stay now for the majority of the next 60-70 miles. And I really struggled in it. I think this was partly due to a lack of bike training in the past month due my shoulder and neck injuries. Soon I was having to calculate what speed to do to make the bike cut-off time of 10 hours.
At around Mile 60 there were another couple of tight corners and again I felt my back wheel slide out. Finally I had to admit defeat and stop and change the inner tube. Getting back going again the next 5 miles felt quite a bit easier, presumably due to the better roll of the rear wheel, but that soon went as more headwinds came, along with rain and a small hailstorm. The Pirate feed-station and the amazing support scattered around the course really helped lift spirits and it was around Mile 85 when I was at my darkest moments.
Around this point I got chatting to a girl who said she had considered dropping out at Mile 40. She was planning on walking the marathon if she made it back. Like her I was also debating how the run would go after the battering my legs had taken on the bike. Every now and then I’d glance down at my Garmin and the miles just hadn’t clocked over. The last 10 miles took forever.
As I approached T2 a massive cheer from the Pirates support went up again. I think I told the person I passed my bike to that they could put it on eBay as I never wanted to see it again. The bike had taken 7hr 52m and had broken me. Completely.
T2 – Bike to Run
Again, a full change of clothes was happening here. What was funny was 2 young lads who were helping marshall in the tent were asking me loads of questions. They were asking how many gels I’d had, etc… They then asked how it felt to win the race? They seriously thought I had finished and had won! I felt sorry breaking the news to them, telling them I was nearer the back than the front. Still they wished me luck for the next bit and probably went off a bit disappointed.
Through T2 in 7:24.
The Run – 26.2 Miles
After getting rid of the bike and having the weight of any mechanical issues being lifted from my mind I felt much happier. I received quite a few shouts of fantastic pace, and cracking running. Looking down at my Garmin I was on for an 8 minute first mile. I thought I’d better slow things down a little. My plan was to run for the first half and then hold out for everything I could. I was going to aim for 10 minute miling, but ultimately take anything that came along.
Things were going well, and then at around Mile 10 the wheels came off big time. I felt very feint, was blacking out and couldn’t walk straight. I presume this is the wall that people talk of, or ‘bonking’. I’d just passed a feed-station and didn’t have the enthusiasm to walk the 0.5 mile back to it. Instead I walked around to the next one. Fortunately Rox was on the side for the final 0.5 mile and managed to talk me to it.
When arriving I ate and drank everything they had on offer – 5 Jaffa Cakes, Salted crisps, High5 drink, some Coca Cola and some water. I instantly felt much better, but made a concious decision at that point to finish and ignore any time targets. The remaining 14 or so miles turned very much into a run/walk strategy with the emphasis being on walking. I also made sure I ate at every one of the magnificent feed stations on the course.
Passing so many pirates made the run section go so much faster than a normal race. Even the lead lady (a pirate) gave a shout out to me. How someone can be laying everything on the line to win a race and still shout out encouragement is beyond me, but goes to show what a fantastic sport and community triathlon is. Fantastic congratulations to @emmasnews and thank you so much for your little cheer.
As I passed the finishers chute for the last time, the commentator came over again and asked how many laps I had left to go. All I could hear was support from the grandstand and I came close to welling up. That last out and back loop was quite a lonely run, but the support between the competitors was growing as everyone was in the same boat. I passed @Sidowski for the 2nd time in exactly the same place as the lap before so we were at least keeping a consistent pace on the run! @paintedrunner went by, but I didn’t realise it was her until it was too late.
On the way back I stopped to thank all the people at the feedstations for their fantastic support and efforts throughout the day. At Mile 25, Rox ran the last mile with me to the finishers chute. I crossed the line to the words of ‘Gregor… You are an…. Outlaw’.
Run time of 5hr 42m.
Overall Time of 15hrs 24 mins, which I’m delighted with. I thought I had a slim chance at going sub 14 hours if things went very well on the day, but alas a slight lack of cycling fitness, coupled with punctures and conditions more than just put pay to that. I think I could make a marked improvement to my run time though, as I feel that I suffered mentally during this section rather than physically, as per my 1st 2 marathons.
Plenty of lessons learnt. I plan to return to Iron distance but not in the immediate future. I have some other plans that I’ll reveal after a long recovery period. I think I’ve learnt though that the key to Ironman really is the bike. I can get to about 60-70 miles before losing the will to live on the bike. To be able to ‘race’ it, you need to know you can do 100 miles before that feeling sets in.
The other thing I’ve learnt is the power of support and what a fantastic community triathlon is. For a better written report of the wonderful support triathletes provide to each other, along with their supporters, see Sidowskis report of the day. Without the pirate support I suspect I wouldn’t have made it to the finish – so thank you to each and every single one of you. And thank you to all the non-pirate supporters out there too, along with every other competitor who towed the start line at 6am. Your support throughout the day was amazing. I can’t wait to return the favour.
Photos are thanks to John (@OgdenRunner).