The unlikely Ironman
This is the mother of all triathlons: a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. In June I travelled up to the Lake District to take part in the Lakesman iron-distance triathlon, an event I’d been training for solidly for 6 months. I’d never run any distance before I started training, nor even competed in a triathlon. I worried in the build-up as to what I’d let myself in for (many tears were shed) which was made worse by a niggling running injury I’d picked up 5 weeks prior to the event. But I got there, I competed, and I completed it. This is what it was like (in post-event bloggy exhaustion)
4am: wake. worry I can’t do it.
5am: try to eat something. Nerves making it hard. I’m worried the water will be too cold, that I won’t complete the things in the time allowed, that it will be hilly, that my running injury will make it impossible to complete the run. Trying not to think about the total madness of the overall event.
6am: swim starts. It’s warm. The lake is beautiful. I find it much easier than I thought and I think of what my swimming coach taught me as I power through the water. It’s far but it takes me just an hour and ten minutes: 20 mins quicker than my best projection.
7.30am: start the cycle. I am an hour ahead of schedule – this gives me a boost. Overcast skies and a tailwind. My team missed me getting out of the water because I was so far ahead. They catch up in the car and we hug. Quiet roads at this time on a Sunday morning – a fast ride along the gently undulating A66 on good tarmac. I’m averaging 18mph, 4mph faster than the speed I need to make it back in time. I’m really good at climbing – every uphill, no matter how slight, I power past everyone else. They then pass me on the downs. First feed station – I take a banana and drink some of the oat smoothie I made.
10am: my tummy feels funny. It’s the combination of bananas, energy bars, my raspberry smoothie, nerves, not being able to finish my breakfast, and having got up so early. There are no loos provided on the route, and this is not something I can do on the verge. I see a man watering the plants in his garden and ask if I can come in and use the toilet. He is bemused but agrees. His whole house, including the toilet, is carpeted in beige.
11am: halfway through the cycle. I feel great. Tailwind, smooth roads, no hills. When they said flat they really meant it. Coastal route with a view over the sea. A touch of rain but mainly dry. My team has been popping up every so often and cheering me on. There is a big crowd here in Allonby holding signs – one says “don’t be shit.”
12.15pm: second time through Allonby on the mini-lap. I’m starting to struggle. My sister bought me some crisps – the ‘real’ food feels great. I chat to them for a while. I’m still way ahead of schedule, but simply being on the bike for this long is a killer. It’s nearly been five hours. I set off, the final flying stretch where I’ll have flat roads and a whopping tailwind soon over as the route reaches its most northerly point and turns southwards, with 42 miles still to go before I get back to Keswick. That in itself is a huge distance, regardless of the fact that I have already been cycling all day. I try not to think about it.
2pm: final twelve miles. Overriding thoughts: PAIN, whose idea was this, no way I can run a marathon now, PAIN, hungry, worry (leg feels fine, but might not last the run), PAIN, headwind, exhausted, hungry, who invented this – it’s a bloody ridiculous idea for an event.
3pm: back in Keswick. It looks like most people beat me to it – from being in the top 50 out of the water I’m now in the last 30. Rack bike, change, toilet, sit down, eat. I find my team and chat to them for a while. Longest transition ever.
3.30pm: start the run. It’s a five lap course – I’ve told myself I’ll do the first lap and see how I feel. Legs feel fine. Body feels great. I can’t believe it. Smiles all round.
5.15pm: onto the third lap. First two were easy, now it’s starting to hurt a bit. Head up, still smiling. It’s raining which is good for refreshment but not so good for the cross-country sections of the course which are slowly turning into a bog. Legs still fine. Body feeling good. Tiring but still going. Water and coke gulped at each station. I don’t even LIKE coke, but today, I love it. I am running faster than most people and have nearly caught up a friend who was a lap ahead of me when I started. Still smiling and getting lots of cheers. “You’re looking fresh!” people are saying. Keep smiling. Everyone else looks fucked.
6.30pm: final lap. My knees are in agony. I am no longer smiling
7pm: I can no longer run. Talking myself through it now. 100 steps run/stagger, 50 steps walk. Eventually I am running 20 and walking 100. I am finding it hard to breathe and I nearly start hyperventilating at a feed station, tears pouring down my face as I try not to panic. Everything in my body is saying STOP but I am so nearly there. Walk 100 paces, run 20. Final strait. I pick up the running again.
7.30pm: I cross the finish line, 13 hours and 28 minutes after I started. I can’t breathe, I’m cold, I can’t walk, I’m going to have to find the medic tent. My hands cover my face to hide the tears from the cameras, although when I look at the pictures later my gasping grimace looks just like a smile. Amazing.
So, there we are. Ironman done. It was unimaginably tough but at times felt great – just goes to show that if you prepare for something and set your mind on a task, you can achieve it. I’m by no means an athlete, and especially not a triathlete. But I crossed that finish line well within the time allowance and now have my Lake District slate medal to keep for the rest of time. Just never ask me to do it again.