With one week to go, I had every athlete’s nightmare: a cold!
After six months of hard preparation my heart rate had risen by about 10 beats and I could barely breathe. On the Tuesday, after the cold had turned into a sinus infection, I made the decision to get antibiotics. Not sure if racing while taking them was a good idea, but this was the final throw of the dice.
The pre-race activity for an Ironman starts two days before the race with registration and the Expo: picking up the goody bag, the t-shirt with every competitor’s name on it, your race numbers and transition bags, along with a briefing on all the dos and don'ts in the race.
With a video of last year’s race showing on a huge screen while we wait in line, the adrenaline starts....and there is still two days to go. I was staying with fellow St Albans Strider, Rav, and his family. Rav has completed EIGHT ironman races (and two DNF) so is very experienced. His decision to stay in a quiet villa away from the race was a good idea, helping us to avoid the pre-race nerves.
On the Thursday morning, I managed to get a lap of the swim course in - I figured the salt water may help my sinuses - and a 45min easy ride on the bike, just to make sure that I had put it together correctly after the flight.
The day before the race (Friday) is bike racking and handing in the transition bags. These bags need to be filled with everything that you will want for the bike and run sections of the race. This can be a logistical nightmare trying to think ahead to ensure all the little things, like Vaseline for your toes, are in there.
The bike racking resembles a car park for 1500 bikes. It is huge! Trying to find fixed points that you will be able to spot on race day helps and I noticed that I was near the second tree after a marquee. Unless someone chopped it down overnight, I would be fine.
The race starts at 7am so we were up at 4 am for a breakfast of porridge and a Starbucks coffee (albeit instant).
Travelling down to the start at 5 am, it was still dark, yet competitors were descending onto the start area from all corners: quick check of the bike and put some food into a small box on the frame (known as a bento box). As well as the food at the aid stations I had two cereal bars, a small bag of peanuts, two packets of energy shots (sort of like soft wine gums, but filled with energy, salts and a bit of caffeine) as well as two energy gels and a bag of salt tablets that I would use during the race.
The sun started to rise at around 6.15 am. It was then that we started to get into our wetsuits. Once suited up, we made our way onto the beach, ready for the start of the 3.8km swim - like 1500 wetsuit clad lemmings heading towards their fate.
The swim start of an ironman is a great spectacle, with so many athletes running and diving into the water at once, it quickly resembles a huge “washing machine” of bodies and white water. The experience of being in the middle of it is also quite strange. Trying to look where you are going too much is somewhat pointless as all you can see is a mass of flailing arms and legs. As you slow down when you look up, it has the effect of hitting your brakes while on the motorway: the guys behind just run into you.
I had my goggles knocked twice, but both times managed to relocate them without getting too much water into my eyes, and apart from possibly choosing a wider than required line round the first two corners, my swim was a good one.
After one lap, we had to get out of the water and run up to the beach, round a stake and back into the water. This gives the spectators a great chance to cheer you on and gives you some idea of how you are doing. With the race clock showing only 32 minutes, I knew I was having a good one. In my previous Ironman, I had taken 76 minutes for the swim, so anything under 75 was going to be good.
Another lap and I got out the water on 66 minutes. Better than I could have imagined. Maybe this was going to be a great day after all.
Getting out of the water, we had a long jog up the beach to pick up our transition bags and enter into the changing marquee. As you sat down you were “attacked” by people applying suntan cream to your exposed flesh. With 180km of cycling ahead of us, this was more than welcome, until the sunscreen was slapped onto my neck and I discovered that my wetsuit had chafed badly – boy, did it sting!!
Out onto the bike.
Due to running injuries, this is where I had done most of my training, and I was feeling good. Passing people pretty much the whole way, I started to work my way through the 651 people in front of me after the swim.
The 180km bike route on this course is what makes it so hard. With over 2500m of climbing, the heat and also the strong wind, it can sap your strength. Rav said he saw at least two people lying at the side of the road with apparent exhaustion, while one girl was just sat astride her cross bar sobbing, halfway up the biggest climb. For me though, it went almost to plan, with no neck/shoulder ache (a problem I'd had on my longer training rides) until about 160km in when I started to feel a strain in my right inner thigh.
With only one small climb to go I knew that after that, it was downhill to the finish. Unfortunately, about 50m from the top, it cramped badly and I couldn't even rotate the pedals. My momentum kept me going over the crest, albeit at a snail’s pace. As I started the long descent, I tried to stretch it to free it off, which seemed to work ok. Thank goodness the bike was over and there were no more uphill sections.
Riding into the second transition, the crowds were out in force. I had completed the bike in 5hrs55mins and had overtaken 406 people.
Now, with the run section to go, typically my strongest event, this would be my chance to push on to catch even more.
After dismounting we had to run with our bikes through what seemed the longest transition ever. Running barefoot caused my hamstrings to cramp up and I had to resort to a brisk walk.
Grabbing the run transition bag I entered the changing marquee and yet again was attacked with sunscreen. Cue more shooting pain into my chafed neck. With my trainers on I headed out onto the marathon and “……hmmm, legs not feeling great. Surely, I should be able run better than this shuffle I am doing.”
After one kilometre though, I was suffering.
My strategy had been to push the bike hard, then just get through the run. I knew that due to several running injuries, the marathon was going to be tough as I simply had not done the miles in training, but I thought that I would be able to get halfway before it really started to hurt.
But no,........the Marathon is a distance that should always command deepest respect, no matter how good you have been in the past......trying to do it at the end of the Ironman is even harder!
The run course was three laps out along the coast and back, with the first lap going much further covering 20km, then two shorter laps of 11km.
After about 15km, and still with two more laps to go, I was fighting my body just to continue. I have never suffered so much for so long as I did on that 4hrs12mins marathon! But I was determined to finish, even if I had to walk it.
I decided to take walking breaks that gradually got longer as the race went on. What started as a 50 step break, turned into a 60, then 100, then “who knows how many steps” break. I couldn't even count!
My mantra going through my head was, “every step is getting you closer to the finish, so just keep going”!!!
Eventually crossing the finish line in 11hrs28mins, to those immortal words "You are an Ironman"
Two days later and my legs are agony, my neck is killing me, and I can't lift my right leg.
Next time I'll do more running training!
Post- race analysis, I wonder how much the infection and antibiotics took out of me? Did it affect my body's ability to process food/oxygen into energy? I guess I'll never know!
Still, my dream of getting to the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii eludes me........maybe next time??!!
Thanks to everyone who sponsored me - raising money for PACE - a local charity with strong connections to the Striders. I think the total is running at around the £1000 mark, which is great - anyone wishing to reward my suffering and donate to a great cause, please follow this link: http://www.justgiving.com/Mike-Jubb0