It’s Monday lunchtime and I am sitting in the airport awaiting my flight back to the UK and normality. This really is my favourite Ironman of all the venues I have raced in, and maybe next year it’ll be lucky number 13 for getting that sub 10. Nowhere near the fitness to achieve that this year, and I was fine with that, but it’ll come.
For those who haven’t raced here before, it really is second to none. Staying in the Intercontinental we were bumping into pros everywhere and the place was alive with Ironman. It is the perfect venue to base yourself for race day, and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.
My alarm went off at 4:30am, but I was already pretty much awake anyway as is the norm for the night before the race. Got up, did the usual and headed on down to breakfast. Jumped on the bus and got to transition for about 5:45am. Mistake number 1 – I had left all my gels in the hotel room. Not a major mishap as I just thought I’d pick some up as I went along, and this worked pretty well.
The swim start the day before.
I had a strange sort of can’t be bothered feeling at the start. I don’t know what it was, but I just felt a bit sick and tired and like it was all very long way. The pros and supposed fast age groupers went off at 6:45 and then I got myself front and centre for the 7am start with the masses. As per usual with about 2 minutes to go before the start gun, people started to push their way to the front. In previous years I have just let them do it, but this year I was determined the first 500m wouldn’t be consumed with climbing over ‘superstar’ swimmers who had put themselves at the front, only to blow 5 minutes into the race. So, off we all went. My plan worked well and I just had lovely clear water to swim in all the way to the first buoy at 900m or so. Then, the usual fight around that as 3000 people came together and then pretty easy back to the beach. Got out and ran along the small stretch to get back into the water, waving to the girlfriend en route.
Looking around I guess I was somewhere in the top 100 coming back into the water, but there was a bit of a commotion going on as people tried to work out why we were heading back out onto lap 1 as opposed to heading for the orange lap two buoys as promised in the briefing. Having a quick discussion with a couple of guys around me, we just decided to follow the crowd. Funnily enough, it was lap 2 where the beef started with me receiving what can only be described as a thinly veiled punch off someone – danke. Getting out of the water I looked at my watch to see an hour had passed. Bollox. How did that happen? I was swimming as well as previous years in training, but was 5 minutes down. Whether the swim was long, choppy, I don’t know.
Cue mistake 2…
Whether I was angry, not switched on, whatever, I just couldn’t find my bike in T1. I ran down the correct lane I thought, but got to the end of that (some 200m down) and no bike. Got in a flap, ran around shouting 1819 at everyone I could find and eventually found it. I’ve only wasted a few minutes, just calm down I thought. It won’t matter. More on that later…
Out on the bike and I just felt flat. I really don’t know what it was. I kept saying to myself come on, this is your big race, get switched on, but I felt a bit sick and I just couldn’t get my mind focused on the job at hand. Looking at the SRM, I was putting out good watts, so there was nothing wrong with the legs, but I just wanted to get off the bike and sit in the sun. The first 20km passed in a blur as it is a quick slightly downhill section into and through Frankfurt. Up the first hill I sat on my wattage targets and just let everyone come past. It has been a revelation racing with wattage – you can sit back and tell with pretty reliable results who is going too hard and who you’ll be seeing at a snails pace in a few hours time. Sure enough, the smell of burning matches was strong, and sure enough come the end of the bike split I had caught a number of people I predicted I’d see again! It takes your mind off of things anyway.
By 96km and the start of lap 2, my mind had decided that it did want to do the Ironman after all, and things started to look a bit brighter. Still sitting pretty on an IF of 0.70 (Target of 0.67 – 0.72 for the race) I felt like I could push on, and my legs felt fresh. The second lap went in a bit of a blur, and before I knew it I was heading up heartbreak hill for a second time and coming back down the other side. Sat up and coasted the last 5k back into Frankfurt thinking that I had a long hot run ahead and I’d save what I could for that.
Into T2 with a 5:17 bike split and feeling pretty good. IF had come down to 0.68, so on the more conservative side of things, probably due to the lazy roll into town more than anything else.
I had decided on a top change this year, and had brought a bright white 2XU technical vest and hat in the hope of keeping as much of the 30 degree heat off me as possible. This is a strategy that I think worked well. It was hot, really hot, and I needed to stay as cool as possible.
I set out on the run and the legs felt good. Ticking along at about 5:40/km pace for the first 10k, things were going well. I kept telling myself slow down, slow down, but the HR was 140 – 150 and holding and I felt good. Lap 2 I had slowed a bit to 6:00 ish/km pace, but was again feeling ok. Lap 3 was where it started to hit. I decided to walk all the aid stations and then run in-between. My new head gear also came into good use as I was putting ice cubes under it and letting them melt over me which definitely helped keep my temperature down somewhat. I was slowing, but I was holding around 4:20 – 4:30 marathon pace.
Finally onto lap 4, and my sub 11 goal was still in sight. This is where the mental games always start, and it doesn’t matter how many Ironmans you have done, how fit you are, it always hurts. I was in a dark place, but kept focusing on running in-between the aid stations and then walking through them taking as much liquid on board as I could, along with my friends the ice cubes. Running up to the forest and I had 20 minutes to get home for a sub 11. The sign for 38.5 km loomed into sight and something just went within me. I had planned to walk the penultimate aid station and the little ramp up to the bridge, but a huge sense of urgency overwhelmed me. I said to myself sub 11 or bust and took off. 24 hours later, I still don’t know where that surge came from. I went from 6:45 – 7:15/km pace to 5:00/km, then 4:45/km and a few stints at 4:30/km even, though things had got blurry. My heart rate was through the roof, 155, 165, 175, 180 bpm. I was quite literally crying with pain, but my legs were keen. No cramps, no heaviness. I was running past people who had overtaken me a few minutes previously as if I were doing a 5km race. 41.5km flashed up and I had 2 minutes to get home. 700m in that time wouldn’t have been possible even fresh, but that didn’t matter anymore. I started just screaming random words, swearing, grunting, anything to take my mind off the pain.
And then the finish of Ironman number 12 came into sight. I had tears running down my face. I collapsed over the line. A helper tried talking to me but I was just crying uncontrollably. I wasn’t upset at my time – 11:02 (Yes, damn those few minutes from T1 earlier), but something had just taken over. My mind was blank. Do you need medical? Do you need water? Do you need a towel? I don’t know what to say. I’m fine, I just want to sit down.
I don’t know where that final push came from, but it is the best Ironman run I have ever had, albeit not my fastest. I didn’t want to hang around in the athletes village, I just wanted to be away from the race. I got my medal (a beast of a thing!) and finishers t-shirt and exited to find Tamsin who had supported her heart out all day long. After crying for about 10 minutes, I sat in the shade for half an hour and went through my day.
I don’t know where all the emotions came from this year, but something just hit me. I think that for me, coming back from 4 years away from the sport with a disappointing time last year this race was really about discovering whether I still wanted this or not. I have been chasing the sub 10 for as long as I can remember now, and again this year just didn’t hit the consistency in training, or get the weigh off enough to have a serious crack at it. I think the emotions were partly to do with finishing the race (it’s a pretty awesome thing to achieve however many you have done), but also a large part to do with rediscovering why I do the sport. All those long lonely bike rides and runs over the last few months are suddenly put into perspective. With a pb of 10:42 10kgs lighter than I was yesterday, I feel that I am back to where I was when I broke off for 4 years to study physiotherapy.
The biggest medal I have ever received!