There were two phrases that kept going through my mind throughout the day after mile 60 on the bike. The first was “Never, ever, again”. The second was “everyone has a plan until they get smacked in the mouth”. My plan was to finish in under 13 hours with a 1:15 swim, 6:30 bike and 4:30 run. The smack in the mouth was the reality of the Ironman race. The short story is that I finished in 14:15 and I found it very hard going, the longer version is:
I had set the alarm for 3:45; they said yesterday that the car park filled up from 4:45. As I never really sleep the day before a big day, this wasn’t helped by the fact it was such a hot night with no aircon and a noisy fan. So I turned the alarm off at 3:40 and got up. 2 lots of instant porridge which even without any taste buds at that time in the morning still made me wretch , an application of P20 (smells horrible, very runny remind me of creosote but will last all day in and out of the water) AFTER putting in contact lenses – that’s a mistake you only make once , pack my nutrition and we are off at 04:30.
The drive from the hotel to the Outlaw start takes me through the centre of Nottingham and it’s great to see people walking home from clubs, hugging themselves to keep warm or stop from feeling sick/disgust, small arguments mainly between couples. 10 years ago I would have been with them now the only time I see this time is the start of a race. Same person just slightly different tastes. We would both think each other’s choice of leisure activity ridiculous – but both need endurance.
I don’t have a sat nav but if it’s not a taxi and it’s driving in Nottingham at this time this morning it’s going to the Outlaw so I just follow some tail lights. Easy to park and as I get out I am really excited, there is a great atmosphere: nerves, excitement, and concern from loved ones it all mixes into the air.
They weren’t lying about the car park as I walk towards the start there is now a huge car queues to get into the car park.
Checking the kit
I put the chopped up mule bars on the bike. A small amount of overnight rain, that’s why some people had covers on their bikes – I thought it was to stop scratches. At this point I understand why you should not use a floating inflatable arch as a marker for where your bike is – it can move and it has to the other side of the lake.
I take the diluted bottles of Power bar gel (I put 2 packets in a “hammer” handheld gel dispenser then fill up with water so probably 2:3 gels to water). I will take 3 of these flasks on the bike along with my new favourite thing a couple of packs of power gel shots (caffeinated). I empty a couple of packs of these into a bag and put in my bike shirt.
I have a chat with a few people in between using the portaloos three times. If I ever need to lose weight quickly I just need to enter a race and in the hour before the race I will lose all that can quickly lost and flushed away.
I have never pumped my tyres up before a race before but normally I rack on the same day as race day. With everyone around me pumping their tyres I decide I don’t need to do this. It then keeps playing on my mind while I sort out the rest of my kit. From experience I know that with so long on the swim and bike with no distractions other than what my mind can come up with this niggle will keep coming back to me so I went back to the bikes, borrowed someone’s fancy pump (probably worth more than my bike) and without knowing how to use it ended up letting more air out than I got in – but this still seemed to stop the chattering monkey in my mind. Tri is very friendly it’s an all in this together type feeling like when commuters are stuck on a snow delayed train and we dispense with the normal British stand offishness . We are against the common enemy – the race.
When getting changed into my swim stuff we get told that “wetsuits are compulsory” that gets a big laugh and mock disappointed groans.
“Race start in 5 minutes”, I never know how I use up so much time doing nothing. The water is surprisingly warm, I see one guy being told that he shouldn’t be wearing his neoprene hat (which I normally wear as well) but it was OK as they hadn’t seen him.
I have two Garmin 305 one original and one I got on ebay. I have put my original one in a bag and under my swim hat so I can see how wonky I end up swimming and total distance. I like to think that the reason I swim slower than others is because I swim further. This time I will find out.
I position myself in what I think is the fast bay at the back. I then realise I don’t know what side the fast bay is. They tell you to wear smoked googles and I can see why the rising sun is directly behind the end of the lake we are swimming to and it’s a clear day. With the distance and the sun I have no idea where we are aiming for. I’ll just follow those in front.
The canoeists keep telling people “back” from the start line, we’re like a badly organised Grand National line up. Everyone starts waving and cheering for some reason, I have no idea why but as one of the uniformed white cap and black suit brigade I follow along cheering and waving for all I am worth. I am only aware of the count at 5 the start along with 4,3,2,1…I don’t know if there was a gun, hooter or anything but start swimming along with everyone else.
It’s very congested and every other stoke hits a part of someone, in between people swimming on top of me. I am more used to this melee now and don’t take offence as if someone has purposely targeted me, I just get one with it. I really want to get on someone’s feet. I know all of the theory of drafting someone in swimming but never seem to be able to do it. Either the person isn’t going the right way, or they change or they stop, or I lose them. Anyway it has never worked for me and continues not to work for me.
It is a great sight to be in the middle of over 1,000 people swimming and splashing all dressed the same and 100s of them no matter which way you look. The disturbed white water against the black wetsuits and the bright sun. We’re a school of migrating seals there is a definitely natural beauty to it. Even with my bad swimming style.
When I finally find some space I am out far left close to the bank. I am happy with this although there is no one to draft there is only the occasional person to bash into or be bashed into by. I keep an eye out right to make sure I don’t get too far adrift. And make sure that I am heading in the right direction, the course for this swim means that other than swimming past the turn it would be difficult to get lost.
I do keep wandering where the turn is though. I sight every so often but even if I push up quite high I still can’t see anything in the distance. There has been a lot said about the weeds at the outlaw and I know they have done a lot of work to get rid of them but there are still a lot of weeds particularly where I was swimming near to the bank. At one point I managed to swim through a floating island of weeds which then attached itself to my googles for the next 5 minutes while I tried to get rid of it in between strokes. It didn’t make that much difference as with the sun I could see much anyway so this was just a new type of not seeing anything.
They are not really a problem just every so often you think aargh weeds. I have found that I can swim fastest in a wetsuit by going 4,3,4,3 on the breathing but it tends to pull me to one side. So I alternate between that and 3, 3 which is slower but straight.
I see a 750 marker on the side but know from other reviews that this is from the rowing and not to take any notice of them. There seems to be a small jetty that comes in from the left bank which means I start turning into the centre of the lake and then I see the turn up ahead and move more into the centre, as I do this the water gets colder so must be deeper, I turn quite close to the buoy but it’s not as tight or crowded as it often is at turning buoys and am through to the back part.
I am much happier now I can see where I need to get to. Mentally half way through feels good as well. It’s still a long way and I just plug along, the next good sign is when I reach a building and can see the main water park centre up ahead once I am level with this it looks around 2 or 3 hundred to go and can see the movable Erdinger arch. (the one I was going to sight my bike to) and head for that. It now gets a bit more congested and a few more knocks, people swimming into and over you. Just as I am coming into the exit ramp someone whacks me on the head and it takes me a while to figure out my swim hat and Garmin have gone. I have a quick look around as someone is trying to pull me out, put it down as a loss then just as I am being pulled out see it bobbing up and down and gladly snatch it up.
We run back into the changing tent get the bike bag and head for the changing. There are separate fully nude changing areas – I want to wear proper cycling shorts so head for this. The sign on the outside says Females but everyone assures me it’s for men. So I have a leisurely change. The sound in the background is a Marshal constantly shouting “you must take your swim /bike bag with you when you leave to get on your bike” “ where is your swim/bike bag – go back and get it” - a mix of exasperation and command. She’ll be hoarse tomorrow.
I get changed and head for the bikes taking my swim/bike bag and dumping this in a large pile of them outside the tent. I run for the bike and see a small clock on the outside wall saying 7:25 so about on schedule for the swim. I grab my bike when I realise something doesn’t feel right. Touch my head and realise I have left the helmet in the change tent. I run back in to get it and then need to explain to “swim/bag” marshal that I have come back in while she stops me and continues to shout and check everyone at the same time. She was doing a great job, I am not sure she believed me but let me go anyway.
Out on the bike you get to do a lap of the lake before you get out for the main route. This is great as you’re not hammering it, it’s nice to see where you have just swam and the distances, the sun looks great reflecting off of the water, you are glad that part of the day is over with and watch athletes still in the water who you hope will beat the cut off at the same time as being glad you’re in front of them.
I am uncomfortable on the bike from the start. Mainly around the seat area. This isn’t a great feeling on Mile 1 of 112 Miles. As we come out of the water sports centre onto the proper roads a couple that have been chatting just in front of me. There is some traffic stopped and I am confused which way to go. The two in front of me are also confused and the lady of the group goes left, the wrong way as the Marshall and her friend shout back at her. I then manage to go the right way.
The first things that’s obvious about the ride is that it is very well marshalled with lots of stop/men, signs etc. You didn’t really need to know where you were going which was good as I didn’t. There were some quite big roads and roundabouts on the route but with the marshals these were easy to deal with.
I needed to have an average pace of 3.5 minutes per mile to get the time I wanted. I realised that I didn’t know if the 3.11 pace that I was showing meant that this was 11 seconds of .11 of a minute. I should have practised pacing. The Garmin I was using on my bike was from ebay and is still set up as a lady called Emma. It is also set up to lap at around 1.5KM with an loud beep. After about 10 miles I realise that this is going to irritate me today.
The ride continues well until the first aid station. You do pass a few competitors who look like they have had a crash, mechanical failure or flat tyre which leaves a bit of doubt in the mind but on the whole I am feeling pretty good.
I have never done a bike race before with aid stations. As its hot today I plan to get water when I need it to replace my bottles, on Nutrition I will keep with what I have. My plan is to eat the solid bars as I go along (I have cut these up and put them in a small bento box on the bike. I will have 3 of the caffeine sweets every hour or so and about one of the gels via the flask every hour.
This is what I have learnt. The aid stations are a fairly long row of tables. You get a warning sign 100 metres before. The first part is the bottle drop, you chuck your empty bottles into a general area about 50 metres before the tables. You then have marshals shouting what they are holing and you try to grab what you want. I wanted to carry on riding slowly and just grab water. There were around 4 people that were shouting water, I managed to grab a bottle (missing the first one I went for) but tried to put it into the holder before controlling the bike and crashed into the grass verge.
I was wearing an OPQ cycling jersey so got a lot of ribbing about being Cavendish. “ I’ve got to do something no I am out of the TDF” A good spirit at the aid stations and very well organised. After that I managed to do it properly. Chuck old bottle, take new one, then control bike with bottle in hand and only then place it in holder.
My bum is still hurting it really feels like it is chaffing which I haven’t really had in cycling shorts before, I manage to overtake a few people which feels good and I am doing quite well. When people overtake me I console myself with thinking they are bad swimmers. Some of the deep rim wheels sound like a car as they go past.
At about mile 60 I really start to hurt, in both the shoulders and the chaffing rear. Every time I get into the aero position I can only hold it for about 5 minutes. The average pace starts to creep up and I start to think that maybe my 6 hour training rides had more food stops and map reading than they had actual cycling. I am really not enjoying this, I keep thinking how pointless it seems and that it would be easy to give up. I can see why people write their motivations on the bike frame to look at. I just set myself arbitrary targets like just get to 70 miles and see how you feel then 80 the big one in my head seemed to be 92 I felt once I got there the rest would be fine.
I have to mention the supporters here. They really do help, I loved the cow bells and the various different laybys etc. where people had decided to stop to watch. It was a very hot day and I am sure it would have been easier to be in a pub garden, which is the same as I was thinking. It’s amazing how someone that you don’t know shouting out your name and saying well done perks you up, (although we both knew that I wasn’t looking good) I always pulled myself together each time I went past the main viewing point at the pub. I have a tendency to grimace when in pain which end up looking like a smile. I’d liked one spectator once he shouted out my name with a well done and I turned my grimace towards him he shouted you haven’t got time to smile they are getting away from you allez, allez”
In the final third of the bike the average pace kept creeping up. I held it at 3.24 for quite a while, then 3.28, then gave up on pace as it continued to climb and just focussed on getting of the damned bike. I think it finished about 3.50, there was a strong headwind for the final 30 miles and I couldn’t hold the aero position.
When we got to around mile 95 a bloke that went past me said 100 miles done. I was really hoping that his was right. I have always found the 305 forerunner to be fairly accurate. When I got to 100 miles I had a chat with someone else and there’s said it was at 105 miles. I was really hoping that his was correct while at the same time that bit from Lord of the rings kept coming into my head “do not trust to hope”. I kept hoping his was right but didn’t 100% believe it. There is too much room for you thoughts on a long bike ride.
Have I told you how much I hated my bike? It turns out the Garmin was right. Once we turned into the green I knew we had about 2 miles to go so at least I would finish the bike.
As we pulled in our bikes were taken from us. A quick look at the transition and there were already a lot of bikes back. I sat with my run bag in the changing tent feeling punch drunk for a little while. I get my gear on and head out. I change my watch for the Garmin forerunner 10. I like a lightweight watch when running overwise convince myself the watch is irritating me.
The 10 is cheap but recently it takes ages to find satellites. I kept bad temperedly pressing buttons, unlike the other watches you can’t start the timer and let it find the satellites later. It’s all or nothing so I just went for timer – I had also managed to press a run walk timer. 2:30 minutes’ walk followed by 30 secs run. Each change accompanied by a beep.
The run is where the wheels really came off. The first lap was around the lake and I had no legs at all. One guy was running next to me for a while and asked me how I was doing. My response was terrible he met my question to his state as feeling OK just taking it easy at the start. I decided it was best not to talk to people. I am not sure how you train to run when you are that fatigued it definitely wasn’t something I had replicated and even the half last year wasn’t close. The legs were numb, didn’t belong to me and although I was telling them to move in the normal way the messages were not getting through. I felt like the power to push off the ground didn’t really move me forward very much more just up in the air a little.
When I was planning the run at home the number of aid stations seems ridiculous. Why would you need one every 1.5 miles, surely too many. I planned to run through a few maybe for a bit of water. If you stopped at everyone it would kill your time.
After stopping at the very first aid station I had a completely new plan. I would run between aid stations and walk through them. At each one I would have some water. One cup for my head and one to drink. I could no longer stomach the powerbar shots and would take some zero drink that was on offer – I used to drink it years ago so it would probably be ok. It was still very hot
With any endurance race there is always two voices the one that tells you that you could stop and that the pain was not worthwhile and the one that tells you to carry on, the pain is worthwhile and it will be great to cross the finish line -it reminds you of your motivation. I can normally shut the stopping voice out very well, stamp him down until he is very feint. Today he was shouting very loudly.
There are not many distanced markers on the run. Probably because everyone that gets to an ironman already has loads of gear capable of recording this. The problem for me was that without any distance markers or way of recording where I was it was very difficult to motivate me. I love knocking off the miles done and seeing me get to the end goal. I couldn’t do this. I had to try to remember how many aid stations I had been through and work it out from this.
Reading the reviews before the race they warn against band envy and counting the other persons bands (you get once as you reach the end of one of the laps). I counted the number of bands of everyone that went past me, or that I went past, the multi lap thing makes it difficult to know where you are, it was made harder by the fact that you had a wrist band to get you into transition in the first place; people had watches and loom band bracelets that had been made for them.
I hated the out and back part as I knew that I had to complete two of these and it seemed to go on forever. Past Notts forest ground over the bridge, past the park with the fare being set up, where was the turn it must be soon? When the turn finally came all I could think was that it was ages back. I went past a timing point and was pleased to think that at least the family knew I was getting closer to the end (I had no idea that the timing website was down)
I managed to run slowly until about 10 miles in mainly because if I stopped I thought I’d never get going again. Lots of other people seemed to be going run walk and I decided to follow that. I’d run for 5 walk for 2.
Again the marshal and spectators were great. Although running past people moored on their boats drinking beer in the sun seemed very cruel.
On the second out and back a man power walked past me. He continued to walk all of way and I could see him as he got further and further away from me, that was quite demoralising as I felt my run/walk deserved more than to be beaten by someone that was only walking. But to be fair his walk was just a lot better than mine.
I felt a lot better when I completed the second out and back , when I was counting peoples bands on my way back in I consoled myself that at least I wasn’t at the same stage as them. On the way around the lake someone said we could still get under 14 hours. I had not thought about timing for quite a long time all I was after was to finish by hanging on with my fingertips.
As you run around the lake you can hear finishers being greeted with XXX “you are an Outlaw”. My main amusement was the beeps my watch was making and the way fellow runners all looked down at their watch in response to see what was wrong with their heart rate.
On my way around the lake again I thought that I still had two full laps of the lake and one half lap. When I got my third band they said I now just had to run around to the finish, you could not believe how happy I was. 5k to go! I had just seen the clock and to be under 14 hours would have meant a 25 minute 5k I know I was in no state for that so continued to plod. I thought I’d run the final 5K but still managed a slight walk.
To cross that line was far more relief than elation. I spoke to someone else that crossed the line at the same time and we both agreed never again and to stick to the shorter races.
They had all been worried at home as they could only see that I had finished the swim and then no more info until about 6pm. At least they could see when I crossed the line.
As I write this over a week after the race. I feel really pleased that I have done the distance and happy with the time although I think with better planned training I could have done a lot better.
The problem with pain is that it is temporary. Although I can remember that it really hurt at the time I cannot do justice to how much. So now with the distance of a week, the DOMs no longer around, the congratulations I received from everyone still very current in my mind and the feeling of a great achievement completed. That never ever again is changing into definitely not for the next few years. Who knows where I will be by Christmas.
Thank you to all of the supporters and marshals. It was a great day.