So having done my first Ironman, an Ironman with a seemingly perfect build up, and Ironman overtrained, one backed up within a few weeks, one with extreme fatigue and one with a few broken bones, it was time to tick another scenario off the list – one extremely undertrained. As the complete lack of any blogging may have shown I have been struggling massively with motivation over the last year or so. After the end of last season I kept things ticking over fairly well with some running and swimming and cycling into work. Long rides at the weekends always seemed to get squeezed out for something else but I managed to keep up some sort of fitness. That was, until I moved house. The complete upheaval really didn’t do me any good, I still managed to cycle into work (with now the added ‘fun’ of several large bumps along the way which killed my legs on my single speed), but swimming, running and long rides went out of the window. Running almost wasn’t my fault, but sporadic training ended up in flaring an old shin injury that pretty much stopped me doing any serious running until a couple of weeks before I flew out to Texas. Swimming had less of an excuse, I’m not short of facilities living down the road from the National Sports Centre with a 50m pool in Crystal Palace but the thought of dragging myself up the hill to it after getting home from work never really enthralled me. Coupled with all of this, I finally managed to get myself into a position at work where I was finally enjoying my job, which meant longer hours, more focus etc etc. But enough whinging, tough shit.
So a week before race day me and Weeksy headed out to Texas on a flight that just seemed to go on forever! When we eventually arrived we upgraded our hire car (you can’t drive around in Texas in anything less than an SUV!) and found our motel just off the freeway in a town called Tomball. A trip to Walmart to stock up on food for the week and we felt like we fitted in rather well! We even managed a run that evening, and despite it being ‘only’ 80 degrees, I was suffering big time in the humidity! But a week to go and I should acclimatise fairly well.
The days consisted of hanging out at the mall, wandering around the race village and the odd bit of training. Though, this was cut pretty short as Weeksy’s knee was causing issues in the lead up so he didn’t want to push it and after our first ride around the Woodlands (where we got horrendously lost, never trusting his sense of direction again!) we found out he had a leaky tub so it was off to the bike shop to get it replaced – bike out of action for most of the week. We did however find a decent pool at one of the local high schools where it cost $2 dollars each, and was either a 25 yard or 50m pool… we could definitely learn a thing or two about facilities over here. It did give me a chance to test out my new Huub swimskin, which felt awesome in the water!
Thursday night was the pasta party and briefing where, after travelling a couple of thousand miles, we ended up sitting next to a British couple, Stuart a first-timer and his wife! The next day we finally got a chance to swim in the lake. I opted for the swimskin – we knew that it would most likely be a wetsuit-optional swim, but I wanted to see how it felt and I didn’t want to overheat. Whilst I felt good in the water (although still hot!), the lack of any OW training since my last race was desperately showing and my lower back started to tighten up after 15 mins, I was in for a fun day. The weather had also turned, despite being a bearable 80 degrees all week, which I had just about gotten used to, the day before it shot up to 100 degrees and we both got burnt in our 30 min/15 min brick! Bikes racked, we rested up in Starbucks before Pizza Hut and an early night.
Up early and I had some cereal and a croissant with nutella, though I wasn’t particularly hungry. We both put on our second layer of sun cream after the first layer the night before and drove down. We got our bikes sorted out and then wandered down to the swim start and it was HOT! I was sweating just walking down to the swim start and the sun hadn’t even come up yet. It did not bode well. Swim skins on and we said our good lucks and went our separate ways. I wanted to delay getting into the water as long as possible, with no wetsuit to float, I didn’t want to be wasting energy treading water. When I couldn’t put it off any longer I got in, but found a life raft to hang onto for the national anthem. I might have even felt some nerves for the first time in about 2 years! With 30 seconds to go, I pushed off and found myself some space, in the middleish and to the left.
Once the gun went off it was chaos. I was completely out of position and should have been about 10 rows forward and ended up stuck behind seemingly hundreds of slower swimmers with people swimming over me trying to get past. I was being far too polite. After about 5 minutes I finally spotted a gap and thought ‘Screw this’, put a kick in and got out of the pack into some clear water and could finally settle down and swim with only the odd person swimming diagonally across me, no idea where he was going! I was feeling strong in the water, but it took me about 26 minutes to hit the first buoy and I remember thinking ‘God I am bored!’ We had another 100m to the next buoy and once I turned past that my back started to tighten up. I managed another few hundreds metres before I had to stop. I had a quick glance behind me and thankfully had some space so I could curl myself up into a ball the stretch my back out and not worry about getting drowned. The next 1500m to the entrance to the canal were fairly uneventful with another stop to stretch the back. The boredom seemed to go, and I finally remembered how to swim long distance and the arms started to play ball. Once I entered the canal I knew I only had 800m left, but it just seemed to drag and I felt as it I was swimming in jelly! People seemed to be passing me left, right and centre and I had to stand up a couple of times to stretch the back out. Finally, after what seemed like an age I saw the final turn buoy and hit the swim exit. 1:20 – about where I expected in non-wetsuit with my swim fitness. I was just glad to have it over with.
Same as pretty much all my IMs, I’ve got this down to a T. No arm warmers as it was roasting, but race belt on, helmet and sunglasses on, couple of cliff blocks in the back pocket, big dollop of chamois cream to protect my future children and head out, stopping off at the sunscreen station. The only mistake I made was putting my bike shoes in my transition bag, so I had to clip-clop my way to my bike and onto the mount line. Numptie
We had been warned that we would most likely have a bit of a tailwind on the way out, but even still I was starting to get worried about cruising at 45kph! My legs felt completely fresh (finally!) and I was overtaking a lot of people. The first 45k were pretty uneventful until I start hearing a clicking sounds from my back wheel. I had hit a bump along the course and it had nudged my bike computer so the magnet would knock it every revolution. Brilliant. I stopped at the top of the next hill, nudged it back into position and set off again. When I next looked at my computer it hadn’t moved – evidently I had moved the computer too far so it couldn’t pick up the magnet. Oh well, 3/4 of the bike course with no computer – glad I always train on feel! I worked out I was hitting every aid station/10 mile marker every half an hour or so. This kept the mind ticking over and focussed and I just put my head down and got on with it. The first couple of hours I didn’t feel ‘right’ on the bike, guess that was the complete lack of any time on my TT bike but after that I felt really good to the point where I was able to get into the TT position for most of the race when my lungs allowed. After about 50 miles I saw Chris standing on the side of the road. I slowed down to find out his knee had gone on the bike which was a serious bummer as he swam strongly and was placed well on the bike. Around this time it also started to get hot – and I mean seriously hot. Drinks were refreshingly cold from the aid stations and pouring them over yourself provided some short relief. 10 minutes later you were roasting again and the drinks were warm – really not pleasant. After the disaster of Roth a couple of years ago, I made sure I just kept drinking but the humidity was just crazy. Usually when you are ticking along at a decent pace the breeze helps cool you down, but out there it just heated you up even more. They call it ‘air you can wear’. My chest was starting to get a little constricted from the heat, especially in the TT position so I alternated between sitting up and down on the bars. My dodgy wrist also wanted in on the action, so I spent more time in the TT position to take the weight off it. I had a good cycle of eating a drinking past each aid station, mainly eating gels and gu chews/clif blocks with a couple of bars. I was surprised how well I was going at 90 miles, but the last 12 dragged on. With no bike computer, and lots of winding turns I had no idea how far away T2 was, but I eventually saw it, rolling in in about 6:10. Pretty pleased with that considering!
Once I gave my bike to a volunteer I suddenly realised I was spent. My legs were strong, all the years of IMs don’t disappear that quickly but the heat had wiped me out. I couldn’t even manage a run to pick my bag up, but had a relaxed T2, taking my time to make sure my shoes were on properly, I knew this would be a long marathon.
Once I headed out, I slowly managed a bit of a shuffle, but I wasn’t exactly running the 4:30 ks of old. I basically ran (read shuffled) between aid stations and walked through taking my time to get fluids and some fuel on board. I had a few things of coke and energy drink, but by this point was running so slowly I just needed to get my temperature down and get some salt on board. Bananas and crisps were the food of choice and taking a cap instead of a visor was probably the best decision I had made all race. I could soak it in the ice water, shove some ice in it and put it on my head to cool me down. It lasted about 2 minutes before the heat had evaporated everything. Other methods included the sponges and ice down the shorts which worked well. Thankfully with an aid station every mile I didn’t have to wait too long to restock the ice. The first lap went fairly well considering, and I finally had my first pee stop at about mile 2 which was pure relief, purely for the fact that I at least some fluids going through me and I wasn’t about to end up in hospital. Having said that, having shoved so much ice down my shorts, I did have a slight issue in trying to get things to work as I had no feeling! Ha!
Lap 2 provided the first opportunity to run through the awesome crowds around the Woodlands, and it was absolutely packed! High fives everywhere, and a massive lift to the spirits, but by this point the damage was done and I was still trying to get my core temp down. At mile 9 I walked my first full mile, and then it went downhill from there. I had a stop at the aid station at mile 13 to get my feet taped up. I can run for hours quite happily with no problems, and always have, but as soon as you throw walking in there, especially with all the water I was throwing over myself to keep myself cool, my feet were not amused! I was still managing to shuffle a little bit, but my breathing was getting worse and worse. At the start of the third lap I saw Chris, and had a quick chat before he sent me on my way. I soon as I hit the little hill (about 10m) it was game over. I tried running once I was through the aid station after this, but I just could not get any oxygen in and my heart rate refused point blank to rise. So I was left with a 7 mile walk. If I put my head down and could walk the miles in just over 15 minutes with stops at the aid stations so just got on with it. Not once did it ever occur to me to stop, pull out or wonder why I was doing this! I can be a stubborn bastard when I need to be. The only highlight was the aid station at mile 20 where an angel appeared to me in the form of a lovely old lady who had baked a ton of cookies for us at one of the aid stations! Heaven!
At long last, at 7 hours (an hour longer than my bike split!!) I hit the junction for more laps/finish line. I was still in stubborn-power walk mode, but when I hit the (extremely long) finishing chute I finally broke into something resembling a job, which prompted a huge cheer from the crowd. I even allowed myself a smile as I was high-fiving the hands stuck out and finally felt joy/satisfaction/pride for the first time in a long time at the end of an Ironman. Once round the corner to the actual finish straight it was relief and seven fingers in the air as my final celebration, before I was promptly carted off to the med tent. Job done, number seven done and a Texan-sized medal around my neck.
We were told about the med tent in the briefing, and the weren’t half kidding when they mentioned the size! I was checked in, and it took me falling asleep in the waiting queue for a doctor to come over and finally grant me my wish of a bed to lie down in. There must have been 200 beds in the main tent, with bodies everywhere, wires coming out and drips going in. It looked like a war zone, and almost sounded like one with people retching and medical equipment beeping away. I was treated to blood salt tests, blood pressure, and three doctors coming over to check my lungs out which had apparently decided to start filling up with fluid. Might explain the lack of oxygen and problems breathing… I was allowed out after about an hour when they decided I wasn’t going to get any worse and I actually became a little more coherent.
I had long planned for some time off Ironman, and if it weren’t for Chris Weeks being such a bad influence(!!) I doubt I would have been on a start line this year. But I must admit I really did enjoy it in a weird way, and it certainly stoked the fire that I thought had long gone out. I still feel like I need 12-18 months off long distance stuff – but this still leaves the possibility of a return to the States next year at Arizona. I feel that the main battle will be actually getting a place in November, but I will make my decision around then to see if I want to race next year. The rest of this year may see nothing, it may see something. I definitely feel fit again cycling into work! I am entered into Liverpool as a World qualifier, and if I feel like training again, I may try for that, or I may just take the rest of the year off. For once it is nice to just be able to do what I want without the overhanging guilt of training in the back of my mind. But I will be back on a start line at some point in the future, be it in a year or many.