I am an Ironman!
Right well let’s get the first thing out of the way… I am an Ironman! After all the training, set backs, sacrifices, and everything else, I have done it. I can now stop correcting everyone who has nicknamed me Ironman! But it was not easy, and in hindsight, I should have expected it (more later).
Having gone down on Thursday to register, I had a nice swim on Friday morning, and then drove the course again with Ollie, went home and slept for most of the afternoon, which turned out to be a mistake as I couldn’t sleep that night! The saturday was a nice short 15 min swim, and then I had a short brick planned to check everything over for the last time. But due to a poorly placed massage, meeting up with people, mud and having to get to the Reebok at last minute notice, this all went out the window, and I racked my bags and bike. The athlete briefing actually made me more nervous than I was before it, though I didn’t hear anything useful. Then it was off home, check I had everything, go to the shops to get a couple of soreens for my emergency bags and then bed at 7. It took me a while to sleep but once I did, I slept solidly until midnight, then the usual up every half hour until it was time to get up (quarter past 3), including 2.30, 2.45, 3.00, 3.05, 3.08, 3.10, 3.11 at which point I just got up. I had a good few bowls of coco pops and a bottle of gatorade, and then it was time to get to the car park for the coach.
Having arrived late, queuing for the coach I quickly checked my bike over and pumped my tyres up and then was rushed down to the start. I put my wetsuit on and got in the water, which was actually really nice! Once everyone was in the water the commentator got everyone doing ‘oggy, oggy, oggy’ and then everyone started cheering/screaming which was the most surreal thing I’ve ever experienced. Having 1400 people in a reservoir at 6 in the morning cheering sent shivers down my spine. Next thing I know every one is thrashing about, and it was time to go.
The swim was actually really nice, and I really enjoyed it. Having done nothing more than 2500m in a pool since my crash and fracturing my collar bone, and nothing more than 1500m at once, I wasn’t expecting much and came out at 1:26, a good 15/20 mins down on what I was planning on before the crash, but just to finish with an intact shoulder was good enough for me. I walked up to transition, got my wetsuit off, put my arm warmers and helmet on, and then applied copious amounts of DZ Nuts to help the 180k in a tri suit. I had a quick loo stop, then grabbed my bike, and jogged cyclo cross style with it on my shoulder to the bike start. I had a bottle of water in my T1 bag, which I used to clean my feet once on the road, before I put my feet into my shoes and it saved me sharing my shoes with a ton of mud!
Once out on the bike, I started to settle down, and then the main climb came, which I raced up, feeling really, really good on the climb, but it was probably a mistake. The first lap was pretty much OK, I started to eat fairly soon, and made sure I was drinking enough, though I was still a bit cautious on the decents, which reminded me far too much like the roads I broke my collar bone on, and in all honesty I made the classic rookie error of going off too hard, and getting carried away with the crowds. My legs started to feel a bit sluggish, mainly from not having been on a bike in a few days, but I concentrated on keeping my HR down and finished the first lap in 2 hours 5, on track for around 6 hours 20/30. On the 2nd lap I was still feeling good on the climb. I was going well on my 2nd lap when all of a sudden, with no warning, my right knee just gave way. It felt like a mixture of cramp and complete weakness. I tried to ride it off, but it just wouldnt go away, and within 500m I had to stop. Looking back, I should have know this would happen, it hasn’t been an easy run up to the IM, with knee problems for the first 2 months, shin splints, and then my collar bone, I should have known something like this was bound to happen. I stretched it out and got back on my bike, but it just wouldn’t stop hurting. I had pain everytime I bent it, and everytime I straightened it. I tried to continue, but the pain was just unbelievable and I started to consider stopping. I carried on for about 10k, having to stop every couple of k to stretch and relieve the pain. I dropped my saddle a fair amount to avoid straightening my knee too much and it helped, but within 5k the agony was back. It was at this point, having considered everything, that I made the decision to pull out, as I physically couldn’t use my right knee. I would get to the next aid station and find a doctor and stop. I felt like s**t, with all my friends and family waiting out on the run course to watch me, and everyone who sponsored me expecting me to finish. But with still 70k to go and then a marathon to do, there was no way it was going to happen. So unable to find another aid station, I somehow finished the lap, and was all ready to pull out and stop when I got cheered by the crowd and thought there was no way I could pull out in front of everyone, so I carried on. Unfortunately, the crowd went all the up the main climb from there, so it looked like I had the climb to do. However on the climb I felt good, at the angle and just hammering on the quads I powered up the hill, and then went past a friend watching, asking what the cut off for the bike was, 10 hour 30. I did some quick calculations, I had about 5 hours to finish the lap and then the marathon would play itself out. Having bombed it down the descent, on the other side of the climb, and then having another climb straight after, I gave myself a good talking to and told myself to man up, deal with it, and at least finish the bike. So I had a lap of powering up the climbs, single leg on the flat, then getting as tucked as possible on the descents, and somehow came off the bike in 7 and a half hours.
I know now that I have probably strained the tendon in the back of my knee and strained or possibly ruptured my ACL, though the doctors can’t be too sure until the swelling goes down as it has ballooned up to the size of a mini-football from all the fluid and I am resided to hobbling around on crutches for a couple of weeks. I’ve had a few x-rays, and there is nothing seriously wrong, so I was lucky to get away with no long-term damage. I did consider it, halfway though the 3rd lap, whether I should stop anyway to avoid completely ruining my knee, but unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you see it!) I’m too stubborn, and after recovering from my collar bone enough to race having been told there was no way I would be able to do it, and it being my first one, there was no way I was not going to finish as soon as I knew I could do the bike. I was also lucky not to find a doctor, even if I just asked to be strapped up, they would have taken one look and told me to stop.
Anyway, I went into T2, put my running shoes on and limped out on to the run. After about 500m my knee started to bend a bit and I started a sort of shuffle with a limp. At this point I knew I had about 8 hours to walk/shuffle a marathon and I could do it. The marathon itself was OK, with thousands of people supporting. It was a good morale booster to see my mates in the park, and I ran and walked round the course. I had to walk a good few miles at the start of the 2nd lap, as my knee stopped cooperating, but as soon as I was told I had 5 miles to go I just went for it. The blisters from my shuffling were huge but I just enjoyed the finale. The finish line was just incredible, with thousands of people screaming/cheering and clapping as I effectively hopped past them until I heard the words, “You are an Ironman” after 14 hours 18 mins. It was an incredible feeling, and still hasn’t sunk in that I have finally done it. My first thought, “wow, I don’t believe it”. Second thought, “Which IM shall I do next”! Having had time to think about it and reflect, would I have continued if I had done it again. Well if it wasn’t my first, I think I would have probably pulled out for the sake of my knees. But for my first Ironman, I said nothing would stop me, and I would do it all over again, regardless of my knees. My doctor hates me for it, but that’s just me. My advice to anyone in the same position, (doctors look away!), carry on until you are forced to stop by someone else as you miss the cutoff. If I hadn’t finished because I had missed the cutoff, then I would have been upset and annoyed, but I know I couldn’t have done anything else. If I had found a doctor and pulled out, I know I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.
In terms of organisation, I know there have been lots of complaints about it, but excluding the lack of a contingency plan in case of rain for the Iron village and transistion, (which is far beyond an oversight, and pretty disgraceful), I think it was pretty well run. They did the best with what they had, and the finish was amazing.
Finally, a massive thanks to all the volunteers (including my boss!) who came down to help and to the thousands of supporters, including all my friends, family, colleagues and tri friends who came to watch and cheer us all on. I saw some of them consistently for the entire day, from before the start to at the finish line 15 hours later, which is just amazing. And without you, I would have pulled out, so thank you! Also thank you to all the athletes there, from everyone who asked if I was alright and had everything I needed when I was trying to get my knee to work, to all those I met on the run, who provided a good chat to take my mind off the boredom. And thank you to everyone who sent me a good luck/congratulations message. They all helped, especially when trying to finish the bike.
Now it is time to enjoy some time off, catch up on life, and then plan next season, hopefully with a few less setbacks! If anyone is even considering doing on, just find one and sign up, you will not regret it!