Ironman UK 2012
After some initial nerves at the expo, it took until I went to bed for me to get remotely nervous. I was staying with Howard and Nina for the night, and we had a nice evening meal, and Nina kept commenting how blasé I was about the whole thing. I got to bed pretty early and only then did I have trouble falling to sleep, though I think this was more to do with excitement of being back in the game again. Once asleep, however, I didn’t have any issues and slept solidly through to half 3, waking up feeling fresh just before my alarm (I wish I could do that during the working week!). I wolfed down a couple of bowls of cereal, though I wasn’t particularly hungry, mixed my drinks and left for Bolton.
The coach from the Reebok to T1 was a sea of nervous first timers looking like they were about to go to the Gallows. This only got worse once we arrived; of the 1500 starts, 900 were first-timers! Lots of worried faces and questions, but good to see. I slowly went through the routine of setting up the bike, which quickly came back to me, with the exception that I had put my cycling shoes in my bag to put on in T1 instead of having them on the bike – with my dodgy elbow and weak wrist, I wanted to put these on sat down, rather than struggling whilst on the bike. The wetsuit went on over the layers of tubigrip I had put on my arm and I lined up for the start, after having to get 2 people to zip my suit up…should probably get back down to ‘full-time’ weight, or get a bigger wetsuit! We were rushed into the water, and I got in gingerly and swam to the start line. No, grumbles for the arm – so far, so good. I put myself quite near the back, with the aim of clear water to protect my arm and waited for the start.
With seemingly no warning, I heard the start horn and set off. Within about 30s I hit a problem. I felt good and was swimming strongly, and despite trying to hold back as much as possible in the hopes of keeping the arm for the whole swim, almost immediately hit the swimmers I had been behind. I moved over to the left and slowly overtook the pack I was stuck behind. After about 10 minutes, we hit the first buoy. As I was trying to protect my left arm from the fights, and the course was anti-clockwise, it meant I was swimming on the inside, so when we hit the buoy, it was time to suck it up and accept my punishment. Thankfully the beating wasn’t too bad, and I emerged unscathed and then had a fairly good swim for the rest of the lap. I came out of the first lap in 38 minutes, rather pleased with myself, and had to stop myself getting carried away one the 2nd. This was the longest I had swum since my crash, and certainly the longest I had swum continuously since my last IM nearly a year ago. However, it felt good and held up well. By now the pack had thinned, and I only got one or two bashes on the turns and all on the right side. Coming towards the halfway point of the 2nd lap and my elbow let out its first few grumbles as it got tired. I found that if I dropped my elbow (going against every technique lesson I’ve ever had) I could take the strain with my tricep and remove the pressure off my elbow, so that’s how I swam for the rest of the swim! At the last buoy I decided to pick up the pace to my normal IM pace and see how I held up and I felt really good, which made me think that I probably could have pushed a bit harder, but nevermind, out of the swim in one piece with my arm still intact in 1:18. Job done.
T1 was a fairly leisurely affair for me, as I had no time goals. Wetsuit off, bike socks on, bike shoes on, chamois cream, helmet, sunglasses, race belt. Stuff arm warmers down the side of my trishorts in case I got cold and replace wet tubigrip with dry one. With a quick detour to use the toilet, I jogged over to my bike and set off. Felt very odd running in bike shoes!
Once I was through the swim, the bike was the next thing I was apprehensive about. For the first 10k me and another guy swapped turns leading out of Pennington before I let him go. I was feeling very weird on the bike: first off, outside and riding, a bit different to the turbo! Also, as my turbo is slightly at an angle, my I was a lot further down that used to, and had to crane my neck to be able to see! It’s a lot easier to just put your head down for a minute on the turbo! However, despite the unfamiliarity I felt pretty good. By the first time up sheep house, I had made up a good few placings and finally dropped the chain into the smaller chainring for the ascent. Having spent the last few months on the turbo and riding around London, the climb came as a bit of a shock! It wasn’t quite the ‘oh, is that it’ that last year’s daily rides around the Peak District produced. The wrist felt weak, but I could climb out of the saddle pretty well, though did think I probably pushed it a little too hard. 6 IMs and I still get carried away…
By the time the end of the first lap had come around, my fortunes took a turn for the worse. I was on good pace, and hit 60k in a little over 2 hours, but my lack of strength was beginning to show. My wrist was now extremely weak by this point, and holding myself up on my bike was becoming a challenge, so I spent most of the time in the aero position. However, having only had one ride outside on the bike in the new position, I was not used to it, and my core strength was rubbish, so my back soon followed the wrist, followed by my neck from craning up to see the road in front of me. For now the pain was bearable but over the next 40k, it only got worse. The 2nd ascent of sheephouse really put my lower back out for a while, and the bumpy descents did nothing to help my wrist.
By 100k, I was in trouble. Trying to lighten the load on my fractured wrist as much as possible, meant taking most of my weight on the right wrist, which is bad enough at the best of times, having fractured that a few years ago. I could take the weight off both and sit on the aerobars, but my back was not happy, and neck was burning from looking up constantly. Add to this the vibrations of the road sending pains up my fractured elbow and it was not looking good! I couldn’t sit comfortably in any position on the bike, and I also couldn’t eat or drink anything as I couldn’t hold myself up on the bike with one hand.
The final 80k of the bike went as follows: Get off bike at aid station, (possible loo break), grab food and drink from aid station and wolf down, stretch back, drink more, stretch neck, drink more, flex wrists, eat and drink more, get back on bike, feel really good for 5 mins, wait for back and neck to go again, sit up, wait for wrist to go, swear at road and body until the next aid station and repeat. It’s difficult to describe how much pain I was in for the last 80k of the bike, everything hurt, and it wasn’t your average dull ache, this was severe eye-watering pain that I could do nothing about with shard shooting pains every bump and vibration. I have never been in so much pain in my life. It hurt less to roll my shoulder back into place when I had fractured my collar bone and I would wake up with it sticking out and I would have to manoeuver it back into position. I have never had tears in my eyes during a race til now, but both wrists were screaming in pain. I usually zone out after the 100k mark of an IM and just get on with it, but I had a constant reminder of what I was doing to my body as my computer clicked down agonizingly slowly. Annoyingly, when my back and neck wanted to play ball, my legs felt pretty good! But my average speed soon dropped off and I rolled to the 7 hour mark. After a crash course in dealing with pain, I somehow I made it to T2 and after a bit of shuffling managed to get off my bike.
I think getting off my bike for T2 ranks up there as one of my happiest moments of my life! My mood lifted instantly and I made the most of it. I fell into the chair and emptied my bag. Thankfully a kind volunteer asked if I wanted some sun cream, having gotten off the bike I suddenly became aware of the burning on my shoulders – probably a bit late for cream but would certainly help! Blister plaster on, shoes on, fuel belt on (annoyingly missing one bottle I soon realised) and visor on. I stopped for some coke, even queued for the toilet, before putting my splint and sling on and set off.
As my muscles began to relax I felt pretty good. My elbow had stopped hurting almost immediately so I took the sling off and just tucked it into my race belt. The crowd were incredible on the run, lining all the streets to the start of the laps and it provided a much needed pick-me-up. After half an hour my legs started to return and I actually managed to pick the pace off and run pretty well! I knew it was a matter of time before my lack of eating or drinking anything, and my lack of any long runs hit me, so I wanted to make the most of it.
I played little games with myself, promising myself a walk once I hit the laps, then pushing this to an hour, then an hour and a half, and then two hours. This soon turned into walking through aid stations to allow myself to get some food on board but running the rest, and I lasted a pretty long time! Coming through town on the 2nd lap I saw Howard and the rents, and the crowds were incredible. On the way out of town, up the hill that I (and I’m sure many others) had nicknamed the ****, I saw another friend from uni who doused me in water which helped with the cooling.
At the aid stations, I generally grabbed a couple of cups of water to dunk over myself, some coke and a banana. It was starting to get seriously hot out there, and with no ice or sponges at the aid stations, the families that lived on the course that had set up a hose were gratefully received and helped cool us all down. At the end of the 2nd lap I had my first stop for a loo break and to change my socks as my blisters were starting to flare up with my shuffling style and lack of time in the shoes. After over 2 hours of running pretty well, the exhaustion began to set in and the pace dropped off. Finally on the penultimate leg into town, I allowed myself a walk up the long draggy hill from the far end. Coming back out was mentally pretty tough, as I kept telling myself ‘just one more hour’. It went slowly and for the first time I was reduced to walk that didn’t involve an incline or aid station. After what seemed like an age, I was trying to jog down the **** and back into town and I finally hit the finish chute:
I didn’t feel anything as I ran down, though I managed to summon up the strength the high five the crowd. The overwhelming sense of relief as I crossed the finish line did nothing to set off the fatigue. I was spent and out of it, but I had finished against the odds, and ticked off Ironman number 6.
Ironman is what defines me and my life centres around the challenge and has done for the last 4 years. I am yet to fully understand why I do it to myself, but I am always searching for my limits and seeing how far I can push myself, wether it be trying to perform the best than I can, or attempting stupid challenges like 3 in 10 weeks or racing with 3 fractured bones. I have to agree with one comment, that it was lunacy for me to even be on the start line, but I had something to prove and was determined to show it was possible. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea, but I wouldn’t go back and change it. I do, however, think I have found my limit for what I am prepared to put my body through in an Ironman. At no point in the race did it ever cross my mind that maybe I should stop or give up. Not once. It may come back to haunt me at some point in the future, when I do myself some serious damage, but it never even occurred to me. I never doubted my ability to finish the race, even from the moment I crashed to be honest. I was just missing the will to finish, which was given to me when my doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to. I have a complete belief in my body; I know what I can do, and what I am capable of. Sure, I don’t know if I will ever qualify for Kona, or if I can ever knock on the doors of sub-9, but finishing – my body will probably give up on me before my mind does, quitting is never even a thought. I suspect this is why I didn’t get nervous once I had no time goals as it was never in doubt. It may also be why I didn’t get any satisfaction from the race or any sense of achievement. Even now, when speaking to people (my physio’s jaw dropping on the floor when I casually mentioned I did an Ironman at the weekend when having my fractures assessed for example), I still think “Meh, no big deal”.
For the first time ever in a race, however, the thought of ‘Never Again’ crossed my mind. I believe I have found the limits of what I am prepared to suffer, and don’t think I am prepared to put my body through another Ironman untrained like this one, fractures aside. As the pain has subsided, I still want to compete at Ironman but need to achieve something, which I can’t do without the training. So I am going to take (most of) next year off and race middle-distance and below, something I can race without having to worry about life getting in the way. I am currently planning on racing Ironman Arizona in November, but if this doesn’t happen then I am happy not to race Ironman at all in 2013. I believe I know now what I need to do to achieve the level I will be satisfied with, and the one thing this race has done for me is to get my hunger back to train properly and get motivated again, something that has been missing since before Henley last year.
In other news, my fractures are slowly on the mend and if anything, actually did a lot of good for my wrist as it was effectively a 7 hour strengthening session! Not recommended though! My elbow fracture is taking a long time to heal (admittedly not helped by this…) but is slowly straightening out, but the winter will see a lot of time in the gym getting my strength back and working on my flexibility and the core.