My First Ironman report, I finished it (the race, I mean!). It’s a bit epic so a cup of coffee may be necessary. I apologise in advance if anyone falls asleep into their hot beverage amidst the waffle ?
Challenge Roth, July 10 2011. MCOS, Limerick Tri Club #940
It encompassed 8 solid months and over 10,000kms of swimming, cycling and running. Surely enough work to accomplish a 3.8k swim, 180k bike and a full marathon, 42.2k of running in sequence continuously? It was indeed and I felt immense pride when it eventually sank in. The training was not rocket science. The self coached and progressive learning approach got me there. Sure, a good Coach would have undoubtedly affected the race day outcome but the journey was one rich in self discovery. Get your long swim up to 4km steady, your long ride up to 5-6 hours and your long run up to 3 hours and that’s the bare necessities covered. A couple of blocks of more specific IM training and some benchmark brick workouts will instil the confidence that you can string it all together on the day.
The biggest lesson I learned training for an IM was how to handle Life balance with training. You cannot just expect to forge ahead with increasing training loads and put family life on a shelf and then rely on that family support when you need it most. You WILL need it. Your support is going to feel like they are doing the blasted thing themselves as you harp on about it but remain involved and present in their lives too. It pays back in spades. I thought about this a lot, trained at mad hours and dropped sessions before push came to shove. Caz really helped to set the balance I felt lucky to have her on board. I read tonnes of literature about IM training en route. While it sounds great when a Pro comments that they leave all things training at the door for family life at 3pm each day the rest of us work normal jobs and so we must work much much harder to find the balance. Get it straight before you launch into a winter with a heart full of ambitions. If Friday night is Pizza night with the kids, it’s always Pizza night. It is NEVER compromised for you not getting your lazy ass out of bed in the morning for your swim set. Bury the guilt.
Lesson 1: Find a balance between training and life early.
Lesson 2: Forget about catch up training. If you miss a session, leave it. Chasing it will not just tire you out for subsequent sessions or set an injury in motion, it’s simply never worth the trade of Pizza night ?
Basically, sleep, drink water, reduce the volume, IM paced workouts and 2 weeks instead of 3 weeks and eliminate any form of stress! Organise everything and leave nothing to chance.
I arrived in Roth on Wednesday night to soak up the atmosphere before the weekend. What atmosphere? Beyond some welcome banner s “welcoming triathletes” hung across some streets, there was nothing going on. Bavarian life was tipping away as normal in seemed in the small towns of Roth and Hipolstein. I ate at a quiet Italian which served the most delicious complimentary
bruschetta before heading back to my B&B rather bemused. I put the bike together and checked that I had everything I needed. I slept well but dreamed I had missed the whole event!
On Thursday morning I arose early, practiced my race day breakfast and did some training. The Canal (swim venue) was closed for swimming so I took a dip in the nearby Rothsee Lake instead. The lake was calm and warm so I opted to swim without a wetsuit. I did a short steady swim and it felt like it was dusting off taper cobwebs. There were a few wetsuits testing the water too. At least I wasn’t the only triathlete in Roth. I guessed it was about 18-19 degrees in the water so it would feel quite warm in the suits on race morning. The air temps were hitting 25-26 degrees by the time I kitted out for a cycle. I wanted to check out the Solarberg, the hill that Challenge Roth is famous for. It’s situated in Hipolstein, a small town you pass through 4 times during the race. It was about 8km from Allersberg where I was staying. It was a convenient location for the race and a lot closer than the majority who opt for Nurnberg. A banner overhung the street on the corner before the Solarberg. On it was printed “prepare for the Solar, the experience of your life!” It was just a recce but I was quite excited already. The hill rises in front of you but it’s short. The gradient was maybe 8% but for lasted less than a km. I cycled up it with the usual daytime traffic. There was no way to prepare for the emotions on this hill come race day. I recce’d a 20km loop that took me back around to Hipolstein again and then a long quick descent into the finish at Roth. I felt a bit wooden actually. Still, I was clocking good speed on the silky smooth roads at my estimated IM intensity. In hindsight a 100 minute cycle at that pace was probably too much 3 days from the biggest event of my life.
I headed to the triathlon park in Roth in the afternoon to register. En route I visited T1 which was being set up at the canal. I sat silently on the bank by the swim exit watching a huge barge glide under the bridge. I visualised myself swimming in the opposite direction amidst hundreds of blue hats in my wave. I pictured myself getting out of the water and walking to the changing tent. Exit the other side. Find the stake with #765 on it. I was on that row. Turn left at it, 6 stakes to the #921-940 stakes. My bike was right in front of the stake marked #941-960. As I paced through T1 there was a few other hanging around stake #51 taking pictures of Chrissie Wellingtons spot. The triathlon park was quiet and the queue to register short. Everyone seemed to have tans and cooler runners than me. I explored the expo resisting the urge to spend. The finish line stands were up along with most of the finish line paraphernalia. It was as impressive a finish area as I had ever seen. I sat and did some more visualisation. It was beginning to feel real and the butterflies started up. Next up was a short recce of the canal bank. There was zero shelter from the direct 28 degree sunlight and I knew the heat was going to be significant. I wasn’t mad about the loose surface either. I felt fit and ready with no niggles or worries.
On Friday morning I drove to Munich to collect Caz. I showed her around and in doing so it struck me how far apart T1 and T2 were. Logistically this was going to be tricky but I figured the Germans would have an efficient plan to handle the volumes that would descent on the 2 small towns. I brought Caz to the Italian I had found. It was much busier and there was no complimentary bruschetta this time. We strolled into the market square in Roth afterwards and it was much more alive than the previous day. A band was playing and every second person in the crowd wore compression socks or shins. I found it odd to see the masses of German triathletes swigging beer 2 days from race day! The atmosphere was building.
I was registered and organised so Saturday was just about checking in the bike and chilling. It didn’t pan out like that! I did a short swim, bike, run session at the Rothsee Lake in the morning before strolling over to T1 to check the bike, helmet and run bag in. By now the roads were teeming with cyclists with deep rim wheels. We beat the queues and arrived early. I was in great spirits until a Marshall refused to allow me enter transition due to a tiny 0.5cm tear in the plastic on my Giro helmet. It was the part where you pull over your ears. I protested that the helmet was practically new and the integrity of it was good. However he spouted some German cycling law and drew the line. I was allowed to check my bike in but had to get another helmet and it would be further spot checked in the morning. My spirits took a blow but the Marshall perked me up by A) showing me the dozens of Giro helmets already marked on a list and B) how the helmet was unsuitable for IM (in his IM experience) as your head just heats up in it. I investigated this fact for myself by checking out stakes 1-50, the PRO men. They were about 60/40 in favour of pointy helmets so there was some sort of clout to his statement. I still had to find another helmet though. Racking my bike I was just amazed at the standard of technology around me. I sure seemed to be the only plebe without deep rims. I made a note to look into them for next year and also to tell people about the helmet incident. As much as I ogled the Scotts , Stevens and Cervelos with all the bells and whistles though I noticed one of the PROs on the #14-17 stake rode the very same bike as me, only with prettier wheels.
Anyway, mission on to locate a helmet and cue a stupid amount of walking around the triathlon park to finally settle on a new non pointy helmet. I needed to get back to my base and get off my feet. Note to self; leave nothing to chance next time. If there was to be a next time… the butterflies were dancing at this stage!
I awoke at 0329 one minute before the alarm. It was an alarm in another room that woke me. I headed down for breakfast without delay and was alone for nearly 20 minutes until a slow stream of yellow wrist bands appeared yawning. We had all been coming and going the previous 2 days with polite acknowledgements but little chat. At this silly O’ clock breakfast buffet the general nerves of anticipation broke the ice. The choice breakfast of champions included nutella and boiled eggs (not together). I had read in articles that a further 1500 calories was ideal to top up and surplus your stocked pasta loaded glycogen stores. Your body was going to require fuel to the tune of 8000+ calories for the race so every morsel helped. TI thought I’d be too nervous to eat but I had slept well and my appetite was good. I easily did the 1500 and then some. I pee’d clear too, all systems go ?
There were no last minute details to be adjusted. We all wished each other good luck. I was organised and on my way to T1 by 5am. The excitement was building and sinking in as fast as thousands of cars were marshalled and directed with great care in dark fields by smiling volunteers. I gave the young girl directing Caz and I a few extra euro and her smile set a tone for every Marshall I’d meet that day. They say they aim to have a Marshall per athlete, all 4,000+ of them! The Marshalling in general was superb, second to none I’ve experienced before.
Epic tunes boomed from the speakers at T1 below the bridge that crossed the canal. The buzz amongst the crowd was electric, absolutely electric. The hairs stood on the back of my neck as Caz took a little video monologue. T1 was jammed packed outside the transition zone. Hoards pressed
against the fence in front of the PROs watching the likes of Andreas and Chrissie pacing through their pre race motions. It was to be some day for those 2! I squeezed the life out of Caz who had tears in her eyes, before departing into transition. The madness suddenly became a steely silence with polite chatter. I dropped my bike bag and located my bike. I then spent an age deciding what to do with socks. The world was passing me by as I squandered in the dilemma of what to do with my bloody socks, to put them on in the tent or at the bike! I was a bit out of it actually until the first of a stream of Spaniards asked to borrow my foot pump. It snapped me back to reality and I sorted myself in minutes. While my pump was doing the rounds I walked through my paces again. Grab the bag and change. Put socks on. Find stake with #765, I’m 6 rows down. #921-940. It’s at the #941-960 stakes. I’m the type who loses his car in shopping centre parking lots so this was very necessary for me. A couple of lads bounced off me for chat simply because I wore a Limerick Tri Club top. The oddest one was an Australian guy who seemed twice my age, reminding me of a time he fished in the Shannon Estuaries. I downed another 300 calories of CHO and searched for Caz again. The PROs were off at 0630 and the crowds on the bridge and the banks were unreal. I was off in wave 4 at 0700 so I wrestled my pump from a Frenchman and met Caz to say goodbye for a few hours. About 10 or so, I hoped!
The music, 5 minute and 60 second warnings and the 10 second countdown were maybe a bit cheesy but I loved the format. Once I zipped up the wetsuit the butterflies suddenly stopped. Just like that I was in the zone. I just loosened my shoulders and arms amongst the 300 odd blue hats and one pink hat (some poor woman had missed her wave and now had to start with us men). I think what settled my nerve was the realisation that it was the start of a long day. I was in no hurry. Small things that might cost a minute or two didn’t matter in the greater scheme. I was already short a pointy helmet and sure that was 5 minutes, or was it? There was no wind to speak of and temperatures were expected to hit the high 20s. Thunderstorms were expected in the evening too. I was ready for it. 8 months of work had come down to this moment. They let us into the water a couple of minutes before the start of wave 4. As the water touched my face the adrenalin surged through my veins…
My Plan was to start about 3 rows back and nearer the centre of the canal than the bank. At least half of the wave was standing on the steps waiting for eager starters to race off before jumping into clear water. I reckoned 3 rows back put maybe 60-80 in front of me to start. I didn’t mind some roughness to start but wanted to either get in with a pace group or find clear water. As the countdown from 60 seconds began the whole group tightened up and I was now 4 rows back but still in the first third of the wave. The klaxon sounded, the rope lifted and we were off. It wasn’t as crazy as some of the shorter distance race starts I’ve been in but we literally did swim on top of each other for about 50m. I kept my head down for 20 hard strokes and got onto some feet.
The canal course itself was easy. Swim up one side to a buoy and down the other side. 3k done by the time you hit the bridge, then 400m or so out and back from the bridge. I felt really good, got my heart rate working and established a long steady rhythm. I stayed on the feet for 2-300m but realised I was pulling left of the buoys, so I had to drift off them and right. After 400m the wave had thinned out and I was doing better than my starting position. I sort of bullied someone off the feet they were following and got an elbow in the eye for it. Thoroughly deserved for the cheek but the
feet were mine. A bold move but it paid off. We covered the 1500m to the first buoy in no time and I felt I was good for my 65 minute target thus far. We started hitting traffic from the previous wave and I took care not to swim over anyone. I was horrified a few days later to find out that someone had died in the canal that morning. It was a relay swimmer so thankfully not in the water when I was there. I’d hate to learn that I might have swam passed someone in real distress. There were lots of Marshalls on the water but unfortunately a tragedy cast a shadow on the event. My heart now goes out to the friends and family of that swimmer. It’s so sad.
Swimming straight up and down the canal meant sighting was easy. I sighted more to ensure I didn’t swim into any women and to judge the distance to more feet, than I did for navigation. We hit the bridge with 390m left to the second turnaround and I started to push the pace a bit. I was passing blue hats regularly now and feeling great about the long swim sets I had done during the winter on my own. I was swimming completely within myself, aware of my stroke and had bags of energy. Beyond the bridge I had to stop momentarily to fix my cap which was slipping off. There was no way I was losing my first IM cap! At this point 2 powerful swimmers from wave 5 blasted past me. I tried to engage the feet for a bit but I had to swim too hard to even get there. I gave up the ghost as soon as I had started. After the second turnaround I saw a group of blue hats about 20m in front of me. I only had maybe 6 minutes or so of swimming left and was happily swimming in clear water but made a final push to join the group. It was a good move as I had an easy last 200m back to the swim exit. I was helped out of the water and jogged slowly to collect my bag. I had no watch on so asked a Marshall what time it was. He said “acht uhr”. 8 O’clock, sweet, I was well within target and possibly close to the hour. At that very moment an English guy ran past me pumping his fist while letting a roar out of him. He had broken that hour so clearly I did too. I smiled at the girl helping me get my wetsuit off. I was off to the best possible start. A 58:34 was beyond my expectation and good enough for 58th out of 373 in my AG including 12 PROs. I was pretty stoked about that! It also turned out to be my best split of the day, which was certainly unusual for me ?
Leaving T1 relaxed and happy out with a sub 60 swim!
It’s officially my longest T1 ever. 3:24, what in the world was I up to? Considering I even had a Marshall help to put my socks on! Maybe it was the fact that I walked out to the mount line and mounted the saddle like a granny. No leap of faith for me today. No risks.
Usually my best bit…
I got my feet in with no issue and immediately dropped onto the bars. My heart rate according to the Garmin was in the 160s so my immediate focus was to drop that to Z1-2 zone. I only sipped water too. The start of the bike course is almost immediately downhill and hits the tightest left hander on the course at 50+kmh. There were bales of hay set up just to confirm how tricky it was. As usual with me on descents I gunned it and used the whole road. Straight after the turn you hit a series of manhole covers and a track that makes the bike shudder beneath you. I had a total of 2,300 calories onboard. It consisted of 15 powerbar gels and a double strength carb drink in the aero bottle. I had water on the cage. My plan was to drown a gel with lots of water every 20 minutes and sip the carb in between. Take a new water bottle at every aid station, approximately every half hour. When I hit the track by bento box jumped open and I lost 2 gels. It was too fast and tight a section to stop and retrieve so I was down to 2100 calories. My bike target was 5:15 so that still gave me 400 calories per hour as a resource and that was fine. I stuck to the plan.
By 20 minutes I had taken on board most of my water bottle and my heart rate had dropped below 150. I took my first gel with no issues. It was so far so good. I mentally prepared myself for a long day out. Here was almost no wind and I was passing a lot of people. My average speed was 39kmh but it was a fast section and I knew there was a diversion to a climb before the village of Heidink and a drag at Thaalmassing to sort that out. I set down a couple of pace benchmarks to ensure I was on target. 34kmh average by the top of both the Greding Climb and the Solarberg as long as my heart rate stayed under 150. The Heidink climb was grand. No harder than the 5km 2-3% climb I practiced
back home. I passed plenty on the way up spinning comfortably. A Marshal on a motorbike did yell in German for me to keep right of the road. I obliged. It brought the nature of pace lines and legal drafting into focus for me. The route was reasonably flat until we ascended into Greding at about 40km. It was on this section that I learned to overtake only when there was enough space behind the next guy to pull in. Essentially I rode in a pace line with a few others all 10-15m apart. If I was overtaken and the guy pulled in front of me it was my duty to fall back out of the draft zone. We had a motorbike for company for a while and they seemed satisfied that we were working legally.
It often felt very easy spinning behind someone. While not drafting you still get a mental draft by having someone to pace off of. I also noticed a couple of numbers on the number belts were 1xx. I was #940 so I was pacing with sub9 types and this gave me my first area for concern. If you closed in on the guy in front you had to decide whether to fall back or pass. The decision to pass may have meant you had to pass 4 or 5 bikes meaning you pushed ever so slightly harder for the best part of a km to lead out. There was a long drag leading to and after the Greding climb. The climb itself was the toughest on the course. The support was wicked on it as it had been in every town we passed through. Locals sat outside drinking beer in the sunshine and lifting every athlete that passed. It was most enjoyable. At the foot of the Greding climb I heard an annoying noise coming from my back wheel. My heart sank at first thinking I had a flat but it was just some sticky wrapper stuck to the tyre. I pulled up about 1km into the climb to pull it off. The support thought I was in trouble and the roars and claps I got was nuts. It was hard to clip in and get going again on the incline but I quickly got back into it. I had replaced my water bottle and each aid station and was sticking to the nutrition plan. The descent was the most fun on the course with good sweeping fast bends ?
Mike likes Descending ?
Although the numbers on the belts around me were much lower than mine and my average speed was still 36kmh at this stage I felt good and my heart rate was in check. I kept it on the right side of 160 on the climb so I was happy to keep the momentum up. My second area for concern was that I seemed to be passing too many of these sub9 types on the hills and even more on the descents. The weather was still cool and I was drinking lots of water. I felt fine. I asked myself if I was
overdoing it but I felt comfortable. At 53km I managed to have my first and only pee of the first lap. It took a bit of focus and slowing down to go but I was strangely happy to feel the water I had drank an hour ago running down my leg. I lost touch with my pace group doing this so worked a little to make contact again.
At about 60km we entered Hipolstein and passed the banner with “prepare for the Solar, the experience of your life!” I heard my name being called and saw Caz. I gave her the thumbs up and blew her a kiss. The streets were thronged with support. Then the Solarberg appeared. It was a completely different scene to my recce the other day. It was just a hill packed almost solid with people. I cycled up the hill with a smile on my face. It was steep but you didn’t feel it. The crowd was deep on either side of you and right on top of you. You literally have just enough room to thread your bike through. The noise was immense. It was savage. The hill was over in no time. Then it kicked again before levelling out. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was electric. We turned left towards Pierham onto country roads (without grass in the middle) when I noticed my heart rate was in the mind 160s. I got carried away on the Solarberg for a few minutes. It was time to settle again. After a series of one horse villages we were descending fast into Hipolstein again from a different angle. We turn right in the town and cycled up a short hill passed Schmidt Cafe (I’d recommend the Strudel here). I saw Caz again and was delighted she was out to support me. It meant a lot and I felt like I was riding a turbo charger because if it. Shortly after we passed T1 again we were on lap 2 and heading for Heidink again. Lap one was done in a little over 2:30. Caz told me afterwards that I had come through Hipolstein 20 minutes ahead of schedule. She almost missed me.
I was clearly having a very good bike to this point and had followed my gel strategy exactly. I drank lots of water. I was a shade under 36kmh average, way ahead of target and a little concerned. The first climb came and went and I decided to let the #1xx guys go. I had pee’d a couple of times and lost them each time. It was also getting hotter. I was 2 gels short for the second lap so I pushed the nutrition window out by 10 minutes and changed to a gel every 25 minutes with deeper sips of carb between. After the Heidink climb on the second lap I scored another goal in the bull’s eye target at the aid station with my empty water bottle. I decided to take 2 bottles now. One was to throw over my neck and shoulders and the other for my cage. The problem was that the second one was only half full. I used it to wash down a gel and some carb before the Greding climb at 120km but I went a good 15 minutes with no water and was a bit parched by the time I got a new bottle. The Greding climb was fine but the drag afterward in the country side seemed to go on forever. I was picking different targets to pace from but mostly riding alone and feeling the sun. At one point I was passed by a group of 6-7 including a very strong Swedish woman. I later learned she biked to a sub5 as one of the top amateurs. They were a bit too closely grouped for my liking so I let them all go. Sure enough a motorbike passed a minute later tracking them and I later saw 2 of them in the penalty box. The pacing lines were fine at times but I was glad the Marshalls were pulling offenders. I’d occasionally pass someone and feel them right on my wheel for a while afterwards. A lot of them were relays.
The Solarberg had a thinned out a little the second time around but was still buzzing. I was almost 4 hours into the bike at this stage and my legs were feeling it. Not worryingly so, just what I considered to be the norm with any of my long training rides in mind. My Garmin clock was almost
3km ahead of the markers too so I was wondering of the course was long. If so it looked like I might still be on target for 5:10. I was still at 35.4kmh with the quick final section to Roth to come. It started to feel very real to me that I had a full Marathon to run soon and my original worries of stitches/cramp and the heat were with me. I didn’t push the long descent into Roth and saved my last gel until I was nearly there. A guy in front of me started undoing his shoes quite by surprise. I had just ticked over 179km but still expected to be about 4km away by the way the course markers were reading against the Garmin. However before I knew it I was rolling into T2 with 5:02 still on the clock. I clipped off the Garmin and transferred it to my wrist, handed a guy my bike and stood for a brief moment to straighten my back. 5:03:22 for the bike. It was 59th out of the 373 in my AG including the 12 PROs. Not bad at all. The second lap was a 2:33 even though it felt slower. In hindsight I feel I paced the bike well overall. I pee’d 5 times, drank more than enough water and took 2,000 calories on board. I think that I should have spun up the hills a bit easier. There is no way I should have been passing those sub9 guys on ascents and maybe on descents. Maybe I’m selling myself short but I don’t feel like I had enough hills training to justify that. My bike is typically my strongest discipline. I knew I had a potential 5 hour bike in me but perhaps I leaned a little toward the overcooked side of things. My average heart rate was 145, Z2 territory overall but too much time spent out of that zone. I never went red but the 12 minutes under target undoubtedly had something to do with the poor Marathon. A rookie mistake but one I will learn a great deal from. Another thing was only remembering to take my salt tabs with a half hour of the bike left to go. Duh me!
2:16 was a niftier transition but in no small way thanks to the volunteers. One girl found my bag and took bits out. She even rolled up my fresh socks while another girl sprayed sun tan lotion on my arms and shoulders. I thanked them a dozen times, put on my cap and headed out to run a Marathon.
My back and shoulders loosened out quickly enough. I forgot to restart the Garmin for a couple of minutes but it showed my heart rate around 145-150 which is exactly where I wanted to be. My cap was 155. I just ran easy and comfortably. A couple of days earlier back at the expo in the triathlon park I saw a tent where supporters could create their own A2 sized cards with messages. I saw kids sitting on the ground colouring in a poster for their Daddy and thought it was very cute. Well, here were those cards attached to stakes and hammered into the ground on both sides of the Forrest path I ran on. They were stuck into the ground every 3-4 meters, for 3km!! There were hundreds of them. It was some sight. While I knew there was no card there for me to watch out for I got an extraordinary lift from this piece of work by the volunteers of Challenge Roth. It was touching and inspired the hell out of me running onto the canal bank. It was also 28 degrees by now.
The very first thing I saw on the bank was Chrissie Wellington at about the 20km mark of her Marathon running straight towards me. She looked incredibly strong and focused. It reminded me of seeing Alastair Brownlee running away from Havier Gomez in Athlone last year. I was as stunned then by his determined look as I was by Chrissies charge to a world record. She also had an entourage of bikes so I had nowhere to go. She side stepped me without missing a stride and went on to post a stunning 8:18 and 5th overall. I mean, she chicked 46 male PROs in the process and it was bloody roasting outside. She is unreal! Officially the first person I’ve ever been in awe of. Back on my own run I was ticking along nicely at about 5 minutes per km pace. It felt I could go no faster but could happily keep going. Some guys I had passed earlier on the bikes with the low numbers were whizzing past and cracking paces. For everyone that passed me though I passed someone myself. As early as 8km I saw someone sitting down in the ditch at the side of the canal.
I had gels in my pocket but didn’t think I could stomach them. It was too hot. I ran through the aid stations for 90 minutes squeezing sponges over me and drinking water and coke. I tried eating a couple of different things but nothing would take. I found the canal bank a bit relentless. 10km straight, pan flat on a loose surface before you do a loop of a small town and head back the way you came. By half way I was counting the minutes to the 2 hour mark when I met Caz. I stopped briefly to embrace her. She then ran beside me for a few seconds and told me I had 2 hours to run a half marathon to finish sub10. At that point I thought to myself, no problem. My pace after that slipped to 5:15-5:30 pace because I decided to walk through the aid stations. I was also taking a bite of banana and a bite of a tuc cracker and washing them down with water. I was probably walking for 20-30 seconds each aid station. I was on the bank until about 2:15 into the run. I knew I was not going to hit my 3:30 target but at this stage still backed myself on a 3:45 and sub10. We came off the bank and into a Forrest for about 6km. I was glad of the shade but my quads were starting to tighten worryingly. We had a bit of a hill to climb and I was taking longer to walk through the aid station sponging down my neck, back and quads. The Forrest bit was an out and back and running back down the hill I tried to loosen out my quads. My back was on fire too, I knew I was getting roasted in the sun. Thankfully no stitch to report and I didn’t dare to tempt fate by trying a gel.
Back onto the canal I had just 10km to go. All I had to do was run the 10k in an hour and I’d still do sub10. Worst case scenario at this point was a 3:50 Marathon and scraping the sub10. My quads really tightened on the loose surface again and it hurt. With 8km to go I was a bit over 3 hours. I kept telling myself that it was just 6 minutes for each kilometre that’s all. It’s just one foot in front of
the other. Just get to the next aid station running! When I got to the next aid station with maybe 7km to go I just couldn’t get running again. My quads were not as much cramping but failing to hold my weight if I bent my knees. I fell over twice when I tried to push on. With 7km to go the sub10 finish slipped away from me. It had taken me 11 minutes to cover the last km and took 9 minutes to cover the next one. I strolled through the second last aid station. I was delirious with the quads and my mental demon doing a tag team. I stood in front of the stall of food and sampled a few things again in bewilderment.
I hobbled and fell in sequence for about 10 minutes in some sort of vacuum. I was oblivious to the fantastic support and just moving forward was the only thought on my mind. At one point I stopped and strolled. I couldn’t start again. My legs wouldn’t respond. I felt despair. Then I thought of Caz waiting for me at the finish, worrying for every minute that passed beyond 5 0’clock, 10 hours after I started. I thought about friends and family I knew who were tracking me online probably roaring at their screens. I thought about all the work I had put into this day. I figured that if I didn’t get going and had to walk to the finish I’d be looking at 10:30 or worse, maybe even 11 hours. I very nearly wept there and then but a determination set in. I didn’t care about the sub10, I let that pass. I knew I’d get to the finish no matter what but I wasn’t going out like this. I was going to run no matter how it hurt. I began to run baby steps with straight legs. Hard to imagine but it got me some go forward momentum and I was running. It was slow but it was some sort of running. It felt like a hundred people passed me in the last 3km alone but I didn’t care. I was running (or shuffling as they say). I ran through the aid station too for fear I come to a halt again. Every once in a while I’d lose control and fall but I’d get back to my shuffle again immediately. The thing that really annoyed me and put fire in my belly was that when I looked at my Garmin I was shuffling along at 5:30-5:45 pace. Why the hell couldn’t I have just kept this going from 10km out? I don’t know, what happened, happened. When I got to Roth I had less than 2km to go and I was in a world of hurt. I figured I just needed to keep going and I’d finish in a respectable time. I’d maybe get 10:10 or so. That wouldn’t be a catastrophe. Strangely enough the heat wasn’t bothering me, my stomach was fine and my lungs were fine. I had done enough training to warrant this result. My execution left a bit to be desired but with just over a km to go I felt a sense of positive belief. I was about to finish my first Ironman. I wasn’t a million miles away from my mission. I could hold my head up and say I did the best I could. The pain confirmed it. I shuffled my way onto the red carpet and the long finish chute. There would be no sprint finish out of me today. I was giving it everything but the shuffle was the best I could deliver.
I suddenly remembered a text I received from a mate back in Kilkee “don’t let any other punk get in your finish photo!” I was temporarily paranoid. I looked behind to see 4 guys racing each other. I was in the finish grandstand area now with about 50m to go. I let them pass me. There was another guy behind them but he was busy weeping and high fiving the crowd. The noise was deafening. I saw the line. It was clear. I ran over it and lifted my arms. It’s all I could do. I was spent. I saw Caz and we both had tears. It wasn’t going to sink in for a few days. The run was a 3:59:59, 124 out of 373 in my AG and eh no, I didn’t out run any of those PROs with that! 10:07:26 was good enough for about top 10% of the 3,400ish individual starters. There was some pride buried deep inside but thankfully no regret. I had some block going on that would not allow me to feel disappointed with that. I was a happy man. I really was.
MCOS #940 the finish picture captures exactly what I felt!
Challenge Roth is hosted by 2 towns approximately 8-10km apart. This presents obviously tricky logistical headaches for the organisers and volunteers alike. However; they handle the whole event with amazing professionalism and enthusiastically so. It would be a master class on how to organise an even so vast so well. The support of the locals is clearly key. They love triathlon and the slogan of the challenge family “We are Triathlon” rings true from the perspective of my first foray into long distance tri.
I guess the most important question was if I’d do another? I’m already signed up to one so that answers that. I won’t consider it until I have some important life stuff covered. It’s the small matter of putting a house together. The same logistics I mentioned of 2 host towns proved to be a bit of a nuisance after the race, not just for Caz, who had spent the day negotiating crowds and lack of transport to get good viewpoints, but me too. The last thing I wanted to do on spent legs was to walk miles to collect the bike, bags and car. I wanted to go back to the Grandstand at the finish and soak up the atmosphere but I was wrecked. I figured some food and a power nap would recharge me and I’d come back to the after party. No chance. I fell asleep with the sound of a Thunderstorm outside, thinking about the people still out on the course and drifted off. I awoke at 11pm, got a pizza and fell asleep again. The breakfast buffet the following morning, all pressure off, now flowed with conversation between tables. War stories were exchanged and new acquaintances formed. For the next few days I had trouble walking down steps. A few days back put down at the office and a family holiday since has been the best way to distract me from dissecting the race. I barely gave it a thought until I sat down to write this report last night, exactly 2 weeks since the race.
Overall the experience was fantastic. My only regret was not making it to the finish line party ? I had left it all out on the course. I’ve had a few silent moments of pride over some nice French wine to hand this week. Apart from a few leisurely swims I’ve fully rested. With a clear mind, can I explain why I missed my sub10 target? It’s all small things, maybe too much out of the legs on the hills, maybe too much time on my feet running around looking for a helmet the previous day. Caz reminded me the day after the race that I had painkillers in my tri top pocket on the run. If I had taken those at the half marathon stage, perhaps the edge may have been taken off my quads (Doh!). All maybes and I’m sure I’ll get the opinions of those who followed, curious rookies and seasoned campaigners alike. The one thing I know is that a good Coach may have discussed all of the maybes with me in the days leading up to Roth. I promised myself a reward if I finished my first Ironman. I may pass on the pretty race wheels in favour of guidance next time. Even though I’ve learned stacks on this journey, it’s good to have someone to bounce off. I need to leave these thoughts go for a while and build a house first…