Ever since I started doing triathlon, I got the asked the same question again and again – “Have you done an Ironman?” Those who are vaguely aware of triathlon as a sport know that Ironman is a triathlon, but many don’t know the distances involved, nor that there are many other challenging distances/terrains before you get to Ironman! So I don’t think people realise quite what they’re asking. And for me, until this year, the answer was no. No, I hadn’t done an Ironman. I always said I would absolutely never do one. I didn’t get on very well with my first marathon, I didn’t enjoy my first 100 mile bike ride and, until this year, my open water swims had always been half breastroke. But once I’d done the half Ironman, something inside me was nagging away. And logically, if I was ever going to do an Ironman distance race, now was as a good time as any. So on a rainy day in September I signed up to the full distance version of the half Ironman triathlon I’d already done – the Outlaw Triathlon.
While I was exercising through the winter to keep my fitness up, my training didn’t really kick properly until February. The first thing I did, while it was still cold outside, was to embark on a swim training program. I had to kick my nasty breastroke habit and really work on my front crawl! So I bought the swimsmooth training program to give me motivation, structure and progression in the pool, and off I went. I focussed on swimming until the weather improved a little more, and then in April I really started to ramp up my run and bike distances. I got more used to eating on the go (nutella wraps and flapjacks on the bike, and jelly babies on the run [I hate gels!]). I also went back to swimming at the lake once a week to get over my hatred of cold open water swimming (one swim was around 13-14℃ – I lasted one 750m lap and practically turned blue!). In the end, my longest swim distance was 4km (all front crawl!), run was 32km and bike was 200km. Considering the Ironman distance is 3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run, I felt as prepared as I ever could be going into the race.
24th July 2016. D-Day!
I was surprisingly calm about the race. I think the years of doing races now and having the ‘if it all goes wrong it doesn’t matter’ talk with myself each time has really helped dissipate any pre-race nerves. We set off on the hour journey to Nottingham at 4am (UGH), having already dropped my bike off and set up my transition area the day before. Arrival at 5am gave me ample time to slither into my wetsuit ready for the 6am start. The water was a tropical 20-something degrees so it felt a bit like a weirdly warm murky bath. So much for all my cold open water training! Still, as the swim got started, I was glad of all the training I did in my wetsuit and in getting better at sighting buoys.
I exited the swim in 1h30, bang on my target time! As I staggered to my feet I realised there were volunteers all around me unzipping my wetsuit and helping me pull it down to my waist. And then further on someone helped me pull it off over my feet. This is why I love the Outlaw! I tottered over to transition, wetsuit in hand, to find my swim-to-bike bag on its peg. I disappeared behind the changing tent, stripped off my swimsuit and put on all my bike clothes – including a comfy pair of bib shorts I’d got from my parents for Christmas. The chamoix was so squishy it was like sitting on a sofa! I’m so glad I chose to change my clothes for each discipline – how my backside would’ve ended up if I’d stayed in my hard, unforgiving trisuit the whole time for the sake of saving a few minutes doesn’t bear thinking about!
I set off on the bike and prepared myself for what I estimated to be 8 hours of mindnumbing cycling boredom. There was certainly some mental strength required, but the sights and sounds of the race – especially the spectators! – really helped egg me on. I was on track for a 6h30 bike time (yay!) when I felt a familiar squidgy feeling in my rear tyre. Puncture!! I was dreading a puncture, as while I had all the kit and was perfectly competent at changing the inner tube, I completely lack the hand strength required to get my stiff road tyre back on the wheel. So when two kindly cyclists came along in the opposite direction, I eagerly flagged them down. After a lot of straining we finally got the tyre back on the rim and I was on my way! The puncture cost me 30mins, so in the end my total bike time was 7 hours. As transition loomed again I was so relieved – even if I had to walk, I would make the final cut off time and I was definitely going to complete an Ironman! Woo-hoo!
Nearly 9 hours after I started (which, by the way, is when the first female finished!), I was finally running a marathon. I’d loaded a pair of heavily pocketed running shorts with 50 jelly babies before the race and I focussed on eating at least one every kilometre. At every food station I let myself walk so I could drink a cup of water without choking! And then I would run again. At about halfway I started adding orange slices to my food station trips – sweet sweet liquid, they went down a treat! I didn’t realise before I did an Ironman quite how many people walk the whole way. So I was feeling really good when I was still running at halfway (and *spoiler alert* I managed to run the whole course!). I had finally been joined by own personal spectators which was awesome as it gave me something to look forward to on each lap. The first time I passed them, I bounded along beside them while they flip flopped along for ~300m. I wasn’t quite so boundy and eager after I’d passed them for the fourth and final time!
The nature of running laps at the Outlaw, meant every 10km or so I would pass by the finishing line. I was seeing people finished as I still had 30, 20, 10km to go. When it was finally my turn to finish, I turned into the finish chute (red carpet, natch) and found a smidge of speed that had been saving itself for the crowds and deliriously grinned my way Cheshire cat-style to the finish banner. I raised my hands and passed under the gantry and I finished! I had finished an Ironman! I WAS AN OUTLAW!
The only downside of the Outlaw Half was the stairs you have to walk up at the end. “I’ve just done a half Ironman and you want me to climb stairs?!” Thankfully this time a ramp had been installed and, after handing back my lap wristbands and collecting my medal and T-shirt, I slowly walked up the ramp and got funnelled into the food tent. There was so much on offer – lasagne, chilli, curry, stew, cake…but I couldn’t stomach any of it. The weird thing about exercise and especially racing, is how it suppresses your appetite just when you need to eat most! I saw my spectators through a window in the food tent and they pointed at the food and their mouths. My hungry spectators needed feeding! I grabbed some chilli and a few naan breads and met them outside. We sat on the grass for a while and then realised that it was actually quite late in the day and a school night so everybody should probably go home. I need a bit of crowbarring to get up from the grass and hobble back to the car!
After my initial reluctance to do an Ironman distance race, I am SO glad I finally did. It was my favourite race I’ve ever done. Yes it was long, yes it was hard, but the race organisation at the Outlaw and the enthusiasm from the volunteers made it so much fun. I’m now having to remind myself of all the long dull training I did to be able to complete the race to stop me from signing up to another!!