I always said I never wanted to do an Ironman but as I had coached people through them I felt I had to do it once to experience it and know what the training really felt like!
My initial plan was to do the new event in Ireland which i signed up for but as Ailsa’s school leaving ball was the night before that plan had to change. It was with a bit of relief as the swim ended up being cancelled on the day due to weather conditions and I would have been gutted not to have got the full event done. Little did I know!
We headed down as a family to stay at the campsite at Perranport for the weekend. This works out really well as traffic can get busy on race day (at 4am!) and you are only a few hundred metres from the start.
There was an Open water swim event on the Saturday so Ailsa entered the 2.5K and Lou and Kirst the 5K. Ailsa was the 1st female in her race and Lou won overall. The weather by now though was appalling as forecast. Friday and Monday were great but the weekend was looking a disaster. Finlay and I sat under umbrellas to watch the whole race with me panicking I would get a cold the day before I raced.
Our race was due to start at 6am so I had planned to get up at 4.30 for breakfast. I went to bed at a normal time as I knew if I tried to go any earlier I wouldn’t sleep anyway and just lie panicking about not getting any sleep. I got up and had my breakfast in the tent we had next to the camper van and though slightly chilly the rain seemed to have stopped.
Our bikes had been left in transition the night before and transition bags had been put in the changing transition tent so it was just a matter of getting the wetsuit on, some body glide and walk to the start line.
I didn’t feel particularly nervous. I was doing the race to complete rather than compete. There was no need for a full gas swim start as per a sprint race and I felt I couldn’t have done more training than I did with work, family commitments, etc. I felt from my training I would get it done but having never run a marathon ever and my longest run to this point being 18miles there was still an element of doubt.
Roy, Dave, Noel and I had all met in transition and after wishing each other luck it was time to head into the water. The water felt warm and the rain was just starting to fall. There was a 10 minute warm up, an Icelandic football clap chant and Oggie, oggie, oggie chant some fireworks and then we were off.
You had to self allocate you self in a swim pen passed on your expected finish time. I had though even with 1200 people in the water that due to the distance to go the swim start would be OK. Got that wrong! It was a total smashfest for about the first 1km to the buoy. What made it more annoying at times was people swimming across the way when it was a straight 1km line to the buoy. Some people have to funnel across but this was chaos. It was easy to sight so it didn’t make a lot of sense but you just had to get on with it.
The swim is 2 laps with an Aussie exit. I came out of lap 1 in 37minutes so was quite happy. My target was be less than 1hr20 and a good swim would be 1hr10. A ran along and jumped back in off the pontoon. By know things were spread out and it was easy to swim but it meant not always someone for a draft to tow off. Coming round the top corner I got a small cramp in my calf which I had never experienced before. I backed off slightly deciding it is still a long day though wasn’t too concerned. I was pretty sure it would all loosen off on the bike. I came out the swim in 1hr16, down on expectations but still within my worst case window so wasn’t too bothered. After being lifted out the water and standing up we immediately got stopped and told to go see the marshal. The marshal was telling us the bike had been cancelled due to the weather and course conditions.
I have never been so disappointed to be told I couldn’t go on a 112mile bike ride. A year of training and my main race for the year was finished. I always said that doing an Ironman would be a “One and Done” so to have that now taken away was a massive let down. People were all standing around shell shocked. I could almost have cried at that point. The amount of times I had gone out on a long bike ride in bad weather saying to myself, “It could be raining on race day”.
As we made our way into the transition tent people already had their phones out of bags saying the plan was to start the marathon in a couple of hours. Once I got on my own phone I could see from the club WhatsApp the start times based on your race number that had already been posted by family watching. I had a marathon to do in 2 1/2hrs time.
I went out to transition and collected my bike and made my way back to the campsite. By now I began to realise how heavy the rain was. There were pictures online of places were the course was flooded and it couldn’t have been safely used. Obviously while swimming you don’t really notice it. I sat in the van and had something to eat then went for a shower to warm up. I then just sat around reading, feeling gutted and trying to chill out. At about 9.15 I decided I better get in a positive mindset, get changed and run a marathon.
A bumped into Roy at the transition tent who had the same start time. The start line for the marathon was about 50m away at the end of the pontoon and people were hanging about inside to stay dry. The organisers made an announcement you could now just go when you were ready so Roy and I went outside to get started. We huddled under a gazebo for the marshals by the start with many others. A marshal offered me a bottle of water. I pointed outside and asked him if with a smile if he was taking the piss! We had a laugh and I moved to join the start queue. It should be said the marshals were unbelievable all day. We were at least moving keeping warm. They were just having to stand and get very wet and stayed cheery and supporting you all day.
I had intended to run the marathon at my planned race pace. I had used a run/walk strategy for all my training and was intending to do that on race day. My target time was 4hrs
I realised as I started I didn’t have my race belt. Ailsa ran back to the van to get it and I said I’d see her after the first 5km loop of the rowing lake to collect it.
Roy and I ran together for the first 5km and I was already running faster than I intended (running with Roy should have been my clue!). I planned to stop at every feedstop for my walk part.
After the first lap we headed away from the rowing lake and along the canal tow path into Nottingham. I knew it would probably be a bad idea but as I was feeling good (from no bike and a proper taper) I just decided I would keep running on feel. I was partly thinking it would be another good coach learning experience. If it hadn’t been for the bike cancellation I don’t think I would have had such a gung ho attitude.
The canal towpath was in worse condition than some of the winter cross country courses. There were puddles 3-4 inches deep and the grass to the side was muddy and wet. The path was very narrow and with people running in both directions you couldn’t stay in the middle. It didn’t take long of trying to skip through and around puddles before giving in and running through most of them.
As some people had already been out for 1 hour there were different levels of “knackered” as you passed people in both directions. My walk/run strategy was working well allowing me to properly eat and drink as I went through the feed stations. It was a relief to get on the concrete again as we ran through the park section in Nottingham before heading back along the towpath to complete lap 1 of 2.
The rain was continual with odd bits feeling like hail but it didn’t feel cold so wasn’t a problem. Roy and I had got split up fairly quickly on the 1st lap but with so many people around it was an enjoyable run. I came back around the loop of the rowing lake looking out for family but they weren’t to be seen. It was so cold and wet they had gone back inside.
As I headed out on the start of lap 2 I still felt OK. My pace had slowed slightly but nothing to worry about. I was mentally telling myself I know I can get to 18miles (30km) and after that it is only 10km to go.
By the time I got out towards the far point of the second lap I was starting to feel the effects of the run so far but there are so many people of all shapes, sizes and abilities it helps to drive you on. Coming back along the tow path I could feel my pace slowing further but I was still within my 4hr pace and just tried to focus on form and keep moving.
I arrived back at the rowing lake knowing I had about 1 1/2 laps of it to go. I had done the single laps for sprint events before so was thinking it’s not far. As I passed the finish line with one lap (5km) to go I saw my family and wished I could have been stopping there but knew I would finish now. I walked through the feed stop on the far side with approx. 4km to go and then really struggled to get my legs running again. I shuffled along for about 1km trying to run and not really succeeding. I knew I had to get around the top corner to the next feed stop and get some coke. I was now mentally battling to keep going. All those long boring individual training sessions start to kick in that you have got through in the past helping you to refuse to give up. You also know there are family at the finish line that have given up their time to allow you to be there.
I made it to the feed stop and stopped to drink multiple cups of coke and eat some food. I didn’t really feel any better as I got going again and I noticed people passing me that I had gone passed on the tow path. The good thing was the amount of encouragement that everyone gave you.
I passed a photographer and joked to him, “I won’t be wanting that photo!” To the left you can see why as all form has gone.
Finally I made it to the finish chute. Ailsa and Finlay were standing in the family section for running down the finish line with you. It was unexpected and a nice surprise though I had to tell Finlay to slow down.
So my first marathon done in 4 1/2 hrs and it took me about 30mins to do the last 3km. Pacing properly would have been a better idea but I knew that when I started.
So the question from everyone now is “will you do another one”? I started this journey to learn and develop as a coach and all of that was achieved so I feel no real inclination to do another one and I’ll be back to Sprints next year (it will be nice to get some speed back). The time commitment is a lot and lots of individual (i.e. non group) sessions had to be done to fit around other things in life. It may niggle away though and have to be revisited in the future but it will be somewhere warm!