Today is exactly a year since I wrote that first blog post, with no idea where I was going to go on this Ironman Journey. But I’ve learnt some great lessons, had amazing experiences, gained some confidence in my ability to overcome obstacles, let go of negatives, as well really enjoying living right here, right now!
1. Hurdles can be overcome (expect the unexpected)
The two blog posts which describe my accidents, were my most read (should I take that personally?). The first accident on December 30th, left me scarred, toothless and in a lot of pain for New Year’s Eve. The next broken collar-bone happened 10 weeks before the event, leaving me questioning whether or not I’d actually race at all. I now have two plates in my shoulders, christened Eric and Ernie.
On race day, I had prepared very well, leaving nothing to chance, even practising taking off my TT wheels and removing the inner tube over and over, (to date I’ve never had a puncture). I hadn’t prepared for or expected the sea to be so choppy and I hadn’t expected to get sea-sick. As I could feel the sickness rising, I was sure I had eaten something dodgy, even as I was flung about in the water it hadn’t occurred to me it could be the choppy sea. As I started to retch I realised how much water I’d swallowed (with race day adrenaline I hadn’t noticed). I stopped and retched, then got going again. I decided that no way this would end my race. (I later read on a Facebook group that I wasn’t alone, and one poor woman was removed by the lifeguard on her third sickness bout. And for future reference, long distance swimmers take sea sickness tablets).
2. Negatives are banished (it’s good to be grateful)
In training I think I may have stopped swimming if I got sick. I definitely would have stopped if I saw a jelly fish. But as we swam long I spotted lots of jelly fish and just looked at their tentacles, not feeling in the slightest bit scared. On the bike I was pleased to be comfortably going along at 18 then 17 mph, surrounded by other cyclists. But I was very aware that the retching and inability to keep nutrition down wasn’t going to help me. I just took on what I could, little bits, grateful for the bits that stayed in! On the second half I was overtaken continuously, but I didn’t let it bother me. I focussed on the fact that I knew I’d finish, and I was just grateful for every mile I went forward without a puncture or a mechanical. After a long transition (running back to the loo – so glad it was there!) before the run, and now very far back in the race, I still knew I’d make headway on the run. I chose not to look at my watch as I didn’t want to judge the pace. I went by feel. My stomach was sore and so I let Cliff Bar blocks to just sit in my mouth (rotting my teeth but getting energy in). I took water as even the thought of sugary drinks made me feel sick. But around 15 miles I took on some Coca Cola. A few minutes later I was loudly retching and what was left in my stomach exited. But, I reminded myself I can still take on water, and managed the marathon on three blocks and water for nutrition.
3. Comparison is Futile
For most amateur athletes, getting to the start line of an Ironman is an achievement in itself. In Ironman racing and training many things can happen on the way, training is hard, sacrifices are made – and everyone’s journey is different. Even for the competitive athletes, time is less of a focus, as every course and every race is different, with different challenges. The longer the distance the more respect there is for it and even when competitiveness is great there is far less concern about comparing to others, and there’s a mutual respect amongst the leading athletes. When I first set out on this journey a year ago I wondered if I could be competitive for my age, as it motivates me to compete. I was soon humbled by the task. The bike was harder to maser than I expected and with the arrival of Ernie and 10 weeks to go, it was a case of adapting and focussing on what I could do, not what I couldn’t. I put on the blinkers where times, other people and racing was concerned. I feel like I let go of comparing myself to others for good – and as for being competitive, I let go of that, too – for now!
4. The moment is the only place to be
Whether cycling on the turbo for five hours, or silently running in the rain and the dark on the third lap of the marathon on race day, a key lesson I learnt was to stay in the moment, in the mile I was in. As I approached my third lap a big chunk of the course was finishing and as I headed out for eight more miles, ‘You are an Ironman’ was ringing in my ears as fellow competitors entered the stadium to finish. It was dark, it was wet, the end of the path on the seafront seemed to never end… but I knew it was just a case of taking the next step. The finish was ahead and I’d get there.
5. Triathlon is a great leveler
Swim, bike, run athletes come in all shapes and sizes with different stories, and with very different strengths from cardio, to strength and power, to mental fortitude. There’s no one size fits all and if you’re good in one sport it doesn’t mean you’ll be good in all. For me running had been my strength, but I had to learn that running in an Ironman, unless you a very accomplished swimmer and cyclist too, is just not the same as running a ‘normal’ marathon. At 70.3 I ran very similar pace to a normal half marathon, but this didn’t follow through at double the distance. The key thing I discovered was my running style and biomechanics were the positives, not my pace. In the race, I didn’t look at my watch once. I simply focussed on finishing and retaining a good upright posture. I was still overtaking lots of people on the run, but I did eventually start to walk which was more psychological than anything. I’d got so far behind on the bike and it was very dark and wet and so I just decided finishing was all that mattered – and it was.
6. It brings out the best in people
I remember when I first ran the London Marathon it confirmed my belief that humanity in the main are good. When 35,000 runners and two to three times that in supporters get together to reach a common positive goal the energy is great. At the start of race day I felt excited not nervous and loved singing along to Sweet Caroline with the other competitors as we stood in the rain on the beach looking at the very big waves. The friendly and smiling faces of the volunteers who manned the bike route food stations were always a boost. And at the end of the race, as I ran that last lap in the dark on race day I was grateful to be high-fived by a smiling elderly Spanish couple standing by the side of the course in the dark and the rain at gone 9pm on a Friday night. And as the other runners walked/ran, some talked, some didn’t – the collective support was tangible.
7. The Joy of the Finish line: You are an Ironman
Whether it’s eight or 15 hours, there’s something special about an Ironman finish. All the things that could have, or may have gone wrong, are behind you. Having held in emotions for 13 hours, I was very pleased to let them go. I had expected to cry, but I didn’t, I laughed. An Irish woman cheering me on shouted, ‘I can feel it!’ I laughed even more. I couldn’t wait to see my children and Chris. As I reached the finish carpet I saw them cheering and smiling – as excited as me. They told me after they’d loved watching people come in, break-dancing, proposing marriage, and wearing high heels. I just stuck my hands in the air and cheered … I think my picture says it all.