On Sunday my first Ironman 70.3 came to an abrupt and premature end. With only 4 miles left of the final run, debilitating cramp in both hamstrings left me flat on my back by the side of the course with a pair of spectators holding my legs up in the air. Sport has a great way of bringing us right back down to earth. Sometimes literally.
Earlier in the day. Much earlier in fact. 3.40am to be exact, my alarm had gone off to wake me ready for the slightly criminal 6am start. I didn’t actually need an alarm because I had barely slept at all – my lovely 4 year daughter decided that it was the perfect night to spend vomiting. I know I should have been a caring, loving Father but as the hours ticked by and the anxiety grew, my nursing skills tailed off rather and I was sent downstairs by Rach to sleep fitfully on the sofa bed.
Ended up on the sofa bed downstairs. But at least I had some quality time with my beautiful bike.
Anyway, after forcing some food down I drove to the Cotswold Water Park for the event (Cotswold 113 Events Middle Distance Tri: 1.2 mile swim – 56 mile bike – 13.1 mile run)). Having set up in transition and carried out the obligatory pre-race faff and indecision about how many gels/how much malt loaf/water/electrolytes etc. to attach to the bike I wandered groggily down to the water’s edge for the swim start. Whilst I have somewhat transformed my swimming (from a disappointingly low base) over the previous 8 months, I am still not very good and 1.9km looks a long way when it’s marked out on a lake! It was daunting. Luckily, I didn’t have much time to dwell on it and we were off. Wave 1 consisted of about 140 people and we were all packed in quite a tight area: basically it like a scrum in water. The race starter may as well have said, ‘crouch, bind, set’. Not much fun if you’re a good swimmer, a nightmare if you’re not. I was being pulled, bashed and kicked from all directions but managed to stay alive and gradually the field thinned out and it became a little more more civilised. Smelly, but civilised. The rain of previous days plus all the thrashing of arms and legs had disturbed the waters of Lake 32 and I must say the several gallons of unplanned hydration that I took on tasted and smelt really rather unpleasant. Then after 20 minutes or so I felt a worrying twinge in the right calf muscle, and then the left. Despite the hard efforts I’d done in the Lido, nothing really prepares you for a 1.9k hard effort in the water and I think perhaps I wasn’t as relaxed as usual – which might have contributed. I started kicking less vigorously and settled in for the final section which luckily went by without much incident. As I was hauled out by the lovely marshals at the end of the swim I saw on my watch that I had completed the swim in under 33 minutes – way faster than I had ever have hoped all those months ago when 500m felt like a long way.
Exiting the swim. Pleased with the time when I checked the watch!
After a solid T1 I was on the Cavallo del West TT machine and speeding along. Or would have been if the hamstrings weren’t giving me slight jip. Again, the intensity of the situation is something that is hard to mimick in training and I had to take it reasonably carefully for the opening couple of miles as the legs adjusted to this new form of pain I has now pushing them through. It was also starting to rain very hard now and it was a little chilly in just the trisuit. Anyway, only another 54 miles of the 56 to go…..
One thing about being relatively weak at swimming and stronger at cycling and running is that there will always be plenty of people to overtake after the swim and it was this that gave me great confidence and motivation as the bike went on. I wasn’t thinking about the distance, just tapping out a hard but manageable level of exertion and focusing on the next rider up the road. The bike course was made up of two 28 mile loops and it was on the second loop that I caught Duncan Bullock. Duncan is like me, mainly a duathlete, but giving triathlon a go. He placed 3rd at this race last year and is a strong biker so I was very pleased to have dragged him back. It gave me confidence and I forged on through the rain towards T2.
Head down and powering on
Calm and collected game face especially for the camera (then back to puffing and gurning like a gurnard)
I screeched into T2 and after a rapid transition was out on the run. This was the bit I had been most looking forward to: my best discipline. I settled into a solid pace with a very manageable heart rate and good sensations (as the pro cyclists say) in the legs. Despite the slightly slippery off-road sections I was running comfortable sub 6 minute miles which I had earmarked as a rough guide for the final run based on previous duathlons and my recent run form. I reeled in quite a few competitors in the opening 4 or 5 miles and with the odd quick conversation with them worked out I was somewhere in the top 6 – this is going well I thought. But then a niggling doubt crept in. A niggling doubt that was brought on by a niggling set of quads. Just a very slight but clear soreness. Stay relaxed, run relaxed, breath well. Unfortunately it kept coming and my pace waned ever so slightly. Then the hamstrings started twitching a bit and I knew I was in trouble. I crossed the timing mat to complete the second of 3 laps and continued onto the 3rd but I was not confident by this point. That’s the feeling of inevitability, I thought to myself in that agent’s voice from the Matrix. Then sure enough, 200m later my hamstrings went bang and cramped up. Fair play to them, they didn’t hold back. I dived for the floor and called out to several spectators who rushed over and quickly lifted my legs and pushed my toes towards my chest. After a minute or so I tried to stand up but my quads had also decided to join the party. After 5 minutes or so of painful stretching I tried to shuffle onwards – I could have made it but with other events coming up I decided to call it a day and hobbled back to the start/finish with my tail between my legs.
End of the second lap (approaching 9 miles) and the legs were starting to complain!
Not looking too good! 34 going on 55?! Maybe the sleep deprivation, nearly 4 hours hard racing in the cold and increasing pain in the legs is something to do with it!
I think the pain, caffeine, endorphins and sleep deprivation justified the emotional rollercoaster I then found myself on: despondency and frustration intermingled with satisfaction and euphoria. I was a bit all over the place! Then after a very painful massage that felt like the masseuse didn’t like me very much and was enjoying my reactions a little more than someone in her profession should, I drove home, desperately trying to stave off the cramp which could quite easily cause me to veer off the road into a deep Cotswold hedgerow at any moment.
After such a full-on experience there’s nothing like eating well and relaxing in the bath and flopping about in front of some sport on TV in the afternoon. In fact, those are probably three of the best things about exercise. Sadly, this doesn’t happen when you’ve got 2 energetic children under 7 years old and have been away all morning….. Dig in!