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Sunday, 11 September 2016

Ironman Weymouth! 14hours 53mins 16 secs ~ £1,875 raised for the RNLI!

So for a good few years now I'd been slightly in awe of the Ironman Triathlon event. From doing my first 10km run in 2007 I went through what probably everyone goes through, thinking how could you possibly run double that distance to do a half marathon, and then double that again for a marathon!? It just seems impossible!?

Taking that to its extreme, an Ironman just seemed so unachievable!? a 2.4mile swim, 112mile bike and then a 26.2mile marathon run!? How do people do that!? But for anyone who took that step from 10km to half marathon, etc., you'll know that it is achievable because you train for it, and probably because you're so bloody minded to finish on the day that you do it! And that's pretty much the story of my Ironman! It's been a heck of a journey, exciting, nerve wracking, moments of almost overwhelming self-doubt... But also a great journey! I've had some great training runs, rides and swims with some fantastic scenery and people, and also some time on my own for reflection. I've learned a lot about myself and other people! My friends and family I don't think ever really doubted me, even when I doubted myself, and their support has been awesome and humbling and is without doubt the single biggest contributing factor to my Ironman success!

I guess I'd actually been putting this off for a few years. Thinking that some of my other challenges would satiate that underlying desire to give an Ironman a go. Even when I did the Long Course Weekend last year I thought that would scratch the itch, but days after finishing and thinking I'd never be able to complete it all in one day, my viewpoint had changed to thinking I could do this!

Registration confirmation!
It must have been about last October when I decided to up the training just to see how sustainable it was. By January 2016, I pretty much knew I was going to do this but still hadn't admitted it or had the courage to hit the enter button on the registration page (and fork out the £460 registration fee!). That moment came in March! I posted on Twitter at the time that "that's the hard part done" and it did kind of feel like that. A bit of a weight off my mind and I could just concentrate on the training!

So the training became a lifestyle change! I 
ramped up from circa 9 hours/week training peaking at around 16 hours/week. I trained six days/week, resting on a Monday after my long sessions at the weekend. Did early morning swims and runs alternating weekday mornings, some runs in the evening and tried to cycle to work one day a week to Manchester. The ‘Bricks sessions’ came at the weekend of 'long open water swim to bike' and 'long bike ride to runs'. I had a few morale boosting 2.4m swims on a Saturday well within the Ironman time cut off which had been playing on my mind, followed by cycling 40m home from Manchester and then a 3m run. My biggest training session was a 1km pool swim followed by a 124mile bike ride from Sandbach to Pwllheli and a 3.5mile run on the same day a couple of weeks before the event, at which point I felt I was ready! 

We stayed in a caravan in Weymouth for the weekend which was great as it meant I could make my own breakfast on the day at daft o'clock in the morning and also meant as a family we could take our dog Ollie!

Sunrise over Weymouth beach
I tried to remain calm and optimistic about event day. Yes things might not go to plan but any number of things could also go right on the day! And they pretty much did! I made a start on this by getting a good breakfast of Peanut butter on toast and a banana!

Conditions on the day were amazing. Clear skies, warm but not hot, glass calm seas and only a breath of wind!
Swim exit over the shingle
beach... Ouch!
I'd been nervous about the swim. Mass starts can be brutal! There was both the main Ironman and a Half Ironman event all setting off swimming at the same time... 2,800 competitors in total!!! But the organisation was impeccable and amazingly the self-seeded rolling swim start worked exceptionally well! I really enjoyed the swim! I had plenty of space to swim, the sea at 17'c was warmer than the 9'c air temp at 7am in the morning and the water was clean and clear. Being able to see the sandy bottom for most of the swim was a huge bonus. The two 1.2m laps with an 'Australian exit' between times was soon done in a personal best of 1hour 30mins! If you're going to pull a PB, what better time than on event day (and well within the 2 hour cut off to give me a head start on the bike)!

Run from Swim to T1
I'd decided I was going to make sure I was comfortable on the 112mile bike ride by getting completely changed out of wet gear into my cycling gear. I knew this would cost me a little more time in transition but felt I could make up for it being settled for a long day in the saddle on the bike. I think this paid off!

By the time I got on the bike the sun was warming the air nicely! I'd done a lot of training on the steep sharp climbs of the Welsh hills, but the Dorset countryside turned out to be mostly long rolling hills without any real intense climbing and some stunning scenery on route!

Home made Bike food!
My nutrition strategy was to eat normal, solid food on the bike rather than overdosing on gels which tend to give you gut rot after a few of them. I did top up on one gel just to get me going on the bike but for the remainder of the ride relied on homemade rice cakes, homemade flapjack and homemade egg, bacon and sausage 'breakfast bakes'. Also a couple of ham and Philadelphia sandwiches and cereal bars. These were wrapped in parchment foil for easier access! The recipes were from a cycling food book a friend recommended and were excellent (and well tested on training rides!).
Start of the bike leg
I made use of the 'personal needs' bags to be deposited at the 33m/86m feed station so that I could re-stock en-route which seemed to work really well!  

Into the climbs!
The bike leg itself went great! I maintained a steady pace of around 15mph to 16mph and had a good ride on mostly closed roads. The support around the course was amazing! Lots of locals who had clearly been trapped in their own lanes and driveways in full carnival spirit with cow bells, drums, etc.!

The route took us on a circular tour North East out of Weymouth around Osmington, Puddletown, Buckland Newton before turning South West through Godmanstone and around Dorchester back over hills to Weymouth for a second loop. I completed the bike leg in 7hours and 32mins which I was really pleased with at 1.5hours within the cut-off for the swim/bike segment. I had a bit of a twinge from my hamstring behind my left knee towards the end but nothing too drastic.
On the run
So a not so quick change from cycling to running gear in T2 and just a marathon run to go! Four and a half loops of the promenade into Weymouth felt a better way of dealing with it so I tended to focus on the loops rather than the miles.

I felt pretty good still! The atmosphere on the run was fantastic and for the first time that day a proper chance to have a bit of banter to take the mind off the running with the other runners. It was a great feeling of camaraderie! Each loop you were given a wrist band of a different colour. Four wrist bands and then into the finish chute! What could be easier!

I met a few really nice people on the run. I ran a loop with a girl called Tess from Wakefield and I think that helped considerably to take my mind off the niggle in my left knee that was getting steadily more uncomfortable. Another lap I ran with a guy and again all thoughts of the knee went away. The final lap I felt my knee give way slightly and had to stop and stretch a bit. It was frustrating because other than that I still felt really good!

It was here that my support team of my wife Karen, Daughter Lucie and dog Ollie were fantastic on the day! They were up at the crack of dawn with me to get to Transition for 5:45am right through to my finish just before 10pm! It was fantastic to see them popping up unexpectedly at various points of the course around Weymouth.

My top supporters! Lucie,
Karen and Ollie!
"Dave... YOU are an Ironman!"
As the darkness drew in, the atmosphere got better! As I got near the finish chute I could hear the crowd cheering runners through and I finally allowed myself to believe that I had this!

At 26 miles it was just a final trot around the pier and into the finish chute. What a feeling! I'd though that I'd be in tears but they didn't come until later.

It was though an unforgettable experience to hear the commentator say "Dave... You are an Ironman!" :-)

It was even more overwhelming to find out that Karen & Lucie had 'live streamed' my finish via Facebook to family and friends at home, in Italy, Mexico and my eldest daughter Zoe in Australia! It was reading the 100+ comments when my aching legs woke me up at 4:30am the next morning that the tears came! ~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WQkpCkU4wa0

Ironman ~ Brag for the rest
of your life!
So... For anyone considering embarking upon their own Ironman journey, my advice would be do it! Ironman have a motto of ‘Anything is possible’ and I believe that! Ironman is 80% training and 20% stubbornness to finish! You’ve obviously got to put the right training preparation in and get the nutrition right but I’ve had some great training days. I have watched what I’ve eaten, lots of carbs before and during training and protein afterwards, cut down on the alcohol but didn’t exclude it completely except for the last few weeks before the event. I burnt between 2,500 – 5,000 calories a week so no matter what I ate I pretty much burned it off (so if I fancied the occasional pie I had one!). I lost 9kg in weight since Christmas where I didn’t think I really had weight to lose. Most of all though, I’ve had huge support from friends and family. Without my family support in particular I don’t know how I would have done it!

A massive thanks to all those who made donations to my ongoing RNLI cause! This year it's going to the Pwllheli lifeboat to aid their new inshore lifeboat appeal. I know they will be pleased with our combined efforts... Thank you!