If you had suggested to me a few years before that I would be doing an Ironman I would have probably asked you first what it was, and then when I had found out what it entailed, I would have laughed in your face. My main sport at the time, kayaking, had initially been selected because it looked fun and because I, mistakenly, thought it would involve no running. My swimming was a sort of keep your head up breaststroke that had me nervous about being out of my depth, possibly an occupational hazard when kayaking, and I didn’t own a bike or have any intention of getting on one.
About four years before I did the Ironman then started going to adult swimming lessons with the aim of being comfortable being out of my depth, so I could go on holiday and not panic going on holiday with no concept that I would end up enjoying swimming for the sake of swimming. This meant weeks of failing to swim widths in various strokes, swallowing a lot of pool water when it all went wrong, frustration that it didn’t seem to click and the instructor standing on the side telling me ‘you are not a floater’. The first time I went to the pool outside of the swimming lesson meant that people were swimming lengths and the only person swimming slower than me was a woman doing a very demented doggy paddle, while the small child was doing butterfly in the next lane repeatedly lapped me.
But I found I kept going back to the pool to practice and found that I was enjoying it! Also, the first time that I swan an entire length in front crawl felt such an achievement. This was something I had never expected to get from swimming. I progressed to the next group where the instructor spent most of his time shouting at me to keep my legs together.
Getting out on a bike came a bit later. I initially borrowed an old bike of my dad’s with the saddle put right down and would go out for a pootle by myself, initially on cycle tracks because I was scared of the cars and then I did venture onto a road. I finally got some confidence, and then I crashed into a ditch. Nothing there to blame but myself taking a corner too fast and I limped slowly home with the brake hoods all bent around and a not so happy wrist.
I managed to get the brake hoods facing the right direction with a hammer after consulting with google. I also here that I learnt that the bike was probably older than me because the company that made the gears wrapped up business a year after I was born. I did get back out on this bike but was also learning that the frame was really too big for me and I was putting too much pressure on my hands leaning forward, mainly because I couldn’t use my hands well enough to get the key in the door lock when I got home from a ride, so it was time to get my first bike since I was a kid.
Meanwhile, my Dad had been doing triathlons for a couple of years and mentioned the idea of open water swimming so one Saturday morning we went down to a local lake to try just that. Being something I would never have thought of trying a year before I loved it straight away and have never looked back.
From here he talked me into entering my first triathlon which ended up being a sprint triathlon at Dorney Lake, selected because it didn’t start at the crack of dawn and because while the bike was on roads, there were no cars or traffic to consider. My dad suggested that I needed to run after doing a bike ride before the day which resulted in him dragging me on a 5km run while I swore at him all the way around, he is very patient.
The day of the race came and to say I was nervous was an understatement. I spent a lot of the time before the race talking with the woman whose bike was next to me and who also had never done a triathlon looking at all the people around us who seemed to know what they were doing: ‘they’ve all got clippy peddles so they must know what they are doing’, ‘look at the fancy bikes they must know what they are doing’ etc. while doing many trips to the toilet.
I made it around, I was nowhere near the front, but I hadn’t been last, and I hadn’t walked or fallen off my bike, so it counted as a resounding success. I did, however, see someone who is now a hero of mine, I don’t know his name, but I first saw him when he was on the bike. With this event, there are lots of different waves going off at intervals, so I saw him while I was waiting to get in the water. He was an older man in baggy shorts, on a sit-up bike and his knees going wide while he peddled and he certainly wasn’t going to be winning prizes for all of the gear or for speed. I then went past him on the run and realised that he was doing this whole thing was callipers on his legs, so the wide cycling was to not get the calliper stuck in the bike chain. He wasn’t doing the event for prizes or looks but to see if he could, and he most certainly did. For that, he wins my admiration.
I did a few triathlons the following year, including my first Olympic distance where the run course was so muddy my show came off in the mud, and I crossed the line with one shoe on. With various things happening in life any semblance of training dwindled to non-existence the following year, and while I did still do a few events without any training, I was definitely out the back and struggling. It was also then when I went to cheer my friend on at Ironman Bolton.
Now I have been prone to entering long distance events on a whim, all of my life decisions are made either by over-thinking something to the nth degree or with no thought at all with no in-between. I got rather caught up in the moment and came away from the event knowing I wanted to enter one. I had already committed myself to paddling the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race, 125 mile race, over the Easter weekend which was the end of March in the following year so I set about looking for an event that would be towards the end of the summer and flat because I still haven’t found a love for cycling up hills. This ended up with me picking Ironman Copenhagen in August.
I selected a training plan by there were 20 weeks between the canoe race and someone had given me a 19-week plan, one week off and switch training, what could go wrong! I did have every intention of getting some training in while training for the canoe race, all good cardio and all that jazz, and while I did manage to get on some morning swims there was not much if any peddling or running going on before the kayak race was finished.
Once the canoe race was done, I then started to feel rather nervous with the reality dawning on me of what I had committed myself to. This was particularly driven home when the training plan started and it the first couple of weeks would have sessions such as ‘1 hour tempo’ or ‘1 hour easy’ on the bike and I was struggling to get to 12mph for that one hour let alone the 15mph over 112 miles that I would need to get around in the cut off. I remember one evening being out for one of these short rides and someone from the triathlon club on their work commute cycling passed me going ‘is that your Ironman training?’ before cycling off.
While I was trying to follow the training plan life was also busy going on, I was buying my first flat, there were weekends away for hen do’s and weddings, a few canoe races, the whole work thing that they kept expecting me to turn up to because I hadn’t found anyone to pay me to do the things I want to do, and life, in general, carrying on. While I started each week with the intention that I would do all the sessions on the training plan it never actually happened for the entire training plan. I did always make sure that rest day was in there though!
The distances did start to go up and slowly the speed of the bike and run would creep up. I spent a lot of time getting lost on roads I had never been before, and a lot of the miles gained were by getting myself un-lost again and I did manage to find some beautiful views, some of which I never found again and can’t tell you where they are, but they did look good at the time. I also got ridiculous cycling jersey sun tan which didn’t look good in other people’s wedding photos.
My main issue going into the race was the fact that I had decided I couldn’t cycle 100 miles. This was based on the fact that I had spent a Friday morning at a funeral, collected the keys to my very own flat on the Friday lunchtime and then spent Friday afternoon to Sunday night moving all my worldly possessions into my flat then come the bank holiday Monday morning had come to do my first and only 100 miles sportive. Needless to say it was not the most successful ride I have had- they were packing up the feed stations once we had gone through and were waiting to pack up when we got to the finish, it was slow, it hurt and I had to get off and stretch my back a couple of times before the end. I didn’t look at it objectively enough at the time and instead decided I couldn’t cycle 100 miles. I then didn’t do enough to alleviate this fear before the event by not taking the training rides beyond 90 miles so I went into the event fully believing that I could not make the swim- bike cut off.
I spent the last month or two before the event in a state of mild panic at all times, not that I recognised it at the time let’s just say I am not always very emotionally aware of myself. This did result in me doing what I now see as stupid things like getting up at 4 am to get enough of a bike ride in before work to then go away that evening after work for a hen do and therefore just not having enough sleep at times. Also I had now moved into my flat and it wasn’t until about a month after the event when, after everything falling out of the cupboard under the sink every time I opened it I looked and went this thing on its side in here is another shelf, put the shelf in right and everything fits hey presto. I think this sums up my rather narrow state of mind at the time.
It then came to the time for packing up to fly out to Copenhagen. I had borrowed a bike box, but I had never flown with a bike before although once I had figured out how to get the bike down small enough to get it in the box this wasn’t a problem although it did nearly incur a full-blown meltdown when I was failing to get it in the box. One of my friends from school and her husband were also flying out for the event, so I met them at the airport for the adventure.
Due to none of us have read the information enough before booking the flights to realise that the race briefing was on the Friday night afternoon the race didn’t take place until Sunday we didn’t land in time on Friday to get to the briefing, so I spent the flight reading the race pack lots. We did however go and check in for the event and go and see what food the ‘pasta party’ held in store. A small amount of pasta in a pot with a couple of leaves which wasn’t an even satisfactory meal for the people who could eat pasta let alone those who can’t. They did, however, let you choose the colour of your swim hat which made me very happy to have a purple one.
Saturday afternoon and time to put the bikes in transition down by the beach so we had a gentle pedal down there from the city centre. Then disaster struck (mainly because my nerves were on edge anyway and couldn’t handle these hiccups in the plan thus making it a disaster in my head) as they wouldn’t let me into transition as they decided that there was a hairline crack that I couldn’t even see myself in my helmet. While there are hundreds of bike shops in Copenhagen they aren’t located outside of the city by the beach and would generally be closing at this time so they sent me to their ‘shop’, a man with a load of overprized aero helmets, in mainly neon colours, in the back of his car where I got stung with the exchange rate which had recently plummeted for the U.K. having recently voted for Brexit. One of those put it on a bank card and deal with it Monday moments.
Bike racking and transition preparation achieved it was back on the train to Copenhagen centre to try and get some food and sleep.
Up bright and early full of plans to make porridge and tea only to find that the hostel locks the kitchen overnight and we couldn’t get in. Emergency breakfast and no tea and we were off to the beach in a taxi as the train service didn’t start in time. Nervously waiting then for the race start.
The moment of getting in the water and starting the race was such a relief. I didn’t have concerns about the distance of the swim; I knew I had swum further in the lake at home in training. Because it was a rolling start with six people going every 10 seconds it was a lot less of a frantic swim start that any other triathlon I had done, and I didn’t get kicked in the face once. There were jellyfish in the water which I hadn’t bargained on, but I found out they didn’t stink when I got one across my nose and got rather concerned that it would stink, and I would get out of the water to my nose being three times its normal size, but it was all good. You are swimming in sea water however you are between the mainland and an island, so it is very sheltered. There are bridges between the mainland and island, but I managed to avoid swimming right into the stanchions.
Out of the water and through transition and onto the bit I feared: the bike. Out of the town and passed my first two supporters, amazing friends who had flown out for the event, and north along the coast. I had worked out I needed to average 15 miles per hour. However, I was going significantly faster than this at this point. I made the executive decision, as there was no one there to disagree with me, rather than slowing up just to go with it as it felt good and deal with the consequences later in the race.
Turning inland as the course looped around and there were locals out in their front gardens having a picnic and watching the race go through. I also had my brother and dad who had managed to get a train out into what appeared to be the middle of nowhere to support me going through. The course looped around for a second lap up along the coast. There was only one real hill on the bike course that you went up twice and it was here that they seemed to send a lot of supporters and photographers just to catch you when you are at your slowest.
Back into the city for T2 and I had made it, after all my fears about not cutting off I was well within it. This did mean I now needed to run a marathon which I hadn’t believed I would need to do beforehand. I also hadn’t run a marathon before, so I didn’t know what was in store.
The route is four laps in the city centre which I found very useful because you got to see your amazing supporters often and you could easily break it down into more manageable sections in your head. Also, by this point people taking part start trying to talk to each other more, that has its positives and its negatives. There was the woman from Copenhagen who would tell anyone who would listen loudly and in English about how she would be so much faster if she weren’t having problems with her guts and giving details no one wanted to hear but also quiet words of encouragement, generally when people ran passed me.
You pick up a wristband on each lap, and when you have four bands, you then go down the finish chute. I did spend the first two laps trying to work out where the finish chute was, I could hear it and see it, but I couldn’t figure out where people went to get to it. Thankfully I did manage to work it out and not get stuck in an infinite loop by the time I had got my coveted fourth wristband.
Crossing the finish line was an amazing experience, I far exceeding all my expectations, and probably the expectations of anyone who had seen any of my training and finished in 13hr 24mins. I got my superhero cape (foil blanket) and medal and went to try and get my clothes and the like. They had a fatal mistake and had provided toilets at the finish that had two steps to get into and out of the toilets which
was a very difficult manoeuvre that was not completed in a dignified manner.
I then had a few days waddling/hobbling around Copenhagen which is a very pretty city.
The whole experience was a very sharp learning curve regarding the fact it was the first time I had tried to follow a training plan. I certainly established that I didn’t have the knowledge regarding how training sessions and plans work particularly regarding different speed work because everything I had done before had been ‘I will go for a swim/run/peddle’ for whatever time I had or until I decided it was enough. It certainly hasn’t put me off doing it again, but I do think I would need to understand what I am doing, when, why etc. during the training time again and this would go some way to alleviating a lot of the stresses and anxieties beforehand. I think if I had understood this better then there maybe wouldn’t have been the fear that a training session in May where I can’t make the distance set doesn’t mean that you can’t do that distance come August. Luckily I do like to prove people wrong, and that also includes proving myself wrong so that come the actual race I could use my fears and go with it, but it doesn’t lead to a happy training time which is all part of the journey.