So, after realising you bit off more than you could chew with your first triathlon being a half Iron Man distance what do you decide to approach for your second? Yes, another half Iron Man. However, I had not thought about how long it would take for my body to recover from the first half, so having a race the weekend after was maybe not a great idea. Alas, when you sign up for events, you think it will be fine when you are putting your card details in!

So the six days between the two halves I had an easy week of swimming and gym work, in an attempt to keep the legs ticking over but giving them time to recover too. Emotionally though I was a little drained and was not feeling like spending another day of a weekend in the blistering sun being tired.

This event was in Kent at the lake where I do my open water swim practice during the week, and Mum had yet again chummed me to make sure I did not die. Having a familiar setting and face immediately put me at ease until I entered the event village.

Taking my bike around to the transition area everything was a lot more serious than the week before. The marshals were less friendly and forgiving of mistakes, you had the minimal space in transition to put your items, phones were not allowed in the transition point, there was no music playing, you had to have your number displayed at all times, and the mood was generally more serious. “I guess this is what serious triathlon events are like,” I thought to myself, feeling like an impostor amidst the toned twiglet competitors, there was no messing here today!

Once again Mum put me at ease with saying it was a training day on home turf so just enjoy it and try to do better than last week. Therefore, that was the plan, try to do slightly better in each discipline than the week before, even if it was seconds off the time or just a case of feeling more comfortable in each one in a race environment.

The Swim

Queuing up at the entry point for the race swim I was slightly nervous but not nearly as bad as I had been the weekend before. It was a lake rather than the sea, I had swum here before, and I had done a triathlon before. However, stood at lakes bank getting ready to start I was still feeling apprehensive and worrying about coming last again.

Brief done and everybody in the water the start gun went off, off we all swam. Now, not a lot happened here. It was an uneventful swim; it went rather well. The start was a bit frantic, so I made sure I was not near the front, I put myself behind a group of people and drafted the majority of the way to the halfway point. At halfway my marksman began to tire and slow down, so I picked up another person to swim with. Swimming alongside someone helped, more so than drafting I found. I could see another person at all times which not only reassured me that I was keeping pace but also helped to remind me that there were other people going through this torture. Before I knew it I was sailing towards the finish of the swim, 2000m done, no breaking my front crawl to breaststroke and no dramas, had I cracked open water swimming!?

Getting out of the water I looked back to see I had beaten a large group of people; I was ecstatic. The number of bikes left in T1 was around 30, and it gave a huge confidence boost.

“SWIM SMASHED EM! WELL DONE!” cried Mum.

She was right I felt terrific after that performance, a rapid T1 turnover saw me in a great mindset for the cycle, which let’s be honest with my lack of talent on two wheels was much needed!

The Cycle

No dizziness and legs were feeling a bit better than the previous week while moving onto the bike was another colossal tick in the box, in fact, everything went rather well for the first 20k. People did overtake yes, but it did not bother me as I was still around people and had company around the first batch of village roads, I was not even phased that the roads were flat and dull, I was around people, so I was not doing too shabby.

However, over time I began to slow. The legs became heavy again, and energy levels slipped. Heading out to the seafront of Cambersands phenomenal headwinds hit. Having never cycled through headwinds before this was a bit new and felt like cycling through custard. I was just not moving anywhere. I would peddle and peddle, change gears in all ways to try and make it easier, stand up, have breaks but nothing made this easier. People whizzed past, and I began to have Ground Hog Days feelings from the week before.

“Here we go again,” I thought “I am going to be last.”

After what seemed like forever on my own, on flat, windy roads I eventually reached the second loop. Tempted to call it a day I asked the marshal how long I had for the cutoff.

“You have not been caught by the sweeper yet; you are fine” she barked.

Humm OK, so I was maybe not last, that was good news. I downed some water, stuffed some energy gels into my face (I realised that I had not eaten for a while, whoops) and plugged on.

Around halfway, on the second lap, I could hear a cyclist behind me coming up for overtaking. Looking over my shoulder slightly I saw that it was a woman with a man leisurely cycling behind her in an Iron Man hoodie. “Oh, he must be there to spur her on and for moral support” I assumed. They passed me and I decided that I would keep up with these people as they were not going overly quickly.

The next 15 miles or so went swimmingly well. I kept up with these people and felt rather good the pace they were going clearly worked for me, cycling with people also mentally helped. However, when on the home 8-mile stretch the headwinds had picked up from the first lap. I persevered for a few miles, keeping up with my two new pals, keeping my head tucked in, elbows at my sides and anything else I could think of to aid in being more aerodynamic. The was all in vain. I had used up all my gears, was not going anywhere fast, and was exhausted. The couple drifted further and further away from me, the man looked around a few times but I thought nothing of it, they vanished into the distance.

I was hungry and in a foul mood, not to mention verging on bursting into tears. How the hell was my cycling still so crap after doing it for a while?! Downing an energy gel as I had not eaten enough I looked at my tyres, one was looking a little flat. “Right, so not fueling properly and a flat front tyre is probably do not help the situation,” I thought and decided that it was best to crack on get the cycle done and then pull out at T2 and just do the aquathlon that was advertised. At this point the run was not an option, I just did not feel up to it.

Coming into T2, I felt like utter crap. Tired and verging on crying the man that had cycled past me with the women was standing in a tracksuit, he was not a competitor! He was the cycle sweeper! This now made more sense as to why he kept looking around.

“Are you going to do the run?” He asked in a condescending way as if to say I couldn’t and shouldn’t. This made me do a 180 degrees flip in attitude.

“Yes of course I am!” I exclaimed, “I’m crap on a bike but I am a good little runner I will make up time.”
So in my new found cockiness off I trotted to the run start.

The Run

Setting off I felt rather good, happy to be off the blasted bike and doing something I knew I could muscle through regardless of headwinds and lack of food. Ample feed stations meant that I was kept happy and had something to look forward to every 2k. It took around a Kilometer for the legs to come back from the cycle which was already quicker than the week before. The run consisted of 4 laps of 5-6K, so just 4 park runs, simple enough right?

The first lap flew by, there were people out on the course still and I was enjoying having humans around me, targets to pick off, despite them being a lap or two ahead it felt nice to be overtaking people. However, there was no shade on the course, the sun had come out and the winds had died off, typical. Despite being a sweaty mess I ran the first lap fairly comfortably, taking a breather if I needed it but for the most part, it was an unbroken 5k. Of course, because I struggled on the bike and came in last everyone knew who I was and that I was the last person. This means lots of support as everyone thinks you are going to die or stop if they do not shout at you.

“Looking strong!” shouted the marshals at the lap split “well done, great performance!”

“Go Em!!!!!” Shouted Mum

“She’s a good little runner isn’t she?!” I heard the marshal say to mum as I ran past

“Heheheheh I will show that marshal for doubting me” I mused.

The food stations and marshals were really supportive on the second lap as I darted around, that was until I told them I was only on my second lap. Faces dropped, it was clear they were not prepared to be finishing this late, whoops. Trying to ignore their disappointment I chirpily carried on and told them I would see them in a tick.

By the time the third lap came around I was beginning to feel it a bit, the heat was hard despite ample food and water, if anything I think I drank too much. Running around my stomach lurched and churned with all the rubbish I had shoved into my face around the run, trying to make up for the nutrition mistakes on the bike, not a good idea.

The third lap was more a mental game and I told myself as long as I was going forward we were all good. There was hardly anyone left on the run course now and I was very much having to spur myself on. Halfway through the third lap I gave in and adopted a walk/run approach, mainly to keep me entertained and prevent keeling over from boredom. There were telegraph poles most of the way around the lap so I would run 5 and walk one over and over, giving the legs a rest and giving me something to focus on.

Hitting the course split for the final time, I perked up, wolfed more coke and jelly babies down and set off. Jogging down the middle of the road counting my telegraph poles I suddenly heard a car pull up behind me

“COME ON! KEEP GOING!”

It was my swim wife Ginny, her partner and dogs that had come to cheer me on, this was the pick me up I needed. Suddenly I did not need to stop and have my rest I carried on going, I was nearly done, it would be over and I could chat to my pals and eat a burger.

Licking the solidifying salt off my face, forcing my legs to plod on without a rest and ignoring the chaffing under my armpit I eventually got to course split a final time. A lot of people were still there to cheer me in which was nice and left me in higher spirits than the weekend previous.

The bike sweeper came over to me at the finish line.

“Well done that was a cracking run, a half marathon in 2 hours after the previous ventures is not shabby. You had pretty even splits and looked strong the whole way around so you paced yourself perfectly.” He said

The finish time was 6:45 which was a lot quicker than the weekend previous, so improvement and I was told by the finish line staff that it was a very strong field and usually with a time of 6:45 there would have been a few people behind me. Granted they may have just been saying this to make me feel a bit better!

So overall, a strong swim, strong run but a not so strong cycle.

Lessons Learnt

  • The smallest improvements should be celebrated, focus on the positives.
  • This game is more mental the physical.
  • Sometimes a person doubting you if the thing you need to spur you on.
  • If you are hungry or thirsty, you have missed the point where you should have eaten.
  • Do not try to make up nutrition in the run you will feel sick
  • Spread out nutrition on the bike, set reminders if need be to force yourself to eat and drink?
  • Support from family and friends really does make all the difference
  • Just because you are last does not mean you are not making the cutoffs.
  • Do not do back to back half Iron Mans in a week, it hurts.