- I and three other close friends get engaged. Dates for weddings and stag do’s are circulated.
- My then girlfriend, subsequently fiancée and now wife, Holly quits her job as a hospital doctor. Having 9 months to play with before her next round of medical madness begins, she enters an Ironman (why not?). Not wishing to be emasculated I also enter, confident in the knowledge that once she discovers what an Ironman is, she will withdraw.
- As preparation for the Ironman, we enter a few other triathlons and sportives.
Early February: 3am
A small voice wakes me from a dream. Unable to remember what it said, I am uneasy and unable to go back to sleep. Something about planning? I resolve to check my schedule later that day.
Later that day
Shock. Disbelief. Panic.
Having thought I would casually check my schedule for the next few weeks I have somehow ended up deep in July. How? How is this possible? How could I have been this stupid? The plan was to keep things simple. With weddings, stag do’s, honeymoon, holidays etc. this year was clearly going to be busy. I had thought therefore that I would take it easy (at least triathlon-wise) and try to not have too hectic a schedule. However, my weekends have somehow ended up as follows.
29 Apr-1 May Training away long weekend
7 May Etape du Caledonia
14 May Long TT ride – London to Oxford + Cricket match
21-22 May Slateman Savage triathlon
27-30 May European Championships (Lisbon)
3-5 June My stag
10-12 June Friend’s stag
19 June Lakesman Ironman
26 June Off
2 July Wedding
I sit, head in hands, aghast. My boss looks over and asks if I am okay. I nod slowly, ashen faced. Unknowing of the horror he puts it down to pre-wedding yips. I glance back at my screen. In particular the Stag-Stag-Ironman weekend triple header (surely not words that have ever been uttered together) right in the middle of June has given me the screaming heeebie-jeebies.
It will all be okay. Holly will pull out.
Holly shows no signs of pulling out. We attend a long-distance training at Club le Santa in Lanzarote. I pay for the whole trip with high hopes that the experience will well and truly scare the willies out of her. However, it is irritatingly well structured and thought out. Filled with enthusiastic and kind participants, Holly leaves full of confidence (and chocolate as can be seen).
“I really feel I can do this now!” She says.
The madness begins late in April. A fantastic training weekend away with the Sexy Walrus Club in the New Forest only fuels Holly’s belief in the Ironman. 2 consecutive 100km days on the TT bike have had the opposite effect on me however. It is not just the legs, but also the neck and the ‘undercarriage’. How will I survive twice the distance and then run a marathon? Is it even possible? How does anyone do it? I remember the philosophy of one sage and bearded expert friend upon entering his first Ironman:
“I’d developed a working theory on long distance triathlons: no one has ever actually completed one.”
“I’d developed a working theory on long distance triathlons: no one has ever actually ocompleted one. Surely the whole concept is just too ludicrous? Instead, so my theory goes, competitors and maniacs alike are herded into the starting pen where, after months of sweat and toil, they are told that the whole thing is a farce and that they will only be released if they agree to propagate the lie.”
I was more than hoping that this was true. He couldn’t admit to it obviously as he himself would have agreed to propagate the lie, but this was surely a hint.
Etape du Caledonia
We participate in the Etape du Caledonia up in Pitlochry, Scotland. 130km of closed roads, beautiful weather and scenery lift the spirits and mind. We take it easy, practice our nutrition strategy and make it through at a good steady pace with Holly only stopping 17 times to go to the loo. I am still not keen on the prospect of running a marathon afterwards however. The last marathon I did nearly broke me.
The Slateman Savage
The Slateman Savage was next on the list. Two triathlons in two days up in Snowdonia. These were not your normal triathlons though; both encompassed a serious amount of climbing, both on the bike and the run, and the swim was to be conducted in Arctic-like conditions. Saturday was to be Sprint(ish) and Sunday a Standard(ish) distance. Having not tapered for the event due to the madness still to come I was not overly confident, however happily enough there were some real amateurs taking part (only some of whom were my friends) and miraculously I won my wave, which as the first wave, means that I took the tape and ‘won’!
Irritatingly though, there were 3 other competitors in a later wave who pipped my time so I was not on the podium. Checking the results, I saw that I was 23 seconds behind 3rd place going into the second day of racing. Ho hum. What have we here?
Amazingly, the following day I beat 3rd place by a full 25 seconds, and took a spot on the podium for the weekend. Incredible! Later analysis would reveal the 3rd placed chap had some real difficulties in T2 trying to remove his helmet with frozen, wet fingers and did in fact spend 5 minutes (to my 54 seconds) trying to extricate himself before he made it out onto the run. What a plonker.
(The chap also ranted on Strava about how annoyed he was making the result all the sweeter.)
To round off May was the European Triathlon Championships in Lisbon. Having podiumed the previous weekend, the confidence was high going into the event, and I was hoping for a good performance. However, in transport my bike had largely fallen to bits. Three days of running round Lisbon looking for spare parts in local bike shops yielded no results and I started to resign myself to the prospect of renting or borrowing another bike. However, the GB team mechanic had a look and stated that the parts I had been looking for were largely redundant and, that if assembled properly, the bike should ‘hold itself together’.
Really?! Why are parts of my SuperDuper bike largely redundant? And how does a bike ‘hold itself together’? He seemed confident however, and whistling merrily, he assembled my bike I hope, “properly”. Resolving that it would take a real psychopath to whistle whilst knowingly sending someone to their death, I decide to trust this man. He seemed nice.
My trust was well placed it turned out (or I suppose, his cunning plan may have failed). Either way, the bike was fine and performed admirably in the race. A PB equalling swim and a fast, flat bike had set me up well. Now for another soul destroying 4 lap run course …
There were 2 good friends and one arch rival (I’ll leave it to them to decide which they are) racing alongside me. We all finished the bike within 2 minutes of each other so tension was high.
Oli had held his swim lead throughout the bike which means, given the amount of EPO and testosterone he takes, none of us were likely to be able catch him. He stretched his lead over the four laps, veins popping and face grinning smugly as every lap he saw the difference growing. There is never enough drug testing at these events I always say, and no clear guidance on whistle blowing.
Nick finished the bike ahead of me, but due to being a very particular sort of chap, he requires a full makeover in transition. I exit onto the run ahead of him, but could hear his powerful rowing legs metronomically pounding the tarmac behind me. Predictably, I set off running too quickly. I slowed down to let him overtake, planning to sit on him and then back myself in a sprint at the end. However, his pacing was excellent and he churned out some consistent laps that were too quick for me to deal with. I dropped off on lap 3 and eventually finished a minute or so down on him.
Jamie swims like a fish, but luckily for me, bikes like one too. Having been roughly 15 minutes behind him after the swim, I made it up on the bike and we ran in to T2 side by side. I tried to show him how my tri bars had come completely loose during the race but he was too focused to comment. Concentrate Graeme!
However, he also took his time changing shoes and exits 30 seconds down on me. Sadly for our hero, dear readers, his pacing was also excellent and he passed me on lap 3. He and Nick battled for a bit, but Nick finished strongly and won the sprint finish.
However, even though I was beaten by these three fine athletes, I finished 16th overall which I was extremely pleased with. A much improved result on both the Geneva Euros and Chicago Worlds from last year is an indication that this year’s training was much better than last and in keeping with how I feel. Hooray! Perhaps the Ironman will be alright…?
Before this however, I had the small matter of two stag do’s, one of which was my own. The less said about these here, the better. Suffice to say both were fantastic, although I could have done without the D&V at the end of the second. Sitting on the loo for hours, 7 days out from an Ironman was not the best preparation for mind or body but at the very least it was character building. A friend also pointed out that I should weigh less. Every cloud.
Finally. After months of fretting, it is finally here. Holly has not pulled out. In fact, she is now counting out gels and saying things like, “I just want to get it done.” Although technically I agree, I can’t help but feel it overlooks the actual process of getting it done.
We travelled up on Friday afternoon. The drive was long and uneventful but full of nervous energy. To make matters worse, somebody in the car was letting off the most dreadful silent farts and creating a toxic atmosphere that had nothing to do with tension. Fortunately, it was me, so I wasn’t nearly as bothered as Holly was.
Saturday involved the usual registering, stickering, pumping and panicking. I had another bike drama, but a local bike shop came to the rescue. Peace be upon them. Saturday afternoon also involved a rather poor decision to drive the bike course in order to see what was what. Unfortunately, we discovered even driving 180km actually takes quite a long time and we had to give up around 70km, quite dispirited and having got lost twice. Holly was especially worried. If I had known this was all it would take to scare her off then I would have suggested a fly by on Google maps months ago.
Alarms went off in unison at 0430. Inhumanly early. We ate breakfast in silence and headed down to the start. The closer we got the better I felt. At least we would actually get going soon and I could hope to lose myself in blissful agony.
The swim start was chaos. As far as I could make out at one point everybody just started swimming, with no clear indication that the race had begun. Hoping that this would be put down as a false start and everyone would be disqualified I stood my ground for all of 5 seconds before succumbing to the herd instinct and diving for the water.
Once we settled in the swim was lovely. Sun rising, the hills in the background, glinting light off Derwent Water; just lovely. It certainly helped to take the mind off the imminent events of the future. My only complaint was that some bastard spent the whole race drafting me, slapping my feet and tickling my thighs. However, after conducting my first ever full mid-race urination I felt much better about the situation.
As is this case in most triathlons, the bike came next. As mentioned above, it wasn’t so much distance that was the problem – a proper nutrition strategy should take care of that – but rather the neck and groin pain management. Hoping a solution would present itself accordingly, I set off at a steady pace with a mouth full of cliff bar.
The solution, I eventually found, was to embrace the discomfort. Sitting on that “seat” for such an extended period of time is unbelievably uncomfortable, and it is so narrow that it is generally only possible to position one buttock on the seat at any given moment. Happily however, if you sit for long enough, both cheeks become so numb that you lose any active awareness of discomfort. 5 hours 35 minutes is more than enough time for this.
The bike went relatively well and after halfway, feeling fine, I started to believe that it might all be possible. I had to stop at one point to fix the headset that had come loose again but to be honest, I was glad for a break. Eat, pedal, drink … Eat, pedal, drink …
The run course was to be 5 laps. Five laps. ****. And each of 8km. The first was an exploratory mission so was relatively exciting. However, this soon turned to dread upon realising what had to be repeated. There was a section of road, upon which cones and tape had been laid out, in order to guide athletes up and down their 4.5x up-and-down repetition of this stretch of tarmac. ON EACH LAP.
Happily though, spectators were allowed to run with you, so my brother and dad ran a few laps with me which helped with the tedium. I still don’t really know how I covered the distance, but miraculously managed to do so, and in a PB setting 3:30. Unbelievable.
Holly too, did incredibly well. A much faster than expected swim (1:27) and very steadily paced bike (6:59) finished off with a storming marathon (4:09) put her as the 10th lady. As the 11th placed male this was infuriating. To compensate I made sure to capture as many embarrassing finish line photos as possible.
Two weeks later we got married. It was lovely.