Who’s bloody idea was this, anyway?!

Most work day afternoons in 2007 at precisely 12.30pm, no matter the weather, Emer O' Kelly and I would look at each other from across the office and raise our eyebrows to assess if we would go for a lunchtime run or swim. We'd then hightail it out of Pinewood Studios, where they film most of the James Bond movies, and either join the pensioners for a swim in the congested lanes of the Langley Leisure Centre, or we'd loop around the back of the studios and go for a run through the Blackwood forest, with all its horse lanes and tree covered pathways.

Very rarely did we ever discuss business. This was our down time and for a while we would forget that we were an accountant and lawyer. At that time I was aiming to do Ironman UK, and despite a few niggles decided that I’d treat the race as a long training day. Emer was doing his first half Ironman and joined me for most of my key running sessions.

Emer has an Irish-never-say-die attitude which runs thick in his veins. He is the type of ally you’d want if you ever went to war: astute, dependable and unrelenting. We’d discuss races like war tacticians, thinking about our strengths and weaknesses, and how best to put these to work. One year after these runs in the woods, Emer took the plunge. Despite my protests that the UK is one of the hardest races in the Ironman circuit, Emer decided to give it a go.

Rookie Report on Ironman UK 2008

“Who’s bloody idea was this, anyway?!” was the last message I sent before leaving work to head off down to Sherborne. It was to my mate Rob in South Africa, the guy who bears most responsibility for me eventually getting round to attempting an Ironman after doing triathlon since the 80’s.

There were plenty of nerves as well as anticipation and excitement beforehand and it was great to have friends and club-mates to reassure me that it was all normal, to trust the training plan and the months and months of solid preparation gone into it – everything would be just fine! Ian Prince, who trod the exact same path (just a bit faster) only two months before was especially reassuring - I’d almost buy a used car from him…

The first sight I saw in Sherborne Castle on Friday was a camper van being towed out of the mud of the car park by a tractor, in a deluge. Boy, was I glad I had opted not to go camping that week-end. The day before the race was all fine - early swim in the lake, stuff placed in transition, then the race briefing just as the heavens opened again (as forecast).

Up at 0400 on the Sunday, breakfast was left out for us by the landlady at the B&B – there were three novice Ironmen staying in the same place – then off down to the Castle in the pitch black, but it wasn’t raining!

The swim start was delayed by something like 30 minutes which was just as well as having that many people swimming while it was still night would have been interesting. However, the water was quite cold and my lower legs started cramping before we even set off – not something I normally suffer from. The first half lap was a bun-fight but only had the goggles knocked off twice, got around the top mark and set cruise-control for the next lap and a half. Felt really comfortable and easy so I was amazed to see the swim time clocked at 66 minutes. So far, so good.

Out on the bike and saw Ian as we headed up the hill to start the lap, both of us full of the joys of life. The first two sectors of the lap went ahead of plan and were comfortable (I had broken the bike lap into 3 sectors after cycling the course back in August) but then came that last 10-15 k, on what should heave been an easier part of the lap, but it was into that damn wind. The stomach pains arrived (cramp, chill, reaction to food / drink or whatever) and they never really went away for the rest of the bike, such that I couldn’t bend over enough to use the aeros or even the drops most of the time. Thankfully, the end of the first bike lap was the only really dark moment (and it was very dark) and after that it was just a matter of getting on with it. It helped to see some friends at various pints on the course. The Lyons Gate climb and the “stairway to heaven” climb coming back north up the other side of the course were never really a problem, just that bit at the back end of the lap. Finished the bike something like half an hour down on expectation but otherwise no problem.

The run was easy by comparison and I managed to run all of the first two laps except for the feed-stations (and to say hello to my wife and son who I saw for the first time after lap 1) and was looking at about four and a half hours in total. However, on the last lap the leg cramps came back and then it was a matter of running until the cramps started, walking until they eased, running, walking etc. The last lap took an extra half-hour as a result so it was pretty close to dark by the end. That last lap was much more sociable though, as there were many people in similar circumstances and we chatted as we went.

My wife and son were still there at the end, wondering where on earth I’d got to, so Aidan and I teamed up and headed for the finish chute. He’s a teenager so there was none of this gambolling or running stuff – we sauntered casually down the chute, absorbed the atmosphere and crossed the line in no particular hurry. I guess someone there said “you are an Ironman” as they said to everyone but it was all drowned out in the moment.

The medal is real enough though. Fancy that - me, an Ironman!

Looking back, several things strike me. There is a huge amount of co-operation and support beforehand to do something which is so singularly individual in nature and execution. Family, friends, workmates and especially club-mates make it all possible with their advice, training help and encouragement. The stuff done by Lisa, Jim, Keith, Glynne, Simon, Ian etc is priceless. Rely on it, and return the compliment for others in future.

I thought it would be quite emotional but, once the stomach cramps started, it became more a bloody-minded determination to get to the finish of the bike at least and any dewy-eyed idealism went out the window. The emotional stuff was shelved until later.

You’d expect the demons in theses things to be naturally closer to the end, where fewer people tend to ever get to, but the problems can arise much earlier and they have to be dealt with then and after you just have to grind it out to the end.

The really worrying idea is that after a week of forgetting it, ignoring it almost, not looking at results or anything like that, on Sunday I looked at the various stats and started thinking “ I could change that, fix that, avoid that problem etc….next time round….. Oh dear, it might not be over yet!

Note for anyone thinking of next year, Venn Farm in Milborne Port is a stone’s throw from the dead-turn on the run in the castle grounds.£30 a night for double room with en-suite, no problem with breakfast on race morning. Phone is 01963 250 598

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