Just back from Lanzarote where my husband and son raced in the Ironman. Husband Jim has done a few before but Chris, 21, was an Ironman virgin. Both survived to race another day!
Here’s Chris’s reminiscence from the big day.
October 2011. After a mountain bike race season plagued with crashes and disappointing race results, I decide to bite the bullet and enter an Ironman Triathlon, despite having done just one triathlon several years back (and having said “Never Again” when finished), having not run or swum in about 3 years and having a big dislike of long distance cycling/events in general. How hard can it be?
Having heard the rumours that the intense training for an Ironman can actually reduce your lifespan, I decide to remedy this by doing as little training as I can possibly get away with – Instead I went to visit friends at university every week and lived the student lifestyle on shots of Sambuca, rum and gin. Whilst under the influence I’d feel great confidence assuring my friends that I’d just “Man up on the day and deal with it”. I ended my training with a maximum swim of 2km, longest cycle of about 3 hours and longest run of a couple of hours- Perfect.
I knew I hadn’t done enough training, heat acclimatisation or open water swimming but there was nothing I could change about these factors now, so I just had to get a plan together and stick to it.
5am the alarm goes off, after a terrible night’s sleep thanks to a party happening in the same hotel. Breakfast is wolfed down and we walk down to the race area and get ready for the swim.
7am. 1800 competitors run down from the beach into the sea and begin swimming. The first lap is horrendous, with people attempting to swim over the top of you, getting hit and kicked in the face. I’m no swimmer and expect the swim to take up to 1hour 45mins, however upon exit of the first swim lap, I am just 44mins into the race – spurred on by this news and reasoning that the rest of the ironman is done using your legs I decide to go all out for the final lap and see If I can reduce the lead that my dad would inevitably have. The second lap was probably my favourite point in the entire race – the fist fights are a little more sparse and some of the fish swimming amongst the coral are amazingly colourful. I exit the swim at 1hr 24 into the race, over 20 minutes faster than I was expecting.
After a quick change into my bike gear, I get onto my bike literally side by side with dad. This is slightly unexpected, but puts me in good spirits ready for the cycle. Cycling is supposedly my strength and the plan is to stick at a very modest 200watts for the entire cycle, to hopefully leave me with plenty of energy left for the marathon which is unknown territory. The course was tough, it doesn’t seem to have a flat section on it – you are either going uphill or downhill against the incessant wind. Despite the heat, I am enjoying the cycle as the scenery is incredible, roads smooth and I get chatting to a chap from the Lake District which takes my mind off of the 500m climb up to Timanfaya. He eventually decides to drop back and I’m on my own again. A nice fun flowy descent follows where I relish the opportunity to overtake the guys decked out in aero helmets with full on TT bikes.
About 70miles into the cycle, I’m on the hardest climb of the course, it’s probably at the hottest point in the day, it seems there hasn’t been an aid station in about 20 miles and I’ve run out of drink. I begin to realise that despite being disciplined and maintaining the power, my legs are feeling heavier and I’m fatiguing. “Hitting the wall” or “Bonking” is the dreaded situation for any long distance racer and I had not expected for it to happen so soon – negative thoughts ensue and I begin to get worried about how I’m going to finish the bike, let alone the marathon.
As cliché as it sounds, giving up was never an option, and that thought never went through my head during the entire race – So many of my friends at university knew I had entered and were ripping the piss out of me for having done as little training as I had. Pride wasn’t going to let me give in. The thoughts that I did have however, was the medical state I’d be when I did finish or the possibility of being forced not to finish due to collapsing from heat exhaustion etc.
My only hope at this stage was my “Special Needs” bag at 80miles which I had put a couple of bottles of “High5 XTreme” energy drink – packed full of stimulants (equivalent of 4 cans of Red Bull) and sugar, I hoped this would put me back in the game. As predicted, 10 minutes after drinking it, I was BUZZING. With the wind behind me, cruising down beautifully smooth roads back to Puerto del Carmen at over 45mph has got to be one of the high points of the race. The last few remaining miles and climb passed quickly. 6h 45mins of cycling, 112 miles, done!
Trying to comprehend starting to run a marathon when you’re already exhausted and legs are shaking whilst supporting you standing is horrendous– hence the 15 minutes I spent in t2 with my head in my hands thinking “What the bloody hell am I doing here”. I attempt to work out if I’ve got enough time to walk the entire marathon, but at the time I just can’t do the maths in my head and decide it’s about time I read my wristband which Mum had lovingly wrote “Harden the **** up” on.
At each aid station I force myself to think as logically as possible – trying to taking on salts to replenish those lost in sweat, not drink too many carbonated drinks which could unsettle my stomach, not too many caffeinated gels etc. I looked forwards to the pieces of orange and wet sponges that I could stuff down my top to cool me down.
Towards the end of the marathon, my right ankle for whatever reason became very painful to walk or run on, and as a result had to walk a large proportion of my last lap. Within this last lap I lost 15 minutes over 6km to dad, who ran the entire marathon. I managed to get myself together for the final km and ran (/hobbled) to the finish line where I was screaming and shouting down the finish chute. Being told over a loud speaker “Chris Irlam, YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN” is going to take some beating!
Just under 13 and a half of the most unpleasant hours I could ever wish to experience. By the time I had sat down and wolfed down a bit of food and a beer, my legs and ankle were so painful I had to be carried by Mum to a Taxi for the 400metre trip to the hotel.
Got to say a big thank you to Keith and Glynnis for being the words of wisdom having done the race before, ferrying us around the island to check the bike course out, sloshing on sun cream in transition and picking up our bikes and kit when we finished – couldn’t have done it without you guys!
Never again……… until Norseman