Sweat, tears and expletives … my Ironman journey
Richard Seville … you are an IRONMAN!!!
These are words that I’ve dreamt about hearing for a long time but never imagined would be achievable. As someone who came from a running background and enjoyed the odd social cycle I was 2 thirds of the way to being able to take part in a triathlon. The final third would prove to be the biggest challenge of my life but at the same time the most rewarding and life changing. I’m talking about the SWIM … the dreaded swim!
So where did my journey begin? Was it on Sunday 1st July running off the beach into the crystal clear waters of Lake Worthersee in Austria? Was it 7 months ago when I started training in earnest for the Ironman? Was it when I signed up for Ironman Austria 10 months ago? As you may guess the answer to all of the above is NO! My Ironman journey began years ago. Those of you who know me will know that I like structure, so let’s look at a nice structured time line which lead me to the finish line.
19th July 2015
This was the day that the first little spark was lit in my head about racing an Ironman event. This was the date I first ventured down to Pennington flash to support some of the St Helens Striders who were competing in Ironman UK. I watched the swim at Pennington then cycled over to Hunters Hill to watch everyone pant and sweat their way up the killer hill. I distinctly remember watching Andy Bridge making his way up Hunters and being in complete awe of what he was achieving. After I’d cheered a few team mates up the hill I headed home. I had mixed feelings that day – on the one hand I was proud of what my club mates were doing and about to achieve but on the flip side I felt gutted that as someone who couldn’t swim I’d never be able to do a triathlon, let alone an Ironman event!
6th April 2016
Skip forward a year and I’m still a non-swimmer, very seldom went out on my bike, a keen club runner and still a triathlete virgin.
After a gruelling 14 weeks of a 16 week marathon training plan I was 18 days away from competing in my first marathon which was going to be the London marathon. My training was going really well with 80 mile per week peaks. I was in the shape of my life. All the indicators were that I should be on target for a sub 3 hour marathon (the Holy Grail for many club runners). That night I did a standard training session with the St Helens Striders along Berringtons Lane – 6 x 1 mile efforts. I felt great! The next day I wake up and get out of bed – oh shit the pain in my left foot was unbelievable! Not that I knew it at the time, but this would be the moment where the little spark in my head a year ago would start to turn into a reality. The diagnosis for my foot was Plantaar Fasciitis and for anyone who’s suffered with this before you’ll know it’s bloody painful and very debilitating. I underwent physio treatment for the next 2 weeks, did no running and spent every night with my foot in a bucket of ice water. I was probably a nightmare to live with too!
24th April 2016
London marathon race day. I’ll skip the details, suffice to say after 2 weeks of trying to rehabilitate myself I stood on the start line hoping and praying that my foot would hold up and get me to the end. In the back of my head I also wanted a sub 3 hour marathon (yeah right)!
The first half of the marathon was an amazing experience. People cheering my name which I’d had printed on my club vest, running smoothly, wow everything is coming together. 1st 5k split 21:19, 2nd 21:08, 3rd 21:16, 4th 21:38, hit the half marathon point at Tower Bridge in 1:30:33 then bang the foot went. My 5k splits went to 29:00, 30:00 and 32:00. The second half of that marathon was the longest 2 hours of my life. I had to run, walk and hobble along the outside of the road next to the crowds. The blessing of having my name on my vest turned into a nightmare as people urged me to start running again. The fact was I couldn’t run. I’ve never not wanted to be somewhere so much in my life! Marathon completed in 3:35:59.
27th April 2016
So my marathon was over and I couldn’t walk. That’s standard after a marathon I hear you say. The only difference was, my foot had swollen to the size of a small football and I couldn’t put any pressure on it without shooting through the roof. After a trip to the physio I was advised not to do any running for at least 8 weeks – NIGHTMARE!!! Now I was definitely a pain in the arse to live with. Not only was I mega pissed off about not being able to run but I was tired and cranky because I wore a foot splint to bed every night – not conducive for a good night sleep!
14th May 2016
After 3 weeks of feeling sorry for myself and not doing any activity I decided it was time to take the plunge (literally) into the pool at the St Helens Tri club Saturday pool session. I was greeted by one of the coaches – Derek Ireland. I told him I couldn’t swim but he told me to go into lane 2 – ha! After half a length I stopped, coughed and spluttered and looked back at him – he told me to get into lane 1 🙂
The Saturday swim session was 90 minutes long but it felt like a life time. I really could not swim! Even as a youngster I was always in the bottom group at school swim sessions and on holiday as a parent my kids and wife had always been much stronger swimmers than me. I distinctly remember 45 minutes into the session looking at the pool exit thinking how many people will laugh at me if I just walk out. I was so close to just giving up and calling it a day! I think if I had got out that day it would’ve been the end of my swimming & triathlon journey. As you can see from my Strava feeds the next few sessions I carried on struggling in the pool.
“Swim with St Helens Tri – possibly one of the most traumatic 90 minutes I’ve had in a long time – I CANNOT SWIM!!!”
“Trying to get to grips with this swimming nonsense!”
“Tri club swim – just call me Sharon. As in Sharon Stone – I sink like one!”
“Tri club swim – felt like I took a step back today. Hey ho move on”
It quickly dawned on me that progressing in swimming is a long and hard road but as with anything in life the more you perservere and practice the better you get. I attended as many coached and non-coached swim sessions as I could, rarely missing a Saturday or Tuesday session. The coaches at the club were amazing! I also developed my own additional session on a Thursday. At first I would swim widths just to get used to swimming with my face in the water and learning how to breath properly. As many people know the key to swimming is mastering how to regulate breathing. At first it’s soooooo hard then it becomes slightly easier as time goes by. Then one day it becomes second nature and it just happens naturally – that’s the best feeling!!!
I stayed in lane 1 for a long time, trying to build up confidence and develop my stroke. Then one Saturday I was told to move into lane 2 by a coach – noooooooo! It was like the feeling when you go from primary school to secondary school. I was back at square one now. I was the slowest in the lane and struggling to keep up with the quicker swimmers. I kept plugging away.
Over the next year I consistantly trained in the pool. 2 or 3 sessions a week was the norm. Slowly (very slowly) I became a bit quicker, a bit fitter and a bit more confident and started to creep up the lanes on Saturday mornings. I always used to look across at lanes 5 and 6 and think I’ll never be as good as them (I still do with lane 6 swimmers) – they must be part human, part fish! For the first year I never tried open water swimming. I wanted to become as good a swimmer as I could be before I took to Eccleston Mere. In hindsight I should have started open water swimming sooner and I’d recommend any newby to take the plunge as soon as you can because it gives you so much confidence.
2nd August 2017
Skip forward a year … I’ve done lots of swimming, lots of cycling and lots of running. I’ve even done a good 2 to 3 months of open water swimming at Eccleston Mere and loved it. I’m ready to become a triathlete! I decided my first event would be the Capernwray mid week sprint tri event. Nice and short to ease myself in. I was told it was a nice friendly event with people of all abilities taking part so off I went – nervous as hell! I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it, I didn’t want any pressure or expectation on my sholders, I just drove up and did it.
It was a baptism of fire! The swim was in a deep diving quarry and was a mass start. I got stuck in the middle of a mass of flailing arms and feet and was hit in the face a few times and had my goggles knocked which filled up with water. The first turn was like being in a washing machine and really freaked me out, so much so that after I got around the buoy I almost stopped to roll on my back and ask for help. I managed to calm myself down and get through the swim. The bike and run were great and I really enjoyed the remainder of the event. At last I was a triathlete, although I felt slightly deflated that my experience was far from great!
6th September 2017
Right my first triathlon swim was a nightmare and was lingering in my head. As much as I really didn’t want to, I needed to get back on the horse. I went back up to Capernwray. This time I had a plan! Keep out of the crowds, swim on the outside and take a wider path around the buoys. Sure enough it worked a treat – no punches, no kicks to the head, no goggles filling up with water just a straight forward swim. I swam a longer distance but got out of the water a minute quicker. More importantly I enjoyed the swim and the whole triathlon!
10th September 2017
4 days later I’m racing again at the St Helens sprint triathlon. For some reason I felt more nervous for this race than any race I’ve done before. Posssibly because I’m racing my peers from the club, possibly because I know a lot of St Helens Striders have come down to watch the race. The swim wasn’t my best ever but I got out in the first half of the field – good enough. I worked my way to 4th place on the bike and managed to hold that position to the end of the run. 4th place overall – boom! Massive confidence builder.
So 2 years after watching Ironman for the first time and the spark of interest being lit I finally decided I wanted to sign up to accomplish my ambition.
Me: “Charlotte” (that’s my wife), “I’ve decided to sign up for Ironman.”
Charlotte: “When is it?”
Me: “July 14th”
Charlotte: “You can’t, my mums booked a villa foir that week, we’ll be on holiday”
Me: “Oh bollocks!”
So that was Ironman UK out of the question – gutted! I started reading reviews about overseas Ironman races. Austria stood out straight away. It was it’s 20th anniversary and was consistantly voted second or third best triathlon event in the world. It was also 2 weeks before Bolton which was perfect as I could sit back and relax while my other club members were still toiling away – sorry everyone 🙂
I went to sign up – SOLD OUT! Oh bollocks again! The only way to get a place was via an external company who charged more than the standard entry fee. Just incase you don’t know Ironman costs a hell of a lot anyway. This was my dream and I wasn’t going to let a couple of hundred quid get in my way. I thought about it for all of 2 seconds then signed myself up.
Many people say the hardest bit about Ironman is taking the plunge and signing up. I say that’s absolute crap. Compared to the months and months of hard training, keying in your credit card number is an absolute walk in the park.
October to November 2017
During the first 2 months after I’d signed up I continued to train hard (or so I believed). Lots of hard training with the St Helens Striders, chain gangs at Pimbo in the wind, rain and cold, plus a hell of a lot of sessions in the pool. I could feel my fitness improving. I was getting stronger on the bike and my swimming was slowly improving, but there wasn’t a whole lot of structure to what I was doing.
11th December 2017
OMG! I thought I’d trained hard until I joined a coached group. This was to be the start of the toughest 7 months of training I’ve ever done in my life. I thought marathon training was hard and time consuming, this was another level. From the word go the sessions were intense! At first all the emphasis was on the swimming and bike training. The theory behind this was that making big gains in all 3 events at the same time is almost impossible so concentrating on just 2 at first allows for the big gains to come in these. The third (running) would come later in the plan at a higher intensity.
The plan was simple, 9 training sessions per week. 3 swims, 3 bike/turbo, 3 runs with one day off. Every 4th week was recovery week to allow the body to recover and adapt to the changes. Each block became harder and harder as the months went on. If you do simple maths 9 sessions into 6 days means a few double training days. These were the hard days!
The swim sessions were great. By this point I now loved swimming and it’s so satisfying to see how far you’ve come from being a non swimmer to progressing up to the lofty heights of lane 5 (lane 6 are still half human, half fish)! As well as the Saturday and Tuesday club swims I would be out of my bed at 5:15am every Wednesday to get to Orford to do my own 3000m + session. There were lots of other Ironmen in my lane and it was great to hear about all their experiences and tips. I even got the pleasure of swimming with an ex Olympic silver medallist, although I only ever saw his heels for a few seconds 🙂
Turbo sessions – OMFG turbo sessions! For those who don’t know what a turbo trainer is, it’s basically a modern day version of torture on a bike. The training sessions that were set were horrendous from the word go, especially the maximal effort sessions. I can honestly say that I’ve never experienced exercise induced pain like I did during those sessions. I’d try to do the turbo sessions early moring (5am early) to get them out of the way. I often had sleepless nights thinking about the session I had to do in the morning and knowing how broken I’d feel when I crawled off the bike. My conservatory bacame the pain cave and I regularly got looks of horror from Charlotte as she saw the pools of sweat trickling towards the edge of my sweat mat, threatening her freshly mopped tiles.
It required carefull planning to get all the sessions in because trying to do a turbo session of an evening after a run in the morning would be almost impossible and even if it was maneagable, the chances were I couldn’t generate enough power to make it a productive session. On a couple of occassions towards the end of the plan I remember getting on the bike at 5:15am, turning a few pedal strokes and thinking “I’ve got no power on my legs to do this session justice”. Instead of wasting more energy I got off, hung my training suit & heart monitor back over the bike and curled up on the couch with the dog for an extra hours sleep. Suffice to say I didn’t skip the sessions, I just re-arranged them to a different day.
Run sessions – In the early stages the running was just to keep ticking over while we developed on the swim and bike. The long slow runs peaked at about 90 minutes which felt reasonably easy. I continued my commitments as a run leader for the St Helens Striders. Towards the end of the training plan this became impossible due to the shear volume of training I had to undertake. By the end of the plan the long slow runs were up to 3 hours, which was really hard going, especially when you factor in the fatigue from all the other 8 sessions. The other 2 sessions comprised either hill sprints or flat out sprints for 3 minutes at a time towards the tail end of the plan. Running went from my favourite session to my least favourite. I hated the long slow runs because they were so monotinous, time consuming and depleated me of so much energy.
January to February
As soon as the new year was over, the year of my Ironman had arrived – GULP! At this point it felt a million miles off, but the training was really ramping up. The maximal output turbo sessions really started to become intense. The only way I can describe it is sitting on a bike for an hour, cycling as hard as you can, but only being able to breath through a straw. Recovery was minimal between each set and the plan even stated the recovery phase will not allow you to recover fully! The weather was bitterly cold but the long runs continued around the 90 to 100 minute mark with regular rises out of my bed at 4:30 to 5:00 to get them done before work – plenty of nodding dog moments at my desk.
During this phase I completed my first VO2 max test on the bike to monitor my progress and provide a base line to assess if the training was having the desired affect. The test is horrible – start at 150 watts, increasing by 20 watts every minute until you fail with exhaustion. The coaches wanted to see watts/kg of over 4 to do well at Ironman and I achieved 4.66 w/kg – good enough for me.
March to April
Swim training remained as intense as ever with 3 to 4 training sessions per week with a target of over 3000m per session. I slowly started to see my swim pace improving and I was able to keep up with the faster swimmers on a Tuesday evening club session (albeit drafting behind them). I completed a couple of sessions where I was recorded under water which was great as I could pick up on errors I never knew I had. In my head I thought I swam like Michael Phellps, in reality I swam like Vanessa Phellps.
The long runs started to get longer too now with runs up to 2:30 which was really tough, especially if the weather was bad. I’d regularly try to tie these into runs with either the St Helens Striders or Rainford Runners by doing 1:15 on my own before joining the goups for the second 1:15. Running with others was a real life saver and helped me get through what were really tough sessions.
Turbo sessions continued to increase in their intensity with longer periods at maximum power output and short recoveries. As the weather started to improve the outdoor bike rides started. The long rides started at 60 plus miles but very quickly (within 2 to 3 weeks) increased to 80 or 100 mile rides. The thing with long rides is, well they take so long! A 100 mile ride at level 1 pace (aerobic pace) will take 6 plus hours. I was training that much by this stage I was conscious that Charlotte (my wife) was becoming increasingly pissed off with the whole thing, so elected to take days off work to complete the long rides, instead of eating into the weekends.
The subject of Charlotte getting pissed off brings me nicely onto the effects on the family of undertaking an Ironman training program! You need an understanding family! My children are old now (16 and 19) so don’t demand too much attention but even so training morning and night 6 days a week is enough to stretch the most patient wife. It was probably during this phase that I first heard the word divorce (it wasn’t the last). Like any other loving and understanding husband I ignored her and cracked on. We also had what we called the ‘divorce tap’. This was where Charlotte would wake up at 6:45 and reach across to tap my pillow to see if I was up early morning training again. On my days off I would feel her tapping on my face to check if I was there or not 🙂
2 months to go until race day. Everything became specific to racing the event. Turbo sessions and long rides were designed to be specific to race day – practicing race cadence, eating the same nutrition as we’d use on race day, taking on salt sticks, wearing aero bike gear etc. There were also lots of brick sessions (running sessions straight after a bike session), which were hard but gave me a lot of confidence, until May 31st. On that day I did a 93 mile bike ride followed by an hours run straight off the bike. The ride felt great, the run just went horribly wrong! I couldn’t keep my heart rate down, my legs just wouldn’t keep going and I was a wreck. My confidence in the run was now at rock bottom. If I couldn’t run for 1 hour off 93 miles bike, how could I run for 26 miles after 112 miles? I kept it to myself but I had real doubts about being able to complete the run now.
Open water swimming started up again. After a good 8 months away from the open water it took a couple of sessions to get back up to speed, but I quickly realised why I loved open water so much last year. By week 2 I was swimming over 3.8k (Ironman distance) for every open water session I did. After 4 weeks I was feeling really confident about the swim. Then during 1 session at Eccleston Mere it all went horribly wrong. I started off at my usual pace and by 400 meteres in I started to panic. I couldn’t breath and was hyper ventillating. I switched to breast stroke to calm down but this still didn’t help. I managed to make it to a buoy and grabbed hold and clung on for dear life. I’ve never had a panic attack before although I’ve read lots of stories about people having them. It was really frightening and something I hope I never experience again. I managed to calm myself down after 5 minutes and decided to try and get through the swim. I completed 3.8k that night but hated every minute of it because in my head I just kept thinking if this happens on race day I’m knackered – my confidence had been knocked big time!
Final month of training now and things were starting to get real & scary! On Sunday 3rd I did my first half Ironman distance event down in Whitchurch. I felt confident about the bike, nervous about how my legs would react on the half marathon run and petrified about the swim after my recent panic attack. So I got in the water with 350 other nervous looking triathletes to start the swim as a mass start. The race started and sure enough I had another panic attack and was so close to stopping and calling it a day. I managed to calm myself down by moving to the outside of the main pack of swimmers and completing the 1.9k in just under 35 minutes. It was about 3 or 4 minutes slower that what I should of done, but at least I got round. The bike leg went really well and I used it to practice my Ironman race pace – 56 miles done. The run was hard in the 26 degree heat but I felt strong and overtook a lot of guys who’d gone past me during the swim. I completed the half marathon in 1:32:32. I came 18th overall in the race and was top 4 for my age group. On the one hand my confidence was back up for running off the bike, but on the other my swim confidence was now rock bottom.
The beauty of being in a club is that there is so much experience to draw on from coaches and other athletes. I tapped into this and sought advice about what to do regarding the panic attacks. The main bit of advice that came out was to breath every second stroke instead of every third until you’re into a rhythm then switch to every 3. I tried exactly that – boom it worked. From, that moment I didn’t experience any panics at all and my swim times continued to improve. 1 week later I did a 3.8k time trial which I managed in 1:03:45 and felt great.
After doing the half Ironman event one of the things I needed to get my head around was running in loops. I hate running loops! I’ve always avoided running races that pass the finish line more than once, I find it soul destroying. The thing with long distance triathlons is that most of the runs have multiple loops. Austria is no different as the marathon was made up of 2, 13.1 mile loops. I switched my long runs from single loops to multiple loops of 2 miles. My longest run was 3 hours and I would pass the start/finish point 12 times which was challenging. As I started this at 4am and my brain doesn’t function properly at that time I put 12 elastic bands around my arm and removed one each lap. There’s some strange things that go on when training!
So after a fairy shaky start to my final month of training the remainder of the month went well. 100 mile bike rides started to feel comfortable, turbo sessions were still hard, swimming volume was still high 1200 metres (per week), runs were broken into either flat out sprints for 3 minute blocks (horrible session) or long slow 3 hours runs (equally as horrible). The only thing that started to worry me was a sore knee and groin which I couldn’t seem to shake despite physio treatment. I was too close to the end to stop now so I just trained through the pain and regularly stretched during recovery periods.
The final 2 weeks were hectic. I shipped my bike & some equipment over to Austria 1.5 weeks before race day so I was back on the winter bike for the final couple of long rides. I also had to ship a lot of my kit over which obviously meant I had to check the contents of my equipment bag 100 times!
I also did my final VO2 test on the bike. I had hoped to be over 5 watts/kg on the final test but only managed 4.87, but considering it was at the end of 6 months of training and in the middle of a hard week, I was happy! I’d made significant gains in all areas and I was ready to go!
How much training did I do in the 7 month build up?
Bike – 2,886 miles
Swim – 307,454 metres
Run – 682 miles
Combined time – 318 hours
2 days until race day
This was the start of the end of the journey. The nerves are starting to kick in now – big time!. There’s no going back – although in reality the moment I keyed in my credit card details I was committed (or should have been). Flight from Manchester to Vienna then a connecting flight to Klagenfurt (possibly the worlds smallest airport).
Ironman is a massive event which is magnified when it’s held in a little town like Klagenfurt. When we got off the plane the airport had Ironman banners up (which looked permanent) and Ironman photos near the luggage carousel.
Once we’d dumped the cases off in the hotel which was basic at best and full of fellow athletes, we went for a walk around the town. Lots of nervous looking people and Ironman branding everywhere you look. Time for a meal and drink to settle the nerves! Even the restaurants have special meals for the athletes.
1 day until race day
An early rise (7am) to be down to Lake Worthersee which is the location of the swim, run and much of the activity. The lake is absolutely beautiful. It’s crystal clear and surrounded by mountains.
I attended the race briefing which was funny and eased my nerves slightly. Being with 3000 fellow competitors strangely put me at ease because I knew that each and every one of them would be feeling exactly the same as me. During the race briefing the race director tells us all that we’ll have ‘Race Brain’ on race day, I smugly think to myself I won’t have race brain, I’m well trained and well prepared – haha read on, I most definitely did get ‘Race Brain’.
After the briefing we went for a walk around the lake and checked out the run route which was very flat (thankfully). The temperatures that day were very high (late 20°c into the early 30°c) which was worrying. At 1pm I was able to collect my bike and rack it up ready for the big day, where I met a Wigan Tri club athlete – it’s a small world.
Many athletes spend the day on site, visit the expo and take in the atmosphere, I just wanted to get out of there as soon as all my equipment was set up and relax for the rest of the day. So off I went to watch the football in the fan park.
So 3 years after I first had the initial Ironman spark, 2 years since I started to learn to swim and 7 months of hard training and the big day was finally here.
Up at 4am (after not much sleep), wetsuit on up to the waste and down for breakfast in the hotel. It’s hard to eat so early and when your stomach is doing summersaults with the nerves, but I managed to cram in some croissants and jam. Lots of other nervous looking athletes and partners also doing the same. Not much talking going on. On to the bus at 5am for the 20 minute journey down to the lake. The event site was buzzing with 3000 athletes, partners, families and supporters, not to mention the hundreds of Ironman support staff who are all great and will doing anything to help. The weather was overcast with a slight breeze and around 20°c – perfect racing weather.
The swim warm up is due to start at 6am so I decide to go to the toilet at 5:50 for one last nervous wee. The queue is massive but it’s OK I’ve got loads of time to get in and do what I need to do. 6:00 arrives and I’m still in the queue, then 6:10 still the same – this queue is not moving very fast. 6:20 I’m still stood in the queue and can see lots of people warming up in the lake. 6:30 I’m still only half way down this bloody queue and am getting really worried I’m going to miss the warm up so I decide to walk to the front to see what’s taking so long – OMFG all the urinals are free, everyone was queueing for the cubicles – aaaggghh! I empty my bladder and run to the warm up area. On my way I just think to myself why the hell didn’t you just get in the water and wee in your wetsuit as normal – this is what happens when you have ‘Race Brain’. I still have my warm gear and shoes on so try to get onto one of the jetty areas to give my kit to Charlotte and give her a hug (soft get) – I get to the gates of the jetty and nobody is allowed on – Jesus this is going well isn’t it, and the race hasn’t even started yet! I just have to dump my warm gear and shoes at the jetty gates and get into the water for the warm up. I’m in the water for no more than 1 minute when the announcer tells us to get out and line up for the swim – bollocks that wasn’t a warm-up.
Ironman allows self-seeding for the swim which in theory prevents all the jostling and fighting which happens in mass starts. The sub 1 hour swimmers have a pen, then 1hr to 1:15, 1:15 to 1:30 etc down to 2hr plus swimmers. My target was a sub 1:10 swim so stick myself in the middle of the 1hr to 1:15 pen, put my goggles on and wait for the start. At 6:45 the cannon for the elite men is fired followed 2 minutes later by the elite women. I can’t see the start line yet because I’m in the middle of thousands of athletes all of who look taller, fitter and leaner than me – oh god I’ve not trained hard enough!
Slowly the crowd starts to filter out as people enter the water. 8 athletes are released every 5 seconds to run across the beach and enter the water. I wait for a good 10 minutes (felt like a lifetime) before I get to the front of the queue. As I get towards the front my ‘Race Brain’ kicks in again and I take my goggles off to give them a last clean – why, they weren’t even dirty FFS! As I clean them I realise I’m on the start line and being counted down. I frantically try to get my goggles on again and secure – GO! I’m still adjusting them as I run down the beach and the second I dive in, the right eye fills up with water. I have a choice stop and adjust them or carry on one eyed. There are athletes piling into the water so I just crack on. Suffice to say I swam with one eye for the swim duration. After that, the swim was pretty uneventful although the water was very choppy as it was quite a windy start to the day. The last 800 metres of the swim is down a canal where the atmosphere is great. People line the banks and the bridges and cheer you on. I was told this is a very fast stretch and that I’ll never do a faster 800 metres in my life. I didn’t find that that at all – it was very crowded at that point and I couldn’t swim past slower swimmers, I just had to go with the flow. This was the only point in the swim where I received a few punches and kicks to the head.
The end of the swim came into site. Out of the water, start to strip off my wetsuit to the waist, quick glance at the watch – 1:07, bit slower than a standard 3.8k in training but within my race day target of 1:10 – happy days. The run to transition was noisy with cheering crowds. I tried to look for Charlotte but couldn’t see her so straight to transition 1, grab my cycling gear and into the changing tent. As soon as I found a space to change one of the helpers was over asking if I needed help and offering to help with removing my wetsuit. The helpers were amazing and as soon as you’ve changed they’ll take your bag away from you so you can be on your way. During the transition the good old ‘Race Brain’ returned! I put my cycle helmet on and start to put my cycle shoes on. My hat didn’t feel quite right but thought it may just be because I’d just taken my swim hat off, until a German guy next to me pointed out my helmet was on backwards – doh!
Out of transition in a 0:07:03.
On the bike course I realised just how smooth the roads in Austria are. It’s like riding on glass and there are no pot holes at all. Even going up inclines it’s so easy to maintain a 20 mph average. The bike course is made up of 2 x 56 mile loops through absolutely amazing scenery. The course is by no means flat and there are 2 major climbs which are full of crowds blowing air horns and making so much noise. I can only liken it to one of the Tour De France climbs.
After about an hour on the bike I feel like I need a wee. After nearly 3000 miles of bike training I can’t remember ever having to get off the bike for the toilet, so why the bloody hell do I need one today! It can’t be nerves as I’m mid race and all the nerves have gone. I decide to ignore my bladder and push on in the hope I sweat so much that I no longer need the toilet. Nope that didn’t work, just after the half-way point my bladder is really cramping and is ridiculously uncomfortable. During the training the coaches have always told us to wee in your Tri suit while riding so you don’t have to stop, but no matter how much my brain told the old man to release its load it just didn’t happen. I waited to find a nice secluded area, got off my bike, went behind a tree, unzipped my Tri suit and emptied my bladder. You may be asking why I’m going into so much detail about this toilet stop. The answer is another 40 miles into the ride I needed another wee stop (what the F***). By this time I’d been on the bike for over 5 hours, was feeling tired and frankly didn’t give a shit what people saw or thought about it 🙂 For the second toilet stop I didn’t bother getting off the bike. I stopped at the side of a busy road with lots of cyclists flying by, pulled up the leg of my Tri suit and pissed down my leg. Nobody ever said that racing is dignified!
The beauty of the Austrian bike course, as well as the smooth roads is that the downhill sections are long, really long so you can maintain high speeds for a sustained period of time. On the second loop I lost concentration a bit on one these downhills and caught the back wheel of a female rider. Both of us were so close to coming off our bikes. It was completely my fault and I apologised, but I got a mouthful of abuse in German from her which I didn’t understand but I probably wouldn’t repeat to a vicar!
The rest of the bike was uneventful. It was just a matter of getting down onto the Tri bars, pushing as hard as possible, fuelling every 50 minutes, maintaining a low cadence (75) and keeping a low heart rate. My target heart rate was 131 BPM and I averaged 127 – job done!
Bike done in 5:37:55
Transition 2 done in 0:05:21 and ready to go on the run. Up to transition 2 the weather was overcast and in the mid 20’s which was manageable, however pretty much the time I left the transition area the sun came out and it felt hot … really hot. I had a look around for Charlotte when I set out on the run but the crowds and noise made it impossible.
I suspected the run was going to be the part of the race which was going to hurt the most, but I didn’t quite appreciate just how much it was going to hurt. My target heart rate for the run was 136 BMP but when I looked at my watch it was 148 BMP which was way too high and there was no way I could sustain a marathon with my heart rate that high. I had to slow my pace down and even then it took me a good 5 miles before I was running in the correct heart rate zone. Throughout the training the coaches had said resist the urge to go too fast during the first half of the marathon because you’ll probably feel great up to about 16 to 18 miles – errr no, I felt like shit straight away!
The run course was very flat and snaked around the lake where we’d earlier been swimming, then down the canal into Klagenfurt where my hotel was. It was made up of 2 x 13.1 mile loops. On a normal day this run would have been lovely, today it was about survival. As per my pre-race strategy I decided to run between the aid stations and walk through the aid stations to allow myself to take on enough fluids. I’d mentally told myself not to stop anywhere during the run unless there were helpers handing out fluids & nutrition. I stuck to the strategy religiously.
As the run went on, it got harder to keep moving (as expected). The temperatures were rising which was really having an effect on competitors. I saw a number of people throwing up en route and many people reduced to a shuffle, but this isn’t unusual at Ironman. Although I didn’t know it at the time the temperatures were 28°c degrees when I started the marathon and went up to 34°c half way through. It kind of explains why my pace slowed. I was mighty relieved to receive my second band to show I was on my second loop.
The Ironman run is about fitness up to a point but I’m pretty sure that almost everyone reaches a point where it’s their head and heart which has to take over when the legs start to fail. You never know where this tipping point is until it happens. For me is happened at the 20 mile mark. I just had nothing in my legs despite refuelling and hydrating as per the plan. My run no longer resembled a run, it was just a shuffle. I didn’t have the energy to lift my head up. I found one of the hardest points was at mile 21 where I ran past a bar in the centre of Klagenfurt where people were sat drinking beer and I’d been sat the night before enjoying a cold drink and pre-race pasta (see picture of menu earlier in the blog) – soul destroyed!
In the last few miles of a standard long running race the adrenaline normally kicks in and you can pick up the pace to finish off the race strong. I don’t know about others but this most certainly didn’t apply to me. I had to resort to the ‘left right’ game, saying left, right, left, right in my head in the hope my feet would follow the instructions. When this got boring I switched to the ‘1 2’ game, which is exactly the same but different words.
I don’t remember the last couple of miles of the race. I suspect my brain wants me to forget the pain. The last thing I remember is seeing the final switch back before the run up the Ironman carpet where I saw Charlotte waiting for me. I’ve never been so happy to see anyone in my life! Around the switch back point I go (still no sprint finish), back past Charlotte then the final run up the finishing carpet. I’d made it!
Richard Seville … you are an Ironman!
3 years in the making – job done!
Run time – 3:42:45
Total time 10:40:07