1st Ironman completed
I still don’t think I’ve fully processed that I have now finished a full Ironman! I think this is partly because I actually didn’t feel as bad the next day as I thought I would do, which seemed to baffle my sister.
I surprised myself at how calm I was on the lead up to the race. Yes, I was nervous, but also excited to see what would happen. There were so many unknowns, but I decided to try and embrace the challenge. A week before the race, I met up with my mum for a catch up and she said something to me which hadn’t crossed my mind before. She simply asked “what will you do if you don’t like it?”. This thought scared me somewhat as I genuinely had no idea how to answer the question. I’ve loved triathlons ever since I started training and competing in them, so the idea that this might change in Spain was swiftly rejected.
I hadn’t really been to a non-touristy part of Spain before. Vitoria-Gasteiz is about an hour outside of Bilbao, best described as a medieval city with beautiful buildings and plenty of green space. I found it to be a very friendly place, although it seemed that nobody speaks English and the restaurants don’t open till 8.30pm. As you can imagine, this isn’t ideal for triathletes as we like to be getting ready for bed by that time! Google translate ended up being our saviour on numerous occasions, but this didn’t stop us ending up with some interesting food and drink orders. One notable time was when my sister, who is a vegan, ordered what she thought was a plain tomato salad, which arrived smothered in tuna!
The set up:
The race expo, T2 and finish line were in the centre of the city in three of their squares, whereas the lake and T1 was about a 30 minute drive north of the city. The organisers put on a lot of buses with trailers for everyone to take their stuff there on the Saturday (including bikes). A split transition can be quite stressful at times because it’s an added complication to worry about compared to a normal race. However, any potential issues were alleviated by how well organised it all was. Travelling to T1 also gave me the chance to get a good look at some of the bike course, which highlighted how beautiful it was.
We had to be on a bus by 5:45am despite the fact that the race wasn’t starting till 8:45. My mood about this wasn’t helped by the fact that we left the hotel to be greeted by a deluge of rain, and it was incredibly dark as well. Although if anyone is used to racing in the rain, it’s us Brits! Luckily, we managed to find a café that was very conveniently open to hide in for an hour before we headed to the transition area to set everything up.
The half ironman athletes all went off first, about 10 minutes before us. They were doing one lap and we had to do two with an aussie exit between laps. The male pros started 1 minute before the female pros and then all the age groupers 1 minute after that. As you can imagine, this led to a rather crowded and chaotic swim. I couldn’t breathe for the first 100m or so, which was very frustrating, my chest seemed to clamp down despite it being a rather civilised start. I did however get one elbow to the face (accidentally) from my team mate who I was racing with.
One bonus of all the age groupers starting a minute behind us was that a small group of men caught us up during the first lap, and I was then able to stick with them. By the end of the first lap we were catching up with some of the half ironman competitors, which resulted in a lot of weaving overtaking manoeuvres. On the second lap I lost touch with my original group but then managed to form a smaller one until we caught the ironman age groupers finishing off their first lap, which led to more weaving.
I was pretty happy with my first 3.8km swim, although there’s some improvement still needed on my start. Since the end of the race, I’ve had numerous people get in contact with me, to congratulate me on a massive personal best time of 48 minutes, according to the official results. Despite the fact I’ve worked extremely hard on my swimming over the last year, I’m afraid I can’t take credit for this. Sadly, the official results for my swim were inaccurate and my actual time was around 59 minutes. I’m still very happy with this though as I was in 3rd place coming out of the water. So, there’s still room for improvement but progress is being made. I’m not sure I’ll ever beat my “official” time of 48 minutes though!
Prior to the race, I hadn’t cycled for more than 4 hours in one go, even in training. Therefore, my aim was to get as far through the bike leg as possible before starting to feel fatigued. I started to get a little worried I’d get to this point earlier than anticipated when I noticed I’d completed 37.5km in the first hour. I was perhaps pushing a little too hard at the beginning but I managed to hold on for the rest of it. This was helped by the fact that I loved the course. It was full of beautiful rolling hills, lined with great local support, although I had zero clue what they were saying! On the first and second lap, a motorbike with a cameraman followed me for a while. I had never experienced this before and wasn’t quite sure how to act, so I just kept going and hoped the camera wasn’t picking up my sweaty, snotty face. As the motorbikes were following me I figured I was in 2nd or 3rd as they stayed on me for about 5 minutes each time. Little did I know, this wasn’t the case.
The marathon aka shuffle:
When I arrived into T2, the crowd went crazy. As I began the run, my coach, Perry, was hanging off a wall, shouting encouragement, as that was the only way he could get close enough to speak with me. It was only then that I realised I was actually leading the race, how on earth did that happen? The support from the crowd carried me through the first 2km, where I had one marshal cycling behind me and one in front, to further underline my position in the race. This gave me an incredible initial feeling but this was then replaced with the realisation that my legs really didn’t feel that good. Already, I had started to feel very hot and only had the small matter of 40km left to complete…..I tried to settle into a rhythm and take the energy from the atmosphere, but I simply couldn’t get my legs to move as fast as normal, which was very frustrating. The course was 4 laps of about 10km each, with 3 aid stations per lap. This simply was not enough to keep me refreshed going around in the searing heat. The problem was only exacerbated further by the fact that the cups were absolutely tiny! I quickly resorted to desperately screaming “aqua” and trying to gesticulate for a big bottle, as I didn’t know what that was in Spanish. Annoyingly, race day was the hottest since we had arrived. By this point, I was praying that the 2nd female Pro was 15-20 minutes behind and feeling equally as awful. Unfortunately, I found out that she was only 3 and a half minutes behind. You might think that’s quite a lot of time but it really isn’t anything at all when trying to complete a marathon. I managed to hold her off until the third lap, and then a few kilomters later, two more female pros came flying past. I tried to stick with them but my legs were having none of it. By the time I started my last lap, I no longer had my marshal escort, and 2nd and 3rd had gone into the distance, making me feel like I was in no man’s land. This was rather demotivating, but I tried to enjoy the last lap, with little success. I ended up just focusing on moving forwards to the finish line.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt as grumpy as I did when I crossed the finish line. You’d think the overriding emotion when completing your first full Ironman would be joy and relief, but mine was frustration at not holding onto a podium position. I’d like to think I’m not a grumpy person usually, so I’ll put this down to constantly striving to improve myself which is probably a good thing on balance. However, having had a few days to reflect on the race as a whole, I’ve managed to find plenty of positives from it, one of which is that I actually finished! I probably won’t keep many fond memories of the marathon portion of the race, especially as my feet have been in better condition!
If anyone needed any more confirmation that I have a screw loose, I can confirm that I will be doing another Ironman at some point in the future. I’m yet to decide when and where that will be, but I feel like I have unfinished business with the run so want to give it another go. In the meantime I will be returning to compete in half ironman races, I just have to figure out which ones I want to enter.
A huge thank you to the race organisers for the hospitality and a fantastic first ironman experience. Thank you to Perry and my sister for keeping me going throughout the day, it really makes such a difference.
Thank you to my sponsors as without them I wouldn’t be there: ETE, Hireco, Funkita, Everyone Active, Paddock Cycles, I am body wise, Takely Chiropractic, Ed Kirby Physiotherapy, Yonda, Walker Brothers Wheels, TrueStartCoffee, GoFasterFood, Fenland Runner, Paddock Cycles, Akasha Wellness