Tracy said : After having launched into triathlon a few years ago in an attempt to offset chronic running injuries, I decided to attempt my dream at ironman distance.
I had started training approximately 8 months earlier, following Don Fink’s plan in his book, ‘Be Iron fit’. The book bases all training sessions on heart rate zone training over time periods instead of distances. The training plan starts from around 10 hours per week up to 18 hours per week at the peak training period, and sessions were over 6 days per week with 4 of those days comprising two activities in a day. Like marathon training, the long sessions were at the weekend, with the long bike ranging from 2 hours to 8 hours in duration, and the longest run lasting 3 hours.
The sessions themselves are not terribly difficult, and the build over the 8 months was so gradual I had little awareness of any improvements in fitness, not least because I seemed to put on flab rather than lose it.
Big learning points in my training over the 8 months:
- It’s more about time management than fitness. Get at least one session out of the way in the morning.
- Calculate heart rates zones properly. The 220-age formula is too simple and not accurate enough.
- Trust the plan. It’s easy to feel like the plan isn’t enough, but it is. Fink also talks about how to join the plan again after an episode of absence or illness. I also took Phil’s tip and started the plan two weeks early to account for any unexpected absences along the training period.
- Train nutrition and hydration. After a few episodes of jam-covered handlebars, dodgy guts and taste fatigue, I finally found a range of foods and drinks that suited well for the several hours I would be on the bike. There are loads of web pages with suggestions of how to fuel based on the amount of energy and fluid expended over the ironman.
- Experiment with kit and bodyglide. Chafing is evil.
- Research the event, well in advance. Knowledge is power, especially when you have no power to get yourself up the unexpected hill on the cycle course because you didn’t shift into the small ring in time.
I was extremely lucky to have my best mate Krista as my support for the weekend. I was in a particularly foul mood on the Friday due to pre-event nerves, and thankfully Krista’s calming nature and understanding stopped me from jumping out of the nearest window. I’m sure if it had been anyone else supporting me, they would have thrown me out of the nearest window. I woke at 3am on Sunday morning to try and consume and digest the required 2000 calories before the race start. The day would have been a gorgeous one for lounging by a pool with cocktail in hand, but 30+C was going to be a challenging heat to contend with.
The swim: The 2.4 mile swim was a mass start, which can tend to be rather washing machine-like. With the exception of a few punches and kicks to the head, and the occasional nausea-inducing whiff of goose dung and diesel fumes, the out-and-back course was a calm warm up to the main bit.
The cycle: Although a flat course, the 112 miles was going to be the longest distance I had ever done on a bike let alone in such heat, hence my faffing about in T1 for 15 minutes. I had written a list of the clothes I needed to put on and in what order, as I knew I hadn’t trained enough in transitions to ensure I wouldn’t run out of T1 with my bra over my jersey and my bib shorts on my head. After setting off, my main concerns were heat stroke and dehydration, so I covered up and sipped electrolytes every ten minutes or so. The aero bottle was brilliant because it encouraged me to drink more often as I didn’t have to reach down and grab my bottle out of the cage. There were ample feed stations and brilliant marshalling along the way including one that was manned by my tri-club, the Pirates. As was typical of training rides, I started to feel rough at around 60 miles, but thankfully I was overtaken at that point by a fellow Pirate who cheerily offered a few of the club’s motivational mantras, including, “Don’t be shit” and “It’s not a knitting club”. This gave me a well-needed second wind. My guts were happy and I was making regular pee stops which was reassuring that I was sufficiently hydrated. However at 95 miles, my front bottom was not happy at all, and all social niceties were forgotten as I proceeded to whinge about my battered lady garden to marshalls, supporters, competitors, and basically anyone else who would listen. Again I was saved by a familiar face, this time Shona from my swimming class at the Commie who was enduring her own suffering of the back-bottom variety. We chatted enough for the remaining 18 miles to distract one another from our pain.
The run: It was a rather unusual feeling coming into T2. My only thoughts were of “Thank heavens I’m off of that saddle”, “Can’t wait to see Krista”, and “I’ve only got the run left” (not really computing that the run was indeed a marathon).
The marathon consists of several out-and-back loops. A feed station was set up every mile or so, and marshalls were dutifully hosing people down and liberally applying sun cream to runners. My heart soared as I saw a smiling Krista immediately upon exiting T2, and she looked relieved to see I was still sweating and on top of my hydration. Krista had already run parts of the marathon course in the morning, so gave me an excellent breakdown of the course and where the shady spots were. The route was such that runners got regular support along the way, and I was lucky to see Krista for a hug and words of support every few miles. At this stage, I realised how lucky I was to have Krista with me, and the time and effort that goes into supporting through an ironman. Krista was there for me the whole weekend and every minute on the day, and that was a significant factor in getting me to the finish line.
The marathon was taken with a jog/walk/stop for pee/stop for a chat/stop for a Jaffa Cake at every feed station approach. Oddly enough, my running niggles were different than the typical black toenails, blistered baby toes, sore right knee, sore left Achilles and bra chafing that I normally suffer during long runs. I was generally sore all over by mid-marathon, and the soles of my feet were very sore from all of the pounding. My teeth were extremely sensitive by this time from all of the sugar consumed and were zinging whenever I put a gel in my mouth. My hip flexors were starting to seize up and needing stretching out every mile. Nonetheless I didn’t feel out of place, as I was sharing the fun with my fellow limping, sweating, stretching, wretching and bleeding counterparts. Before I realised it, 5 hours had passed and I was rounding on my final lap of the watersports centre.
The finish: We’re always told to savour the finish, but this was the first time I really milked it, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I laughed and skipped, and gave few high fives and Pirate ‘arrghs’, before crossing the finish line in complete elation. I never thought I would be capable of completing an ironman distance triathlon, but now that I have done it, I’m convinced that anyone can do it if they put the time into the training. I had a great day, and it all came together in the end thanks to a bit of luck, a committed training plan and a lot of help from Krista. The Outlaw is a definitely a brilliant choice for anyone doing their first ironman distance event.