The Journey officially started to become a reality back in early January when the decision to sign up for an Ironman distance event took hold initially as an “I wonder if” to “oh shit that was far too easy to sign up for” no going back now then, Barcelona it is! The only other decision I had to make back then was to decide who I needed on board as coaching support to get me in a condition where I would be in a good place physically and mentally (emphasis on the mental)! And so the coffee and fireside chat with Karl was arranged in a local Costa’s not really knowing what lay ahead in terms of time, commitment and effort to get to the start line.
Karl’s plan seemed structured enough to break me in relatively gently, and over the next 8 months I was to be gradually munching away the meters and miles whilst being supported by family and fellow club mates and trying to avoid injury that with each passing week and next training goals reached would have been a nightmare to contend with. All was going far too well, until out on the bike and heading up to Edinburgh Park for some Saturday morning tempo sprints in July, when I was taken out and given a free flying lesson whilst exiting Drumbrae roundabout by an American tourist in his hired VW Transporter, he was heading out to the airport and in too much of a hurry to stop and check he hadn’t killed me. Nice Guy! Thankfully he had caught my rear wheel and not my left knee and so was able to pick myself up and have an epic tantrum in the middle of the roundabout. A bike check revealed the rear wheel was the only casualty other than superficial bumps, scrapes and mild whiplash to me, and thanks to some helpful public with a dashcam, combined with some dogged detective work on my part, our American friend received a phone call across the pond from Lothian and Borders finest giving him a wake-up call he didn’t expect to receive.
Bullet dodged and the next few months saw me up the ante training wise which included heading up to Aberfeldy with club/room-mate Frank, for a middle distance sense (reality) check that included a hilly cycle around Schiehallion in biblical torrents of rain. Even in testing conditions I was going well at a pace I was comfortable with, then heading off into the run, and probably due to the cold conditions my right ham cramped up with no warning, I must have looked like a right psychopath punching my right leg into submission to loosen it off, anyway it worked and off I went again managing to high five the other Pentland Tri guys on route.
Race day was looming and even with a two week army reserve exercise in Cyprus to cover in September, which presented an opportunity to get a couple of Med sea swims and cool early morning runs done, it wasn’t long before I was checking in at Edinburgh airport with the wife and mother in law in tow to head off to Spain to base ourselves out in Calella within the Ironman village. The atmosphere was already starting to build as we arrived late on Thursday and checked into the Hotel Horomar overlooking the IM village and finish line.
Race day was Sunday so Friday plan was all set out to include a swim to acclimatise a bit before collecting my TT bike from Tribike transport, register then relinquish a small ransom in the Ironman merchandise tent before heading into Barcelona on the train for some tourist shaped sightseeing distractions.
Saturday was a lot of hanging around and trying to stay off my feet before racking the bike and bag drop off at 6pm in T1. I even counted out the paces in row U to my bike as 26 paces, all hydration and nutrition was already on the bike so all good to go, all I needed now was some food and shut eye.
Race start was a sociable 8.10 for the elite gadji’s giving plenty of time to get a decent breakfast and wander down to T1 get suited up, drop my street wear bag off and even get a dip in the med. Then it dawned on me I hadn’t decided what time pen I was getting in to for the swim start, 1hr 30 seemed reasonable as it wasn’t being too optimistic and the water conditions were favourable too, and so the filtering through the post office queue began down to the water’s edge with AC/DC’s “Thunder” blasting through the speakers and the sun rising up to our left before being released in batches of 6.
I wasn’t really feeling any nerves at this point as while waiting I had some time to reflect on the journey to get here and all the well-wishing messages and support I had received from everyone combined with a few recent bumps in life’s road events had a strangely calming effect, so now I just needed to get in the water and get going. The swim course was an L shape one lap out and back so once in the deeper water I knew I could just settle into a steady rhythm and baring any spectacular stramashes it would just be a case of keeping going. The turnaround buoy seemed to take an age to get out to but I had managed to continue in front crawl even with some dodgy spotters determined to extend their swim to a three miler and so still felt strong at the turn. I knew it was crucial that I managed to avoid getting caught up in a melee of neoprene clad windmills all trying to navigate the right turn. Job done, then it was after the turn I realised the near straight tide line in the sea bed was a good natural compass to follow back, a vivid memory was seeing an array of multi-coloured Ironman Barcelona swim caps littering the sea bed from previous years, Random!.
The final left turn towards the beach was a welcome sight and I remembered Mr Fink suggesting that a few swift kicks would shock the legs into life for the next stage to come. During the brief the advice to avoid trying to stand until your fingers were in the sand was a good shout so I just kept my head down until my right hand slammed into the vertical soft sand wall and as I stumbled into a standing position a well-timed wave lifted me up onto my feet, I’ve had worse exits from a sea swim, as any year one Edinburgh 70.3 survivors will testify. Time out of the water 1.26.(T1-9.04)
I went to press the transition button on my Garmin whilst heading up the carpet and It was at this point I noticed my watch was doing some really bizarre shit that I hadn’t seen before and realised it must have been knocked at some point, I didn’t panic and just reset the watch to save the swim but left it in Tri mode, DOH! Meaning my next reset in T2 would show as a 112 mile swim!!
Using the changing tent in IM events is compulsory so on locating my blue bag I emptied it onto the bench, quick towel off then helmet, socks and shoes on and collect all food and inner-tubes that needed pocketed into my tri suit, the guy across the bench that arrived just after me was still fumbling around in his bag as I headed out to the racking area, I wasn’t hanging about. I tried to recall if it was 26 or 36 paces to my bike, Stuff it row U it’s here somewhere. Heading out of T1 I felt strangely together as if some of the experiences of previous races were helping somehow. Getting clipped in and pushing along the narrow streets out of Calella felt good as the clouds overhead didn’t look like shifting and with only light winds it was near perfect conditions, it actually rained for about 30s.
The next 180Km on a mostly closed road two lap course proved to be a strangely enjoyable experience even managing to spot the wife and mother in law as I cruised past them. I wouldn’t call it a flat bike course as there are a couple of lumpy bits to contend with but nothing too testing thankfully. All was going well until 130km in, and even managed to oblige a fist pump to a passing cameraman on the back of a motorbike, then as I was taking fluid on board, two guys overtook me and everything went into matrix style slow mo as two dogs just appeared from nowhere just ahead of us, I just managed to control my braking through the mess of bodies and bikes in front of me and didn’t even need to look back to know the guys would be hurt. I pulled over onto the railing and ditched the bike and remember screaming “who’s Flippin dogs are they” or words to that effect! in true diva style? I went over to the nearest cyclist, I now know as Stu from London, who was sitting looking a bit dazed, first aider instincts kicked in and I was getting him to do a bit of a systems check just as the marshal’s arrived and he was able to stand. I picked Stu’s bike up, which looked surprisingly straight considering, and sorted his chain (thankfully it was a lot cleaner than mine!). The Marshal’s seemed to have a handle on things so i got back on the bike and headed off to take care of the last 50km and avoided any harsh draft penalties from the keen marshals on scooters.
The cycle finished as it had started back through the narrow streets and into T3 Bike time 5.44 (T2-5.14) So with a quick turnaround that included a sock change, I was heading back out of the tent to pick up the route that teased you past the finish line on each of the 3 laps, my main fear at this point was cramping straight off the bike, but somehow it didn’t happen and I actually felt not bad.
I had already decided to walk the feeding stations but In getting so caught up with the bike hydration and feeding plan I hadn’t set in stone what the run plan was so opted for sips of coke and water, which seemed to work well until 16km in and my stomach just decided to completely shut down and cramp up meaning the next 5 km was a walk-run imposed bimble to try and re-set my stomach somehow, I even considered using a portaloo as part of the recovery plan until I opened the door of one to discover something surely not human had decorated the interior of it! Leave it, I would rather s**t myself than enter what resembled a scene from trainspotting!
With a feeding station every 2km I was able to battle it out over the next two loops and with the light over Calella fading fast above me which reduced parts of the run course to black out conditions it was great to have the support crews lining some of the route and each time I passed the finish line it was a boost, One more and I would be turning right and heading down the red carpet.
The last half mile was a bit of a blur as I just remember thinking just keep running now as the finish line is within touching distance. I managed to grab a Saltire flag from my wife just before I turned onto the red carpet too, It felt surreal crossing the line to hear my name followed by the words “You are an Ironman”. I collected a medal and then turned to see the finish line clock time of 12.21.09, surely I wasn’t reading that right, although I hadn’t set any specific time to avoid putting myself under any pressure, I had smashed my expected sub 14 hour goal which I know was helped by the course and weather conditions.
What a journey and all round incredible experience and one that I am grateful to have been able to achieve with the help of a few individuals on the way and so I need to recognise my wife for her patience, the family and my Pentland Tri club mates that encouraged, trained with and supported me, with special recognition going to Karl Zeiner, my coach, who put together a tailored plan that got me into the shape I needed to be in to become an Ironman. Will I be entering another? Hell Yes, I just need to pluck up the courage to tell the wife!