Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ironman Copenhagen - blood, sweat, tears and rain

How could it be August 20 already? I'd spent my entire year training to get to this point but I still didn't feel ready. The days before I'd felt like a fraud, all these fit athletes and then me. I'd been emotional, stressed and walked so far I was exhausted - and yet I had an Ironman to go. The weather prediction was looking awful which didn't help.
The alarm went off at 4am. I did sleep a bit, not particularly well, and picked up my carefully prepared trisuit to change. I tried to force down the cold porridge I'd prepared the day before  (the kitchen was closed that early in the morning) while I got my bottles and myself ready. We got to the metro only to be faced with a fairly full train of athletes and supporters. It only got worse with every station until it felt like the Central line at rush hour, rammed like sardines.

We somehow managed to squeeze off at the right station with everyone else and walked towards the rising sun and a bridge covered in giant green balloons. I sorted my nutrition, gave my white bag in and made my way to the start. Finally I saw Gary, Ric, Tom and Stuart who were waiting for their start. Gary tried to encourage me to go in for a practice swim but I didn't want to get cold. I did test the water and it was warmish.

I waved bye to the guys who were in a wave in front of me and waited my turn. It was just a swim, a bike and a run, right? Soon enough we were called for our wave, I washed my goggles (finally getting them less foggy!) in the bucket of water and then beep, beep, beep we were off! I dove into the water and started swimming. It felt like an age even to get to the first big yellow buoy but then we turned towards the first bridge, which was the one with the green balloons we'd walked over earlier. Each bridge had a distance marked on it which was kind of helpful but also reminded you how much further you had to go. At the bridge you had to scramble for space as we were squashed together and then we were released for the next long age to the next bridge. When we eventually got to the final bridge, hooray there was another big yellow buoy and we could turn around and swim back. On and on the swim went, slowly but surely getting back past the green balloon bridge and then past the exit to the final bridge. Hooray as I saw the distance marker, only an Olympic distance swim to go. Forward and back swimmers were now parallel with each other and some guy came swimming straight towards me on the wrong side of the barrier. I tried to shout a warning to him but I have no idea if he heard me. Onwards I went, feeling a bit tired and wondering how the ladies who went down the Thames managed 14 k of this. Round the last dead turn and now all we have to do is get to the swim out. Weeds getting stuck in my hands, last big yellow buoy and where's the exit? No that's the entry,  there's the exit, no more weeds for me, through transition with the largest glob of chamois cream you ever saw, cycling shorts on over the top, grab my helmet, nutrition and glasses, put my shoes on and off I go to grab my bike.
Did I remember to check my tyres in the morning? Do they feel a bit strange? Ah well I'm cycling now there's nothing I can do about it and it doesn't feel like they are flat. My back aches already, keep an eye on your average speed, don't forget to eat and drink something every 15 minutes when the watch reminds me. The sun comes out and I idly wonder if I should have put some sun cream on. We hit the sea and it's lovely. Not as flat as I'd expected and I suspect the wind is more head on than southwesterly. A guy called Sergio keeps overtaking me then slowing down much to my annoyance, particularly just when a marshall comes past us on their motorbike and I have to slow so it doesn't look likve I'm drafting. I go past him again and keep pedalling. My water bottle has various mantras on it including 'shut up legs' but I'm thinking it should be more 'shut up back' perhaps the long swim has hurt my back. I try to stretch out but it's not easy when you're pedalling. We start to head inland and again it's more rolling than I'd expected. We go past lovely villages and aid stations where I take on water. I have a scrawl on my bike of all the aid stations and where the 'hill' is - about 80 km in. I'm keeping good average speed now where is this hill? Lots of faster cyclists go past, some with the thrub thrub thrub of a disc wheel. We go through a funny little village with chicanes and bored looking young marshalls. Ah here's the hill, people either side, cheering me on. It's not much really and it's lots of fun and then a great downhill the other side. Get to 90 km, where's the split point, feeling pretty good apart from my aching back, should make the first lap cut off without too much bother. We start coming back into town, did I miss the second lap? Finally there it is, off I go for another roll around the Danish countryside. My average speed has slowed a little so I make an effort to try and push harder. I go past some poor soul crashed out on the ground with medics round him. Lots of puncture mending going on as well, thank goodness for my four seasons tyres I think. I feel sorry for those who look particularly forlorn at the side of the road and hope I haven't kaiboshed my tyres being grateful for no punctures. The kilometres tick by and I'm just pedalling. My speed gets lower so I have to push on. Magic beans are round the corner says my bottle, no surrender to the pain or the desire to stop. We start going inland again, over 120 km done only 60 to go. I can do this. Then the sky goes black. Uh oh, I think. Please pass over, please pass over. 5 km later the heavens just open. I have never experienced anything like it. The wind, rain and thunder just hit me like a sledgehammer. Rain turned to hail and I raise my left arm to the sky and say 'Really?!?' It felt like the bit in the Truman Show where he gets stuck on a boat in a massive storm and he says 'Is that the best you can do?!?'. There is nothing I can do but keep going and be very grateful to the poor marshalls who were having to stand in the drenching rain. I was also in some pain by this stage. My right hip - usually the good one - was hurting, my back no longer wanted to crouch over the handlebars and my feet were sore. Where was this blasted hill? Keep your head down and keep pedalling. No surrender. Magic beans are round the corner. Don't be sh@t. I can, I will, end of story. Taiwolf rules. Look Jim, I'm down on the hoods... Oh maybe not! Where's that bloody hill? 50 km to go, that'll take me two hours... No that's not helping! Beep, keep eating even if the rain has turned your protein blocks into wet mush. Ah here's the hill,  much emptier than earlier,  the man saying something about us having pedalled for so long. Whee downhill, we must be getting in to town now, less than an Olympic to go, let's do this. I'm now doing overtake/be overtaken with a guy in a Hong Kong suit on a fancy bike and aero helmet. I reckon he must be suffering too. Yes yes, here's the sign to Copenhagen, here's the split point,  coming up to 180 km, where's T2? Where are the runners? Here they are. Someone shouts 'Go on Hilary!' which is picked up by one runner and then another, who I recognise as Gary as I whizz past. Here's transition and hooray I can finally get off my bike.

Change my shoes and wet socks for dry ones, change nutrition and here I go for my marathon.
My longest run in training was 22km so I knew I'd be in an unknown zone for at least half the race. I'd calculated that to make the 6 hour time I'd have to do a pace of around 8 and a bit (I'd forgotten how much the bit was!) min/km and had set my watch to give me an average speed. I was pretty sure Jim had told me I could walk through every aid station so I did. The course was 4 and a half loops which took in a building site past the library which was very quiet apart from a lady dancing around in a Wonder Woman outfit, then past Stuart and Carsten cheering me on then the canal with bars which was the best bit of the course as had most support, past the theatre and then the finish zone and back out past a massive fountain and a short uphill section which I also walked, the mermaid statue and a very quiet section that seemed to go on forever until finally I got a band. Then back into town, rinse and repeat again and again. I saw Gary on my first and second laps and he stopped and gave me a hug. Stuart and Carsten were doing their very best to cheer me on in town as well. Stuart kept telling me I was doing really well and I'd be fine with the time I had. However, by the second lap I knew I was close to time so I just had to keep running. I was so worried about not making the cut off time. I also knew everyone was watching me via the tracking app. I even raised my hands to the sky and said 'I'm trying!'. I saw Gary on his final few kilometres actually running to the finish. Going past the finish every lap was pure torture, with shouts of 'You are an Ironman!'. Then the rain came again absolutely torrential. There was nothing to it, again, head down, keep going. You can do this. One more step. Just keep running otherwise you'll not hear those words. I'm not an energizer bunny but I have to dig in. Yes, another band, this is the furthest I've ever run, please never make me do this again, it's going to hurt tomorrow. It's getting dark now. I go past the canal and a marshall tells me to watch my step. Two seconds later,  CRASH I'm on my side. Ouch that bloody hurts. Well done I've just added to my list of aches and pains. I pick myself up and start running again, cursing myself. It was at this point I started running with Eliot. Eliot was a lifesaver and really managed to convince me that we were going to do this. Eliot was (originally) a Welshman who was participating in his very first triathlon. To do an Ironman as your very first triathlon is a concept beyond my imagination. We ran/walked in the (very) dark down the lap band loop. Eliot was warning me to be careful over the cobbles. Hooray, final band on and then we can run/walk back to the centre. I start feeling a bit stronger so Eliot lets me run on ahead (maybe he was fed up with my whingeing!) back through the dark. I try and cheer on runners coming the other way but one poor soul doesn't look where he's going and ends up in a massive puddle. I just can't stop, I feel bad but have to keep running. I have an hour to complete 5 k. That's doable, right? Less than a parkrun to go. A marshall starts cycling next to me and I think this is like Edinburgh again but surely I'm not the last runner this time? He chases off a taxi on the wrong side of the road and cycles off. Back into town, nearly there, past the finish line and then back off to the building site. The crazy lady dressed in a Wonderwoman suit has gone. Another crazy guy tries to tell me that I only have 9 minutes to go before the race is finished. I know this is untrue and thankfully Eliot and whoever is running with him tell him off for lying. So close now, less than 2 km to go, we're on the last section. Watch my feet on the cobbles, the trip hazard has gone, round the theatre and there's the finish, YES I can finally go down the finishing straight, damn there's someone right in front of me but I'm not slowing down now.
I've bloody done it! I can't believe it! I get given a silver blanket and someone hangs a medal round my neck. I only find out later that it was the winner of the race giving me the medal.

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