My Ironman Day by Phil Riley
Here is my race report as I remember it for my special day on Sunday 17th July 2016.
I must admit it’s turned out a bit longer than I planned but this is my story of what happened. It may also seem a little dramatic at times but by the end of my Ironman…it was.
Plenty of you get a mention so I hope you all enjoy reading about it…
Training had been going pretty well in the main. I’d had a couple of minor setbacks with a small op in Feb and a tendon strain in my right foot in May. I’d lost about 4 weeks running but overall I couldn’t complain too much as I had been busier on the bike to try and make up for it.
I’ve always swam pretty well as a youngster (my Mums got all the badges to prove it on an array of some seriously shocking budgie smugglers), my swim training was going well and even though I don’t particularly love open water swimming (especially with a WN postcode) I was getting stronger and more confident with the long stuff. I do however,regularly suffer with calf cramp and when this kicks in…it kicks in!! When it comes on bad it stops me in my tracks and I am literally unable to move. It is always a worry and a constant cause of frustration as I have been pulled along by a boat, on a few occasions in training, with my right leg dragging behind me and howling like a locked out dog! It has also spoilt the start of a couple of my Triathlons in the past and got me off to some pretty bad starts! I believe there are a couple of reasons why I am prone to it and I have tried pretty much everything but it really is hit and miss whether I cramp or not.
I was doing a lot of my training in the evenings after work and long days on Fridays which is my extra day off. I had surprised myself how stronger and fitter I was getting and with it came more confidence for the really long miles.However, I did have another setback at the end of June with a thigh strain just as I was starting to hit the long runs! I had no alternative but to rest and manage it and hoped the running miles were already mostly in the tank.
I had a plan for the race and the way my training had been going and the Heart Rates and times I had been hitting, if Iexecuted it, I knew I could achieve under 13hours with even an outside shot of 12.5 hours if everything went ‘swimmingly’! The cramp factor and the lack of a couple oflong runs was a worry though. The last 5 days leading up tothe Ironman, as the training pretty much dried up and as my mind was constantly distracted by the day, I had been having more disturbed nights sleep, feeling sickly, developed atemperature, had achy legs (weird, I had hardly ran) and felt down right crap! I tried to put this down to nerves, excitement, taper, even stress and just hoped it was nothing more serious and I wasn’t ill!
Sunday – it’s here and it’s now
I’d had I think about 3hours sleep on and off and my 3.50amalarm was not a surprise for once. Had my usual cup of tea and a light breakfast and was met at my door by Andy and Sutty from work. Andy was racing also and Sutty has done Ironman before and was supporting me and his club. We all walked across to the canal and down to the Flash and chatted as I tried to push the nerves to the back of my mind.
T1 Setting Up
The Mud! It was everywhere, it was messy and it was gonaget messier! I saw Dave and Claire and we briefly spoke nervously to each other before I did my last bike checks and the food and drink setups and then it was time to don the wetsuit. I spoke with an even more nervous looking Brendan and also Anthony. Wished them both good luck and after aquick handshake headed to find my family by the swim line-up. The crowds and atmosphere by the swim start was crackling and it was so busy! People everywhere, some in rubber and some not! The water looked ok, fairly flat for the Flash and wet! I spotted Becky, my daughter Imogen and my sister Claire who had made it over from Bolton for the start (she has never seen 6am before). I spent 5mins with them nervously chatting and then with a quick goodbye and hugs from them all I made my way to the 1hr 15 marker in the swim line. I was confident I could swim that time and my training had confirmed I could. I was still concerned though as cramp ignores swim training times!
Then the national anthem, the sound of the klaxon and ACDCs ‘Thunderstruck’ hit the speakers. If I wasn’t ready before, I was now! I felt pumped and alive and bounced lightly up and down as I muttered ‘come on’ under my breath. As I finished a quick gel and a last sip of water, the death march commenced towards the swim entry point and onto the jetty towards the water. I looked over and spotted Becky, Claire and my Imogen holding up her ‘Good luck Phil Riley Ironman’ banner and the cameraman next to me shouted Go Phil!
I started my watch and pushed off into the water, the dirty stinking water! We don’t normally train at ‘the duck end’ of the lake and now I know why! The first lap felt pretty good, got into my rhythm early, concentrating on my own stroke and surprisingly felt quite calm. I had decided to swim slightly wider to the right of the line of buoys, thinking it may not be as fiercely contested especially when we got closer to the turn buoy. I don’t really think it made any difference as there was still the usual bumping, jostling and crossing of bodies everywhere. There had been no cramp but I could feel a slight twinge in my right leg (it’s a bad sign) as I neared the end of the first lap. As I scrambled out of the Australian exit I checked my watch, 37mins, which was a little slower than expected but with the rolling start, all the bodies in the water and pacing it well I could be close to my target of 1:15.
As I started to walk I could feel my calf and hamstrings tighten. I tried to give them a little stretch against the one of the barriers and jogged calmly back around to start the second lap. I waved across to my family and launched back into a really choppy lake this time. Had the wind picked up, had a speedboat caused a big bow wave…had all the ducks belly flopped on this part of the lake at the same time!? I don’t know, but it was far choppier than before but probably due to 2100 swimmers now all in the lake at the same time!
I swam ok through the worst of the chop until I started to feelmy right calf twinging a little bit more, this always affects my concentration as I try to lightly shake it off and stretch it out in the water as I’m swimming. I got to about a quarter the way around the second loop, just a couple of hundred metres from the turn buoy, while another swimmer was constantly touching and tapping at my toes. Reflex is to move your foot away and try and swim a little harder. I could feel my calf twinging the more the swimmer touched my toes and was shouting in my head ‘please get off and stop touching them,do you not realise I am a cramper’!! One last reflex and my right calf locked! That was me, bolt upright in a split second unable to swim any further. Straight away it was really painful, sometimes it’s not so bad at first but this felt like it was! I knew from experience I wasn’t going anywhere when it was like this so decided to shout a safety kayak over to try and help me stretch it out. (I had already checked in the rules and you are allowed assistance in distress as long as you don’t use the boat to move forward – I definitely wasn’t moving in any direction apart from maybe down)
She helped me (no need to be jealous Becky) get my right foot over the boat and proceeded to push my foot up to try and stretch out the calf. I told her I could feel my thigh starting to cramp too and then we looked into each other’s eyes and….panicked! She told me she really didn’t want the thigh to start as that was bad news. After a minute or so it seemed to ease off a bit and as I caught a glimpse of the safety speedboat approaching, decided I wasn’t hanging around to see what they had to say, thanked her and attempted to swim again. As I began swimming again I could feel it wasn’t right and as the first turn buoy approached, wham! It felt like an Ironman sniper had just shot me again in the right calf! This time, I was really concerned as I tried to shout another kayaker over to help me again. This could be my Ironman race over, right here, right now before I’ve even made it out of the swim. And…I can swim!!! All that training, time, sacrifice and expense for nothing, for a 45minute crampathlon! (did you see what I did there?) This had been my worst fear and it wasturning into a nightmare.
This time the kayaker couldn’t get close to me, there were other swimmers in the way, so I had to struggle over to him while he waited as close as he dare get. Again, we proceeded with the leg over (he wasn’t as good looking) and the foot stretch was firmer this time (I don’t think he liked me as much either) and after a couple more minutes and his repeated shouts into his radio of…’I’ve got a cramper!!’, it eased off again as I tried to relax as best I could. I really thought this is my last chance now, as I thanked him and moved away from the boat slowly and gently tried to get back into a very slow and easy rhythm. I could still feel a slight ball in my calf but as I finally made it to the turn buoy and headed slowly across the lake trying my best to relax, I could feel my leg coming back to me.
I turned by the next buoy and I was now in the home straight swimming more freely and thinking again more positively. I could get through this now and make it back to dry land. That,at the time, was my one and only goal of this day, get out of this swim without cramping again and reset! The swim time paled into insignificance as I just needed to get through it and hopefully celebrate getting on my bike! Having said all that the swim did seem a little long!!! Haha but that’s what we all say! (why swim straight when you can zig or zag!). As I sighted between breaths I could see the final buoy getting closer and there the jetty…dry land! What a relief I was nearly there. I dragged myself onto the ramp and was helped to my feet and wham! Another sniper!!! Two of them this time, hamstring and calf!!
I hobbled down the swim exit path trying to get myself into T1 as fast as my legs would allow. As I fought the cramp and dodged all the discarded swim caps and goggles I heard my name being shouted above the din and quickly spotted Becky and Imogen. That was the first overwhelming wave of family emotion I was to feel this day, such a relief to get through part 1 and see them there for me. I told them I had cramped bad in the swim and gave them both a quick kiss and hobbled onwards towards the T1 tent.
Swim time 1:24:51 (Garmin 2.73miles!)
Entering the T1 tent it was absolute carnage! I’ve been in a few chaotic transitions but this was on a whole new level. There was a thick fog of steam in there, noise, shouting, bagsand clothing everywhere and mud! Mud everywhere! I found my bag and quickly moved to the seating area. As I attempted to struggle out of my wetsuit, the cramp in my legs and then my feet kept hitting me. I quickly washed the mud off my feet and pathetically tried to dry them and pull on my socks and cycling shoes all while constantly fighting the cramping fitsoff! (I am pretty sure the flies on that tent wall were having a right good belly laugh at us ‘Ironmen’, especially the ‘cramper’ in the corner!!)
Eventually able to put the thrashing to one side and making it out into fresh air, I decided I would have a quick toilet visit, might as well go now as stop at the side of Sainsbury’s on Atherleigh Way! Found my bike easier than expected and jogged out of T1 giving my family a quick wave and mounted my bike as I heard my name being shouted by supporters from A&T at the mount line.
What a relief! I was on my bike, after what had happened in the swim this was good, no…this was great! As we made our way out of Pennington Flash, I tried to stretch out my legs and calf’s while dodging lost bottles and food on the road and other swerving cyclists. My calf was a little sore but I was used to that. Onto the bypass and I saw Jon, James and Josie trying to pick out cyclists they knew. They shouted Phil as I passed and that gave me a good boost. I was much much happier now…I could ride my bike!
My plan was to just settle in and not go off too fast, feed and drink regular, manage my HR and enjoy it! The ride up to Babylon lane and then the first lap I was intent on having a positive frame of mind, smile, give the crowds a few waves, chat a bit on the hills and whilst still managing my ride, generally trying to entertain myself. I was pretty sure there would be plenty of time to get serious and mentally tough later!
It was great to be waved through red lights, have junctions with crowds applauding us in the middle of the road and traffic all waiting for the bikes for a change! There was some seriously wacky and funny bike attire, riders in really baggy clothes and trainers (is it not hard enough!?) and some proper rattle and squeak machines!
It felt like I made it to Babylon lane and the start of Lap 1 in no time at all, it was already flying by. The crowds were fairly light on Babylon (that would change later) and I saw Barbs in her friend’s front garden clutching her morning coffee. I waved but she didn’t notice me this time. Up-to feed station 1just before Rivington Reservoir and I grabbed a water bottle and a piece of banana. My nutrition plan was to only take the water and use my own Carb powder and electrolyte tablets while supplementing with pieces of flapjack and odd pieces of banana. Before Mount Sheephouse I popped a couple of paracetamol for my thigh as I knew it would start to annoy me soon. Saw Alex near the cattle grid and asked to borrow hislegs, with which I just got a knowing smile back. My plan for the hills was to sit up, pace them out and take them easier, at least for the first lap anyway. There was the annual Sheephouse party and the DJ disco was starting to get going atthe top (those guys are nutcases but they make you smile when you are suffering near the top!)
It was very windy and gusty over the tops but it still felt great to see all the support out on the roads and be riding my bike on closed roads! Yeh it’s great! Saw Kim and Graham in Belmont taking photos of everyone passing and gave them a wave. I knew the route really well, had trained on it a few times and I was comfortable with my pacing and HR and knew I would have no problems with the terrain, at least for a few hours anyway.
There were some terrible newly laid stone chip roads around the Croston area and it was horrible and worrying to ride on. Everyone was complaining and it was frustrating but I was just careful where I road and before I knew it we were on the quiet country lanes near Mawdesley. I caught sight of Michelle up ahead and rode alongside for a minute for quick chat and a bit of encouragement and then as I moved on, with a smile, told her to enjoy Hunters Hill coming up ahead!
Hunters hill is great! (I don’t mean riding up the steep) It’s a proper party. We had a DJ, fancy dress, chalk all over the road, shouts and songs of encouragement and some guy in a Bolton Wanderers football shirt blowing a trumpet! I shouted great shirt as I passed and day dreamed of them winning League 1! I saw Clare on there and got the expected woopsand high five. At the pub at the top there is an Ironman BBQ party and it was starting to warm-up.
On to Lap 2 and Babylon lane for a second time. This is now known as COLT alley on Ironman day and now I know why. COLT Lancaster Triathlon’s black and white shirts were everywhere and a thin line of supporters formed in the middle of the road for you to ride through. Great stuff! Barbs spotted me this time and I got a high five. Up Sheephouse again and there was Alex again outside the cafe, this time offering me a cuppa (or was it a pie!) Going up I got chatting to a guy called Scott for the first time, he was a nice lad and he was looking forward to seeing his family at the top. Again the DJ was spinning the discs and the smoke machine was now blowing full gas, As I made my way towards the crest I heard someone shouting ‘Is that you RILEY’, it was Ian and he had caught me! We had some quick banter before he told me Dave had a puncture and Anthony’s chain had snapped on Sheephouse and he was waiting for a maintenance vehicle. (I was gutted for Ant, we have been friends for a long time now and I know how good a cyclist he is, sometimes painfully so for me, and although he’d had a lot of running injuries this year he was really looking forward to putting down an impressive bike split. I just hoped he would be able to get it fixed and carry on) As Ian passed me just before the descent, I decided I was going to stay on him as we hurtled down the other side. I am quite good descending and to me it’s a time to make up sometime and abuse the free speed. We started to race each other down the descent and as I passed him half way down I shouted across ‘come on Ian put your foot down’, with which he nervously replied ‘it’s a bit Sketchy!’ haha!
My ‘victory’ didn’t last long as he soon passed me again going back up through Belmont. (As Ian confirmed to us all a few weeks ago, on a hilly training ride around Anglesarke,this is purely down to his ‘mechanical doping’!!) Around Brindle, I had a quick chat with a southern softy who was complaining about all the hills and said he was sick of them now and asked me when they were over. I said ‘sorry about 1mile from the end!’ I had nearly run out of water so I asked him if he had any spare (he had 3 bottles on his bike so maybe it wasn’t the hills after all). He gladly gave me half a bottle and I thanked him and left him to his grumbling. There was another cyclist who we both kept overtaking each other time and again from Runshaw all the way around to near Mawdesley. It was a standing joke at first as we laughed about it and then as the miles passed it just became annoying! I decided to pull over for a comfort break (private bush) and leave him to hound someone else!
Back up Hunters hill and this time it was starting to hurt and the fatigue was setting in. The hill party was in full swing now and there were supporters all over the road. I obviously still liked the Bolton football shirt but this time I just told him the trumpet was getting pretty annoying now haha. Struggled on to the pub but didn’t see any ‘walkers’ and the BBQ sounded like it was rocking. It was packed outside with people with banners and fancy dress and I even managed to spot my mate Sutty who gave me a big shout.
All around the bike course locals were out in force really making the most of the day and embracing the event and all helping to make the atmosphere terrific. There were loads of garden parties, pubs packed out, some funny funny people trying their best to amuse us and families sat out on pavements clapping and waving us by. I continued to waveand nod at some when I could and dropped empty Power bar bottles to a couple of little kids along the way as I passed them. I think they liked that as I heard one of them say ‘I’ve got an Ironman’s bottle’…bless.
It was getting closer to the end of the bike course and I was feeling ok. A little fatigued which is normal but comfortable and happy with my average speed. I felt like I had paced it well as planned. Last time up Babylon lane and it was packed and I could hardly see any tarmac! The COLT alley was thin and the road was deep with supporters all shouting, waving things and banging drums and pans! I was nearly home and I caught Claire for a quick chat near Rivington reservoir. I told her Dave had a puncture and she could well beat him! She looked concerned but reassured her he would get it fixed and be ok. She was going great and I had only caught her 3miles from T2.
For the last couple of miles decided to just spin the legs a little more and have a good stretch out on the bike in preparationfor the run. As we dropped down towards Middlebrook and T2, the crowds were thick again and I could feel the buzz coming from it as I neared. As I jumped off my bike at the dismount line I caught sight of my Mum and Dad for the first time that day. There was my
Mum, trying to look as inconspicuous as always, waving a rainbow coloured garden windmill in the air while shrieking something at me! (don’t ask me why a garden windmill but at least it was colourful and I definitely couldn’t miss it!) It was great to see them and I needed a reassuring well done especially from my Dad at this point. (Dad is Mr Reliable and he has always been there, waiting and watching me and my sports. All through my school days in Bolton even when he seemed like the only parent there at times, through my football and cricket ‘careers’ and onto now, back in Bolton for my Ironman)
Bike time 6:45:19 (16.7mph average)
Then for a quick jog to rack the bike and on into the T2 tent. This was the complete opposite of the madness of T1! Calm, fairly quiet and not a cramper in sight! I felt pretty good considering I was about 115miles in! Found my bag, sat down and set about preparing myself and mainly my feet for the Marathon. Spotted Scott, my new friend from Sheephouse and gave him a well done shout. I planned to put plenty of Vaseline on my feet as I can get hot spots on long runs and also I had more painkillers for my thigh and salt tabs in a little plastic bag tucked in my tri shorts. Some other runner wanted some of my Vaseline so without hesitation handed it him and told him to fill his boots! (I will spare you the details of where he put it but he didn’t however, put it anywhere near his feet!)
I decided at the last minute I would carry a water bottle with me, at least until the first feed station, as I knew it was going to be warm on the run and wanted to make sure I hydrated and cooled well. I know now that was an inspired decision, even though I don’t like running with a bottle. Me and that bottle would be very close friends by the end of this run! Grabbed my A&T vest wanting to wear my colours and with a blissful feeling of a fresh pair of running socks I was off and runningout of the tent. Another quick transition toilet break and then onto the run out of T2 which was weird and long! They took us for a run across towards the Expo tent and back around behind the porta loos (maybe for the scenery) and back past the T2 tent and out.
As we eventually made it out onto the run, I repassed my Mum and Dad and The Windmill, gave them a wave and shouted over sarcastically ‘why did I sign up for this!’ My Plan A was to hydrate and cool well, walk the steeper sections and feed stations, stick to my HR zone and hopefully pace around 8.30 – 8.45m/mile for the first few miles. I had run faster than this for 6-10miles off 100mile bike rides before so I was confident I could hold that…or so I hoped!
I felt pretty good and continued running up towards Chorley New Road and saw Dave coming in on the bike as he shouted across to me. My smile quickly turned to a grimace, as he passed, as my immediate thought was he would soon behunting me down! Feeling good and the Plan A went flying through the nearest window after about 1Km when I hit thefirst ‘mountain’ leading through the Middlebrook housing estate. I walked the steeper section and started to get nervous of those snipers again!! As I crested the hill and turned right for the long haul into Bolton, another bullet, this time my right hamstring went crazy as I lamely tried to continue running. (I’ve had cramp and tight hamstrings running off the bike in the past but not for a while and with the amount of good brick runs I’d done leading up to this race it was a surprise to say the least)
Just as I pulled up further along, like a horse at the Grand National not risking the dreaded Becher's Brook, Claire passed me while having my latest fit! Before she pulled out a gun and put me down, I said I was alright and needed a minute while I touched my toes and swung my leg attempting to stretch the hamstring out. Made it to the first feed station at the Bee Hive and decided that because of the heat, a couple of quick swigs out of little plastic cups was not enough and I would continue to refill and carry the water bottle instead of risking waiting until the next feed station. Popped a salt tab and grabbed a gel before finding my running legs working once again. I could see Claire a few 100metres up ahead and then I caught Scott as we chatted for a couple of minutes before run fit number two! Stretched and walked for a minute, began running again and caught up with him again (think he thought I was stalking him by this point). I was running well again onto the next feed station at Lostock where one of the volunteers decided to run off with my bottle to refill it for me. He was just trying to be helpful but I lost sight of it and he obviously didn’t realise how close we were becoming!
The run then took us along the little canal while locals were sat in their gardens and hanging over bridges clapping and snapping their cameras. I was continuing to manage my hamstring and my HR didn’t seem to be working properly on my watch, possibly, due to the amount of water I was pouring over myself (either that or I was already dead). Then came the second ‘mountain’ which was Overdale Drive that takes you up onto the main run loop on Chorley New Road. I saw Mark Lysycia snapping away at all the runners dragging themselves up the hill towards the waiting crowds at the top.
The noise and music coming from the crowds up on Chorley New Road was great and really spurred me on to get up the hill and onto the main run loop (however, when I was on it, it wouldn’t be long before I was wishing I could turn around and run back down it!) It was at this point I secretly wished I’d told Becky and Imogen to be waiting for me here. All of a sudden, I really felt like I needed to see them. By this point, ithad been over 8hours since I had left them on the bike.
The crowds were buzzing and the atmosphere crackled as I made my way up the run towards the next feed station at the end of the loop. Desperately needing a toilet stop I waited patiently outside, for one of the doors to be swung open andlow and behold there was Claire coming out of the loo! (shehad washed her hands apparently) I continued to stick to the plan and refilled my water bottle, grabbed another gel and ate some crisps while I walked and then off again heading back towards Bolton and my family! Ran past the ‘woohooo’ girl who was high fiving every single runner in the middle of the road and through the water guy, who it seemed was single handed emptying the contents of Rivington reservoir over each runner who needed a cool shower from his hosepipe (rubber one). All this before Dave put me out of my misery and breezed past me after about 8miles in! He was now on the hunt for Claire and so was I! (don’t take that the wrong way Dave)
Next milestone was the Lion of Vienna pub opposite Bolton School and family! (beer can be a constant theme with me and I thought it was the best spot for them…well u never know!) I knew Becky and Imogen would be waiting for me along with my Sister and my nieces, Becky’s family and some other friends!! I needed them now and I was going to get there! I felt myself filling up as I approached but managed to suck it up and tried to look strong for them. It was overwhelming and it gave me such a lift when I most needed it.
I then saw Lewis ambling up the pavement towards the pub and as I asked him ‘you alright?’ he casually waved his medal at me and gave me a knowing nod (thanks for that Lew!)Becky and Imogen ran with me along the pavement, then afterabout 100metres we dropped Imogen! (I was secretly pleased I was still running ‘fast’ enough to still be able to do this haha) Becky continued with me as I wanted her at the personal needs zone on bark street so I could check my feet,put some Vaseline on them and get some more paracetamolfor my worsening thigh.
Felt another lift as I passed the loyal A&T marshals, Lynn, Rachel, Chris, Louise, Joan and Joanne shouting encouragement at me for the first time. Feeling positive and happy again I gave them all a smile and thumbs up and continued down the hill to be met by Jon and Clare near the bottom. It was great to see them all and it gave me a huge boost. Through town and the crowds were getting deep and the noise and buzz was overwhelming. Phil Phil Phil all the time encouraging me along with support. I was not always sure who knew me or who was just reading my name out for encouragement but they were all appreciated as I tried to give them all a nod, a wave or thumbs up. The first time past the finish funnel was the first time I had runners envy watching a fellow runner make it past the barrel of a security guard and down for his finish parade in front of the screaming gallery of supporters! I had a strong word with Phil inside his head and reminded him that this was the start of three laps out and back and that I could do this and that runner would be me in a couple of hour’s time…ish!!
Walking up the hill out of Bolton and back past all the A&T marshalling hero’s, saw Shaun who gave me an encouraging nod and a well done and past Susan and Jackie who both gave me shouts. As I restarted jogging I realised I was going to make it to my first band! Yes the first of three and it was up ahead. However, I was feeling the struggle really kicking in about now and if by magic and with perfect timing Simon bounded over and briefly ran alongside to pass on a few wise words to keep me focused on the process! (Simon and I were in the same year at high school and only bumped back in touch with each other 2 years ago at a Flash OW swim session when Simon was training for his Ironman!) His timely and much needed encouragement spurred me on to reach my first band up ahead!
There waiting was Becky again and her dad!! He looked worried for me and kept asking if I was alright. (at least that’s what I think he was saying – he is Scottish and lives on Birkenhead so I can’t always understand him!) I was ok, just,and put a brave face on as I waved across to my family again on the other side of the road at the pub and attempted to show them the band.
Hard part now, the out and back, up the long and dragginggrim hot tarmac that is Chorley New Road. I felt Jonny breeze past me on his final lap, he was obviously going well and still looking strong and I told him! The crowds on the run were getting deeper and more boisterous (especially around the bars and pubs – funny that) and it felt like they were closing in on me more and more.
I made it out to the far feed station and back past the woohoo girl and the reservoir emptier, while managing to pick out along the way a number of A&T runners also suffering their laps. Neil, Linda, Ian, Michelle, Chris, Anthony at different points going in opposite directions and giving each other sympathetic shout outs and thumbs up. The one that really got to me though was Brendan! (I had been talking to him more and more the last few weeks when I found out he was really struggling and going through a really bad patch with his swimming and he had unfortunately almost come to the point of pulling out of the Ironman. I could relate to what he was going through with the many issues and worries surrounding open water swimming and also knew he had only just started to learn to swim for the first time earlier this year! I can only imagine how much of an achievement that would be for him to just get through the Ironman swim! I do however know how daunting and a what mental battle it can be for even a competent swimmer like myself to feel semi-comfortable in open water especially around hundreds of other swimmers in a big wide lake like the Flash! But I also know Brendan is tough and he would show it!) To see him for the first time since the start, now knowing he had made it through the swim and the bike and he was on his first lap of the run was amazing and I was so so pleased for him. I gave him a massive shout out and told him how amazingly well he was doing as I plodded on with a smile on my face for the next few minutes.
I felt it was getting harder and harder in the heat as I tried to keep running as much as possible in the shade and drink and pour water over me from my bottle at regular intervals. I must have been still alive as my HR had been working again but I just couldn’t get it anywhere near high enough for the output I was planning on. Tom ran alongside me as I passed the pub again heading back into town and gave a few words of encouragement as I told him I was really struggling now.Back past the finish funnel and two more laps!
I then started to switch to my Plan B which was to run all the flat and downhills and start to walk the little inclines for 2-3mins on Chorley New Road. This seemed to work well as I recovered regular and started hitting target markers like mynext lap band, the crest of an incline, the next feed station, thewater guy, the pub/family!...A&T!...
The next visit to the personal needs station came towards the end of the second lap, this time I was laid out on the pavement in another semi cramping fit as Becky attended to my feet with Vaseline and put fresh socks on me due to my hot spots.(they have got photos to prove it which is nice!) Struggling back to my feet and making it past the thick crowds again and past the finish funnel for the final time and the start of one long hard final lap!!
Again, I stuck to Plan B hitting my target markers and movingforward. Collected my last lap band and raised a determined fist in the air in the direction of my family as a smile re-emerged across my face again. I made it to the feed station at the end of the loop and spotted Claire again for the final time!I caught up with her as we desperately had our last quick feedand recovery walk. I remember telling her to keep pushing forwards and the finish line was waiting for her now! (thisreally helped me focus too as I could feel I was saying it for my own benefit as much as Claire’s)
Last time down the long straight back into town, this time avoiding the high five girl and the water guy as I tried to push the last three miles home. I knew I’d missed a sub 13hour overall by this time but this final last effort was to get as close as possible and maybe even sneak a 13.0 something…
As I continued to drink, cool and cling to my water bottle, I headed back into town. Tom popped by again for a second and final little run alongside (jog for him) as he told me I was nearly there and not far now. Last time past the A&T rocks still there shouting and encouraging all of us. As I ran down the hill into town…my bottle…I needed it, wanted it, it had been there for me! (but didn’t want it to spoil my finish line photo!). The snap decision was made to leave it in the reliable hands of Jon and firmly told him to look after it, I wanted it back! (I have since thought of the film Castaway…I know it’s a bit weird)
My attention now immediately turned to the end of this adventure, the finish line, a medal and my family were waiting especially my Mum and Dad who I had not seen since setting off on this toughest of marathons.
I pushed on through the last feed station without stopping this time, ignoring all the crowds, tunnel vision, over the cobbles for the final time and I could see the finish funnel up ahead and that barrel of a security man! (I knew I had missed a 13.0x so I was going to take my time, enjoy it and soak it up) As I looked over my shoulder to check I had a little time to myself, this time he moved aside and waved me through. One last fist in the air and then the noise….oh The Noise!! It took my breath away for a second as my feet touched the red carpet. What a cauldron of sound, colour, lights and people!! The atmosphere electric!! Spotted my Mum and Dad and Becky and Imogen and all the rest of the family jumping and screaming out to me, heard those immortal words from the finish announcer...Phil Riley YOU ARE… I waved to both sides of the crowd, kissed my daughter’s name tattoo on my forearm and my future wedding ring finger, raised my arms and crossed the finish line….
It’s done…and I am an Ironman.
Run time 4:40:26
Total time 13:11:10
Straight over to my family who had made it across to the finish area barrier and pulled them all close to celebrate,needing to hear them tell me I had done it! What a feeling…relief, pride, emotion, exhaustion, the attention, achieving something so hard and celebrating it with those that mean the most! Just the best and I’ll never forget it….
I need to say this… without the relentless and unwavering support of my family, especially Becky, some close friends, Hill Club Tri guys and the whole inspiring family that is A&T, I without doubt would not have been able to achieve one of my dreams! All the messages, the support, the enthusiasm and encouragement out on that course was amazing and I willalways be grateful. Knowing that family, friends, A&T supporters and A&T athletes were out there, on what became a very dark place to run, inspired me to keep going! So thanks so much to you all.
When I first ventured into Triathlon three years ago I never ever imagined I would even think about entering, never mind finishing an Ironman in a credible time. Anything is possible…