Friday, 22 July 2016

My Ironman Journey by Michelle Fairclough

Sorry it’s a long one, but hopefully it may inspire someone to enter.
My journey started back early in 2007, 16.5 stones and a size 20. I enviously watched my slim, fit work colleagues run after work while I watched on, drinking a pint. Then it hit me and I started to run......and didn’t stop.
Many thanks go to Bob Stevens and his Tues/Thurs A&T sessions and for showing me the ropes at my first sprint triathlon in 2008 which I finished and was stunned I was still standing.
Ive watched Ironman in Bolton for the last few years, I always dreamed I could do it but was too scared and put it out of my mind, but last year I saw a 'big' bloke out on the run, with a very big belly and he was doing it and I thought I'm sure I can do it if he can!
I went home and shook my head and put the thought out of my mind until entry opened in September and it was on my mind again niggling away, I shoved it to the back of my mind a number of times over those next few weeks and I was just about ready to enter when I had a pretty life changing moment, I found a lump in my breast.  So IM was out of the question.
I saw the doc and painfully waited a month before getting a referral to hospital, I was convinced my time was up.  I got my appointment and told my mum, if its bad news then I'm stuffed and please look after Dom (my son) when I'm gone, but if I come out of this ok then I'm entering IRONMAN. I was so convinced my life was over that I had the balls to say that out loud.
I’d just hit 40 so I got the full works - scans and mammograms later and I came out of hospital and made that teary call to my mum to say 'I'm doing IRONMAN!'
I bought Don Finks IM training book and decided to start my training on Boxing Day.  I’d already entered Manchester marathon but was told I shouldn’t do it as it wouldn’t fit in with my IM. But I was sentimental to the race so I decided to do it but take it easy. So my mara training started and I added swims and bikes to it too. 
I joined Salford Cycling club late last year as I've never been very good on my bike and they helped me a lot to build confidence. While I was there I met two ladies from Swinton running club who had also entered IM for the first time (Sharen & Julie).  Little did I know that I’d spend the next 6 months training with them and building a fab friendship. (Sorry team, I know they are reds!!).  They were following a plan provided by Tri-Rivington and I decided to drop Fink and join Tri-Rivi. 
We trained through rain, cold, hail, snow, wind. We followed the plan together no matter what and never missed a single session.
It was not easy.
Last week was a week of hardly breathing near anyone to avoid any germs, the day came all of a sudden, my countdown app seemed to jump from 100 days to 1 day in the blink of an eye. My alarm went off at 3am as Sharen would be picking me up at 3.40am to make sure I wasn’t late to the start (like at Chester half iron-oops)! 
We arrived at the Flash and it was pitch black, I wasn’t nervous, I knew I'd done the training and whatever would be would be. 
Over to muddy T1 to check my bike, tape my mini pork pies to my frame (only in Wigan haha) wipe down the frame of the morning dew and to go and seek some supporters. My mum and dad had promised to make a rare appearance, the last time they watched me was back in 2007 at Penny Flash doing my first race for life 5k ! Who'd have guessed 9yrs on they'd be here again watching me in IRONMAN!
More and more A&T support and competitors arrived and I felt reassured to see friendly faces. With the help of Vanessa I found my mum and dad just before the start and gave them both a hug and kiss and tried to fight my way to the swim start.  I saw Claire M up near the front of the line and I headed off towards the back - I expected to be 1hr 20 ish.  Time was ticking on and I made it to the 1.10 start area and saw Dave and Neil and decided to stick with them, a bit ambitious but I figured I’d be ok as I’d move to the side anyway. The National Anthem played and I choked up, then ACDC Thunderstruck came on and it revved me up and I got goose bumps. We all started to filter to the start and I clicked my Garmin and kind of half jumped/dived in.  The first lap was amazing, I’d told myself, with advice from coach Ray, to keep out wide, but everyone had the same idea so I went back on the inside and got a clear swim.  The first lap was about 35 mins, happy with that, back in the water again and it was much choppier, bodies everywhere swimming over me, kicking, elbowing, so I did the same. Dog eat dog. A few cheated and cut the corner at the far buoy but there was no way I was risking a DQ so I did it right.  The final stretch I was flapping around and going nowhere so I had a word with myself and remembered how to swim properly and concentrated on my stroke.  I finished in 1hr 15 and trotted into transition remembering to leave my goggles and cap in my hand while I got my wetsuit off.
I'd took full changes of clothes but I felt good so I stayed in my A&T tri suit - I just put some arm sleeves on to keep the chill off and came out of T1 to lots of cheers from A&T.  Then I was off, steady to start, spinning it up to the top of the bypass.  I saw Dave at the side of the road with his bike, he had a puncture I asked if he was ok and he nodded, I felt bad for him but I knew I had to keep going as the bike was the part I worried the most about being cut off for being too slow. I reached Babylon Lane and it was quiet, only a few supporters, I was expecting so many more but carried on and then I saw Barbs with her banners and signs and I was so happy to see her I waved and carried on, swigging my gels mixture in anticipation of Sheephouse.  I made it up there in a blur, the sheephouse party had started and they were fab, music, dancing and cheering.
Headwind over Belmont and it was hard work for about 20 miles.  Phil caught me up and had a quick chat and words of encouragement and then Hunters Hill. I don’t struggle much uphill I just have to get it done as quick as I can.  I instantly grinned when I heard Clare Unsworth beore I saw her half way up and there was a guy with a horn going toot, toot, toot, toot, which was fab for keeping to a consistent cadence and I was up and over Hunters in what seemed a flash. At the top of Hunters was a girl with a sign - 'smile if you pee’d on the swim section' and I signalled 3 times to her and the crowd roared ! Amazing :)
Back to business, fly down the hills steady up them.  I saw an IM school friend at Hunger Hill who reminded me to eat and drink and then Id finished the first lap in my fastest time ever.  Calm down Fairclough.
I made the turn up Babylon and I was instantly overwhelmed, it was like Tour de France, people everywhere, the road was full apart from a thin line to ride up in the centre of the road, it was amazing, my best bit of the whole race. Saw Barbs again she'd been there for hours, another wave and gel swig and off to Sheephouse again, I was pleased to see Emma Higgins and Alex Foster (I did ask him if he'd swap places- hmm nice try) then the party began again, high fived all the Sheephouse party and thanked them for their support and the slog up Belmont started again, saw Graham and Kim and a group of cyclists from Salford CC and I lapped up the cheers. 
The rest of the bike section was a blur, it’s such a long time on the bike. I got to Hunters again, one guy dressed in fancy dress held a sign saying 'free lubrication',  next to him his friend held a sign saying 'free application' it made me laugh but the party was fizzling out, toot toot man had been told off for annoying everyone but I needed him and I shouted at him to toot toot away so I could get my cadence going, he obliged and I was over Hunters again and at that point I relaxed, all downhill (well not really) but no severe mountains to climb.
My final turn into Babylon and it was still packed, I reached Barb and I pulled over and gave her the biggest hug, I was so happy to see her again, I shouted 'Ive done it' because I knew I could carry my bike in to T2 at that point if I had to. I was elated. 
I motored on into Horwich, spotting my son and his dad cheering me near Crown Lane it choked me up again and it boosted me back in to transition, I racked my bike, saw Emma cheering me and I glanced at my Garmin and that's when the permanent grin appeared on my face, I had 8 hours left to run a marathon.... Buzzing. I nipped into the tent, vaseline’d my timing chip band as it was annoying me, washed my feet with baby wipes, picked all the gravel off them and put fresh socks on, stayed in my tri suit, lube’d up, scoffed half my subway sandwich l'd stashed in my bag and nipped for a pee (stinky portaloos) then off up the hill to start the run course.  The sun was out and I knew it would be a warm one, not my ideal conditions but I knew I could do it and I reminded myself 'it's the same for everyone'.
The run down the canal point to point was lovely, another friend who is a 3 times ironman passed me on the run she was blood red and sweating badly I was stunned as she should have been a few hours in front of me.  Little did I realise that the next ambulance siren I heard would be the end of her race as she blew up and had to go on a drip! Thankfully she is ok. I reached the foot of Overdale and the memory of my epic fall a few months earlier came back to me when I smashed my new Garmin up, so I took it easy over the speed bumps and jog/walked up the hill. I got to the top and the atmosphere was fantastic, the woohoo girl giving high fives was a welcome sight, residents with hose pipes, kids with water spray bottles, piss heads outside the pubs all kept my mind occupied and I kept to a 10mm pace, I felt good.  I saw Helen and shouted her to play me a tune and she did and I felt like it was just for me and got a spurt on. I did find myself scanning every other athlete’s arms to see how many bands they had. Band envy is a terrible thing.
I was so happy to see Vanessa on her bike, she had my personal needs bag and asked if I needed anything, but I was ok, I just needed the loo, all those gels made me bloated and I was told never trust a fart! I carried on and thought I’ll go to the loos next time round (they truly are awful so its not a place you want to go if you can help it).   I ran the full first lap including the hills, it was great to see team A&T out in force near David Lloyd gym, hugs a plenty. I got to the town and didn’t dare look at the red carpet I just turned and started my way back up the hill to the lap, I couldn’t wait to get that 2nd band on. Lots of support from Burnden at the band station. 
I then saw Bren, and that's when the fatigue started to kick in a bit, I was a lap ahead but we decided to run together for a while, chatting and run/walking it to break down the sections. We ran alongside Jane for a while too, she was lapping up hugs and cheers from her friends.  I picked up my final red band and we carried on and got each other up the hill to the Beaumont Rd turn then it was all downhill for me, I got to the A&T marshal point and stopped for hugs and chats, I was totally enjoying the moment, I had no care in the world I knew that medal was mine even if I had to roly-poly all the way into the town centre.  I had no desire to get a certain time, I knew I had reached my goal of finishing.
I passed through Bark Street station and I had a bit of an anti-climax moment, the journey was about to end, all the training, all the hard work of the day, all done, this is it, I started to choke up and sobbed a bit. But I turned onto Knowsley Street and saw the crowds and the grin returned and I picked up my pace and ran as fast as I could. Looped round Le Mans Crescent but this time I stepped onto the red carpet.  The commentator shouted, 'here's the one we've been waiting for.... Michelle Fairclough..... (I floated on air down that carpet through the finish gantry).....YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.
14hrs 18minutes.
Anything is possible

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