Athlete testimonial by Steve Smith & race report, Ironman UK

ste-smithMy name is Steve Smith, throughout my life I have always been into personal fitness, mostly weight training encompassed with the odd short run. However I got to the stage where I was totally bored with training, on the verge of stopping completely, but as you know that when you’ve been training most of your life it’s in your blood, you don’t just stop, but look for a new challenge.

Before I go into detail of the most gruelling year of my life, let me take you back to when this all started. September 2013, I had a crazy idea, as us 50 year old blokes do.  I know what; I’ll do IRONMAN, all I knew was the distances involved, I had no idea of how physically and mentally challenging this would be. Let alone the cost and preparation required.

So I thought I would use the remaining few months of the year to start some cardio work, get rid of the aches and pains, blow out the cobwebs etc. A great opportunity to upgrade some of my 1970’s training kit…a good pair of running shoes, training kit, bike, of which I can’t remember when I last sat on one. Oh yes I can, August 1974, a blue Chopper!  These are just a few of the many items yet to buy, however once you have the relevant kit, then the large part of the expense is done.

At this point is when time starts flying, before I knew it my 3 months training in 2013 had gone, year 2014 had begun. Just has I was starting to cack myself I received an e-mail from an old mate I used to work with, John Bellamy (Bellas) of Total Tri Training, basically he was wishing me well, during our conversation I explained that at my ripe age of 50, and no previous triathlon experience, all I wanted was to tackle this massive challenge of Ironman and complete it. I’m wise enough to realise I wasn’t going to finish on the podium. He took this opportunity to inform me he could coach me through the Ironman venture.

John had started coaching triathletes through a newish club Total Tri Training.  He was willing to take me on as a client, he gave me a brief verbal of the required training and conditioning required. At the end of this conversation I really started to cack myself. John went on to explain that he could formulate a training programme via TP (Training Peaks).

I remember his exact words, “You will get through Ironman if you do the training” This is what I wanted to hear, I felt ready to dig deep, knuckle down and do my structured training. The only way to get through all this to Ironman is to be brutally honest with your TP programme and coach, in this case John. Give honest feedback, ie did you actually do that days training? How did you find it? Hard /easy, is there a discipline you feel weaker in. If so work on that.

To start this programme John required me to conduct a power bike test also known as CP 20, this is to workout my training zones, this would be repeated approx. every 6 weeks to see the improvements. I just knew this was going to hurt, and it bloody did, I won’t explain the details of the test except to say, it was the toughest physically challenging thing I’d ever done. When complete, I fell of the bike, and felt very very sick. This is a very important part of the programme as the stats gave John a guide to structure your training.

This was on Monday 3rd February the start of training up to 20th July, Ironman day. Part of the required preparation was to complete a number of sprint tri’s, great practice for transitions. Building up to a middle distance triathlon, in my case the Bala tri. Blimey, a very choppy 2k swim to start, but great experience for a mass swim start, followed by a very hilly bike and run course. But a great little warm up towards something much bigger, as I later found out.

During my training programme I knew I needed to really dig deep when swimming as this was my weakest of the three disciplines. In the following months I concentrated on improving my swim technique. To help with this John swam with me in the pool giving me tips and guidance of where I was going wrong. Winter over, now let’s get stuck into the outdoor swims, the importance of which should never be underestimated.

I was there at Pennington Flash very early in April for the start of the season, it was bloody freezing, but you’ve got to be prepared to go for it, from this point to Ironman I completed at least 3 open water swims a week. Believe me you will get hooked, it’s really enjoyable, if you do the training results come thick and fast.

Approximately 6 weeks prior to the big day, John instructed me to carryout a “Metric Ironman” this was a time to test my nutrition, race plan etc, basically it’s an ironman but instead of miles you substitute the km into miles, therefore 2.4km swim, 112km bike and 26km run. This was a long and hard day but very beneficial session, thanks John.

John also can help out with bike maintenance and serviced my bike before the big day, this gave me confidence that my bike would be ok for the day.  John really emphasised the importance of a good taper leading up to ironman, I read about this and how crucial it is to get it right. So you will be strong on the day.  Be prepared as I was advised by John that during this period you will feel very tired, you’ll ask questions of yourself, Have I done enough training?, yes you have so go with it.

Ironman Day- never slept last night, got to that stage most nights over the last few weeks I’ve been dreaming about ironman. Plus continuously cacking myself. Leaving my house at 3.30 am, just weighed myself, see my weight stats at the end.  Got to Pennington Flash by 4am, very dark, surrounded by other athletes that all looked in a total daze, as I’m sure I did.

First things first, poo of the day required, I just know I’ll have a couple more before I get my wet suit on. At least I hope it’s before! At about 0515 hrs I start to put the bottom half of my wetsuit on, and of course think I now need a poo. Get my vaseline in the right places and I’m good to go. At 0545 hrs we are all instructed to get into the water, nobody seems in a great rush to do this, I shake Johns hand give him a hug and slide into the water, thinking I really do need a poo now.

I swim to the start about 150 m out. Totally surrounded by others, it’s like being at a football match in the days of standing up. No doubt all were doing the same as me, having a final wee, I hear the National anthem play and know we’ll be off in a mo. Off goes the gun and white water appears everywhere. You should have heard it, like swimming in a washing machine, take it from me.

For the first few hundred yards I felt like it was a fight to stay afloat, let alone swim 2.4 m, each stroke smacking someone’s calf’s, as they did to me. 90 minutes later I’m out of the water, heading for the bike, one down 2 to go.

Leave the Pennington flash location and feeling pretty good. It’s going to be a long day, so i’ll pace it as instructed by John. Nothing could have prepared me for what would happen next, about 2 hours into the bike I could hear a rumble, thinking what the hell is that, looking down at my bike.

I don’t know about you, but when I have an upset tummy I only get about a 20 second poo alert notice. I stopped the bike, jumped over a hedge, a small hedge, pulled down my very tight tri-suit and well I leave the rest of it to your imagination but it wasn’t pleasant! I felt rough as old boots.

Me thinking that’s it, got back in the saddle and off I went. You’ve guessed it, 5 minutes later another 20 second alert, off the bike, and a good bout of the runs again. I knew a feed station was close, back in the saddle, here we go. Could see the feed station in the distance, the 20 second alarm started to sound, I made it into the portable loo, with a second to spare!

Got out and spoke to an assistant saying where can I go to be sick. I was directed to some bushes, I’m there on all fours, making myself throw up, tears streaming down my face, I so wanted to lay down and cry.

At the corner of my eye I saw a figure in lime green approaching, thank god it was a paramedic and not a Marshall, fearing I would be ordered to stop. While talking to the paramedic I kept my hands on the floor, just to stop the shaking I was suffering. I can only put this sickness down to have taken in something during the swim. maybe urine, geese duck poo etc.

The paramedic quiet rightly explained that I had over half of the bike course to complete, and the marathon, I’ll never forget his words at this time, “If you carry on you will die “. I felt like I would as well. Now having lost all my fluids and nutrients I explained that I would just ride to the bottom of the road, I’ll sack it if I feel crap.  He looked at me as if to say “you idiot”.

I loaded up with liquids and food, and very gingerly carried on, this is what happens when you get in the zone, all logic and good advice goes out the window.  Basically as the day went on I felt better and better. Just looking to complete the ironman, not in any fancy time, I lost so much during the bike anyway.  Eventually completing in a slow time. But completing never the less.

The finish is great, you know what, running that last hundred metre’s makes it all worth it.

What a great never to be repeated feeling, otherwise I will be living on my own!  At the finish I enjoyed a Kings feast of numerous slices of pepperoni pizza, a couple of cakes, 2 large sweet teas, and 700m of water. I felt great.

Please note my weight stats:

15 stone 2 pound in September of 2013
13 stone 2 pound in the build up to ironman July 2014
13 stone 5 pound on the morning of ironman 20th July 2014
12 stone 10 pounds after my feast at the end of ironman
Shows you how much weight you lose when you suffer 3 bouts of the runs and throw up twice.

None of this wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance of John, he encouraged me throughout, and set realistic time bound training goals for me to achieve.  I’d like to apologise if I mithered Johns too much, I must have contacted him on a nearly daily basis, of which he never minded at all. He’s a good mate and a bloody good coach.

John understands that you have a life outside training and will fit the plans around you. He is easy going, approachable and never too busy to speak to or ask for advice, I would recommend him highly.

Cheers, Smithy.

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