It’s Dave from work’s fault. You know Dave from work. Everybody has one. And when Dave finds out you do triathlon you know exactly what the next six words out of his mouth are going to be:
“So have you done an Ironman?”
At this point nothing but the affirmative will do. Alistair Brownlee (who has never done an Ironman) could reply:
“No, but I am the double Olympic champion at the standard distance.” He would still receive the same disappointed and underwhelmed response from Dave:
“Oh. I’ve got a mate who’s done several.”
There is nothing you can do at this point except grit your teeth and try not to punch Dave. Every triathlete has had this conversation. Which means that like it or not, sooner or later, every triathlete has to do an Iron distance triathlon.
For any non-triathletes reading this an Iron-distance triathlon involves a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, then a marathon, back-to-back. You have to wonder who woke up one morning and said; “I’ve got a good idea, why don’t we run a marathon after a randomly long swim and run”? Well apparently it was an American in the 1970s. Yet more evidence that they were smoking some pretty funky stuff in America in the 1970s. Since this time, for reasons only a psychologist could understand, it is grown into a global phenomenon.
So for my first attempt at the iron- distance I chose the highly acclaimed Outlaw Triathlon. Organised by OSB events and taking place at the National Watersports Centre in Nottingham it is one of the biggest races in the UK. With the event all on one site and camping next door the logistics were very easy. One less thing to worry about when preparing for a race of this length.
To some degree this was always going to be a bit of an experiment. Like many age groupers balancing work and kids my average training is less than 10hrs per week. Can you do an iron distance race on 10 hours per week? I was about to find out. To give myself the best chance I planned my nutrition and hydration down to a tee, particularly with the heatwave in the preceding weeks. I needn’t have worried. Three months of glorious sunshine came to an end with a bang on race day.
As we make our way to the start winds of up to 45mph and rain soak competitors and volunteers alike. More athletes than usual were asking themselves; ‘what the hell was I thinking?!’ Wetsuits are on just to get to the start line. On the plus side, heat stroke wasn’t going to be a problem.
The swim start must have been something to behold. No namby-pamby rolling swim starts here. 1100 people lined up across the lake and ‘go.’ I get clear of the usual carnage and 57 minutes later I exit the swim.
Now something unique to the Outlaw race is they have strippers. Unfortunately, in a break with tradition these strippers aren’t taking off their own clothes, they’re taking off yours. In this case, whipping off your wetsuit. Of course having 2 strippers removing your neoprene onesie is something you can pay a lot of money for in certain London clubs. Err, apparently. I’m not sure if doing this on the side of a boating lake in the rain makes it more or less niche??! I decide to focus on the race instead. I get through transition and out onto the bike.
In all honesty the bike is horrible. The wind is strong and gusting, with plenty of rain and spray for good measure. I lament the fact that Oakley haven’t yet developed glasses with windscreen wipers. In better weather the course would be lovely through the rolling countryside of Nottinghamshire. The road surfaces are typically British, by which I mean character building.
I’d been told beforehand that in a race of this length you will always have at least one dark moment. Mine happened 101 miles (ironically) into the bike. I was tiptoeing around yet another soaking wet corner when I hit a submerged pothole. I lost the plot. After 4 1/2 hours I was fed up of being beaten up by the wind and roads. Fortunately I was by myself in the middle of nowhere. Had anyone appeared they would have found a man in soaking wet pink lycra and a pointy helmet yelling at nothing in particular. They would almost certainly have called the men with white coats. That said, a nice warm padded cell or even a straitjacket (which let’s be honest, look quite cosy) would have been preferential to my current predicament. The last 11 miles of the bike seem to take an age.
Reaching T2 I pull my running trainers on and give myself a talking to. The bike hasn’t been as quick as I hoped given the conditions but I can see exactly what I need to do to get under the 10-hour mark. I set off on the marathon with Stando’s words ringing in my ears: “Don’t go off too bloody fast” (subtext; ‘like you always do’).
Now at this point I have to mention the heroic volunteers. It was bad enough racing in these conditions but standing on the side of the road handing lunatic triathletes fluids and carbohydrate goodies must have been even less pleasant in the wind and rain. Despite this they were incredibly positive and supportive. At some of the aid stations a volunteer would be standing 50 yards before it with a megaphone. You would call out what you wanted (water, gel, etc) and this would be relayed so when you reach the aid station another volunteer was there holding it out for you. Very impressive. I briefly wonder whether I could set this up with the kids, perhaps on the occasional long training session. They could stand there waiting for me and one could call out to the other exactly what I need. Fat chance. I’m clearly hypoglycaemic and hallucinating. And on reflection, giving either of our children a megaphone wouldn’t be a great idea. Or an energy gel for that matter.
On the final lap of the Lake at the end of the run and I pick up the pace and leave it all out there. It is pure relief when I cross the finish line. A 3:30 marathon for 9hrs 53mins finish time. 3rd in my age-group, 19th overall. Job done. I can’t wait to see Dave from work.
Then I have a problem, my legs decide they’ve had enough. Walking suddenly becomes an issue. The feed tent is 200 yards away, and that’s 199 yards too far. I appear to have bonked after the finish!? (No, nothing to do with the strippers. ‘Bonk’ as in run out of calories. Anyone who’s up for that kind of bonking after an Ironman clearly hasn’t tried hard enough. An aphrodisiac Ironman ain’t!).
So having finally recovered, what are my final reflections? Well, I have the utmost admiration for anybody who has completed an iron distance race. And anybody who’s goes back to do another one clearly needs help. Me, I’m taking up golf. It takes half the time and doesn’t stop you walking the next day.
Finally a massive thank you to OSB events and all the amazing volunteers for a superb race. Well done to everyone who got round in those conditions. As always a huge thank you to Stando for getting me in the shape to do this thing with very limited time, and to Eureka Cycles and Storck bikes for their support. Most of all thank you to Helen and the boys for putting up with this crazy hobby.
I’ll let you all know how I get on with the golf.
All the best,