My first attempt at a full Ironman was Ironman Wales 2018 which if you go by hills is arguably one of the hardest Ironman competitions there is. I chose to approach the race in a similar manner to doing a local fun run… I wouldn’t write it off as a total fail as I did get round and complete it, but it most definitely was a First Attempt In Learning (FAIL), one that I chose to learn a bit from, but not a lot. Please review, smile, but probs don’t replicate my 4 lessons learned on how NOT to prepare for an Ironman.
1) Signing up under the influence of alcohol
When you are around your little brother’s house enjoying a few glasses of prosecco chatting late into the night, its probably not wise to sign up to a full Ironman, 2 months away… Imagine the situation. Your little brother, (who’s 38 and way bigger than you!), who you have spent your entire life asserting your big sisterly authority on has entered the Welsh Ironman. This goes against the order of life. A deeply entrenched sibling rivalry fires up. You’re on the Ironman website, credit card in hand. Then you’ve done it. You’ve signed up to an event of a lifetime, with 2 months to get in shape.
Lesson 1: don’t drink and enter ironman.
2) Thinking a half Ironman is the same training as a full
Just in case you’re uncertain on this – then no its not… A half lager and a pint of lager are not so different, a half marathon and a marathon are quite a step change but a half ironman and a full ironman are as different a beast as a kitten and a lion!!
As an ordinary Ironman I had just done the Staffs 70.3 in just over 6 hours 19. Wales took me 16 hours 10. That extra 10 hours of exercise is a little bit more of a step change than I’d really ever considered. I was fit-ish and full of ironman spirit, but it was most definitely naivety over preparation that got me to the start of that first ironman.
Lesson 2 – prep for the distance you’re actually going to do.
3) Starting the race with a soft tyre
So you may be thinking that prep is not one of my strong points. I have to jump in here and say that it is, or at least my intentions to prepare well are there. Week before the event my bike was in for a service – and released the day before I left for Tenby. I told the bike shop that I thought I might have a slow puncture but it seemed ok so no action taken.
Day before race little bro and I dutifully pumped our tyres up to race pressure and put the bikes at transition.
Race morning we spent an hour queueing for our nerve induced loo break. (Nebwbies factor this in or ready yourself for a wetsuit wee!). Which left no time to get to the start. I walked via my bike and squeezed the tyre, and was horrified to note it was soft! Not soft soft, but defo not the 100psi I needed it to be. Panic set in but I didn’t pump it up for fear of making the situation worse. I just hoped for the best…
So I began my ironman race of a lifetime with a partially flat tyre… And I just lived with it. Until after about 80 miles I could actually see it was flat. But I kept on going. Then stopped. Realised I had never changed a tyre. And kept on going again… In my head that was the only thing to do. Everyone was slow up hill and I trundled after them then picked up speed again going down. Hill after hill. Slower and slower. Until about 1 or 2 miles from the end of the 112mile ride there is a really steep hill heading down to the sea. Signs everywhere to say no aerobars indicative of the danger of going too fast.
I headed down this hill flat out on my squishy tyre, when suddenly it fully burst at over 30mph. I lost control. The bike slid from left to right and I saw a grey Welsh stone wall at the perimeter of someone’s garden lining the country lane. In a split second, time slowed down and I pictured myself hitting it hard and crumpling around it landing on the dark green grass, really quite vividly but almost romantically without the pain of broken limbs. Then somehow I regained control and brought my bike to a halt.
I may not have been handed out my full quota of sensible genes when I was made, as you may have gathered by getting thus far on a flat and now burst tyre… Thinking of student cars and driving them home with flat tyres, I thought I could do this on the 2 miles to transition. So I started again – and very nearly crashed again.
At the bottom of the hill I realised continuing was futile. I needed to fix the tyre.
Long, tearful, angry, exasperated half hour, bloody handed story short, I managed to fix my first puncture ever that day, but I was almost at cut off time. The sweep up truck had already passed me.
I got back on my bike and I pedalled as hard and as fast as I could. The crowd went wild (in my head maybe!!) I was the fastest slow person they’d seen!! Eventually I caught up the sweep up truck but I couldn’t get by. Seconds felt like hours stuck behind that truck, then I saw my opportunity and raced past and over the finish line of the bike element. But didn’t know if I made cut-off… I asked an official if I could continue and they said I could.
My heart leapt. I’d made it to the marathon phase, by the absolute skin of my teeth.
Lesson 3 – don’t ride 112 Ironman miles on a flat tyre.
4) Avoiding paramedic intervention
There is a very strict rule in Ironman competitions that you are not allowed outside intervention. One thing I learnt in the Welsh Ironman is this does not include paramedics!!
So, at this point in my story I have entered one of the hardest races in the world under the influence of alcohol, ramped my training in 2 months, swum 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles on a flat tyre, had a very near miss crash, changed my first tyre under extreme duress and trotted 18 miles of a marathon. I’m well ahead of cut off, I feel dizzy and I just want to finish. I don’t care about the time. I don’t want to pass out. So I decide to walk the last 6 miles as a precaution.
Sensible for a non-sensible person I think. But it is now dark and cold and September and I’m in a tri suit. I get colder and colder and colder until I’m getting hypothermic. I am too scared to ask a paramedic for help as I fear the intervention rule will be breached.
I’m now that cold and dizzy I’m starting to panic. I talk to some other people walking and they say the dizzy thing is normal. We are all operating way out of the norm here. Eventually I’m that cold I go over to an ambulance and explain my predicament.
Paramedic advises me the whole point of them is to keep us all going so we can complete the ironman… so it is not classed as outside intervention… I’m still not completely trusting of him but I accept a blanket and clutch it around me.
I shiver and shake to half a mile from home then begin to trot in. Before I hit the final straight I throw my blanket to the crowd (just in case!), run down the red carpet and cross the Ironman finish line to that most joyous of words I could ever, ever hear at that moment, blasting out from speakers. “you are an Ironman!!”
Lesson 4 – don’t suffer hypothermia when paramedics are allowed to help you
After that, I got my medal, I got my pizza, I got pulled by the police for suspected drink driving (I was driving like I was riding a bike) immediately released on viewing my medal. Then returned battered, bruised but elated to civilisation.
So, in summary, I learnt a little on my first full Ironman, but remain a work in progress. I continue to sign up to events on prosecco, prepare a little better for the distance required, can change a tyre (sometimes) and have a reduced fear of paramedic intervention.
I hope these lessons help you in your Ironman journey, and/or provide a little Ironman inspired entertainment. If you want to hear more then please sign up to my blog and follow my ordinary ironman adventures.