Since last blog I fell of the wagon in with regards to maintaining my training plan. Although at the weekends I pretty much kept to the longer distance workouts, the mid week sessions were almost non-existent. I did the odd 4 miler run and kept swimming but the swim sessions were 10/15 minutes each time. Unfortunately I occasionally hadn’t given up occasional cigarettes as well which didn't help.
To be honest a few things were playing on my mind and the nervousness of the event coming up very soon didn’t make me too confident going into the race. Despite this, I had prebooked the event about 8 months in advance, so there was no backing out now.
Thursday – arrival in England
I went over in the ferry and stayed in a B & B at Shaw which is almost an hour away from Bolton which was reasonably handy. The staff at the B&B were pretty helpful allowing me a rear room away from the busy traffic. This helped a lot.
Friday - Event registration
On Friday I went and registered for the event, got my race pack and bought a few things before heading down for the pre race briefing.
I got to meet and briefly chat to the famous Prof Greg Whyte from Comic Relief fame who asked me “are you feeling strong?” I blubbered some nervous reply and shook his hand with my sweaty hands and let him go on his merry way.
Whilst waiting for a picture with Prof Greg I noticed someone asking a lot of questions to this tall American gentleman whom I initially mistaken for Mike Reilly of Ironman fame. Reilly is the guy who says ‘You are an Ironman’ at many races. His quote in triathlon circles is similar to Arnie’s ‘Ill be back’ saying. Many people refer to him as ‘The Voice’ in ironman terms. The American guy beside Gregg didn’t turn out to be Mike, however I heard that his first name was John from a girl I spoke to and shortly later he ended up after registration sitting at my table for the pre race briefing.
Just before the briefing after chatting to me a guy next to me began to chat to John who was sitting next to him. When the guy asked him had he done IM UK before, the John said ‘no’, it was his first time. When the guy then said to John have you done any IM’s before the American guy said with a wry smile “Oh, too many”.
After coming home I tried to find out who this guy was and found out he was inducted into Ironman’s hall of fame and is probably likely done more Ironmans than anyone else. In 2012 John Wragg had clocked up more than 137 ! And is still doing more!!
Saturday - The day before the big day
On Saturday I dropped off my bike at T1 and left my transition bags at each station.
Then I drove to Pennington Flash reservoir before driving up Sheephouse Lane.
Sunday –Day of Event
On the Sunday morning of the event, I got up at 2am, checked weather forecast (which was still pretty poor for the day) and got breakfast before setting off. The night before I had asked the B&B to leave me out some hot milk in a flask with some porridge, but unfortunately it didn’t materialise so I ended up just taking some fruit loaf with peanut butter on it (weird combo) and a banana before going to the Reebok Stadium for the shuttle bus to Pennington Flash Reservoir for 6am swim start.
Swim - Time - 1hr 28 mins
The swim had a cut offs were entry into 2nd lap by 7.15am with a total time allowance of 2hrs 15 mins for the 2.4 mile swim, with T1 exit by 8.30am. In the days leading up to the event I had only properly read the race instructions and this time when I realised that I might be in trouble. Looking back at previous iron distance events in the last couple of years I realised that my swim times were 2hr 40 minutes when doing the Tri Limits event. I initially panicked when I read this and only the next day when I checked my time again I realised that I had misread my swim time and it was 1.40, not 2.40 for previous event.
On arrival at Pennington Flash I was like the other 1800 competitors pretty nervous but at the same time exited to get going. Surprisingly the water was pretty mild, not too cold. It was a bit weird swimming just as daylight was breaking.
As usual there was quite a few kicks, thumps etc during the swim and I suppose that’s why they refer to the swim as akin to a washing machine with all the craziness you just have to expect it and not get to upset at it.
It was my first Australian exit ( i.e. two laps whereby halfway through the swim you exit out of water for short run back into the lake for a second loop) the reason behind this is historically it reduced boredom for the spectators as they get to see competitors run out then back in and it saves on manning and marshalling a larger swim course. On the first loop I managed to draft mostly which I find really helpful, however the second loop by which stage I was nearing the back of the pack I found it harder to find someone to draft behind so it was more of an effort for me to complete.
Thankfully after finishing I found out that I managed to beat the cut off time as I wasn’t being called off the course, but I had no idea of what my swim time was.
After the swim I headed into transition tent for changing into my bike gear.
Transition time in T1 was just over 16 mins.
Bike – 8hrs 12min
Looking back at previous training, I was once again worried about cut off times. I thought if I roughly took 2 hrs do the swim then I had 8 ½ hrs to do a transition and 112 miles on a hilly course. IM Bolton is notorious for their bike course as it has 1600m elevation gain throughout course.
My closest training ride was an 85 miler which I did and it took me 6 hrs 40 mins to complete on 1100m elevation gain. I knew I had a reasonable chance of completing the swim ok, but my main worry going into this event was to complete the bike course without being pulled off at the end for not meeting the cut off time of 4.30pm after the start of the race.
I knew that if I got through the bike course without being pulled off I should be ok on the run. The bike course was a 14 mile point to point to start off which was a slight gradient throughout, and then you began the 3 loop section of the course. The beginning of each loop was the hardest part with the infamous Sheephouse Lane (approx. 2.5 mile steep climb part of the loop).
Although I saw a few sheep on the road side they didn’t attack us J
At the start of Sheephouse Lane it is pretty cool seeing over a couple of hundred spectators ring cowbells and cheering you on. The laneway closes in on you with spectators so close on either side that they could easily reach out and touch you. You get a feeling like you are about to embark on one of the infamous Tour de France mountain climbs such as the Alpe D'huez. This wee clip gives you an idea (on a bigger scale) of what it looks like from a riders perspective (although I don’t share Voigt’s opinion on spectators standing on the roads as well as the pathways)
A couple of minutes later as you leave a little village area that you are in you enter the mighty Sheephouse Lane and its gradual ascent takes force on your legs. It goes on for a while then just towards the end the gradient increases and there is a long straight part. To overcome this I found that a couple of techniques helped me. Firstly, I tried to closely monitor my pace. I kept focusing on really thinking to go slower than I could comfortably ride certain parts of the steep climb; in other words, if at parts I felt slightly out of breath at any part, I purposely slowed down a little and made sure I was just steadily turning pedal stroke by pedal stroke.
Here is a video clip of the infamous Sheephouse Lane :-
It rained in fleeting showers but thankfully it wasn’t too severe during this stage (especially on those dangerous descents).
On this type of triathlon there are pretty strict drafting rules – no drafting within 10 metres of other bikes and 1.5 metres whilst overtaking within a 15 second time limit. There are penalties and possible disqualifications if seen to be doing so. Thankfully I actively don’t try to draft, but I know from experience in the Dublin Belfast Maracycle I did last year it can save you about 20-30% of effort level if you can draft behind another rider.
At the end of the section I gave my bike to one of the volunteers to rack and headed into Rivington School transition changing room T1 (transition 1). On the way out I heard a ‘hello Phil’ and to my surprise was a fellow Tri Limits athlete Gary who was also doing his first official IM. We chatted briefly and set our way.
Transition time was just over 15 mins in T2.
Run 4hrs 51 mins. Just under 11 min mile. AHR 146 BPM
The route was initially a 8 miler point to point canal path run and a bit of road until we got to the main loop section in the Bolton town centre. During the start of the run point to point section a fellow runner was matching my pace. We at times took over each other and I can distinctly remember the rhythm of each of our footfalls matching each other exactly. Although I didn’t know him from Adam if you picture the classic ‘iron war’ footage of Dave Scott and Mark Allen the scene was similar to this : -
I decided that I didn’t want to get into some sort of race with this guy so a went for a quick pee stop and paid my water taxes and allowed him to run ahead.
My planning going into the marathon part of this event was to go at my own pace and try to continue running without stopping throughout. In my first full distance iron event last year I ended up after about 6 miles turning into a run/walking for the remainder of it. This occurring last year was pretty demotivating. I realise that the run/walk technique can work quite well for some people but I find it tough to get back running when I start walking at intervals.
Fair enough throughout this run I was finding many people overtake me because I was maintaining a steady pace, but I didn’t mind this. I was very focused and tried to maintain this focus of mind and not get too distracted. I did regularly thank and clap hands with spectators as I passed smiling as I did so, however I didn’t stay too long even at the feed stations. The feed stations were great I have to say with the young Army cadets manning them and being very helpful giving out various drinks and energy foods. I tried their gels which happened to be Powergel which were horrible, so I only had a few of these. The half bananas that had also been given out during the bike portion were working out well for me so I just stuck with them every so often.
Towards the end of the run I was dying for salt as all I could think of was salty meals and I remembered in the race briefing being told about that after the finish Domino’s pizza was going to be dished out to participants. I was really looking forward to stuffing myself with this after finishing. Thankfully the feed stations started giving out cheesy cheddar biscuits and despite being soggy with the constant heavy rain I beat handfuls into me as I passed the stations. This helped get the salt levels back up again.
The run loop was a slight gradient into the town. Nothing too bad, thankfully not as tough as the Belfast Marathon Antrim Road part. Although harder going up initially at the start of each loop, you had just left the town centre after being pumped up from the large spectator crowd cheering and the music to get you going each time. Even along the route I was amazed at just how many people there were throughout the day in the rain. This helped us all and half way up there was a pub which had quite a few ‘happy drinkers’ giving each of us words of encouragement. There were a couple of guys as if they were on a night out with their pints in hand shouting so loud I could hear them even at the end of the loop! I gave these guys special thanks on my last run into town.
Although not of me here is some footage taken of the whole event from another competitors family for the day -
On the last loop coming into the finish of the marathon I saw Gary ( a local lad that I know through Tri Limits events in Dungannon) overtake me with some speed. I had a rough idea that we were around the 15 hr time and I knew that I had about 1 mile to go. At this stage I probably could have pushed myself to go faster, but bearing in mind I had ran the entire marathon without walking at any stage I didn’t really care about beating the 15 hr time, I just wanted to finish and not hitting the wall like Sian Welsh and Wendy Ingraham in the 1997 Ironman: -
On the last loop of the run coming back into town to finish I began to realise that it was quite likely that I was going to finish ok without any problems and finally achieve my ambition to become an Ironman.
I became a bit emotional. The only way I could describe it would be when I hear some women saying they feel ‘emotional’ and they are not sure why. From one minute to the next I was so happy, then feeling really sad, feeling tired, and then feeling ok. It’s hard to describe but instead of the earlier part of the day focusing on technique, timing, nutrition etc, my mind-set now at the end of the run had its first opportunity to wonder and think about the journey over the last four years or so getting to this moment.
I then began to truly appreciate motivational sayings such as ‘Anything is possible.”
As I finally came into the last bit of the run I turned off into the finish straight last 100 metres. It was amass with people screaming and disco lights and blaring music. I sped up and sprinted though the finish line. I felt as if I was just completing my first marathon and was so pleased with myself smiling from ear to ear, I was so, so happy.
After the finish line I was quickly presented with my medal and shown into the finishers’ tent. I scoffed down a few pieces of Domino’s pizza followed by some yummy Swiss Roll. I chatted to some other folk for a while before later heading off to collect bike and then back to the B&B for a much needed cold bath. Needless to say that night I slept like a baby with a giant smile on my face.
Monday – The day after
The day after it was kind of sad having to rub off my treasured IM race temporary tattoo. I hear some people simply refuse to rub it off and will go for days proudly looking at it in proud admiration. Maybe in the future I might get a permanent one, who knows?
A couple of hours before I was about to set off to get the Ferry back later that evening home I got a phone call from the Ironman staff to say that I forgot one of my transition bags. They said they were closing in half an hour which led me to a speedy panicky drive down to Reebok Stadium to collect my bag. Thankfully I just about made it in time as they don’t post lost/left athlete property if forgotten.
After Ironman – What now?
Looking back on the blog I started it in May 2011 with the view to one day to give myself a view on progress towards making my goal of one day calling myself a proper Ironman. The idea of a blog was helpful to me as I charted my progress. At times I could see the positive steps I was making, at other times I could see the difficulties that I had encountered and overcome along my journey. Finally I achieved my aim of the whole idea of ‘philtoiron’ namesake of the blog and can say to myself, 'Philip Ward, you are an Ironman!'
Is this the end of the philtoiron blog?
As for whether this is the end of my blog, I doubt it. The wheels of ambition have certainly grown on me. Along the last few years I have met and learned inspirational stories from so many. I have made some friends and they have not stopped at achieving their initial goal, the goals just change into new ones. Doing sporting goals whether it be running a 5k or swimming your first 1 mile in a pool changes you. Its like the quote I hear at the start of this amazing film (Spirit of the Marathon) I watch each marathon time of year says ‘when you cross the finish line, no matter how fast or slow it is, it will change your life forever’
I have memories of loving my runners up high jump medal, or when learning to swim in early twenties finally making it to the other side of a 25 m pool without having to stop half way across. These achievements I made eventually meant so much to me and encouraged me to build on them. Months of practice doing a flip turn in a pool to loving to death my early days of getting into my long morning runs of 6 miles before going to work. The endorphins and feel good factor after a run cycle or whatever should never be underestimated.