First things first, I’m glad I finished. I know I’d have been really annoyed with myself if I hadn’t. I’m grateful to the people I spoke with whilst walking for making me want to kick myself in to gear, and to Andy Potts, who ran past me to the finish for the win as I was completing my first lap of the run, inciting a tumultuous applause that fired me up for the next few kilometres!
I went to Mexico tired of training, physically and mentally, which didn’t bode well, but I tried to talk it up and get myself excited about the race. A year is a long time to be aiming at one goal and I was struggling to stay focused. It would also be my first ironman without the support of parents and close friends, so I began the trip with mixed emotions for a number of reasons. In a lot of ways I was just relieved that d-day was finally here and I didn’t have to think about it anymore.
It began the night before with a malfunctioning gps – the one I was hoping to pace my run with. My Garmin wouldn’t switch on so I ended up leaving it at the hotel, to find on my return after the race that it had since decided to work. As the pro race started there were performing dolphins, which as you may understand, did not impress me at all, and then as I jumped off the 10 foot high boardwalk (around all the captive marine life!) into the water, my goggles flew off provoking a few seconds of unnecessary panic trying to fish them out before they sank to the bottom 30 feet below! Not the best pre-race state of mind to be in..
2 minutes before the gun, and I’m on the start line with 2300+ others, treading water and all remarkably well behaved (no real forward drift) and spread out. Despite the numbers, I have to say that it was probably the least stressful or violent swim start I’ve ever been in. The National Club Relays in the UK for those of you who know them (involving only a 400m swim) remains the most vicious swim I’ve ever started! Back in the Caribbean, with a water temperature hovering around that of your average bubble bath, wetsuits were not allowed so my goal was to try and keep the swim under an hour, and despite having the distinct impression that I was constantly being overtaken from start to finish (and swimming through a dense cloud of thumbnail sized jellyfish in the last 200m), I climbed out of the water in just under 59 minutes. Mission one complete, run through the largest transition I’ve ever been in and out onto the bike, part two.
First 30 minutes were fine, caught and passed a few others, watched a few cycling monsters (the ones who swim like a brick because their quads are wider than my shoulders) fly past me, safe in the knowledge that I’d get them back on the run.
In a race. I don’t ride my bike with any form of computer or GPS as the course and weather conditions have such a large effect on any target pacing. I prefer to go on ‘feel’ so I’m not tempted to chase any unrealistic numbers or hold back unnecessarily. On this day, I needn’t have been concerned as I couldn’t seem to hold any pace! Beyond the first 30 minutes, I couldn’t push the pace up. I could feel that my average was below what I was hoping for and the time after my first lap confirmed it. I was ambitiously, but not unrealistically I thought, aiming at a 5 hour (or as near as I could get) bike split, but for some reason, my legs weren’t responding, and as the wind got progressively heavier (but still nothing like a good Lanzarote wind) the steady progression of cyclists passing me increased in volume. Maybe I was just tired, maybe I wasn’t prepared well enough for being in the aero position for 5 or more hours, whatever it was, it was demoralising. I was then convincingly ‘chicked’ by the girls I’d not long overtaken after the swim, and then by some others too! At a loss as to how to get my body to step up a gear (my nutrition and hydration was as planned) my mind began to wander and I was overcome by a real desire to just go jump in the sea and play with the fish! I wasn’t enjoying myself, even slightly. 150km into the bike, I was that annoyed with the race that I decided to actually STOP to have a pee (!) and as I put my foot down on the floor something tightened in my lower back and for the next 30km was a constant presence. As far as I was concerned at that point, my race was over, and I just wanted to get off the bike. I finished with a bike split that was 30 minutes and more, slower than I wanted – actually very close to the bike split I managed on my first IM on a hillier course over 3 years ago – and waddled into transition believing that I’d probably struggle to walk properly (memories of my back nearly seizing up completely during my last half IM were still fresh), let alone run.
Wrong again, I did the first 7km at the pace I was hoping for, and without my Garmin to tell me about it. My back loosened up completely but then, as on the bike, I slowed down, this time to a walk. Again, physically (particularly based on the later return to form) I don’t know what happened. It was humid and I have no doubt that this had some effect, but my nutrition was as it should have been and I’d just been running fairly comfortably in the heat.
Now the mind games really began, and the effects of a good few weeks of questioning my motivations really surfaced. I knew my original targets were no longer possible, and with them the chance of a Kona slot had evaporated, and here’s the thing – I didn’t care. For the first time since I began the sport, I wasn’t interested in the race, my mind was wandering all over the place, and for reasons unbeknown even to myself, I sat down, just to know what it would feel like to stop in the middle of a race. I wanted it to end so I could go and buy a burger and fries and think about something else. I kept walking, and trying to make myself quit. I couldn’t find a good reason to be there, no reason to put myself through it, but I kept walking. Spoke to a couple of people I’d met earlier in the week as they walked or jogged by and still I kept going. The crowds in town (and they were very enthusiastic) urged me back into a steady trot for another few kilometres and back out towards the far end of the course. As I reached half way I knew I wasn’t going to drop out, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
With 10miles to go, I saw another familiar face heading the other way on the loop, still running and I thought – I’ve had enough, the quicker you run, the sooner it’ll be over! I calculated that technically I could still get there in less than 11 hours, so, in true Forrest Gump style, all caution out of the window (and swearing at myself continually), I ran. It came easy, the sun was nearly down and the temperature significantly cooler, and the miles fell away as I passed scores of people all the way home. It was during those final miles, that for a while, it felt good, and I almost enjoyed it! Total time - 10hrs 59mins, with the last 9 miles (15km) in 1hr 10mins. My first finish in the dark! And without familiar faces to collapse onto at the finish or help me home I must admit it was a bit of an anticlimax. But thanks to those of you who I met during the week and were there with some words of support at various important moments during the day.
I finished, good.
I didn’t get a PB, not so good. Although I will claim the swim as a PB owing to a lack of wetsuit assistance!
No Kona slot, and that’s ok. It’s time for me to admit that I need a break from IM (racing), at least for a season. My body and perhaps more importantly, my mind is not ready to achieve what I’ve asked of them. I’m not strong enough on the bike in particular, nor do I enjoy it enough right now to do what it takes to get to that level. I take my hat off to those who can focus single-mindedly on training for this sport, but for me, on its own, it’s not enough, and for a while at least I need to do some other stuff. It’ll probably still be something crazy, maybe even more so, but without so much structure, and fun. I want to rediscover the enjoyment, and be able to focus on some other things (such as boat building for example ;-) ) without the time and financial pressures of training and racing ironman. I’m sure I’ll be back to it soon enough but for now it’s time to let it go.
Thank you all for showing an interest and for your words of encouragement and support from afar.
Thanks for the loan of the wheels Storm, sorry I couldn’t give them the fast race I was hoping for!
Wow, rain has stopped, maybe I’ll get to those ruins yet...