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The Journey to Ironman – Part 3

Here I was, walking into the running store, feeling a little apprehensive about asking questions. I could not have been more surprised. The staff were amazing, so helpful. I have always simply picked a pair of shoes that were the latest style, or that I simply liked the look of, however; these people took “shoe shopping” to a totally different level. They looked at my current shoes, how I landed, my stride length and suggested custom orthotics based on the wear pattern.

My lower back has always given me some issues, however with the kilometres I had been doing, it was starting to be troublesome. A couple of weeks later I was running pain free, it seemed effortless with the new gear and suggestions they provided. I felt great, what could be my next goal? 70.3 Ironman (half the distance of a full one) seemed like a good idea. I signed up. I had three months to plan and prepare, this would keep me focused and motivated – it was time to crank it up.

Swim 1.9 km (1.2 miles), Bike 90 km (56 miles), Run 21.2 km (half marathon). One segment after the other, all within 8.5 hours. A big feat for the average athlete, my mindset was focused on determination, consistency and to be relentless, I knew I could do it. Off to the pool, no problem I thought. I could barely swim two lengths (50 m) without feeling anxious, claustrophobic and out of gas quickly. I began thinking how was I going to swim 1.9 km (1900 metres) when I can’t even swim 50m! I phoned a friend of mine – Grant, a swim/triathlon coach, and after talking to him about my goals and concerns – he was my guy.

First swim lesson was back to the basics. I felt embarrassed being there if I am honest. Here I was, 6’6” – in the shallow end, all these strong swimmers flying by me. Every time they laughed as a group, my paranoia kicked into overdrive. I just had to block that out and focus on myself. Grants way of swimming is having you move through the water efficiently, to conserve energy, while focusing on streamlining and balance. I felt much more confident and things started to click over the three months. 4:30 am alarm times, 5:30 am swim starts three times a week (my own practice) swim lessons, running, it was a busy time.

I also needed a bike, which was a little more challenging based on my height. I was introduced to Kiley who was one of Grants previous clients and a two time Ironman. He was a similar height and weight to me, once again the information he shared was unbelievable. His bike seemed perfect for me. Once we had determined the frame size, I picked up a used one. Grant helped me with a custom bike fit, which included making changes to the setup to optimize comfort, performance and efficiency. Through meeting many different people along this journey, I learned that this community of likeminded people are all in it to share, to encourage, to help wherever they can. I will never be first in my age group, however this group made me feel like that.

Race day came and there I was with 900 other athletes. Nervous and excited all at the same time, it was such a good feeling to step into the ring, a real sense of accomplishment. I headed over to the start line, it was a self-seeding event, no point me going first out the gate to get swam over, I headed to the last third of the pack. Within the first five minutes of getting into that water, I knew why they call it the “washing machine”. Fists, elbows, feet, just flying everywhere. People pulling you back, climbing over you, it was a rough start. There must have been 10 or 20 swimmers stop to reach out to the safety canoes to not continue on. I can only think that maybe they got hurt or it was too aggressive. I ploughed ahead, out of the water at the 44 minute mark, off with the wetsuit, bike shoes on, helmet on and onto the bike. This time I was focused on the correct nutrition and hydration during the bike leg. Grants plan worked perfectly for me – 90 km in just under three hours. Off the bike with my licorice legs, running shoes on, just a half marathon to go. Once my legs recovered after 10 minutes or so, I felt good, fit and strong. The last km of the run was a blur if I am honest, getting ready to cross that line; I was even a little tearful.

My family were there cheering me on, such a good feeling of euphoria considering where I had come from and what I had done to reach that finish line. Two hours and 10 minutes was my time on the run. The hours put in, the determination, the time away, the frustration, all rolled into one. My finish time overall was six hours and five minutes for all three segments – I was so thrilled with just finishing within the cut off, that is all I wanted.

The following day I felt fine, no soreness, no tiredness, all the aches and pains of the marathon seemed a thing of the past. Listen to the sports nutritionists, the good ones (Grant) really know their stuff. What a difference his plan made during the event and the day after, executed to perfection.

This whole experience proved to me that you can do anything you want should you choose to give it your all. Physical exercise is all on you, and your effort only. I read a comment from an Ironman book that follows me “The trick is to start, to start something, you may not be the quickest or the strongest when you are done, however; you’ll be much stronger than the ones who never tried”. We have all said “I will work out tomorrow” and put things off, while we sit down and scroll through our mindless social media feeds. At the end of the day it is up to you, and you only. 2019 was a good year; Half marathon, Full marathon, Half Ironman – 50 lbs (3.5 stone) down. Time to rest up for a couple of weeks – let us see what 2020 has lined up.

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