6:50am on 18th August: standing in the calm, brackish water of the Baltic Sea, I cannot quite believe that this day has finally arrived and I am about to take on my second Ironman race.
A year of training, a year of dreaming about this moment, a year of worrying if it will all come together and if my hard work will pay off, a year of boring my husband and all my friends with ‘Ironman’ talk, and a year of thinking about swimming, cycling, running, nutrition, physio, massage, stretching, recovery days, and not much else! Here I am.
The sun is rising, casting orange stripes across the early morning sky in South East Sweden, and I am standing next to my friend Ben, knee deep in the cold water, ready for the start gun. We are nervous but so excited, and the atmosphere is electric, with hundreds of people lining up on the breakwater to watch us start our longest day.
… The gun goes off, and I am swimming with 1500 other athletes, all trying to find their space, as we head out to the first yellow buoy. I am aware of not using too much energy too soon, so I take it easy and manage to stay on the outside of the group.
Under the water, a smile breaks across my face, as I think to myself ‘This is it, I’m here, I am swimming in Ironman Sweden, and this is going to be a great day!’
The feeling at this stage is similar to getting on a plane after preparing for a trip, thinking ‘there is nothing more I can do now to prepare, and you sigh deeply and just live in the moment’.
The swim goes well, apart from turning at a couple of buoys, when I get caught up in the melee of swimmers, and get elbowed in the ribs, punched in the face, and swam over by a swimmer behind me, but I fight my way out of it by kicking my legs hard, and carry on, trying to keep my distance from the main group. This slows me down, and I exit the water a few minutes slower then I hoped, but I am still out of transition and onto my bike by my planned time so I don’t worry too much.
.. Relieved to be out on my bike, I set off at a good pace (for me) , and head over the 6km long Oland Bridge to the island of Oland where the first bike loop covers 104km.
The route is flat and fast, and passes through small typical Swedish villages with locals shouting and cheering as hundreds of us fly through on our bikes. Some of the corners are on cobbles, so I take it really easy around those!
I am feeling good, and loving every minute. One of the things I love most about triathlon is the exaggerated feeling of being ‘in the moment’. Something, in our modern world, I believe we are beginning to lose a sense of, as we rush, rush, rush, and forget to stop and smell the roses. Even when the going gets tough I try to relish the ‘now’ feeling, and remind myself that one day this will be a memory so enjoy whatever the race throws at me!
As I cross the Oland Bridge in the other direction, making my way to the second lap on the mainland, I start to feel the headwinds I will face on this side, and the familiar feeling of slight leg fatigue. 76 km to go. The support as we pass through the host town of Kalmar is amazing. I hear my name from the crowds, and turn to see my husband Tom, and the group of friends who have come to support Ben and I in our quest for Ironman! Their support and shouting gives me a huge lift, and I head north on the course feeling great, taking note that I am ahead of my planned schedule. ‘If I can just keep a good pace going, and not burn out, then I can finish in under 13 hrs’ I think to myself. This is my plan.
My last Ironman I finished in 14:10, and I hope to take an hour off that time in the race today, so I get my head down, and pedal into the wind which seems to be coming toward me, whichever way I turn. By 150 km, I am feeling quite tired. I have been following my nutrition plan, taking on gels, sweets, energy drinks, and banana malt loaf, at regular intervals but I can now feel myself slowing down. My neck and shoulders hurt from being in the ‘aero’ position, and I am looking forward to getting off the bike. I also get stung by a wasp which decides to fly behind my sunglasses, panic, then sting me under my eye! It hurts a bit, but worse is the swelling. At least it didn’t sting my eyelid, that could have been a real problem!
I push on, and when I finally arrive back in Kalmar, to the transition area, I am so relieved. I see Tom, and my friends again who are shouting madly and taking photos, and I tell them how saddle sore I am, to which they laugh!
…One, not that quick, transition later, and I am in my running gear, heading off for the marathon. My running shoes feel really comfy, and it is such a nice feeling to be running and not cycling anymore! The time is 3:20pm and as I had planned to be starting the marathon at 4pm, I realise that I am making good time.
I start to dream of a 4 hr marathon and what a great time that would get me, but tell myself that I have a long way to go yet, and to take things at a manageable pace. I begin 9 minute milling, but soon find myself dropping the pace, and by 10 miles, I am really starting to feel weary. My legs feel fine, but there is a lack of energy despite forcing myself to take on more drinks and gels at the aid stations.
By 20 miles, I feel otherworldly and very nauseous, but I know I have 6 miles to go, so I get my head down, force a smile for the amazing volunteers at the side of the road, and take step by painful step back to the town of Kalmar, where I can see the crowds, and hear the roar and music of the finish line. This is what gets me through the last few miles. As I run through the cobbled streets of the town, past bars and restaurants, full of people shouting ‘Heja Heja’ (Go on Go on!) I am filled with emotion. My eyes well up as I see Tom running alongside me, and I can barely look him in the eye for fear of breaking down.
…Just 1 mile to go, I shuffle like an old lady, feeling terrible, but smiling to myself, I run past the castle, over a bridge, over some particularly painful cobbles, and round a corner to see the finish line and the time I was about to achieve. I break into a sprint. I can hear ‘Kings of Leon’ playing, and the commentator telling the crowd that I am an IRON MAN!!
I run to the line with my arms in the air, I look to the skies with relief, and I relish the feeling that not only have I completed the race, but I have finished in a time of 12:46, taking 1:24 off my previous time. Sub 13 hour!
WHAT AN AMAZING FEELING!! I am presented with my medal, have my photo taken, led off to the ‘athlete garden’ where showers, ice baths, and food await me, and then I burst into tears! I am awash with emotion, so happy and euphoric, and I go back out into the crowds to find Tom. His face is full of pride, and I cry again as he gives me the biggest hug. What an amazing support he has been. My friends then turn up, and I find that Ben has also smashed his time, coming in at 11:20! So happy for him!
We waddle off to find the biggest pizza we can, proudly displaying our medal bling, and then spend the evening cheering in the rest of the competitors through the dark streets as they make their way towards the bright lights and noise of the finish line. This is whats known as ‘heroes hour’ and everybody has their ‘moment’. We feel emotional for them.
What a great day. What a fantastic experience. Will I do another one? Never say never!!