By Flipper Fingers

August 28, 2014  

It was early January when I finally decided to enter the IRONCAT TRIATHLON. The website read ‘A long distance triathlon in Catalonia for everyone. If you want to, you can do it!!!’. Sure. A new and insane challenge was needed to distract from my rather saddening and anticlimactic departure from rowing. Could this be it? […]

It was early January when I finally decided to enter the IRONCAT TRIATHLON. The website read ‘A long distance triathlon in Catalonia for everyone. If you want to, you can do it!!!’. Sure.

A new and insane challenge was needed to distract from my rather saddening and anticlimactic departure from rowing. Could this be it?

There was one problem. I’d developed a working theory on long distance triathlons: no one has ever actually completed one. Surely the whole concept is just too ludicrous? Instead, so my theory goes, competitors and maniacs alike are herded into the starting pen where, after months of sweat and toil, they are told that the whole thing is a farce and that they will only be released if they agree to propagate the lie.

Anyway, just in case my hypothesis didn’t pan out, I embarked on four months of cold, lonely, largely inconsistent and yet often highly enjoyable training.  63k of swimming, 2126k of cycling, 387k of running and 132 training hours invested across all 3 disciplines (according to ‘Garmin Connect’). Unfortunately, Garmin do not currently offer a wireless sensor for measuring units of alcohol consumed over a defined period. Regrettably, that would probably have been the most impressive figure. One for their R & D team, perhaps?

Supporting on this expedition were Becky Bates and good ol’ mum and dad. Becky was instrumental in the whole endeavour, nursing me through ill health in the preceding month and providing incredible support on the day. Mum and Dad were rushing around sourcing gels and sports drinks too. They really got into the whole event and I’m very grateful they were there. My sister, Hannah, and her partner, Nick, were also due to be with us but a foul up at the passport office left them grounded in London. They were sorely missed.

Arriving in Spain was a real shock for us. All of my training runs/rides had been in temperatures between 0 and 15 degrees centigrade. We got off the plane and were hit by a wall of 32 degree heat. Panic. After a sweltering series of train and taxi journeys we arrived at the race registration desk only to be greeted by a long snake of ultra-lean humanoids wearing the sort of garb that clad Mr Motivator in the early 90’s. When we finally made it to the front we were told that the Spanish briefing was about to start around the corner and that I’d need to watch it before I could receive my timing chip and accompanying detritus. I immediately lay down in front of the desk and pulled my cap over my face until it was over. No one seemed to mind.

Race day

The Alarm went off at 4am and I immediately started forcing down excessive quantities of low fibre carbohydrates. I was following some advice on how to prevent the need to ‘make stool’ during the race and was putting it into practice for the first time. However, if there is one thing all the forums agree on it’s ‘do not experiment on race day’. I’d pay dearly for ignoring this later on.

Whilst Cycling through Lampolla on the way to registration I was spotted by a police car. It was pitch black of course and, for a second, I imagined myself being driven off in the back of the meat wagon for having no lights. Terrible.

Racking the bike and getting all the kit sorted was a truly magical experience. Equally excited and nervous, entrants gathered in small groups to help each other, not as competitors but as comrades. We were racing against ourselves, the course, the event, everything apart from each other.

We walked to the sea front and gathered behind a line of tape held by volunteers underneath an inflatable starting gate. People were whispering to themselves, hugging each other, crying, and cheering maniacally. Thinking back to start of the project and the months of effort to get to that point, I became so excited it felt like I might burst out of my wetsuit but still, I managed to keep quiet. Becky had come down to the start with me, having dragged my kit bag all the way from the house. I looked around for her but she was nowhere to be seen. Probably scrambling around for a good vantage point to take photos, I supposed.

Then someone blew a whistle and we sprinted into the water. The strong taste of salt was overpowering. Someone kicked my Garmin watch and it fully rotated in its quick release mounting. It was my only means of pacing the race and in my mind I saw it plummeting to the bottom of the sea. I quickly turned it back into place and carried on.

We reached the first pinch point after 200 meters and people started screaming. We were like fish caught in trawler nets, all clambering over each other trying to get out of this terrible situation. ‘What happened to our camaraderie?’, I remember thinking. The field soon thinned out however, and we were left to our thoughts as we calmly watched the ocean floor pass by.

Coming out of the swim I was overjoyed to see that my time was much better than I had thought possible. ‘Money in the bank’ as one of my old rowing coaches would have said. The bike course was a flat and desolate affair. Often windy but mostly either in one’s face or at one’s back. The temperature rose steadily but the breeze and regular dousings with water kept the engine cool enough. All but the final 10k was done in the aero position. By that time I’d had ‘one in the departure lounge’ for some time and was desperate to liberate it. The price of experimenting on race day.

The first 14k of the run felt great and I held my pace comfortably. Then fatigue and the heat hit hard and my splits started to suffer. Morale was at an all-time low when, at halfway, I noticed the big race clock at the finish. It read 8.57. At that point I was incapable of predicting my finish time using the pace data from the Garmin because my brain had shrivelled to the size of a poorly cultivated pea. However, I knew I could still do a half marathon in under 2 hours if I had to. The next 2 hours were a real mix of emotions. The indescribable unpleasantness of having to put one foot in front of the other, combined with realising the ambition that had motivated every second of the 132 hours of training; to go sub 11 hours in the Ironman.

Mum, Dad and Becky were among the crowds at the finish. I fell into the arms of an organiser before I could get to them. Looking up, I saw 10:57:34 on the big finish line clock. Mission accomplished. I was then escorted to the medical tent against my will where several seemingly unorthodox tests were carried out. My beady eyes must have given the game away as I plotted my escape. ‘You’re not going anywhere’ said the doc, handing me a beer. Fine.

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