There is no challenge too great.
On July 29th with 35 degree heat at around 7.05pm I crossed the line, completing my first ever Ironman. This is my journey…
An Ironman begins with a 2.4 mile swim, transitioning to a 112 mile bike ride, finishing with a 26.2 mile run. So most people will ask me why? Why an earth would you want to do that. Well for me I can honestly say I just love a challenge. Anything that is a little bit different, seen to be a little tricky, well, I will give it a good go.
I first heard about Ironman when living in Niseko, Japan. There was a guy who used to come in the pool who was known by lots of people because he was pretty good at ironman (by pretty good I think if I recall he competed at worlds). I used to occasionally swim in his lane and spoke to him about the event. I thought ‘hmmm I could definitely have a crack at that’ and from then the seed was planted and it was going to happen.
I moved to Whistler in the beginning of July 2017 and coincidentally one of the many Ironman events happened to be right here in the town. Perfect! That first year I worked in the Ironman merchandise store, spoke to a lot of Athletes and even bought some goggles and got a tri suit in preparation. By March 7th 2018 I was signed up.
I began training unintentionally around October/November. I knew I was going to do this, I just hadn’t signed up and made it real yet. I heard once the more you say something the more real it becomes so I just kept saying I’m doing Ironman this year. Late November was the point when I was one hundred per cent in it. From here I built on my fitness with regular strength training throughout December. I worked on creating a foundation of strength to progress from.
Late December I began spinning regularly at TAG, a local spin studio. Their group of instructors and even class attendees helped in so many ways. I am not a cyclist so this is the major thing I had to learn and work hard at. I did a couple of 1.5 and 3 hour spin classes over the winter and they were intense to say the least. The energy from the coaches helped you get through. I trained mostly in my nike studio shoes and yoga pants until a kind lady in the group actually gave me some clip in shoes and they really do make a difference! I knew I needed to purchase some but was just putting it off. Ironman definitely is not cheap.
During the winter months I continued running as normal both inside and outside. I also swam at least once a week in the local pool. I did not have a coach and did not intend on getting one. I am lucky enough to live in a town full of amazing athletes all happy to share their knowledge if they can. Richlife was nice enough to provide me with a thorough email of information which I could work from to figure out the best way to train for me. I also knew other people taking part who I would check in with to see if I was keeping to a similar level of training.
In the Thick of It
So the hardest part of my training was definitely just getting out of the door. As a Personal Trainer I would often say this to clients when they turn up to a class but it’s so true. To peel yourself away from a cosy, warm, relaxing area to go bust your guts is one tricky step. So yes, getting my shoes on and taking that step out of the front door was what I found most difficult.
I had a few trips planned in amongst my training, two back to England and one to Hawaii. My visits back to England were short and sweet so I planned my training in advance around these to allow for very little disturbance. Life still goes on and one thing I did not want to happen was to not have a life whilst I took this journey. In Hawaii I woke up early most mornings to get what training in that was needed then I would spend the rest of the time with the girls doing fun holiday things like cliff jumping, snorkeling and hiking. I think it is important to not get swallowed up by how intense the training can be and to enjoy each part of it. In Hawaii I cycled around the West Maui Loop through the mountains feeling complete gratitude towards everything I have in life.
My training was done mostly in Whistler, it can be long but I was lucky enough to train in one of the most beautiful areas in the World. Surrounded by mountains and incredible views training was never that bad. The scariest thing coming from England was the fear of getting eaten by a cougar or charged at by a bear, luckily it never happened. Touch wood for the future.
Through the main part of my training I would cycle anywhere between 2 and 6 hours. I would occasionally do hill repeats on the Callaghan. When I swam I would always aim to cover the full 4k and would include a long steady swim once a week as well as a fast paced interval session. Apart from doing a marathon leading up to Ironman the distances I would usually run would be anything between 7 and 12 miles. I would also do interval runs on the treadmill once a week for around 15 to 20 minutes. I also continued strength training and core work throughout. Some sessions would involve a brick workout where I would bike and then quickly change to do a run.
Tapering (The easy part)
Nearing race day I began to taper. This means to gradually decrease the volume of training. To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing at this point and it was a bit overwhelming. I was constantly questioning myself as to whether I was doing enough, but then I had to remind myself it’s too late now so let’s just hope. At this point I actually had a structured plan for the final week leading up to the race and properly stuck to it. This is where a guy called Ian came in, I had been out on a long bike ride with him a few weeks previous and he offered to give me further advice if needed. I text him a few times to figure out what I should be doing.
The week leading up consisted of;
Saturday; Ride to Pemberton and back followed by 30 minute run then soak legs in the River of Golden Dreams
Sunday; 1 hr 30 run followed by 20 minute recovery swim
Monday; One hour swim in wetsuit
Tuesday; 20 minute swim, 30 minute bike, 20 minute run
Wednesday; TOTAL REST
Thursday; High cadence 1 hour easy bike, 20 minute run then 20 min recovery swim
Friday; TOTAL REST
Saturday; 20 minute lake swim, 20 minute bike. Check bike and gear in.
Sunday; Race Day
You have a choice race day, more sleep or food. Obviously I chose food. There was no way I was starting a race that could last all day with not putting something in my stomach. Who knows when I would eat something solid again that day! My alarm was set for 4am and my aim was to leave the house for 4.30 to be at the shuttles by 4.45. I think I cut it a bit too fine for early morning prep but it was what it was and I just had to be quick.
I ate a bagel with peanut butter and had some water to soak it down. I then went to T2 (transition area for bike to run) and put in my nutrition and a last minute sun hat that was a lifesaver in the heat given to me from Jim. I then quickly got in line for the shuttles which was stupidly long. I did get a bit antsy but soon calmed myself down because we all had to get there so surely they wouldn’t make us late. My race started at 6am and we had to drive about a ten minute trip to the lake. I still had to blow my tires up on my bike as I let them down due to the heat, put my nutrition on the bike and of course go for a nervous wee.
We saw a bear on route to the lake and I actually stayed pretty calm considering. We got there and I was a girl on a mission, straight to my bike I passed a guy with a pump, I managed to rope him in to pump my tires up. I put all my nutrition on the bike, had a last few sips of water, went to the bathroom and then dunked quickly to get my wetsuit filled up with water. I don’t do much of a warm up and never have done apart from nervously jitter up and down on the spot and psych myself up. I start to visualize the day and how it will unfold. Then I bring that visualization back down to focus just on the swim.
We all were summoned to the start line. The Pros were at the front and start slightly earlier than us. There were signs along the area as to what time you think you will do, or want to do. I lined up around the 1hr 5 minutes mark, slap bang in the middle of the <1 hour and 1.10. I started chatting to some nice guys behind me who helped me feel a little less nervous, they assured me it wouldn’t be that bad and I would find some clear water. There were 1461 competitors, you can imagine the scene. We started at 6.05am a little late and were filtered into a smaller area to prevent a mass start. As soon as I was over the line activating my chip I high kneed it into the water and began to swim. It was white water. I got a few arms pushing into me, a few feet very close to the face and choked within the first leg twice but was determined not to bob up. I kept my head down and went slightly wider on my second leg. By the third leg I went even wider just to get out of the way of the mayhem. There were a few points where I was cornered off by two swimmers coming across diagonally so would have to ease off and go around the outside. By the third, fourth, fifth and sixth leg I had a relatively clear path and also had started to get in a pretty good rhythm.
When training in the pool I used to get in a pretty meditative state swimming long distance counting lengths. I found it difficult switching to open water as I could no longer do this until one day I found a new method. I would count my arm strokes 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8. I would do this repetitively until I had swam the distance. Every 4 I would breathe and ever 8 I would sight. I got into this rhythm until leg 7 and 8 when it went back to carnage one more time. It was OK though, I knew the end was coming up. Before I knew it I was at the beach, I swam all the way in until my hand touched the bottom then I knew it was shallow enough to stand up and run out. As I ran out the guy on the microphone said my name and also said I was one of the fastest Whistler Locals out of the water for my age group. I was pretty stoked and ran off with my gear bag into the tent.
Transition was fast, I pulled my wetsuit off, helmet and glasses on my head, a layer of anti chaffing cream, sprayed on sun screen, shoes slipped on and I ran out, anti chaffing cream still in my hand as I couldn’t get it into my jersey! I was given advice to take my time through transitions but instead I ran out with my bike and anti chaffing cream and off I went. T1 transition time was 3 minutes and 3 seconds and credit to the volunteers who were on top form!
Now this is the section I really was not confident about. Again thanks to Ian, I felt more confident going into the race than I had a month or so previous. I had a road bike that seemed to do the job well enough that I bought in exchange for selling my mountain bike. It was a sad time but I had to get something I could train on leading into the race.
I began cycling down from Rainbow Park heading towards Alpine to get my first leg in up to the Callaghan. So the number one thing I took from my ride out with Ian is actually you want to be in the easier gears nearly almost all of the time. Fast legs, high cadence hits more into the cardio zone and I definitely had not been training like this up until that ride out. Instead I had been grinding them tough gears all the way up hills. Every time I would hit a hill I did enjoy it that bit more than how I used to ride!
During my long training rides I would always sing and coming down the Callaghan it just came out naturally. I did feel a bit bad at one point though when I realised the people struggling up the hill could hear me enjoying a good sing song as I coasted down.
To be honest when I look back at the ride even though it took almost 7 hours it seemed like it went by so fast. I was worried going into the race that I would be close to the cut off time. I had never done the full distance and was actually a bit unsure as to what time I would be able to complete it in. I also was a bit anxious as to how my bike would hold up as sometimes it gets a bit clunky in the gears as I would go up hills.
Luckily I sailed through the bike section, I kept telling myself to be safe, stay in control and just keep pedalling. There were quite a few bike incidents along the route. The only blip I had during the bike leg was that I missed aid on the second from last aid station before the run. Realistically I should have just stopped and got it as I had nothing left on my bike apart from one water. Unfortunately I was in the zone and just kept going, I knew as soon as I passed it that it was a bad move and eased off quite a bit going up alta lake road for the final hill. I coasted most of the way down as much as I could and then picked up Cliff blocks from the final aid station before the run. I scoffed three in one go and drank quite a bit of water.
I was incredibly relieved to be on the home stretch coming into T2 for the run. For me as soon as the bike was over I knew I would finish. Even if I had to crawl to the finish line before midnight I knew I would get there.
Coming into T2 I gave my bike to the volunteers, took my watch off the handlebars and salt sticks out from my bike pouch. I took my shoes off and actually walked over rather than ran to get my bag. My legs were a bit jellied so I was easing them into what was coming. I grabbed my bag and went into the change tent. This transition took a bit longer, mainly because I was pretty pooped. I changed outfits as I always run in run shorts and wasn’t really a fan of my tri suit for running. I would rather take a few seconds longer changing than be uncomfortable for 26 miles. I had some water from the table in the middle, put a handful of salt tabs in my pocket and put my race belt on. A lady took my bag that I was leaving and I headed out of the tent. Pit stop in the portaloos and then I began my jog. I came in with a girl and left with a girl so actually my quick change did not take too long. T2 took 6 minutes 25 seconds.
It was a great atmosphere to begin the run and I saw quite a few familiar faces to get me going. We started from the middle of town and headed out to Lost Lake. All I could think of was a nice ice filled glass of Coca Cola. This is what I trained with so I was ready for it. The first aid station came up and I had a glass of Pepsi and a glass of water. I aimed to walk through aid stations and run in between. After the second aid station I had to ease off. I got quite severe stomach cramps, I tried my best to run through them but I had a long way to go. It made sense to ease off here get some more fuel into me and then carry on when they had died down a bit. I also took the time to go to the bathroom once more. I walked and then picked a point in my head where as soon as I got to it I had to run. I was off running again but by the end of the first lap going into my second the cramps reappeared briefly. I got some salt into me, water and more fuel. They disappeared into the second lap and stayed away.
I was in a great head space for the entire race. There was not one point during the event where I thought I would not make it. To be honest whenever I do a challenging activity I kind of go in a bit of a zone where not much is going on up in my head apart from getting to the end.
All in all the run was a bit of a blur. It felt slightly easier than what it should have been mentally as I had ran similar routes before so I knew each section and estimated how far different points would be. I did begin to get a bit of chaffing under my right arm but luckily there was an aid station with some vaseline to the rescue.
Every single moment I could I would drench myself in water and ice. I actually turned my visor upside down to catch ice inside and keep it on my head, another top tip I was given. It was a hot day out there and you really had to listen to your body to keep it going.
I remember heading out to Green Lake and at the turn around I knew I had done this distance heaps before. I was almost there. I live in Alpine so this was home ground right here. I was so excited to get in to the finish line, each aid station I still continued to walk through and take what was needed. The second from last station I used the toilet once more and headed in for home. Nearing the end I had my crew of supporters cheering me in, I actually felt surprisingly good considering. I saw the finish, I started to run faster and then little did I know it was not a straight run to the finish there was still one more detour. I had committed to the run now so I kept it up and before I knew it I was coming down through the crowds. I could see Patrick (my boyfriend) and my girlfriends Rae and Christina cheering me through, of course I had to stop and do a rolly polly and then off I powered to the very end. 13 hours and 35 seconds. I was done.
I was met by so many lovely faces at the end and I was so happy! My goal was to finish and I was stoked to finish before dinner time. Those of you who know me know my love for food so going a day on a liquid diet is kind of a big deal.
I was handed my medal by some lovely staff from the Whistler Lululemon store where I used to work. They also had some flowers for me which were absolutely beautiful. I also was given some Prosecco and a bouquet of Mochi! I was overwhelmed and didn’t really know what to do with myself.
Patrick had been live streaming videos on facebook for my family back home and they had all been tracking me. I sat down with my friends and had some pizza which was much needed! I also had a Coca Cola and lots of water. I briefly face timed my mum and then went for a massage. My hip flexors had given out on the run so it was definitely needed.
Everyone couldn’t help me enough and I appreciated more than anything. Rae went and picked my gear and bike up. Patrick then cycled it back to the car and then came to pick us up. He emptied all my things when we got home as I wobbled around. He then made me noodles and I ate my bowl plus half of his and we were both in bed by 10pm.
I had over 50 notifications from so many amazing people and felt so supported. It was the greatest feeling going to bed that night, a mixture of pain and complete gratitude for everything and everyone. I had done it. It was a long journey and a lot of time but it was definitely worth it and yes, I would do it again.
Many thanks to everyone who sponsored me along the way. I chose to raise money for British Heart and ended up raising a total of £455.45.
An extra special thank you to
Paddy; for letting me go train and eating all of the eggs, also for actually signing me up as when I saw the price I left the house in a grump and closed the laptop up
Mum and Dad; for coming to visit me in Canada and showing me all the love and support in the world
Chris; for letting me use him as a training tool and allowing me to pull him and his boat across a lake
Vicky; for pestering Pad to look after me when I train for so long
Ian; for teaching me how to bike-who knew it would be so difficult
All the friends; for having to put training into the mix when organizing things and being so understanding
TAG Spin studio; for having absolute rock star coaches!