Supporters shuttled up to Heartbreak Hill and camped out near the summit. By now the temperature was creeping up towards 32°C. TC was the first Pirate over the climb, clearly feeling strong as he sailed past his cheering comrades. His 14-hour training weeks were paying off for all to see. Again, one by one they came past. Although the time gaps between them were growing, so were their grins as they saw the amount of support waiting for them at the crest of the hill. Lindi was the first female to reach the top. "I had a nightmare coming out of the first transition and crashed into the barriers," she said. But she was patently having a great ride. "Some people said I didn't have a chance of completing this, so it was great to be out there proving them wrong."
Cougie in full flight
The Pirates' second lady on the bike course was enjoying this section too. "The crowds were great; they really helped to drag you up the climbs," said Monique.
However one Pirate was already on the ropes and had to call it a day. Dangerous Dave had struggled with the swim, but he found the heat too hard to deal with on the bike and couldn't recover after climbing The Beast. "My heart rate was over 180bpm and I just could get it down. I knew it was time to stop," he explained. But instead of heading back to the hotel for a post-race shower, he joined the supporters to cheer on his fellow Pirates.
By the second time up Heartbreak Hill, a few cracks were beginning to show, with each Pirate finding the race tough for different reasons. Flattening your riding position over aero bars means it's hard to take on food properly, and it can put strain on your back. Godzilla briefly stopped because of a sore knee, while others were simply slowing down due to the intense heat. "But every few minutes, you'd see another Pirate out on the course. You'd high-five, have a chat and that really kept you going," said Zilla.
"My first two laps were okay on the bike," Andy Collier said, "But on the third I could feel my Achilles go and I had to stop by the side of the road for half an hour. I was throwing up, but I never thought about quitting – I've been through much worse and there was no way I was going to set a precedent by pulling out." So like all true Ironmen, each one dug deep into their reserves to carry on. "I had to stop for two rests during the cycle," added Carl Barthorpe. "They really helped me carry on."
When Pirate Dermot met Andy Collier in his local gym and accepted the IM challenge he had no idea he was letting himself in for such an event. "I ran my first and only marathon in 1987, and it was the bike section here I found the hardest. My nutrition was all wrong, but I still loved every minute of it."
As the majority of the spectators began to thin out and head towards the run course, the Pirates' supporters faithfully remained on Heartbreak Hill and cheered on the final cyclists as they completed their second laps, before finally moving themselves and their banners down to the run.
Competitors now had to run 26.2 miles over four flat laps. But after six or seven hours on the bike, each mile was a battle in itself. "My body didn't know what it wanted when I started the run," said Monique. "I went through the aid stations trying to eat and drink as much as possible."
The lap-based marathon course meant there were plenty of opportunities for Pirates to encourage each other and to hear encouraging words from their supporters and loved ones. "My Tish was there at the run start. It was a great sight after being on the bike for so long," explained Cartman.
However by now Zilla was now on his last legs, and with just 10 miles to go he had to call it quits. "I couldn't even walk any more and my stomach was causing me serious problems. But I'll be back to give it another go."
For another Pirate, the marathon was a completely new experience. "I'd only ever run a half-marathon before, and that was at Bala," said Avalaf. "But I've come such a long way since giving up smoking and changing my lifestyle in the last year, that there was no way I wasn't going to finish."
"The run was really tough, but I didn't think of quitting. Not even once," added Oxy.
With The Count the first to begin his final lap, it was time for the supporters to move onto the finishing straight. For five hours they nervously waited and counted home each Pirate. "I took about 15 hours to finish," said Andy Collier, whose PB is 11 hours, "but that's not a problem at all. I'm proud I finished. That was the best race I've ever done. I had a quick shower and some food in the recovery area. Then I was out there in the stands waiting for the others to finish."