Transforming An Ironman Newbie: Ratbag

From No Tri to Ironman Tri in one season


Posted: 8 June 2005


Ratbag at the Bala Tri in June 2005

In summer 2004, more than 20 forum members pledged to take on Ironman Switzerland in July 2005 - that's a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and 26.2-mile run. Many of them - including Ratbag - were complete triathlon newbies at the time... Here's Ratbag's story to June 05

It’s a pretty good bet that all the forumites who thought an Ironman triathlon sounds like fun have been told by their friends and family that their sanity was a little questionable. But when Ratbag announced that he was aiming to do the race in Zurich by way of a 50th birthday celebration, most people who knew him thought he was plain loopy.

“Everyone thinks I’m mad,” he admits. A seasoned runner, with marathons under his race belt, Ratbag was fit, but had a major psychological barrier to overcome if he was to even contemplate doing an Ironman. “When I was about seven I had a near-drowning experience in the Thames,” he explains. Fortunately he had the absolute support of the one person that really counted: “when I sat down with my partner before Christmas she said ‘go for it’. You need someone very supportive to do it, as you tend to get a bit obsessive,” he says gratefully.

In a pool Ratbag could swim a little, but the prospect of open water was terrifying. He decided to learn to do front crawl properly and get his confidence up before making the final decision about Zurich.

“When I started out in January, I could swim two lengths before I was hanging on to the edge of the pool gasping. I had some on-one-one lessons, and swam by myself three times a week and got up to doing 100 lengths,” he says.

So far so good – now he needed to test himself. At the end of May, Ratbag entered the Blenheim Triathlon, his first open-water event.

“I put my face in the water and I almost freaked out.” Hundreds of lengths up and down the local pool had not prepared him for the murky, disorienting experience of swimming in a lake.


Ratbag at the Bala Tri in June 2005

“I was on the edge of a panic attack. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face in the water it was so muddy. The guy in the canoe asked me if I wanted to get out. I wasn’t far from last. I knew that if I could get out of the water in one piece I’d feel comfortable on dry land.”

Back on the shore, Ratbag was in his element, and rode and ran well to finish the race in 1:37. Since then, he’s vowed to properly get to grips the concept of open-water swimming. He’s been getting up at 4.30am to drive round the M25 to Heron Lake and practice swimming there, and says he will do whatever it takes. “I’m even thinking of going to see a hynotherapist – it’s not going to beat me.”

The Bala middle-distance race in June was the next step – before the race, Ratbag said it could be make or break. A pre-race trial didn’t go perfectly – the water was choppy, and extremely cold – but come race day he did what he needed to do, completing the 2K swim, 80K bike and 20K run in 5-36.

Training for the Ironman has had a positive impact on Ratbag’s running. “I did my fastest marathon, and half-marathon, with no speedwork, on the back of my ironman training,” he says. With just over a month to go until Zurich, he knows that he is on course to reach his goal. The 3.8K swim is still daunting, but no longer seems impossible.

“If I can get out of the water in less than two hours I’ll be happy,” Ratbag says. He’s looking forward to the point in the race when he’ll only have a 112-mile bike and marathon to go.


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