Forum v Ironman France: The long road to Nice

Ironman first-timer: forumite kittenkat
(courtesy of Michael Luchmun)

Looking back, it was a short journey. Last summer I broke my ankle out running (back from the pub) with my dog. While I was in plaster I whiled away a lot of my time on the RW forum. One morning another forumite suggested we do an Ironman. Not really knowing what it was, I signed up. Then, when I discovered I would have to swim 3.8km, bike 180km and run a full marathon, the enormity of what I had agreed to do hit me.

My determination was absolute from the start but swimming and cycling were completely new to me. I couldn’t swim front crawl at all and so I took some lessons. I came, like many people, from not being able to swim a length to the full distance. Even when I could swim, I had to overcome fears of open water swimming. It took perseverance; you have to just keep trying.

The bike posed problems too, I had to buy one for a start, and when I did I fell off twice outside the bike shop as I couldn’t cope with clipless pedals. That problem persevered through three sets of pedals until finally I found a pair I could work with. Cycling gave me lots of scary moments, my bike handling skills in the early months were atrocious but again, hours put in and a dogged determination saw steady progress.

As for running, I have been a runner for over 20 years but I’ve only ever entered about five races in this time. In fact the most competitive running I had done was the three triathlons leading up to Ironman; and the Ironman itself was my first ever marathon! All this after my ankle came out of plaster, only about nine months ago!

Race time

The emotion leading up to the race was overwhelming. I had been drunk for the first two days in Nice and I hardly slept at all in the two preceding nights. When I racked my bike on the night before the race, one of the officials asked me how old I was. "I don’t know," I said. He asked me what I wanted him to put, pointing at my leg. They mark you with your age category as well as your number. I offered that I was either 37 or 38. A guy behind me couldn't suppress his laughter any more and collapsed in giggles. Later my husband confirmed that I am 37, if anyone wants to help me out next time!

Sunday morning, it was time. As we stood on the beach, I felt immensely calm; I was refusing to tell myself that this was actually it and I was about to start an Ironman. An American woman beside me started to cry, I just put my arm round her shoulder for a moment... As we entered the water all I just kept telling myself over and over in my head "Just swim, just swim, just swim". I wouldn’t let myself break away from that mantra.

We started. I hung back with the people who were really panicking; you could see it written across their faces, I felt for them knowing full well how horrific that is. I felt OK, I swam and bobbed about a bit for the first 300m or so. I kept having the urge to turn around and look behind me, I don’t know why. As we reached the furthest buoy, I found myself slipping comfortably into my stroke, I was calm and rhythmical. I had got to that point by setting myself little targets such as, "Swim 25 strokes and then look up; right, another 25 now."

Free for all: competitors take to the water

Luckily I was swimming in a straight line otherwise I may have turned up on the Italian coast somewhere! I just swam, I was so proud of myself, it was me, no-one could tell that I was an impostor; a non-swimmer, a lifetime breastroker! I even took a few knocks, one guy did apologise for kicking me in the head, and I politely accepted his apology. A quintessential British display of politeness, which now seems a bit Monty Pythonesque. I can imagine John Cleese there, bobbing up and down, physically stopping people: "Sorry, excuse me, sorry, mind your back, thank you, I beg your pardon, awfully good of you..." I swam between the final two blue finishing buoys, a bright blue fish darted about directly beneath me; I remember just staring at it. I had done it and in an hour and 25 minutes!

T1 was interesting. I couldn’t use my towel to dry my feet as I had just wee’d on it. Bad form I know but my bladder just got stage fright in the sea with over 2,000 people there, how it then thought performing in a tent with lots of other people was any less public, I don’t know. I downed some fluids and grabbed my bike.

As soon as I started, so did my next mantra: "Eat lots, drink lots, keep pedalling." I like to keep my instructions simple! Soon I reached a short sharp climb where all the Pirates' names had been written on the road. It really made me smile - although trying to read and climb out of the saddle produced a sort of drunken bike waltz. Then I really started to enjoy the race for a bit: I was lost in my own thoughts, enjoying the views and feeling strong and proud to be there. I allowed myself to say: this is it, I’m here in the middle of it and it’s amazing!

There was a very long climb in the first half of the bike course; I found it absolutely fine as I’m built for climbing. I was on my small ring (the easier gear set) in the front of the bike and just spinning up and up the winding hills. I always find it funny in races when I hit ups and downs: I pass people going up, they pass me going down; I pass them going up on the next hill and, well, you get the picture. It amuses me!

Just as we were reaching the top of the long climb, I looked up at the bloke directly in front of me and his race number. I was following Jesus up the hill and was later on to follow Mohammed coming down the other side. I will let someone else make sense of that for me! As I passed Pirates or was passed by them, we had little chats. I kept telling people not to forget to eat and drink – ironically as it turned out. I was well into my picnic at that point having already devoured a Powerbar and peanut butter sandwich, washed down with plenty of fluids.

At about 60 miles in, I started to get stomach cramps. I have a bit of a scarred bowel so this wasn’t really new to me, but I couldn’t get rid of them. I had taken salt capsules and drunk and eaten a good quantity. Eventually I hit a point where I was certain I was about to throw up or pass out or both. I had to stop, I knew it. I was on a short hill with a feed station at the top. I made it to the station, unclipped, leaned over the bike and lay face down with my top half on the table. The nearest French marshal said something to me in French and I didn’t reply. She asked if I spoke English, to which I replied, "No!" On reflection, that answer wouldn’t have won me any prizes in a pub quiz! I just lay there, scared that this may be it. I still had nearly 40 miles to go and then the marathon. All I could think of was finding a way to keep going.

Another Pirate stopped and asked if I was OK, I repeated the above answer, I felt so bad. He suggested I drink some Coke. I never drink Coke, but now it tasted sublime. Within a few minutes I decided very shakily that I should get back on the bike. It was either going to work or I would just keel over. Luckily it was the start of a long downhill section; I just hung on. I made a slow recovery over the next 10 miles before, suddenly, my knee hurt. It was at that point I told myself that this was really about survival, nothing else. Finishing had always been my goal. I recovered quite well and finished the bike, knowing that I had to be as kind to myself as possible on the run. I was so happy to see T2!

Transition was straightforward; I smothered my knee and the soles of my feet with anti-inflammatory cream and threw sunscreen over my shoulders.

I had talked myself into thinking that a lapped run would be a good idea as I could mentally break it down into short three- or six-mile sections. I felt fairly relaxed for the first couple of laps but the thought of a third and fourth was beginning to grind me down. The Pirate support was huge and so welcome, as were my fellow Pirates out on the course with me, who I chatted to when we passed.

By the third lap, my body was very slowly beginning to say enough was enough. Thank goodness for the frequency of the feed stations. I ran between them and walked through them, enjoying drinking, eating the crackers and getting soaked with the hoses and sponges. Since the initial drink of coke on the bike bonk, I had alternated coke and water for the rest of the bike and continued this on the run. It felt like a drug, after the first hit I was hooked. Coke was nowhere in my original nutrition strategy but now I couldn’t function without it.

Coming down the final straight

I was slowing progressively with each lap and by the fourth I was beginning to get worried. I had inexplicably gone deaf in one ear and felt a bit like I was beginning to have an out-of-body experience. I knew these signs weren’t good. I started to walk on the last lap; at this point things were really really strange, physically and psychologically. At the furthest point of the last lap, I turned around; at this point for most people the elation and the realisation that you will make it began to build. Not for me: I felt that I was walking but not moving forward, it was alarmingly surreal. A New Zealander was walking beside me and talking. I was trying to focus on what he was saying, but I had the random thought that I could just wander off the track into a bar in town. I could leave this, just leave... I focused on that for a while but just kept on walking. Never ever has three miles seemed like 30. A whole lifetime later, there it was, the finishing tunnel, and the Pirates screaming at me.

I managed to run down that final bit, tears streaming down my face, I couldn’t hold it in. All I wanted to do was release the emotion, the months spent training, all the hurdles, all the elation and all the worry.

When you cross that line you ARE an Ironman and you are fantastic and beautiful and invincible!

Do it, you will never forget it.

Thank you Pirates.

Visit our forums for more Pirate IM France race reports and lots more photos too.

Have you got what it takes? The next Pirate summer outing is already being planned, a trip to Zurich for Ironman Switzerland in July 2009.

NamePosition Swim Bike Run Time
CRAB 162 1:09:15 5:35:25 3:31:16 10:28:57
g-dog 655 1:14:34 6:17:51 4:02:35 11:51:21
Monique 697 1:13:59 6:45:28 3:44:55 11:56:13
Will He Won't He? 803 1:16:19 6:39:28 3:57:34 12:11:11
Linda Robson 895 1:23:56 6:16:10 4:32:52 12:20:52
Disorderly 926 1:08:37 6:26:26 4:28:57 12:23:53
Dad Of Two (Grumpy Pirate) 930 1:23:27 6:02:35 4:38:40 12:24:27
Doozer 986 1:02:07 6:03:59 5:11:38 12:30:46
Hollywood 1009 1:03:53 6:47:44 4:26:13 12:33:56
Calf 1118 1:21:49 6:21:59 4:45:23 12:49:22
Lindy 1219 1:21:30 6:57:40 4:30:23 13:04:48
Cougie 1346 1:22:38 6:32:33 5:12:12 13:27:01
Donald 1480 1:24:45 6:33:29 5:33:41 13:48:28 1601 1:35:03 7:30:09 4:45:27 14:09:29
Bassy 1633 1:31:47 6:52:15 5:25:38 14:16:54
Crashie 1635 1:09:00 7:21:34 5:25:54 14:17:11
eccentric 1648 1:22:15 7:08:47 5:33:13 14:19:24
NM 1649 1:20:29 6:57:35 5:39:16 14:19:34
ATOM. 1651 1:20:47 7:17:38 5:20:58 14:19:38
Garr 1688 1:23:31 7:22:16 5:24:58 14:30:55
KittenKat 1692 1:25:47 7:29:22 5:17:52 14:31:49
Iron Swissbobby 1698 1:24:56 7:22:52 5:28:15 14:32:59
Rich123 1711 1:22:33 7:25:09 5:27:53 14:35:22
Metal Petal 1743 1:14:07 7:13:37 5:59:16 14:42:38
GOM. 1744 1:12:29 6:59:52 6:16:46 14:42:38
Daniel RW 1802 1:19:01 7:22:05 5:59:56 14:58:41
VixIM 1803 1:21:52 7:38:14 5:35:00 14:58:43
eM.milou 1833 1:31:09 7:24:33 5:55:50 15:09:53
Foggy, a bit rusty. 1871 1:05:57 7:08:11 6:44:21 15:23:29
debbo 1887 1:18:23 7:48:11 6:01:16 15:27:55
Holly_Golightly 1888 1:18:06 8:20:59 5:27:33 15:27:59
Le Iron Tractor Boy 1904 1:26:12 8:05:51 5:34:19 15:30:30
Dark Vader 1948 1:59:00 7:55:50 5:35:33 15:50:22
M.eldy 1961 1:33:54 8:26:30 5:35:41 15:53:55
Kanga (M.) ----- 1:20:03 8:21:12 ----- DNF
flyaway ----- 1:31:40 ----- ----- DNF
Le Keg-Killer (M.) ----- 1:50:48 8:24:00 ----- DNF
Iron Squishy ----- 1:31:08 8:48:19 ----- DNF