It’s summertime, and that can mean only one thing – the Pirate Ship of Fools (PSOF) is soon to set sail for its annual team challenge.
This year, our forum triathlon contingent is heading to Switzerland on July 12, where Pirates old and new will be taking on Zurich’s Ironman triathlon course – that’s a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle, and 26.2-mile run (yes, a full marathon). The trip promises to be the biggest and best ever with more than 60 forumites heading to Switzerland's largest city, including a record number of absolute beginners.
The Zurich adventure all started a year ago with a call for new shipmates to join the Pirates on their 2009 voyage to Ironman Switzerland (IMCH). Since then, the plucky IM virgins who heeded the call – and a trusty band of old hands too – have spent a busy year training and chatting on the forums.
And this Sunday (July 12), you'll be able to follow all the latest news and updates live from Switzerland on the IMCH Armchair Supporters Thread.
We'll be catching up with the Pirates from the other side of the finish line, but before they set off, find out what first-timers arctic lady, Nam, PSC, Rio! and seren nos had to say about how they found themselves in skull-and-crossbones lycra and heading for their first IM – and how they’re feeling now they’re almost there.
Call me spontaneous, but when everyone signed up for Ironman Switzerland I suddenly wanted to join in. The Pirates seemed like a nice bunch, and with their "go get it" attitude who wouldn't want to swim a little, bike a lot and then warm down with a marathon?!
There have been highs and lows throughout my training - days when I couldn't wait to get out the door and clear my head through hours of training and days when I couldn't face it and would procrastinate all day. But there would always be a Pirate to reassure me that they’d been there, or tell me to pull myself together.
The Bala Middle Distance Triathlon (June 14, 2009) was my first ever tri and I knew that there would be huge Pirate support. I just didn't know how fantastic it would be. Out on the course, my muscles were aching but every time I heard "Go Pirate!" I managed to push it. As I was coming in to the finish there was another woman just ahead of me and Iron Rose shouted "You can get her!" Mustering all my strength I sprinted, overtook the woman, crossed the line and then promptly collapsed. But I’ve been told it’s good experience for IM – the collapsing, that is!
With the IM so close, of course I wish I had trained longer, harder and better but I've done what I've done and I can only hope I can pull it all together on the day. At times I’ve felt alone doing this, but I know I'm in a group of people, some of whom are new like me, and some experienced, but we all want the same thing and we all want the best for each other. I couldn't have got this far without the never-ending support and advice from the Pirates – the people who helped me believe I could do it in the first place.
I was never athletic in school – sports days were an exercise in humiliation and I would think up all sorts of excuses to get out of them.
By 2008 though, I had taken up running, done a half-marathon and a couple of try-a-tris. It was a pretty bad year – I’d finished a relationship and wanted a new focus. Completing an Ironman by 40 sounded good but I was 38 and rapidly twigged that as most IMs fall later in the year than my birthday I’d have to do it this year.
I remember my first 40-mile bike ride – it was a distance I would have thought twice about driving, never mind cycling, but a few months later it's a treat to "only" do a three-hour ride. When I feel sorry for myself about being slow, sometimes I need to remind myself how far I've come.
An absolute highlight for me was the Bala Middle Distance Triathlon. It was the hardest thing I've ever done and I finished last. There was nothing left and no finish line except the make-shift one made by a fantastically raucous bunch of Pirates with some security tape.
Don't get me wrong – it's not all fun and laughs. Sometimes you're full of doubt, tired and begrudge the time spent training. It’s not easy to get up at 5.30am in the middle of winter and cycle to the pool for an hour and a half before work.
At the moment I feel calm and pragmatic. If I get out of the water unscathed I have a decent chance of making the bike cut-off, but it'll be hard to make up lost time. Either way I'll give it a damn good shot. I'm very realistic about the possibility of missing the cut-offs, and if that happens I'll support with the rest, have a cracking week and try again next year!
This whole crazy venture started in 2006. I had an accident on my motorcycle, resigned from my job and realised that my life was in a rut – all work, no play, poor fitness and failing health. I started running and a year took me from retching after half a mile to a sub-2:00 half-marathon. I wanted more.
The RW forum sowed the seeds of this madcap tri adventure. I bought a new bike, a £10 Aldi tri suit and put in a few weeks of training before turning up for a sprint tri. The bug bit deep – I finished and loved every weary second of it.
Soon, the Pirates were at every race I went to, who all seemed to have entered an Ironman from a standing start. I wanted to spend a year preparing, but the seed was sprouting and next time the circus rolled around, I hopped aboard.
My training has gone solidly, and my stats show constant improvement. The big downside of that has been missing out on family stuff. If I do another Ironman I must work out a way to make the schedule slightly less all-consuming.
The Bala Middle Distance Triathlon was four weeks out from race day, and time to put it all together. Would the kit work? Had I sorted my nutrition? How fit was I? Had I over-cooked the training? There were Pirates everywhere you looked at the start – fantastic!
It was a brilliant course – I don't think one bit of it was flat. A few swimming issues aside, I felt fresh through the bike and the run, so that's the plan for Switzerland sorted!
The full distance is going to be hard work, but warmer water, going easier on the bike and my newly discovered run-walk strategy makes me positive that it’s in reach. I’m feeling much more confident that I was even three weeks ago – bring it on!
Sometimes I wonder how I got here. Coming from a completely non-sporty background, Ironman felt like the ultimate physical challenge.
I had done a couple of tris and I was tempted by the talk about Pirates doing Ironman Switzerland. Then mid-life crisis struck – my son told me I was going to be a grandmother. My fate was sealed!
Buoyed up by race reports and with training programme in hand I started preparing. Luckily for me there are four of us who can train together – Nam, Hope and Seren have been fantastic when things got tough. Slowly, over the winter I began to pull it together.
Speeding towards July I was feeling feeble, and the Bala Middle Distance Triathlon loomed large. I was scared about how hilly it would be. But I had trained as well as I could, I hadn’t missed many sessions and I felt I had done enough.
It was great to see all the black and yellow on race day, and I set off confidently. It was hot and my legs were tired, but I knew I could do it so I plodded on. Soon enough the finish line was in sight, complete with Pirates doing a Mexican wave! A sprint to the finish and I had done it – and 40 minutes quicker than last year’s Vitruvian!
Now I’m heading towards the Big One, and my thoughts are the same as anyone training for their first 5K, 10K or marathon – whatever the distance, it’s the same nerves. Hoping that I’ve done enough, thankful to have stayed injury-free. I swing wildly from being scared to feeling calm because I know worrying at this stage is wasted energy and that I’ve done all that I can.
I know if I can have a relaxed swim I will be OK for the rest of the race. I am definitely not looking forward to the hills on the bike course but I have been reliably informed that they’re not as bad as I’m imagining – we will see!
I'm married with three boys, two of whom are autistic. Four years ago, my son started residential school and I had spare time, so I tried running. I did couple of miles the first time, came home, entered the Edinburgh Marathon and loved it. My first 5K and 10K races were actually after my first marathon – I seem to aim high straight away!
Training for the Flora London Marathon last year (2008) I had an injury and decided to swim as cross-training. I was only off running for a fortnight and training went well, but during the race I had trouble with my knees. I decided that triathlon would be kinder to my body.
I turned up to a local try-a-tri a couple of weeks later with my rusty hybrid bike and loved it, and then entered the Bala Middle Distance Triathlon two weeks out from race day. I hadn’t really trained, so I had to rely on my fitness and just hang on. I loved the day – my first time out with the Pirates and the support was unbelievable. It had been hard and hot, but I survived and I was hooked.
When the time came to enter Ironman Switzerland I knew I wanted to be part of it. Training went well but in August my right Achilles went – my first ever major injury. At the beginning of October I was told not to cycle or run for four months. I was gutted. By January, with everyone posting good training weeks I worried that I would never get there, but I could still picture myself going over the finish line. My heart was still in it.
I returned to training, and it soon picked up. The months went by, and then came my highlight for another year – again, at Bala. I took 14 minutes off last year’s time, won first female vet in the Welsh Championships and finished without any injuries – brilliant!
I know I’ll be close to the cut-offs in Zurich but I will manage it. I have to – I don’t think I’ll have the energy to go through all this again next year!