Before the start of the race I made myself a promise: I wouldn’t end my race unless I absolutely had to and would keep going until someone told me to stop. No matter how much I wanted to stop, I would ask myself the question ‘can I continue?’ and if the answer was yes, I’d carry on. My race would end after 7 hours and 60 miles. It almost ended a lot sooner, but I kept my promise.
I’d been anxious about the mass swim start: me and 2,000 other swimmers thrashing about in the water. But the start went better, much better, than I’d feared. I got punched and kicked a few times in the fist 20 minutes and then again going round the buoys, but it was nothing too scary.
As we came round to the end of the first lap and Australian exit (you get out, run across a pontoon and get back in again), things started to go wrong. My goggles were pressing too tightly on my face and I felt a bit ropey. I was hauled out the water just as the elite men were finishing their second lap. I could see the timing clock, 46 minutes, right on target.
I staggered round and pulled my goggles off my face for some relief and so I could see where I was going. As I went to get back in the water I sat down for a moment or two. I felt sick but hoped a massive burp would sort it.
Back in the water a hundred meters later my goggles were filling up with water. I stopped, adjusted and continued. The same happened. Every hundred meters I did the same again and the feeling in my stomach was getting worse. I stopped and held onto a kayak thinking I was going to throw up. Another kayak joined us and I hung between the two. One of them gave me a bottle of orange squash to have a sip of. I thanked him and continued.
After rounding the corner to head back to the shore the mass of swimmers I’d been swimming in for the first lap had disappeared ahead of me. I was in a much smaller field who were largely doing breaststroke. I knew I’d lost a lot of time. I tried to swim faster but my stomach was feeling worse and worse. Suddenly I had to stop, there were no kayaks around to hold onto so I treadded water while I was sick.I wanted the race to end there and then, but I wasn’t going to be dragged out of the water, if nothing else I would finish the swim.
I staggered out of the water again, down a tunnel of cheering spectators and found my boyfriend. It had taken me 1 hour 54 minutes to do the 3.8km swim. A race official came over to check on me. He asked if I was OK, could I continue? I was worried he might withdraw me so I didn’t mention being sick. “I just need to get to my kit bag.”
Inside the changing tent I sat down shivering and drinking cherry coke. I woman came into the tent crying. “It was going so well and then I got cramp” she explained. She was crying because she was probably in the same situation as me: I knew I wasn’t going to make the bike cut-off and that I wouldn’t be allowed to finish the race. But I had a promise to myself to keep going until that point, so I staggered off again to find my bike.
The Ironman is a long race. Feeling rough at 7am in the morning makes the next 16 hours seem like an eternity. But it’s also so long that it’s possible to out the other side of a bad patch. To feel good again. I cycled past my hotel, briefly considering turning into the car park and climbing back into bed. But after less than an hour on the bike I did start to feel ok.
A thick layer of mist obscured the highest point of the course as I turned a corner up Sheephouse Lane to make my ascent. As I slowly climbed up I started overtaking other cyclists. The training I’d been doing with my coach Chris had paid off, I was feeling good on the hills. At the top I saw Liz and Katie cheering. I whizzed past, ready for the downhills.
I knew from the moment that I climbed on my bike that I wouldn’t make the bike cut-off. The cycle was going better than I’d hoped it would, I felt strong and was averaging a good pace, but I had lost more time on the swim than I could make up.
After almost 60 miles on the bike I rounded a corner ready to climb up Sheephouse Lane again but the road was blocked off by officials. I was the second rider to arrive just a minute after the intermediate cut off had been put in place. More riders arrived behind me, some of them pleaded with the officials to continue, some of them got angry, others got upset. I was none of these things. When I’d imagined being told I couldn’t continue in the weeks and months before the race I imagined I would have got angry, or upset or pleaded. But I was OK with it.
The officials took our chips off us and wrote down our numbers. “There’s a van coming to take you back.” I asked if I could cycle back instead. I didn’t want to sit in a van with people that felt sorry for themselves or cheated out of being able to finish, and beside, the clouds had cleared and it was a nice day for a cycle.
“Are you sure you’re OK to cycle?” the official asked.
“I’m more than fine. I’ve only done 60 miles.” I peddled off thinking about what I’d said. ‘Only 60 miles’. Six months ago cycling 60 miles would have been a big deal. I might not have a finishers medal, but that would only sit in a drawer. What I do have is legs that can cycle 60 miles without trouble.