Salford Triathlon – The Swim

Yesterday I blogged about my first triathlon of the year. You can read about it here. A few weeks earlier I completed the swim as part of a work relay.

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I work at Wardell-Armstrong, who have been one of the sponsors of the Salford Triathlon since it’s inception. Because of the sponsorship, the firm is given four free places, and so that as many people as possible can take part all four places are used in the relay event. Knowing that there would be a lack of swimmers I put my name down, even though it is my slowest discipline. It was also only the second time this year that I’ve put on my wetsuit. They shrink in the winter.

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The swim was in Salford Quay, which is probably one of the cleanest places I’ve swam in. The last time I swam there was a 10km, which was definitely a bit long. This time the bouys had been put out in the right places, and with there wasn’t too much agro with the start, which was nice.

I was hoping for about 30 minutes, which was almost exactly what I did, although it was a long run into transition for the handover to my colleague on the bike.

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Once I’d handed over I got myself changed and walked around much of the bike course to cheer on my work colleagues. The problem was that I really wanted to be doing the whole thing, even though I’m a long way off full fitness, which was why later that weekend I entered the Sedbergh Triathlon, and I might even manage another race in September.

My team mates also did really well, as we came in fifth team overall, and fourth men’s team. Next year though, I will definitely do the whole race.

Howgills Triathlon

A couple of weeks ago I took part in a relay triathlon, where I did the swim leg, even though swimming is my weakest discipline. I had a great time but I couldn’t help thinking that I should have been doing the whole thing. My last triathlon was over a year ago, although it was quite long (read about my triple ironman here).

Fortuitously, on my Facebook feed an advert turned up for the Epic Events Howgills Triathlon, starting and finishing in Sedbergh, so only a few miles down the road from Lancaster. It was also a Saturday race, which makes a nice change and gives you enough time to recover for work on Monday. I was off at 11:22, so again, no stupidly early start.

The race was based at Sedbergh school, which was very posh. Registered and bike racked with plenty of time to spare, me and my beautiful wife headed to the pool to watch the earlier waves. The swim was 400m, with three people in each lane and only four lanes, meant that it was not too busy. The funny layout of the pool did mean that we were starting and finishing in the deep end, which some people found difficult to climb out, and then you had to go up a flight of stairs, across the balcony and then down more stairs before a short run to transition.

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One guy in my wave decided that the run to transition was too far to run barefoot. No issues in transition, and I managed to press the correct buttons on the watch I was borrowing. I was using my wife’s Garmin 920 which has a triathlon setting. It all worked well, recording my split times and transition times.

Onto the bike and it was a route that I’ve done many times. Out and back from Sedbergh, towards Kirkby Stephen. The route is mainly uphill on the way out, and as expected it rained. Sedbergh has it’s own micro-climate where it always rains. Coming back there was a pleasant headwind. With the small waves there wasn’t too many people for me to catch, or to be caught by. The bike route was just under 20 miles, which took be almost exactly 1 hour.

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One thing I like about Epic Events is that they post photos on Facebook for free, which is a nice added touch. I had also given my trusty Scott Addict a clean (read about my bike here).

Once again I had no issues in transition and was soon out on the run. I was using an old pair of trail shoes as the run went up to the top of Winder Fell, although the first mile was on pavements which my feet were not too happy about. The road soon headed up, and suitably cheered on by my wife I continued up on the road. The last mile before the turn around point was off road and steep, with one section very rocky. I continued to run for a while but soon I was walking as the fell continued up and up. The views from the top were amazing, although my lower back was very sore. Apparently this is common when trying to run up steep fells.

I’m not a good feel runner so I was overtaken by quite a few people on the way down, although I overtook most of them once we reached tarmac. My left knee was a little sore from running downhill, but was fine once I was on the last flat mile to the finish. Even though the run was only five and a bit miles, it took me 50 minute. There was almost 400m of climbing.

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There were lots of cheers from complete strangers as I crossed the line. Bottle of water, medal and a hug from the wife. Total time was just over 2 hours and I finished in 30th position out of 100+. Not my best performance, but I’m not fully fit so I was happy to just enjoy the race. My toes were a bit sore from running without socks, but apart from that I didn’t feel too bad for my 54th triathlon.

I probably won’t do the Sedbergh Triathlon again due to the run, but I will definitely do more races from Epic Events, well organised and marshalled, and not too expensive.

#Bemoredoug

This is a difficult blog entry to write. A few days ago Doug Waymark died while swimming the channel. Last year another swimmer, Nick Thomas, also died. Both men were part of the ultra-distance triathlon community, which isn’t very large, so you see many of the same faces at every race.

In 2014 I successfully completed a double ironman, after a DNF in 2013. I finished 12th. Doug was 13th, although all we both wanted was to finish relatively unscathed. He was 4 years younger than me, which is no age to die. His family and friends set up the hashtag #bemoredoug, hence the title of my blog entry, to make it easier for people to discover what a great bloke he was and to share stories.

In 2016 I completed a triple ironman. Over the three days of racing there were various other races and distances, including what was called a 3-2-1 swim. This involved a triple ironman swim on the Friday, a double on the Saturday and a single on the Sunday. A total of 14.4 miles of swimming. One competitor in this event, seen in the photo below without a wetsuit, was Nick.

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Nick was training for a cross channel swim later in the year, and when not doing the 3-2-1 swim he helped out with the other races over the weekend. When I crossed the finish line he handed me my medal and I could see the pleasure on his face that I’d completed what for me was a huge challenge.

“He died doing what he loved” was one of the tributes to Nick last year. I don’t want to die doing what I love, I want to live doing what I love. I want to die in my own bed when I’m in my 100’s, having lead a full life.

I’ll soon be 50, and there is so much out there that I want to do. The untimely deaths of these great and wonderful men has hit me hard. I need to make things happen before it’s too late. I don’t have a bucket list, it’s too cliched, but here are a few of the adventures I am going to start planning.

  • Big adventure – spend a couple of years cycling round the world.
  • Medium adventure – complete 50 and then 100 parkruns across the whole of the UK.
  • Small adventure – drink quality rum from Guyana, snuggling on the sofa with my beautiful wife while watching Game of Thrones series 7.

Rest in Piece Doug and Nick, you’ll both be missed by so many people.

Triple Ironman

It’s about time that I got round to writing about my continuous triple ironman distance race from 2016, also known as Enduroman. I’ll try to keep this report a little shorter than the one for my double ironman in 2014 (read about it here).

There are loads of M-dot races to chose from each year, but for some reason there is much less choice when it comes to ultra triathlons, especially if you don’t want to race abroad. Enduroman or Brutal? The Brutal has the run going up Snowdonia, living up to it’s name, so I plumped once again for Enduroman. I’d raced there in 2013 and 2014, giving 2015 a miss. I was also upping the distance from a double to a triple. What an idiot, didn’t I learn anything from last time. Before sending off my entry fee (less than IMUK, read about my 2017 ironman journey here) I talked it over with my partner, who is now my wife. She was very supportive and told me to go for it.

I knew from 2014 that I needed to run more, so I ran at least 200km a month for the preceding 6 months, running most days in the build up, as well as a 32 mile run at the Halloween Hell on the Humber.

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I reduced the number of times I was swimming, but did complete my longest pool swim ever, over 8km (read about it here). I also did a whole load of century rides and one double century, where I set off at midnight to simulate riding when tired. I was as ready as I was ever going to be. We took Nell (our loyal pooch) to Helen’s Mum, loaded up the car with bikes, food and tent, and off we went.

It’s a long old drive from Lancaster to Avon Tyrell in the New Forrest. Tent erected, small talk with Clive and Graham, before 1 lap of the bike course. Race briefing, plenty of familiar faces and an early night, although someone decided to crank out some Queen.

The triple started on the Friday at the ungodly hour of 9am. More than enough time to borrow a reflective vest off Clive, as mine wasn’t reflective enough for riding at night.

The lake isn’t particularly big, and I can’t remember how many laps were required, but I think it was about 40. A short swim brief from Dan and we were off. There were only 18 entries for the triple, along with half a dozen doing the 3-2-1 swim, which was a triple distance swim on the Friday, a double swim on the Saturday finishing off with a single on the Sunday. As you can see from the photo below it wasn’t your usual mass swim start.

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The guy without the wetsuit is Nick Thomas, who tragically died later in the year attempting to swim the channel. I only met you a couple of times but you were unfailingly friendly. Far too young.

One of the funny things about ultra tri’s is that very few of us come from a swimming background, so there would be a few finishing close to the 8 hour swim cut-off. I’m smiling in the photo below because I’ve only got a couple of laps to go.

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Each lap we had to swim alongside a jetty and shout out our number, and this year I managed not to lose count. One of the other competitors had placed a large clock on the bank, so we could see the time ticking slowly round. On your last lap a message would be relayed from the lap counters to your support crew so that they would be ready to help. As you can see from the photo below the swim had taken a large bite out of me, although I was fifth out of the water in a time of 3 hours 51 mins. (Strava swim activity here).

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I made my way to the changing tent, with the help of my wife, removed my wetsuit and changed into cycling gear, and then sat down for lunch. Not your usual transition as I took 41 mins.

The bike course involved 29 relatively flat laps, which got progressively hillier as the days wore on. There were also problems with rubbish drivers, new forest ponies and cattle grids. My plan was to use my Fuji Tri bike (photo below) during daylight and my Scott Addict (here) at night.

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Nutrition wise, my plan was to eat real food as much as possible, and then have a proper sit down meal twice a day. In my first bike session I managed 7 laps, although the swim had taken far more out of me than I had expected, with my neck, shoulders and elbows all feeling it. My right wrist was also hurting from going over cattle grids at speed on my tri bars.

A couple of laps into the bike course it was a pleasant sight to see Chris Wild with Helen at the race HQ. He had crewed for me during my double in 2014 and it was great to have him back once again.

Hot food, coffee and trifle and I was ready for the first night session. I didn’t eat all of the trifles, but I did have 2 or 3.

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Out on the Scott and I started to feel better, and had soon knocked out another 6 laps. Before the race I had decided that if I felt tired, dangerously tired, I would stop for a sleep, and on my 14th lap I almost nodded off. I would have liked to have gone over half way, but I climbed off the bike, handed it to Chris and headed to the tent for a few hours of sleep. Helen had gone to the tent a couple of hours earlier, having decided that she crew for me on her own in the mornings, and Chris would do the evenings, with both of them crewing in the day.

A few more laps the next morning, breakfast followed by a 30 minute power nap, before pushing on through the day to finish the bike leg in 29 hours and 11 mins. Initially I had hoped to complete the bike leg in under 24 hours, but as I said, the swim had taken it’s toll. (Strava bike activities here, here, here and here).

Finishing the bike coincided nicely with tea time, and another 30 minute transition. A quick change into running gear, and off I went “running”. The run consists of an undulating technical 1.1 mile lap, which had to be completed 72 times. I managed 11 laps before I slowed so much that it made sense for another sleep. In the tent I woke Helen up with some of the most noxious pumps ever, sorry about that.

Three hours later and off I set once again. Chris climbed out of his camper van in time for breakfast and was amazed to see that I’d knocked out another half marathon. Like most competitors I was running the downhill and flat bits and walking the uphill, although this still meant that each lap would take 20 mins. Walking a whole lap seemed to take forever.

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I had specifically told Chris and Helen that I didn’t want to know my position in the race, as as far as I was concerned I was only up against myself. Plus, a good friend had come unstuck in 2014 racing the triple (read his blog here). After the race I found out that there were two people hot on my heels who closed the gap on me every time I stopped for a rest, but once I started again I would pull away. One of them was walking the “run” wearing a pair of big walking boots. That would have been embarassing if his run had been quicker than mine.

I did however know that 1st and 2nd were having an epic battle, and had decided to run together until half a lap to go, whereupon they would race to the line. I had completed 2 of the 3 marathons, so I sat down with Helen and Chris to watch them finish. It was unbelievable watching these two guys all out sprinting to the finish line after 50+ hours of racing.

Only 1 marathon left for me, so off I plodded. One problem I had was that ever time I stopped for a break it would take me a whole lap to get running once again. The advice from one of the other runners was obvious, don’t stop.

The lowest point for me came with 13 laps to go. My feet were killing me, so Helen massaged them with neurofen gel. I knew at that point I could finish, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, as I couldn’t face another 6 or 7 hours. A hug and cry with Helen and off I set once again, determined not to stop until I was finished.

Getting down to single laps to go was a real boost, and Chris had placed a box of edible goodies on a bench on the opposite side of the run lap, which was nice. As with the swim I wasn’t having any trouble remembering what lap I was on. When I crossed the start/finish line with 5 laps to go, Helen, smiling, told me I only had 6 to go. Also smiling, I told her she could f*ck her 6 laps and that I was only doing 5.

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Soon it was time for my last lap, and at Enduroman this is done in reverse, so you get to see everyone. I had high-fived a very tired looking Matt Pritchard earlier in the day when he was on his last lap to finish in third place. I found this last lap to be very emotional in 2014, but this year I was just happy that it was over. The run had taken me 24 hours and 8 mins. (Strava run activities here, here, here and here).

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Hugs at the end, followed by a chicken dinner before being helped back to the tent. Helen asked me if I wanted more food. Yes please I replied, and then two minutes later I was fast asleep.

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I finished in 7th place in a time of 58 hours and 23 mins, with only 5 DNFs. Not surprisingly it took me most of the summer to recover and I’m still not sure if I’ll ever do another long distance race, as at the moment I’m enjoying just going out cycling and taking it easy.

At the end of last year at the COLT Christmas do, I was awarded a trophy. Biggest idiot award I think, although Chris made a great speech.

Finally, there is no way that I would even have made the starting line if it hadn’t been for my wife, Helen. She has also promised to write about my triple, from the point of view of a support crew and loved one, which should be interesting.

Me and Tim

In light of Tim Don’s amazing recent performance at Ironman Brazil, finishing in 7 hours and 40 mins, I thought I’d share a couple of memories from when I raced against him. (When I say ‘raced against him’ I mean that I was in the same race and wasn’t for a moment ‘racing’ Tim).

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Back in 1999 I was living in Bournemouth, and during the summer there were a few open water swim aquathons, one of which a young Tim Don took part in. I would like to say I raced against him, but from the moment the race started he was gone.

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The race was approximately 500m swim followed by a hilly 5k run. I remember being happy with my run and not happy with my swim, although some of that was trying to remove my wetsuit.

A few years later I decided to have a go at qualifying for the age group world championships (Olympic distance) that were going to be held in Queenstown, New Zealand. The first qualifying race of the season was in Windsor, and I lined up with a few friends from the Oxford Tri Club, who also wanted to qualify. I can’t remember too much about the race, except that it felt good, as I finished 63rd overall, out of a field in excess of 1000, in a time of 2hours and 10 mins.

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Tri-suits were a bit shorter in the leg back then and you didn’t get a time penalty for undoing your zip. I was also under the misguided impression that if I shaved off my beard I would go faster.

What about Tim? He was racing in the elite wave that day, and technically I beat him, as he was DQ’d, along with almost all of the elites. The leading swimmer turned at the wrong buoy and most of the elites followed. Three elites who were slower swimmers turned a bit further down the river at the correct buoy, giving the referee no option but to DQ the majority of the field.

Despite my quick time it wasn’t enough for me to qualify, although I did go in the end, as I was third reserve and three others pulled out. Tim, on the other hand, failed to qualify, although he had by that time raced in the Olympics, and would go on to race in both the 2004 and 2008 Olympics as well.

Back to Ironman Brazil, and I struggle to comprehend just how fast Tim completed each discipline. 44 mins for the swim, 4hours and 6 min for the bike and 2 hr 44 for the marathon. Not many people could do any one of those events in the time, so my hat is well and truly doffed to Mr Don, and all the best in Kona at the end of the season.

My Ironman Journey – 2017

I’m not really a fan of M-Dot races. In my opinion the brand has become too commercial, too expensive and it’s all about the profit. Saying that, I’ve tried to stay away, but each year when the circus comes to Bolton, you can find me cheering people on. The atmosphere on COLT Alley is to be believed and every year I feel the urge to enter, to experience it for myself.

Due to work I wasn’t able to support in 2016, but after some encouragement from my wife I decided to enter, and pay my £400+ fee for 2017’s race. HOW MUCH? My triple ironman cost less than that. £6 per hour of racing as opposed to almost £40 per hour. Big difference.

Being a bit of a wag, I told friends that I was doing a sprint distance Tri this year. In the last couple of years I’ve had a go at ultra-triathlons. Read about my double ironman here.

Finishing a single ironman therefore shouldn’t be a problem, although I won’t be as quick as the last time I did an ironman distance race in the UK. That’s me below finishing Longest Day in 1998.

Longest Day 1998

My biggest problem will be nutrition, gels instead of pork pies, bananas instead of Hula Hoops. I won’t be able to spend 30 minutes in T1 having lunch. Also, swimming with 2000 others isn’t something I’m looking forward to. I like small races.

It has been interesting receiving emails from Ironman with advice and hints on my first M-Dot race. My first Ironman distance race was back in 1997, and my one and only official Ironman race was Lanzarote in 1999. It was a bad race and I’ve never been back.

Obviously this is the first time that I’ve registered with the brand, as t’internet wasn’t really around back then.

I will admit that I’m struggling to get excited about Bolton, and would probably prefer to be doing smaller local races instead. I appear to have lost my mojo. This isn’t helped by not being able to run. I have Plantar Fasciitis. Anyone who has had this will attest that it can take ages to heal. I’ve had it twice in the past, and both times it took over a year before I could run again.

Therefore, I have made the difficult decision to withdraw. With just over four months to go I can get half of my entry fee refunded, but if I left it another week then I’d only get 25% back. I will definitely be on COLT Alley cheering you all on, and maybe 2018 will see my return to Ironman.

Enduroman 2014 – Double Ironman

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Why would anyone want to attempt a double ironman? I asked myself this many times both during this year’s race and last year’s. Step back a few years to the 1999 Lanzarote Ironman. I entered this race with a couple of friends from the Oxford Tri club with the intention that I would use it as a stepping stone to a double ironman in Virginia that October. As many of you know, Lanzarote wasn’t a good race for me and I shelved any plans for ultra races and until this year I haven’t raced anything longer than Olympic distance (last year’s Enduroman doesn’t count as I didn’t finish).

Dry your eyes princess, the show must go on – Louise Goddard

Five years ago I stumbled across a leaflet for COLT in a local bike shop and promptly joined. Sometimes I even trained with them, but one thing I noticed was just how many from the club were training for their next ironman. You don’t need to go long. I have one friend who has been racing for 25 years and still hasn’t done a triathlon with an open water swim. It doesn’t matter what distance you do, the simple fact that you do triathlons makes you more awesome than 99% of the population.

Two years ago I found myself with a little more time to train, so I joined up with the Sunday morning rides once again. I struggled, and on one particular ride, if it wasn’t for John Sutton giving me a gel I would probably still be out there. Slowly over the course of the summer my fitness improved along with my stamina, until in October I managed a 200 km ride. I thought to myself that maybe 2013 would see me having a go at an ironman once again. I then realised that I knew that I could finish an ironman. I also knew that I wouldn’t be anywhere close to qualifying for Kona, so why not have a go at a double.

Over the winter I let it slip to a few people that I was training for an Ironman, although I told them that I wasn’t planning on doing an M-dot race. I’m on Strava and a few people started to ask why I was doing 6 km swims and 200+ km rides if I was only doing an ironman. A few weeks before my big race I did tell a few people that I was actually going for a double. Some of them didn’t call me a nutter.

My training for last year had gone well and on the eve of the race I was feeling confident that I would finish. I was out of the water in 2 hours and 15 minutes and on the bike 15 minutes later. (The swim was probably a bit short). I was soon into a good rhythm on the bike, stopping every 2 laps for more water and gels, and every four laps for food. I didn’t have a support crew (big mistake), but Earthquake Dan (a cross channel swimmer) and Graham Marcassum (a triple ironman finisher) took it upon themselves to be my unofficial crew.

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Dan and Graham had provided invaluable support at last year’s race, so it was great to meet up with them again and have an emotional photo at the end of this year’s race.

Once I had completed half of the bike course I started to feel even better and pushed on, finishing the bike course in third place. I then set off on the 52 mile run at my 5 km pace, overtaking the leader as if he wasn’t moving, much to his surprise. Funnily enough I almost collapsed after 5 laps and spent the next hour in the medic tent. I headed back out, but much slower and then had another sleep after 18 laps. I was feeling worse than I had ever felt in my life and was ready to quit, but Dan pushed me to continue. Two laps later, after six hours of `running’, and not even half way through the run I did quit. I was mentally and physically more spent than I had ever experienced. I quickly packed my bikes and kit into my hire car, hoping that no-one would see me and made my escape feeling thoroughly dejected.

I was spending the next couple of days with my parents who live near and decided that I had had a valiant attempt but that I wouldn’t try it again the following year. That decision lasted for less than two days and once I was back in Lancaster I started to prepare for another attempt in 2014. My mistakes, apart from no support crew, had been that my nutrition plan had been spot on for a single ironman, but not nearly enough for a double. I also discovered that most people would only use gels every now and again, opting for ‘real’ food instead.

I took it easy for a few weeks but I was soon cranking out the miles. The summer of 2013 included a 10 km swim in Salford Quays (horrific), the Bowland Badass (even more horrific) and numerous 150+ mile rides. The only problem was a persistent calf injury that seemed to come and go at random intervals, although it was getting worse. In the end I booked an appointment with Brett Fletcher at the Uni sports centre, who had me up and running within a few weeks.

The weather on the whole at the start of 2014 wasn’t too cold so I managed at least one 150 mile ride every month, including riding to Scotland and back in the middle of March. I also managed a 156 mile ride one Saturday, with the Wrynose or bust sportive the following day. A week of tough cycling in Abdet also helped. My last really long ride was after Easter with 188 miles in less than 11 hours. I knew that my swimming was about that same as last year and my cycling much better. The only problem was that the longest run I had done was a half marathon along the canal, which was completely flat. The run at Enduroman is tough to say the least, but Brett felt that my calf would hold up so I entered.

One of the main reasons that I failed last year was my lack of a support crew and both James Harrison and Chris Wild had said that they would be there for me. Matt Hirst and Andy Ley then volunteered as long as they weren’t working. Many other people from COLT had also expressed an interest in helping if I needed extra hands, another reason why COLT is the best club in the country (world/universe). In the end Andy couldn’t make it, but Matt had use of his camper van which would easily hold all my stuff and numerous bikes.

Hurry up, the barber’s catching you. The end is not near – Gary Smith

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The greatest support crew in the world… ever. I had many comments and messages after the event letting me know how great the guys from COLT were. This might be a cardboard cutout of Jim though.

Friday morning Matt arrived at the crack of 9 am and we were soon loaded up and ready to go. I had tried to be organised with all of my cycling gear in one crate, running gear in another, food in a third and my swimming gear in a separate bag, but there was a lot of stuff. When you’re going to be out for such a long time you need clothes for every eventuality. In 2011 it rained for almost the whole weekend, while I had found the first few hours of the run last year to be very cold as the temperature had dropped to 5 degrees. Julie Sibbert had also made two trays of flapjack, a banana loaf cake and a chocolate cake for the weekend, which took up the remaining space in the van. Ian you’re a lucky man.

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The party bus all loaded up and ready for the road trip down t’south. Two bikes, one for the day and the other for night riding.

Jim had to work most of the day so was driving down on his own and meeting us there, while Chris had been working in Gloucester and we would pick him up on the way down. Matt had been worried when I mentioned that I might burn a couple of mix CD’s for the journey, but I started him off gently with The Lancashire Hotpots. A bit later and after hearing `F**k like a beast’ by W.A.S.P. Matt was phoning Andy Ley for help.

A couple of hours of easy listening (for me) we picked up Chris and his bike. I wanted to ride one lap of the course when we got there and Chris said that he would ride it with me. The music then improved with a cover of the classic Dead Kennedy’s song `Nazi pigs f**k off’ by Napalm Death. One of Terry Wogan’s favourites, but an obscure song by Belle and Sebastian had Matt smiling as we rolled into the New Forest and to the event HQ.

The event is held at Avon Tyrell, an outdoor activity centre, that Enduroman had almost taken over for four days. Chris and I unloaded our bikes, got changed and headed out for one lap of the course, leaving Matt getting chatted up in reception. I had wanted to do one lap before the guys doing the ‘long’ race had finished their swim. We were back 36 minutes later having completed the 11.6 mile route at a nice gentle 19 mph. Chris was impressed with my pace, but I was a little concerned about how high my heart rate had gone. I put it down to pre-race nerves.

After a quick change and unloading the van I took Matt and Chris for a walk around the run loop. Matt was decidedly unimpressed as he was worried about getting mud on his clean white trainers. We stopped off at the lake to watch the triple swim, who had been in the water for over three hours. The technique for some wasn’t good; “I hope my technique doesn’t look that bad by the end of my swim tomorrow”, I said to Chris.

Just as we left the lake to look at the other half of the run lap one of the competitors climbed out of the lake and started to walk towards the changing marquee. I looked at watch and was mildly impressed, but it turned out that he had injured his shoulder a few weeks earlier and couldn’t continue. Not everyone is as tough as Matt Hirst. The whole of the centre is built on a slope, so on the run you’re either going downhill or uphill. The final part of the lap is the steepest with exposed tree roots that have been painted with flourescent paint. The run would definitely sort the men from the boys.

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Serious pre-race preparation from my support crew to make sure nothing goes wrong. I’d been in bed for about two hours by this point.

At the end of the lap is a small turning circle with a timing mat where I would cycle around 20 times before running around 48 times. Around the perimeter most of the support crews had already set themselves up with gazeebos ready for the long weekend. Chris wanted to take a photo of the Enduroman gantry with me, but I was reticent because that was where the medic tent was. “Don’t worry”, replied Chris, “this will be the only time you’ll see the medic all weekend.” Wrong.

Good luck Robot Boy! If you can do Tough Mudder you can do this. Suck it up, eat like a fat bird on a tour of Cadbury World and crack on! If you pass out this year, I fear that means you’re a pussy and should therefore be clean shaven…! Hoo-rah! Ta very much! Hehe! – Lau Robinson

Before long it was time to register and pick up my goody bag and Enduroman hat. Jim then arrived just in time for dinner (tea) and while we were eating Chris wrote down what nutrition I would require and when. This plan soon went out of the window, but it was a good idea at the time. Then it was off to the race briefing, which was when I realised that I had an excellent support crew as Chris made copious notes.

We watched a few of the triple competitors coming and going on the bike course and then at 10 pm five guys set off on the 200 mile run, completely bonkers. Matt, Chris and Jim then headed to the bar while I went to bed. Apparently they staggered to bed just after midnight, but I was fortunate to be comatose and didn’t hear them.

jim

4.30 am, I’m an ironman not a postman. Great comment from Andy Holgate – “He just wakes up and looks like he just stepped out of a salon.”

To be fair to Jim he didn’t utter his famous catchphrase once, even though he did look a bit rough. Soon we were all downstairs faffing, although all I needed to do was rack my bikes, eat and drink something and then finally squeeze into my wetsuit. I even had a hair bobble to streamline my beard and keep it out of the way.

swim

Almost ready for the start of the swim. Beard tied up and gimp hood on.

I asked Chris to check my tyre pressure while I was swimming and apart from that there wasn’t a lot for my crew to do. They could go back to the house for breakfast and hopefully they would return in time for me to exit the swim.

The lake for the swim is fairly small so we had to do 28 laps. Last year I mentioned that it felt a bit short as we had only to do 26 laps. Should have kept my mouth shut. The lap counters were positioned on a small jetty off to one side and you would shout out your number each time your passed and they would repeat it back to you. If there wasn’t anyone else around you could stop and ask how many laps you had done. 23 of us set off at 6 am and we would complete two laps without stopping to shout out our numbers, allowing the field to spread out a bit. With each buoy only about 70 metres apart it was almost impossible to go off course. Competitors could also place bottles and gels at the start/finish point and because the lake was so small you could grab a quick drink and only lose a couple of seconds.

I was soon into a nice steady rhythm, although it is amazing how soon I had lost count of how many laps I had done. This would also be the longest swim that I had done in my new wetsuit. My old one which I had used for 13 years had finally fallen apart last summer; more BlackWitch than neoprene. My new one was a lot more flexible in the shoulders and far more ‘floaty’. It wasn’t long before I started to lap people and then was lapped myself, but I didn’t worry about it. I was swimming at a pace I was happy with as there was still a very long way to go.

After I had done at least 18 laps I asked the officials how many laps I had done. “13,” came the reply. Bollocks. By this point I had started to feel slightly sick, something I had not encountered before in a swim, and the feeling stayed with me for another five or six hours. I put this down to my homemade blueberry and pomegranate ricecakes, which was annoying as I had made these a couple of times before and they had been great.

The water temperature was about 16 degrees, nice and warm, especially as I was wearing my special rubber gimp hood to keep my head warm. An Indian competitor in the triple had found the water to be exceptionally cold, but he was used to swimming without a wetsuit in temperatures of over 25 degrees. Towards the end of the swim I was actually beginning to feel a little warm and was glad when Dan announced that I was about to start my last lap. He then radioed the marshall at the start to expect #40 to finish in a few minutes, letting my support crew know to be ready for me.

Being on the last lap was a real boost and soon I was clambering out of the lake with the help of Chris Ette. I was third out of the water in a time of 2:21:49, slower than last year but still not too bad. The funny thing about ultra triathletes is that hardly any of them are decent swimmers. When I did a 10 km swim in Salford Quays I finished about third from the back.

swimexit

A nice sunny day for a swim. Hippy was ready for me with a drink while I struggled to remove my goggles.

Chris, Matt and Jim were waiting for me and helped me up the hill to the changing marquee, handing me food and drink and taking my goggles, hat and blu-tack ear plugs from me. Once I was sitting down it took all of us combined to pull my wetsuit off, with Jim suffering from whiplash.

It was then time to grab my bike and head out for my best leg of a triathlon, which this weekend turned out to be my worst. Shoes and helmet on, Garmin searching for satellites, a couple of gels in my pocket and I was ready for the first of 20 laps of an undulating bike course. Not having any COLT kit, except for a winter cycle jacket that is too large and a swim hat, Chris had lent me his short-sleeved cycle top so that I matched my support crew.

Success in the sport is, above all else, about enduring suffering. – Niamh Lewis

On my first lap of the bike course my heart rate was up above 160 bpm, far too high, but it didn’t seem to be dropping when I slowed down, so I ignored it. My plan was to complete two laps without stopping and then swap water bottles, grab a drink and something small to eat before heading out again. I would then stop for 5-10 minutes every four laps, stopping at 16 laps for an evening meal.

refuel

Jim swapping over my water bottle while Chris puts more gels and cereal bars into my back pockets. I would drink some electrolyte while I was stopped.

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Sweeping around the turning circle after completing yet another lap. The beard does have a slightly dazed look.

My plan soon went out of the window as I gradually felt worse and worse. I think I had the start of a cold. I knew I shouldn’t have snogged Andrew Mccracken at the time trial the previous Thursday. I continued at a slightly slower pace but during the ninth lap I almost fell asleep a couple of times, scaring myself. I decided to have a lie down for half an hour. Considering the amount of times that I had ridden 150 miles, lying down after 110 miles was a sure sign that all was not right.

I tried to put out of my mind the fact that everyone was now overtaking me. This was the lowest point of the whole race for me, and if Chris hadn’t been there with me I think I might have pulled out. I really didn’t want to let everyone down so after my rest I was back out on the bike again. I wasn’t very fast, but the laps kept being ticked off. The support crew had also gained an extra member as a woman who was supporting her husband had swapped allegiances. In truth her husband had got water in his goggles during the swim which had scratched his corneas and had had to go to the local A & E. He was now back at the centre but was having a lie down; his wife hadn’t completely abandoned him.

There was another large support crew a little bit away from the main turning circle, who had come prepared with pots and pans. Every time a rider went past they would make loads of noise and shout encouragement. By the end of the day I was always grateful to see and hear them, even if I didn’t appear ‘compos mentis’. Big thanks to the blood, sweat and beers team.

title2

At some point during the afternoon Chris headed out on his bike to do a couple of laps in the opposite direction to cheer everyone on. Coming out of the village of Burley it was great to see him sitting by the side of the road shouting nice things at me. I later found out that he had got lost as all of the direction arrows faced in the other direction.

Different competitors and support crews survived in many ways. One crew enjoyed having a laugh and had handed their man a completely peeled banana on one lap, so he responded by asking for random things at regular intervals. Matt had asked COLT to send him messages that he would pass onto me a various times over the weekend. I remember Louise’s comments making me laugh so hard that Matt had to repeat it. I have added some of the best messages. A big thank you to everyone who sent messages, although Andy Ley is a potato.

After 13 laps the call came out that everyone going out had to have night gear. I swapped onto my road bike which had lights on it and pulled on my fluorescent gillet and headed out for another lap. It was a pleasant change to be on a road bike instead of my tri bike, especially when negotiating the two cattle grids on each lap. When I returned the centre had just started to serve dinner (tea) so it was the perfect time to stop for some real food.

chdan

Some point during the night and Chris and Dan ponder the meaning of life. I think I had more sleep over the weekend than these two.

With only six laps of the bike course left I knew that I was at least going to finish leg 2. I don’t remember much of the next few hours, although I do remember Matt and Jim getting silly and Chris suggesting that they go to the bar for a rest. At 18 laps I again started to fall asleep while riding so I went back to bed for another hour. Chris told Dan where I was and he replied that he wished more competitors would take a break instead of continuing when not in any kind of fit state.

Minutes after I had climbed into bed Chris woke me, although it was probably closer to an hour. To give you an idea of how dedicated Chris was he even opened a tin of corn beef hash for me, which looked and smelled like dog food. After eating half the tin I could see the appeal of becoming a vegetarian. I followed my gourmet snack with a quick cup of coffee and then blasted through the last two laps. On my last lap Chris again jumped on his bike, but this time in the correct direction to check that there wasn’t anyone lying in a ditch. He rode beside me for the last couple of miles, which made a nice change as by this time in the morning that was hardly anyone else cycling.

Near the end of each lap there is a small climb up Braggers Lane. Last year I had managed it in the big ring every time, but this year I was using almost every gear, so it was a welcome sight when it was done and I could almost freewheel back into the turning circle for the last time. Total time for the bike was 17:45:41. Three and a half hours longer than last year.

Only 52 (hard) miles left. Chris asked if I wanted another quick sleep, but I was running on adrenaline and wanted to at least get a couple of laps under my belt. Matt and Jim were both in bed, separate beds I believe although I’m not sure, so Chris helped me to the changing marquee. Last year the temperature had dropped to 5 degrees over night, so I changed into leggings, fluorescent long sleeved thermal top, gloves, hat and head torch.

Keep those pedals turning, you’re on fire. – Danny Rogerson

I then set out on the first of 48 laps of a very demanding course. Hardly any flat bits, some very technical sections, a very wet and muddy part near the lake and a very steep climb over exposed tree roots. The temperature hadn’t been as hot during the day this year, so the night was warmer and at the end of my first lap I removed my gloves. Only 47 laps to go.

My plan was to not look at the full number of laps, instead only look at the next four laps. I also expected that I would need a rest every 8 laps or maybe sooner. After 4 laps Chris asked me if there was anything I wanted on the next lap, so remembering the crazy guys from earlier I asked for an avocado and a cheese grater. Not very original but it was the best I could come up with at the time. Ever the hero, Chris went and found a cheese grater and started to jog after me as I started my next lap. He found me crumpled in a heap with a couple of other runners checking that I was OK.

blood

This was taken much later in the day, but you can see how badly I was wounded. It was touch and go as to whether I would survive 🙂

“I couldn’t find an avocado,” Chris said to me, “but I’ve got a cheese grater.”

“Thanks”, I replied as Chris picked me up off the floor. The surface was uneven and I had managed to find a large dip and had then tried to cartwheel down the hill. My knee was sore but I couldn’t really see how bad it was in the dark so I suggested that I meet Chris at the medic tent as I continued with my lap. I hobbled around the lap and met Chris, but there wasn’t a medic. I went off for another lap while Chris went to find where the medic was hiding. It transpired that the medic was actually asleep in his tent in the larger medic tent and on the next lap he had a look at my knee. He cleaned all of the dirt out of it and sent me on my way.

I have to point out that the medic wasn’t some kind of St John’s or similar. He had serious equipment and could probably deal with a bear attack without too much fuss.

Back running and a couple of laps later it was light enough to remove my headtorch, and as expected I almost fell over again. At 16 laps, a third of the run, I went for another half hour sleep. Another cup of coffee and I soon passed the point where I had quit the previous year, which gave me another confidence boost. It had also warmed up so I was now running in shorts and a T-shirt. Finishing the first marathon coincided with the battery on my Garmin running out. Chris lent me his Suunto watch so that I would have a record of my run to upload to Strava. As we all know, if it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen.

jim2

Almost everyone walked up this very small little rise, and this is probably the only time where Jim has been able to run faster than me. Stop smiling you git.

Reaching the half-way point of the run was another boost as I knew that I was going to finish, no matter what. The problem was that my feet were killing me. I had started running with the plan to stop and rest after every 8 laps, but this was down to every 4. Apart from general tiredness, my sore feet was the only problem I had on the run. Chatting with TC (legendary ultra triathlete who finished second in both this year and last year’s double) after the race, he suggested that I get a pair of Hokas. Sorry Ian. Jim had even offered to lend me his pair before he had to leave and I had declined, doh!

title4

A few laps later and one lap before I was due to stop for a rest Chris asked me if there was anything I wanted.

“Bag of crisps and a sausage roll,” I replied. I had brought sausage rolls with me, but not crisps. I returned after a lap to find that Matt and Chris had sourced a variety of crisps. I tucked in and felt a lot better. More running then. Nutrition was one of the things that I got wrong last year and it was interesting to see what other people were doing. One person was using a squeezy bottle of honey instead of gels, someone else was eating peanut butter by the jar. Jay used army ration packs.

colt4

The laps were still being slowly ticked off and I had seen the eventual winner Mark Dodgson start his final lap. Originally I had hoped to be finished by midday on the Sunday, but it was already past this and Jim had to leave. I had suggested to Matt and Chris that they pack up and head off and leave me to it as I was sure that I would now finish. I later found out that Chris and Matt had spoken about this and had both decided that they would stay until the very end, even if I didn’t finish until midnight. You guys ROCK.

On the Sunday there was also a half and a single ironman on the same course, just fewer laps. I had watched them start the swim as I was running. I had watched them on their bikes as I was running, and now I was watching as the first of the half competitors ran past me. Considering how much quicker they were running than the double and triple people, I never saw or heard any complaints if they were held up on the narrower sections of the course.

On the turning circle there was one particular crew who made ‘The Inspirational Sign’ and the first time that I saw it I asked if it was for me. From that point on, whenever they could see me running down the hill towards the turning circle they would shout ‘come on the beard’. Great stuff and it made me smile every time.

lap

With only a few laps remaining Matt encouraged me to keep pushing and with two laps to go I changed into a COLT T-shirt. One of the best things about an Enduroman race is that when you only have one lap remaining, you turn around and complete the lap in the opposite direction. You then get to cheer people on as they are about to finish and I was looking forward to my last lap.

Everyone got a big cheer as they started their last lap, and there was still loads of people on the course, doing one of the various races. Almost everyone congratulated me as I ran past in the wrong direction or gave me a high-5, and I’ll admit that half-way round my last lap I was almost in tears.

Pain is momentary, glory lasts forever – Ian Bailey

Matt and Chris had given a COLT flag to a young lad who had been supporting his Dad do the single ironman and he handed it to me as I passed. Running into the turning circle for the last time, the cheers, the handshakes, and the tears was an amazing experience. Time for the run was 14:48:16. It was a shame that Jim couldn’t be there and I won’t mention Chris’ sudden hayfever attack.

broken

A handshake from Dan before I crossed the finish line a broken man, followed by a manly group hug from Matt and Chris.

title5

I’d done it. I was a Double Ironman. Total time for the whole thing was 34:55:57 (yes that really does say 34 hours). I was unsurprisingly physically spent.

Matt and Chris had already loaded up my bikes and it didn’t take long before they were ready to leave. I was staying an extra night so that I could be there for the breakfast of champions the next morning. I would then spend a couple of days with my parents who live nearby. To again prove how awesome my support crew were, I gave Matt a spare key to my flat so that he could drop off all my stuff once he returned to Lancaster.

I later found out that Chris had had to pull over and sleep for a couple of hours in his very small car, while Matt had stopped for Red Bull and coffee. I really couldn’t have done it without you guys.

My room was up two flights of stairs, great, but I managed to grab a couple of hours sleep before the evening meal was served. Like an idiot I walked down two flights of stairs before I realised that I had left my meal voucher in my room. Could have done without that. Chris had also left me a couple of beers, and after just one I was done in and was fast asleep by 9 pm.

Breakfast the next morning was a noisy affair as almost everyone who had completed the double or triple was there. Finishers T-shirts were the clothing of choice, red for the triple and orange for the double. It was also great to be able to chat with so many of the people that I had seen over the last many hours/days.

shirt

Edgar Ette, the man in charge of the whole event got started with the prize giving. Oddly enough as he hadn’t slept for three days it was a fluid ceremony. Also strange that almost every prize winner was walking like an old man. Ghislain Marechal, the President of the International Ultra Triathlon Association was also there to award medals to everyone who had completed the triple. Ghislain had been competing in the triple himself, but had pulled out after two marathons, commenting that it was a good training session. He’s planning to do a continuous double decker ironman later in the year. Talking of nutters, the top three finishers in the triple had all taken part in a triple decker ironman the previous summer.

medal

During the race and immediately after finishing I told myself that this would be my last ultra triathlon. I had exorcised my demons from the previous year and had finished a double ironman. I wanted to continue to be part of Enduroman, but as part of a support crew for someone else. Unfortunately at the breakfast of champions when I saw the IUTA medal, I wanted one.

One thing that I know for certain is that I will be there next year in some capacity. The atmosphere, camaraderie and the whole Enduroman family is so much better than any other race I’ve ever done. Definitely better than a testosterone grunt filled M-dot race where the swim is so akin to a boxing match and the cost of the entry is £100 more than the double.

The full list of events for 2015 has yet to be finalised, but there won’t be a triple. There will be a double and entries are open from next week, but there’s no rush. For some strange reason the race doesn’t fill up as fast as an M-dot race. Why no triple next year? Enduroman are putting on a quin (that would be five). They are also putting it on in two different ways. You can either do an ironman a day for five days in a row, or you can do it as a continuous race. That would be a 12 mile swim, 560 mile bike and 131 mile run. I’m in if you are.