I have read so many Ironman race reports leading up to this race that, as I sit here preparing to jot down my own, I can barely believe that this one will be all about my own experience!
The fact that I came through the race relatively unscathed (I think!) has still not really sunk in yet.
I entered Ironman Lanzarote on the first of January 2017 and did so very quietly, telling no-one, not even my partner initially. Although we had talked about me doing the race this year. I didn’t want to build up anyone’s expectations as I wasn’t even sure if I could handle the training. I worked out a plan month by month that involved building the weekly hours up bit by bit but including recovery weeks and I was always on high alert for any niggles or breakdowns. By the end of February my body was still intact and I started to come clean. By this stage my nearest and dearest already knew what I was up to but I started telling a few members of the triathlon club that I was thinking of doing the full Ironman. “Hmmmm, Lanzarote? Not exactly the easiest – but you will do it!”
Three months later and I’m staring at the start of May and the fear begins to really set in. I managed my plan fairly well apart from one weekend of a viral illness which I just ticked off as doing too much. Still – had I done enough? Was I totally mad? Why the hell was I ruining a perfectly good holiday with this endurance fest bang in the middle of it? My main fears preceding race day were –
- The mass swim start – even though I worry the least about swimming I do not relish getting a battering from the piranha like frenzy of a mass swim start.
- The two new bike cut-off times on the bike course – I was not confident of my pace on the hills, particularly fighting the wind
- The sheer heat of the run – I had done no warm weather acclimatisation apart from one weekend in Lisburn in May (erm max temp 21degrees!?)
- Developing a life-threatening condition – this is the typical anaesthetist in me
- Worried about under-hydration (doing a Johnny Brownlee – bad)
- Worried about over-hydration (hyponatraemia, low salt – very bad)
- Worried about some undiagnosed heart condition surfacing (very very bad)
- Worried about dying (erm…that speaks for itself)
Moving swiftly on to race day then…
I had arrived in Lanzarote with my other half the Sunday before race day and felt fine. Two more members of my support crew arrived on the Friday morning and we made our action plan for the following day.
My alarm was off at 4am although I was already awake. Breakfast consisted of a soda farl (all the way from NI) and a poached egg, a cup of coffee and a banana with sips from a water bottle of water. The rest of the crew were up for 4:30 and we were in the car and down to the transition area for 6am. I parted ways with my team at the gates of transition and made my way to my bike to check everything was still there and to place my bottles and nutrition. The stomach at this stage was full of butterflies but I felt under control and ready for this thing!
Wetsuit on and down to the beach, I did a ten minute warm-up in the water. It was all a little surreal, the sun hadn’t even come up yet. Anyway, I felt reasonably loose and good. Then I headed for the start chute and placed myself in the under 60 minutes group a little to the right. The pros were right at the waters edge separated from us by some marshals and a big rope so they would have a clear run into the water, which is fair enough. Meanwhile 20-30m back we were jostling for space and it was clear in my mind what lay ahead so I just quietly prepared myself for carnage.
One minute to go was announced and it felt like an age before the start horn blew and then… we were off! I looked down to start my Garmin and the bloody thing had gone back to telling the time! Yikes! Sorted that out in 5s flat and off I charged.
My premonitions about the mass swim start were 110% correct – it was absolute carnage. I held my own but never felt like I could get into my own flow until at least 1000m into the race and even then there were moments of congestion that quite frankly “did my head in.” I do recall one moment where I did a few kicks of breast-stroke allowing my head to surface and work out some strategy when I heard a wee Italian man a few yards behind me shouting “Mama-Mia” and I really couldn’t help but smile inwardly and think “I could not have said it better myself!”
Saying that, there were moments during the swim where I wanted to pinch myself. The sun was coming up on my right and there were thousands of fish swimming below us nonchalantly as if what we were doing was the most normal thing in the world. Despite everything I was enjoying myself! The two laps flew by and I never really felt like I was pushing myself which is how I wanted to feel – I kept saying to myself “it’s a long day, keep it cool.” It wasn’t until much later when I analysed my swim time that I realised I had done ok in terms of overall time – maybe if I had pushed harder I could have got under that hour? Typical me!
Out of the swim I ran towards transition and grabbed my bike bag. I had elected to do a complete change of clothes at each transition for comfort but when I arrived in transition there were men everywhere and no discernible ‘ladies’ area! “Ah well, no one is looking” – I changed as quickly and discreetly as possible and was quite successful (I think?!) and then ran to the bikes which were reasonably far away. I actually found my bike reasonably quickly because of landmarks I had memorised and also the fact that my fantastic support crew had climbed over palm trees, rocks and a steep ledge to yell at me through a barrier – “ITS HERE JENNY!!! Your bike is HERE!” Perfect support crew! 😉 Quick chat and on with my bike shoes, which I had carried from transition, and off I went with a huge smile on my face – this was fun!
I purposely took it easy for the first 40 minutes of the bike. I was passed by hundreds of people but I just said to myself “that is your race and this is mine – see you later.” I drank some isoactive, ate an energy bar and started to settle in. I honestly cannot remember of any dark periods in the first 75 miles of the bike leg. Every professional photo you see of me on the course I am smiling from ear to ear.
One of my triathlon club buddies had advised me to just break the entire course down into small chunks and I am so grateful for his advice – it worked!
About 15 miles after all the major climbs were done, including Los Valles and Mirador del Rio (so so epic) I was about 85 miles into the bike and I started to get a little edgy. I was ready now to be finished but my mood was still good. A very poor road out of Nazaret was mentally very tough but I got through it and headed back through the beautiful wine region (La Geria) in Lanzarote towards Puerto Del Carmen. The last 5 miles were all down hill and in a tailwind so I was basically blown back to transition with a huge smile on my face. Before I leave the bike section I just have to say that Lanzarote’s scenery is unbelievable. From the stark black lava fields of El Golfo (filmed in 10,000 yrs BC) to the fantastic glimpse of La Graciosa as you climb Mirador del Rio, I was never bored. Fantastic.
Anyway into transition, with cheers from my never faltering support crew and bike handed over to the fantastic volunteer. In fact the guy who took my bike had a northern Irish/Irish accent – he even took my shoes off me and clicked them into my pedals (I have not mastered taking my feet in and out of shoes yet whilst on the bike).
This time there was a dedicated female changing area so I got changed, and took a little more time this time to ensure I was comfortable for the run. Then I got plastered with cream by the lovely volunteers. Whilst this was happening I had a look around the transition tent. It was carnage, there were bodies everywhere. There was one very fit looking man lying on one of the sun beds who looked like he was having a full-on nap! Anyway I felt ok and despite being in complete denial about the fact I was about to attempt to run a marathon in 30 degree heat I was ready to go.
What can I say about the marathon? Denial is a very protective thing. If I dwelled on the distance too much I would never have finished ironman. My strategy was simple. Walk through each aid station, break down each 5k and try to never think about how much distance is left. This was easier said than done but I knew that survival was about mental strength and not physical. It was however really really really difficult. I survived the first 25km without really losing pace but then the mental games started to ramp up. It basically boiled down to three thoughts, “jenny you got this”, “please can I walk?”, ” no, don’t walk, stick to strategy and put one foot in front of the other because if you walk you are going to be out here way way longer.” Suffice to say after the 30km mark I walked for one minute (not at an aid station) and then got myself together and started shuffling forward again.
The heat was unreal, the number of people walking like zombies were huge and I’m sure I passed a few of the racers who flew past me on the bike as well.
It wasn’t until I got to the 35km mark that I allowed myself to fully believe that I was going to finish, such was my concentration on just getting each 5km ticked off. After that I began to relax and the smile creeped through again and, I guess I just felt very proud of myself. The last 2.5km were hard but I made it and did not allow myself to break into a walk, even through the aid station. Through the finish chute with the hugest smile on my face (or so the announcer said as I was approaching) and it was all done! I could hear my partner and crew cheering and screaming over to my left “we are here, you did it, we are here!”, big heavy medal around my neck and a foil blanket and bottle of water and extreme, extreme elation. 13:24:07. Vastly exceeding my expectations. “JENNY C YOU ARE…AN IRONMAN!”
I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has supported me over the last few months through this endeavour. From the advice and encouragement given me by my great triathlon club members to those unknown other support crews on the race course who seen the LTC club kit and shouted “GO LISBURN”. A special word of thanks to my lovely support crew on the day who spent nearly 15 hours waiting to see only glimpses of me at a time. Last but not least, my brilliant other and better half, R – who really does not know their worth – never was a negative word said to me throughout the whole training saga, only patient support and encouragement every day. Thanks for allowing me to do this during our precious holiday time – I am incredibly lucky to have you.
So…when is the next one?