The worst of days, the best of days.

“Lift your head up Andrew, it’ll make running easier.” I knew as soon as I heard the words from my Dad that he was correct. He walked alongside me in the early evening sunshine, slowing his walking pace to fall in line with my running.

“I know Dad, but I just don’t have the energy to lift my head” I whispered in defeat from under my sweat stained green cap. A cap that I hoped hid my pain and disappointment, we’d been here before, but unlike Frankfurt there would be no second wind along the banks of the Trent. That’s the thing with Ironman, your day can go from dreams of glory to the depths of despair in an instant. I had seven miles to go, I hated Ironman, I hated triathlon but most of all I hated myself for being in that moment. It was light years away from how I felt at 7.19am that morning.

“Andy Holgate, What the bloody hell are you doing here?” was the shocked response from my mate Chris Wild as he pulled me from the rowing lake. I laughed as I looked down at my watch, 1.19.45 blinked at me from the screen. I’d done it, I’d finally got under 80 minutes for an Ironman swim. I’d worked so hard at my swimming this year, and this was just reward. The swim had been quite violent, more so than any other I’d done. It struck me as strange as there was plenty of room for everyone. After half way the water became more violent than my fellow competitors, the waves crashed into me, making me work that much harder.

I stripped my wetsuit off in seconds and headed into the change tent, that for once wasn’t too crowded. I found a vacant spot on the extreme edge of one of the benches and sat down to put my shoes on. Thirty seconds later I was in the lap of a fellow pirate, and I didn’t even know his name, hadn’t taken him to dinner or even a movie. Three guys had all stood up at the same time, creating a see-saw effect that catapulted me into my fellow shipmate. I was glad he cushioned my fall. Can you imagine explaining to people that after a swim PB you couldn’t continue because you were injured by a bench in transition. Actually people probably would have believed me given some of the things that have happened to me before in triathlon.

I was out on the bike and pedalling my way along the banks of the lake when I looked down to see what my heart rate was. I don’t know if it had been the shock of the fall or my excited desire to get out of T1 as soon as possible that caused me to leave my Garmin behind. I’d trained all year in my heart rate zones, and now I would be racing blind, not knowing if I was pushing too hard. There was nothing I could do other than put it out of my mind and pedal.

The bike course had changed since I did this race back in 2010, there was a different approach into Southwell which took in the only climb of the day at 20 miles. Oxton Bank didn’t live up to the hype as I crested it smoothly without leaving the saddle. Yes it raised my heart rate ( not that I have any data on that ) but it didn’t have me blowing and huffing like a Whinlatter or a Mirador. The descent into Southwell was pure fun, a moment of aerobar pleasure. After that though the bike became a war of attrition as I battled the strong headwinds that swept across the open countryside like a scythe, cutting into my speed and energy reserves with an evil howl of delight.

The new lower loop would be very fast on a clear calm day, this was not one of those days. The rain hammered against my aero helmet as I struggled to stay on my aerobars, the Roo wobbled as the crosswinds tried to tear it from under me. One of the many Pirates that passed me, Sarah, chirped that she was “Enjoying the wind as it was making it interesting”. I certainly didn’t share her enthusiasm for it. But it was small pockets of banter like that which made that Southern loop more manageable. The Pirate feed station was a highlight and especially seeing my mate Silent Assassin and Jordy, they always raise a smile from me. The mobile COLT support was something else, Andy, David, Paul and the others seemed to be popping up everywhere and shouting at me.

The highlight of the bike course was when I heard a now mandatory and familiar retort from Chris Lawson. “Aren’t you that bloke that wrote that book?” “Aren’t you that crap swimmer?” my tongue in cheek reply. He’d caught me much earlier in Lanzarote, but without the hills to use to his advantage this time around I’d stayed in front until just shy of 80 miles. A few seconds later, good wishes exchanged, he’d gone out of sight.

I ploughed on, getting slower as the wind got stronger. I came up behind a lone figure in white and made to pass him on a single track road almost at the end of the second loop when I noticed the name Sid on the back of the shirt. I was so pleased to see him, my enthusiastic “Hey Sid” made the poor sod jump a mile. Sid Poppfields Sidowski was doing his first ever triathlon, my book had helped water a small seed that he had in his head that he could do an Ironman. What followed was the familiar months of hard training, injury, and more worries than he’d ever thought he’d have. We exchanged tweets and emails, and I amongst others tried to keep him positive especially in the last month before the race when serious doubts set in. So I was over the moon that he’d made it through the swim. He had one last lap to go, I told him confidently that I would see him on the run and he would be an Outlaw. I don’t think he believed me as I rode away, heading for T2.

I slowed to come into T2 and was so happy to see my mate Chris Wild again that I didn’t notice the speed bump. I’d unclipped ready to dismount and my pedal was in the six o’clock position. It hit the concrete and my saddle nose bounced up and caught me hard, that was a pain I could have done without. I handed my bike to Petal and then shook hands with the now retired 2010 Donut Champion, Fat Buddha. Two more Pirates that were helping out, they were everywhere. I was off the bike in 6.48, about ten minutes ahead of schedule. This time there was no comedy mishaps in transition. I quickly spoke to my Dad, and got the location of where the rest of the family were so I could wave at them later.

Unlike two years ago I headed out onto the run full of confidence, even joking with Viking, who was part of a relay team that I’d make him work hard to catch me. The first lap of the lake was fine, my legs worked and I was actually enjoying it. I stopped as I passed the boathouse to wave at the family, removing my cap so that Charlotte could recognise me. She waved and shouted “Dadeee”. I set off for the river bank in a great mood.

I’ve never seen so much yellow and black, nearly every other competitor was a Pirate. I acknowledged them all. What was funny that several people recognised me and spoke to me about the book, I had no idea who they were. I also spoke to people that I’d been offering advice to on twitter and forums, appropriate I guess that we’d meet for the first time during an Ironman. High fives and handshakes continued throughout the run with friends old and new alike.

I was so pleased to see my fellow COLTS, all of whom raced brilliantly, I was the only one not to get a pb. Graham Hodgson won is age group, a great achievement in his first Ironman. The “Outlaw girls” as they’d christened themselves were brilliant. Sarah, Christine and Mandy had seen their loved ones complete Ironman races and thought they’d like a go at it. They’d trained like demons all year, and it was so uplifting to meet them all coming the other way down the path, smiles contagiously radiating from the three of them.

Shortly after 13 miles my day fell apart, my left calf muscle was on fire. That combined with the pain in both feet caused by the rough surface of the lake path saw me slow to a pedestrian pace. Viking caught me, we hugged, and he offered to wait with me and pace me home. I told him he’d do no such thing as he was running so well. As I ran past the boathouse again I could hear the cheers from the crowd, but I just didn’t have the energy to acknowledge them. I feel bad about that. I did manage to waive at my family, and shout to Em that I had a lap to go. This was so she could hand Charlotte to me as I came into the finish. I made it to the other side of the lake where the conversation with my Dad took place, and cut a lonely figure as I shuffled past.

I can’t lift my feet.

I have no idea how long that last lap took me, all I know is every step hurt. I couldn’t even lift my feet off the floor. I said “Well done” to every competitor that I met on that final loop, and thanked every marshall. I was so pleased to see Sid again, he would make it home with about 13 minutes to spare. It seemed like the whole world came past me on that last loop, I was convinced that my Pirate mate Dave The Ex-Spartan and my COLT friend Christine were going to catch me at any minute. They too however had slowed down.

Apart from my desire to get the job done the only thing that kept me moving forward was the thought of holding Charlotte. I limped into the finishers chute and there she was, my gorgeous 19 month old daughter and her beautiful mum, Em. Charlotte was wearing a Pirate headscarf, a surprise from Em. I couldn’t help but laugh, she looked so cute. I was afraid that after not seeing me all day she’d be scared when I picked her up, I needn’t have worried. A hug and a kiss was followed by a very enthusiastic “Daddeee”. We posed for photos and then Charlotte rather graciously let her knackered old man share in her moment of glory as she became an Outlaw in 14.29.

Charlotte becomes an Outlaw

It was the proudest moment I’d ever experienced in triathlon, I wouldn’t swap that finish for a pb, hell not even for a world record. She’s my inspiration.

I’m in pain, I’m disappointed at how I fell apart, I’m disappointed at my result but I’m also pragmatic about it. It had been the worst of days and it had been the best of days. It’s not life or death, it’s only Ironman and it’s only a hobby.

Thanks everyone for all your support, I really appreciate it.


31 responses to “The worst of days, the best of days.

  1. Congratulations on toughing it out, the pain sounds unimaginable 😦 That picture of you and Charlotte is priceless! You continue to inspire and drive others, like me, as you battle through situations that remind us that few IM races (or any races) will go exactly according to plan and we’d better be ready to do battle – PIRATE style!!

    Your writing is captivating….all of it…until the part about “it’s only a hobby.” I can’t let you get away with that. You’ve shown Ironman training and racing are an integral part of your life and you are an integral part of the Ironman community. You’re unique among them though. We need you out there as our ambassador giving us IM outsiders a glimpse of the inside for as long as IM racing is enriching your life.

    When it ceases to do that, we will follow you on whatever other adventures you are drawn to! Hope your feet are feeling better!!

    • Thanks Cort for your very kind words, really appreciate them as I’ve been having a confidence crisis about my writing, contracted for the second book, but thinking there isn’t a need/demand. Ok I apologise for THAT comment, but it is only a hobby – ok one that love, one that I can’t ever see me giving up and one that does kind of take over your life. Ironman does make me a better person I think. My feet are much better thanks 🙂

  2. Fantastic effort Andy – I’ve heard from some of the other Pirates about the weekend and have heard the good and the bad stories. Sounds like an interesting day all round! Enjoy a well earned rest, and then what’s the plan for you? 😀

    • Thanks Vixx. It was an interesting day, some cracking performances and a great atmosphere. I’m not going to run for a month but will start active recovery with swimming next week as I build towards next years event under the watchful eye of a new coach.

  3. That’s it, I can longer read your blog………crying at work is not a good look! lol You already know how awesome I think you are, well done Andy.

  4. Silent Assassin

    2 things andy
    1. I copywrited the title “The worst of days, the best of days” last year for my outlaw report, I expect my royalties cheque to be in the post.
    2. “Viking offered to pace me home” never a phrase I thought I would hear !

    When we saw you on the Monday, we did get a tad concerned.

    See you soon

    SA, Mrs SA and Jordy

    • 1. I’ll give you the cash when I see you.
      2. I NEVER expected to write it – seriously though he and Jo were brill.
      Didn’t realise I was that much of a mess on Monday when I saw you.
      Will be in touch mate.
      Regards to the family, great to see you all again.

  5. David Pendleton

    Andy, your book also helped to inspire me to my first Long Distance Tri. Outlaw was my first, I was slower than you, but I got there and my 18 year old son was waiting for me at the finish too! So, thanks for taking the time to write your book! It was, and is, inspirational! We all looked to be in a hard place on the run. Glad you had a brilliant finish too!
    Prince Siegfried

    • David,
      Cheers mate, I’m glad that my book helped in some small way. Congratulations on becoming an Outlaw / Ironman, take strength from the fact that it was a tough day to race.
      A family finish was brilliant, glad you enjoyed yours.
      Recover well and Aaaaarghhhh

  6. You’ve just showed me again what it takes to do this. Training, dedication,family, friends and heart. So glad you had a great moment to remember a tough race.

  7. I don’t want to rub it in or anything, but on Monday I got a PB of 2.2 miles running. Every time I think of how hard it is to start running, I read your blog and it spurs me on!

    • Congratulations on the PB, seems everyone has been getting them this week apart from me 😉
      Good luck with the running, may your PBs continue…woo hoo

  8. again, an absolutely brilliant job, and I like the fact you acknowledge its a hobby, but a great one to have! we all moan about swim laps miscounted, bad transitions, people drafting, but sitting down after the race you still get that warm feeling!
    be interested to know which race you enjoyed more…Lanza, or Outlaw given that you knew alot more people and got to carry Charlotte across!

    Keep racing….

    • Thanks mate.
      Lanza without a doubt, it was a magical race, and one that I truely feared. I never doubted my ability to finish the Outlaw even with the pain.
      But as I already said the finish with Charlotte was my proudest moment in triathlon, I wouldn’t have traded that for anything.

  9. Andy it was good to see you there, you have given so many people hope and a feeling that they can also do this well done and thank you for the chat on the way round. I didn’t think I was going to finish and like you pushed somehow to get over the line. Take care.

    • Niall, great to catch up with you again. Well done for putting up with Saffers over the past year 😉 You deserve a medal just for that ha ha. You did brilliantly, were very strong and determined. Seeing you and Saffers together on that last lap was great. Well done mate, recover well.

  10. Outstanding! ‘It’ whether it is an ironman a marathon a trek or any event that requires a dedication and a will to push yourself to and beyond your limits is a great leveller. I was humbled to the core to share my day, my devastation, my pain and my unbridled joy with fantastic staff, dedicated supporters and stubborn to the core, soul dredging, mountainous hearted competitors. unbelievable community. You sir are a fine ambassador whether you intended to very or not. thankyou and great blog!

    • Thanks Sid. Very well done on your fantastic achievement. Was great to finally meet you and to share the briefest of moments with you on your journey. I’ll catch up with you again in another race at some point. All the best.

  11. Oh Andy don’t be so hard on yourself!! Finishing an Ironman however and at whatever time is an amazing achievement and you should be proud of yourself! Love the photo with Charlotte!! Hope you are feeling more yourself you ARE an inspiration… and other sprint triers salute you!

    • Thanks Janey – got a talking to off Em pretty much along the same lines when she read the blog earlier. I’m feeling much better thanks, I appreciate your wise words and support. An ironman finish, no matter what the time is something to be celebrated 🙂

  12. Absolutely awesome, andy your achievements are incredible and I’ll be a happy man if one day I get just close to emulating them. Your book has inspired me in my first tri season (im on my third read!), it’s one of the best books I’ve read. So to hear your going to write one and then maybe not in the space of 5 mins reading your blog is simply not on. You now have the hearts and minds of a whole tri community following you – we’ll all buy the book because we know what a genuine and great bloke you are, you’re not a bad writer either! I know you’ll keep going, you’re bigger and better than to let Sunday get to you for long. I had a similar experience running my first marathon last year, and your family really helps get everything into perspective. But I expect you know that already.

    • Thanks Phil for your very kind words. There will be a second book, it will be out next year. I guess I was just having a wibble having read a couple of iffy reviews ( I should stop reading them ).
      I can’t please everyone, and that’s the problem I guess. I feel bad if someone didn’t like my story etc… BUT we are all different, and you take the rough with the smooth, a bit like Ironman.
      Once again thanks 🙂

  13. Fantastic Blog Andy!
    Although you’ll be sore at the moment and things didn’t go quite according to plan. Firstly remember YOU FINISHED, which is an amazing achievement and you should congratulate yourself and your team for it. Give it a little time and I’m sure you’ll look back fondly on this race, what went wrong and the learnings you had. Afterall we can’t learn and get better unless thing don’t go according to plan! Well done! Inspirational!

    • Thanks mate.
      I’m feeling better already, I’m thinking about what went wrong, how I can correct it, and most importantly how I can use the experience to come back stronger in the future.

  14. You are my hero, andy! Loved the picture of you and tour little girl. I only do sprint tris, but hearing my kids tell me how proud they are of me makes me feel like an ironman!

  15. Well done again with the Ironman..what a day that seems to have been.!
    I finished you book just a day or two before my first outing in a super sprint.
    Did well until cramp in both calfs 100m into run but soon got over it . Did another last weekend at Eastliegh my first open water …ok only 200m but I surprised myself with a 3.40 swim but then a 5min transition!! Lost my bike ..lesson learnt and will put something more visual near it next time .. Finished to run 5min up on week before ..
    And to top it off I was given another copy of your book in goodie bag!!!which I’ve sent to my mate as inspiration for or Virgin Triathlon attempt in September …
    Thanks and good luck to you

  16. Pingback: Tri inspiration « The Scribbler

  17. Andy hope you are well on the way to feeling rightly chuffed about your performance! I did manc-Blackpool bike ride today (60miles) in 4 and a half hours. Because of my knees etc this is the furthest I have ever ever ridden so am quite happy ! Whatever you/we do and however long etc it takes the fact that we have done it is the point-yes! Good luck with the next book.
    Btw David (above) what a great goody bag!

  18. Hi Andy. today I competed in my first triathlon, OD. The weather was atrocious but I kept a smile on my face the whole way round. I just wanted to thank you for the inspiration your book gave me. I took on board so much of what you said and it helped me get through all the training and especially today.
    Good luck in your next challenge.

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