“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 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.
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.