I’m Lancashire born and bred. A proud Lancastrian who often reminisces about a youth spent cycling around the endless country miles up through the Trough of Bowland and out to North Yorkshire. My heart still belongs up there and it’s fitting that my triathlon journey would come full circle.
In 1991 I was a keen cyclist and had heard about triathlon. I didn’t like the idea of swimming in cold water and generally I thought triathletes were extremely fit and this was probably something I couldn’t do. I was a competitive swimmer from the ages 12-14 and one of the masters swimmers Chris Goddard was a triathlete. Not only was he a triathlete but a triathlete who’d done an Ironman. I was in awe of this guy. I’d seen Ironman triathlon on Transworld sports and had been captivated by the images of heat, lava fields, wind and the big five who dominated the sport back then. Most of all it was Dave Scott who was my hero. I’m sure I’m not the only person who watches people do crazy things whilst wondering whether you could do it yourself. The seed was sown in my young head and one day I was gonna be like Dave.
In 2002 I decided to enter Ironman Hawaii only to be disappointed when I found out it was qualification only. Dammit I’ll qualify then. So I entered IM Lake Placid which was held in July 2003. I won’t bore you with the story but 11 years later I’d still not qualified for that Hawaii Ironman and I fancied my chances at IM UK up in Bolton, Lancashire. Triathlon was coming home. For me anyway.
I’ll first thanks the Stuttards who looked after me like a king during my stay in Lancashire. It was Chris Stuttard back in 1991 who had inspired me to get a bike and start cycling. I blame the rest of what happened on him. There in started a love affair with the bike that continues to this day.
Annoyingly during race week I picked up an ear infection. On the Friday it was really bad and I could hear myself swallow. Having been healthy for months and months I was now frustrated that the race could be in danger. On the Saturday it seemed to be a little better so I breathed a sigh of relief. On reflection I think what happens next was probably down to that infection still being in my body.
On race morning both Ian and Chris rose as early as I did. That’s 3.45am. I forced down a bowl of porridge and was ready to go. Things went pretty smoothly from that point and I’ll not bore on about what happened between the porridge and the swim start. Once on the start line I took up a position on the front and in the centre. Swim was pretty straight forward and I exited the first lap in around 28m30s which was a little slower than I’d like but I later found out the course was a little long. I crossed the timing mat in a shade over the hour and headed for the T1 change tent. Once in there I downed a small can of coke and wiped my face with wet wipes. I’d heard the lake water had caused some upset stomachs the year before so was keen to do my best to avoid getting the shits.
Once out on the bike I held my planned wattage of 250 and started bringing the field back in one by one. I passed many in my age but had no idea where I was in the field or age group. Up the 14 or so miles to Sheephouse lane and I was feeling very good. I limited my wattage up the long climb to the top and was passed by a few people. One of these was Victoria Gill whose a cheeky monkey. I figured she’d over spiked the first bit of the bike but at the same time knew she is a very good athlete so didn’t say anything. The coach in me wanted to shout “be careful”.
The two lap course is tough. Less climbing than 2013 I’m told but those who have ridden both said it wasn’t any easier. Lots of little climbs and tight turns so it was difficult to get into a rhythm. I knew I was quite far up the field as I went to start lap 2 and was motivated to see my parents who shouted out that I was 3rd in age. Wattage average was exactly 250 so bang on target. That will do I thought. I can monitor things now.
As I was climbing Sheephouse again I was starting to feel a little jaded. Looking back my theory is that this ear infection had knocked me a little. I wasn’t as strong as I’d like and so I ate more thinking it was fuelling related. I had 13 gels in a bottle and was taking on board water as and when I could grab a bottle. On reflection I probably should have had more solids as my energy levels felt low. Over the top of Sheephouse and I was passed by someone in my age group who immediately peeled off for a pee. Then number 17 came past and on the descent I blasted past him as he struggled with the twisty descent.. By the climb up out of Belmont I was passed by number 17, the chap in my age group and around six others. I realised they were riding together. I decided I’d back off my wattage and just hang 10m off the back of their group. They were spiking the climbs and taking it way to easy on the descents which was frustrating as my wattage average was dropping and dropping. I was loathed to put in a big effort to blast past them all as I knew that would result in one thing. A pace line off my back wheel. I just sat patiently monitoring the situation and as we twisted and turned through the East Lancs lanes I was aware of someone sitting 10m behind me. It was Richard Evershed who was in my age group and one of the chaps I thought might challenge for a podium. I went back to him for a chat and to complain about the illegal group in front of us. He explained that they’d been cheating for pretty much the whole of lap 1.
So we continued in fits and starts to the start of the 2nd ascent of Hunters Hill. A steep little bugger. I took my chance to overtake a few of members of this group but on the other side of the hill was disappointed to be caught and overtaken once again by the same old faces who had been riding so close together now for as long as I’d been with them. I was petrified of a motor bike penalising me so made sure I was a good 10m back. That motor bike never appeared on lap 2 I’m sad to say.
As we neared the end of the bike I was determined to break away from them and enter transition in 2nd place (we’d mopped up another guy who’d been ahead). So despite the wattage for the 2nd lap being around 210 watts we were pretty much travelling as fast as I’d been on the 1st lap. Despite being 10m back I had clearly had some kind of advantage. Or maybe spiking the hell out of the climbs is the fastest way round a course like that. I’ll never know as my Garmin file never saved for some reason.
So I was into T2 in 2nd place in age and got a welcome cheer from members of my family who had been waiting around for hours no doubt. Not a spectator sport Ironman. Thanks for being there.
I was heavy legged but that was to be expected. In and out of T2 like a scalded cat and off onto the run. So how did I feel? I felt exactly as I’d expect to feel. Tired from the bike and possibly too tired but I was optimistic things would get better as I took down a gel. I needed a pee though. The first mile includes a beast of a climb up to the main road and at the top my parents gave me a cheer. I was joined by Richard Evershed who is a good runner. But so am I. Normally.
We had a quick chat and did a synchronised porta-loo stop. That was a relief and I settled into 7.15s per mile. It felt ok but then Richard drifted ahead and I thought I’d let him go. It’s a long day. But I wasn’t feeling good. I lacked energy and that was then reflected in my pace as I slipped to mid 7s, high 7s and eventually 8 mins per mile. I was passed by someone in my age group so knew I was in 4th. In Copenhagen I’d been holding back and was knocking out low 7s. This didn’t feel right. But it’s Ironman and I knew from experience that there are highs and lows. I needed to fuel up. So at the aid station on the canal I took on board as much as I could. But I was still running relatively slowly on the flat section of the canal.
There’s another beast of a hill up from the canal to the main road where we joined the 3 lap run circuit. I could see I was in the top 30 or so and doing very well. The gap back to 5th was huge. In fact it was so big I didn’t see the person in 5th on the whole 15 min out and back. Even though I was starting to really not feel good (only 6 miles done) I knew all I had to do was keep going. It could get better. Deep down I knew it probably wasn’t going to get better and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen as the race progressed. I wasn’t really mentally prepared for what was to come although I’m proud of the way I dealt with it. I descended into Bolton and started to make a point of walking the aid stations. I wasn’t going fast though. I didn’t look at my watch anymore. I decided it was pointless. I wasn’t going to get any good news from it and I certainly didn’t want to know how far I still had to run. I was suffering now. Really suffering and there was 16 miles to go. This wasn’t right. This isn’t how it’s meant to be. I’d put in the training and should have been stronger than I was. I kept on going. I wanted to stop. I really wanted to stop. My head was full of negative thoughts and the only thing that kept me going was the thought of having to explain to everyone what went wrong. I was also annoyed that I might have to go through another long 9 month built up campaign. Again. To put my friends and family through it all again. So as you can probably tell I wasn’t mentally or physically in a good place. On reflection I didn’t have any mental strategies to deal with this. I knew one thing though. I wasn’t going to give up. I hadn’t been passed so I was still running in a Kona qualifying position in 4th position in the M35-39 age group.
Looking at the splits for the run I went through 13 miles in around 1.40. That’s not actually all that bad considering how I was feeling. I hadn’t realised this at the time though and nor could it really have made much difference. I was on the slide. At around 13 miles and on the second time up the big long climb I was passed by Benoit who eventually finished 4th in our age group. I tried to stick with him for a little bit but couldn’t and my one memory is of him having long legs and very short tri shorts. Shortly after I was also passed my good buddy Kevin Rooney who was a lap behind and looked to be running well (if not a little bandy legged..sorry SM). This shocked me a little. It shocked me back into reality. He had passed me up the long long climb out of Bolton so I made the decision to try and up the pace to keep up. He broke into a walk and I passed him. But no sooner than a few minutes later he retook me and I realised he was simply running faster and was clearly in a better place. I had tried to talk to him to explain the situation but the words didn’t come out in the right order. What I was trying to say was “I’m gone, totally gone”. Or words to that effect. I’d also tried to mumble to him that I was 4th in age (in case he thought my day was over….which I was beginning to thing it was…but it wasn’t). So I just kept on going. One foot in front of the other. My eyes weren’t even open for long periods. I think it was at this point that I started to throw in the odd non aid station walk. I was in a physical state now but still had 12 or so miles to run. I wasn’t thinking about the distance but started aiming for aid stations. I’d give myself a good walk break, a head wetting and a drink at each aid station. The aid station at the top of the big hill has Red Bull. I was all over that. It did make me feel better briefly on each lap but I knew I was on a slippery slope.
As we climbed up the big long hill The course was relentless. The hill out of town was 2.5 miles I’d say with a very steep section at the bottom. I managed to run up the first two laps but on the third and final lap I broke into a walk on the steep section. Getting started again round the corner was tough but I was now running scared. I had been trying to keep track of people who had overtaken me but there’s always people who sneak past and you don’t catch their number. In fact what happened was I was passed by Michael Collins (who made up 23 mins on the run) on the way up the hill. I spot him but then again my eyes were semi closed and only open enough to see the road. As I hit the top of the final long hill I stopped at the aid station and grabbed my 3rd large cup of Red Bull and poured yet more water on my head. I could sense the finish was close and at that point the 3rd place lady Jo Carritt who was accompanied by a mountain biker. It wasn’t really the pass that bugged me more how desperately I wanted to be on the mountain bike. In fact I’d spent 10 mile wanting to just lie down by the side of the road and end the misery. Anyway at this point I started to run a little quicker. not sure how this happened, it’s probably the pull of the finish line. I did the last 5km in 22 mins and granted most of it was downhill but I’m reasonably surprised I managed this. The worst part was not knowing my position and imagining that I was probably down to 7th or 8th now and none of the agony would count for anything. I was running quite quickly not down the long hill and inexplicably broke into a walk for about 15s. Then got going again and ran to the final aid station which is some 500m from the finish line. You’d imagine that stopping wouldn’t be an option. But I did. I was so tuned to just hanging in to each aid station that I walked through it and put water on my head. I then got going and ran in towards the town hall. My mum and dad were screaming and had people round them screaming. I didn’t hear any of it. I was in a zombie trance. I made my way down the finish shoot and all I can remember was zipping up my tri suit for the photos. But then I ran down and over the finish line looking down only to stop my Garmin. I didn’t punch the air, I had no emotion. It was over. Then I collapsed. I’d run a personal worst 3hrs46 marathon and finished in 10hrs24.
I vaguely remember being picked up and put into a wheelchair as the medical team kicked into action. They were excellent and I came to in the medical room with loads of sensors stuck on me. At this point I felt flat. I felt like I’d been through a trauma but most of all I was sure I probably didn’t do enough to get in the top 6. The medical team brought me back round with salt water, cups of tea (which tasted sooo good) and some biscuits. They don’t do drips apparently. My parents had spent 20 mins trying to work out where I’d gone. Surely I’d be near the pizza? They eventually worked out what had happened and brought my bag with the change of clothes. My mum sat next to the bed and said “how do you feel”? My response was “I feel like shit, I feel like shit because I went through hell and it was all for nothing”. She then informed me “But you did it, you were 6th”.
I can’t remember the last time I shed a tear but I broke down crying. I think the enormity of the situation wacked me in the face. All I had to do was get in the top 6 and I’d done it. But I couldn’t be 100% sure until the presentation the next day and “the list”.
I slept quite well that night and woke up at 6am. I then spent an hour working out how many people had started all the age groups and trying to calculate how many slots there would be. I found a cool website that actually tries to second guess the WTC algorithm. I was fairly convinced there was 6 slots. At 10am we had to go back to the expo tent at the stadium to see “the list”. I walked in and before I could get to it I glanced over to Michael Collins and his wife Mary. He put the thumbs up and at that moment I knew it was for real.
At 11am I went to the Kona rolldown and awards and picked up my slot. It was fitting that my parents were there having been there for my first swim races in 1989, my first cycling race in 1991, my first marathon in 2001, my sub 2.45 marathon in 2013 and finally the Hawaii Ironman qualification slot.
Cutting it fine? I was 23s ahead of 7th and he didn’t get a slot. The gap might be small but there’s an infinite gulf between 6th and 7th. The guy in 7th is frustrated, annoyed, regretful and faces at least 5-6 months of hard training before he can try again. It will likely be a lot longer. His mind is full of “if onlys” and he probably sat there at the rolldown hoping for a slot to roll only to see all 6 be snapped up in front of him. The disappointment of the day itself where he hurt himself harder than he hurt before compounded by a restless nights sleep and then the huge disappointment of a rolldown ceremony where it didn’t happen. He has to explain to people that he didn’t get a slot. Over and over. After all that training. All those early morning sessions. All that sacrifice. I’ve been in his shoes and it hurts. And that’s without considering the money it’s gonna cost to go again. He may never qualify. He feels like it’s his nemesis. The holy grail. I don’t know the guy in 7th but I feel like I know him. Many of you reqding this (Assuming you’ve got this far) know the man in 7th because they’ve been there. Those same people have also qualified. I missed out in 2004 by 16s and it haunted me for years.
The bloke in 8th. He can go fcuck himself. He was 1 min down and got everything he deserved. He was in an illegal pace line that caught me after 100km. He spent 80km cheating and that’s the bit I could observe. NO doubt spent the first lap doing the same.
The guy in 6th has found inner peace, is on continuous high, wakes up and pinches himself, he thinks about it at least a few times every minute, has a trip of a lifetime ahead, will spend the rest of his life knowing he’s taken part in the Hawaii Ironman. The worlds most iconic endurance race. The original. A race that most triathletes would love to do. That guy has fulfilled a boyhood dream. Something he’s had dreams about as a grown man. Think back to how you felt when you got the scaletrix track on christmas day. Coz that’s the closest to what it feels like. It’s literally changed my life. I’m grateful for the opportunity, talent, luck, strength, understanding family that allowed me to achieve it.
I’d like to thank a few people. Firstly my wife Tanya. Long suffering Iron widow. At least she get’s a holiday in Hawaii now (finally). We nearly went on Honeymoon to Kona in 2004 but I missed out on a slot by 16s.
I’d like to thank my friends and family who cheered out the course (you know who you are). I’d like to thank all of you for the kind words of congrats and support.
I’d like to thank my iRide Thames Turbo team mates and Richard Newey for whipping the team into shape this year.
I’d like to thank all of you who shared the journey. Too many to mention but swims, rides and runs done together.
In terms of the races I’d set out to do in 2014 and the goals I had for the season. It’s job done. Have a quick read of what I set out to do – click here
Next race is the World Half Ironman champs in Mont Tremblant (7th September). I’m going to attempt the double.
I was 3rd in age at Majorca with a 4.24
3rd overall and 1st in age at Windsor with a lifetime best 2.01
I won the Forestman Middle
I went sub 2.09 at Worthing
I qualified for Kona ticking off the 3rd and final lifetime athletic goal