Race report: Forward. Before I begin telling you all of my account of race day I feel that I should warn that this is going to be a long read. It’s probably going to be full of cliches but I promise you this, all of those cliches really happened and I hope you get to the end of this knowing that I gave the day my best shot.
3am, 4th August 2013
My phone alarm rings signalling the start of my day, except I’ve been wide awake for a few hours and I was ready for it rather than being rudely awoken. My mind is set on the task in hand. I’ve been playing out the schedule and routine for the past few hours over and over again. Visualising the day ahead down to every last detail. 3am signalled time for coffee.
I got up and put the kettle on. It’s still dark outside and can hear the patter of rain hitting against the window. I crawled back to bed, coffee in tow to savour what was going to be my last bit of chill time for a while.
3:30am right on schedule I start feeding. I use this term as eating would infer I was actually hungry and wanted to eat. I did not. This wasn’t some drunken snack you’d have after drinking all night when you get the munchies, this was fuelling for a reason. I needed some carbs to start digesting to give me energy for later in the morning. A bowl of cereal and a toasted bagel was the fuel of choice that I forcefully shoved down my throat.
3:45 am changing into my trisuit was a watershed moment where suddenly nerves started to appear. I’d not been nervous really up until this point. I couldnt let that detract from the schedule though, Anti chafe cream applied and I was good to go. By this time all were awake and ready. Alan and Tina had appeared from their accommodation and my parents were up.
Andy, unusually bouncy for this time in the morning was starting to get ready for the day ahead. I realised then that this was as much of a deal for me as it was for the spectators I chose and asked to come and support me. I say chose but Andy has supported me throughout and he wouldn’t have wanted to miss this culmination of the training I put in.
4am, on time we left the accommodation up in the hills above Bolton and made the 40minute journey to the start line. It was still dark and still raining. It wasn’t the start I’d hoped for but the weather is unpredictable and inevitable, so there is no option to just get on with it.
It took what seemed like forever to get to Pennington Flash, each red traffic light set loose a swarm of butterflies in the pit of my stomach. Paul Kaye, the Ironman announcer described this as a ‘good feeling’ and one which should be respected as that feeling means this thing is important. He’s right, I’ve invested a lot of time, money and effort to get here, but also the challenge that I set myself was going to be tested. It is the unknown that I get nervous for, but I knew I’d planned for most eventualities so I was going to be ok. Right?
4:44 the car clock read as we pulled up into the estate opposite the country park, it was still dark the clouds loomed above our heads spitting out the rain. There were 6 of us, consisting of Alan and Tina my IM-to-be buddies and Andy, Scott and Sandy the spectators who chose to come to the start.
I led us all down an unlit path that I’d scoped out using google maps that would take us a short distance to the start area. We opted not to park in the flash itself as all the roads would be closed until 9:30 and the spectators had spectating to do before that time and needed to get to the place to watch the bike!
The path was dark but led us straight there, as we drew closer to the start area, the noise of lots of people started to get louder,swarms of people were heading toward the floodlit area where the day before we’d racked our bikes. Transition was a hive of activity. This was it.
5:20 bikes have been checked and water bottles had been stowed we were ready.
5:30 I was half in my wetsuit again as the first time i’d left my shorts on so had to undress and start again, and then I had the full bladder feeling. Was this just nerves or did I really have a full bladder? I knew if i kept it in that I’d be thinking of it and I didn’t want it to plague my whole swim leg (no I couldn’t have pee’d in my suit)
I joined the huge toilet queue. It was moving very slowly made up of all men, the ladies in their small numbers must have had better facilities but all we had was these 6 porta-loos for 1400 men.
5:40am I could see competitors all suited up with swim caps on lining up to get into the water. I was 20 nervous men away from that line. My nerves were increasing. Ill save you all this but once I was done I exited that loo so quickly and ran to find where I’d left my stuff. I quickly jostled my trisuit and wet suit on applying anti chafe cream to the neck. I looked down and my wet suit had split at the waist! Oh dear! No time to do anything about it I was just going to have to get on with it and deal with what ever happens.
I enter the queue at the back, giving my white bag to the volunteer. Balls I thought. My green bag was still at home. This was my personal needs bag I’d banked on using for extra food and ibuprofen around the course. My nutrition strategy would need to change.
5:53am No time to think I could hear the announcer say 7 minutes to go, I was no where near the water.
5:55am as I was heading onto the pontoon that would deliver me to the water they played the national anthem, an Ironman tradition from its American roots. It was at this point I got overwhelmed, emotion hit me as I looked out over thousands of blue hats bobbing in the water this was the awesome sight of a mass swim start and the start of my challenge.
6am The race started by canoes parting ways and the horn going off. I spoke out loud WoW. And a competitor wished me luck before I had chance to say good luck back he’d dipped under and started swimming. This was my time to swim. I’d already made my way over to the right hand side of the pack making sure I could try to get some water space and avoid the punch up. I did reasonably well at this though a few hundred metres or so I was still passing folk and having to sight every stroke. I eventually without incident found my own water, I was a few metres to the right of the pack opting for the long way around rather than the shorter but in a race like this, a few extra metres doesn’t make a difference. Before I knew it, I was at the first bouy, this seemed so far away when practicing the day before.
Turing again at the second bouy we headed back to the shore to finish our first lap of this 1900m course. The sun peaked above the clouds the rain had stopped half an hour ago unveiling quite a nice morning. The water was calm, apart from where people were swimming, where all you can see are arms, blue heads and a lot of splashing. It was the splashing I was using to sight at this point as the sun made it difficult to see the bouy at the shore end. I blindly followed the pack which were still a few metres to my left while also avoiding the canoes who were on my right. I could see the bouy now, and the exit pontoon.
Making my way to the pontoon was difficult as merging with the main pack was tricky trying not to swim into people. A traffic jam of floating people occurred, but without too much hold up I was crawling up the ramp out of the water. A volunteer ‘caught’ me as the water drains out of the suit your balance soon goes. Balance gained I slowly jogged around the shore and back onto the pontoon for lap 2.
I exited the water and into transition after 1:09 officially and my Garmin stating 4.2kms which concludes that the Garmin could be a bit out on its measurement, something I’d feared but also something I’d swam for as I’d done a couple of 4km practice swims.
7:12am I grab my bag and head to a spare seat in the tent. Wet suit off and thrown in front of me. Dumping all the contents of the blue bag on the grass in from of me I set to work on taping up the knee. Drying, cutting, sticking, pulling and hey presto I was done. Cycle top on, helmet on, gloves on, glasses on, glasses off- too dark in tent for shades, food stuffed into pockets, race belt on, feet dried, socks on and then shoes. Wetsuit and taping materials packed into blue bag I hobbled out of the transition tent to look for my bike not before a kind volunteer grabbed my bag off me.
I walked around the ravking area taking my time and I found my noble stead – my giant tcr composite 3 and off I went toward the mounting point.
7:24am I’m heading toward the mounting point. This is it. This is the start of the gruelling bike course. My prep had been steady, even with injury, my left knee though had started to give me some jip on the final rides, Pitlochry, Stirling and down home. I’d been down playing this a bit but it was a concern.
As I mounted I took my time following advice I’d read and spun out of the car park area. Out of sight of spectators I stopped and strapped my Garmin to my bike and all I could hear was the roar of carbon fibre and wheels whizz past me. I kept in a low gear leaving the park and for a few km up the road. Keeping my legs turning and warming them up. I had felt the beginnings of cramp when swimming and had forgot to stretch in the transition tent. The calves were tight so I just needed to stretch them a bit. The night before I also had a tight adductor and this I could feel too. It wasn’t the start I wanted, tho I was expecting some sort of muscular pain I hadn’t expected it to be from the get go.
The point to point section before joining the loop section of the course seemed to fly by, I was going by feeling but this wasn’t the best plan. I’d planned it that I needed to keep either at best 23.5kmph average or at worst 21kmph. I was going 24.5 and at one point that had risen to 25kmph. Race day nerves, adrenaline and hype was probably the cause I needed to slow down. I wasn’t gonna have a choice.
8:00am or there abouts I joined the loop, this marks the start of the hills and THE hill – winters hill. The right turn onto the loop was a good feeling, mentally I’d broken the loop into sections, the hilly section, the top section and the return section. This hilly section had the most support, it’s also closest to the run so ideal for spectators. Immediately after turning right onto the loop into this small lane that steadily rises up. It was lined by spectators cheering and clapping, it was early but there was people out.
By now the sun was peeping out, the rain hadnt shown itself since before the race. It was turning into a nice day. There was little wind at this point and I was warm. Reading the forecast in the morning rain had been the main order of the day so sun cream was left off the list. This had been a mistake but again I was just going to have to deal with it. Fluids and more fluids would need to be taken. My nutrition strategy had started. I’d already eaten an iced hot cross bun and had half a cliff bar. This all before Winters Hill, the biggest climb on the route, some 300m up over a few km.
Before this, the feed station was located before Rivington, I cruised on by not needing anything yet, then dipped down across the reservoir and into the village.
I didn’t expect Andy to be there but he was, this was a good mental boost as I hadn’t seen him on my way out of T1. He was talking to someone so I shouted a bit to get his attention. Photo taken I headed up Winters Hill. By now, the slower swimmers but good cyclists started to pass me, the hill section was dangerous, the road is narrow, just a country lane, bounded on either side by steep banks and lined with trees, I looked up ahead and it looked like a scene from le tour, a massive peloton had formed- so much for no drafting. I kept in the lowest gear, spinning slowly, managing the knee pains. I kept to the left side choosing not to overtake as the faster riders were passing me.
1st section done and the road levels out as it twists its way to the next uphill section. Spectators stood by road junctions and clapped but there wasn’t many on the hill itself. The next section up to the top of Winters Hill was a tough one, spinning again I started going up, the road switches back up ahead , I kept my head down and spun the pedals slowly. Knees creaking and sweat dripping. A slight breeze could be felt but the sun was over powering that and heating me up.
Crunch! I looked back and there was a crash some bike and rider was on the floor, others who’d stopped in time were piling up behind. That was a close one. I’m not sure what happened to him. I didn’t look back again. I was adamant I would make this course without failure, crash or mechanical or puncture.
Rounding the switch back the photographers were there camped in open sided tents. I managed a smile but the hill wasn’t done. There was one more kick left.
Just before the kick the road dips and a small lay-by is on the left. There stood a campervan, music blaring and 5 guys with wigs on and only wearing mankinis! They must have been there all night having a laugh. It was welcome after that hill to have some light relief and some cheers of support.
This downhill section is technical and could easy prove fatal to both race and life. The road drops steeply and twists and turns. Having recced the course on bike a few months ago and again by car I knew the course well. I also knew about the pothole section that sits nastily on a turn. I slowed for this losing momentum but I had to slow down st some point as dropping into Belmont Village there is a steep drop, then a sharp 90 degree turn left where all speed is lost as you travel up hill from here again.
Belmont is a spectator hotspot. The turn attracts a lot of folk as it is a good opportunity to see riders going slow and access is easy. This is good for us competitors as it gives you that much needed boost. I was happy to have survived the fist test of the knees. Pain was 5/10 if 10 is the most pain. This was good.
The long drag through Belmont was OK and the next few Kms went without incident. I was focused now on getting to the next water aid station which would signify half way around the loop.
My drinking and feed taking seemed to be going ok. Managing to force down solid carbs in the form of hot cross buns and a bagel. Reaching the aid station I stopped to Pee. The porta loo was clean as this was in the middle of an industrial park, nice smooth roads but no spectators. I was tempted to do more than p without getting too graphic but opted to carry on. I exchanged my bottle for a full energy drink. They were handing out lemon flavour power bar juice. I’d not tried this before the race and it didn’t taste that good on first taste. But energy is energy and I couldn’t be fussy.
9:10 am half way around the loop. I passed the line of green bags for the personal needs people had dropped off. Remembering I’d forgotten mine I realised I’d been too greedy with feeding and had probably eaten more solid carbs in the first hour than I should have. I needed to change what id practiced and interchange proper food with energy bars.
Turning south heading through the village of Eccleston the wind was in my face. It was tough going heading into the wind. The road was also open both directions which meant keeping your wits about you as cars got impatient with the huge amount of cyclists. I went down on my drops, I don’t do this often but I immediately felt a difference. This was good though lack of training in this area meant I got a sore back and neck fairly quickly.
There wasn’t much support through this section which made it even tougher. I got the distinct feeling that the people here didn’t really want us coming through their village. Never the less I’d be back around again twice more.
Reaching the turning point to head east was the start of another section of quiet rural roads and heading back toward the hill section. The hill loomed in the distance marked by the huge aerials and masts that adorn its summit. It’s a beacon warning you to keep it steady. In the back of my mind I was remembering the recce Tina Alan and I did back in April. My right knee had given out on our second go up that hill. It was a constant worry for me. On the brighter side the hill meant support, seeing the folks and Andy and ticking off 1 of 3 loops.
10:00am Reaching the village of Adlington and turning left where I’d joined the loop a couple of hours ago was just incredible. Incredible because COLT were out in force. Their numbers had picked up since 8am. I’d read about this club in Andy Holgate’s book Can’t swim, can’t bike, can’t run. His book kinda sowed a seed that I could do an ironman. This guy doesn’t know me but his book informed me of what an ironman was all about and inspired me that I could probably do one. Probably.
Anyway, these guys were amazing. They’re closed in on the road and made a wall of sound, cheering, shouts of encouragement and shouting my name as I went past when they could read my name from my number belt. Absolutely amazing. Just what I needed.
The support all the way to the reservoir was great. It made the thought of the hill go away temporarily. Reaching the downhill to cross the bridge at the reservoir my parents were at the side of the road. Really good to see them. A quick wave and I picked up the speed to pass Andy and his many cameras.
10:20 heading up the hill. Again. Steady does it. The field had thinned and there was no peloton like grouping this time. I start chatting to some bloke as we both huff and puff up the hill. We exchange how tough this course is and that we both couldn’t wait to get off the bike. There was a long way to go yet. 2 more laps and we weren’t half way yet.
The sun was still shining through intermittent clouds. This wasn’t good. I was getting pain in the crook of my elbows. Looking down I had scratches on them. Don’t know how or when that happened but they were sore. Sore when sweat was getting on them, and I was sweating going up this hill. The second section, the switch backs is open with no tree cover, my left knee was giving me jip. I opted to pull up harder with my right leg to save the knee if at all possible. This was the start of feeling low. Low doesn’t really describe it.
Having just made it up the hill I was worried that the next 20kms of periods of hilliness would right off my knee. I held back, slowed down and didn’t push. This was survival mode.
My mood was at an all time low getting to the south west section heading into little wheelton. There’s an uphill section just as you turn at the motorway. It was right into the wind. Spinning on the easiest gear I was hardly moving. My knee was painful 7/10, I was having doubts as to whether I’d finish as i was only just over half way at this point.
I started thinking of not making it. I took half an energy bar and some lemon drink to give me some energy but I wasn’t fast coming. I had to get myself through this. Thoughts of Paul Kaye saying those words entered my head, I started to fantasise that I’d hear them today, I thought of Andy and his support, I thought of my parents who’d come to cheer me on. Emotion hit me like a slap in the face. I needed a slap. I was chocking up. “Breath Glenn. Breath. ” I said. Deep breaths I changed gear and dug deep. I needed to get round to Rivington to get the much needed support.
The road south was long especially since traffic had picked up. I reached Adlington and I made an effort to join in and jostle with the crowd by smiling and sticking my thumb up. This was all I could do but it was enough to raise a cheer. What a buzz. Really awesome from those Colt guys.
Going past the drinks station I spotted Scott and Sandy. I lied and said I was ok. I really wasn’t. I took some energy juice and an energy bar and cycled toward Rivington. I slowed as I passed the family. They asked if I was OK. I was in no mood to lie here and just said I was f***ed. I really was and the prospect of that hill again really didn’t fill me with much pleasure. The support again was great and it pushed me up the first section. I was just getting to the top and behind me came this voice. It was Tina! “I recognise that arse!” Lol I was so tired. She was going great guns up that hill. We rode together chatting about the swim and how we were feeling. She was doing awesome. She led away and I couldn’t keep up, instead insisting in spinning the hill in the smallest ring. In my head I knew I was low and I knew there was a long way to go so I needed to save myself for the rest of the 55kms. I caught up with Tina and we rode the hill some more together side by side. Making sure there was ample space aside so as not to be caught by the no drafting rule. We’d done winters hill now, we’d not be up there again that day! This perked me up as seeing Tina really helped lift me.
We rode a bit together through Belmont waving to Alison a friend of Tina’s who was there supporting a couple of folk. I let Tina go on ahead I didn’t want to push the knee on that incline. It was the last I’d see of her in the bike route.
With new found energy and the realisation that I was almost there I decided to crank up the gears and push. Drinking isotonic juice every 4-5km and energy bars every 30mins I was determined to finish this bike course.
Heading into that wind the final time I went onto the drops. My back was killing me, my neck also. This was the longest I’d ridden a bike for. My barse was tender, I kept getting out the saddle to relieve myself from the pain only to move the pain to somewhere else. The knees were smashed. I wished then I’d put a couple of Ibuprofen in my top tube bag.
Turning the corner off the busy road marked the final section. In my head I was on the home straight. I could see 20kms left on the gamin and I knew I was going at an average of 22kmph. I let myself dream of hearing those words again and that spurred me on, narrowly missing yet another wave of emotion. I took deep breaths and carried on. The final ride up through Adlington the spectators had dwindled somewhat as most riders would have been running by now. Colt were still present but not much else. The drinks station was deserted almost and I made my final journey down toward Rivington.
I’d assumed my folks would either be there or if not further along toward T2. They weren’t in Rivington and it was strange to see road closed sign blocking the entrance to winters hill. My thoughts went to those who may not have made the cut off. Knowing how much effort it is to get to the start it must be hard to be told you can’t carry on and that you missed the cut off.
As it happened I was on target to get my 8hr finish time. The parents and Andy were along the road I did the courtesy and stopped and chatted for a moment until I got told to keep moving by me dad. Wise choice as I could have seized up. My mind was focused on getting rid of the bike now.
I entered the funnel at Rivington school and these two guys were at the end pointing to something. Oh! The dismount line! After 8 hours it had totally escaped me I was doing a triathlon haha and the dismount rule. Slamming the brakes on I fumbled out of my cleats and hobbled to the bike racks. A volunteer took my bike off me and I was SO glad to get rid of it.
As I hobbled to the exit toward the change area emotion hit me big time. I knew now that all that stood between me and those words was a marathon and that I had 7.5 hours to do it in! I could walk it. I knew my dream was within reach.
15:20 ish and I walked into the school hall, a volunteer handed me my bag and pointed me into the seating area. I sat down and contemplated what was happening, and took time to sit for a bit. I emptied my bag on the floor in front of me and took off my shoes. I slowly changed into my running kit, moved my race number to my front and shoved all of my cycle kit into the bag. I took a comfort break and left the hall. I stopped to take a drink from the aid station and walked with it down the hill. Sandy and Scott were there, I had no idea that Tina was in transition, I chatted with them for a bit, kinda putting off my running for a bit. This was the unknown. With no run training under my belt, and after my test run the previous saturday I knew the ITB injury would plague me. It had come on after 1km last week, how long will I get today. I ran at a steady pace, probably 6.5min/km. My legs felt ok. Well, they weren’t fresh or great by no means but they were letting me run. I had no real clue of where the run route took me but I had studied it online. I chose not to take much detail as the more naive I was the better I thought.
I had planned to get the pain in my leg, so mentally I was prepared. The nurofen taken in transition had yet to kick in but as yet there was no pain, the first mile went quick. I couldn’t believe it when I saw the sign.
My parents and Andy had made it along the run course and were standing at a bus stop holding an umberella! I think I shouted something like, ‘I love running, I’m gonna do two marathons!’ or something like that. My spirits were high, not only was I running but I had no ITB pain.
The route took some random turns, the first aid station, run by rotary club I stopped and had a bit of craic with the volunteers, while I munched on some food and a gel. Strawberry and Banana, nice!
The route went scenic, along the canal. I didn’t do much sight seeing, I saw a lady in a Skye top and I thought that must be Tina’s mate Fiona. It was, I introduced myself and we started belthering away at each other, this was good as it took the concentration off running and the pain I was in. All my body hurt, like all of it. My arms, neck and back were sore everytime I hit the ground, the body wasn’t used to running and my core was being thrown about. My knees, below the caps were a bit painful but I could run through this. No ITB pain though. This was good. I’m not sure if it was because all the other pain was masking that pain but I was drawing positives. I left Fiona after a while, and joined the loop. It was depressing actually seeing people who already had arm bands. I joked with a few, asking to borrow their bands. On each loop you collect a band, three bands means you can enter the finish chute.
I got to the far end of the loop and turned around, walking through the aid station, taking on a gel, some crackers and some water. I started to run again, and managed to run all the way to Bolton. This was good. I had made good on my plan to get to Bolton without walking (except the aid stations) and this was a mega boost. My crew of spectators were there waiting! I gave them a wave. I think they were surprised I was running! As was I! On my return leg I walked up this sapper of a hill just out past the Bark street aid station, most folk chose to walk it.
I then managed a jog after. This carried on for a while. The loop was out and back along a wide road, tree lined. The rain was back on, heavy too. I was soaked through but I didn’t care. I was going to be an Ironman. The folk lining the route were shouting encouraging words, and keeping spirits high! It was great to be shouted on by randoms. I collected my first band and it was at this point I think I passed Tina on the other side of the road! We high fived! It was great to see her again and looking strong! Soon I passed Alan too, he was looking tired but had two bands! My walk jog strategy turned a bit ad hoc, and I started walking more than running.
The lack of training meant I wasn’t conditioned for running a whole marathon. It was tough going on my feet, the arches at the top were sore, and I was getting ITB pain. The nurofen was wearing off. 2 hours 30 in and I was on my way back into Bolton for the 2nd time, finishing off the 1st Loop my mam was on the phone to my brother, I couldn’t hear what was said due to the cheering that was going on but I said hello! Off I jogged, I made a point of jogging through Bolton. This gave the false impression to Andy and the parents that I was actually running the whole way. How wrong! hehe But in any case my unconditioned body was taking a beating from the running.
I chatted to a lady on the way up the hill starting the 2nd loop, she was doing well on her last lap. I started conversations with a lot of people as it helped take the mind off the pain.
I reached the other end after collecting my orange armband. The turn around point was great as there was music and food. Mini chedders were a welcome source of food, from all the gels I’d been taking. The flat cola was amazing and the volunteers were great! I headed back to Bolton for the 2nd last time. Entering Bolton Andy was by himself, when I turned back around I got a photo with my mascot Mr Cow which I got funny looks for but I didn’t care haha!
I was on my last lap, I was in some low points, the run route spectators were thining, not surprising with the torrential downpours. It was tough in the middle sections, I was definitely walking more now, and I just needed to keep going. I was exhausted and my body was failing me, I had dug deep so many times, attempting to start a jog but immediately stopping. I was faster walking.
Tina caught up with me at the aid station at the turn around point. We’d both collected our third arm band and we were both on the finishing straight. Tina waited while I took a comfort break and we walked down the road eating our food we had collected and chatted. Tina had energy in her legs so she went off running, I held back as I couldn’t run much further. I was going to have to do this last part on my own, Tina had her own race to finish and she was strong to the end. I was walking but as you round a corner you can see the road in the distance disappear down the hill into the centre of Bolton. I decided I could run. I ran. And I did run, I was averaging 5.20min/km going into Bolton. This was good. I was happy. People had recognised I had my 3 bands and I was on the finishing straight. They would shout to me, “Nearly there Glenn”, “keep going Glenn”, “You’re going to be an Ironman Glenn!” and I was! I knew I was almost back, this spurred me on. I collected a cola from the cadet lass at the last aid station and thanked her for her help today, she was so encouraging at young age, her positivity everytime I went passed was great. This was repeated countless times on the run course and bike course.
By this time Tina and Alan had become ironmen finishing their journey, it was my time now.
It’s 14:30 hours since I started swimming. It has been a long day, and I’m running for the final time into the centre of Bolton. Rounding the Town Hall I enter the finishing chute. I hold back to make sure I wasn’t stealing the person in front’s red carpet moment, I started high fiving kids, Alan was there and his family! Amazing! I kept on high fiving all those lining the finishing funnel, I turned the corner and onto the red carpet.
Paul Kaye was there, I pointed at my number and he said, “Hello Glenn, You are an Ironman!”
He held out his hand, and I gave him a high five and I continued to bounce down the red carpet, waving at my parents and Andy who’d made their way to the front! Absolutely crazy moment! So amazing. I jumped through the finish arch under my name, G. Tait Ironman 14:31:58! WOW WOW WOW
I am an Ironman.
Here’s a wee video of that moment…