I’m really sorry, this is very long! I just wanted to remember it as much as I could…
The alarm goes and I jump out of bed. I had an ok sleep but was up a few times in the night, probably went a bit OTT with the hydration yesterday. I knew it was going to be hot so was drinking a lot of water, some with electrolytes and mixed it in with a beer to for relaxation! I’m sort of shaking with excitement now. This is the day. I got Philippa to write ‘Smile!’ on one hand and my awesome inspirational friend Viv to write on the other. Viv wrote ‘Today is it! Give it EVERYTHING!’. After 7 months of training I’m definitely going to.
On the way to the venue just as the sun is rising. It’s going to be a spectacular sunrise and a beautiful day. Really way too warm to be outside for hours (I’m ginger – an hour is too much), but it is what it is. I had my phone plugged into the car, turned the volume up and shouted along to Born To Run. I park up and walk to the rowing lake the view is amazing as the sun is just over the far end of the rowing lake. It’s pretty warm already and I’m not cold in a tshirt and shorts.
I get changed into my wetsuit and get chatting to a really nice Scottish guy. He gives me a few tips and is generally very positive, as is everyone else I chat to. Later on at the end he recognises me in a finishers tshirt and says ‘great effort today mate well done!’. The atmosphere at these long distance triathlons is really lovely, it’s difficult to explain as by rights everyone should be super stressed and anxious. If they are, no one is showing it. I bump into Michael and Sid from twitter (Sid is doing the event in a morphsuit. Absolute legend). I bump into Nic and her crew too, we plan to meet at the start but it didn’t really work out because as soon as they open the gates to get near the lake I want to be in there. I wasn’t sure where to place myself, the start is a mass start so all 1000+ competitors start at the same time, the faster swimmers off to the left. I go at the front of the second group. I do a few practice swims to get comfortable breathing and we’re just about ready. I wish some people around me good luck and the starters get the competitors fired up. “The next noise you’ll hear is the start!”. There’s nothing left to do, all the hours of training, of flogging myself on the turbo, of missed friends birthdays and parties and not seeing my wife at weekends. Or mornings. It’s for this moment and this day. Give it everything Neil.
Well this is ok. No one swam over me, no one is kicking me, I’m not bumping into too many people, this is fine. I keep telling myself to enjoy this, before you know it it’ll be done. I’m trying to ‘stay in the moment’, that is to not wish away the whole day thinking ‘in 90 minutes I’ll be done and onto the bike’. It’s a long swim marked out with bouys but you can’t really go wrong-it’s up the rowing lake, almost to the end and then back. As the swim goes on I’m still feeling ok, I get quite a lot of room by swimming in close to the side and out of the main crowd. This is slower than slip streaming but it does make me feel nice and relaxed. As I started counting down the little huts every 500 metres on the side of the lake, that is my main feeling. I’m telling myself to remember it too, very shortly you’ll be done and you might never do an ironman swim again. I run through the mental checklist the swimming coach gave me. Start with body position, head position, hand placement, reach, drop the elbows, push through the stroke, high elbows. Repeat. Before I know it I can see the finish line. All those Sunday swimming lessons, the early starts, the freezing May sessions in Salford Quays, and it’s almost done.
07:14:30 (1:14:30 for the swim)
We get to the ramp and get helped out because the ramp is a bit slippy. Done!
Into the transition and everything is going just fine until my bike top get stuck as I put it on. I’ve got gels in the back pocket and they kind of twist round and stick. Aargh, this is annoying! I waste a couple of minutes sorting it out and pull my shoulder doing it. Idiot!
07:20:40 (6:10 for the first transition)
Onto the bike. It’s warm already! My stomach is doing funny things. I don’t know if it’s the open water swimming or being tucked up into the aero position on the bike or nerves or what. All I know is that it goes after an hour or so, until then I’ll just drink water and lucozade and hope for the best. All this time, ever since reading Chrissie Wellington’s book I’ve dreaded stomach issues today. It’s going to be hot and I know I need to keep drinking. I’ve read about the importance of nutrition plans but I still don’t really have one. I’ve got 6 gels, malt loaf, sausages, energy drinks and water. I plan on eating more of the real food at the start and move to gels then fluids gradually.
After half an hour or so I see Viv cheering from the side. Viv and Jerry came down from Manchester yesterday to support Nic and I and here they are at 7:30 supporting on the side of the road. I was expecting to see them but not this early and it really cheered me on. The bike course is very rural and made up of a southern loop, a northern loop and then repeating the southern one again. We pass through a little village and people are out already, which is pretty amazing. Later on this village is absolutely buzzing and it’s great because we get to go through it four times. I try to say thank you to everyone that claps, it’s impossible at this point though, so I settle for the thumbs up on the aero bar position!
Thinking through the food and the day is really making the time fly. I’m figuring on about 7 hours for the bike in the heat but I pass the halfway point in just over 3. Faster than the half ironman a few weeks back. Now there is a different worry – that I’m burning myself out. I keep checking in with my heart rate and it looks fine so I carry on.
The food thing is working ok, with the addition of a few bananas from the feed station. I’m drinking a lot, mixing up water, energy drinks and the food, spaced out regularly but really just choosing the ones I feel like at the time. I’ve never been a huge fan of gels and I worry about taking a lot of the gels on a hot day, that seems like stomach issue central to me. I’m mentally checking off the food stations and the loops. I see Jerry and Viv a couple more times and each time it pushes me on a bit.
I was expecting to start feeling sore from the bike from about 3hours or so, but it’s not happened yet. Each time I pass someone clapping I say thanks, it still blows my mind people will stand out for hours clapping and supporting total strangers do these events. Especially with that sort of weather. The couple of times I stop I notice how warm it is without the breeze the bike creates, it’s a full on scorcher now. I’ve dreaded getting a mechanical issue on the bike for months, as the miles tick up I start relaxing about this. I do a lot of maths on rides thinking about finish times, pacing, when I go through quarters. I start thinking about at what point I’ll only have an hour of cycling left, which is 95 miles.
Pilla sorted me a little spray bottle of P20 sunscreen to reapply on the ride. As I was spraying it on my arms and face (tsk, non-handed) I cruised past a guy tucked up down on the tri bars. I still giggle at what this must have looked like to him!
At the last roundabout on the southern loop there is a women cheering really enthusiastically from the middle of the road. She’s been there, in the sun, for at least 6 hours at this point. Unbelievable! I say thanks for the fourth time to her! All through the ride I’m mentally checking off the amount of time until I see the lake cheering crew. It’s a huge boost mentally.
13:38:38 (6:17:58 for the bike)
Through what feels like a huge crowd I get to transition at the end of the bike ride. I spot the omnipresent Jerry and Viv (loved seeing them on the ride so much) and Viv shouts that Pilla is just down the road. As usual I hear her before I see her and it’s a huge shot in the arm! I can’t really believe I’m doing this, but I’m two thirds of the way through an Ironman. The change tent is a bit like a sweaty sauna. More suncream, shoes on, top on. Just a marathon to run. It’s 29C and there is little shade on the run. Give it everything!
13:46:13 (7:35 for the second transition)
I jog out of the tent and my legs feel, well, ok. Much better than I thought they would. I hear my dad cheering on from the side. Quite a few family and friends came down to cheer me on which amazes me so much. To stand around for hours to cheer you on, when they might see you for like 30 seconds in the whole event. It makes me proud thinking about it and I love them all for coming. I can hear Pilla from the other side of the lake! I get round and the group are going crazy stood a little way along the bank at the bottom of the lake. I high five Pilla (“just a quick marathon to go!!”) and get on it. My first miles are ok, I walk through the first few feed stations but I’m moving. Because of the heat I wore a buff to keep cool water on my head and neck. Looks stupid, but is very effective.
It’s very hot. I mean stupid hot. I’m ginger. Hot weather scares me. Just keep going Neil. I got through to about 7 miles before my legs started screaming at me. My quads were done in. It hurt to run, I started walking and it hurt to walk. Towards the end of the ride I felt a bit of cramp in my hamstring. Uh-oh. All through the run I feel bouts of cramp all up my calves and hamstrings. It’s not fun. Good lord it’s hot!
The course loops round the lake twice and then out along the river bank and back twice. The loop out is hard. The volunteers at food stations are incredible. Supportive, helpful, happy to see you. I can’t thank them enough. On the way back round, at maybe 13 miles I see the full group of supporters again, the noise they are making is amazing! I’m running but it’s hurting and I’m taking more walking breaks than I want. I’m really making deals with myself now, just run to that point, this field, that feed station. I’d love to say I had some inspirational mantra to keep going, in reality it was really just ‘keep going Neil you idiot’ (the language might have been stronger). I saw someone I know from twitter who is crazy quick (James) and I talked to him. He was clearly in a world of pain. There were grunts, there were stuttered words, there was obvious pain. And yet he was running faster than me. The weird thing about this ironman run is that if you make it in good time on the bike you’re going to make the cut off, yet here are all these people pushing themselves to the edge. He was the perfect example. He muttered something about being in a dark place and carried on. He could barely speak. Later on I wonder why people do this at all, why people don’t just take shortcuts on the run, why so many push to the edge of exhaustion, or heatstoke, or carry on after being sick all through the run and I don’t have a good answer! I saw a couple of other twitter folk, Michael, Stu and Sid and each time we high fived or hugged or just cheered each other on.
I get to about 20 miles and it’s hard. I think I can probably creep in at about 5hrs if I can just keep moving at about 12-13 minute miles. This is barely moving for me, it’s a shuffle and I cannot do it. I’m walking. A lot. A guy shuffles past me and tells me to get get moving. I tell him I can’t but something clicks and I run with him for a bit. We talk, about the weather, to the other competitors, whatever. He keeps my mind off what I’m doing which is helpful. I don’t know who he was but that last 6 miles would have been a disaster without him. As I come back towards the lake I see Nic’s top about 100m ahead. She’s a little behind me on the course and I wonder if running with me for a bit might help (like the guy did with me). I want to catch her but it’s probably the slowest overtaking move ever! I’m closing the distance at about the speed fingernails grow. Eventually I catch her and she is looking strong, suffering from stomach issues but she has this in the bag. Chatting to her really helped take my mind of the pain happening in my legs and before I know it I’m back at the lake for the full wilko cheering squad noise. Half an hour to the finish. Half an hour!!
Viv runs with me up the lake, she’s cheerful and chatty and telling me how awesome the whole thing is. I love this! I’m going to do it, just keep moving. This takes my mind of the whole thing again and as I round the top of the lake I know I’m only 2km from doing this. I resolve to run the whole way. I can’t. I hurt everywhere. I’ve eaten a bit of fruit on the run, but mostly crisps and coke. I don’t know how or why it’s possible to do a marathon on this combination but it’s worked. I go mad at the last food station and have a Jaffa cake. Crazy days!
It’s a long run to the finish, I’m counting down down the huts as I pass-1500m, 1000m. I get to 500m off the finish, feeling a little emotional and boooooom, my legs enter full on cramp mode. Oh god this hurts, but then the crowd are there and there is Pilla and everyone’s cheering. Pilla is running with me and everything from the soles of my feet to my back is burning with cramp but I’m trying to keep going. And then there is the tape, and the clock, and the crowd and… ‘Neil Wilkinson, you are an OUTLAW!’
18:39:40 (4:53:26 for the marathon, 12:39:40 total)
Pilla asks if I’m ok. I can’t talk. The helpers ask if I’m ok, I still can’t talk. Pilla has to go up the steps and go and I stumble through to the drinks at the end. I have some coke. First words after finishing were a very sweary mixture. I get my medal (the most beautiful medal I’ve ever seen) and up the stairs to get some food. Stairs! Going up them is bad, coming back down is so painful it’s almost funny. I get some food, sit at a table and before I know it I’m full on crying. Not just teary eyed, but full head in hands, head on table blubbing. A volunteer checks I’m ok and him being so nice makes it worse! It’s ok, I should get this out before I see my family and friends (at this point I remember to put my sunglasses on when I went out so they couldn’t tell anyway!).
It’s the hottest day of 2013. And I’ve done an Ironman. Someone get me a beer!
I’m really glad Pilla came running down the line. I was on the course but she was cheering the loudest, she’s had to put up with my non-stop talking, moaning, training, spending money and weekends of triathlon. She’s been incredible and deserves a medal as much I do.
The support from everyone of Facebook and Twitter was incredible too, I saw someone else mentioned they felt like a celebrity which sums it up pretty well. The amount of good luck and well done messages was incredible, I know a few people who were stalking the tracker site all day (I’m very happy it’s not just me that does this) was amazing too. Thank you all!