The race I had trained for a year, but was dreaming of getting there for 5. It was finally here. I was going to do an ironman race, and try and get the title of Ironman. I was as ready as I could have been for this round.
The TL;DR version of below is as follows: I pushed my limit, finished the bike before the cut off, did half the marathon. I had to quit due to really back stomach issues, which I had for at least 8 hours of the race. Even though DNFing was a horrible feeling, I have a lot to be proud of. I pushed my limit, and expended it. I will be back one day to finish the job.
Race / Transition prep
Prior to an Ironman race, you need to prepare three bags, that will contain all your gear and extra nutrition you might need during the race. Below, I have included some photos of what I packed in with some information about the setting.
The bike bag:
Contained bike shoes, nutrition bars, bike shoes, antihistamine gel (incase of jelly fish), sun cream, HR monitor and the number.
During the bike course you can provide some nutrition or special needs bag that you might need. I chose to include a bottle with some Precision Hydration 1000 salts, gels, and some walker crisps if I really needed something salty after all the sugar I would be eating that day.
The run bag contained: run shorts, run t-shirt, belt with energy gels and water bottles ( with SIS energy in), crisps again, and vasiline.
This is the gear I needed to put on just before I got into the water for the swim. My bike bib shorts, wet suit, googles (with a spare), baby oil for wet suit, cap and numbers.
It was a beautiful morning! The sea was calm, the sun was up, the breeze was cool! The day I was training for was finally here!
Ironman knows how to pump you up and through on a show on race morning, it was amazing.
Pumped up and ready to go, through the rolling start, I get in the water towards the end of the pack and start swimming. I felt strong. All the rest and tapering had been good for me. I was overtaking a lot of people. I had seeded myself at 1:20-1:30, but I must have over took at least 50-100 people.
As always with a triathlon swim, it was brutal. Kicking, punching, crashing into people and for a first time jelly fish. I got stung on the neck by one. Initially I did not know why my neck hurt so much, but after a few minutes I realised what it was. Followed by a huge jelly fish, the side of a football, hitting my chest and luckily rolling of the wetsuit. I have to admit I was not a fan of that point, but it is definitely an interesting memory!
Luckily those where the only two encounters I had, however, I was not planning on seeing any others. I put the hammer down, I wanted out of the water. I did not want to get stung again. I focused on the 1,5km left and got out of the water on a wooping 1:13! I was super chuffed! I had done good!
The race was officially on! Got the bike, saw Rachel, and off I went. After a year of training specifically for this bike leg, I was about to undertake the 112 mile course. I had ridden 81 miles before, but never more than that, today was the day I would do it.
On the first 5km I saw a couple of accidents and flat tires, the main one I keep thinking about it two time trials colliding somehow, a Russian lady and an Italian man. Down the road, told the police about the accident and kept pedaling. I had to keep out of trouble, don’t make unnecessary risks and race my race.
Finished by SIS energy bottle by the first 30km, and had my other SIS bottle with half of my Precision Hydration 1000 electrolytes. At the aid station I took a Enervit ISO bottle, and thanked my favourite SIS bottle that got me that far ( over the last 2 years ) just before I let it go.
It was mid-day, temperature around 22-24 degrees, when I got the the Aid station in Forlimpopoli. Got a bottle of water and raced on, ready to tackle the first of two loops of the Bertinoro climb. Half way up, the heat really started to hit me, I was starting panting and sweating. A few people were even pushing there bike up the hill. At that point, I started feeling my belly hurt, something I had experienced in the heat before in training doing Brill. I thought “its just the heat and the hill toughness it will go away after this”, so I took my bottle and drank a bit, but then I noticed my second bottle was empty.. I had forgotten to take two bottles at the aid station!! “Fuck”, I thought.
The belly did not get better after the climb, it was only getting worse. Each time I tried to take a sip of water or god forbid the Enervit ISO, it got much much worse. At the aid stations that had cold water, I would pour one bottle, over my head and the back of my neck, put 2 bottles on my lower back muscles, and took 2 more for the ride. I was desperate to cool my core temperature and stop this pain. The pain was not going away. During kilometers 70 to 170 it was tough, I managed to get moment of none pain, and pushed a bit but the pain would come back the minute I took some nutrition on.
I was slowly getting there though. I had 4,5 hours left to get to T2 and I would use everything I had in me to get there.
That is exactly what I did. I pushed through the dark times, the pain, the wind, the heat, and forced myself to focus on that T2. I was one of the last people of the bike, but I didn’t care, I needed to start the run. For all the rest of the race I was 21-23 km/hr, while, for the last 3 kilometers I averaged 26-27km per hour on the flats, and I got there! My biggest fear of not making the bike cut off did not happen!! I was so relieved.
I hadn’t had a flat, I hadn’t bonked and I was able to start the run.
However, the belly pain was not going away.
I was hoping with some coke and water the stomach issues would go away. Unfortunately, they did not, it was only made worse. Each time I tried to get some nutrition down me, I was sick. Nothing stayed down, not even water. At Kilometer 15 I started feeling hazy and slowly bonking, so I forced a gel down me, to try and stay in the race. But 5 km down the road that came out… I would have to do 24km in 2:30 hours, in order to finish before the cut off. Thats when I did the DNF - did not finish.
It was the hardest decision I had to make. The math did not lie. Given my physical situation with my stomach and that I could not run more than 3 meters. It was horrible, sitting on the bench next to my girlfriend, deciding that I would call it a day. Rachel, my girlfriend, had helped me through the run at moments with cheering me on and being positive. However, after kilometer 10, my body was not responding well even walking, but I tried and did another 10km… but you cant do a marathon without any nutrition or carbs to fuel you…
The forth discipline of an Ironman is nutrition, it really is.
I went to transition, picked up my bike and bags, and called it a day.
I have learned a lot about myself, my limits, what I can do and about the sport. Given this experience, next time (because there will be a next time, maybe not in 2020 but sometime in the future) I will once again give it everything I have, just like I did in Italy, and become an Ironman.
Each Ironman race and journey is different. Each one has will have its ups and downs. I am sure the next one will be as tough or tougher, but so will I.
A special thank you to all the people that helped me
Ironman is not a solitary endeavor. Yes, you train and push your limits by yourself. But family, friends, partners, colleagues, club members, physios, bike fitters etc all help you along the way. All support you in there own way!
I would like to thank:
- Rachel for always being there during the ups, the downs and the wobbles. Supporting me before, during, and after the race, and being a beacon of positivity when I needed it the most.
- my family for always believing in me and giving me the support to push ahead.
- Kostas for mentoring, guiding, and helping me keep my calm during the hard sessions, races and preparation to this race.
- my colleagues from Elsevier that supported me and believed in me.
Thank you for reading! 👋
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