Monday, 21 December 2015

ETU Long Distance Championships. Weymouth 140.6

It's only 3 months late....The season is now over and having had time to reflect and enjoy a bit of down time I am in the mood for finally sharing the excitement that was the European ITU Long Distance Championships, and my last minute entry for GB.
I went into the race below par, as most will be well aware from my previous write up, but I have only with-held this blog post because the official ITU results took a long time to be finalised and confirmed. How they shaped up really would affect my overall feelings on the race and what I wrote… That finally happened last week, they were released and when all said and done I am now officially the 16th fastest European in my Age Group at the 140.6 miles that is Long Course Triathlon at the first attempt, and while a top 10 would have been tasty, I’m not complaining. All things considered I can happily live with 16th (This year anyway).
13th September was race day, down in Weymouth. I simply hadn’t had time to reccy the course given the distance, and for the first time travelled to a big race armed with nothing but several virtual Google map tours of the race in my mind. Playing this now well-trodden online route in my mind I set off just before 5am on the Saturday morning to arrive early enough to park at transition and walk the couple of miles to registration.
The journey was uneventful, save for the frustration that Ella also had a race in Lincoln, a season finale junior tri, as a warm up to her having a crack at her first adult sprint in the hometown a few weeks later. So the time in the car was spent chatting with family track side in Lincoln where possible, getting updates and race reports. It fired me up, knowing she was out there giving her best, motivating me to do the same.

A selection of images sent through to me of Ella in action back home motivating me to give it my best.
Parking up at T1 gave me the opportunity to walk down the run course along the sea front, see the start line & sea swim section setting up, and then the exit to T1 along the way. This was going to be a steep run up a shingle bank and then down a path and across the main road. I could see the run was flat, it just stood to be windy given the exposure to the south coast.
I got to the briefing early, and enjoyed a pot of tea in the old Victorian pavilion and walk round the stalls before registering, and listening to the GB team talk. I remain in awe at the rudeness of some fellow athletes who rock up to this kind of thing late, sit in the isles and talk incessantly throughout it. They should ban late entry to the briefings. If you can’t be arsed to be there on time and take it seriously don’t bother coming.
Setting up the red carpet finish - the sunniest this would look!

Race briefing in a proper Old English Seaside style Pavilion.
After the briefing and the acquisition of my pretty smart new race rucksack I sauntered back along the beach to the car. Focusing on the job in hand. Taking my time, idly wandering in the break of the surf, staring at the shells, doing little sprints in the sand. 
I haven’t mentioned that this was also the first race I’d come to alone. No family, no friends, no broader support or familiar faces in the crowd. My interest in the sport over the longer distance bringing about the inevitable need to tread my own solitary path. It’s of limited interest to the majority of team mates, and is more functionally supported using the live stats facility throughout the course of a day from their phones as they go about their daily business, and for family and close friends you can hardly expect anyone to be thrilled about standing on a pavement in the hope of a glimpse or 2 of you as you shoot past over an 11hr period. 140.6 is not exactly support friendly. Being here and genuinely enjoying it, having served all that training time alone certainly served testimony to myself now that I genuinely do love this sport. If I was the only man left on the planet I would still Swim/Bike/Run.
This solitude didn’t bother me, and it afforded me the opportunity to be completely selfish. With nobody to worry about but myself I could take my time and totally prepare for the morning. As I said the walk back to the car was slow and thoughtful. I had confessed to Sarah that I was fully committed to accepting further injury and was ready to hurt myself in pursuit of my desire to compete in the race, but that if I felt like any permanent lasting damage was being done I would withdraw. I resolved to uphold that promise and decided I would tackle the race without any painkillers so I would have a true understanding of the state I was in throughout the event. That’s what I spent my time on that walk chewing over. Competing was never in doubt. Not only had I earnt the suit I’d also already worn it in competition, so now it was definitely time to go out and own it.
Chewing over the race plan
Enjoying the view.
Once back to the car I unpacked the bike and spent time going through the kit, slowly, methodically, as ever, before wheeling it through to transition. Each transition bag was laid out in the appropriate isle, and then finally the bike on the rack. There was a kerfuffle among the race officials as to whether disc wheels would be permitted given the predicted weather. An unexpected advantage of being a Working Class Triathlete reared its head here - my disc was a recently fashioned MK2 (or should I say 2.0 in modern vernacular) homemade affair, and if the ruling of no disc stood in the morning I would simply tear it off and race without it. Only a couple of quid of plastic sheet and an hours labour wasted - While all around me were losing their head at the best decision to make regarding thousands of pounds worth of wheel, knowing they would have insufficient time in the morning to lug different sets of wheels to and from transition thus forcing the gamble of leaving them exposed in transition, my shunning of conventional expense allowed me to keep composure and be free from this worry abounding around me. I did the usual copious dry runs between transitions and counted steps to the bike, wrote figures on my hand to memorise key stages, and repeated until I was happy. Chatted to others around me and then headed back to the car.
The usual steady preparation.

T1 bag drop Saturday afternoon
This was also going to be my first time camping before a race. The campsite was terrific, plenty of other competitors with the same idea, so all planning on an early night, the tent went up without issue, the bed inflated, I put some music on and went through the finer details of my kit and race nutrition, prepping bottles and pockets with food,  laying everything out clearly and concisely ready for a quick getaway in the morning. Chatting with family and friends over texts and calls I savoured the ‘campsite toilets of the year award’ facilities on offer before indulging in a very French style onsite food service with a delicious pizza of unlimited toppings from an open air wood fired oven.
Everything set out ready to go.

This photo pretty much sums it all up. SWIM/BIKE/RUN
And tea. There's always room for tea.

An impromptu open air pizza oven on the campsite

Not exactly on the pre race diet plan, but to tasty looking to pass up.
A hot lazy shower, and then I stood and stuck my numbers on my arms to save time the next day. Afterwards I struck up a conversation with a guy who had walked into the wash room, trying my best to be friendly and enthusiastic - but he seemed on edge, unsure, and keen to get away from the off… as he left I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and had to be honest enough to conclude if I’d been approached by this sight around some urinals I'd have acted the same. Hey, this sport isn’t a fashion parade, and when there’s no family around I had enjoyed letting myself go a bit!
Fancy a chat mate?
Sleep was comfortable and reasonably uninterrupted, but by 3am I was staring at the back of my eyelids in excitement as the race day adrenalin had started to course through my veins. Rather than sit and lay there I decided to get up, eat my porridge, enjoy a good stiff cup of tea and then head down early. So I did. Transition opened at 5am. I had the luxury of being in the car park right next to transition at 4:30am in the best spot possible. A 200m walk from transition entry. I watched the marshals turn up for their days work and have their briefing while eating the remainder of my breakfast and enjoying dozing on and off while I waited, trying to keep a lid on the nerves.
I had beaten the marshals. Still dark waiting for their briefing.

2nd Breakfast. Chia seeds, homemade 'stuff' & Nat. Yoghurt.

T1 Bags. Ready to be grabbed.

T2. Full and ready. Always gotta check everything is still
as it should be.

A sea of bikes.

Last minute maintenance.
5am, and I was first through the gates. Drizzling with rain, dark but for a small break in the clouds as Venus shone down promising dawn was only an hour away. I pumped the tyres to an eye watering 200psi, and got confirmation that the disc was allowed so didn’t have the bother of messing about with the rear wheel. Or so I thought. One last check of all the kit and I  noticed the back wheel catching just slightly on the left side rear pad, so a bit of poorly lit 11th hour mechanical tinkering saw the grub screws adjusted while a few of the competitors around me held their torches so I could see what I was doing. Something learnt for my future long distance endeavours - bring a head lamp. Even in Summer its dark when you start. A few more transition dry runs and I left the bike.
A lot of people about now. The testosterone fuelled buzz starting to rise in volume around me. Stay focused Martin. A long day ahead, no time to get distracted.

Venus. 1hr Before dawn.
Canned Adrenalin.
(That's a wetsuit, not a colostomy bag)
 At this point I decided to take a punt. I swapped out the trainers in my T2 bag for my racing flats. Weighing only 16g each they really are a couple of pieces of paper, and offer zero support. Might seem daft for a man with nasty abdominal issues, but I also knew that I hurt, a lot, every step like a knife at The Outlaw, and that these trainers forced me up onto my toes, which made it hurt less where it hurt most……. Gambling my ankles and claves would stand 26.2 miles in trainers designed to run 5k at most in absolute flat out sprints. I had nothing to lose.
The rain now poured down delaying the sunrise as heavy cloud prevailed. I sat in the plastic bliss that is a multisport portaloo and talked to Sarah on the phone, who wished me luck and lifted my spirits against the weather. It was dark and smelly in there, the pitter-patter of the rain on the lid, her voice muffled and warm and snuggled under the duvet at home.  A promise to call as soon as I finished. A final poo.
Chucking my track pump, distance trainers and my clothing in the boot I was now stood wetsuited, and ready to rock. I caught myself growling at myself and had a word to calm down. Nothing left to do but race. This is the strangest time, absolutely chocked to the gunnels with adrenalin, the mind racing, forcing the muscles not to jump and twitch until required, almost like waiting to be shot.
Transition closes, and I wander down to watch the Professionals begin their day. Stood on the prom leaning over the sea wall down to the shingle I admire the ferocity with which the lead women attack the course from the off, and disappear out into the English Channel. This is then repeated by the pro men. I watch them as I try to ascertain how the current is affecting them, and what the best course to plot will be, sea swimming is hard, and getting it wrong can soon cost positions and energy. Soon it will be time.
Not long now.

While I am watching, enjoying the calm before the storm I feel a tap on my shoulder. It feels familiar. I turn round and see first my Mum “Now then boy” with a smile on her face, then my Dad, my Brother and my Sister in Law (and their stinking dog) all stood behind me “Now then. Fancy seeing you lot here” is all I can think to say at first.
They had secretly driven down the night before to cheer me on. My parents in their usual luxurious style quickly regaling how, with it being a last minute decision to come down didn’t pack an air bed and had slept on the hard ground bar a duvet between them and the earth. They all looked a bit dishevelled - but full of enthusiasm, and I saw no need to disguise my appreciation of their efforts. It would be great to have people cheer me on. That gobbled the last few minutes chatting before I was in the holding pen and ready for the off, wave one gone, and suddenly I was on the start line.
Staring down at the sea, lapping the shore the shingle made that hypnotic and repetitive noise as it counted down the last few minutes. I could hear athletes around me breathing, muttering, preparing. A couple leant down to dip their goggles in the water and splash their faces in preparation.  As I have gone up the distances I have watched as the general height and build of competitors increase, and here, now, I am decidedly small against other Iron Distance specialists. Not that this bothers me, they just have more to carry, but I can feel them around me.
Always good to psych out the opposition with some
start line random growling.

And a gurn for the camera.
I am acutely aware of how much this means to everyone on the start line. I know what I have given up over the last 10 months to stand here. The early mornings, the early nights, the countless hours of lonely training and focus to get myself here stood in this suit to represent my Country. There is no doubt in my mind that I stand shoulder to shoulder with people from across Europe that I do not know, but admire their dedication, their commitment to simply get to this point. Even more, I am excited that nobody here is ‘just having a go’. I’m not racing people who want to finish, I am racing people who want to achieve their best possible time, not any time. I can feel my pulse against the tightness of my swim cap as I gurn at the cameraman walking past in an attempt to distract myself from the anticipation and pressure in the air. I am fascinated by the caricature-esque overly dramatic behaviour of the presenter. Are all hosts like this??
“30 seconds” comes the call. My throat is tight. I love it. I absolutely flipping love it. Ready to roll like a bullet from a gun..... I position ready to run, finger on the watch, staring out into the stone grey sky blurring against the sea, the chain of buoys strung out ahead of me.
“10 seconds” I start counting down in my head.
3..2..1…. ‘HHHRRRRRRRRRRRRR…’ the air horn pierces the silence, the crowd cheer and I lunge forward. Everything leaves my mind. Muscles fires into action, this is why I am here. The rush of energy through my body is insane.

I feel the guys beside and behind me trying to push past so for the 10 metres or so we are sprinting the sloping shingle I force my arms out and carve out space ready to hit the water. You ain't coming past pal. You are my enemy now. 
A few steps out and the shore drops away quickly forcing a dive. Under, stretch, focus the eyes on the translucent water. Up, breath, heart pounding like a jack hammer - the arms go into auto pilot. I feel them whirl around me, looking right I see a man to my side, and can hear the melee close behind me.
Keen not to get involved in any undue argy bargy resulting in a lung full of salt water I am determined to get a clean start and kick like hell for the first couple of hundred metres. Once out the surf and in the open water I become aware that my feet sting from the unforgiving sprint over the stones. I hope they haven’t been cut open, and chose to ignore the sting of the salt on them. A few concerted efforts to ensure I am sighting well, timing my stroke against the rise of a waves to give maximum view. I see the bead of buoys strung out before me.
The pain in my foot reminded me of the Henna Tattoo Ella
had given me a few days before, no doubt to the delight of those
behind me :-)
 A successful start, I glance back as I roll with a wave and see the vast majority behind me. Doubtless people will pass me, but I have got the clean start I wanted. I spend the next few minutes getting a feel for the waves, the current pulling away to the left, and settle into a decent sustainable iron paced rhythm. I take some time to enjoy the early morning light colouring the water, trying to gauge the depth to the sandy bottom below.
The swim comprised a 2.4 mile swim over 2 loops, exiting and running the shore at the half way point. Just shy of half a mile out, across the sea horizontal to the shore, back in and repeat. Looking at the furthest point rolling in the waves from the shore it seemed a long way out. Swimming out towards it, it seemed further.

The tide pushed left and in as we swam out, and it was critical to remain focused on tiny adjustments in the course so as not to drift wide. A few times I glanced left and saw a competitor who looked to have caught up, but who had gone with the drift of the tide and swam wide. They would lose a lot of time come the turn right at the top of the course. At the furthest out point there was a steady stream of Jelly fish, and the first few glances at them caused me to swerve, but after taking an unavoidable knock to the head and neck from one as the current pushed it past it was clear they didn’t sting and any caution abated. From then on in I was free to simply swim through them.
The first loop gave me chance to get the measure of the swim, and I settled behind a pack of faster feet comprising 3 athletes who were jostling their way past me. They continued their mini rumble with me in tow as we rounded the 2nd big buoy and went with the tide towards the shore.
Every wave heading in helped surge you forward, and it was easy to elongate my stroke and maximise the benefit. We were soon out on the shore to the cheers of the crowd and as I stood myself up my brother was stood right by the side of the gantry cheering me on. A quick thumbs up and a sprint away down the shore. Ahead of me I could see a pro-male racer. OK, it was a blind Frenchman who swam literally tethered to his guide, but I sprinted past regardless, and had lapped a professional full time athlete. All’s fair in Love and war.
A pretty shoddy dive back in, my feet curling over my head from the sudden fall away of the shingle, it was good to be swimming again. The current was stronger now, and the wind had picked up considerably, taking it from relatively flat on the first out to a decent current pulling against us this time round, and plenty of spray off the wave tops. By now I was part of a tight pack, and enjoyed trading turns at the front, working as a unit to make our way as quickly and efficiently as possible.
1 particular moment sticks in my mind that showed me the subtle power of the forces at work in the sea. Side to side with a competitor he breathed left as I breathed right, we were almost nose to nose. Looking at each other through the tints of our goggles. Face down, stroke, stroke, breath left, stroke, stroke, breath right. I come up expecting him to still be beside me. Instead he has gone, drifted a good 20m+ to the right. Next breath he is close again. Then he is gone. We are both swimming in what we consider the same line, in water side by side, but the forces of entropy and chaos converge to drive us our myriad of independent paths at the mercy of the waves. It is fascinating.

At the first buoy of the 2nd lap the waves are considerably higher than the last time round. The land and horizon disappear as the length of my body sits in the dip of the rolling waves, and I adjust my breathing to catch air at the crest of each roll so I can sight with maximum effect. It’s tricky, and took more than a couple of misjudged mouthfuls of water before I had it down. That and the fact that I rolled perpendicular to the waves instead of into them quickly made me sea sick. As we reached the next turn to head towards shore I had suffered a few mini mouth sick’s as a consequence.

Once facing shore and spotting the inflatable gantry in the distance the umph in the waves made for a cracking bit of body surfing all the way in to the beach. Making the most of every second kicking for home a final mini battle neck and neck with a competitor we climbed out and up the beach for T1.
Such an attractive sport.
Running over the beach, and then down a path and across the road it was lined several deep with spectators cheering and clapping, a great feeling, all the while unzipping and pulling the arms free, now running though the T1 process and getting set for the bike in my mind.
I grabbed the red bag, no problem spotting it neatly positioned in my quadrant exactly how I left it. Into the tent, suit off, shoes and helmet on, making sure to stuff all the food in the right pockets so I didn’t have to think when I went to grab stuff later on. Out to the bike, again no trouble finding it through counting strides and making use of a lamp post reference near its station. Running to the mount line.
Being so light I have never had a puncture in a race, and I was equally prepared to take a punt on this occasion. Running tubular tyres meant that a flat was a major issue and I didn’t see the point in carrying limited kit that would be of little use. I either had to take the full tape/glue and a whole tyre or nothing. I chose nothing. They were good quality tyres and I had faith in them.
A steady mount, feet smoothly in and straps fastened through the cheers of the crowd again I met the claps and smiles of my parents positioned at the side of the mount line. 3min 20 seconds from out of the sea to sat on a bike riding out of town. I was pleased with that.
Out of the park and onto the main promenade heading east, I took a quick drink and settled into position turning the legs over and getting a feel for the next 5+hrs of work.
The road was closed and the tarmac fresh and flat. It felt good.  The promenade bank shielding the riders from the wind.

About a mile in things quickly changed as the road turned north out of the town and a climb of about 5 miles began. It was gentle at first, but gradually increased and eventually turned off down a side road that meandered and wound higher and higher up into the hills overlooking the harbour. At one point there were a number of marshals and carpet thrown over the road, with sand and grit laid beneath it. Seemed strange, and the slip of the carpeting on the tyres forced me (and others around me)  to stand and grind out a climb for around 100m until the section was passed. This was the tightest and steepest part of the climb and the summit as it eased off had me sweating and heaving like a pig as the road gradually levelled out and the first drinks station approached.  We found out after that some jerk had thrown oil and nails/broken glass all over the road in an attempt to sabotage the course. Thankfully it was spotted and the marshals dealt with it as best they could. That explained the sand and the carpet.
Because of the swim my first drink bottle is heavily salted to replace electrolytes. The effort of the climb meant I finished it all off and ditched it just in time to grab a replacement. About 100m before the feed stations these races often have framed nets, like a small goal mouth to aim the empty bottles at, and I was chuffed to bag a point as I tossed the bottle at it.
The next 20 miles were rolling high countryside with strong wides, and I got my head down and ground them out, trying to focus on cadence and gearing throughout. I was regretting leaving the disc on at this point. With the volume of climbs and strong wind it was bringing nothing to the party and I toyed with the idea of stopping and ripping it off. The back wheel regularly skipping out and the bike snaking as it took gusts through hedgerows and over crests.
As we dropped off the first set of hills for the final 25 miles of the first loop we hit small back roads with more rolling dips and mounds, tree lined on either side. The countryside was beautiful, but the going was tough and I found myself going through the motions and an emotional low creeping in.
Looking back I can honestly say that if the race had been cancelled at this point I would probably never have put a tri suit on again. I went through a 10 mile phase of shouting and swearing at myself to get a move on, frustrated and angry at my lack of progress and effort as competitors seemed to stream past, wasting the great advantage I had given myself in the swim.  I was counting the age group markings on the calves of the people passing me, and I knew I had gone from around 6th out the water to 20th already. Tears and snot of frustration flowed at the weakness I felt in my limbs against these people. Hindered by my injury, I was very aware of a constant throb with every rotation of the pedal, and the harder I tried the more the wind seemed to laugh and blow in my face. Pure frustration is all I can say to describe that time.
The 2nd feed station came at the end of a long straight downhill,  which then did a 180double back at the bottom. Going down meant passing everyone grinding it out the other side back to the top. It was a long climb. To the south you could see a cross country rally and MOD tank training zone. The men inside throwing their machines with abandon over the huge obstacles and hills. Right then I would have traded all my kit for one of those.
I continued to struggle on, seemingly unable to snap myself out of the slump I had found myself in. It wasn’t until the last 5 miles of the first loop that we finished yet more unforgiving climbs that I hit the seemingly unending downhill section, that my mood lifted. For the few miles before then the wind & hills had continued to sap everything from me. For the first time ever I genuinely considered stopping at the half way point. Retiring from the race. I even visualised hopping off the bike and the feeling of walking into the tent, hanging it up on the rack and sitting there dejected. The thought that I wasn’t even half way almost ruined me.  I couldn’t believe I was here doing what I wanted, what I had worked so hard for, only to be thinking like this. I can honestly say that if the race had been cancelled at this point I would probably never have raced again.
Then I rounded the peak of a hill, and stretched out down before me was the English South Coast. Frothy and wild from the wind in the distance below. I grabbed a snack from my back pocket, took on some juice and squeezed into the most aero position I could muster, scrapping any care for personal safety. Laying stomach first on the seat, my bum could feel the breeze of the back tyre millimetres away as it hung over the rear. Chin on the bars. Screw it, I was going for broke down this.
Screaming down the hill, I finally smiled as I tripped a speed camera at 44mph, pace still increasing. Pedalling and pushing it beyond what was safe I reclaimed a good slug of places. As we finally got back onto the promenade I levelled out and had a clear headed chat with myself. If I was going to continue then I needed to buck my ideas up, get a grip on the ride and accept my lot.
The dead turn came. Metres from T2, I rotated 180degrees, cheers of the crowd, and headed back out. This time I knew what was coming. Another long 56 miles of hills & wind.
This next 3 hours were at times a dark place. Emotionally the lowest place I have ever been to in competition. If you ever want to do some soul searching and really get to know yourself – embark on long distance triathlon. You will go to some terribly lonely places, leave no stone unturned in finding out about yourself, your limits, your strengths, and more than any kind of physical limit, the absolute limits of the mind to push yourself forward when you nothing left.  And at the end of it all, your body can endure. The training has been done. The body  undoubtedly will go on, if the mind is willing.  And for me, at the end of it all is acceptance "I am Martin, this is my lot. For the next 3 hours you pedal. No more. No less. Just pedal". And when this point is reached nothing is going to stop you completing. Nothing.
Going back through the wooded area at around mile 80 mark I passed a glut of competitors with flats. Then I recalled I had seen a few here first time round. Again, I found out afterwards people had again thrown glass/nails/tacks on the road at this point to sabotage the race. I was lucky. I had risked not taking any spares, but you cannot mitigate for this kind of deliberate stupidity. I just feel bad for those that fell afoul of the malice.
Through that 2nd 56mile loop I focused on the downhill I knew was coming at the end. The reward for the slog.  It kept me going, hardened the resolve and stopped me bleeding places. The effort wasn’t electric, but it was sustained and productive. Finally the downhill came and again I gunned it for home. As long as I live I wont forget every second of that downhill, and relive it in terror, wondering, even in my mind if I will come off at the rashness of the descent. Enough said on that.
Genuinely, a few times I thought I had lost it. The front wheel wobbling, the back wheel snaking from a gust of wind against the disc. Just relax and let it fizzle out. I did, and it did.
I could see now the wind was really whipping off the sea, and a few competitors on the sea front already on the run were being battered by salty sea spray & lashings of sand as they strode out. Down along the sea front road, and before I knew it I was again into the park and suddenly the dismount line was upon me. Slowing down and jumping off my legs went to jelly. I could see and hear my family cheering, and I tried to smile as I went past, but my legs were all over and I had to lean on the bike as I ran to avoid collapsing while the muscle groups adjusted.
Bike handed over, run bag grabbed. I got my kit off, trainers on and a replenishment of my food supplies. I had stuffed my baseball cap into the run bag, and was glad to pull it on now. Something to keep the wind and sand out of my eyes as I ran. Pulling the run flats on I stood up and felt surprisingly comfortable. The legs soon settled within 10 strides, and as I exited the transition at 2min 51seconds, my brother jogged alongside – camera in my face,  grilling me on my freshness and thoughts on the course so far. The stride and pace soon arrived (aside from the stabbing pain in the gut at every stride) and I felt almost immediately happier than I had on the bike.
The run was 4.5 loops of the promenade. Flat, with plenty of spectator support throughout, and a great view of the English Channel. It also made for easy pacing off other competitors as they were regularly passed in each direction.
Striding out I settled into a rhythm. Within 3 miles I was comfortable with the position of the drink/fuel stations, the crowds, the weather and the nature of the course. I had only run half of 1 loop, but could see the return leg, so knew what was coming. After passing The Family a few times and soaking up the cheers of the crowd through the section that ran through the main high street I felt great, and took time to take stock of the feelings I had experienced on the bike. Feeling this good, knowing I was here, on the final leg, feeling quite strong,  and with the physical issues being managed so I knew I would finish respectably I felt fantastic. A true natural high. I could not comprehend or conjure those feelings of abject misery a few hours earlier on the bike. It felt so alien, and I wondered at the craziness of the brain to be able to change so completely in its operation and outlook. A slave to my emotions on some level.
The start of the run before the weather blew in.
Every time I passed the family it amused me to see their increasingly tired state. I had more than one chuckle to myself a the though of them all snuggled up in their tent without any kind of insulation or padding from the ground beneath.  In contrast I'd had a great nights sleep and ironically probably felt less stiff from the days endeavour than they did. Treading the promenade in the worsening weather, sometimes with a bag of sweets, often with a cup of tea, always with a smile and cheer, there was the odd shout of "how many more laps?" - the answer seemed to disappoint them if I replied 3 more, or 2 more..... they were tired and keen to get home!! Hahaha....
Running on and the weather gradually worsened, the wind whipped more and more,  and clouds began to blow in. It was clearly eventually going to start raining. Heavily.  Making the most of it while I could I passed my family again on the 3rd lap.  A kink in the road and my Mum gave me a cheer, asking me if I was OK? All I could think to say was ‘Thanks for coming’. It was after all good to have them there. The comment seemed to amuse her greatly, and they laughed at me. When you know you are racing to make up numbers and not at the knife edge of competition the feeling of support is worth more than anything. Otherwise you are a faceless man in the crowd.
By the time I approached the 4th lap my legs were fading. With each feed station I would take a drink, and eat some crisps. Maybe some sweets, but not often. Then I would feel a surge in my speed as the body converted the intake to energy. By now every step hurt a lot. I will never know if the hilliness of the bike just took it out of me, or if the injury contributed. It was all melting into 1, and at the end of the day nobody cares. It is what it is… You play with the cards you are dealt at that time. So after taking in the feed station I would feel the boost of energy soak through my system, and consciously force an increase in the pace. That conscious effort with every stride in your mind saying “lift your leg, thrust it forward, land, push off, repeat” Then it would fade a mile or so later. With that fade the slow bit got slower. The legs heavy, and the feet weak. A shuffle. It becomes almost funny. Inside your brain you feel great, physically you are wrecked, and absolutely empty. Energy goes in, Energy goes out. There is no reserve. The body and the mind depart. A party in the mind - Goulags for the body.

Retrospectively I often wonder what on earth I think about during a race. We were some 11hrs down here, and I could not tell you now more than maybe 1 minutes worth of consistent thought. Outside of the focus on the job in hand, going through the motions, trying to stay focused and study the mechanics, the efficiency and form of the body and its effort over the distance the one fantasy that rolls in my mind is tea. 11+hrs of slog interspersed with an absolute burning desire for a big fat mug of tea.

And onto the final lap. Collecting wrist bands each loop to denote your position on the course - my wrist is now full and I take delight, as I have throughout the run in scanning the wrist of competitors not yet sporting a full complement of red white and blue. I see envy in their eyes at my wrist and as the rain and wind now beats down relentlessly. I am soaked through, cold and wet mixed with sand, the spectators have thinned in the weather, I can smell the finish line.  I put my head low behind my caps visor and round the pier for the final time. A big gust of froth and sea spray smacks my face, the now familiar salty taste, and home is only 500m away.
I manage to sneak past a few final competitors, and as I hit the red carpet can hear someone sprinting to close the gap behind me. I have no sprint. Nothing. I have my single speed. I am handed a Union Jack flag, and wave it as I enjoy the bedraggled wet and windy cheers as I cross the line. A split second behind me the sprint finisher crosses. I can’t help but think he didn’t try hard enough if he had that much energy left at the end.
The clock reads 11:14hrs. A good hour over what I had hoped to achieve, but I take stock. I have raced against proper athletes, not disgraced myself, and this is (hopefully) the first of many. All valuable experience. And I am stood with GBR on my chest. That won’t be taken away. When I am old and grey in the old peoples home I will bore the life out of the nurses wiping my backside as I regale them of this day.
My family congratulate me, a worried look on Mothers face ‘Are you OK, are you OK?’ ‘Never better Mum!!?!’.  I head to the old pavilion to change.  There is no shower today, other than the rain, which is  disappointing, and I have to beg the help of a volunteer lady to  stoically hold my towel while I hobble from my suit and pull on my jogging bottoms and hoody.
The after race changing/canteen is a special experience at Iron distance. Something every triathlete should go through at least once in their life. It is almost worth the race to experience this alone. The room is filled with quiet personal  pride. The fittest and most capable of athletes a Country can muster, crammed into a small space, all completely spent. All without dignity, covered in the sweat of our efforts, dried and crusty salt and tide lines down our bodies. Snot in our hair. Blood in our trainers. Unable to walk, hobbling and limping, shivering as our bodies try to readjust to the pummelling they have just been dealt.  It is a moment to be savoured. Knowing looks and nods abound, nobody has much to say. Just mutual respect through-out.
Coming out we walk the mile and a bit to the car. Just what I needed. It was slow, but it stretched the legs. The car got loaded somehow with all kit and the bike, and we drove back to the camp site.
Everything in the tent was set for me to roll into it. It looked comfy in there, and I was a little bit tempted to stay, but I can’t say I was sorry not to be spending the night in there. We dragged it all out and shoved the tent, wet, unfolded and unpacked into the back of the car. My dad happy to drive me back. Remembering the warm cosy sound of Sarah under the duvet at the start of the day, and the thought of being able to climb into my bed that night a god send.
We got going down the motorway, and the usual post-race shock kicked in. Its as if the body goes into shock, it doesn't know if it is hot, or cold, well or ill..... I can only apologise now to the unknown motorists behind us on the A350 dual carriageway that got more than they bargained for as I hung my head out the window and chucked my guts up on the way home. My dad wasn’t stopping. "I'm going to be sick" got a "The cars got a window, you'll be alright" reply.....He’d had a long day and wanted to get home. That would do for me!!
After that I felt better and relaxed.  Finally home that night to clean sheets and a warm wife. Content at my efforts, and planning my next, improved attempt!
Up in the morning to a hearty feed.