Stranger in a Strange Land

“So, Ironman. What made you want to do that then?”

“I’m going to have to go with rank stupidity.”

This was the conversation I was having this Sunday at silly o’clock (silly o’clock on a Sunday being anything that precedes midday – especially when hungover). Some chilly water and a brisk 10k run later, and another week’s training is over – the last full week of training I’m going to have for a while, because I have managed to sleepwalk into having a horrendously busy late season schedule.

A 5k leg at the South East Athletics road relays next weekend, then a 800m swim/40k bike/8k run sprint plus on the Saturday and a 1.9k swim in a half Ironman on the Sunday for the weekend after. Follow this with a 5k at Bournemouth running festival, then St Ives sprint triathlon. A fortnight after that there’s the Jekyll & Hyde duathlon that I’m too knackered to remember the distances for.

So that’s six races in six weeks. Even on the weekend off, I’m getting a tattoo finished, so it’s hardly going to be pain-free. Also then flying around a track in supercars with two of my brothers like some kind of cheap yokel Top Gear (I think I’d probably be somewhere between the ebullience of Clarkson and the wide-eyed enthusiasm of Hammond) so it’s going to be pretty competitive. Can I just count that as a seventh race? I’m going to count that as a seventh race.

Anyway, all of this means that the next few weeks of Half Rust will devolve into the deranged ramblings of a lunatic obsessing over how quickly he can get naked when wet and whether or not those shiny sunglasses are really aero. Then comes two months of moaning about cabin fever, followed by three months of moaning about lack of money, followed by month upon month of moaning about training. Basically this will all go to shit, so before that happens I’m going to do something vaguely coherent and talk about the actual race this blog concerns: the setting, the course, and my goals in terms of the race itself.

There’s a great deal of things I like about Sweden. They have stellar fashion sense, for one. Good quality knitwear is a blessing from some Viking deity or the other. IKEA is just one of those universally appreciated things, their stores a yellow brick road of all kinds of inanely charming domestic bliss. Swedish media is fantastic: my favourite one-shot album comes from Sweden (the hilariously titled Blazing Fires And Helicopters On The Frontpage Of The Newspaper. There’s A War Going On And I’m Marching In Heavy Boots by the equally hilariously titled Suffocate for Fuck Sake), Steig Larsson became everyone’s favourite author for a few years, and the stark melancholia of Ingrid Bergman’s landscapes fill me with a warm fuzzy feeling. Kind of like Vodka. Speaking (loosely) of cuisine, Oatly and Kanelbullar have recently been revolutionising my tastebuds.

The race itself takes place in and around Kalmar, the summer city of the country – despite being on a level with Aberdeen, Kalmar has summers comparable or better than the UK thanks to the Gulf Stream. Great work, Gulf Stream. A city of significant historical importance in Sweden, it’s a fairly compact city from the looks of things (so says Google Maps) but quite popular with visitors from within and without the country.

Kalmar loves it’s Ironman. What finally tipped me towards actually signing up for this was a thread on a triathlon forum I browse (obligatory shoutout to r/triathlon), wherein a comment described Kalmar as being one of the best Ironman races outside of the hallowed Kona World Championships. The race was not only described as being stunningly beautiful, but also as having some outstanding support; allegedly the crowds are usually somewhere between seventy and eighty thousand people. Pretty remarkable for a city of less than forty thousand.

The swim portion of the race takes part in Kalmar’s harbour, splashing around in the Baltic Sea. Unlike most other Ironman races there’s no wave starts – competitors self seed and funnel down stairs into the water, crossing a timing mat as they go. This works for me, because I hate mass starts; I am okay with two thousand athletes in black wetsuits and goggles looking like something between the gimp from Pulp Fiction and an extra from Mad Max, but please do it somewhere not near me so I can get on with my swimming and own questionable fashion choices in peace, ta very much. Thanks to the Gulf Stream – have I mentioned how much I love you, Gulf Stream – the water is usually somewhere from 19-21 degrees Celsius. I am a fan of this. At least I can be comfortably warm in my wetsuit whilst trying to dodge other swimmers, jellyfish, and lost Russian nuclear submarines.

The bike course rolls out of Kalmar over to the island of Öland via a six mile bridge. More than mass swim starts, I hate bridges. There is a semi-notorious incident on one family holiday where my siblings and I were forced to endure a three day journey in a dying minibus across France to go and see the Millau Viaduct; three days of teenage boredom, incessant whining, and sibling catfighting so Mum could take a few dozen pictures… of the sewage works below the bridge. The actual Millau Viaduct barely featured. We have, as a family, never recovered. I will probably experience PTSD at this point in the race, and have my n+1th breakdown of the race at this point (n being equal in this case to the number of people or animals that came into physical contact with me during the swim).

Once on Öland there is a large loop around the southern half of the island, with the island’s inhabitants and others yelling encouragement from their roadside picnics. Note to self: I need to learn enough Swedish to try and blag some Kanelbullar from these quaint little parties. Then it’s back over the bridge for my n+t+2th breakdown (t being equal in this case to the number of technical problems I have encountered on the bike) and a second, smaller loop on the mainland to the north of Kalmar.

Bar getting up and over the bridge, the bike route is apparently very flat and fast, but with a likelihood of crosswinds. I’m not sure how well this will work for me: generally, I have found as a cyclist that I am comparatively better on hills than on flats. However, I can live without hills in a 112 mile jaunt, I think. Just this once. So I might be faster than usual, but so will everyone else, so I might be a little less competitive. No Kona slot for me. Boo hoo.

Then there’s the run. Three laps in Kalmar, ending in the square outside of the Cathedral. From what I’ve read the more run route is lined with spectators, which I can imagine will be a massive psychological boost when I’m blowing out of my arse after setting off far too fast out of T2. At this point, I’m not sure how the run will go; it’s my strongest discipline by a country mile, but as previously mentioned: arse blowing. I like the think that I can maintain a reasonable pace even when shattered, so we’ll see.

So, what are my goals for this gargantuan task? I’d like to finish, obviously. Some people have already started calling me Ironman, and I’ve not even done the damn thing, so I need to go out and earn that before someone in the know hears of this and accuses me of being a fraud. Time wise, I’d like to hit under 12 hours. I have heard this is pretty ambitious for a newbie, but I think I can do it. Get the swim refined a bit and hit about a 1:30, 6 hours on the bike is a pretty hard pace but I think I can maybe get there on a flat course with a year’s training, and 4 hours for the run – that leaves 30 minutes to account for transitions, faff and disasters. It’ll be a hard pace but hey, the whole thing is hard. Go big or go home.

I’ll leave you this week with a terrifying thought: I did my run leader training yesterday. I’m now a licensed run leader, and am insured to actually instruct others on how to run better. Didn’t see that coming a year ago.

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Also, part of the reason I’m doing this is to raise funds and awareness for The Maytree Respite Centre, a small charity in North London that provides support for people going through a suicidal crisis – so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please click here. Thanks so much!

5 responses to “Stranger in a Strange Land

  1. Congrats on the RL qual, and another brilliant blog piece. Firstly, I’ve a supply of salty liquorice fishes if your taste buds need recalibration to a Swedish palate. Don’t want to get you too Sweded up or you’ll be listening to ABBA whilst training next! Secondly have you not signed up to LFTri Aquathlon?!! Good luck with the next 6 weeks. Remember to include quality rest, stretching and down time!

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    • Takk, mystery stranger! Not convinced salty liquorice is my thing but could give them a try, I guess? Afraid I was already committed to racing in Bournemouth that weekend so can’t do London Fields – we don’t do events often and I missed the last one so signed up for this dead early.

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  2. was the Millau bridge really as bad as that? love from your mother PS I;m only letting you get away with that because that was a superb piece of writing and no I am not offering to be your agent but think you could be looking x x

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  3. Pingback: If You Look Back, You’re Lost | Half-Rust·

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