Ooh boy, this is gonna be another long one (not saying that like it’s a bad thing, of course). Thankyous heading in the direction of: James, my brother and support crew; Anonymous, who’s swum with me since the start of my triathlon journey and therefore probably has more insight than most as to what this took; Alys, or Coach Mathew, or preposterously quick age grouper; Chris Hobson, who managed to teach me to not drown in a kayak, so probably also has a good idea how unsuited I am to the water; Sue and Mark, family members that have done so much for me like kick starting some kind of career path; Mystery Chaser, full of suspense and surprises; Sarah F, who fought incredibly hard against a long-suffered injury just to compete in Ironman Copenhagen today, and that in itself is worthy of awe considering she hasn’t been able to run in the last however many months now; Sam, incredibly friendly Chaser chap, which is odd because no one who lives in London and cycles that much seems to be friendly; Emma Phillips, of curly hair and perennially smiley Alzheimer’s banished from Goodgym; Louise Bell, lovely Chasers running lady; Tom Benson, Goodgym Lambeth’s living legend; and Anonymous 1, 2 & 3. Well that spiralled out of control. Speaking of…
Oh shitting fuck.
One year ago today, at 10:54pm GMT, I received an email confirming my registration for Ironman Kalmar 2016. I promptly announced it on Facebook with the above profanity. I had approximately six months of triathlon experience under my belt, and a year of running in a fairly non-committal manner. I had completed two sprint triathlons, an aquathlon, and a handful of running events. Shortly afterwards I set into motion this blog and the associated fundraising effort.
I woke up this morning as an Ironman. For the uninitiated, this feels kind of like your legs want to punch you in the face, if they were only capable of it, because you have done some horrible, nasty things to them. Of course, they can’t punch you – they’re legs, and you’ve crippled them – so instead they just rebel against any single action you try and make them take. The rest of the body isn’t quite so furious, but you can’t really say it’s on your side either. At this point in time, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
If you want the numbers breakdown, here’s a link to my results. I can save you looking it up and say this: 10:28:44; 375th overall, 360th gender, 36th division (Male, 25-29). I finished. I’m an Ironman.
I don’t think the enormity of what I’ve accomplished really hit me until some point around lunchtime today, when I was strolling around Kalmar’s port, trying to ease some kind of function back into my legs, and retrace the swim route (strangely baffling from my land-based perspective) while I waited on my Goodgym support crew to roll into town for the day. There was this giddy moment when I was stood out on the breakwater, looking out over the Baltic and the Ölandsbron, and I just suffered from a moment of clarity in between all of the pain and exhaustion, and though: Shit. I did it. I Ironman’d, and I Ironman’d hard.
I couldn’t really think about it immediately post race. On exiting the athlete’s village – for the second time, because I nipped back in to get my medal engraved, I was so bloody knackered that I couldn’t think straight. I had to be ushered around by a Swedish volunteer that was probably no more than late teens, like the pathetic drunken uncle at the family Christmas party. She had to hold my space blanket over me because I couldn’t raise my arms to do it myself. My brother James was waiting, and says that I was trying to hold a cup of coke in one hand that was tipping ever further sideways as I collapsed into him next to a barrier. That wasn’t a time for contemplation.
Leaving the village, I was greeted by Mum, James, and the Goodgym crew, and I had two things on my mind – beer (from the village, wish I’d pinched more) and food. That was as far as my thought processes stretched. Oh, and finding places to sit down. All of the seats. At some point I had to reclaim Agro, my willing accomplice, to be delivered back to England while I shoot on to Stockholm. The delivery guys asked me how my race went. In a typically English non-comittal manner, I said it went ‘alright’.
Nor did I have much time to think when I was catching up on the literally hundreds of various social media notifications I had picked up over the course of the day that night, and again with another crop this morning. You people are rabid (in a good way). Every time I find a new wifi spot my phone just starts vibrating with fresh messages and won’t stop for a few minutes. I’m struggling to keep on top of it all. This must be what celebrity feels like. Minus the money. There’s not too much of that around. I spent it all on this silly medal.
Perspective requires fresh air, I find. Sea air is the best kind. This area of Sweden – in particular Öland – reminds me a lot of Cornwall, even down to the incomprehensible locals; as it turns out, a year of Duolingo has left me able to speak Swedish, in a (slow) manner, but completely unable to comprehend it when someone is speaking it to me. I can manage basic shop transactions now, so long as they don’t try to ask me anything. That’s as far as I’ve got.
Anyway, back to the Ironman thing. Am I proud? Yes. When it hit, it hit like a flailing breaststroker’s kick straight to the plums. There was more than one reason that I had to steady myself on a nearby handrail at that moment. It was the kind of thing that was simultaneously easier than I imagined, justifying the hard hours of training I’d put in; and really, horrifically, miserably the hardest physical test I have ever put myself through, by magnitudes that I can’t even comprehend. And yet, I conquered.
I thought that I was going to throw in the towel on the swim, but I didn’t. Then I thought I’d buried my legs on the long bike leg, driving into the wind and ever forward. Finally, I laid to rest a bunch of things that should have been left behind a long time ago on the run. It cost me, and I’m paying for it now physically, but that’ll pass. The weapon I’ve given myself to fight off self doubt will be a little more permanent.
So would I do another one? My original thoughts, which to be perfectly honest, I’d penned a good few months before the Ironman (yes, I thought in advance about how I would end this blog):
“Right now, probably not. It was an undeniably positive, incredible and unforgettable experience. I never felt like I had much to be proud of in life, but this? This is accomplishment. I have achieved.
That said, it consumed the best part of a year of my life, thousands of pounds, and created a very high-stress, high-pressure lifestyle. I always felt like, with the way I struggled through most of my life, that when I finally hit my stride at 25 I’d already lost what should have been the best decade of my life. Everything and everyone felt so alien, and my life experiences didn’t really apply much to trying to fit into a ‘regular’ society. Basically, I felt like I was, or am, playing a constant game of catchup.
The Ironman was great, but for this growth phase in my life, it would be a pretty inhibiting thing for me, and I don’t feel that leaping straight into another journey like that would be constructive. I’m going to focus myself on some other areas: a lot of club mates have got these fancy GBR Tri suits with their names on and everything, and I’d like to try one of them on for size. Or maybe I’ll do one of the other things I always said I’d do and made no real effort to achieve: piss off to Iceland, write a novel, I don’t know. All of the above. But in so many ways I just don’t think I could justify another ironman to myself right now.”
Whoops. Best laid plans and all that.
This happened a few weeks ago, to be fair. Because while the above is true, it was something that I thought a long while ago, and people are malleable; they change, I change. This took sacrifice. Most good things require that. While Ironman Kalmar took a lot from me, it gave back far more in return. This is just the kind of person I am now. Maybe. I guess there’s only ever one way to find out.
Besides, Challenge Roth is a definite bucket list race and not easy to get a spot for, so I kind of had to put in once I’d secured a place. Second biggest date on the long course calendar, fastest course in the world; and look at that support? I’ll be saying a lot about the support in Kalmar in the full race debrief, but suffice to say I’m not sure too many places could be capable of matching it. Roth is one of them.
Oh, so that race report. It’s still being worked on; I have a rough first draft, a bunch of shorthand paragraphs that I will construct into something far more coherent in the near future. I’m hoping for next weekend.
Because I kind of have a thing for In Media Res, I thought I’d write this up before I finalise the race report. Being that this will be the last current-autobiographical post in the blog, I just want to throw out a thanks to everyone who’s followed this crazy helter skelter from start to finish, or joined partway through, or hell, just been made aware of it this weekend (take the time to catch up, people tell me it’s worth it). It’s been a bit of a ride, hasn’t it?
I hope I have provided a few things. An insight into the life of a trainee novice amateur endurance athlete, for one. I hope the level of effort this requires has inspired some people; I’m not expecting everyone to be jumping off their sofas to go sign up for their nearest full distance race, but just in the idea that things can be done in the face of self-opposition and all good sense. I hope the mental health thing has come across. I hope people (you) have thought about it, talked about. I hope more people are aware that the Maytree exists. I hope that, not because it’s pleasant but because it’s a really unfortunate necessity, that this knowledge might be passed on in directions that could give other people the same second chance I got. I hope for a lot of things these days.
I don’t know if I will continue blogging in the future; I feel like, as with training, I need a bit of a break from it right now. I am very excited to let you know all about the myriad of ways an Ironman is wonderful and sucky, and I may tidy up some of the subpages (race calendar, kit list, the like) just for posterity, but after that I’m done. Half Rust was only ever meant to be a year; objective complete. I will continue to be active on Twitter and Instagram, so those are places where you can catch up if you still need a fix. I can promise I’m really inane. If – IF – I do start with the writing again, this is probably where you’ll hear about it (unless you’re unfortunate enough to have my crap clogging up your Facebook feed).
So long. Thanks for reading. I’d leave you with a profound quote, but this blog has literally thousands of words already. Go make your own profoundness. Is that, in itself, profound? I’m confused.
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!