Ha. Hahaha. Ahahahahahahahahahahahaha.
Okay, so that didn’t really work out how I thought it would.
Frog In a Blender
Pre-race checks done, I make sure I am one of the first in the holding pen for the swim start. Lanzarote is one of the few remaining Ironmans with a genuine mass start where you all leg it down the beach in one large crowd, so positioning would be key to making sure I don’t get wrapped up in any funny business (or so goes the plan). I find my spot, somewhere between the 1:20 swim and 1:10 swim markers, and sit down. Other people, as they filter in, look at me like I am mad for sitting down. I think they are mad for standing up. Key rule of energy conservation: never stand when you can lean, never lean when you can sit. I’d go one better and lie down, but I reckon that would earn me a few kicks.
30 minutes passes fairly quickly when you have race day nerves. Before long the starter horn goes off. Shortly after that, things go to hell in a handbasket.
First the walk, then the jog, then the run. The heart is thumping. Here we go, the ‘hardest’ Ironman in the world, as all the branding and word of mouth suggests. I wade into the water, alongside hundreds of others, and eventually find enough space to dive forward and start swimming – which promptly knocks my goggles loose and they started filling up with water. I reposition and stem the leak pretty quickly, but won’t have a chance to empty the water that had got in until end end of the first lap of the swim; to stop and fiddle with goggles, once in the water, would mean being steamrolled by the masses behind me.
The swim out to the first buoy was always going to be chaos. The shoals of inquisitive fish are nowhere to be seen. I am taking a wide line, but so have several hundred others, so it doesn’t help so much. I guess this rolling maul, often described as being stuck in a washing machine, is probably triathlon swimming at it’s finest, and what separates it from more traditional competition swimming. It is seriously hard work.
And then we reach the first buoy, and the machine turns; and like clothes in a washing machine, the chaos folds in on itself. Those on the outside start turning in across the buoy, and I have two choices; turn with them, straight across the path of the swimmers taking the inside line, or stop and wait for those turning in front to get the hell out of the way so I can continue on my nice, wide, not calm but surer than all the hells calmer than the alternative wide line.
I choose wrong. I turn with them, and ended up trapped in the midst of it all. In the lead up to the swim all I have been thinking about was making sure I extend properly, but I don’t have the room for that. I am fighting for every inch of space, dragged along by the crowd, at the pace of the crowd; too much spray and violence in front to see where the hell we are going, but trusting in the hive mind to deliver.
This is very much the tale of the first lap, up until we reach the exit where we will climb the beach, jog along and re-enter for the second lap. Upon reaching the last buoy that you’d hang a right at to aim for the beach, I come upon a weird scene: a bunch of upright triathletes, pressed together and bobbing up and down like neoprene fetishists at a Red Hot Chilli Peppers gig. I could swim around them, but part of me is curious. Also, I can’t see shit, and I’ve already swum into the back of one of them before I’ve realised what is going on. He grunts at me as I apologise breathlessly, joining the press.
The water here is shallow enough to stand, which all are having to do as they join the queue. There is also a securing rope for the buoy stretching across the swim path, and the tide has not come in far enough yet that you can swim over it without already knowing this, and going incredibly wide. So the procedure is this: you queue, you bob forward, you do a weird aquatic hop-thing over the rope, you warn the person behind you; and then you carry on bobbing, because there is about 10 metres left of water before the Australian exit and it’s barely worth swimming again.
I am out of the water and jogging, emptying my goggles as I go. I remember to take them off so they do not steam up like at Wales, which also means I can see where I am going and choose a better entry point this time. Except there is none. I’ve left the water in a group of about 100 people, and in a group of about 100 people we all re-enter the water, and the maul rolls on.
Another 30 minutes of argy-bargy ensues. At the furthest turnaround buoy I look down in shock as I see a body languishing in the water below and think, for a moment, that someone has actually died. It’s actually just an underwater photographer but it doesn’t half shit me up all the same. This is probably the first of many signs this day that I’m not in my right mind.
The swim back in is strangely calm; suddenly, everyone has disappeared and I am on my own. Unfortunately the way back in is also against the current, and probably the one point where I would have been better off with a mass of bodies around me so we could overcome this last hurdle together. Instead I battle on, stirring treacle by myself until I reach the final buoy. The tide has risen up the beach enough at this point that I do not have to stop and pogo this time, I swim straight round and in towards the waiting embrace of the warming sands.
The transition tent is too small and there are few chances to sit down. I find a spot on the edge of a sun lounger, and a Spanish man yells at me for sitting on one of his cycling gloves. I am not, and demonstrate this by showing the bare patch of lounger where my arse was. He mutters something in my direction including the word Puta, which I am surprised to hear from a real person rather than on a TV show. I titter in glee as I run off to find my bike, because both my gloves are in my bag where I left them – and his is in his bike helmet, he just hasn’t realised it yet. I’m not about to tell him. Puta.
There Comes Into the Life of Every Man
The bike is where things all go hideously wrong, although it takes me several hours to reach this conclusion.
The long uphill drag out of Puerto Del Carmen, up the ‘donkey path’ that I will later become painfully familiar with, echoes the swim. Not enough road, too many bikes; I try and pass as many people as I can without working too hard. This is where I first start getting kinda irritated with people who refuse to ride at the side of the road when they have no intention of overtaking anyone, as it forces me to make several Exciting Sudden Manoeuvres to get past people.
As soon as we complete that first 12k of climbing, I am more in my element. The roads are wider, smoother, and chiefly they are majority downhill with a mild tailwind. This is where I get my first taste of the long descents that will be the highlights of the day for me. They can only be described as scandalous. Shawty gets low in a way that would make Akon blush between his fingers. I hit a new cycling top speed of just over 80kph while on an early descent through La Geria doing my best Peter Sagan impression.
I also do not manage to kill myself on the descents, although the first proper downhill corner very nearly goes horribly wrong. Mavic wheels give a lovely whine when you apply the brakes, a soft whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyareyoumakingmeslowdown that sounds totes pro. As I approach the corner, taking the outside line while my wheels softly weep, I come to the sudden and shocking realisation that this bend is both a lot more downhill and a lot more acute than I had anticipated. On the plus side, should I fuck it up, there is an ambulance parked so that my erroneous trajectory will deliver me more or less straight into the back of it. Swings and roundabouts.
Pumping the brakes hard, the whine turns into a shriek, and I cut across and down. My apex delivers me at the corner’s exit, a couple of inches clear of the paved side of the road. The other side of the road, that we are not meant to be on. The marshal’s yelling burns my ears as I careen off down the next slope.
It has become apparent in the first few hours on the bike that my move to a 52/36 chainring at the front is maybe not working out the way I imagined. It is giving me more flexibility on hills than the previous 53/39, but not enough to avoid me running out of gears on most of the climbing sections. On the downhills, I am maxing out very quickly at the top, leaving me with little work to do on the way down – as furiously as I pedal, once up to speed I am barely putting any power through the pedals, and it seems a bit of a waste of energy.
Moreover, both my power targets and heart rate targets on the bike are in doubt. My power readings seem reasonable – unlike Thames Turbo, I have remembered to calibrate them before the race this time – but 2 hours in the unit manages to switch itself off somehow. I restart it as fast as I can while still pedalling, but am not stopping to re-calibrate the pedals, and now the readings seem all over the place again. That is fine; I have discussed this with Coach Tim, there is a backup.
Unfortunately, the backup plan is heart rate, and for some weird reason my engine is refusing to fire. I am struggling to raise it within 15bpm of what it should be. I blame this on the wind, because it seems reasonable in Lanzarote to blame all bad things on the wind.
The above in mind, I do the thing that you are not meant to do – I alter the plan. I start to work purely on perceived effort. Take it super easy on the uphills, working hard enough to feel like the whole leg is engaged and no more unless it can’t be helped. Push a little on the flats, which should feel slightly easier than climbing, like I am on the edge of trying. On any downhill punch hard until up to top speed, and then assume the weird flying turtle-egg-foetus thingy position (or the Sagan tuck if the incline is suitably dramatic). It almost works, except for on the ‘flat’ sections.
Lanzarote’s landscape does not make sense. It is the alien geometry version of geography. There are uphills and there are downhills. There are uphills that feel like downhills, and downhills that feel like uphills. There are flat bits that aren’t flat bits, but feel like they are, and there are flat bits that feel like anything but. Lanzarote does not understand ‘flat’ like Puerto Del Carmen does not understand ‘suncream’. There are bits where I am pedalling sideways, using all of my tyre to keep me stable. Again: the wind.
That said, despite the wind and incomprehension, despite trusting nothing but my own perception (which I famously do not trust in any other situation), I am making progress. I am passed by many on the climbs, only to fly past them as soon as gravity decides to be more merciful. Most I see with deep section wheels cannot descend properly because they cannot handle their bikes in the crosswinds, and I feel very, very smug about my wheel choice. On the flats, my progress is more gradual, but I am still carving through the field. Despite our mutual mistrust, I remain very acquainted with my Garmin, staring at it and it’s lying lies in disgust while I concentrate on keeping my head low, shoulders shrugged, a metre to the left of the white line of truth.
The climb up Haria, the longest and draggiest of the course, is hard work. I am still able to hold a conversation with the people passing me though, so am content I’m not burning too many matches. The road down the other side is blissful, a sequence of sharp hairpins that I execute beautifully (over the 3.28km Strava segment I am only 12 seconds slower than Allesandro Dagasperi, the overall race winner, which is a result consider I have to deal with a lot more traffic than him), dancing in between fellow competitors with a complete disregard for common sense, probably breaking several road laws in the process. Climbing up the north-west corner of the island to Mirador Del Rio is beautiful, a charming clifftop road with incredible views out over La Graciosa, and is a nice setup for the 10k of breakneck descending that follows.
I continue to push into the wind. I am within the last 30k of the bike leg, and it begins to dawn on me that despite suspicious numbers, I am not doing terribly on the bike leg. Slightly undercooked perhaps, but not terrible.
My Garmin reads 6 hours as I crest the last climb, shortly before the turning back to go down the ‘donkey path’ and into Puerto Del Carmen. I have 12k left of the bike course, all of it downhill. At worst, I am on for a low-6 hour bike leg. Considering a friend I know from Goodgym, who I know is a much stronger cyclist than me, did this race last year and posted 6 hours 6 minutes for the bike split, I could well be within 10 minutes of him. That would be an fantastic ride, for me, and would set me up pretty well for an assault on the top 10 of my age group.
My Garmin reads 6 hours, 1 minute as my heart breaks.
Just over the rise, I begin to pick up speed. There are a few dints than run across the width of the road, unavoidable, and as I cross the last one my rear tube audibly bursts. I have a split second argument of the future worth of my wheels vs how close I think I might be to a Kona spot, and pull over to the side of the road.
The first thing I notice, getting off my bike, is that my core has been pushed so hard in the effort to keep me and Agro stable against the fierce crosswinds that I can barely stand up. I collapse onto a nearby wall as I make the first attempt to fix the flat. I am flustered, and angry, and tools are being flung everywhere. Which is awful because then I have to bend over to pick them up. I can barely manage that, either. My back is in pieces. I have aged 50 years, and seemingly learnt 50 new ways to creatively curse all of existence in the process.
Spare tube the elder is in place, and agonisingly slowly I force the tyre back on. CO2 inflator in place, I pull the trigger. Air hisses. Nothing happens. From 30 metres down the road, a local man and his boy watch me curiously as I slowly drive myself ever closer to boiling point.
I try my second CO2 canister, reasoning that I probably did not attach it to the valve properly, and prove that a mistake is only unforgivable if you fail to learn from it the first time. I try it without taking the tube out to check it. Now I am out of CO2 – I actually have 3 other CO2 canisters, but because I lost my preferred CO2 inflator a few weeks ago, they do not fit with the replacement I hastily packed. Fuck. Fuck fucking cunting bastard shit place to have a fucking race useless fucking dolt FUCK. FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK.
In my younger, alcoholic post-university days, spinning uncontrollably through a mundane existence in the sleepy villages and one-note towns of the North Cornish coast, there was one evening when me and a friend – actually more of a friend of a friend – were walking home from the single most depressing nightclub in existence. It sold Cornish pasties from the cloakroom. Seriously. Everything smelled like pasties, except the parts of the club that were carpeted. They smelt like an unholy mix of sweat, vomit, stale alcohol and pasties. It was not a classy place. It probably would not be out of shape in Puerto Del Carmen, thinking about it.
This girl had recently broken up with this guy, who was the most colossal knob in a land of colossal knobs, the Joey Barton of the Bude social scene. He’d also been out that night and they’d already had one nasty run in, so I offered to walk her home. Okay, fair enough, how very noble of young, drunk, clean-shaven George. She’d also managed to lose her shoes at some point over the course of the night, something that girls of that age seemed curiously prone to, so I offered her mine – I’d always been a bit of a hobbit at heart and didn’t really think much of it, even removing my socks (which I vaguely remember chucking into a bush). That wasn’t a noble thing. That proved to be a very fucking stupid decision.
This girl safely escorted home, I wandered off, drunkenly oblivious to the fact that I had failed to reclaim my shoes. I wandered to the taxi rank, but by this point it was 4am, and Bude just ain’t that kind of place. I pulled my phone out of my pocket to see if I could call one of the local companies, but my phone was out of battery, The town had emptied, was deserted. I was barefooted, 8 miles of main road away from home, and had to be at work at 8am to open up the family pub.
I made it home at about 6:30am with bloody feet. I had an hour’s very deep sleep, then the world’s quickest shower before driving bleary eyed, and still very drunk, to work. I was 15 minutes late.
Back in the Present
You can see where this is going, I’m sure.
Shoes tethered firmly to my base bar, I haul my bike onto my shoulder and started shuffling down the road, trying to do the maths. I have about 1 hour 45 minutes until I will run over 8 hours for the bike leg, and thus not be eligible to finish the race. I try to convert 12 kilometres into miles, and then work out what pace I will need to move at to manage that. I fail miserably.
It takes 300 metres before I realise two things about the road surface: it is rougher than it looks, and it is also very, very hot. Neither my Garmin nor I have realised when cycling, as the wind does a good job of hiding it, but it has become positively toasty on this island. The temperature spike in the image above coincides with the point that I am forced to stop. It is almost 10 degrees hotter than all weather reports say it should be (not that this has gone unnoticed in the days previous).
As I’m putting my shoes on, some kind Spanish triathlete who has slowed down for the bend stops and asks me what I need. He doesn’t speak much English, I speak even less Spanish, but somehow we manage to reach a shared understanding. He tries with his CO2 inflator, and finally, 3 canisters of gas later (probably 2 canisters later than I should have), I realise that the tube is a dud. Unfortunately he only has 1 spare canister, so he shrugs his shoulders in apology, and I motion for him to leave and use one of the few Spanish words I do know: Vamos. I’m not sure this means exactly what I think it means, but it gets the message across, and he carries on with his race while I fight back tears.
Bike shoes back on, I start off again down the road. 5 minutes later, Chris, an Embrace coach who was on the training camp I attended in March, passes me and stops, asking what I need. I take his last CO2 canister and tell him to get moving; I have an inflator and a spare tube, I just need the gas. He cycles off, and I try spare tube the younger.
This time, I get a result. The tyre inflates.
Hope is the cruellest mistress.
I pull at the CO2 inflator, and it refuses to relinquish its grip on the valve. I tug at it, and it comes off. It pulls the valve core with it. Hope gives a quick wheeze of laughter, as the air in the tube is released all at once.
I am now out of CO2 canisters, out of a CO2 inflator, out of replacement inner tubes, quickly discover I am also out of water, and very finally out of patience. The violent tug on my inflator smashed my hand into my rear wheel cassette, and there is a small, but deep cut on my index finger. I am pissing out blood as well: caked in it, and oil, and salt deposits from my own sweat.
Sorrow turns to anger. Fuck this race. I am a Chaser, and we are not pussies. I am a survivor, and I have lived through worse. This, the hardest Ironman in the world, has been sent to test me. Fuck you too, hardest Ironman in the world. Fuck you especially. I pull my arm pads off from my aerobars and stuff them inside my tri suit, to give me more padding for my shoulder, and I hoist my bike on my shoulder, and I resume my death march.
The donkey path is narrow, so I shuffle down the gravel track at the edge of the road. I know how fast I would be descending on this stretch, and it only takes one of me to come around a corner on a little too tight a line, a little too fast, and both of us will have a much worse day. I am on edge, trying to look where I am planting my feet, while trying to make sure I do not become the object of someone else’s unintended high-velocity affections.
The same ignominy and despair is suffered each time another bike comes past, especially if they have a disc wheel. At first it is just the ones I have recently passed, but later, when I begin to see the familiar suits and bikes that I left for dead an hour ago, there is tangible pain in my feels-zone. Many athletes, and all the marshals – once they have confirmed that no, I don’t speak Spanish; no, I don’t want to be picked up by the broom wagon; and yes, I do want to continue on my debateably futile crusade – offer enthusiastic encouragement.
People should Animo! at me a lot, and I think for a long while that they are calling me an animal. A big, ferocious, unstoppable beast of a human. As it turns out they are just telling me to get a move on. Some simply laugh. Some are going too fast for me to make out what they are yelling. I try to smile at all of it, assuming one of my core tenants when I started training for stupid distance races and investing in flashy bikes: fake it until you make it. Eventually the smile becomes genuine and I begin to see the hilarity in the situation. Part of me is aware that this is how the Joker happens.
I am getting a lesson in what it feels like to be one of those poor determined souls eking out every second of their 17 hours, grinding away despite the odds just to finish an Ironman. I am no longer a performance athlete as I struggle down the gravel path, unable to work out how fast I have to be moving in order to dip under the 8 hour bike cutoff.
Basic comprehension of numbers and sums is beginning to elude me. I have three chief problems – one, I am a triathlete. Moreover, I am a triathlete on the bike leg of a race, in contact with a bike, and unwilling to throw in the towel. Therefore, I have to keep my aero helmet on and strapped at all times, hoping the mirrored twat visor hides the pain in my eyes. Two, I ran out of water while I was making attempts to change my tyre, and all I can taste is dust. Three, the aforementioned heat. Slowly, inside my helmet, I am beginning to cook in the midday sun.
After what seems like an eternity, I reach the end of the donkey path, amusing a pair of local Policemen as I clamber across the middle of a roundabout to avoid the speeding bikes, and onto a closed section of main road. Finally, I am on tarmac, and the bike is off my shoulder – I can roll it next to me, and the tyre should prevent damage to the wheel so long as I am not putting any weight through it, I think. My shoulder is rubbed raw at this point, the arm pads having navigated south to somewhere around my lower back over the last hour, and this also influences my decision.
I have 45 minutes to cover the distance back to T2, which would fill me with comfort except I have no idea if the course is accurate. If it is slightly long that is problematic. I settle into a more consistent jog, using the hard shoulder on the far side of the road so the athletes still with functioning bikes have as much of the road as possible to go fast and avoid me. I try and chew a shot-bloc (my running nutrition of choice) but my mouth is too dry and caked with dust.
As we come off the main road, Police at another roundabout are stopping traffic from entering the roundabout from two different lanes whilst athletes cross on their bikes. The two officers give me a look, then share a look, then give me another, more confused look. Eventually they realise that I am not stopping, and the equally-bemused traffic is duly halted while I trundle across a two-lane roundabout, alongside my wounded steed.
Exiting the roundabout, a large white building looms in front of me, with ALAMO spray painted on the wall facing me in a classical graffiti style. Here, here I allow myself to have hope again. This is where the race seems plausible once more, and I know I am going to make it. This is the first building on the outskirts of Puerto Del Carmen, and I can see the crowds formed at the top of the small rise, and I know they will find this hilarious.
I run down the hill and into town, briefly becoming a celebrity to each group of spectators as I pass them, grinning ear to ear. I am running fluidly now, almost like this was intended and I have not died on the inside. The bike course goes along the road next to the pavement and bike track that makes up the run course, and I earn some withered gazes from the athletes already out on the run course as I pass them. One guy gets slightly het up about this and sprints to overtake me again, which makes me giggle inwardly as I assume he will suffer for it later.
The dismount line approaches as the marshalls yell at me to slow down before dismounting. I try to think of a sarcastic retort. I fail to do so in time before the two bikes coming up behind me roll past.
I cross the dismount line with just under 13 minutes to spare, and collapse forward onto my handlebars.
The bare armrests are stubbly velcro, and dig into my forearms as a marshal tells me I need to keep moving. Hoisting Agro onto one shoulder again, I hobble down the carpeted path to the beach where transition is, depositing my bike on the racks and heading through into the changing tent where it is safe to fall over. Someone is speaking words at me and I ask for water. A few seconds pass and a bottle appears in my hand. Half of it goes in the mouth, half over the head. They have to chivvy me on as I am making no committed attempt to get my running kit ready. About 5 seconds after I have stumbled out of the tent, depositing my bag full of bike bits and pieces, I realise that the two arm pads are now pressed firmly against my arse cheeks.
The One-Eyed Man is King
As I climb slowly up the ramp from the beach to the pavement, I resolve to run as if I were still in the race. Effortlessly, I float off at my target pace, skipping past hundreds of athletes who passed me while I was having my afternoon stroll. This continues for all of the first 5k until I give up.
By this point, I am already done. I could still prove that I can manage a sub-3 hour Ironman. As I start running, I begin to think: what am I proving? To who? Why does it matter? What’s the use of a 3 hour run with a near-8 hour bike leg? I realise that for a good half of my soul, the finish line was the dismount line. I know from Roth that I can comfortably run-walk an Iron-distance run in under the 6 hours allowed. In crossing the dismount line, the doubt over whether or not I would finish has disappeared, and any question of a strong time, performance-wise, had fled hours ago. My job here is done.
Also at the back of my mind, Coach Tim has suggested that I try my hand/legs/slightly more considered bike equipment at some ITU age-group qualifying in the near future. The less I push on the run, the less time it will take for my body to recover and be ready to pick up the slack again. I am hungry enough for some actual, non-sports nutrition food that I don’t want to hang about too much, but at the same time, I don’t need to push. So I stop pushing.
The first, long lap is completed at a meander. Purposefully, my heart rate and pace are both kept low, and I allow myself lengthy walking breaks at each feed station. The route is a long slog, mostly along a very bare, very open length of coastal path. There is no shade, and no support. On the way back in particular, I begin to feel the heat. My pace slows a fraction more.
I spot a few of my friends on the course. I pass Embrace Chris, who is struggling towards the end of his first lap as I am beginning it. Another Chaser, and another Chris, is competing in his first Ironman; as I run into town, I see him heading out on the run, and I offer encouragement. Andy, the Head of Triathlon at South London Harriers (one of London’s other running/triathlon clubs) and who was on the same coaching course as I was a year ago, is in Lanzarote to spectate, and keeps me going. Running back into town, I finally locate Beth, one of the Kalmar Five (as I refer to them in my head), who has come out to Lanzarote on some very appreciated support/keep-George-sane duties. I stop, and we have a chat, so she can let concerned parties back home know that I am still alive; and I can have a rest, which is seeming more and more necessary with each step. On top of this, partly because of my newfound cult-hero status as the bike-pusher, partly because Puerto Del Carmen is half-British and I have Clapham emblazoned across my chest, I seem to have made a few hundred new friends who yell encouragement from the sidelines.
After an age, I make it to the second lap. I am over halfway through my run at this point, considering the unplanned 12k extension. This doesn’t bring me much comfort. My quads feel like they are on fire. My pace drops again.
A few kilometres into that second lap, I stumble. I am feeling dizzy, nauseous. My eyelids are drooping. The dehydrated, bike-helmeted hot run earlier is beginning to take its toll. I slow to barely above a walk, then a walk. My target is to make it to the next station, and then I will try and run again. It is an Ironman. It is meant to be hard. This is just a phase.
I do not run again for the rest of the lap. There is a brief attempt, just past the lap’s turnaround point; but it leaves me bend over a flowerbed, retching. Nothing comes up, of course. It is the kind of sick where I am sure if I could be sick, I would feel better for it. Sitting on a stone wall for a few minutes, I contemplate life, and the lengths we will drive ourselves to for a cheap mass-produced polo shirt that we will wear a handful of times in our lives, and a medal that will collect dust on a shelf. This does not magic me any closer to the finish line. I start walking again.
Only a few minutes down the way, I meet Embrace Chris, who is evidently suffering the same affliction as me. When he manages to leave his claimed flower bed, we walk the rest of the lap together. We talk a bit, sometimes we do not, but it is nice to have the company, and takes my mind off the nausea. Despite having a naturally fast running pace, my walking pace is anything but. We are overtaken by scores of the other walking wounded. At some point I try and down some soup that is more salt than chicken, and this makes me throw up in my mouth a little. It is such an embarrassingly small amount that I do not bother to waste it on the ground.
Some very sweaty, very drunk Welshmen are at the side of the course. They also did Wales last year, and we have a chat about which is harder. I tell them that I will be able to declare my decision in a couple of hours. This is clearly not fast enough, as the drunkest and sweatiest sweatiest decides the grab me and try to force me into a run, his clammy bodily fluids against my skin causing me to gag. I do not appreciate this, and wish I was able to vomit the chicken soup directly onto him in order to signal that I would prefer not to be touched, nor to be forced into a run. I no longer wish to be a cult hero.
The sun is low in the sky by the time Embrace Chris and I make it to the end of the second lap, and I am very aware that in another timeline where I prepare properly for races with the proper kit, I have finished by now, and am eating ice cream. The bubble of anger returns. I declare to Chris that I am going to try and run the third lap.
It is a semi-run, semi-stumble; but it is about twice as fast as I had been walking, so it is something. The nausea is still there, but less prominent. I control my fluid intake by allowing myself just one gulp of water at each aid station, and I am no longer slowing down to grab the cup as I pass. The course is markedly less populated now, and many of the crowds have dispersed. These are the witching hours I have not witnessed from this side of the barriers before. I perch my sunglasses on my head, because they are making it hard to see in the fading light, and I could no longer give two shits about masking the pain and exhaustion on my face.
The last hour is a blur. I remember little of it, other than discovering why you should never, ever, EVER enter a run course portaloo 13 hours into an Ironman. Those are sensory experiences that I will never be able to scrub from my mind. At some point on the return leg of the lap Embrace Chris yells something at me, but I can’t work out what. Chasers Chris will later say he saw me and shouted some encouragement, but I looked “vacant”.
At long last, I begin to hear the PA systems at the finish line, and know I am nearly there. I speed up a little, not a lot. On the finishing carpet, the man in front is collecting his two children as he wishes to cross the finish line with them. This greatly irritates me. I cannot stop to let him do this, because I worry that if I stop 10 metres away from the finish line, that is it. My race will be done, because my legs are fiery jelly and I will collapse, never to be moved again, to the floor. Momentum carries me more than any other force, and I cannot lose that now.
I brush past him just as he turns to complete his lovely family portrait, the last petty revenge of a defeated creature. I do not offer the press any interviews.
Listening: to the roar of the crowd
Reading: ‘you are 5km from the finish line”… “you are 4km from the finish line”…
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