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Ironman UK – 1st August 2010

[Peter Coulahan recently became the third Racing795 member to complete an Ironman distance triathlon. Well done Peter, a brilliant achievement. Report below.]

1st August 2010 – It’s 3.45am on a Sunday morning and the alarm sounds (yes that’s 3.45 in the morning). I’ve slept well despite thinking I wouldn’t. I start to carb load and eat as much as I can– couple of bowls of cornflakes, two bananas, lots of water and then I’m full. Strangely I have no nerves. Taxi picks Val and me up at 4.15am and we head to swim start. I eat some more at the start and then before I know it its almost 6am and I get into the water. 3.8kms looks like a very long swim when its sitting in front of you like that. I swim towards the start. I’m about 2/3’s of the way down the field.

After a rousing blast of God Save The Queen the hooter sounds and we’re off. Ivana’s advice from the training sessions comes back to me, keep the stroke long, keep the shoulders up, catch, pull back fast and long..repeat..sight every 2-3 strokes. Its going ok. Every so often I veer a bit off course but regular sighting brings it back. Without my glasses some of course markers are difficult to see so I have to assume the guys in front are going the right way. First lap goes in a flash, same with second lap. Before I know it I’m getting out of the water in 1hr15mis. Swim position was 663 / ~1,100 swim finishers.

Up into transition for a long slow change and off on the bike. The bike course was a 16 mile run out to the start of a 3 x 32 mile lap course. I did the first part at a nice steady pace. Then I started the first lap.

Each lap started with Sheep Lane, which was a leg sapping climb of about 2 miles with an increase in elevation of around 700 feet. The lap alternated between the windswept moors and urban areas. I felt good on the first lap but I was spending a lot of time in the small cog and out of the saddle due to the amount of hills on the lap. At the end of the first lap things started to fall apart a bit when I knew that I was looking at a 7hr+ bike rather than the 6.30hrs I had hoped for (and had done in training). I really started to doubt my ability to do my first  marathon after so long in the saddle. Lap 2 was the hardest lap. Sheep Lane was a lot more difficult this time, a lot of people were walking, and it really took a lot out of me to get up it. I struggled mentally and physically in lap 2. At the end of the lap I did consider just cycling into T2 and binning it, but the parting words of Val at the swim that morning came back to me….’if you don’t finish this after all the time and money its cost I’ll kill you myself’….and kept me going. The start of the third lap came around. I was so tempted to walk the Sheep Lane hill like so many others but I didn’t. I had so little power left in the legs that I ended up doing pretty much the entire hill out of the saddle. But then a strange thing happened, although I was slowing physically I started to feel much better on the third lap and I almost enjoyed it. Mentally I was still worried about the marathon though. After what seemed like an age I finished the third lap. I had made it in a really disappointing 7.24hrs. An hour longer than I had hoped. My bike split was my worst of the day, 741 / ~1,100 bike finishers. I found the course very very difficult. I don’t think I was the only one – none of the pros broke 5 hrs; less than 80 people broke 6hrs; and less than 250 broke 6.30hrs. I had ate well on the bike, taking a gel or power bar every 30 minutes.

At last into T2, which was in a school sports hall. I was surprised to see so many bags still here having assumed that I would be in the bottom few finishers. A change of clothes and I headed out on the run feeling physically and mentally tired.

The first 3 miles of the run were a loop out of transition behind the school and were cross country, and I mean cross country – thick black mud. I walked the first hill and shuffled the rest of the back to the start of the loop. I managed to get a power bar into me on this bit of the run. Back at the start of the loop and I had some water at an aid station. I drank some Gatorade and almost puked, then I had some Pepsi…..it was like pouring liquid energy down my throat. I went from being totally drained to feeling great from one cup of Pepsi. I bounded off down the run route and did the first 4 miles at 8 min mile pace. I got to the next aid station where I had some more water, Pepsi and half a banana. I got a wrist band here which was a great boost. All I now had to was run the 7.4 miles into Bolton, get another wrist band, run back out to the aid station, get a final wrist band, and run back to the finish. I pushed on keeping the HR low and taking it easy. I tried to eat a gel but every time I put my hand on my pocket and felt one I started to retch…my stomachs way of saying no more gels. I got to the turnaround in Bolton where I met Val here which was a great boost and I stopped for a quick chat, and got my second wrist band. The run course took us right to the start of the finish chute before making us turnaround for the final 15 miles or so….cruel. At this stage I still felt great and was shuffling along nice and slow. I walked the hills on this part of the course, but kept going at a steady pace feeling good. I was still taking in water and pepsi but had stopped eating the bananas as at this stage they were soft and black having been in the sun all day and I couldn’t stomach them. At about 22 miles I took a drink at an aid station when it finally happened, I hit the wall. I went from a comfortable shuffle to almost collapsing – I got dizzy, I felt weak, my stomach churned, my vision blurred. I started walking. I walked probably 1.5 miles and then I knew it was all downhill to the finish. I started to run again. As I approached the finish I got faster and faster. The crowd was amazing.  I spotted Val going mad in the crowd.  I sprinted across the finish line with a marathon time of  4.42hr which was 669 / ~1,100 finishers.

Overall it had taken me 13hrs 50mins 35secs – an hour longer than I had hoped – and I finished 738th out of 1,054 finishers. My first words to Val where ’never again’, but now that I’ve recovered I’m planning my 2011 Ironman. It’s amazing how quickly you forget the pain.

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