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Ignorance is Bliss – Elaine’s IM UK Report

‘Ignorance is Bliss’

Race report IM UK, Bolton – July 16th 2017

By Elaine Gibson

Getting ready for the official practice swim on the Saturday morning and this fella looks at me and says ‘Is this your first IM?’, I said ‘Yes, is it that obvious?’, he says ‘yeah,  you look so scared…maaaaannn are you going to suffer out there tomorrow, well done for trying though…ha ha ha…and he struts off’.

I just thought you pr*ck, I really really wanted to punch him in the nose!  With all the positive stuff that people had told me coming up to this I just could not shake that off, I tried and tried to push it out of my mind…the ‘suffering’ bit really scared me…I doubted myself as I have done several times before.  And what did he mean ‘well done for trying?’ Then I realise there is a definite possibility of failure…crap…gulp…what am I doing.  My biggest fear – Failure. I will never forget that fella’s words though and thought of him much later in the race.


Copyright Finisherpix 2017

That afternoon…in my wisdom I decided to join a few of the Wexford Tri gang in a drive around the bike loop.  [This Wexford Tri crew need a mention…7 guys and girls from Wexford Tri Club who took me under their wing a while back and treated me like one of their own…it would have been a different experience without them]. Off we went, 4 of us in the car who were competing and Thomas driving. We went into shock. I’m sure I could smell the gear box burning out! Sheephouse Lane, that famous hill, up and up and up…the blood drained from my head…cold sweat…the gasps and the yelps from everyone is memorable…more hills, more bends, more hills…there must have been down hills but I don’t remember.  Thomas says ‘I heard today that this is the 3rd hardest IM bike course in the world’. Ah Jaysus what have I done!?! Windows rolled down, deep breaths. We had a laugh though…coz we knew we were coming out here tomorrow, no matter what…that was the bottom line. That drive of only one loop seemed to take us for ever, what was it going to feel like on the bike?


The night before I got everything ready, I was more organised that I have ever been for anything in my life. I had lists and lists of the lists. I asked Kevin did he REALLY believe I could do this… he said ‘100% I know you are going to do this, I have no doubt.’ So I took  his word for it, sure he’s always right! I felt calm and I knew I couldn’t do any more. All I have to do tomorrow is move forward and keep moving…I have 17 hours…I have it in me somewhere…deep breaths. Unbelievably I slept for about 4 hours. Alarm went off at 3, I hopped out of the bed, checked through the list. Cried for half a minute. Replied to Joy’s viber messages at 3.20 a.m. …she may as well have been here with me. Funnily enough Joy was the first ever IM that I met, before I even knew what an IM was…and so my inspiration and my mentor through the whole journey. I put a bottle of bubbly in the fridge and said [to the bottle] ‘I’ll see you later baby!. I am going to do this.



The swim start is something I will never forget. The atmosphere!!! It was still dark but everyone was moving around purposefully, it was just surreal and everyone seemed to know what they were doing. I was delighted to see the Wexford crew, we were all excited and we couldn’t believe our day was finally here. A few of us lined up at the 1hr 20m start…I knew it was a bit fast for me, but people would just pass me, what harm. The music…Thunder Struck…goose bumps. Then someone showed me the banner that the Wexford fans had made – they had put my name on it…that was it, I fell apart.  I have never been so overwhelmed with the support through the entire journey. Phonecalls, cards, messages…crap…this must be something big!


In we went to the lake 2 by 2…the water was nice…I had to talk to myself, just swim…count to 20, keep moving. Someone swam right over me and someone else punched me square in the back of the head, I let out a roar and a few expletives and someone else scratched my foot with a watch or something. I kept thinking I was losing my timing chip. There was an Aussie exit so I was able to check my watch after the first lap – 41 minutes, cool! I didn’t know I could do that. Jump in again and just do the same thing. Maybe not, I came out in 1hr 28…don’t know what I was doing in the 2nd lap, but it doesn’t matter. Part 1 complete! But there are 3 parts… I had to stop myself from thinking too far ahead, I had to just try to stay in the moment.


Part 2 – 180k bike

Transition…couldn’t think straight and slow as a snail as usual, it doesn’t matter.  Hopped on the bike, pressed the Garmin…why is my HR monitor not working? My entire training plan and race strategy is based on this bloody HR monitor, it’s not working! Messed around with it for a few minutes, restarted the watch, adjusted the strap, feck it anyway. Forget about it, this isn’t going to stop me. Plan B – just pedal the bike. Slow as I can up hill to conserve energy and try to let loose a bit downhill, I am rubbish coming down hill. The first lap was enjoyable, hills didn’t feel as bad as I expected and the sun eventually came out. I even took in the Lancashire scenery, stunning. I talked to everyone I passed and everyone who passed me. There is a part called Bentley Lane where the bike loop crosses over. Second time I came through there the crowds had built up, the sight took my breath away…the cheers, the noise, I choked up.  Amazing. I saw Kevin at about half way, he was bawling at me ‘Come on Gibson!!’ I was looking forward to that, I needed it. I was happy enough for about 5 hours, then the mental battle started…the hills second time round, holy crap. Corrabut Gap came into my head, I thought it would never be that hard.  The supporters got me up those hills though. Roaring in my ear! I kept smiling at them, I genuinely appreciated them being there, strangers.  Now my knees were hurting, that never happened before. Then my ankles started to hurt, that never happened before. The last 50km was tough and I must have slowed down a lot, I stopped looking at my pace, I just need to get through this. I was sure I could do the cycle in around 7 30 even with hills…nowhere near, 7 50…ah well, it doesn’t matter…I was making progress. I saw my boys for the first time cycling into T2 and then again on the run out.  I had imagined this moment for months and months before. ‘Come on Mammy!’, I stopped for hugs but they told me not to be stopping.


Part 3, the ‘run’…

8 mile run out to where we had 3.5 laps to do. It felt good to be on my feet and I felt strong. Looked at my watch at 10 k…one hour, I was surprised I thought I would be slower, that means I can do this in 4 hours-ish! That dream soon passed. I busied myself on the first lap looking for the Wexford gang, Kevin told me at T2 that they were all okay but I needed to see for myself. I knew in my heart that if we got to the run, that we would all make it, and I really wanted everyone to make it, they had been so good to me along the way. Finally saw the last of them come onto the loop, relief. The 9k loop was downhill into the town, past the finishing chute and all the way back up hill. The goal now turned to getting those precious arm bands, I needed 3. Not 1, not 2, but 3. I became obsessed with the arm bands. I got to 20k comfortably enough, then things started to go downhill…my hips ouch. I got a blister on my right foot, stopped to put a plaster on. It didn’t make a huge difference because every toe blistered after that, never happened before. My right foot felt like it was scalded. I thought about taking my runners off altogether, that was then next plan. Pains in the backs of my knees, never felt that before either! I went through every mental trick in the book. I had originally tried to break the run into loops, that turned to food stations, lamp posts, warning cones and eventually it was just step by step.  The downhill section was originally a chance for recovery, it was now harder than the uphill. How the hell am I going to finish this. I saw Kevin and his family and the boys then on every lap, they gave me the boost I needed, I tried not to fall apart in front of them.  The Wexford supporters roared at me like I belonged to them, I hope they realise how much it helped.  When I collected my 3rd arm band ‘the red one’ I told the woman, a complete stranger, that I loved her. First time for everything I suppose!


Normally when I see the sign for mile 25, it’s a relief and a chance to get a burst on. I saw it and thought ‘that’s 1.2miles…how in the name of God am I going to get through it’. Step by step. About 500 metres to go, just before the turn into the town and the roaring crowds I started to faint, that’s the first time I thought I wouldn’t make it.  I imagined the medics coming and giving me oxygen and not letting me cross the finish line, I really didn’t want be that story. Deep breaths, keep moving, I had to block out the emotion.  I saw the red carpet!!!! Oh my God, I’m there. Kevin and the boys were screaming at me and running around the outside with me. Everyone was calling my name. I pointed to my number so they would call out ‘Elaine Gibson you are an Ironman’. I didn’t hear it with everything that was going on in my head, but I didn’t need to.


Final time 14hr 25mins. I had told everyone at home that if I was over 14 hours that there was definitely something wrong. Cocky or what! Hats off to IM everywhere and thanks for not telling me the whole truth, Ignorance is Bliss.


One Response

  1. What a story, you really are an inspiration is all.. well done Elaine

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