I'm not sure at any point prior to waking up in race morning, had it actually sunk in what I was about to do, either that or I had selectively blocked it from my mind.
We arrived in Wales on Thursday to register and just have a chance to get used to the strange bed/surroundings etc.
Friday we drove the bike course. Well. I learned from that that the westerly loop was easier than most hills we have around us, but the 2nd loop was going to be hell on earth. The westerly loops was quite good road, little bump hills that didn't take a huge amount of effort to get up and at least 3 spectacular views. In contrast the other loop was quite a stones surface with lots of winding hedge enclosed roads and 3 of the worst hills I have ever seen. The hill coming up into Narberth started off steep but then eased off a bit but went on forever, the 2nd on the way into Saundersfoot was a 16% straight up Jon, not dissimilar to Kidds Hill and the 3rd, known locally as Heartbreak Hill was of similar percentage but it did a lot of winding. Realisation also dawned that the hill out of Tenby that I had said "oh no, I hope we aren't cycling up here!" about, was in fact the hill we were running up.
Saturday, bike racking day. Took everything down, racked it in my allocated slot and put the cover on, at which point it completely disappeared! I've never seen anything like it, 1500 bikes all racked together in exactly the same place. It was at this point I became quite thankful for the knowledge that I would be far from the first person put the swim so that would make my life a lot easier! After racking my plastic bags and driving off I suddenly got struck with an immense paranoia that I had somehow forgotten to put my helmet in my bag, even though I knew it had been on my head at the point I racked the bag and wasn't when I left!
Sunday. Race day. 3 alarms went off at 4 just to ensure that none of them spontaneously failed and I woke to have missed race start. 5:10 start making our way over to suddenly realise that I had left the carrier bag with all my drinks in in our room, glad I left early! Upon arrival, Darren dropped me off so that he could go and park the car somewhere and I made my way to transition, still not entirely aware of the magnitude of the situation, to put all my bits on my bike.
Walking down the road to transition (it was still dark at this point) was like a scene from a zombie film, and I thought wow, it's actually happening, the start of a zombie apocalypse! But no, it was just all my fellow competitors slowly walking towards their destiny. Some neoprene clad, others not. Once I'd sorted the bike and got my wetsuit on and everyone else was assembled we started the walk down to the beach. I couldn't stop thinking to myself how far it was and how I was one of the only people I could see wearing flip flops rather than trainers!
As we were nearing the beach it was still dark and I was beginning to wonder if tinted goggles were a bad choice and which point the chap next to me said he was thinking the same thing. Once we had racked our bags on the railings of the ridiculous ramp from the beach to the esplanade we made our way down onto the sand. We were talked through the course which was 2 laps out to one what I thought was a massive buoy, along the back to another, then back in to the beach. The sea was perfectly calm which was nice, seeing as the previous year had caught the tail end of that hurricane, and the sun was just starting to rise behind the clouds.
This is it, no backing out now. I need a pee. It's still dark, where am I going again? Some of the thoughts that went through my mind, then following a rendition of the welsh national anthem we were off. This was it. Sink or swim literally.
Was the little amount of training I had done been enough? I hoped so, I seemed to be able to pull it out the bag in the past, hopefully it would work again this time? Hope so, there's a lot riding on it, not to mention the bits I'd bought at the expo which I would feel unable to wear if I failed!
I decided to hang near the back like usual, let the pros fight it out among themselves. Right, pull pull breathe, pull pull breathe, this is easy, just think of it as the Arun swim that you've done so many times before... Heading out to the first buoy was quite hard going, for a start, despite the thing being about 7-8 feet tall and similarly as wide I just couldn't pick it out, I think it was the plethora or orange lifeboats around that detracted from it... An, there it is, pull pull breath, woohoo I'm there, next! The back straight was fast. That ws probably the quickest side by far but again as the buoy ws even further away this time it was even more difficult to spot so I hoped whoever was leading the back knew where they were going as I'm pretty sure everyone was just following them! After that one, back into the beach sighting on Goskar Rock which is a bike spiky rock that is just off the beach and is somewhat imposing. Go Iron Cops! Said one of the banners that had been strung on it, yeah, go iron cops! you can do it! Running across the beach I stole a glance at my watch, 40 minutes, not bad, just got to do it again. Getting back in almost seemed harder as you felt like "but I've done this already!" but do it again you must, so off we go. The sea had started to get a little choppier at this stage. Still nothing too bad though. Out of the water for the final time, I managed to get straight up with no wobbling at all and made for the ramp. Found my stuff, got my wetsuit off and rinsed myself down with water. Once at the top of the ramp, donned my flip flops and jogged back to the transition with a few people commenting on the fact I was running in flip flops! But that's what I do!
Nothing really of note happened in transition although I did note that I was in and out a lot quicker than some of the people that had been in there before me.
Bike. This is the part I was anxious about since so much could happen that is beyond your control. Quick time check, right I have 8 hours 55 mins to complete it. I can do this. I decided that after the drive on Friday, the best course of action was to do the first loop as fast as I could without compromising energy levels etc to build myself a buffer for the harder loops, so off I went and I actually felt like I was positively flying. I decided to treat it like any other normal Sunday bike ride and break it up into things I knew. The first loop I decided was out to Boxhill and back. Amazingly I didn't even feel like I had done a swim at all and basically felt fresh as a daisy. Legs turning well, past a couple of cleat errors on the first big hill but they seemed ok, come on, grind it up there then you'll be rewarded with a nice downhill. Weeeeeeeeeeeeee! I'm liking this, with it being closed road you literally felt like you owned the road, I think this was pretty much every cyclists dream, go as fast as you like with no risk of being hit by cars whilst dodging pot holes etc. I was living the dream! Ok bike, we can do this, just you, me and the open road. If you get me through this I'll buy you some new shoes (tyres) that match your outfit and you'll look really pretty, I'm sorry I didn't get you new shoes before the race, but we all know you shouldn't try out new shoes on race day! And it seemed to work as we were flying round passing various people with mechanical issues on their fancy carbon fiber TT bikes.
The view over the bay that was so spectacular on Friday was less so today, the wind was right up and I was being blown all over the place! Thankfully that stretch is quite small before you started cycling up between some sandy dunes. Made it round the bottom loop, only 2 more to go. The first half of the 2 loop section is fine, if you're ok riding round Sussex then it's nothing new, rubbish road surface, tight turns and the odd bump in the road and incidentally it seems like the primary road kill in Wales is slugs. Heading towards Narberth there were a couple of really long grindy hills then there was the hill into Narberth itself. I could see a couple of people pushing their bikes up ahead but I thought I had to at least try. After the initial ramp it was actually ok, got to the top and it was like the top of a mountain at the TDF there was music, hundreds of people and you could help but grin like an idiot.
Round the whole thing actually the support was fantastic, people all outside their houses cheering you on, I don't think I stopped smiling at all on the first lap round. Then came some hairy descents that I certainly was glad we weren't having to go up before hitting the bottom of the 16% hill. I can only describe it as the top section of Kidds Hill but a little longer. It just goes straight up and the road surface was a little rubbish which didn't help. Managed to puff and blow my way to the top though then after a bit of respite came Heartbreak Hill. Unsure of the % of this one, but it was quite twisty and was again lined with people so stopping wasn't an option then once all the strength in your legs has been taken by those 2 hills you have to do a bit more climbing before finally hitting the descent into Tenby... Before doing it all again! Nothing much different to note about the 2nd loop apart from the fact a head wind had got up and it started raining which pushed away all but the most die hard of supporters so I think my grin may have started slipping that time round! Especially when it got to those 2 hills but with an additional 30 odd miles on your legs since you last did them!
On the final descent into Tenby I had a little cry of happiness as I realised that I was actually going to do it, there was no reason at all now why I couldn't finish. I felt worn but not exhausted or anything, it was actually going to happen, I was going to go home an Ironman!
Got out onto the run pretty quickly and surprisingly my legs actually felt fine, but what wasn't playing ball was my back. That felt stiff as a board and just didn't want to loosen. The run course was 4 loops up a horrible hill then back down and around Tenby itself. Each loops you got a different coloured band so all I could do was look at everyone else bands and decide how far ahead of me they were or whether I was ahead of them etc. first loops went ok. I stuck to my plan of power walking up hills and running back down and it was going well. The support in Tenby was absolutely fantastic with people shouting your name as you went past, again, you couldn't stop the smiles!
By the 2nd loop my stomach was starting to feel really tight, probably as a result of gulping too much air down with my drinks so that wasn't helping the cause, but I was still sticking to the plan, walk up, run down. By the 3rd loop when a lot of people had finished and again the crowds had started dwindling it was starting to get really really tough. I think it was also the hardest because you were sort of in no mans land, you still had to do another loop but you were so so tired and didn't have the motivation that came from being on the home straight.
By the 4th loop I had perked up a little knowing that as soon as I got that beautiful beautiful pink band on my arm that was it, I could finish so I dug deep and ran where I could. I kept telling myself that if i could finish before 23:00 then i would have a 15 something time. Unsurprisingly the only real support now came from some hard core supporters in their gardens/hanging out of windows "come in Sussex!" was the regular cheer I got and it kept making me smile, I made sure I thanked all of them for their support on the last leg as it really was that that gets you through with any hint of a smile by the end.
Back in Tenby the support came from several groups of people gathered outside pubs with their cowbells and high fives and it just felt amazing, the final smile was when I ran past a restaurant and everyone started cheering saying things like "yeah she made it, go on Sussex!" and stuff like that. How many more corners 'til the finish line? Surely I must be nearly there?! Then there it was left for finish, right to go out on the loop again.
I'll take left thank you very much! I wanted to finish strong so I took a hundred meters or so to walk jut to ensure I had enough to power through the finish, then this was it! I'd done it! The moment I'd spent a year preparing(well sort of) for and it was all going to be done in the next 10 seconds! Better still I was going to get 15 something.... Epic!
Once through the line (15:39:26) I got given my medal by the mayor who must have been standing there all day bless him, and a big hug from one of the helpers who said she'd been cheering me on from the swim and was really really pleased for me.
One of the little things that made me smile is they give you the timing chip band which as you can imagine over the last 36 or so (I put it on the minute they gave it to me to avoid losing it!) hours, I had become rather fond of.
Now, sitting here typing this it's all a bit surreal. I know I did it because I have the medal, t-shirt and very very tired feet, but apart from that I don't feel substantially worse than after just an ordinary marathon. Maybe there is a pain saturation point after which it literally can't get any worse? Would I do it again?
Yes, definitely! I'd say to anyone out there, if you want to do one, just do it. If you are determined enough then it will happen. Don't allow self doubt to stand in the way, it really is an incredible feeling that everyone should get to experience.