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Chris and Kathleen’s Excellent Adventure: IronMan UK, by Christine Walsh

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After the rock star drive to the Toronto airport Kathleen Robb and I boarded our plane to London with a prolonged stopover (delayed plane) and then into Manchester. Kathleen had booked a vehicle for us from an imaginary car rental place—Fox. After much delay trying to locate said imaginary car rental company we booked a HUGE car to hold our bikes from a real company at an exorbitant price. Kathleen proved to be a skilled driver on the ‘wrong’ side of the road with our helpful Garmin guide, Kate. Kate did manage, however, to direct us round and round and round the roundabout on several occasions and she became quite surly at times.  The day after our arrival we took our bikes to be checked out post-flight (see Greg we do listen to you) and got directions to the hardest bit of the bike course—Sheep House Lane—think Sydenham longer with some breaks. Selfies, high fives concluded our successful climb.  Not too bad at all—however it was harder during the race in the two-loop section and there was actually a second harder hill included in the two-loop portion of the bike course. Then some fun and brief workouts prior to race day.

Race day began at 3:00 am and we were at the course by 4:00 am. What started as a drizzle—hey I was ready, this was England after all– became a torrential two-hour down pour in about 13 Celsius prior to the 6:00 am start. No shelter or anywhere to sit. The mostly Brit athletes were either prepared or nonplussed. We were not. I was shivering and miserable; my only consolation was looking over at Kathleen who remained cheerful while sodden—what a day for being a spectator and supporter—she did however, excel.

The rolling swim start began. It was a two-loop course with a rather long Australian exit (exiting the water and running between loops- what were those Auzzie’s thinking?). The rain picked up on the second loop making it rather choppy with very limited visibility (sorry Miguel no successful spotting techniques were employed). I decided that my ‘race’ was over and it was a matter of survival (Swim 1:13). Into transition—taking my sweet time, the alternative was exiting into the downpour. After having a cup of tea and biscuits (just kidding),  left T1. I put on arm warmers (they were in a zip lock bag to keep dry—bahahaha) and grabbed my bike, waved to Kathleen, and headed onto the course. My Garmin (generously donated by Kathleen) was not working neither was my watch, to be fair I put my Garmin on upside down and was pressing the wrong button and had inadvertently touched something on the watch—have I mentioned technology is not my forte. The course was challenging, made even more so with rain and strong winds. Think no mile markers, narrow country lanes smattered with unmarked potholes, gravel, sharp turns- both uphill and downhill, a couple of bicycles not in the race but on the race course including a father and daughter in a tandem—thankfully I beat them up the hill – a woman wandering in the centre of the bike lane, two chickens at the side of the road which thankfully did not decide to cross the road and some roads open to cars—yes in your lane—food stations manned by youth—ie, unsuccessful left hand grabs, and a Tour de France type of spectator file on the steepest part on the course—no room for weaving– straight up or die. I fell once (steep turn from downhill to uphill), and watched my Kathleen carefully packed race food fall in the gravel (I might have ate one or two bits from the gravel—did I mention that most of my taped gels had long since been blown of in the wind and I forgot to put my additional food in my tri top?), two other guys came off the road behind me. Got back on my bike and passed all the guys who whizzed by me lying in the dirt as they called out, “are you, ok?” I knew I would have to do that bit again and hoped not to repeat. The wind was so bad I saw some spectacular crashes, that it required intense gripping; this was the only ride I have ever done that at the end of the day my forearms and chest muscles were aching. On the plus side a beautiful country side, dotted with ever so cute sheep, amazing spectators even in the bad weather and glimpses of sunshine about half way through the bike, very lovely athletes who reminded me I should be on the left—passing on the right and constant Go Canada Go.

Throughout the course I rarely ever saw any women—at one point near the end of the race (of course I had no idea where I was in time or kilometers at any point) a woman passed me and I thought I am tired, let her go—but I chased and caught her up a hill (frankly it was all hills) and saw she was 30-34, so then I let her go. After that I never saw any woman remotely near my age. Also, it was cold—didn’t warm up until the last hour or so. Saw the signs for T2, “thank God I am finished the bike course”– hardest I have done). After riding further and further no signs—if I am going back for a third loop I am going to die. Stopped and asked a spectator, which way to T2 and he pointed. Finally found it, and headed in. (Bike 6:56).

Began the run (er, run walk), and for the first time I asked the time, of a fellow runner—he said, “half two”—2:30? I confirmed. The timing seemed ok; I was aiming for under 14 hours, the age group winner last year, and according to information available on the other athletes my competition, had done it in over 14 hours. My goal was to come first to claim a Kona spot (came 2nd in Austria last year and missed the elusive Kona spot). About 10 km into the challenging run course (about 10 km into the city and then three loops of uphill and downhill and heartbreakingly close to the finish line each time) I saw Kathleen—“How am I doing?” “Good, you are doing great” “My place?” “You are second—she is five minutes ahead.” Apparently she was ahead of me the whole course.  Advice from Greg, “hold your pace until the last 10km”. Good advice but did I mention that there were no mile markers and I was in survival mode. Not much on the course to eat—gels each time–yuck. Saw Kathleen each loop Yeah! Got my green band, my red band and finally professing my love to the ‘blue band volunteers’ got my blue band and finished (run 4:29, thanks Mark for all those endless circles around the track in Calgary, best ever) my race (12:57, slowest of three IM). Second, but beat last year’s winner in my age group by more than an hour and would have placed in the two age groups below me.  Hugs from Kathleen at the finish line (could not have done it without her an awesome friend, supporter and fellow athlete) and congrats from Greg over the phone—who unbelievably asked me what’s next for me—“never to do another race in my life”. Headed to the tent for food. Pizza? I told the volunteers, I came all the way from Canada for fish and chips (friends who raced it a few years ago bragged about the fish and chips); she offered tea as a consolation. Kathleen tracked down a fish and chip place that was still open—although didn’t look that promising—I was hungry and dove in on our way to pick up the bike in transition. Upon exiting the car threw up several times (first time ever)—and Kathleen insisted that she would get my stuff—they sent a volunteer instead. Kathleen threw her fish and chips away. The next day at the award banquet got my trophy and no Kona spot (always a bridesmaid never and bride). One of the course photographers came up to me and said he had taken pictures of me on the course and would send them to me—how lovely (the first is me and the second is the hill I am about to do); it was also featured on the race slide show at the awards banquet. The winner in my AG, a Brit, first time IM, was also very lovely and complimentary—“you should do Wales an even harder course—you would do great”. Hmm fear is my motivator. After some additional touring, including a visit with IM Mary Goodacre and her family who almost had me convinced to do another IM in two weeks time in Holland, flew back Friday night rock star flight with champagne—ok I spilled the first one and rock star limo—I could get used to this—just need to learn to sing and play guitar. Drove to Gord and Ester’s cottage late Saturday night and did the Bala sprint triathlon on Sunday (one week post IM)—1st in my age group.  Now I am truly exhausted.

Ironman UK was a great race and an excellent adventure. I feel so fortunate to be able to do this sport and am extremely grateful for the amazing and courageous athletes and friends I have come to know and been able to train with. I am so thankful for the support of my family and friends while on this crazy pursuit and the skilled coaches who have given me such great support and advice.  See you across the finish line, Chris