I was so happy to have even made it to the start line of this event after six months of hard training and a knee injury which meant that I hadn’t run for more than six miles since January. For the last week I’ve lived on a diet of ibuprofen and practically bathed in alcohol hand gel so I didn’t pick up any last minute nasties.
This event is logistically complicated in that it’s a split transition. This means that the bike start and the run start are in different locations 12 miles apart and the finish is in a further location in Bolton town centre.
I travelled down 2 days before the event to take my time registering and setting up the two transitions. My Tri club buddy and twice Ironman himself, Tim Matthews, was my domestique for the weekend and was tasked with the challenging job of keeping me calm!!!
After registration and the welcome party on Friday, we spend Saturday setting up the two transitions and I was able to get into the Lake (Pennington Flash) for the practice swim session as luck would have it with my coach Sorell. The lake was much better than I expected – fairly warm and reassuringly murky (I am not remotely interested in knowing what lurks beneath!!). We also managed to meet up with my fellow Durham Tri competitor Bob Hewitson and have a hearty carbo loading breakfast and a nervous chat about the upcoming challenge awaiting us the next day. So off to bed for an early night for an extremely early start but not before applying the ever important race number tattoos (so damned cool!!).
So race day arrives – up for a 3am breakfast in the hotel then onto the shuttle bus to the lake for a 4am and pitch black arrival to the start but thankfully no rain. Wetsuits donned we arranged ourselves in the chute to enter the swim in predicted swim time order. On my way down to the water I spotted my wonderful supporters from Durham Tri club – Tim, Lesley, Amanda and Olivia which gave me a nice little boost. At about 6.25am I was off!! The swim course consists of a 1.9K lap of the lake then an Aussie style exit from the water to run around a channel of about 50m to the roar of the crowd before jumping back in for a second lap. I exited the swim in a satisfactory time for me of 1hr 30mins. Into the T1 tent which unfortunately had a surface underfoot of thick squelshy mud (but made my cross country soul feel rather at home!) On to the bike and off I went to tackle the 112 mile ride.
This bike course is rather challenging featuring over six thousand feet of elevation. The route consists of a 12 mile trip out to the village of Adlington then two 50 mile loops. The two most legendary climbs are entitled ‘Sheephouse Lane’ and ‘Hunters Hill’ which are obviously done twice each. The support of the crowds was fabulous around most of the course but most notable on these two aforementioned climbs. Huge crowds lined both sides of these hills, music was blasting in places and encouragements being shouted – a real Tour de France feel. There is quite honestly nothing like the sight of a man in a mask, cape and mankini dancing to the tune of ‘Uptown funk’ to lift the spirits when the legs are getting tired.
I did find it quite challenging to eat and drink enough to keep well fuelled – very surprising for those who know me well!! The taste of isotonic Powerbar energy drink after 4 litres, chia bars and sweets can become very tedious. I took up the option to have a ‘special needs’ bag available to me at mile 88 and experienced a moment of sheer ecstasy when I extracted and devoured my packet of salt and vinegar square crisps which I had cunningly placed there earlier. I even managed to eat a couple of ham and cheese croissants to make sure I had something in the tank for the ever approaching marathon.
I saw my own family twice on the bike route at the most remote part of the course which was fantastic and the Durham Tri support crew cycled their way to two vantage points to cheer me on. Tri club coach Ian MacKenzie also made two surprise appearances on the bike route which again gave me a great boost. All was going rather well pacing and timing wise until disaster struck at 100 miles – a rear wheel puncture, arrgh! Now to put this into perspective, in 10 years of cycling I have never had a puncture – what a cruel world this is. Thankfully I had practised this in the week before the race so tried to stay calm. I had been introduced to CO2 canisters which inflate the tyre to 100PSI in 3 seconds – a god send. About 20 mins later I was on my merry way again and before long found myself at the finish of the bike leg 8 hours and 20 minutes later in T2 at the Macron Stadium to the welcome cheers of my fans. Unfortunately my Durham teammate Bob had fallen off his bike earlier in the race and fractured his wrist, so his racing day was sadly over.
By this time of the day the sun was well and truly shining so I lathered on the suncream, donned my fresh tri suit and socks, said a quick prayer to the God of injured knees and I was off to face the most challenging part of the event. The run course consists of a six mile run from the Macron Stadium then a hilly six mile loop of Bolton town centre which is completed three times. I set off on a 4 minute run (which very quickly became a shuffle) followed by 1 minute walk strategy with the aim to keep this up throughout. It started well and the route was fairly pretty along a canal path which offered some welcome shade and a blissful stretch of off road surface, yippee! This only lasted for 1km unfortunately before it was back to soul sucking tarmac. I then joined the three loop part of the course where we were rewarded with a different coloured hair scrunchy to proudly wear on our wrist on the completion of each lap.
Again nutrition was a major challenge and my stomach had simply had enough of trying to digest vile food options whilst competing with the muscles for a blood supply to enable this. I managed to get down a few gels, bananas and tortilla crisps washed down with lashings of coke and water. Jules Percival had bought me a packet of polos on the assurance that they were marvellous for warding off nausea in endurance events. Wow was she right and I rewarded myself with one after every 5k of running completed.
By the time I started on the loops I felt absolutely cream crackered and can honestly say the support of the crowd and other competitors got me through. The lovely people of Bolton were out in force for the whole route; their enthusiasm helped no doubt by the sunshine and for some ice cold beers in their hands. My tri family were along the route and also my coach and her colleagues from Tri Training Harder which was wonderful. The real saviours of the day, however, were my Hubby and kids which had positioned themselves half way up the long drag of a hill. They proceeded to take it in turns to run with me for short stretches, hold my hand, give me hugs and encourage me that ‘I had this’. My son Rhys later told me that watching the marathon was like watching an episode of the zombie drama ‘The Walking Dead’. Never was a truer word said as I definitely felt like I was starring in it at some points. On each loop when you hit the town centre part, you are faced with the roar of crowds driving you on and a trip past the finishing shoot which gives you a taste of what’s to come.
At long last and 5 hours and 49 minutes later and a total time of 16 hours and 5 minutes it was my turn to hit the red carpet and do my victory dance to the sound of the yearned for words of the PA “Debs Goddard you are an Ironman” – it was an awesome moment and one I won’t ever forget.