3:15am and our alarm goes off.
This. Is. It.
The day I have been training for 6 months for. 6 solid months.
It’s a quick shower, a quiet one. No music this morning. Just focus. Upstairs it sounds like my oldest has only just gone to sleep. Ah to be 17 again. (Actually no thanks!).
Joes made a huge mound of porridge and I try to get as much down me as I can but I don’t manage a lot. Eating at that time of the morning is near impossible. Aware it’s not enough I try to top it up with half a bagel.
Into the van and we are on our way to pick up Joes dad. First panic of the day. Do I have my timing chip! I ‘ask’ Joe to pull over even though we are only 2 minutes away from his dads so I can get my bag from the back of the van and precede to empty it’s contents eventually finding it in the ‘safe’ pocket I had put it in the night before.
No comment needed.
His dads there bright and breezy with his coffee and we are soon on the road to Edinburgh. Unsurprisingly it’s clear and it’s straight through. We park up and the minute the door is opened I can feel the wind. It’s the sea front though. It’s expected. I take a quick look at the water and can quite clearly see the course marked out is not 1900 meters. We will find out soon though.
Walking in we see Heledd straight away – she’s volunteering as Kevin is racing too. The poor soul is already freezing but she tells us she is about to be moved position so she can warm up. I wish I had taken photo with her at the start. At 6am we hear the announcement that they have shortened the swim – for the pros as well. What? That’s unusual. They normally have to do full length regardless.
Into transition for the last checks on the bikes and we see some from Perth Tri Club. I join the queue for the toilets and remain there until very close to start time. Luckily, it was worth it and I had ‘movement’. I get into my wetsuit and we head over to the start.
We are at the back of the line but can’t see any signs telling us where to be for what predicted time so we can’t place ourselves very well. Turns out the signs were on the inside of the fences. Not very useful. It’s impossible to move forward so we stay where we are. There’s a few comments about the swim (‘may as well just chuck a bucket of water over us’ raised a fair few eyebrows around). I don’t look at the sea, I don’t even try. I wanted to see the pro athletes but I’m tiny and can’t see over people. I’m thankful for it though because I really didn’t want to look at what I was about to attempt. Over the tannoy we are told it’s tough conditions and to give sharp hard kicks at the first buoy and that should get us round.
We get to the front and a Marshall is there shouting ‘does anyone need goggles?’. Nice touch have to say. He follows it up with ‘or a choc ice or ice cream’. Made me smile. I’m at the gate now. I’m through the gate – my god that was fast! Joes through at the same time but he’s off and in the water. The first wave hits me and I’m pushed back. Holy hell. Ok. Just get in. I dive in and I’m hit with other athletes trying to move forward but being pulled back. I can still see Joe at the side of me, he’s having just as hard a time.
I’ve only just started and I see a couple of kayaks just laden with people and pulling more swimmers out. There’s lots of shouting but I can’t make any of it out above the noise of the waves. I have a very fleeting thought of grabbing the kayak but I throw that out my head instantly before it festers. I get to the first buoy and I can no longer see Joe, he’s probably already on to the second. I’m now chocking on the sea water, badly. I switch to breast stroke to try and calm down. Works only marginally. I’m swallowing so much water how can there be any left to swim in?!?
Right, come on. I see another kayak – swamped by more people. I start thinking of all the people who know I am doing this, those who have donated, my kids – and I start thinking how embarrassing it would be for me personally not to do this. The pros were out the water in less than 15 minutes. 15 god damn minutes. Move your bloody arse Ella and get to the end. Over a thousand people are doing this – it is NOT impossible. Stop being a bloody wimp.
I find some sort of rhythm and begin to go with the waves. Front crawl works for a little while but you can’t sight and have to switch to breast stroke to make sure you’re still on course. I take a few hits but nothing major. Then an arm smacks me on the face not once but twice. Goggles!! Oh my god my goggles!! I can’t get them back on if they come off!! Not in this!! They’re still on though, squint, but still on. I feel something on the top of my neck and just before I freak out it’s a jellyfish I realise it’s my nose plugs. I’m close to the next buoy and the waves are as high as the top it. I consider jumping on it to get out the water and just bobbing around on it for a moment.
It’s a nice thought.
I’m making the turn now so I tell myself I’m over half way, I may as well swim back. There’s a new challenge now though – the sun. I can barely see a thing. I’m still surrounded by people so I must be on course. The last and final buoy comes in to sight. I turn and I’m on the final straight. It feels like forever but eventually I can stand up.
Well. Wobble up. Like bambi I make my way up to transition, occasionally trying to run. I gave a great impression of a baby giraffe – award winning performance I would say. I click my watch and it says 33minutes. That’s embarrassing! I must be one of the very last out the water. I’m trying to get my wet suit zipper down and another athlete does it for me. I was incredibly thankful.
Just outside the tent I see Heledd shouting. What a perfect time to see a friendly face! Gave me that moment to calm down and take a breath. Of course I’m pretty sure my face just read ‘oh my god I almost died, why did I do that’ – but I appreciated seeing her.
I need water. Oh the irony!! Swallowed so much sea water I now needed plain water to help bring it back up. I knew my transition time was going to be bad so I try to speed up at the same time as calming myself down. I head out to my bike (still in shock) and as I take it from the rack I hear something very strange on the tannoy’
What? Is he just coming out of the water? I pause for a minute and fight the instinct to go back and check he was ok. Something’s clearly happened. It’s not what you are meant to do though and he would shout at me if I did so I carry on to the bike.
As soon as I’m in the saddle I can feel my front wheel wobbling. Like really wobbling. This isn’t good! What’s happening? It’s that bad I stop and check it several times. Doesn’t feel lose when I’m stopped but doesn’t feel safe when I’m cycling. I don’t know what to do. I can’t find the problem but I’m not confident.
So yeah, I carry on. As you do.
I know I have to start re-fuelling as soon as possible on the bike but I can’t face an energy bar or a gel so I opt for the jelly babies I had bought last minute. Aware this was a very risky thing as I hadn’t trained with them I still put one in my mouth.
Best. Decision. Ever.
Those jelly babies were a life saver.
Nigel came past me with a cheery hello – I love that. Then at seven miles I hear what I really, really needed to hear.
‘There she is. Alright wife.’
‘YEAH!!!!!’ He’s caught up with me. He’s fine. What ever happened in the water hasn’t stopped him and he’s not in the medical tent. He’s all smiles and laughing. ‘What about that swim eh?’ He asks. ‘I am never doing that again’ is my reply. I tell him Nigel’s just ahead and I will ‘just stay back here’. It was a good boost and feeling of relief.
I know the Gifford loop is coming and at about 26 miles the course gets incredibly hard. I’m honestly scared of one of the downhills that turns sharply in to a steep up hill so I’m preparing myself for a quick unclip – possibly even a fall. First few climbs are hard but I do it. My cornering is shocking but I’m still wobbling a little on the front wheel. Still convinced it’s coming off. I pass a few with punctures at the side but I don’t see any crashes. Down through the first bad corner and I’m still up right. Back up another hill. I pass one or two and it gives me a little boost. Further up I see a couple walking up and I use them as a ‘target’ to keep going. Next comes the dreaded hairpin. But – it’s not as bad as I had dreamed it was. I slow right down but I still keep going.
I’m still waiting on the dreaded downhill-sharp left-steep incline section when I get back in the village. Huh? Where did it go? It was definitely before here. I must have already done it!! Whoo hoo! Cycled the part that had given me nightmares and didn’t even realise it!
Just a few miles on and I’m getting sore. That love QL muscle is nagging away. I don’t know how my youngest is as I wasn’t going to phone my mum at 6 in the morning. My throats seriously hurts from all the gagging in the swim. My swim was bad and I’m not convinced I made the cut off. What if I don’t make the bike cut off? I’m well aware I’m not hitting my target time.
So, I start singing.
‘I love you baby, and if it’s quite alright I miss you baby, hold you tight’.
This carries on for a few miles.
As does the wind. At times it feels like I’m going backwards it’s that strong. The crosswinds catch me a few times as well and I sway across the road. I don’t like cycling in the wind. I don’t like it at all.
I count down the last 10 miles. The cobbles were ‘interesting’. My under carriage didn’t appreciate them. Neither did the guy next to me. ‘What the bloody hell is this!! This isn’t a road! And are we going up there?!?’
I got the sense he hadn’t enjoyed his cycle so far.
I knew what the last climb was and I knew where it levelled out so I went for it. ‘Up, up, up you go Ella’ – got me a few funny looks. I also knew the last downhill section was steep. Taking no chances this late in the stage I kept hold of the brakes. Maybe one day I will be confident on the bike but today wasn’t the day for risks.
Up to the line and I dismounted. The woman next to me didn’t dismount until after the line then looked at the Marshall as if she didn’t know what he was saying. I heard them arguing as I ran off.
Bike racked and I changed into my trainers. Ah my trainers. My lovely, lovely trainers that meant I could now run!!! The part I love!! I know I can run 13.1 miles! My stomach wasn’t too good – still had salt water in it – so it was a quick stop in the porta loos.
I’m out on the run and my legs feel surprisingly good. I know it’s a flat before it starts to climb and I can already see people walking. I pass a fair few but it’s impossible to say what lap of the three anyone is on. I’m only half a mile in and I have a light bulb moment. My front wheel wasn’t lose. I was Sea sick from the swim! I laugh out loud at myself, not sure it’s something I should admit to but know I will later on.
Top of that hill and I see a 6 foot tall ginger lad on a bike. My arms are up and I’m waving like mad. ‘Frazer!! I didn’t die!!’. ‘Yeah!’ He shouts back. What a boost to see my original running buddy at that point! He tells me Joes just ahead and I can catch him which I laugh at as this is quite clearly a lie and meant as encouragement – it’s appreciated.
Along the first straight that goes over the tunnel and I see him. My arms are up again. I am so happy to be running and to see that Joe is in good form. A high five as we pass and it’s smiles all round. Now it’s into the tunnel which is nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be. In fact, I quite liked it! I was getting a comfortable pace through it. Back out and the sharp incline took its toll on my legs and I resorted to a short recovery walk for 10 seconds.
Not long after was the feed station, typically going up a ‘hill’ also. Although happy to be running I had had enough of hills at this point. A Marshall came right in to my face ‘go Ella’. A bit taken aback I almost stopped. Then I realised it was Gosia, another running friend. What a cheery sight! ‘This is hard’ I tell her. ‘What did you expect, it’s ironman’ she laughs at me.
I push on to my second lap and instantly get confused on when I need to turn in to the finish. Counting is not my strong point when running! I see Frazer again and give him a big smile. I saw him earlier cycling along the side of Joe which was great to see. He was working later so I knew he wouldn’t be there at the finish. I saw a few more I recognised and cheered them all on. I was actually enjoying the laps (once I got in my head when I had to turn in) and it broke it up fantastically. I passed Kevin going the other way in the tunnel – Heledds partner – he was on his last lap. I sang a little in the tunnel too, hard not to when the tunes were blaring at the turn.
Coming down near the last section of my second lap I see Kevin at the side stretching his leg. ‘Are you ok?’ He’s got cramping in his leg. He starts running with me and tells me he arrived late to the start so started at the back of the pack. He didn’t find the swim easy either. I really enjoyed running that short section with him and as he turned up the finish I shouted after him ‘Take it home Kevin’. (If you’ve ever listened to Lonely Island you’ll know why I’m laughing, Michael Bolton can actually be funny).
Last lap, last lap, last lap. I’m doing this, I’m doing this I Am Doing This. I wanted to enjoy every last moment of this race. There was definitely no sprints for me! Last time past Gosia and her station and what a cheer I got from them. Put the biggest smile on my face! Through the last feed station manned by West Lothian Tri Club and lots of encouragement again.
I can see Joe at the side, cheering me on.
I turn up to the finish. No one is in front of me, no one is behind me. I fight back the emotions threatening to make me cry. I have THE biggest grin on my face ever. I push right to the end.
Finisher photo taken and I make a bee line for the food. I don’t move from the watermelon for a good five minutes. I can’t eat anything apart from that and the orange segments. But I don’t care. I am officially a Half Ironman.
Meeting Joe and his dad outside the finishers tent he tells me to quickly put more layers on before the cold hits me. It’s been raining on and off and the wind was bringing a chill. He also gives me an update on our youngest who had had a bad night but was ok, not to worry.
Of course I hit the expo tent. Card in hand. Proud memoribelia purchased.
On the road home and I check my phone. I had absolutely loads of support from the road runners and friends. How I didn’t cry when I was reading it all I will never know. It was fantastic.
Joe and I talked non stop on the way home recalling the achievement we had just accomplished. He had struggled with the waves and had grabbed a kayak at one point. He knew the swim was going to be his hardest part and seeing an overturned safety boat didn’t help. He had done it though and pushed himself through. And it hadn’t put him off. Just made it all the more important to get more sea swim practise in.
One of the pro athletes dubbed the course the hardest she has ever done – and it makes Staffordshire a walk in the park in comparison. That settles it in my mind for me. It was right to cut the swim. It was not an ‘easy’ option. Around 50 people got pulled from the water. Many chose not to even start and the latest figures I read quoted a 29% DNF rate overall. The swim conditions got worse the later you went in.
I did it though. I did every part of it. I may not have been the fastest, I may not have ranked high in the results but I did it! I crossed that finish line.
So yes. I believe that Anything IS Possible. I’m having a couple of days rest to let my body recover and I’m going to wear my finishers t-shirt for a week! I’m in no rush to scrub off my number tattoo and my new Ironman bag will be going everywhere with me.
I bloody did it!!