Event 23 - Ironman Barcelona

An Ironman has alway been in my mind as something the super humans do; people with the sheer toughness to get through the event itself but also the determination and dedication to train for months and years before the events itself. The ‘Ironman’ brand is covered with a mist of mystery and elitism and that hurdle is hard to battle if you are a mortal. But it is a battle that can be won and I honestly believe that anyone who wants to do an Ironman can achieve it.

Doing 30 endurance events this year help in my decision to add an Ironman to the list; it would mean I wouldn’t have to train for the Ironman only and could just incorporate all of the training together. The metal resilience needed to be in such a long event was also at my highest level as I would have already completed a few ultra marathons this year. I knew I wanted to do a early Autumn Ironman, I just had to pick one. Ironman has a european tour and a world tour, therefore some really great holidays and fun places can be explored if the right Ironman is chosen. I was thinking warm rather and cold and also not to far away. Barcelona was a perfect option.

My Parents decided to make a holiday of it in there camper van and headed out a week earlier with all of my kit. This was a huge weight off my shoulders, not having to drag my bike and kit through the airports was great. (Thank you once again amazing support crew). Will and I were picked up from the airport on the Thursday before the Ironman on the Sunday, having a few days would give me time to get use to the heat, acclimatise, find out where everything is and listen to all of the briefings and compulsory kit checks along with eat as much Tapas as possible.

I was really excited as it felt like a little holiday, we set up camp just outside Calella, all other campers and tents seemed to house other Ironman athletes from all over the world. Some were very friendly and some not so much. During the first evening we walked down to the beach front to find a restaurant for dinner, lots of the restaurants were putting on deals for the athletes which was good. This walk was the first time I saw the famous Red Carpet. The red carpet is a 100metre Ironman banded finish shoot, this would be the moment of dreams for many athletes and it did give me butterflies. I tried to visualise myself running down the red carpet on Sunday evening with a smile on my face and the feeling of utter relief that I was now an Ironman.

The finish area was followed by a huge registration and merchandise marquee. The merchandise was packed full of people all spending money on new kit. I was trying to go incognito walking around on the lead up to the Ironman, no branded or sporty clothing. My husband kept being asked if he was competing and then when it was mentioned that I was, not Will, people seemed to be very shocked! Maybe I just don’t look like a triathlete, or maybe it was because out of 4000 competitors only 400 of those were women.

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My undercover approach wasn’t really helping my nerves, I could not switch off and got really fixated on others peoples equipment, I kept comparing their bikes to mine, their shining shoes, their aerodynamic helmets. I expect that most peoples helmets cost more than my bike. I kept going through waves of self doubt and feeling stupid that I was even attempting to do this. I very nearly pulled out of the race altogether when I saw the buoys being put out to sea that would mark the 3.8km swim, oh my word it seemed like a long way.

Due to my nerves starting to get the better of me it was decided that we would spend all day on Friday on the beach relaxing, reading and I was going to do some swim seasons to get used to the water temperature and get my body in swim mode. This was such a great choice as it took my mind off the pressure and away from the Ironman clad triathletes stomping around. By Friday evening I felt like I had had a little mini break and was ready to tackle the next days briefings, equipment checks and transition organisation.

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Saturday was a busy day. My race briefing was in the morning, it was well done and very well organised, the race director made it fun and also pointed out how many peoples first Ironman it was. This made me feel a little more at ease. Due to my low race number (591) I was able to sort out my transition area first. It was all very well organised, labelled location for bikes and also labelled hooks for both biking and running bags. Once all of my kit was in place I felt there was nothing more I could do other than eat and rest before the big day.

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Later on the Saturday evening we were joined by my friend Alice to join the support crew, she had recently moved to Barcelona and it was great to see her. She is very level headed in race situations so we all had a lovely evening eating more Spanish goodness before I had an early night.

Throughout the night a storm raged. The thunder was right over my tent and the rain kept pouring down. A early wake up revealed the storm still over the sea and fork lightning showing off the waves. A thought went through my mind that they would have to cancel the swim in the storm was still raging at 8am. “Luckily” it stopped before the elites headed off in to the water. The rest of us swimmers were self-seeded into swim pens. I estimated it would take me about 1hour 25minutes to complete the swim. The tension was drowning and all of the athletes were quiet watching the elite swimmers getting thrown around in the waves like matchsticks. The very loud Gladiator music was meant to get us all going but felt like we were all being sent off to our doom. It was over 30minutes waiting in the swimming pen before I was allowed to head to the start line; the elite swimmers were nearly out of the water at this point and I was just about to start. I tried to imagine that I had a surf board under my arm and that I would be totally cool with the waves if this were the case.

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I managed to get into the water without being pushed back out like some people. The waves lifted you up as you were swimming and then dropped you. The only time that a marker buoy could be seen was at the crest of the wave, when you were in the trough of the waves all that could be seen in front of you was a wall of swimmers being picked up by the force of the water. This went on for 3.8km. I kept going the whole way, didn’t stop, didn’t do breast stroke and just concentrated. I thought in these conditions I must be much much slower than my predicted time but it turns out that I got out of the water at exactly 1hour 25minutes. Phew, stage one over.

I love being out on my bike so I was looking forward to getting on Bonnie. I could not believe now amazing the road surfaces were, Bonnie and I were just flying along. Being on my bike makes me smile; at this point most people are very serious but the Irish never failed to disappoint, they were all enthusiastic and friendly, one guy called Christopher and I kept over taking each other. He wasn’t so great on the uphills but was faster than me on the down. This back and forth lasted for nearly 100miles. The last 12miles he left me obviously keen to start running. The bike went very smoothly, I did have to stop twice to go to have a wee but this gave my back a chance to stretch out, it is very rare that you would ever ride for 112 miles with out stopping. So far my body felt good, I felt like I had been eating and drinking well on the bike and now just had a marathon to run!

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In transition 2 I stocked up on my favourite source of nutrients - watermelon! I tried to think about how tired my body felt and at what point to felt like this on the 100miler. I found it hard to compare but what I did realise it that I wasn’t in so much pain that I couldn’t run a marathon. I had at this point about 7hours to run the marathon before the 15hour 40minute cut off time. I could walk if I wanted to. This however is not in my nature so I just plodded on. This sun was out and the miles were ticking by. The run course was three very mentally hard laps, half of each lap was full of people and spectators as it was near the red carpet (you had to go past the finish three times before running down the carpet!). The second half of each lap was out in the sticks with no people around. The first lap I felt good, the second lap my husband tried to run along the pavement next to the race course shouting encouraging things at me which was helpful and funny at the same time. By this point it had started to pour down with rain. I was actually pretty cold. I had just one lap to go and I was still running, but this point there was hardly anyone running, most people were walking (Including the Fish chap, Christopher. We high fived.). This spurred me on. Just keep moving forward. My Parents had been at every lap cheering me on, it was tough for the spectators also, it was now 9pm and they had been standing in the rain and cold for hours. The last time I saw and heard them cheering I only had 200metres to run and the red carpet. If I am honest the feeling is like nothing I have experienced. The relief, the pride, the realisation, the appreciation it is over whelming. The crowd is so loud. Then you hear it, the words you have been dreaming of “Abbi you are an IRONMAN”.

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A medal got put over my head and tears started to flow, I had no idea of my completion time and to be honest it didn’t really matter. I then looked up on the screen to see my name and 12hours 55minutes beside it! I was so overwhelmed. I wanted to complete it in 14hours or before the cut-off but to have done it in under 13hours I was so chuffed with. I cried some more. Quickly picked up my t-shirt and clothes, found my family and cried more! This theme continued until I had a beer in my hand and I was warm again. I took one sip of my beer and couldn’t manage anymore but I had been dreaming about the beer and it had filled its purpose.

The rain was pouring down even more heavily for the next few hours. I cheered on the last of the runners whilst picking up my bike and kit and waddling back to now a very wet and soggy tent before falling into a deep sleep at around midnight.

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