Doing the Thingy or how Dan and Dave ended up entering an Ironman
Since that evening about 4 years ago when Dave found me in his classroom after school leaping about to an Insanity fitness DVD desperately trying to lose weight and suggested that I try triathlon it has probably always been there. Dave had done loads of spirits and Olympics but never longer. We trained with Michelle Neylon to do the Woburner (half Ironman) and even then we joked about how impossible it was to even think about doing double the distance. The die was cast, the little wiggly worm of thought was there. We then started talking round the subject, just generally about how much training it would take etc.. At some, point we just started talking about doing a ‘Thingy’ as if just saying the ‘I’ word would make it too real and therefore ridiculous for a fat bloke and an old guy to contemplate doing. I’ve since found out that the incident that pushed Dave toward the Thingy was falling into conversation with a bloke sporting an IM tattoo and mentioning that he (Dave) had wondered about doing one. The bloke looked him up and down and said “If you’re going to do one, you better get a move on”. For me, I think that I’ve always been bonkers enough to do it and what I needed, was to get to a stage where I realised that my complete lack of athletic ability wasn’t going to exclude my participation. It’s a bit of a hindrance obviously but if I know all I’m trying to do is survive (and I managed to complete the Woburner when in terrible shape) and not going for some overly ambitious time I might make it. (London Marathon 2017 and that inspiring image of a runner helping a fellow competitor over the line they were going for a sub 2 hour 50 minute time- total madness- the fat bloke in pigtails and tutu aiming to do it under 5 and half hours always finishes.)
On a minor point I thought Dave and I had agreed to keep our entry secret, no pressure, under the radar on the quiet etc..but then one spin session he just announces it so here we are. There are also 2 other people who have said that they are planning to do it but I’ll leave them to out themselves.
Selecting our Ironman race
We started looking at the races that were easy and that were practical. We also wanted a genuine official Ironman event. I realise that it’s a trademark and company and that there are a huge number of perhaps more suitable events but I don’t want, everytime I mention it (and I am planning to drop it into a lot of conversations) for the rest of my life to have to explain the thing I did was ‘like an Ironman’ or the ‘same length as an Ironman’. Barcelona was first choice or Vichy but the timings and cost didn’t really workout. Leaving us Ironman UK in Bolton or Ironman Wales in Tenby. The other consideration was, and huge thanks to Dave for allowing this to be a factor, Dave has pointed out that my swimming is not strong enough to cope with sea currents so we needed a lake swim. Bolton it was. We then found out the bike course is, (using Dave’s description of Heaver’s hilly course) blooming undulating. It turns out that when magazines or websites rate races on how difficult they are it tends to be how easy they are to get to and negotiate the logistics of the event. Apparently nobody is interested in the actual course being easy (since discovered the phrase ‘good for a PB’ was something we should have looked for) but I suppose in my heart of hearts I want my one and only attempt to be on the full, high fat, no copouts, unarguable, tick it off the bucket list Ironman (but if it didn’t feature the infamous Sheephouse lane and Rake climbs that would be fine). I must admit that I had a little tear in my eye and a lump in my throat as I clicked submit on my application.
So it’s all going rather well at the moment, have signed up, listened to a expert (Mark Kleanthous) bought a book. That’s all we need to do.....isn’t it?
Not representing our country
One of the other options (other than taking on a Ironman) was to try get a place to represent our country. Some members of the club have reached this illustrious position and it’s always been something we’ve always been incredibly envious of so we had a little look into it. Firstly I’m nowhere close so it’s never going to happen, but Dave….. well, he’s a lot closer. He is usually there, or there a bouts for the 115% of the winner’s time although there have always been a rather large number of other competitors between him and the winner. However in a couple of years when Dave goes up an age category with a bit of luck and a fair wind (well not a fair wind really, he actually needs a very harsh winter and a delay to pensioners fuel payments to thin out the competition) that might be the time to have a real push for qualification and pray for a lot of rolldowns.
The support of our loved ones
I’ve always found everybody involved in triathlon incredibly supportive, club members, competitors, organizers and trainers. Everybody knows what we do, why we do it and understands. With partners however who don’t participate in triathlon it’s not so understandable for them. They are the ones who put up with us disappearing off for a training ride and sweaty run and ruining family weekends. They see us grumpy and in pain after a race that has cost a fortune to enter and for which we have a lousy time and an even lousier medal. We should never forget how wonderfully tolerant and sympathetic they are to put up with us and that’s without them even attending race. You will have seen partners at races, if their other halves have just started doing triathlon they will have made signs with the kids and loudly cheer every lap, the old hands at it take a good book a chair and barely look up as their loved one passes by. Dave’s wife Tracy and my partner Julie have never been the slightly bit interested in watching us race. They have been unpersuaded of the appeal of standing in a muddy field at some ungodly hour witnessing a glorified school sports day. This time however they have volunteered to come with us for 3 days to support us when we are competing. Not sure why; it could be the mysticaldraw of Bolton, it could be that they see this as our ultimate challenge and want to live it with us, whatever their motivation it will be lovely to have them with us. Got to go now, Julie is calling me from the other room…….. something about signing some life insurance policy.
Current issues; Dave’s back, bunion and calf, my; neck shoulders, hip and knees. We’re currently doing better than we have been for a few years but it’s still not good, for example, the Glute stretch, the simple act of pulling your foot up to your buttock to stretch you quadriceps muscle. I have to crouch down like I am about to tie my shoelaces and ‘collect’ my foot in my hand stand up and I am in the stretch. Dave on the other hand can’t bend over and has to stand bolt upright and flick his lower leg repeatedly from the knee (like a cat covering its business) until he can catch it with his hanging hand. All bodes well. We are both on the lookout for a small triathlon legal stool to use in transition.
I realised that we don’t really use ‘left’ and ‘right’ anymore to differentiate our limbs and joints. They became either the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ one. Which in turn has become the ‘worst’ or ‘weakest’ a graduated system of logging the uselessness of various body parts. I wonder if it’s a trend that will continue: left/right – good/bad – worst/weakest- functioning/broken- remaining/missing - natural/peg
“my knee….. ah yes I remember it well.”
I learnt to swim rather late in life and learnt how to swim properly even later. Every time I enter the water I have to try and remember how to swim. I try to work through a mental list of things to do. It’s a long list, too long and I always forget things. Best example-3/4 of the way down first length of the Thames Turbo realised I’d missed something on my list, happened to be Breathing, not the best one to forget. Also when I suddenly remember something such as Rotation, I tend to over compensate and nearly do full pirouettes to some how make up for the lack early movement. I’m much better in a wetsuit (in fact when the starter at Hampton Turbo counts me down for the start of the swim as he hits zero and says ‘GO’ I would be better off climbing out of the pool, running across the road, retrieving my wetsuit from my car, popping to the changing room, putting the suit on, then doing the swim and I’d still be into first transition before my efforts in the pink and crinkly) in open water, where although still not particularly fast. I’m not as proportionally terrible as in a pool. Before I committed to doing Ironman I went to Shepperton Open Water and did the full iron distance swim, in fact I did it on 3 consecutive Saturday mornings, never didn’t finish, never did breast stroke, never faster than one hour forty-two, never slower than one hour forty six, NEVER MORE BORED. Looking at muddy brown water, then mist in goggles, then muddy brown water, then mist in the goggles, then muddy brown water Dum Dee Dum Dum Dee Dee, FOCUS, got to focus, back to the list, elbow higher than the wrist, feel the water, give it a push, remember the flick, motoring along, what else was there, Milk, eggs, butter, No I’ve got butter, Wrong list, wrong list, breath BREATH.
Is it working?
Having successfully managed to put together a few weeks of long open water swims and coupled with Chris and Fed’s valiant efforts on Thursday nights to try coax at least some forward propulsion from my pool bound efforts I was a little disappointed when Shepperton closed for the winter, still only Heaver Olympic to go. The swim at Heaver, for those that don’t know is a mass start, ‘blast’ up an ornamental lake, sharp right turn at a buoy, past a Tea House, under a bridge and along a thin winding river past the waves of later competitors and onto the finish. My tactics have always been, ‘start at the back’, ‘stay at the back’, ‘try to keep going’, and ‘don’t drown’ (it would just be to embarrassing). The only people I have ever beaten have been hauled out of the water by canoes and given mouth to mouth. The horn sounded the start and we set off. Bit different this time, the speedsters set off into the distance of course but as I settled into my gentle stroke odd people keep getting in my way (they must have been injured or something) and I had to do something I had only heard of- I believe it is called ‘overtaking’. They must have put me in a wave of novice swimmers because I seemed to be keeping up with quite a lot of the field, Ah well I’m sure that they will pull away by the time we reach the river. We made the turn and headed down the river. People seemed to be fading, why? We can’t be more than about 800 metres into it, more of that blooming overtaking nonsense. Is that the finish? Might as well try to put a bit of a spurt on, the course seems a bit easier this year- about 4 minutes quicker- can’t think why?
Boxhill circuit without stopping. If you stop for cake at the top then, as St John says it is like “two, one and a half hour warm-ups (That’s Ian St John not the patron saint of first aid at lower league football matches). In what is probably the first really significant change to our training to adapt it for Ironman we have decided to try riding for 3 hours before cake. The plan is to increase this gradually and as the weather improves add distance and the nemesis of the fat lad- hills.
The current difference in weight between myself and Dave is about 56lbs which is a large sack of spuds. It does explain why I struggle a little up the hills. The image of the sack of potatoeshas inspired me to tackle this discrepancy in two ways; firstly I will give up chips, secondly…..now where did I put that special training rucksack that I made up for Dave?
A pinch of salt
Just about to set off on a long ride and realised that I didn’t have any electrolyte tabs for my water bottle. Inspired by Mark Kleanthous’ talk I decided to try his recipe for making up a bottle using a little salt. I filled the bottle with water and checked my cupboard and discovered that I only had Lo Salt (a low sodium substitute) which I thought might not have the desired effect. My brain which had raised this issue then seemed to feel that it has done enough for the day and switched off as I searched for an alternative, Nando’s seasoning salt in a cockerel shaped cruet , surely that will be fine? It didn’t occur to me that there might be a problem even as I poured out what looked like a mixture of gunpowder wood chippings into the bottle. I see now, that twenty minutes into the ride the consequences of launching two powerful squirts of chilli pepper water directly at my tonsils could have been foreseen but to me it was a complete surprise rather like swallowing an angry bumble bee. Added to that, couldn’t even rinse the taste out of my mouth because I’d poisoned my water.
Must be serious, I’ve spent £5 on a second hand turbo trainer from my local dump (recycling centre) and Dave has unearthed his from the Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden (we had to check that it didn’t only fit a penny farthing) and twice a week after school we set up the trainers in a classroom, change into lycra cycling kit (just how many laughing cleaners does it take to do just one room?) find a GCN (Global Cycling Network) video on youtube and set off. They’re all various forms of sweaty torture. The first session we did was lovely, 50mins of mainly gently pedalling with six,two minute bursts- brilliant. Every video since, no matter how long it is, or what it’s called, sweet spot, threshold, endurance it’s all too hard. You are required to cycle at something like 80% of your maximum for hours only interspersed with thirty second bursts of 100% before back to 80%. The more desperate we get at trying to avoid the difficult sessions the funnier it is when at the end of the warm-up the smiling presenter outlines the program for exactly the same thing we’ve done every session. It’s like popping a coin into a jukebox, selecting the record you want to hear, carefully pushed the correct buttons but whatever you do, it’s always ‘Barbie Girl’ by Aqua.
One of the key things I took from Mark Kleanthous’s talk and book was the idea of little and often and most importantly running at a slow pace. I dusted off my heart rate monitor, did the maths and worked out the rate I need to run at and set off. The pace was blooming slow, so slow in fact that it was just a more upright version of my ‘survival shuffle’. My survival shuffle is a kind of jog/run/walk that I do between the first hundred yards (out of transition past spectators) and the last hundred yards before the finish line (past spectators) it’s a speed I can keep going at for hours. There are some real plus points to this speed; It’s not painful and I’ve not had a running injury, your ego doesn’t get dented every time you’re overtaken or see someone running faster because you can console yourself that you are Ironman training and they’re obviously not. It also fits in with my usual layers of clothing which are picked not just for the speedy sections but with an eye to how cold I’ll be when I end up walking.
Couple of downsides; you have to recalibrate overtaking maneuvers, for example when you step of the pavement to overtake a pensioner don’t step of the kerb too early or you will be running in the gutter for quite sometime before you finally ease past them. Also when pedestrians are kind enough to stand to one side to give way and let you, the ‘runner’ past, the time it takes to get through whatever gap they have left you is more than enough for you to see on their faces, that they feel their life slipping past them.
Tattoo or not tattoo
Forget the training lets discuss the really pressing issue, assuming that we make it, do we get the tattoo? Obviously the really good athletes don’t get a tattoo (well they look like triathletes why would they need it pointing out to anyone) a fair mix of the rest of us mere mortals seem to feel the need. Tattoos seem to range from a small plain red M dot symbol to something more ornate which seem to mainly be on the right calf (they might be in lots of other places but well covered- asking random strangers if they’ve got a tattoo somewhere interesting on the off chance, doesn’t seem like much of a fact gathering plan). Myself and Dave have a similar problem but from different directions. Dave, as a good Dad, he knows that it is his job to disapprove of his daughter’s tattoos and how is he going to do that if he starts ‘getting inked’? For me it’s slightly different, I got my first tattoo when I was 18 and despite adding to it over a number of years I’ve never actually plucked up the courage to tell my parents. I am now 52 so would have to explain to my parents not only why I’ve got a tattoo but also explain why I haven’t told them for 34 years. There is also one other little issue that I had an insight to many years ago, way before I even really knew what Ironman was: I bought from a charity shop, an Ironman Lanzarote finishers tee shirt (mainly because it fitted me, I was pretty huge at the time, also it was good quality and an interesting design) and I used to wear it when I went to the gym. Now I know how significant and tough the Lanzarote Ironman is, I understand the looks I used to get when wearing the shirt as I set the treadmill to a gentle hill, and clinging onto the bar for grim death attempted a brisk walk as my whole head turned a shade of beetroot they must have been thinking “Poor bugger, he’s really let himself go”.
Doing the right thing
In great excitement and with a palpable sense of pride Dave smuglypoints out a paragraph in our shared copy of T220 magazine. In an article about winter training Dave has latched onto one particular session that we ALREADY do, hill repeats and it is something that he suggested. It is a simple but intense session, we warm up with a gentle ride to Heartbreak hill, coast down it and then ride up at a strong pace, coast down and repeat. It’s about a 4 minute hill and you attempt to keep within 10% of the first assent for the remaining reps. I say we already ‘do’ it, well we’ve certainly done it, and I think we might have even done it more than once (two or three times at the most) but it has been a while, so the present tense might be pushing it a little.
‘Heartbreak hill’ might be over egging it a bit as well, apparently it is referred to as that because it has a series of false crests so just when you think you’re at the top, another bend and a bit more hill. It is actually called Park road but that doesn’t sound as cool. I seem to remember that when the American and British forces were searching for Osama bin Laden’s hideout in the White mountains the Americans used to refer to the Tora Bora caves as the ‘Valley of Death’ with all the drawn out emphasis of Jeremy Clarkson saying ‘in the world’, the Brits christened it a rather more witty ‘Tora Bora Tomkinson’, how about we keep it light and have a ride ‘up the Park’?