Sometimes when you mix with people who take on crazy challenges as a matter of course, the desire to join them is too much to ignore. Such was the case for me in 2011 when I decided to take on the challenge of Ironman Regensburg in Germany. I didn’t come from a sporty background, and indeed I only took up triathlon in late 2009, having completed a couple of short sprint triathlons, building up to a half iron distance race in June 2010, where I came dead last. I can’t even remember how much I weighed back then, but I was a few stone overweight and thought that training for the Ironman would help me lose weight. It didn’t. The ironman triathlon comprises of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run (marathon). I had a 30 week training plan to get me to that start line, but if the truth be told, I knew from the word go that I wasn’t capable of completing the race. I could picture myself running down that finishing chute on the one hand, but I couldn’t conceive of actually being able to get through the training in one piece. Despite the couple of triathlons I’d completed, I didn’t feel as though I was in a better starting position as someone who’d just peeled themselves off the couch and into a tri suit.
Regardless, I started the training plan and smashed out the first couple of weeks, hitting all the sessions. Cue the start of week three and I was totally and utterly fucked. I missed quite a few sessions, just being too tired to complete them. Weeks 4 & 5 I picked up the sessions again, but again after a couple of good weeks I’d be too buggered the following week to make good inroads into the plan. My subconscious knew I didn’t have a chance, and this pattern repeated itself up until race day. I hadn’t done enough. I knew it, and although I was excited to take part, I knew in my heart that I hadn’t tried hard enough because not trying hard enough meant I had a ready-made excuse for not finishing. If I’m honest i’m sure anyone else expected me to finish either.
I arrived in Germany and met up with my pirate pals, and very luckily was taken under the wing of Happychap who looked after me over the week. We went for a run a couple of days before the race, and having only run about 3 miles I was totally bolloxed again. Realistically I had no chance of finishing. Anyway, race day came and I lined up with hundreds of others at the start line of the Ironman race. I think I was 3rd last out of the swim, overtaken in the last few hundred meters by a guy in his 70s. I barely made the cut-off time, but made it out on to the bike with seconds to spare. It was a two loop course with a couple of hills in it (as shown below).
I’d driven the course on a previous trip, and knew that there was one hill that I may need to walk up. I peddled on around the first lap, right from the start being overtaken from people on their second lap, a couple of pro riders glided past shouting “good luck!” to me which was a nice boost. The hills arrived and I got up the first without walking, but only just. My mind was all over the place, berating myself for thinking I deserved to be there, knowing I hadn’t put in the hard yards. However, I thought I just needed to keep on peddling and see where it got me. I must have got a bit confused as to where I was, as I struggled up another hill determined not to get off and push. I was at my limits though, and was disappointed knowing that I’d definitely need to get off at push at the worst climb. Except what happened next was I reached the feed station at the top of the last climb. What? Have I not got one more climb to go? NO! I’d done it, i’d managed to cycle up without stopping to push. I can’t describe the feeling it gave me other than to say it felt euphoric. I peddled through the feed station with renewed vigour and a sense of excitement. In that moment my mindset completely switched. Realising I’d achieved something I thought initially impossible, I switched from thinking ‘this is impossible’ to ‘nothing is impossible‘. Before I’d left home, I was chatting to my pals and saying that I needed some kind of mantra to help me in the race. I’d tried a few things out but nothing stuck until my lovely friend Krista said “you get to do this”. That was it. I might not have been fit enough, but I had two legs, two arms and the ability to get to that start line, many others would not be so lucky. So when I reached the top of that hill I reminded myself that I get to do this, and I knew it was game on. I cycled down the other side of that hill like a bloody demon, and when I reached the flat I knew I had to just go for it. Before reaching the summit I’d toyed with pulling out, of giving up because I knew the finish line was not on my horizon that day. But when I reached the top and had this epiphany I was absolutely determined that I was NOT going to give up. I did a quick calculation that in order to make the intermediate bike cut-off, I’d need to cycle consistently at 25 mph for the next hour. I’d never cycled at 25mph in my life, but that didn’t matter. I peddled my bloody heart out from that point, and reached the point I was hitting about 20 mph for stretches, again not a speed I was normally acquainted with. Logic & physics said that making that cut-off was an impossible task, but in my heart I knew I had to just go for it. I knew that if I quit i’d always think “what if?” even though it would have been physically impossible. So I went for it, and I smiled the whole way to the cut off point. I’d never felt so good, because I knew I was giving it my all. In the end I did miss that cut-off, but I knew I could live with myself because I tried, even against all the odds.
I’ve never attempted another IM since then, mostly because I knew I didn’t have the real desire to commit to the training I would need to do to get me to the finish. I’ve done various running races since then, many times again signing up with the view that having a race to focus on would help me lose weight etc. That just doesn’t work for me though. Last year when I discovered the low carb high fat (LCHF) way of eating, I realised for the first time in my life that here was a way of eating that worked for me, whether I did an ounce of exercise or not. So last year I did pretty much zero exercise, but still lost a fair bit of weight. A few times I gave into the sugar demons though and that set me off track for a while. I’ve been on and off LCHF for a while, but I’m back on it now, because ultimately for me I know it’s all about mind over matter. I’ll always struggle with the sugar demons, but at least now I get back on the horse rather than abandoning it completely.
Losing weight on zero exercise was fine, but it also made me realise that I was craving doing some exercise for its own sake, a position I’d never been in before. Hence the reason I signed up for the Cotswold Classic triathlon this August. I want a challenge, and I want to push myself and push my limits. I’m not putting a time goal on it as such, but after so many years of being overweight and never managing to be consistent with anything really, I want the challenge of training and proving to myself I can do this. I’ve achieved a lot in life because I refused to believe I didn’t have the ability (all my studying, flying etc.), and this time I want to see what I can achieve with my body. I get to do this. I still think of that mantra a lot, it’s what motivates me.
So this last week, having switched back to LCHF, it’s fair to say I’ve felt totally spangled. I forgot that there’s an inevitable dip in energy that comes with moving towards being a fat-burner. I’d promised myself I’d do 3 each of swim, bike & run this week, and I’ve almost achieved it – I’m short by one bike session, primarily down to bad planning. To be honest a couple of the sessions were shorter than I wanted, but i’ve just been knackered. I know my energy will return soon, so at the moment it’s just a case of pegging back the effort and getting the sessions in without destroying myself. It comes down to mind over matter. Next week i’m aiming for 3 of each again, albeit I might have to make them shortish and low effort as I still adapt to the LCHF lifestyle. It’s exciting though. I like having a goal and in a way I can’t wait to see what i’m capable of.
That said, I think it might be time for a nap. Thank the tri-Gods above that recovery is an important part of training!
Have a good week folks 🙂