Ironman World Championship 2018 – Pre-race & Swim

This was it. The race I’d be dreaming of since taking up triathlon. Over the past few years, whenever a training session got tough, or I was lacking in motivation, I would think about one day racing around the streets of Kona alongside the best in the world, and without fail this would get me pumped up.

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Quite unbelievably, I slept like a baby. I felt super relaxed before going to bed, and seemed to nod off straight away. I always, without fail, wake up about 2 hours before my alarm is meant to go off and struggle to sleep, eventually giving up. Not today – I was rudely awoken by my alarm (4am) and slipped out of bed, trying not to wake Katie up.

The first chance I had to look at my phone was over my bowl of porridge, which nearly led to it becoming a bonus topping (raisins and syrup for those who were wondering.) I was absolutely blown away by the number of messages of good luck and support I’d received during the night. I hadn’t anticipated getting so emotional this early in the day but it was impossible not to – it was both overwhelming and incredible. I took my time to read through each one and really appreciate how lucky I am to have so many awesome friends.

By this time, Katie had dragged herself out of bed (4.30am – ouch), and surprised me with a card and my very own Hawaiian number plate (long story, but another dream of mine). Screw finishing Kona – that was all I really wanted! During this time I was dealing with cock up #1 of the day, as I’d managed to freeze solid both my bike bottles that I’d be using for nutrition during the ride.

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Quickly realising there was no way they’d defrost by the time I started the bike and I would therefore be trying to drink blocks of ice, I decided to pop them in the oven to bake for a bit. Asking Katie for advice, she suggested this would quite probably melt them and it’d be much better to put them in the microwave. After a quick blast it was job kinda done and they were now drinkable albeit slightly lukewarm.

We’d bagged an apartment within a 15 walk from transition, which was an absolute dream come race morning. I’d arranged to meet fellow Brit and all around good egg Chris Wallace, who’d soundly thrashed me at Ironman Wales last year. We ended up spending a good deal of the week together, and it’s a shame he’s packed his bags and moved over to Sydney – don’t blame him though.

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The walk down took us past the finish line and the hairs on the back of my neck were already on end; this was hopefully where I’d be at some point this afternoon/evening, very much living out the dream I’d had all those years ago. At this point Katie and I said our goodbyes, as she went off to find a good spot on the wall to watch the swim – it’s prime real estate and you’ve got to be down early if you want a good view!

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Chris and I walked into the body marking area directly behind Tim O’Donnell and Mirinda Carfrae, two of the top professional athletes. This was one of a number of times during the day that it really hit home that I was part of something much bigger here, and it was so cool to rub shoulders with some of the best triathletes on the planet. Let’s ignore the fact that as soon as the gun went they were absolutely miles up the road…

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Going through body marking, we each got allocated our own volunteer to imprint our numbers – clearly mugs like me aren’t trusted to apply their own temporary tattoos. At this point I bumped into my old mate Joe Skipper (he’s my mate, I’m his stalker) and we chatted about the race before I wished him luck. After a quick weigh in (probably a few pounds above race weight, but the pizza in Chicago was worth it), I bumbled through the transition area and went to load my bike with some food and drink, and give the tires a good pump up.

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Joe & Joe @ Ironman UK

It was great to see so many friendly faces on the pier, with elite age-grouper and fellow Richmond Park regular Ruth Purbrook stopping for a quick chat. Everyone was exchanging the ‘how you feeling’ conversations, and the atmosphere was pretty electric as you could tell how excited/nervous everyone was. Once I was happy my bike wasn’t going to break in half whilst I was away for the swim, I got into the ridiculously long toilet queue and played the waiting game.

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Upon reaching the front, as I was about to do the business, it was announced that the national anthem was about to be played. What’s the status quo here? I decided that waiting for it to be over would be silly, so I enjoyed it from the comfort of the ‘porta-john’, opting not to ‘do a Katie’ and put my hand on my heart (for the anthem, not the occasion of going to the toilet).

Walking back down the pier, I nearly involuntarily went to the toilet again as a huge bang of the cannon signalled the start of the pro-race, meaning we had 30 minutes until the off. I dropped off my post-race bag with a change of clothes for afterwards, got a volunteer to lather me with sun cream, had one more toilet stop (you never can have enough) before zipping up my swimskin and lining up to enter the water.

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With my swim ability well documented, I wasn’t overly fussed about getting into the water early, and descended the most famous steps in triathlon well to the back of the 1300+ men all heading towards the start. Once in, you lose your identity, as everyone is just a blue hat and goggles; you could be treading water next to your best mate (unlikely here as Dave can’t swim, bike or run) and be none the wiser. I lined up on the far right, about 10 rows back and well away from the actually good swimmers, hoping to hug the buoy line and swim the shortest distance possible.

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With a couple of minutes to go I turned to look around back towards the pier and the surrounding bay, taking in the scene of the sun rising over the mountains and the crowds packed onto the seawall as well as every other vantage point. This was the first of many moments during the day where I had to pinch myself to check if this was in fact real and I was actually about to race in Kona. Who let the ex-chubby lad from Essex post up at the World Championship and race with the big boys? There must’ve been some sort of mistake.

With the cannon about to blow, the fight for space on the line got more intense as everyone got rather nervy. Then suddenly: BOOM, and we were off, the relative calmness of the bay immediately turning into a washing machine of arms, legs and torsos. I’m right in the thick of it, trying to get into a rhythm before suddenly realising I’m giving some Aussie (probably) a piggy back (literally) towards the first buoy. Just keep swimming.

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After a few minutes everything seemed to settle down and I tried to ignore giant fish tank below me and concentrate on swimming well. Every so often I’d look down to see a lost blue swim cap slowly sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I was rudely awoken from my rhythm by an elbow to the face which knocked my goggles clean off. A quick stop to pop them back on led to me being mown down by those behind (probably that Aussie again), before I was back underway.

The swim in Kona is as straightforward as they come. Swim 1.2 miles out to a massive boat, go around it, and swim back. I was trying to keep my route to that boat as straight as possible, to make sure I didn’t swim a yard farther than I needed to. I tucked in behind a chap who seemed to know what he was doing and splashed onwards.

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An hour plus is a long way to be swimming in a straight line, and despite trying to maintain focus I always find my mind wandering not only to the race ahead of me, but also other random things. Today’s example was one of seriously fast runner Russell Bentley’s most recent blogs, talking about giving it your best effort, because otherwise you have to go and tell the people reading your blog that you were sh*t. So thanks to everyone reading for holding me accountable. If only you could all do the swim for me. I also thought many times about which beer I was going to drink first; this was a massive motivator.

The journey to the turnaround point seemed to fly by, but as I don’t wear a watch for the swim, I had no idea how long I’d been going for. We turned into the current, and things definitely started to feel slightly slower. I kept getting annoyed with myself for swimming slightly wide when I lost concentration, trying not to curse at the fact I’m still not up there with the faster swimmers. Ray at Swim Canary Wharf has helped me with my stroke immensely, but I’ve still got some big leaps to make if I want to move my way up the age-group ranks.

Nearing the end, I spotted a few pink caps, indicating the leading females (who has started 15 minutes after us) had caught me; humbling but not surprising. I felt sorry for them having to swim through the chaos that was the back-end of the male field. I can only hope none of them chose to follow me as I zig-zagged my way through the water.

Slowly but surely the huge inflatable Gatorade bottle on the pier got closer and closer, and when I lifted my head to breathe I could hear the crowds and the commentary coming from the PA system getting louder and louder. At this point I was still positively buzzing, with the first part of the journey drawing to a close, still scarcely able to believe I was actually here. I took my final few strokes before hauling myself up the steps with a MASSIVE grin on my face. I knew right there and then that I was creating moments in my life that I’d never forget.

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Swim: 1:11:59. 91st in age group. 1,074th overall.

Given the fact that Hawaii is a non-wetsuit, sea swim, I can’t be too unhappy with my time. That’s probably worth a 1:05 or so in good conditions, which is about where my swimming is at right now. But with only 120 or so in my age group, it’s clear that most of the guys are swimming quicker than me. But I’ll get there.

For once I didn’t adopt my ‘run through transition like a raving lunatic’ approach, instead taking slightly more time to make sure I was comfortable and ready for the conditions I’d be facing over the next few hours. I washed off all the seawater using the freshwater showers (salt + chaffing = not fun bike ride), before entering the absolute carnage that was the transition tent.

It was like the Next bank holiday sales at 9am, replacing the middle-age women for butt naked male triathletes. I found a corner and proceeded to dump my stuff on the floor, completely forgetting I have never once worn socks on the bike and popping them on. I then instructed a volunteer to plaster me with suncream, as Katie’s sensible advice of not getting 3rd degree burns rung through my ears.

I started running out before panicking, as I thought I’d lost coach Paul’s swimskin, before realising it was in fact around my waist. Moron. I slipped that off; finally ready to run towards my trusty steed with my bike shoes in hand, as Burton still hadn’t taught me how to do a flying mount. After the long journey around the pier I got to my bike and was reminded of the scene in an old western film, with nothing but tumbleweed blowing through transition as all the other bikes were long gone. I guess it’s time to get to work then!

Transition 1: 4:18

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Losing the swimskin would’ve quite possibly been the end of a beautiful relationship

8 thoughts on “Ironman World Championship 2018 – Pre-race & Swim

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