Down but not (quite) out - my lockdown DIY Ironman

With Covid-19 spreading its ugly germy tentacles around the globe early 2020, it was with some disappointment I received news that all the events I had planned for my 50th year were postponed to 2021.

Running on a frozen lake in Mongolia, trekking through jungles in Panama and running my first 100 miler were all out for the year.

Needless to say, when lockdown commenced I was completely devastated. For a few days I went mooching around the house full of self-pity...something that needs no further mastery from myself! But thankfully, two days later I gave myself a mental slap given the reality of the situation was that this disappointment is nothing compared to what some others were going through. I had my health, was surrounded by family and still had a job.

So instead of focusing on what I was missing out on, I started focusing on what I could do. Working from home provided me with the time to do some form of exercise each day. So instead of commuting into London at 7.30 each weekday, I did a form of exercise every morning. My preferred option was a run in Richmond Park. Starting my day running in acres of woodland, birdsong abound and no cyclists, cars or overhead airline noise was an absolute delight. My mood for days that started this way were so much more positive and set me up well for the following 8 hours of sitting behind a desk looking at a screen.

The Bright Idea

In late April I was contacted by my close friend and bestest exercise buddy, Jo. Jo was lamenting the fact that the first (and only) Ironman she was ever going to do had just been postponed until 2021. The four months she had put into pretty solid training, therefore, felt a little wasted. That was....unless I would agree to join her on our own Ironman event!?

Being the impulsive numpty I am, I agreed on the spot without even tasking a moment to think:

(1) I wouldn't be able to do any swimming training in preparation as all pools were shut;

(2) I handn't been on a bicycle for 5+ years (how hard can cycling 185km's be?); and

(3) I had never gone for more than 12 hours straight in any physical challenge before

The Training

Over the following 8 weeks I focused mostly on cycling given I had a good level of base running fitness and swimming wasn't an option. Fortunately Jo had a turbo trainer I could use. So once a week I got on the cycle and went as hard and fast as I could, commencing with 40kms and increasing by 10kms a week.

Me, the turbo trainer and Zwift.

Jo then very cleverly recruited the assistance of a cycling guru, David, to provide navigational and motivational support on the day. As lockdown restrictions eased in June, we even managed to get out on a few rides - the longest being around 125km around 2 weeks before the actual event.

David, Jo and myself cycling into Eton

The biggest issue was the Ironman swim. By early July neither pools or lido's were open. So the only option was open water swimming. After quite a bit of searching we found Heron Lake (near Heathrow) and gave it a try the week before the actual event. Given in the past six months I had only submerged myself in water once (and that was in the bath!) the trial swim went pretty well.

All set then!

The Event - Sunday 12 July

On the morning of the event I rose shortly before 5am and felt REALLY SCARED. I honestly thought I had once and for all bitten off more than I could chew. Whom in their right mind spends more time tapering than training for an event?

My mood soon lifted after arriving at Herron Lake shortly before 6. Here I was greeted with the most magnificent day and scenery. It felt like such a privilege to be able to do this. With friends and family surroundIng me (yes - they got up early too!), I held Jo's hand, and at 6.30 we entered the water together.

The swim entailed 4 circuits of the lake, each being 1000 metres in length. With clear and warm water, I took my time and ended up thoroughly enjoying it all, completing the task in under 1.5 hours.

After a quick change and a bit of brekky, Jo, David and I hopped on the cycle (accompanied by Piers - our first of a few support cyclists for the day) and started off on our 180km cycle to the New Forest.

Having never cycled this far before, I can now say that it is a LONG WAY to go. The first 60km were great, the second were okay, and the third...well they were tough. The day was hot and I ended up eating too much sugar and was super nauseous for a while. We also had a few moments that are unique to a DIY Ironman including a road that was closed and completely dug up (yes, we carried our cycles for 100 metres!) and toilet breaks at the most unconventional spots! But having said that, I couldn’t ask for a better support crew. David and others that joined us along the way really were the clue to making it to the end. I didn’t need to worry about where to go (just follow the wheel in front of me) and the cheer surrounding Jo and me was outstanding.

At 4.30 in the afternoon, and after 8.5 hours of cycling, Jo and I arrived in the New Forest. I was mentally and physically exhausted....but still had a marathon to do.

The next six hours proceeded to be the best but toughest of the day. The route involved four circuits of 10.5km, starting and finishing at the hotel were were going to stay that night. I had agreed with my family, that each member would join me for one lap.

With day turning to night and various happy souls joining me to run/walk around thIs most gorgeous area of natural beauty, the time, as painful as it was, passed quite quickly (even though I was very slow!). I had all those that loved me cheering and willing me to complete the challenge and this along quite literally got me over that finish line. Supporters played music, projected messages from well-wishers that couldn’t join (thank-you Meredith) and kept the conversation flowing so that I didn’t enter that dark world of pain. Coming in around 10.30 that night to cheers of so many that had unselfishly dedicated their day to Jo and me, I realised how incredibly lucky I am.

Running in the New Forest on my third lap

Words cannot describe this experience. When it comes down to it, it isn’t about the fact I have now completed an Ironman (in the required time of less than 17 hours). Because in a way I feel that my physical fitness didn’t justify the title. What I took away from this day is such a huge sense of gratitude. And from gratitude comes happiness and the will to give back.

Mrs Support Crew, Marianne

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