Ironman UK by Dean Hatton

by Dean Hatton

The Short Version:

I did Ironman UK in August.

This is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride followed by a full 26.2 mile marathon.

During 2013 I have done a lot of training, but not enough.

The race was hard, it was long, it was painful and it rained.

The crowds were great.

My swim was OK, my bike was OK, my run was awful.

I finished in 13hours, 43minutes and 16 seconds.  In my head I was thinking that getting round in 15 hours was achieveable so I was delighted with this time.

In the finishers tent they were giving away Dominos Pizza.  I could only stomach two slices.

Once I had finished I ached for days.

Once the aches had gone away, I started to get the urge to do another one.

I will be doing another Iron distance triathlon in July 2014.

My wife is not very happy as it means I will be out of the house a lot, again.

My wife is not very happy as I will be spending money on lycra, gels and wheels rather than DIY and holidays.

My colleagues are not happy as they will have to put up with me coming back from lunch time runs and cycling in to work where there is no shower.

In some ways I am not very happy as I have committed myself to another load of training and another day of excruciating pain.But……………… I am an Ironman………………………

For a fuller version; if at all interested; read on……………..

4th August 2013

Background

At the age of 42 it was time for my mid life crisis.  Some people choose to buy a sports car, start riding a Harley, start wearing leather trousers or have affairs with lingerie models.  For my mid life crisis, I decided to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and then run 26.2 miles to be an “Ironman”.

At the time of pressing the “enter now” button and typing in my credit card number to the tune of £400; I was about as far as being an Ironman as it was likely to get.  The furthest I had swum was around 1500 metres, the furthest run I had done was 10k and whilst I had done a few cycling sportives of around 70 miles, they were at a pedestrian pace and included loads of stops for cake and drinks.

New to exercise following my expanding waistline caused exclusively by turning 40 (and nothing at all to do with my diet of pizza and biscuits),  I decided to give triathlon a go and during 2012 took part in a few sprint triathlons and one Olympic distance triathlon – all with significantly rubbish results.  However, once I got the swim, bike, run bug, trying an Ironman seemed like an extreme and extremely silly thing to do but I was attracted to the challenge of the distances in question that every time I looked at them made me shake my head in disbelief that I had any chance of finishing.  I guess that is what a challenge is all about.

Getting There

Armed with a training plan nicked straight out of a book, I spent the first few weeks of my training regime faffing about with an elaborate spreadsheet telling me how many hours I needed to swim, cycle and run in any given future week.  By the time I had perfected the spreadsheet, I was already behind schedule!

The spreadsheet told me that the training week started at a nice 6 hours, peaking at 20 hours a week in July.  The biggest challenge was therefore fitting this in with a full time job, commuting; two kids and a marriage.  Needless to say, I pretty much failed every single week to hit the scheduled target but it was not without trying.

Swimming was OK.  I was making decent progress and was confident that provided I kept the training up, I might just get around the lake.  I swim with a club in Winchester two evenings a week and when the lakes at Eastleigh and Fordingbrige opened I jumped in to get in 3 swims a week.  I recall getting into the lake at 6.30am in April, doing about 3 laps and subsequently not warming up until lunchtime.  Luckily, the temperature changed through the year to the point where wetsuits were banned in the lake as it was too hot.  This made swimming a joy and I actually started to like swimming.

Cycling is my best/least crap discipline but I was hampered at the start of the training regime in January by appalling weather that meant that any cycling I did was in the evil clutches of a turbo trainer which is about as exciting as watching paint dry whilst sweating and spinning your legs aimlessly.  Tortuous stuff! As the weather got better, the opportunities for proper rides became possible; though it was still really difficult to fit as much in as I needed.  I started to cycle to work which helped, though given that my office has no shower, my colleagues would probably disagree.  Baby wipes and Lynx were the order of the day and if there is one thing that I have learnt whilst training for Ironman is that the Lynx TV adverts are a total crock.

Long rides were difficult to negotiate with the family and I could not really justify clearing off for virtually a whole day, but then I came across an ingenious plan of getting my long ride in.  With lighter mornings, I was setting my alarm really early and sneaking out of the house at daybreak.  This meant that I was back home by 9-10ish already having a 60-70 mile ride under my belt.  Cycling at 5 am was hard at first but I soon got used to it and started to relish the tranquillity, the empty roads and the wildlife that I saw.  Guilt free training did have disadvantages in that it usually resulted in me falling asleep on the sofa at some point later in the day.  Not good for family harmony; nor is leaving lycra around the house.

Running was the discipline that I feared the most.  Unlike most LRR members, I don’t “love” running.  Actually, I am not really sure that I even like it that much.  It makes my legs ache, makes my feet sore and makes me fart in public much more than is socially acceptable.  There is no drafting, no coasting, no free-wheeling downhill; just perpetual hard work.

As running a marathon was my biggest fear about this whole Ironman experience, I thought that it would be a good idea to book a marathon before Ironman.  In a gesture of romanticism, for an anniversary present I bought my wife a weekend in Barcelona the following March.  A weekend which just happened to be the weekend of the Barcelona marathon, which I just happened to enter!  This meant some adjustment to my spreadsheet as I needed to be marathon ready much earlier than I had planned so my expected runingn time went up significantly; which really I was not ready for and as a result everything suffered.

The marathon was an amazing and horrendous experience.  Everything about it was excellent apart from the running.  I had contracted a viral infection the week before and had not eaten for a week; only starting to eat two days before.  The marathon was therefore more awful than I could imagine.  The first half was OK but then the wheels came off and I could have quite happily given up every step if it were not for the fact that I had no Euros, no hotel key, no credit card, no grasp of Spanish and my wife who had all those things, was awaiting expectedly at the finish line.  I therefore walked, limped and hobbled to the finish line in 4hrs 35 and cried like a baby.

In retrospect it was a bad idea to do a marathon but it did give me the confidence that I could at least get round the course, a level of confidence that I did not previously have. However, the negative impact of doing this was that it really put me off running for a long time and my mileage almost stopped and it took a massive effort to get back on the pavements again.

Work commitments meant that coming to LRR training was virtually impossible which made getting out the door a bit harder as I was mainly running late at night on my own.  That’s OK as the voices in my head keep me company.  Unfortunately, these voices are saying things like “stop running”, “running sucks” and “go home and play Grand Theft Auto”.  Inevitably, my running suffered.

By the time I realised that I really needed to focus on running (ie after an absolutely awful run in the Swashbucker Triathlon), southern England had suddenly developed a climate like Lanzorote and I was suddenly running in temperatures that I could hardly swim in, let alone run.  Consequently, when it got to the taper, my run was way, way off where it should be and the longest run that I had completed was 12 miles.  The marathon was going to be tough; but I knew that anyway; I just hadn’t helped myself make it less tough.

Looking at my training diary I had, by the time race day had arrived logged:-

119 km of swimming

1,526 miles of cycling (plus quite a few hours on the turbo)

505 miles of running

I was still quite a way off where I thought I needed to be and I had no real sense that I had done enough to complete the challenge.  For that reason, despite a lot of people asking if I were doing it for a charity, I didn’t feel able to commit through a very real fear of failure and having to drop out and get a DNF. This was therefore an individual and selfish test.

Race Day

I drove up to Bolton early on Saturday morning and the whole day was quite busy registering, racking my bike, getting transition bags to the right places and attending the race briefing during which the guy said that the day would fly by.  Yeah right!

With the alarm set for 2.30am, I tried to get some sleep but this proved difficult due to our hotel having a wedding disco going on.  The last thing I heard was Town Called Malice at 11.30.  Next thing I know I’m trying to force down some porridge and a banana at 3am whilst watching the rain lash against the window.  I’ve eaten kebabs at 3am no problem at all; but porridge at this time was pretty damn difficult.  I was a bit worried about the rain as well!

We drove down to the Reebok Stadium, passing crowds of “merry” people at taxi ranks.  The bus from the Reebok to Pennington Flash where the swim was taking place was full of nervous energy.  I focussed on keeping my breakfast down.

At the transition area, I put my bottles on my bike, made sure all was ready to go and went to put my wetsuit on.  All of this was a bit of a blur as I kissed my wife, said goodbye and got ready to jump in the lake.  Just before 6am, 1600 people slowly got into the lake to the sound of the national anthem and gently treaded water whilst having a last minute wetsuit wee before the chaos of the mass start.

Swim: 2.4 miles – 1hr 17m 10s

6am = chaos
6am = chaos

6am and people at the front started swimming.  I had placed myself to the middle and to the side hoping to stay out of trouble.  This was not the case and I had two punches to the face before I had even reached the start buoys. After a while though I began to find pockets of clear water and got into a steady stroke.  This was continuously interrupted by collisions and people swimming over me as well as me swimming over others.  It was bad round the first turning buoy where I virtually had to come to a stop; but other than that, it was just a long, steady, if slightly chaotic swim.

swim done - thankfully
swim done – thankfully

The swim was two laps of the lake which involved getting out after the first lap, running about 100 metres and getting in again.  The second lap was slightly less busy as the field had spread out though as some of the elites did the swim in about 45 minutes, there was a bit of brutal overtaking by these guys.

I was delighted to see the end ramp approach and felt that I had done a fairly acceptable job; though with no swim watch and me being too busy looking out for my wife to look at the race clock, I had absolutely no idea of the time.

Into transition, I collected my bag and headed for the “full change” area.  I was aiming for comfort not speed so opted for a full bib short arrangement rather than a tri suit.  It seems that far more people had taken this full change option than the organisers had expected as the screened off area was literally tiny and absolutely crammed with blokes getting changed.  It did not make for a quick transition, trying to yank off a wetsuit and put on lycra whilst being surrounded by hairy arses.  I didn’t help myself by dropping my stash of gels on the ground.  I got my shorts on before I picked them up.  Finally kitted out in my cycling wear I headed to the bike racks to find my vehicle for the next 7-8 hours.

Bike 112 miles: 6hrs 42m 53s

IM3Safely on my bike, I started to overtake a bunch of people.  My aim was to go steady and pace myself and I really was not pushing it but was whizzing past people who were obviously ace swimmers, crap cyclists.  It had thankfully stopped raining but the roads were still wet so my tyres just glided along and I was really enjoying myself on the closed roads.

After about 12 miles, the bike route became three thirty odd mile loops which included one massive hill, which was about two miles of solid climbing, hitting some pretty steep gradients in places.  Whilst this was tough, there was some amazing support; at times I felt like I was a Tour de France rider with crowds of people going ape either side of me.  My favourite part of the day was on a particularly gruelling part of the hill where there were a group of women all wearing pink T shirts shouting things like “go on Dean, you’re looking amazing”.  That doesn’t happen to me every day!

The descent down the hill was awesome and it was brilliant not having to worry about oncoming traffic so it was pure kamikaze time, leaving my brakes well alone and getting some real speed up.  The second part of the loop was tough as it was into a headwind and the road surface became more abrasive and the support less frequent so it was a case of getting my head down and keeping the pedals spinning.

Check out the views – I didn’t!
Check out the views – I didn’t!

On the second lap I had to stop and fix a slight mechanical issue with my saddle which knocked 10 minutes out of me; then a few toilet stops were required as I had been quite strict with myself about taking on fluids.  My average speed therefore started to dip and by the third loop, I was starting to fall apart with back ache, leg aches, hip ache – you name it – it ached to the point where I pulled over and stretched for a few minutes as I had been crouched over my handlebars or areo bars for so long.

Finally, the last loop was done and I could dismount my bike and limp up to transition 2 to collect my run gear.  My Garmin told me my bike time and I was really happy to get through 112 miles in under 7 hours which I thought would be my best possible time (and was realistically expecting 8).  I was delighted therefore with 6.42 and I was pleasantly surprised by how many bags were still in the hall which meant that I was far from being in last place.

T2 was a school hall and it had a proper changing room.  This was where I nearly bottled it.  I remember just sitting on a bench, staring at my shoes and just thinking to myself about the impossibility of the task of getting up and running a full marathon when I already felt wrecked.  After what seemed an age just sitting there and thinking about dropping out, I plucked up the courage to give the run a go.  It was going to be slow and very, very painful and I knew it.

Run: 26.2 miles: 5h 17m 50s

It is difficult to describe how I felt whilst starting to run.  My legs were shot but all I can remember was the pain in my stomach which was a combination of surviving on a diet of gels, flap jacks and banana’s coupled with being crunched up in a deeply uncomfortable position for most of the day.  My run was slow and once I got into a bit of a slow shuffle rhythm, the abs started to feel less painful.  But where the pain in my gut stopped, the more I could feel the heaviness in my legs.  Nevertheless, I continued plodding forward.

Although I was on the run course, for what turned out to be over 5 hours; I have very vague recollection of it.  To the point where I got the race photos and I couldn’t even remember running by a river!  I think I just zoned out.  I remember singing all sorts of different songs in my head.  Some were good, some were awful.  I have what linguists would call an “eclectic and obtuse taste in music focussing on the seminal and angular”.  Most people though refer to my taste in music as “s**t”.  It was therefore surprising to me that in addition to singing the strange songs that I knew and loved, for some reason I was humming things like “When the Going Gets Tough (the tough get going)”.  Now, I can appreciate the symbolism in it, but really, where did that come from? I can confirm that I neither own, nor have owned, nor will ever own this song; nor anything by Phil Collins or Blink 182 whose songs I also, for some reason stared using to get me through the madness of a marathon.

At about 13k, I finally saw my wife for the first time since 5.50am.  I stopped and had a chat and she walked with me for a while showing me my times on her phone on which she had been following me for the day on the impressive Ironman “athlete” tracker.  (Athlete – that still cracks me up).  She gave me a much needed kick up the arse and off I went.

The run route was effectively almost 4, 10k loops (plus the run to the start of the loop by the river that I don’t remember) of which exactly 12 metres were flat.  The rest was mildly undulating with one steep, short hill.  There was short loop around Bolton town centre, past the finish line and back out again along the long, long straight but undulating road.  At the end of every lap you were given a coloured band to signify what lap you were on, only being able to enter the finish line area with three bands.  With the loop being on either side of the road I began to look with envy at the people running with bands on – they were closer to the end than me and I had nothing left to give.

With every step I think that I got slower and my plod turned into a walk/jog scenario and I recall playing little games with myself like treating myself to a 60 second walk if I could run to the second lamppost on the left.

The ordeal was made worse by the fact that as I started my first full loop, the heavens opened and we were treated to the most torrential downpour for ages that didn’t cease for hours.  I don’t mind running in the rain, but this was ridiculous and within seconds I was drenched to the skin.  Some people started getting cold and St John’s were busy with space blankets with people at the side of the road.  I was not cold; just damp, miserable and in pain.

Damp, miserable and in pain!
Damp, miserable and in pain!

Having to pass my wife a further 5 times, I realised that I was slowing up considerably.  I just wanted to give up, to stop moving, to have a cup of coffee.  I couldn’t eat.  The aid stations had all sorts of treats that on a normal day I would be devouring, but I just couldn’t face food – I was just surviving on cola and Power Horse.

I really do not know what got me through but I do recall picking up my final yellow band and celebrating as if I had just scored the winning goal in an FA Cup Final.  I only had about 8K to go.  I was well within the cut off, I could walk and I would finish.  This band lifted my spirits and the crowds were giving special attention to people with three bands so I felt uplifted.  It was still tough, but the end was in sight.

The finish was a bit of a blur.  I remember high fiving the official on the barrier who was there to ensure that only people with three bands got through; there was a bit of a chicane of barriers with spectators patting me on the back and high fiving me and then there was the red carpet with the gantry in sight.  I had visualised this moment endlessly over the previous year and thought that I would get extremely emotional.  As it was, I was so broken, and it happened so quickly that I did not get emotional; I didn’t even really hear the immortal words, “Dean Hatton, you are an Ironman”.  I crossed the line, collected my medal, had my picture taken and then into the finishing tent for some pizza and more importantly a sit down.  It was half an hour later when I had changed, met up with my wife and started watching other people finish, that the emotions and the enormity of what I had done really hit me.  Even now, thinking about that moment gives me a huge emotional jolt and a little tear.

Highly original finishing pose!
Highly original finishing pose!

Hanging around the finish line after the event was amazing.  Seeing people cross the line with the whole range of expressions and emotions was uplifting, life affirming and gave a real glimpse of what we are all capable of if we put our minds to something.  The crowds cheering on and encouraging total strangers restored (temporarily) my faith in human nature.

The highlight of the event for me; other than me crossing the line, was right at the end of the day.  There is a 17 hour cut off at Ironman.  At 10.50 there were still a few people out on the run who had to be told to stop, which must have been devastating for them.  But the announcer said that there was one person who had half a km to go and they were going to let him finish.  It took him 15 minutes to do that 500 metres.  We were told that he had collapsed three times and had refused any medical intervention (as this would have been a DQ).  They told us that his name was Steve and everyone at the finish line, in unison started chanting his name.  He had started the race the same time as me at 6.am.  He was still going at 11 p.m; I thought I had a long day! Finally, he hit the red carpet.  He literally was pulling his feet along with his hands, his face was one of absolute agony, he could barely stay on his feet, yet he had the finish line in sight and there was absolutely nothing on this earth that was going to stand in his way.  To the sound of a thousand or so people going absolutely mental, he crossed the line and collapsed onto a waiting stretcher.  Steve, you are an Ironman and is my new hero.

Epilogue 1

I could hardly sleep that night.  Every time I moved, I was in pain.  At the same time I was just replaying the day over and over.  The chap at the briefing was right; the day absolutely flew by.

Breakfast at the hotel was like an Ironman war hospital with people all wearing their blue/turquoise finishers shirts, limping to the eat all you can buffet but not being able to stomach it once at the table due to the diet that we had all inflicted on ourselves the previous day.  One bloke I was speaking to calculated that he had eaten over 40 gels!!

It was a brilliant event.  Superbly organised, support from the public was phenomenal and kept me and everyone else going, the volunteers were absolutely amazing and the spirit amongst competitors was one of solidarity and friendliness.  The medal is quality.  There has been some talk on these and other pages regarding medals.  I personally sit on the fence but I have to say that my Ironman medal is now amongst my most prized possessions.  Although the event was ridiculously expensive (something that I only accidentally fessed up to my wife on the drive home) I thought it was worth every last penny.

For a few days I was pretty numb and was walking like I was rehearsing to be a zombie extra in the Walking Dead.  On Wednesday I had a sports massage.  On Wednesday evening I was on the internet looking for other Ironman races to do!  By the end of the month I had secured my 2014 place on the Outlaw in Nottingham.  2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 run! Why? Why not!

Epilogue 2

A few weeks ago I was in Liverpool.  As is my fashion option of choice nowadays, I was wearing one of my Ironman UK T-shirts.  Walking towards me was a bloke wearing an Ironman UK T Shirt.  He clocked me, I clocked him.  We casually nodded at each other, a quick thumbs up and carried on walking, cool as you like.  He knew what I had been through; I knew what he had been through.  The thing is, we are not special, we are not elite athletes, we are just people who decided to do this crazy, stupid thing which really makes no sense but in the chaos of this world makes perfect sense.  Find something that you thought was impossible, work hard, put your mind to it and you can achieve anything.  If I can do Ironman, anyone can do whatever they set their mind to!

Dean Hatton