I’ll start with a couple of disclaimers. I have a feeling everyone might be getting a bit sick of us harping on about this now, so after this blog I’ll stop! Also, it’s going to be a long one, so settle in with a cup of tea (or glass of wine), or alternatively now is your chance to switch off and escape before getting sucked into this great tome.
Having spent all of last week writing lists of things not to forget, the beds in our spare room were gradually filling up with all manner of clothes/kit/nutrition/drugs that we were going to need over the weekend. Despite having carefully planned what I was going to take, the enormity of this pile of stuff surprised even me (and indeed Paul, who seemed to have half as much).
After finishing work on Thursday, we got everything packed up, ready for our dawn start on Friday morning. Tenby, it transpires, is about the most difficult place to get to in the UK, and to spare you the details of our epic drive down, dodging hold-ups on the M6 and surviving the windy, narrow roads through Wales, I will summarise by saying the journey was LONG but we finally reached our destination after about 11 hours on the road, just before 6pm. We had booked a lovely B&B about a mile from the centre of Tenby and were greeted by Darius who runs it – a simply splendid European who very quickly became my new best friend. Mum and Dad arrived shortly after us, having driven down from Edinburgh, and after a cup of tea and some yummy homemade Welsh cakes (these are a cross between a fruit scone and a pancake) we strolled down into town to meet some of the other GTC racers and their families. Tenby is a beautiful town and completely embraces the Ironman event – there were flags and support signs everywhere, and on our way to the pub we also got our first view of ‘the’ beach with the iconic zig zag steps leading down to what would be our start point on Sunday. I’ve seen this view in many videos of past Ironman Wales races, and to see it for real was quite emotional.
What also became quite clear about Tenby on our initial stroll through it was that it appeared to be the hilliest town in the UK. I’m not sure there is a single flat bit of street. We met the others for a drink (I had an actual beer!) which was a great opportunity for some of the supporters to meet each other, and for the racers to essentially swear and wonder whose idea this was. We then headed off for a very nutritious Dominos Pizza and strolled back up the big hill to our B&B (we were to get very familiar with this hill as the weekend progressed).
Saturday morning saw Paul and I get down for an early breakfast with Dad (he accepted the complimentary Bucks Fizz, Paul and I regretfully declined), before heading down to registration.
There was an air of nervous excitement around the event village where we showed our photo ID and picked up our IM rucksacks which contained all our race day bags, numbers and swim cap. We were also fitted with our race wrist bands which we needed to wear all weekend to gain access to transition/racer areas, and an orange band for all IM first-timers, with the inspiring ‘I WILL BECOME ONE’ message on it. (I still haven’t taken these off). We found our names on the athlete list and had a quick check of the massively overpriced merchandising that we knew we would be back to purchase later on.
Then it was time for the race briefing – usually these are a quick 5-10 minute chat before the start of a race. For Ironman races it’s a full hour long powerpoint presentation in a packed hall of similarly nervous- (but athletic) looking racers (almost all of whom were male). We had a full run through of the race procedures, routes and set up, as well as the rules (there were a lot of these) and some very helpful tips. It was all starting to feel a bit real and I got slightly teary again at points at the sheer enormity of it all. Interestingly we learned that of the 2200 competitors, only 12% were women (although apparently this is a huge improvement!).
Back up the hill again to the B&B to take the bikes out for one final spin – partly to get the legs moving after sitting in the car all day Friday, and partly to make sure the bikes were in full working order. Dad, Jamie and Holly came on their bikes with us, and I narrowly avoided disaster before we even left the grounds of the B&B by overbalancing while clipped into my bike and crashing down onto my left side. As we cycled out of Tenby I worried that I had seriously damaged my left elbow which would prevent me swimming and indeed cycling the next day. By the time we reached the top of the (enormous) hill out of Tenby (little did we know we would become very familiar with this hill the next day), I had calmed down and acknowledged that this was not in fact a life- or race-threatening injury. At the top of the road out of Tenby, you reach a roundabout and the road then takes you down to the village of Saundersfoot. In the race we would have to cycle up this road from Saundersfoot to Tenby twice (once at about 110km into the race, and the second time right at the end of the cycle). It is a famously tough climb and one that has worried me for the last year. Holly stayed at the top with Paul whilst me, Jamie and Dad cycled down to the bottom, so we could recce the climb before the race. As we continued the very long descent I grew rather concerned about Dad getting back up to the top and rather hoped he had stopped halfway. Dad is a great cyclist – I previously cycled to Skye with him for the Beatson Charity, as well as jointly taking part in my first Etape Caledonia with him, at which point he was much stronger on the bike than me, but these were a few years ago, and he cycles less now than he did then. As we reached the bottom I turned round to see Dad grinning at me, stating ‘that would be some climb getting back up’. Off we set back up the hill, and yes it was a steep, hard climb, but not impossible and I managed to the top fine, much to my delight. Jamie was far in front of me and to my relief, (having an MI would have put somewhat of a damper on the weekend) Dad a bit behind, but not bad for a 75-year-old! By this point, Viv and Gareth had met us with the same idea of riding the hill, so while we waited with Holly, Paul set off with them down to the bottom and back up. My delight at conquering this feat was slightly dampened when Viv informed us that this was not actually the hardest hill on the course – there was another hill just before this one that was much worse. Brilliant.
We made it back to Tenby without event and so began our rather nervous race-bag packing. I was very glad to have written all my lists which helped calm my nerves whilst doing this, and all packed, with my little sister Rosi and her twin girls Sian and Megan now arrived (they live in Cornwall but have friends in Pembrokeshire and had come to support us for the weekend while staying with them) we all set off back down the hill to set up transition. Transition is run with military precision and we racked our bikes, hung up our bike and run bags, and checked out the entry and exit routes (and location of toilets!). We were fitted with our race chips after dropping everything off.
With these jobs sorted, I actually started to feel a little better. We all made our way back to the Expo, stocked up on branded T-shirts (our names were on these – we couldn’t not), supporters T-shirts, and enormous hot dogs. We also caught up with Ian, a fellow club member and racer, with his wife Tamara who run the Big Bobble Hat business – they had organised special supporters hats for the whole GTC contingent that he gave everyone for free – it would turn out that this was one of the best moves of the weekend and meant we could spot our fabulous supporters throughout the race.
By this point Tenby was mobbed. The ‘Ironkids’ races were taking place through the town, the sun was out, and the atmosphere brilliant, with what felt like the entire population of Wales congregating in this small seaside town. We made our way down to the beach (en route a big seagull shat on my head. I was appalled but everyone assured me this was actually a sign of good luck. I wasn’t so sure but thought if it was, it might cancel out the bad omen of my earlier fall off the bike) where we were meeting the majority of our GTC group for a pre-race photo and for the first time descended the zig-zags with the hooks all in place for our pink ‘to-and-from-the-beach’ bags. Another great chance to meet the whole group as we milled around in the sunshine on the beautiful beach, not really able to comprehend what would be happening there the next morning.
Our final walk back up the hill to the B&B of the day (we walked nearly 20 000 steps on Saturday) and goodbye to Rosi and the girls, before we went to the next door hotel for what very much felt like the Last Supper. Then home for an early night.
Having gone to bed nice and early, I obviously couldn’t actually go to sleep. I think I finally dropped off just before midnight, having set my alarm for 4.15am. As if I was going to need my alarm lol. I awoke around 3.30am in a state of high anxiety. Lovely Darius was coming in at 4am to set up a buffet breakfast for all the racers but it was too early to go down so we lay in bed worrying for a while. We were first down to the dining room, where we met Darius, who not only had set up a buffet for everyone, he had also made porridge especially for me. Love that man. We forced down our food, not in the least bit hungry then went back to our room to make our final preparations. We were allowed to bring down food and drink to put on our bikes which we had access to, but couldn’t add anything to our already placed transition bags. I made up two large bottles of carbohydrate drink while Jamie, the gorgeous boy that he is, set about making us our jam sandwiches. Bike and run ‘special needs’ bags were double checked and then we set off on our now very familiar walk back into Tenby to transition.
We made final checks of our bikes and tyre pressures (in the dark – it was still only 5am) and I bumped into both Maggie and Viv here. Viv seemed quite on top of everything, while Maggie and I flapped about in a frenzy. Finally, bikes sorted, we dropped off our white ‘end of the race’ bags with the marshalls, handed in the special needs bags, and made our way to Greggs with our pink bags to meet the rest of the GTC group. Having been quite emotional for the last fortnight, I was managing to hold it together, but looked over at one point to see that Maggie was already weeping (that was essentially her for the day – never a dry eye after that). A quick group photo sorted, and we made the last walk to the coastal road. Our path was lined with throngs of spectators, the atmosphere already buzzing. We were funnelled into the zig-zags and shuffled downwards with mounting trepidation, finally reaching our peg numbers for our pink bags. I took a final gel, checked my neoprene and race caps, goggles and dutifully hung up my bag on its numbered peg. It was at this point that I realised Maggie and I were both heading down to the beach with our trainers still on – we quickly whipped them off and into the bags and followed the throng of competitors. The huge queue of over 2000 racers then self-seeded themselves according to anticipated swim time, and I bid an emotional farewell to Paul, Maggie and Viv as I waited at my 1hr 30min time zone. I found Jim at my side and we listened together to the unbelievably rousing sound of a male voice choir belting out the Welsh National Anthem, as the sun rose over the bay. Having held it together until this point, I finally crumbled and wept (sorry Jim).
The pro-racers were set of first, and then we gradually followed them along the stretch of beach, through the starting arch and into the water. The site was quite unbelievable. The water wasn’t nearly as cold as expected (we weren’t allowed a warm up paddle), very calm and completely clear. Perfect conditions. So many aspects of the swim had worried me. What would the weather conditions be like, would it be too cold, would I panic, would there be loads of jelly fish etc etc. In fact I loved the swim. I set off at a steady pace and settled in to getting into a good rhythm. Being surrounded by rather a lot of testosterone, I had to hold my own on a number of occasions as I got a few wallops from passing swimmers and sighting was a little bit tricky because the buoys were so far away (indeed on the back stretch there were all sorts of boats in the water (safety and media I think) which obscured the buoys entirely. I swallowed a bit of sea water but less than I feared, and remember clearly thinking how lovely it was (in between kicks in the face). The sun rose during our time in the water and the scenery was stunning.
The swim is two large, triangular laps, with an ‘Aussie exit’ turn in the middle which meant we needed to get out the water, run around a small section of the beach, then get back into the water for lap two. Mum, Dad, Jamie and Holly had managed to get down to the sand for this which I wasn’t expecting, and their cheers just before getting back in to start lap 2 were a huge boost. Also encouraging was that I checked my watch on exiting the water after the first lap and had managed the 1900m in 40 mins putting me on course for a 1hr 20min swim (much faster than I’d expected). The second lap was a bit easier in that we were used to the conditions and the swimmers were a bit more spread out by then. I remember having a clear thought of how lucky it was I hadn’t encountered any jelly fish, just as I swam over a huge fuck off jelly fish, about a meter below me. It gave me quite a fright but was fortunately far enough away to not do any harm. And I was thrilled to exit the water in 1hr 20min, just behind Paul (which I didn’t realise at the time – he had been sick during his second lap poor soul which cost him some time while he hung onto a canoe puking).
On exiting the water we ran back to the zig-zags, located our pink bag, rinsed feet and put back on our trainers for the run back to the transition tents. I took another gel at this point and then headed off through a wall of cheers and encouragement – it is true when they say the atmosphere of IMW is unlike any other race. It is a 1 km run to the transition tent but felt much shorter due to the support which I savoured every second of. I have made a wee movie of our day which is at the end of the blog – you can see everyone’s sheer joy in their faces at this part of the race (I think a lot of that is relief that the swim is over!).
Finally arriving in the transition tent I grabbed my bike bag and made my way over to the changing booth. There is a strict ‘no nudity’ rule for transition, and as I was changing completely I needed to change in here. I was thrilled to see Maggie, not just because it was a pleasure to see her (it was) but also because I didn’t think I’d be anywhere near her after the swim, and also because it meant I had someone to help me out of my neoprene vest (an impossible single-person manoeuvre). I searched inside my bag for my towel and couldn’t find it which was surprising. Also surprising was that I couldn’t see any of my bike gear, but then it slowly dawned on me that I had brought my run bag into the changing room with me instead of my bike bag. Idiot. I nipped, by now half naked but no one seemed to care, back out to the main tent to collect the correct bag and duly changed into my bike gear. Finding a free portaloo was a challenge (I opened a number of doors only to find angry men mid-pee telling me where to go – I did consider pointing out that there was a lock on the door that they had chosen to ignore but time was of the essence). I did finally find a free loo and had a (long) (and very welcome) pee (I must say knowing there are loos in transition takes away all the pee-anxiety I have previously discussed) before going to get my bike and head off on the cycle. With all that palaver, it had taken me nearly 20 minutes from getting out the water to getting on my bike.
Heading out through Tenby on my bike, relief still flooding through me that the swim was done, to the cheers of the roaring crowd, is again something I’ll remember forever. The bike route is essentially made up of 3 sections; the first section saw us leave Tenby and head west to the western tip of Wales to a place called Angle. We then double-backed to Lamphey, and headed north, all the way to a place called Narberth, before turning back, through Saundersfoot to Tenby, before completing this blue lap again.
The first ‘green’ section was the ‘flat’ bit of the course and was beautiful. It had clouded over a little so wasn’t too hot, but there was very little wind – again we had been so lucky with the near perfect weather conditions. Unfortunately, just as the mass of cyclists was beginning to thin out a little, we hit a sudden bottle-neck. A huge throng of stationery cyclists were gathered in between the sand dunes, where it transpired a cyclist had had a nasty fall and broken his arm/shoulder. An ambulance was in attendance but had stopped at probably the narrowest section of road in the whole 180km route, which meant no one could get past other than in a single one-by-one scramble round the side of the ambulance. I bumped into Paul here who had got off his bike to see if he needed to do anything – he didn’t, but by the time he got back to his bike a huge crowd had formed. There was no ill feeling – I think everyone was thinking the same – both hoping the racer involved was OK, and being relieved the same fate hadn’t befallen them. Paul later told me that when he went to see if he could help, the injured racer, clearly in a lot of pain, had shouted ‘don’t worry about me – get back to your race!’. Most people took the opportunity to have something to eat and drink before we were back on our way again. All in all we only had to wait about 10-15 minutes, but it’s amazing how much your legs can seize up in that time. And rather awkwardly, just as our cold legs were getting back onto the bike, we were met with a large hill which was a bit of a challenge.
The delay meant that we were all bunched up again, so had to be a wee bit careful on the narrower roads of the far west of Wales. But I very much enjoyed this part of the cycle and felt strong. I was keeping an eye on my time which was well within the cut-offs which took a good deal of pressure off. I also concentrated on my nutrition (we knew this would be a key part of the race) and was taking in a combination of cereal bars and liquid carbohydrate and electrolyte. As we entered the first ‘blue’ loop things started to get tough. Wales is one of the toughest Ironman routes in the world, due in no small part to the hilly cycle. The 180km route includes 2400m climbing, and as time went on, I felt every uphill meter. Having not managed to recce the majority of the course it was difficult to predict what was coming up. I just knew there was an especially big climb into Narberth, and the then the two huge hills just before Tenby. Every time we came to an incline, I thought ‘that must be us coming in to Narberth’ but it never was. There was an unexpected finding of Dad and Jamie though at the top of a hill (I had no idea where I was at that point) which was hugely welcome. When we finally did get to Narberth after an even bigger climb, the crowds there were magic – there was music pumping and a marvellous woman on a loud speaker cheering every one of us on.
By this point we were nearly 100km in and I had a bit of a wobble. I had been cycling for hours but had only done just over half the distance. There were two sets of nasty hills to come (and the rest) and then I still had to run a bloody marathon. It was at this point also that some of the pro-racers had started to lap us mere mortals. Bastards. A little while later Sean, our club president, cycled past me too. He is a strong cyclist and I thought he was lapping me too which didn’t really lift my spirits, but he informed me that no, he had had a puncture and so had been held up and was now working his way back through the field. We had a lovely chat before he scooted off into the distance and my spirits were restored. By now I knew I couldn’t be far from the ‘worst hill on the course’ that Viv had spoken of. The only thing she said about it was it went through the trees, so for a number of miles every time I encountered anything resembling a wood I had a moment of heightened anxiety. And then a descent took us into a place called Wiseman’s Bridge. And there was the road leading out through the trees and yes, a truly hideous climb. Digging deep, and knowing that if I stopped there would be no way to restart on the steep hill, I made it to the top without falling off, only to immediately descend down again into Saundersfoot, knowing I was about to face the next hill. At the bottom of the hill were Jim’s marvellous family – Beth (wife), friend, ace supporter and top person altogether with twins Ella and Euan. They had signs out on the balcony and screamed encouragement as we passed. That was me gone again. And then we hit another wall of sound as we ascended the infamous Saundersfoot hill. I’ve seen videos of this online but nothing can prepare you for the sheer enormity of the crowds and encouragement you get going up here. It is like the Tour de France, only much drunker, and with most people shouting in broad Welsh accents. Never was I more pleased with my choice of attire for the cycle as I was going up that hill. With deafening cries of ‘GO ON GLASGOW!’ I made it up the climb which interestingly was twice as long as it had been the day before (at one point I actually wondered if it was the same hill). Just as I neared the top, there was my fabulous family, all decked out in their Big Bobble Hats (these by the way were a huge success) and Beatson T-shirts, shouting me on too and that finished me off. Probably one of the highlights of my life, let alone the race. I wept all the way back to Tenby.
After that enormous high, there were two less marvellous things that happened. The first was noting on the long descent back in to Tenby that the speedy pros who were now on the run were running up the very long hill I was currently descending. That didn’t bode well for later. The other was that I then had to head back out onto the second blue lap of the cycle. Suffice to say this was a huge, long, at times soul-destroying slog. I worried the whole way about the two hills at the end, started to struggle a little with nutrition (it was getting harder to take in solids and I’d missed my special needs bag with the huge home made flapjack that I’d bought the day before, in my euphoria of getting up the hill), worried that I was having niggles of cramp in my calves, worried about the forthcoming marathon and generally just worried about how bloody tired I was. But there was now a real growing camaraderie amongst the other racers. There really was a feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’. I started encountering a number of familiar riders as we switched places back and forward. I had a few lovely chats with some of them and you realised that everyone was hurting, but dammit we were going to do this. The hill up to Narberth was much longer the second time (in fairness all of the hills were longer the second time round and I’m sure there were some new ones) and although the crowds had lessened a bit, the lovely lady with the music and the microphone was still there shouting encouragement – she deserves a medal too. In fact all the supporters deserve a medal for the shift they put in, but more of that later.
As I got closer to the double hills of Wiseman’s Bridge and Saundersfoot, I scrabbled around in my bike bag for something to eat to help me get up them. I’d finished my jam sandwiches (they were great), cereal bars and gels, but to my utter delight I found a whole Snickers bar that I’d forgotten I’d packed. Never has a surprise Snickers been so welcome! The second ascent up the hill at Wiseman’s Bridge was absolutely brutal. I passed loads of cyclists who had stopped to push their bikes up, but again I was determined not to do this as it would delay me by ages. Rather ominously we had to let an ambulance past half way up, but I made it to the top alongside another female who I’d seen on and off throughout the cycle, and shouted to her ‘WE’VE GOT THIS NOW!!’ as we both struggled for breath. The relief was overwhelming, but short-lived as we immediately descended back into Saundersfoot, ready for our next, and last climb. The crowds had thinned somewhat, but those that remained were drunker and therefore louder and again they got us back up that hill.
The final descent into Tenby was just a rush of relief, exhaustion and trepidation for the marathon to come. This time I made out a number of familiar faces already on the run course (including Paul). At the bottom of the hill we took the turn for transition and found ourselves on a last wee unexpected steep climb to get to there. I would have wept, but there was my gorgeous family shouting me on, as well as some of the other GTC supporters. I was delighted to have finished the cycle in almost exactly 8 hours (I thought it would take nearer 9).
The home straight through Tenby was a cacophony of shouts of encouragement, and then there was transition, with a welcome, albeit very short, sit down and change into run gear. I had put a jam sandwich in my run gear bag, but only managed one bite. I realised I probably now wasn’t going to manage to take in anything else solid as I had been warned. I also took an Imodium (I had been warned about runners’ belly on many occasions, and had suffered this after one particularly long brick training session so had practised with Imodium already) and a couple of paracetamol. This transition was somewhat slicker than transition 1 and I was out again in about 7 minutes.
Back out from transition and a short run through Tenby and the cheering crowds before heading to the Hill of Doom. I’d obviously looked at the route and elevation of the run course before heading down, but as alluded to earlier, I really had no concept of the enormity of the hill that we needed to run up (four times).
As we left Tenby we rounded a bend and headed upwards. And upwards. And upwards. The hill went on for nearly two miles I think, much of it quite steep. Lots of people had given me advice about the run all of which I had taken on board, but it’s difficult to know how you will respond to the situation until you are in it. I had some goals for the run, but I was also aware that this would be where I would start bargaining with myself. I knew if I got back from the cycle within the cut off time (this was a real concern for me all year) then I should finish the race – I was quite prepared to crawl round the run course if necessary to do this. Before we went to Wales, we had Crawford and Emma round for tea – they both said that we should aim to run the whole way, because no matter how slowly you run, it is faster than walking. I had taken this on board, whilst actually thinking ‘there is no way I will be able to run the whole way’. As I set off on my first lap, I made a deal that I would run the whole of the first lap and then if I needed to start walk/running that would be OK. I also thought if I could do the first half marathon in 3 hours, I would have four hours to do the second half, and still make it back before the sweeper bus.
So off I ran. I ran up the hill without stopping and then turned at the big Red Bull arch at the top. It helped that by now there were a lot of other GTC racers out on the run course and so we could give each other shouts of encouragement on many of the out and back sections. We only had a short descent before we turned a sharp bend back uphill to New Hedges – this was a great spot for spectators, one group of which had a drum set and tunes going for hours. And at the far point of this out and back section were the band-hander-outers. Oh but I loved these guys. As it was a four lap run, we got a marker wrist band for each lap we ran. Just as you wanted to give up after all that uphill running, you got your band as a prize which spurred you on (that and the fact there was a big downhill section coming). The band thing was interesting – you found yourself checking out everyone you passed to see how many bands they were wearing. I had heard of the concept of ‘band envy’ which I discovered to be completely true!
The downhill section was lovely and took you back into Tenby. There followed a mix of emotions. It felt as if you had completed a lap, but actually there was a windy, through-the-streets route to follow back in the town which was all up and down hill and seemed to last for miles. You also had to run past the turnoff for the finish line which was hard. But. The atmosphere and support cheering you on through Tenby was like nothing I have ever experienced before. There were thousands of supporters out in force every inch of the way, who again got progressively drunker and louder with each lap, but in a marvellous ‘we’re in this with you’ sort of way. I had ironed on big HILARY letters on the front and back of my T-shirt and everyone just hollered my name as I passed. There were many corners of music, singing and dancing, with which I often joined in, to even more cheers. And then just as I thought I couldn’t possibly manage another street, there was my ever present wonderful family shouting even louder for me, giving me hugs, kisses and high fives, and telling me how awesome I was and that they were proud of me. I will love them forever for this.
And then before you knew it, you were leaving Tenby again and heading back up that bloody hill. I ran my first lap probably too fast in just over an hour. I knew I was running too fast but figured I was going to be so slow later it would be good to get some miles under my belt. And actually it felt surprisingly comfortable. I think the adrenaline, relief of being off the bike, atmosphere and crowd can’t help but push you. However, when I passed Maggie towards the end of lap one I was sure I was definitely going to have to slow down. She was running a good steady pace and sticking to it. As I ran a little ahead, I told her I would probably see her again very soon. And I did.
I slowed down as I started the second lap, but carried on bargaining with myself, and decided that I would try and run up the hill the second time, and then let myself walk the third and fourth lap hills. Again, and to my surprise, I kept it going to the top. It was starting to get dark now and I knew I was going to have to stop to go to the toilet which I did just after picking up my second band (there were multiple portaloos dotted along the course, and contrary to Viv’s experience last year, they were well stocked with toilet paper. Hoorah!). After possibly the longest pee in history, I headed back out and by this time (and also due to me slowing down) Maggie had passed me, but this was a good incentive for me – I tried to keep her in my sights for the rest of the race. It was also lovely because we kept passing each other at every turn point and shouting words of encouragement to each other.
I had thought the third lap would be the toughest, but in fact it was this second lap that caused the biggest wobble. I was just exhausted now, struggling to take in anything remotely solid, but aware I wasn’t even half way through the run. I was a bit weepy by the time I reached my family, but got some more love from them, managed to force down a gel and headed out for lap three. And then something seemed to click into place. I was half way through the run. I had completed the first half marathon in 2hrs 22mins which was massively faster than I thought I would. And I only had a half marathon between being ordinary me, and being Ironman me – something I had spent the last year thinking wouldn’t be possible. With the ‘just keep running no matter how slowly’ mantra on repeat in my head, I ran up the hill for the third time, by now passing loads of people still out on the course who were mostly walking up the hill. It was here especially that I fully appreciated just how good my training plan had been over the last year.
By my fourth lap, I was keeping a steady pace and the hill was in almost total darkness, but still there were supporters cheering you up. And somehow I just kept running. The end was near and I also knew if I stopped to walk now I’d never start again. Dad had also run up to cheer me on the way past up and down the hill which was lovely, and when I got to New Hedges to receive my fourth and final band I told the man I loved him. Then it was down, down, down to the finish. I caught up with Tom, one of the GTC team on his third lap and we had a wee chat while I forced him to run. We had a laugh about the fact we are both supposed to be doing the Lochgilphead triathlon in two weeks time and then he let me run on.
The final twisty, turny route through Tenby was just incredible and I struggled not to cry for most of it. And then finally, which I thought would never come, I got to turn left instead of right and take the turn for the finish line, down the red carpet with waves of emotion rushing over me, through a sea of support willing me to the end. I’m not sure I’ll ever experience anything quite like this ever again. And then there were the words, as I crossed the line, ‘HILARY GLEN – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!’. (Gosh am weeping again at the memory). I had finished the marathon in under 5 hours, and the whole race in 14 hours 44 minutes. About two hours faster than I had hoped (assuming I had even finished at all).
I got my medal and headed straight to the tent where Paul, Maggie and Viv were waiting for me and we had the most marvellous group hug. Also there were Jim and David – all of us had finished between 14-15 hours (except Viv who absolutely smashed it with a time of 13hrs 46 mins). We sat for a minute but then headed out to celebrate with our families before picking up our 400 bags still sitting in transition.
Our final walk home was a slow, but elated one. Rosi finally went ahead to get the car to take me the final wee bit otherwise we might never have made it back. After fond farewells I made it into bed. There followed about two hours of dizzy shakes and sweats (our bodies don’t really like these things) and numerous trips to pee (I think my kidneys had a bit of a fright during the day). I finally started to normalise a little bit but found myself unable to sleep. Only then did I manage to read through all the messages on my phone – texts, posts, emails, donations – the number was incredible. Also incredible was the amount of people who had clearly been following us all day on the tracker (it sounded quite exciting). The outpouring of love and support was humbling and welcome, and I have more than doubled my fundraising target which is brilliant.
A wee final word on all the support we have received. I won’t harp on too much (I don’t know if any of you have even made it this far – I did warn you it would be a long one). Over the last year we have neglected almost everyone and everything in pursuit of this goal. Our friends and family, and indeed work colleagues, have tolerated this with patience and humour and made it possible. Jamie and Holly have been sorely neglected and we have promised to make it up to them (they’ll be sick of us in a fortnight). Jamie has taken on the lion’s share of cooking dinner over the last year and also accompanied me on many of my training cycles. Their support in Wales was amazing and it wouldn’t have been the same if we hadn’t had them there.
My older sister Catriona (herself and endurance runner) has been massively positive the whole year, believed in me, supported me, gone on runs with me and also gave me my personalised handlebar/bike stem topper (I still don’t know what all the bits of the bike are called) to spur me on during the race (it did!). My wee sister Rosi came up for the weekend with her girls and supported us unbelievably all through the race – Rosi you can’t underestimate how much that meant – thank you gorgeous lady. Mum and Dad were amazing – making the epic journey down, and supporting us from beginning to end, as they have done also with many of the other events through the year. Dad cycles here, there and everywhere throughout the race so he can pop up at what feels like every corner to offer a cheer or hug. At one point a few weeks ago, mum was through in Glasgow and just popped into our house to leave some home made spaghetti bolognese because we’ve had little time to cook, and while she was at it, emptied and refilled the dishwasher, such was the state of our house which has also been sorely neglected this past year.
Our friends have put up with our endless talk about the Ironman (we have had nothing else to talk about), and the fact that we’ve barely gone out (and not drunk!) for the last year, and often taken on completely the role of getting our children to their various activities (Mike and Michelle especially in this respect). Michelle often intermittently turned up with some home baking or dinner to make sure we weren’t fading away (or more accurately to make sure our children weren’t). We received many cards/flowers/messages of support before we left which were hugely appreciated. We are so grateful to you all and hope you are still our friends after all this.
I spoke in my last blog about our fabulous coaches – again huge thanks to them for their patience, perseverance and belief. And our amazing IMW training buddies – we literally couldn’t have done it without you, and it was my absolute pleasure and privilege to have shared this experience with you all. You are all awesome.
The Welsh are my new best friends. All of them frankly. I am quite sure the entire population of Wales had turned up to Tenby, either racing (there were hundreds of Gareths, Davids, Lloyds and Gethins on the course) or supporting. I love each and every one of them.
Finally I need to thank Paul. He has put up with me for the last year, trained with me (albeit sometimes a little reluctantly), supported me, not interfered with my over-spending on gear I probably didn’t need, and survived my two week taper-temper, all the while training for his own race. And he also smashed it. Thank you for everything Paul.
And so there we are. If you’ve made it this far I think you deserve a medal too. I made a movie of our experience in Wales which you can watch by clicking on the link below. It contains pictures of the whole team and I think sums up how much this has meant to each and every one of us. Thank you for following this journey – it has been lovely having you along with me for it. And as mentioned in my last post, I’m just off now to speak to the Queen about Crawford’s Knighthood……….