Warning: this blog contains my standard swears and chat about poop and sharting. It is also 8 years long. So as to do justice to 16hrs21mins of race time. Continue reading at your peril…
The build up
I’m pretty sure that the week before your first iron distance should be spent resting and tapering to prepare for the big day upon a bed of soft things, wrapped in cotton wool, in a safe and hermetically sealed environment.
It probably shouldn’t be spent nervously refreshing tracking info on the emergency Garmin you’ve had to order from Wiggle because your extremely expensive, flashy, all bells and whistles Fenix 5s has DIED.
OH YEAH, GUYS.
DEAD. DIED. DEED. RIP. FML.
I’d gone for a taper swim on Tuesday and noticed that the watch wasn’t syncing or recording HR. It stubbornly refused to restart but once it did it seemed ok. UNTIL IT TURNED OFF.
Then it would only power up under charge. 100% not impressed. 4 days before Lakesman. NOT IDEAL.
I hit return on wiggle and promptly ordered a 735xt which, ironically, had been my second choice to the Fenix.
It turned up in the nick of time and I’m happy to report that so far it works apart from a brief glitch the evening before the race. (Don’t even go there)
What I probably also could have done without, was a vague text message from Beardy requesting immediate assistance after a MTB-off in Whinlatter forest had bent his handlebars and scraped his knee. THIS WAS NOT A TIME FOR VAGUENESS. The panic was a little much for my heart rate but the run across Keswick carrying all my registration kit was a nice warm up for the main event… (Beardy is fine. If a little bruised and scraped. The bike is also fine)
The Saturday – Greig vs. Triathlon X
We had rented a cottage with our good friends for the weekend. Katherine and I worked together at the shop, and her lovely hubby was tackling the absolutely monstrous Tri X the same weekend. It made perfect sense to base ourselves in Ambleside. Mostly because Greig’s swim start was 4.30am. Yup. You read that right…
They were up and out in the middle of the night, so we had a lazy morning before I headed to Keswick to rack and attend the briefing.
Tracking Greig was virtually impossible thanks to very shoddy signal for the timing guys on the fells. The weather was bad even for the Lake District, with driving rain and unforgiving wind.
Climbing ANY hill in that weather would have been horrific. But Kirkstone, Aira Force, Honiston, Whinlatter, Hardknot, Wrynose, Coniston in that weather? Then a run up Scarfell Pike and back?
Fuck that noise.
But Greig has been chasing this for two years. And having had his training derailed by a horrid injury in 2017, he managed to smash Triathlon X in 14:51.23 placing 13th Overall. Absolutely astonishing and watching him try to walk up and down the stairs in our cottage afterwards was both hilarious and a worrying indicator of how I’d be spending the next few days…
My alarm was set for 0305. Boke. I woke up at 0248 and couldn’t lie in bed for another minute. I got up and made porridge and toast. Dry heaving as I forced myself to eat the only actual meal I’d have that day.
Beardy surprised me at his level of enthusiasm so early in the morning. He was up and dressed and ready to go ahead of schedule. We navigated our way to the car and set off for Keswick.
I was struggling to keep myself from throwing up. I sipped water carefully and only had to stop the car once for an emergency pee (no mean feat in a tri suit)
I was met at T1 by Eilidh, one of my colleagues from Endura, who had travelled down to document my day (amazing) as I debuted my custom tri suit. My mum and dad soon appeared and I had my first cry of the day!
I found Brian and Kate off of facebook/twitter and we shared laughs and hugs. And then it was time to walk down to the swim. Shit. I was actually going to have to do this.
An excited buzz surrounded the crowd of neoprene clad athletes as we filed down to the edge of Derwentwater. The view was breathtaking. I felt ready, scared, excited and not as overwhelmed as I expected.
I had prepared for this moment. I wasn’t emotional as I had expected to be. But extremely calm. It was time to do three things.
I waded in to the warm, slightly choppy water of the lake into a deep swathe of weeds. Like…. hip deep. Gross. Splashed my face and dipped in to get myself ready to go. On the advice of my swimming buddies, I positioned myself toward the front and out wide to the left. We treaded water for about 4 minutes and then the horn was blown. I got my head down and got stuck in. The water temp was perfect and it was so clear! They had laid out 25 buoys for us which was very generous. I had a bit of a Dougal: Small/Far Away situation because the buoys looked like they were small and close. But actually they were very very large indeed. Just far away. Really fecking far away.
I swam straight for about 10 minutes before edging over towards the buoy. (140.6 miles is quite far enough without adding distance, thanks.) I managed to hug the buoys without drama for the full course. Up towards the island, the wind was whipping up some small waves, not big enough to cause problems but big enough to give me a nice lungful of water as I lifted my head to sight. Across the island, there was shelter and then all the way back there was a nice tail wind to give me a push. My splits flashing up every 500m looked good but I really felt like I was struggling to keep a solid pace. I tried not to get too worried and just keep swimming. Eventually I realised that the finish was only about 500m away. I started upping the pace and was promptly kicked in the face by a swimmer who just appeared in front of me. Punch-drunk, I pulled myself onto the exit matt, put my right foot down and felt cramp take hold of my calf.
I was trying to remove goggles, cap and earplugs and run and take off my wetsuit and listen to instructions and felt extremely overwhelmed. Stopped and saved the activity on my 735XT (didn’t even look at the time cause it felt terrible) and then someone shouted “YOU’RE THIRD LADY!”
Wait. WHAT? I wanted to stop and check but I needed to RUUUUUN the 8 miles to T1. Then someone else shouted “YOU’RE SECOND” and then Beardy confirmed this as I ran passed.
WHAAAAT? Shit. That’s serious stuff. I wondered how close I got to my goal time of 1:10.
My friend’s words of advice rung in my ears as I trotted into transition stuck firmly in my suit. “Don’t waste any time.”
I didn’t. An amazing volunteer effortlessly removed my wetsuit while I shoved my helmet on, dried my face and feet, applied chamois cream, threw bike shorts on over my tri suit, and put my gloves on. The same volunteer then helped me put my socks and shoes on my claw-feet. She was my hero. I thanked her and trotted out to T1. I was the first biker into my section!!!!!
I wobbled to the mount line and the girls clapped shouting ” YOU ARE FIRST LADY ”
Oh. My. God.
That is the first and last time that will ever happen in a race. I breezed out of T1 and onto the bike.
Transition 1: 6 mins.
I was pretty much immediately NOT first lady. Or second or even third. But I’ve always been an barely-above-average cyclist and a decent swimmer. The plan was always to just get through the bike. It was the bit that frightened me the most. The possibilities of what could go wrong are pretty limitless. I felt intimidated and not at all confident.
My concerns about retaining my initial crown were almost instantly replaced when I tried to change gear.
Clickclickclickclick brrrrrrrrr ping.
What. The. Fuck.
I’d taken my bike apart to bring it to the race and when I’d put the back wheel back on, I’d run it through the gears but hadn’t made time to ride it and run through the gears under load. It was immediately obvious that the cable tension was off. I adjusted it on the move but no improvement.
This was going to be an issue.
Not to worry. Just find a gear that’s comfortable and quiet and preserve that fucking chain! JUST GET THROUGH THE BIKE.
The roads out to Cockermouth (fnar) were smooth and gently undulating. I was passed by almost everyone. (That’s how it felt) I shouted encouragement at everyone who passed. Unless they were drafting (there was a fair bit of that!)
From Cockermouth we made our way down windy, winding roads to Egremont where we had a short out and back before turning up the coast with the wind behind us. My pace shot from 23kph average to 31 and I was making good time. By Workington and Maryport I was bang on track for a 7hr bike split. I was living my best life. Feeling good, nailing nutrition and in a gear that felt workable and safe for the bike.
There were some long drags up dual carriageways which were arduous and pretty scary, with the apalling driving of some motorists. I was bursting for a pee and had tried several times to pee while cycling but for some reason my brain won’t communicate with my bladder and I cannot do it! I stopped at an aid station, picked up a banana and a fresh bottle of PowerBar isoactive. I didn’t waste any time and quickly made it back onto the road. Still on target. Still ok. Just get through the bike.
I wish I’d made the most of the tail wind. Because life was about to get tough.
At Silloth, an odd wee town on the coast that I could see Scotland from across the Solway Firth (“ha!” I thought, “I’ve basically cycled home”) you turn back and head in a loop to Aspatria before heading back to Silloth. The headwind was constant and unforgiving. With nasty gusts from in front and the side. The terrain had evolved from flat coastal roads to lumpy countryside with some sharp wee kickers. Of course, I couldn’t spin my legs in the granny ring up these because Stella wouldn’t let me select that gear. Instead I had to stomp the pedals. This approach is faster over a shorter distance, in theory, but it saps the legs. I was soon having to take on more fuel to avoid bonking. This would cause problems later…
Around about now I heard the words “ALRIGHT MY LITTLE PASTYYYYYYYY” from behind. KATE!!!! Man was I pleased to see her. She breezed past looking strong as hell. “I HAD AN ABSOLUTE SHITTER OF A SWIM, MATE” she shouted as I dropped back and she moved forwards out of the drafting zone. “ME FUCKIN GOGGLES SNAPPED IN THE SWIM”. I shouted encouragement after her and watched her pedal off into the hills.
It was on this first loop that I executed the perfect bottle swap. Chucked my empty bottle directly into their bin from the bike, shouted “WATER AND A BANANA PLEASE” at the amazing volunteers who duly held these out to me, grabbed a bottle, put it in my teeth, grabbed a banana and shoved it in my pocket, switched my rear bottle to the front cage and put the water bottle in my rear cage, then peeled the banana WITH MY TEETH like and actual PRO and all without losing what little speed I had. That, right there, is winning.
Once the top of the lap is completed, you do 16 miles of it AGAIN before turning towards Cockermouth from Aspatria.
This section took for-fucking-ever.
After about 20 minutes I heard “THERE SHE IS. GINNIE BABE. KEEP GOING YOU’RE DOING AMAZING” and it was Kate again! “Nice work babe. are you on your second lap now?” “NAH MATE. TOOK A WRONG FUCKING TURN LIKE A TWAT. WENT AN EXTRA TWO MILES. FUCK SAKE”
This was the first time I’d laughed all day. It felt good to laugh. Off she went again. Pedalling like the machine that she is. (She did GUCR – all 152 miles of it like 3 weeks ago. And then won an iron distance tri the following weekend. Just in case you weren’t sure how badass she is…)
After another half hour, my good mood had subsided. I had spent the whole day being over-taken and felt like I was dead last. This is when the first Dark Place happened. There was a 3km climb, it was doable in the gear I was in but my quads were in tatters and my calf was beginning to noise itself up after the swim cramp.
I cried. I cried on a very quiet road because no one had passed for a decade and I was certain I’d missed a turning, was last, and was going to miss cut off. My pace had slowed to about 18kph which is really dire. All of a sudden, a man called Carl (I saw his bib) cycled past. “Why are the hills and wind at the end?!” I sobbed. “It’s just life, innit” he said.
Shit. That cut me deep. So simple. Yet so true.
Iron-distance races are designed to weed out the weak and ill-prepared. Maybe I didn’t get as many long rides as I’d have liked. But over the last few years I’ve developed mental fortitude. I’ve had meltdowns on long rides, but I’ve pulled through that to finish every single one. And as Carl so wisely observed, sometimes things get lumpy. You just have to knuckle down and get on with it. Just. Get. Through. The. Bike.
So I did. Save a brief moment at the 150km aid station. I’d literally been falling asleep on bike and the perplexed marshals held my bike while I sat on the kerb with my head in my hands for “just a couple of minutes please”.
Some tough love from the amazing marshals, a few more bits of nutrition collected and half a bottle of powerbar downed and off I went. Into the rain and wind.
“It’s only 15 miles back to Keswick” were the team’s parting words.
I may as well have had another 112 in front of me. Those 15 miles lasted FOREVER.
Eventually, I rolled into Keswick, passed the end of one of the out and back sections to see hundreds of runners on the marathon. Sigh. I had a lot of work still to do.
My earlier smiles had been replaced with a persistent grimace as my body was in absolute bits. My knees were killing me, my feet were numb and my neck was stiff from being so tense. I was so thoroughly fed up and knew that my goal time was now long gone. This was going to require every ounce of grit in my body.
I’d limped a very dodgy mech round 112 miles within a cut off. I’d made it. I’d made it on to the run. I knew now that I would finish. By hell or high water.
Bike: 86 years.
T2 – 6 minutes (including meltdown and pee break. THANK YOU to the incredible volunteer for her “tough love” which told me to harden the fuck up and get the fuck on with it. LOVED her.)
Highway to Hell. The Home straight x 20
5 Laps of an 8km course. Sounds totally ok, right?
Well let me be perfectly honest with you. I love everything about Lakesman. The organisers, volunteers, athletes, locals, location. I did NOT love the run route.
I mean, it was great for my support team who positioned themselves at various spots to see me. This helped immeasurably. But starting lap 1 when there were people on laps 3, 4 and 5 was absolutely shite. And turned a seemingly easy and flat course into much more of a test of mental strength and tenacity. There were ample opportunity to miss chunks of out and backs, especially as it became more and more quiet. But I walked and jogged every single meter of the assigned course. And it was brutal.
You start through Hope Park and then out through the woods into the back of the town centre. Then you run along the main road out to a wee path that takes you through fields. Small out and back here before your first aid station. From here you hit the Highway to Hell. a mile(ish) long section of road that you traverse FOUR times per lap. Yup. That’s 20 times in total. After the first up and down, you have two teeny out and back bits with another aid station. Then you’re back to HtH for another two traverses. After which you head back into town, winding your way for about 3km before you’re back at Theatre on the Lake, PASSED THE FINISH LINE (this is SO tough) and back out to the next loop.
Lap 1 passed fairly quickly. I exited T2, entered the park to rapturous applause from the huge crowd and my friends and family and then I see her. SARAH ACTUAL TUCKER!!! “Surprise” she shouts! So I cried. Again. And then I mustered the courage to head off. I spent the lap congratulating my fellow athletes on a hard days graft. I was reassured to hear other grumbles about the bike being such a chore. Not just me, then.
Lap 2 got a bit shit. I still had miles to go. And by this time, my stomach had made me very aware that it did NOT approve of 8 hours on a bike. My legs felt ridiculously good. But every time I tried to jog, I was becoming terrifyingly close to a Code Brown situation. The danger was real. PLEASE not in my custom tri-suit, guts. PLEASE.
There is a saying: “Never trust a fart in an ironman”.
I had the fear.
My guts were heavily protesting and I knew I needed to settle my tummy or the remaining 3 laps would be extremely challenging. I was being chased by cut off.
I knew what was coming. I knew I would need to use a portaloo on an ironman run. I have read things, terrible things, about this. I was more afraid of this than following through in my suit. But I was really, truly going to have to do this because no one wants to be that guy on the red carpet that’s shit themselves.
In a futile attempt to silence the extraordinary tummy cramps, at aid stations I picked up cups of water and coke and sucked ready salted crisps until they dissolved on my tongue. By the end of Lap 2, I was able to hold a jog for a couple of minutes before I experienced any, ahem, rumbling.
I’d noticed a portaloo with the door open on one of the out and backs. “It’s either so awful the door has to be left open, or it won’t be that bad because the door is open….” I thought to myself.
And I was EXTREMELY relieved to discover it was not as bad as expected. Tales of shit up walls and vomit everywhere had me shook. But this was fine!! THERE WAS EVEN TOILET ROLL. This was fucking luxury.
After what can only be described as an “uncomfortable” few minutes, I had to go through the ordeal of getting my tri suit back on my arms. It is the comfiest piece of kit I’ve ever owned, but at this stage my skin had a thin layer of sticky salt and sweat. I must have punched myself in the face 8 times trying to get back into it.
I’d survived. Dignity relatively intact.
By now, the field had thinned substantially. Stoic chit chat between athletes and the “chapeau, sir!” banter had been replaced by 1000 yard stares and unapologetic farting. This was the bit I’d been warned about. When it gets really tough and you can do nothing but dig in and just keep moving forwards. All the advice I’d been given, all the hours of boring turbo trainer rides, howling headwinds, bitter cold morning runs and long, early swims culminated in this last few laps of my first ironman distance.
“Just. Keep. Moving. Forwards. Bean. ”
I have never been a fast runner or a particularly good cyclist. I am well used to back of the pack. But after an 8:22 bike split and pushing on for a 6:30hr marathon, I was at rock fucking bottom and I felt utterly defeated. I thought about all the support from my family, friends and colleagues. My work had given me an incredible suit and I felt like I’d let everyone down. I admittedly gave thought to the haters. The ones who would only track me to watch me suffer and debate how soon I’d tap out.
Well fuck that. I’d come this far. I was finishing this. In Hero’s Hour. So maybe it wasn’t the 14 hours I’d wanted. 16+ hours of relentless forward progress is miles more than they are capable of. If anyone thinks for one mere second that I am not going to finish something I set out to do, then sorry, that’s not my style.
As I trudged passed the Crow Park Hotel for the 3rd time, I was greeted by Brian Drought. He’d had an unfortunate swim experience and had to withdraw. He asked how I was. I was quite honest. Something like “shite mate this sucks”. And he offered to chum me on my last two laps which were now going to be in the dark. Alone.
At the start of my 4th Lap, he joined me in his running kit with a spare waterproof for me. The weather had closed in by this time and my body temperature was becoming worryingly low.
He distracted me with chatter and held my cups while I tried to jog (it was definitely faster to walk by now). And we quick marched and tried to keep my pace up.
Beardy had stayed put at the highway to hell and had been clapping and cheering every runner through their final laps. He really seemed to enjoy giving people much needed encouragement in their final hours of The Longest Day. He saw a lot of suffering that day!
Lap 4 passed in a haze of trying not to shit myself and trying to keep up with Brian. Marshals asking if I was on my last lap made me want to cry but by now I knew I was capable of finishing within the final cut off. I had gone into this with no expectations, other than finishing. But it was still a weird feeling to be chasing the 2130 last lap cut off. Following advice, I had wasted as little time as I could. Stopping only when things got really desperate. But I felt panicked and worried. I didn’t want to let everyone down and I really REALLY had to finish this.
As we hobbled through the park to start the final lap, the support was amazing. I got my fifth and final band and we muddled through. I thanked, high fived and hugged every marshal and volunteer that I could. What a long day they’d had.
It’s hard to describe where your head goes at this point in a race. I had been moving for 15 hours. I was SO close to finishing. Yet the looped out and backs were absolute hell on earth. I mean, i knew this would be tough. But this was tough.
One things for sure: I am tougher.
We marched back into town. And I finally let myself think about finishing. After a year of hard work. 3 years of daydreaming of this moment. 6 Months of intense training. A new job. Injury. Stress. 4am starts. Zero social life. Sacrifice. Commitment. And not just from me but from my family and my friends and partner. I had to get there. I had to get there within cut off.
My entire day was spent adjusting my expectations. The goal was now: get to the end. Don’t be shit. And don’t shit.
Brian and I plotted the finish. He’d run through the short cuts to the finish and wait for me. I’d finish the lap solo. With a mile or so to go, he made his way to the finish line. And I hobbled in the dark towards the last aid station. As I was walking up the hill I heard “she’s coming!” “We’ve got another finisher” “come on girl!!!” “Well done Ginnie!!” Hugs, high fives and appreciation administered, I worked up the courage to run my last 200m.
When I met Lucy Charles, and asked her what to expect of my first race, along with some really solid advice on being prepared and soaking it all up, she said “You will only finish your first ironman once.”
With those words ringing in my ears, I ran down the hill towards the finish, the lights of the gantry now flickering through the trees. Loud music, cheering, my mum screaming encouragement, and I finally, after 16 hours and 21 minutes of relentless forward progress, got to turn left and cross the last timing matt and soak up the red carpet. I milked it as much as I could. High fiving and laughing and crying. They held the ribbon over the line for me and I crossed it to the words of “Congratulations, Lakesman”
I had done it. It was done. I laugh-cried as I was photographed by Eilidh and her boyfriend and handed a t shirt and medal. I cheered over the next finisher and then went to find my family and friends who had also had the longest day.
The next few hours are sort of a blur. I was absolutely exhausted but totally buzzing. My head had gone from the lowest low point to the highest high. I couldn’t process anything. The incredible support coming through from friends and family who’d had a worrying day tracking me as I slowly flung myself around the Cumbrian countryside was overwhelming.
I’d been warned that I wouldn’t sleep. However, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out cold.
I awoke at 5am. Sore and starving. It was time to bum shuffle up two flights of stairs to the kitchen, where I sat eating cocktail sausages and toast until Katherine and Greig joined me.
I’d earned my iron crown. And now it was time to bask in the sense of achievement. Compounded by the fact that I battled HARD to finish in time. And I truly earned my bling.
“Run”: 6hrs 35mins – my slowest EVER marathon
140.6 miles: 16:21.13 – got my moneys worth!
What a superb event, with an amazing, friendly and supportive team of directors and volunteers. Marie and Paul were there at the start and finish high fiving and meeting everyone.
The setting is beautiful. The swim is stunning. The bike is challenging in it’s own special way. The run is mentally punishing but the support on the way round was unbeatable.
I can’t think of anywhere I would have preferred to earn my iron status.
Lets not forget that I did this for charity. And so far, thanks to my incredibly supportive friends, family and colleagues, my total is sitting at £1600. That is going to help Lymfund in SO many ways.
At this point, I have some very important people to thank:
My mum, dad and sister. For their endless support and love. Lissie made dad facetime her to see my finish live. She cried more than me for the first time EVER. Mum and Dad were up from 4am and stayed on the course cheering everyone all day.
My other family: the Belchamber girls for being an amazing Cheer Squad.
Beardy, who kept me as calm as possible (give or take a few fraught moments……..) and who, over the last year, has helped me balance training and life. Often setting aside his own goals to help me achieve mine.
The Spences for your constant support and help for both me and Beardy.
My friends, who literally haven’t seen me for a year. And if they have seen me, they’ve patiently understood my need for a 9pm bed time.
To Tucker and Daniel who drove all the way down to see me on to the run and over the finish line. Thank you for being the absolute best and for bringing BONBONBONBONS.
IronBuddy. For literally everything. Your advice, patience and help. And your book recommendations. You kept me inspired and motivated. And thoroughly grounded when required.
My Endura family: for the incredible support and enthusiasm for this challenge. For my suit, for introducing me to Lucy Charles and giving me the best kit a girl could ask for.
Brian Drought. Thank you from the bottom of my blistered feet for marching around those two laps with me. Your chat kept me suitably distracted from the pain and you kept me smiling when I just wanted to cry. Your family are amazing and I’m so glad we all finally got to meet!
I did it. I am IronBean.