A NOVICE'S ROAD TO IRONMAN By Richard Sidney
Back in 2017 Ian convinced me to join him in completing the Ullswater Standard Tri. I was the breaststroker at the back of the field who let everybody go first before I set off. Unable to swim more than 1 length of front crawl this was my only option. It wouldn't be fair to say I had no open water swimming experience prior to this as the night before we'd had a ten minute dip..... The bike was the bike and the run was the run but 1500 metres in Open water was a big achievement.
Fast forward 12 months and my swimming had improved 100%. I could now swim 2 lengths......
During the summer of 2018 we discussed doing Ironman Barcelona in 2019 and with the thoughts of accomplishment of completing the Ullswater swim in my mind we shook on it. It was deal, in for a penny in for a pound. Why not. What could possibly go wrong.
So this is the bit where I get really lucky. In October 2018 Ian hooked me up with Tricademy and in particular Natalie. Swimming had progressed a bit, I was stuck in the rut of doing the same 10k runs I always did and random Zwift sessions. For those who don’t know I am exiled in North Wales. Shifts, family life etc make it difficult for me commit to training with a club (nearest one is 20 miles away). I train alone. Natalie provided me structure, variation, periodisation and great advice.
Over the winter I plugged away on the turbo and night running. I really enjoyed the variation in intensity and duration. Swimming slowly progressed. My first target was a day in the lakes half ironman. My second Triathlon....
I was hoping the swim would be a good test of my swimming but the well documented weather conditions curtailed the swim early which did little to reassure me. To use Tricademy phrases, the bike and run were "undulating" and "honest". I got round in 6 hours 18. Not fantastic but I was still alive.
It’s worth mentioning at this point that the standard of athlete within Tricademy is nothing short of awe inspiring. Following the exploits of my cyber buddies on the group chats and IM tracker is really inspirational. I appreciated my standard was not up to the level of the others but my swimming, ftp etc was improving.
Next up was a 2 mile swim in Tal Y Llyn which is a lake at the base of Cader idris in Snowdonia. Despite it being June the water was 12 degrees and it was freezing. This swim highlighted my poor sighting technique. I zig zagged my way around like a battleship avoiding a U-boat. I now know you need to sight more often than every 20 strokes. The cold and my inability to swim in a straight line quickly eroded my mental resolve. I reverted to breaststroke. As I turned at the end of the lake to come back for the second mile the wind rose and I was getting buffeted in the face. I was getting slower and slower, colder and colder. I got the attention of the safety kayaker and beckoned him towards me. He let me rest on his kayak for a minute to compose myself. I had done most of the swim with only about 500 metres left to go. I considered that I had learned what needed to be learned from the swim and that the conditions were totally different to what they would be in Barcelona so decided to call it a day and asked him to tow me to the end.
This however was not straightforward. It was so windy that he couldn’t paddle forwards and we actually went backwards. I told him not to worry as if he just took me to the side I would walk the rest. Climbing aboard like a seal he took me towards the water’s edge. Once there I climbed off. Unfortunately this totally destabilised the kayak which spun round 180 degrees fully submerging my rescuer. By this point I had recovered my composure and promptly swam the remaining 500 metres. Job done. A day I’m sure neither of us will forget.
Through the summer I participated in 3 organised swims in the sea off Colwyn Bay to practise my sighting and to get used to the rise and fall of the sea. I’ve got to be honest I just didn’t really find this an enjoyable experience. I think this was because of the pressure of knowing I had to get used to it and fast.
Next up was the Ullswater Triathlon. Triathlon number 3.... My previous result was 3.24. Here I learned valuable a lesson. I managed to swim around 70% freestyle which was good for me at the time. The bike went well until I decided to push it at the end. Big mistake. I had over cooked it for the run and struggled. I came in on 3 hours 11. Evidence of progress and some good learning points.
From there on in I focused on my training sessions. Duration really started to lengthen. This was where the training had an impact on my family. 2 hour plus training sessions after work then six hour brick sessions at the weekend required their patience, flexibility and support.
October the 6th, D-day quickly approached. This was an anxious time, bike boxes, transfers, cut off times all spinning around my head.
In the end the bike went into the box ok and travel to Calella went as planned. Arriving on Thursday, I felt like one of the clampits with the array of mega bikes being pushed around the hotel whilst I was there with my bike that I got off the cycle to work scheme...
We quickly put our bikes together and gave them a test ride. Next was the expo where we registered and maxed out at the Ironman shop.
Before I knew it we were lined up on the beach ready to go. Although I had swam the distance in the pool I hadn’t done it in open water let alone the sea. I was aiming for a 1.45 swim. I knew I wasn’t going to enjoy it but I felt I could swim the distance. It was just a case of getting my head down and getting on with it. My biggest concern was the second cut off time. You had 5.20 to complete the swim and half the bike. If I took 10 minutes at the first transition this only left me 3.25 to ride 56 miles. This was going to be tight and there was little room for anything to go wrong. I met Dom before the race and Al Heatley was also part of the crew.
Ian and I put ourselves in the 1.25 pen with the idea of getting on peoples toes for a few minutes as they past. On our turn to go I ran to the water and we were off. Triathlon number 4 was under way....
The buoys were fairly close together which helped with sighting. I also tried to place myself in the centre of the field and felt as long as there were swimmers to the left and right I was generally going in the right direction. This worked a treat and on checking my watch at the turn to come back I was on 45 minutes. Ahead of schedule but aware that the swim back was against the current. With about 700 metres to go I started to feel a bit sick but just kept my head down and got on with it. Eventually I reached the shore. I tend to be rubbish getting out the water but I had managed to freestyle the entire distance. I staggered forward for a few seconds. I felt like Robinson Crusoe landing on a desert island having been ship wrecked. As I looked up I saw my wife and Ian’s looking at me open mouthed at the state of me. I looked at my watch, 1:26. 20 minutes ahead of schedule. The weight of the 5.20 cut off time lifted and I could relax.
On to the bike and I could enjoy it, no need to panic. The course is mainly flat on good roads. Stomach was a bit dodgy after swallowing half the med but it was manageable. Umpteen gels later I started getting stomach cramps which I tried to ignore. Around 90 miles I decided to stop. I had to go. I then entered a portaloo which was reminiscent of a scene from trainspotting. To my horror after a bowel movement which registered on the Richter scale I found there was no paper left. It was just a case of pull up and get on with it.
I then felt much better and coasted to transition and in to the run. I’ve got to be honest the thought of 26 miles was daunting. The target was a slow trot to take me round in about 4.30. Whilst walking through the feed stations. All was going well till about mile 17. The walks at the feed stations started to get longer then there were walks in between. I had to drag myself round the last few miles in the dark but the sight of the red carpet perked me up and I crossed the finish line in 13.39. Not the fastest time but a massive personal achievement. If you had said to me three years ago I would be completing an Ironman I would have said it was impossible.
Getting me across that finish line was a huge team effort and I couldn’t have done it without the help of my team. My family proving with flexibility and support, Ian linking me up with Tricademy and of course Natalie who gave me the road map to get there and positivity when I was plagued by self-doubt. 🍻cheers all #anythingispossible