After eight long months of training, I’ve finally completed my first ever triathlon and it just so happened to be one of the biggest and toughest events known to the triathlon community, Ironman. With an extra 15 hours per week on my hands, I figured I would write up my Ironman race day, documenting the ups, downs and the bloody painful parts of my epic road to being named an Ironman!
After a good nights sleep, a couple of sleeping tablets and a few cheeky gin and tonics to calm my nerves, myself, Mike and all the fantastic supporters of team Mike and Craig climbed out of bed at the bonkers time of 3.30am! I shovelled down a couple of bowls of cereal (figured I would probably need the energy!) and then we all headed to Pennington Flash for the race start.
We had just about enough time to drop off our white bags (for after the race) and then quickly check our bikes over before the start of the race. I was thankful for this as I had forgotten to pack my bike gloves and pain killers for the bike so I quickly popped them onto my bike, double checked the tires, brakes and steering then headed off to the start to change into my wetsuit.
Putting on my wetsuit, you will be surprised to hear, was actually harder than when I first practiced! As I began pulling my wetsuit above my hips I heard an almighty rip and my heart sank a mile. I had managed to tear a gaping hole in the crotch of my wetsuit. No time to panic however as the race start was mere minutes away. So as I looked at everyone’s stunned faces, I manned up, came to terms with the fact that I was going to have a rather chilly nether region, and pulled up the remainder of my wetsuit.
As I nervously lined up for the start of the race a slightly daunting but awesome thought occurred to me, in 17 hours time I may very well be named an Ironman. With this great thought in mind I braved the chilly water with 1500 others and slowly made my way over to the start and waited patiently for the buzzer. Swimming was definitely my best discipline of the day, so I positioned myself quite close to the front of the group to help my chances of a good swim time. Mike is far better than I am on the bike, so I always had a plan to get out of the water as far ahead of him as I could.
Upon the start of the race, the once calm waters of Pennington Flash became a wash of eager athletes at the start of what, for most of them, would be the biggest sporting achievement of their lives. The first five minutes of the swim I spent most of my time dodging legs, arms and the occasional elbow as I tried to find a swimming pack that was roughly the same ability as me. My placing at the start proved to be bang on as I managed to break away from the starting group just after the first corner and get into a nice rhythm, without too much bother from the other athletes. As I came to the end of my first lap I found myself genuinely enjoying the swim, apart from the occasional inflow of cold water into my wetsuit through my newly created hole, brrr!
Notice the gaping hole in my wetsuit!
I jumped out of the water to the fantastic sound of the crowd and checked my stopwatch to find I was way ahead of what I had expected my time would be, finishing the first lap in 30 minutes. With a finish of just over one hour in mind I gave a quick cheeky shout to my supporters and jumped back in for my second lap.
The second lap flew by and before I knew it I was out of the lake with a time of 1 hour 5 minutes which I was really chuffed with. I sprinted down towards T2 while getting my arms stuck in the top half of my wetsuit (I obviously can’t multitask!) and flashing a quick smile for team Mike and Craig. T2 was where my lack of triathlon knowledge became quite clear. I entered the tent with very few athletes around and clumsily dressed myself without any plan of whether to dress top to bottom or vice versa! It was easy to see that everyone else at this stage had organized their kit to ensure a smooth and quick transition, silly me! I emerged from the tent after a slow eight minute transition and shot off to grab my bike ready for the 112 mile bike ride ahead.
As I jumped on I figured that Mike was only around 10 minutes behind me and I knew I was going to have to push hard to stay ahead of him for as long as possible. The bike course began with a quick 13 mile or so point-to-point that took us to the beginning of the 33 mile loop where we would have to complete three times. The 13 miles went completely without a hitch and I felt so much better than I had done in any of my training sessions. The weather also helped massively for the bike, after training in the cold and wet for what felt like the majority of training, we were rewarded on race day with bluebird skies. I can’t tell how much I was dreading the cycle being wet and miserable; a 112 mile ride can feel so much worse if the weather isn’t on your side.
As I came to the end of the point-to-point section of the course, I turned my focus to the almighty Sheep House Lane. The two mile uphill section of the course that I’m pretty sure none of the athletes, myself included, were particularly looking forward to! I had done the hill before however and had been told numerous times that the key was to take your time and not to push it. So I put myself in first gear and plodded up, even managing to overtake other athletes that were struggling towards the top…not that I was counting! I have to give a shout out to one of the team members of Team True Spirit that I met on the hill who absolutely owned it, even with a prosthetic leg. All the members of Team True Spirit were, in a word, inspirational.
Top of Sheep House Lane, what a view!
Towards the end of the first lap I started to feel quite dizzy and weak and figured I was pushing it a bit too much for this stage of the race. I checked my average speed to find I was around 18.5mph, 2.5 miles above my average for training. I eased the pace, scoffed down a couple of bananas and an energy gel then pressed on for my second climb up Sheep House Lane.
It was at this stage that I knew our supporters would have been let out of Pennington Flash and would be awaiting my arrival at some point on the bike course. This kept me powering through until I finally spotted them half way up one of the undulating hills, around 55 miles in. Hats off to them, I’ve never heard such big cheers in my life, it was a real boost at a point where I was starting to flag. But I only had one burning question for them, where the devil was Mike?! Turned out he was only five minutes behind so I dug deep for the next 15 miles until I heard him chant, “The jig is up!” I did my best to stay with him but after a few miles he was gone, and before I knew it I was on my last lap!
I couldn’t have been happier to be on my last lap of the bike, after five hours of constant riding my body was really beginning to feel the effects. My legs felt like lead and my back had really started to stiffen up. I had been having back problems during training, which I managed with a few painkillers, so this was no surprise to me. At around 90 miles I saw my supporters for the last time and gave them a massive wave, returned by a huge cheer willing me towards the finish. With the end of the cycle in sight I really began to look forward to the run and couldn’t wait to see if my legs would still work!
I’d like to thank the organisers for putting the finish of the cycle up a bloody hill! Honestly, at this stage of the race one more final hill was the last thing that I wanted to see and the last 10 miles were pretty slow. However I finally arrived at T2 with a respectable time of 6 hours and 44 minutes - 45 minutes ahead of my planned time. I handed my bike over and stumbled into T2 to prepare for the last part of my day, a full marathon!
Again my lack of triathlon knowledge was shown in the second transition of the day, where I slowly clambered out of my cycle gear and clumsily threw on my running gear and it had been a painfully slow 10 minutes when I finally emerged from transition. Admittedly I may have taken a few minutes to myself to have a wee sit down, hell I think after being on the go for eight hours I earned it!
As I exited transition I grabbed a couple cups of water to dilute all of the energy gels I had taken on the bike, which had begun to feel like cement churning 'round in my stomach, and mentally prepared myself for a hard slog to the finish. I eased into a slow but manageable 9:30 minute mile pace and cracked on with the first section of the run, which weaved through the Bolton streets until it eventually joined the loop section of the course in the centre of Bolton. The loop was set up as three 10 km loops around the centre of Bolton, each loop rewarding you a coloured wristband so race officials (and dazed athletes) knew which lap you were on.
Six miles in and feeling the pain.
With six miles down and only 20 more to go, I joined the loop section of the course and it became clear that the unbearable heat beating down on me was beginning to take its toll. Throughout all of my training, running was always something that came quite easily to me and rarely did I have to break stride to rest on a long run. But I was really beginning to struggle and all I could do was try to dig deep to finish my first loop. Mile 10 came along with my first viewing of our support crew, another massive boost from our fantastic spectators. It has to be said that the run loops set up for Ironman UK were as mentally tough as they were physically. It was hard passing the finish line for the first time knowing that I was going to pass it two more times before I got to finally run, or crawl down it!
I stayed strong and collected my first wristband at around mile 12. It was actually quite a rewarding experience every time you got to pick up a new wristband; every colour was like a stepping stone to the finish line, which couldn’t have seemed further away at this point. I think my dad must have seen me struggling as he decided to cycle down the course ahead of me, saying to the crowd, “That’s my son, cheer him on for me!” As a fellow Ironman he’s felt the pain I was going through and it was great to have random people chant your name. The crowd for the whole of the run were amazing, I can’t recall any part of the race that didn’t have people cheering or clapping their hearts out, and they deserve a huge thank you for the whole day.
Proof that I was in a slightly confused state came when I passed team Mike and Craig just after my second lap, my girlfriend Mairi told me they had just passed Jeremy Clarkson spectating a few metres back. In an excited daze I stopped and began running back in the opposite direction to get a glimpse, as if 26 miles wasn’t far enough! My shocked support crew swiftly informed me of my stupidity and sent me back on my way promising to get a photo for me...which they did!
I had been so worried about drinking lots of water to keep myself hydrated in the heat that I had completely forgotten about fueling myself. Worried that I would burn out before the end I decided to stomach what felt like my 10th batch of energy gels and a quick Pepsi, before I went to collect my last wristband. I was on my last lap, WOOHOO!!! My spirits couldn’t have been higher as I collected my last wristband, and I made sure I gave the whole crowd a big smile as I passed them.
With just over three miles to the finishline my body was beginning to show signs of decay. Both my legs and, strangely, even my arms had started to cramp and my back shot with pain from every step. At this point I really didn’t care, the finish line was so close I could literally taste it and it was an amazing feeling knowing all the hard work over the last eight months had nearly paid off. With two miles left I took my father’s advice of really enjoying and savouring the last few moments before I claimed my title of an Ironman. The crowd here again were amazing, they could see that I was so close to the end and provided the words of encouragement pushing me towards the finish. With the sheer noise from the crowd and by keeping the image of the finish in mind, I stormed through the last two miles and entered the red carpet of the finishing area.
The feeling as I finally placed my feet upon the red carpet was immense; honestly I have never felt anything like it. The crowd on either side of me was deafening. I spotted Mike and the rest of team Mike and Craig who all gave me an almighty roar whilst I sprinted to the finish line. This was swiftly followed by the best words I had heard all day, “Craig Dudley, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” Amazing!
“Craig Dudley, YOU are an Ironman
Upon stumbling through the finish ine and having my timing chip removed I was guided over to a table full of pizza and other treats. The initial idea of munching down some seriously fatty foods was very tempting, but after two bites it became clear that my stomach was not up the task of eating just yet!
I exited the tent and began frantically looking around for my friends and family. Not an easy feat as my brain wasn’t functioning very well at this point and the exit wasn’t exactly clearly marked. After clumsily navigating through the maze of athletes receiving massages I finally spotted Mairi and the rest of my support crew and limped over to them. It was the thought of seeing them all at the end that really pushed me on towards the finish line. I honestly don’t think I could have managed without them, they were all amazing! After a few pictures for the Ironman scrapbook, I was desperate for a bit of a sit down, 13 hours on the go really takes its toll you know! I headed around the corner to find Mike and after a cheeky, “We’ve just done an Ironman” grin and a congratulatory Ironhug I finally had a chance to sit down and let it all soak in. After 12 hours and 55 minutes, I was an IronMan!
So after eight long months of training and all the pain on race day was it worth it? Absolutely! And three weeks after the Ironman I’ve completely forgotten about all the pain from race day and all I can remember is the glory, bring on the next one!
I’d like to thank all the marshal’s, volunteers and race officials for all their hard work on the day. It was a very successfully run event and couldn’t have been done without all their hard work.