I watched my fiancé Matt complete the Outlaw long distance race in 2013 and made the decision I wanted to do a long distance Triathlon. Fast forward a few months and the entry for Ironman UK came out.
Matt hadn’t wanted to go long again and wanted a break from the long training, however he was easily swayed and signed up…. Once you sign up it seems like such a long time away but it passes fast. Our Coach Paul Jones at F4L Triathlon Coaching set the plan and I started the training he set totally motivated.
Then, Matt came home around November 13 and said he had a chance of a job in London so we set about relocating, I thought id be fine to keep my training up but what a nightmare.
Getting the house decorated and sorted to be sold, moving, starting new jobs took its toll. Training was on the back burner. We moved in March 14 to the middle of London which sounds amazing… try cycling!! In months my longest cycle had been about 40 miles and turbo sessions. I was totally disheartened...
I looked at cancelling Ironman and then saw we could transfer to Mallorca In September so decided it would give a few more months. About a week later I pulled my achilles and couldn’t walk never mind run, frustrated doesn’t come close.
This is the beauty of having an awesome coach, Paul said not to worry so I didn’t (well a little bit) but not as much as I would have. I knew I had to grow some balls and cycle in London so I started getting out on my bike and cycling to work and completed some sportives. I managed to start running again in June about 12 weeks out so felt like I was progressing albeit slowly.
Then 6 weeks out...
I was cycling to work in central London, the lights were on green and as is usual in London I was moving faster than the traffic. Suddenly a cyclist crossing the road from my right pushed his bike into the road and I hit it. My front wheel hit his and I went over the handlebars and hit the deck hard. I was totally dazed and winded and couldn’t sit up. Anyway, a trip to hospital and some fractured ribs later I spent a week in bed. It hurt when I sat up/breathed/lay down etc you get the picture.
I was gutted and I felt that I was so undertrained anyway with string of crap luck, I emailed Paul and told him I wasn’t doing the Ironman.
I couldn’t, injury had interfered with my training, I’d busted my ribs, couldn’t train in London, I was homesick, settling into a new job etc I had literally had enough. I was so low I just felt like I couldn’t cope with the pressure of that start line looming in 6 weeks time, It was crazy I hadn’t ran over 12 miles or cycled over 75 miles. Surely Coach would agree...
Er... apparently not. He immediately replied and said I was making a mistake and I could do it. He said to tell him when I was fit to train and then we would stick to the plan and see what happened. I didn’t even reply for a while I thought he was crazy and remained feeling sorry for myself. Then after 10 days or so I went for a run, it was painful but I could run slowly. I sent Paul a text and he replied, "OK lets do this, see how we get on. Stick to the plan!"
I managed runs up to 14 miles and a couple of long rides up to 80 miles as per the plan. I missed a couple of long bricks with short notice work commitments and really struggled to swim at all with the pain in my ribs. I have always been stickler for my watch and what pace I was running or cycling at, now I just excepted things hadn’t gone to plan and considering everything I was just aiming for a finish if I did it all. I stuck to the plan as close as I could and I kept in touch with Paul. He kept telling me you can do it, its just a long training session.
Me and Matt got out to Mallorca a few days before and it was so exciting. The whole resort was taken over by Ironman. There were athletes everywhere on swanky bikes, strutting about in finishers t-shirts from various Ironman’s. I began to feel a bit intimidated and worrying about my less than perfect preparation. Paul sent me and Matt a few messages and kept saying to me its just a long training session if I didn’t think you could do it I wouldn’t set you the session which spurred me on. I had an awesome couple of days in the build up, I saw the finish line being built and the red M Dot lit up. I said to Matt then, I am coming across that line no matter what.
I still had doubts I wasn’t even sure I could complete the distances individually and the bike had a 12km climb at 120km in. The morning of the race I was surprisingly so calm and chilled , I passed Tim Don in transition and smiled at him and he smiled back but looked nervous, I thought even Tim hasn’t done this distance before!
We all gathered on the beach for a non wetsuit swim. It was totally awesome 2600 people (or so) gathered on the beach. Not being an amazing swimmer I kept to the back stayed wide and found some space. That didn’t last long, my plan was to swim buoy to buoy and not worry about the distance. I started to swim then got caught up with the melee. I was smacked and ducked, I started to panic and breast stroke. I looked around and it was like the scene from the titanic film when it sank. Like the titanic it was survival of the fittest so I kept swimming and looking for clear water. If I felt anyone getting above my ankles ready to swim over the top of me a few fast legs sorted it and before I knew it I was at the first turn around 1.2km in and the field spread. I kept with my plan to swim buoy to buoy my heart-rate was nice and low and I had clear water. I thought id be well over 90mins so when I looked at my watch a saw 1:15 I was mega chuffed and felt ok. I was smiling from ear to ear when I came into transition and having the time of my life, the support lining the beach was amazing.
I ran up to transition and a quick change I on was in my bike. I was surprised at how many bikes were still in transition however I was soon getting passed by what felt like everyone! I wasn’t concerned though I just kept my heart rate low, cadence high and stuck to my nutrition plan. The ride went over quickly and before I knew it I was at the climb. I just dropped my gears and kept my heart rate low making steady progress. I started to pass people who had flew past me earlier and some even started to walk pushing their bikes. I still felt good despite being at over 80 miles and the longest I had ever ridden. I got to the top which then had a few up and down sections, I messed up a gear change and dropped the chain. I stopped and saw it was stuck, this had happened before so I knew I had to turn my bike upside down to get it out, I did and dumped all my fluid stupidly. I was back on my way but a few little short climbs later started to feel low on energy and thirsty. I knew the next aid station was about 7 miles following a long twisty descent so I just had to get there.
I was really starting to suffer through lack of hydration at the bottom of the descent, I was cycling so slowly willing the aid station to appear. When it did they had no isotonic drink left so I dumped half a bottle of coke and water and into my front bottle and sucked down a gel…. Boy did that work I felt amazing then the last 20 miles were flat but into a head wind powered by coca cola I was flying. Then I changed gear and dropped my chain again, looking at my watch I saw it was at 101 miles….. so so close.
I tried not to panic but I couldn’t get it out it. People were whizzing past me I was praying for an official on a motorbike so I could ask for some help. My heart sank, I was so bloody close I could feel the tears coming I thought that was it. Then after about 5 minutes a Finnish guy stopped and asked if I was ok, between sobs I explained about my chain. He tried too but it was stuck fast, he said he would send help back for me but then looked at me – I was a pathetic sight- and he tried again…and it popped out. I was so happy I could have kissed him! I thanked him over and over, he just said don’t change gear, shook my hand and cycled off.
I cycled the rest like a woman possessed in the same gear. As I approached transition I saw Matt on the run and shouted at him. I knew I had the run to do but even if I had to walk it I would get round it.
I looked at my watch and saw I was about 9 hours in. I got changed and I was covered in oil from my chain. One of the volunteers washed my hands for me with Fanta (yep... the drink) and soap as that was all they had! I got out onto the run course and started to run, my legs felt ok surprisingly so I just kept my heart rate low and didn’t even look at my watch. The plan was to walk the aid stations and refuel then carry on running to the next one. The run was 4.5x 10km laps with an aid station every 1 ½ to 2 miles.
I hit the first aid station sipped some coke mixed with water and had a banana. Then I ran to the next aid station and stopped and walked through it took on some fuel then started running again and so on. It was so hot but I knew the sun would be going down soon, so I just kept hydrated and used the sponges. I was feeling a bit dizzy but there were athletes being tended to by the side of the road and a guy lying on the floor with a plate of chips next to him. I thought at least I don’t feel that bad!
As I started my third lap Matt passed me running fast as I was walking through the aid station, I could see all his bands and knew he was going to the finish I was so chuffed for him he looked great.
I kept to the plan of running between aid stations but it was getting harder to make my legs start moving again. I was still managing to run at what felt like a similar pace but my legs felt like nothing Ive ever felt before. It suddenly dawned on me I had 20km still to run, I started to panic a bit in case my legs just would literally give up I started to cry a little bit – I don’t know why!! Then I got a grip of myself and did what I had been doing all day taking it bit by bit not thinking further than the next aid station.
The crowd were amazing I high fived some of the kids and waved when people shouted my name and smiled to try and trick my body and distract my mind. I kept thinking about my F4L pals who had done Ironman and suffered through this, I thought about all the effort to get here, everyone who was tracking me and the struggles of my dad with his MS. I looked about and saw people really suffering and I was still able to run. My right leg started to catch the ground a bit and I was having to make such an effort to pick it up. Walking at the aid stations was sweet relief but I knew I was getting so close to that medal now so kept running. I finally got my last band and had 6km to go. The support from the people lining the streets was amazing. I thought well if my legs go now Ill walk or crawl but they didn’t. I kept running and as I got the aid station before the finish I walked into it and a volunteer gave me some water as I walked through. He walked with me to the end of the station and said you’ve done it now 3km to go and shook my hand. I was so exhausted but ran the final 3km people were clapping and shouting, as I made the turn into the finish chute I was elated. The music was playing and the party in full swing. I ran to the guy with the microphone and pointed at my number he took hold of my hand and said the magic words “Melissa you are an Ironman”. I sprinted the last 20 metres over the line high fiving the crowd I couldn’t have felt better if I had won it I think. I got my medal and saw Matt then burst into tears!
I was exhausted but so happy, I’d had no idea what time had done I’d just been happy to finish. I looked at my name on the Finish chute and saw 13:52 on the clock I was amazed and happy I’d come under 14 hours. Matt had finished with a PB and and a speedy marathon time so was over the moon too.
Completing the Ironman was the hardest and best thing Ive ever done. I wrote this not to show off but to inspire others. When I had doubts I read other peoples blogs which inspired me. Completing the ironman wasn’t just about a race or triathlon in the end but became a personal battle after a difficult year. Completing it and overcoming the obstacles has given me new confidence in other areas in my life which I needed. I am grateful to have a brilliant and supportive coach who was tough with me when I needed it and amazing support from my friends and Matt. When things are tough…. Battle through you don’t know what you’re capable of until you try… Anything IS possible… oh and stick to the plan ;-).