On 11th May, my husband Paul and I took part in the Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Mallorca. The reason it is called a 70.3 is because it covers 70.3 miles in distance. It is a 1900m swim, a 90km bike ride followed by a 21km run.
Early morning swimming drills, running at dawn and Sunday morning bike rides whilst juggling running a business, organising child care and “tag-team” parenting our children made the lead up to this event an exercise in spinning plates as much as spinning bike wheels.
You may be wondering why we decided to take on such a challenge at this point in our lives. We both have big birthdays looming and so wanted to take on a challenge to make this our “fittest year yet” and push ourselves out of our comfort zones. We also felt it was enough of a challenge to encourage people to sponsor us so that we could raise some more funds for our adopted charity, Garden House Hospice. We consider ourselves lucky to be fit and healthy enough to be able to even attempt the challenge so we wanted to raise money for the vital work that the hospice does for those with life limiting illnesses.
After 6 long months of training through the winter and braving some ice-cold Sunday mornings on our bikes, we set off for Mallorca on 9th May with Paul’s brother who had flown over from Australia for the occasion, my parents for help with childcare and our 2 little boys, Charlie and Henry.
The journey was not straightforward. Flight delays, a passenger being taken ill, issues with car hire and Henry throwing up all over the car resulted in a very late arrival at our accommodation. The next morning was a rush to get our bikes out of their travel boxes, re-assembled and get to the “Ironman Village” where we had to register for the event, watch the “pre-race briefing”, rack our bikes and organise our kit for the bike, run and swim legs to put in the enormous transition area.
Suddenly, as the hot Mallorcan sun beat down on the Ironman Village, the enormity of what we had taken on started to hit me. I sat in a marquee watching the pre-race safety briefing with Paul and almost 3000 other athletes and the nerves were beginning to take over. It was hot, I was thirsty, hungry and a headache was making me feel like this was the worst possible preparation for what would be the biggest and longest race I had ever taken on the next day.
After what seemed like an eternity, we got ourselves organised, the bikes were racked and then we met up with friends in a nearby restaurant where we all guzzled water and carbo-loaded with Spanish tapas and then I began to relax. There was nothing more that we could do at that stage to prepare for the race.
We had an early start on race morning and once we’d eaten a protein-packed breakfast of eggs and salmon, we headed off to the race. We had time to quickly check over our bikes, put energy bars and snacks into our bags and then we had to put our wetsuits on and head to the beach for the swim start.
The swim was a rolling start which meant they let all the quickest swimmers off first – 6 swimmers every 6 seconds. Seeing 3000 people in wetsuits on the beach all in brightly coloured swim caps and huge long snaking line of swimmers out in the sea was a sight to behold. Suddenly, the nerves had melted away and given way to excitement and neither of us could stop grinning. I was ready to get this done and join all those people in the sea! I turned to Paul and said “lets do this” and off we went to line up. By the time we got to the front of the line in the starter’s pen, we were both calm and strolled into the sea with Paul just behind me in the next group of 6.
The 1900m swim seemed to go unbelievably quickly and felt comfortable. Sometimes competitive open water swims can become like a brawl with arms and legs everywhere but the rolling start worked perfectly and before I knew it, I was out the water and running towards the transition area ready to get on my bike. Moments after leaving the water, I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was Paul! We had managed to swim together the whole way.
A quick change out of the wetsuit, cycling shoes on and I was running with my bike to start the bike course and I out on the open road. A feeling of joy swept over me – I was out on the open road, the coastline stretching out to my right and back on my bike racing. I saw Paul again as he overtook me and knowing how strong he is on the bike, I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him again until the end of the race.
The bike course took us up a mountain for 15km with a gradient of around 7-8%. I knew that this was going to be a longish climb and I settled into a rhythm. Climbing on the bike is my strength – it was just the twisting, turning technical descent that lay ahead which worried me.
Once we reached the top of the climb and I saw the petrol station that my friends had told me to look out for, I knew this was the beginning of the descent. The sight of 2 competitors lying by the side of the road shortly before this, one with a broken collar bone and the other who was unconscious was all the warning I needed to take it easy coming down the hill. Once I was down safely, it was time to settle into a strong pace on the flat roads and the headwinds back into Alcuidia.
Just as I was coming in to the transition area on my bike, I saw Paul again on the beginning of the run course. I was in great spirits, we gave each other an enthusiastic wave and then I got myself organised ready to head out on the run course.
By now, it was the hottest part of the day and the run course was 3 laps so it was mind over matter to ignore the tired legs and get to the finish line. I was feeling good and the miles were ticking off on my watch. I found myself running alongside another woman who was a similar pace to me and every so often, I’d run past her but then she would run past me. Just as we started lap 3, she tapped me on the shoulder and thanked me for helping her to keep a steady pace! I thanked her too as the feeling was more than mutual and we headed towards the finishing straight telling each other that we’d got this in the bag.
The noise was getting louder as all the supporters were cheering people on over the finishing line and it dawned on me that this was it, I was going to finish the Ironman! The atmosphere was electric, the cheering deafening as I crossed the line and head my name read out over the sound system. I suddenly felt overwhelmed by emotion. The 6 months of training had paid off and I had done it! I completed the race in 6 hours and 22 minutes.
As I headed into the recovery area, I saw Paul and 2 of our friends and shuffled with tired legs over to congratulate them. Paul had also finished with a strong time of 6 hours. He had suffered some heatstroke on the run which had slowed him down but he was just as delighted as I was to have finished and we celebrated with beers beside the beach in our medals before the heroes welcome from our family.
We raised just over £600 for the hospice and we are still feeling euphoric after completing the challenge. We enjoyed it so much, we think there may be another Half Ironman in our legs yet – perhaps another one somewhere in Europe awaits us next year!