Since the day I started triathlon I’ve been blown away by the warm welcome, the friendly atmosphere and the enthusiastic passion for their sport that all triathletes have shown. A willingness to engage novices and newbie’s in their sport with gusto and delight is quite a distinctive and defining trait of the sport of triathlon and in particular from the Ironman breed of triathlon competitors. Messages of “welcome to Ironman”, “you’ll love it”, “Ironman is brilliant”, “you’ll get hooked”, “ironman is a great day out” and “you’ll want to do another one” certainly helped to raise my anticipation and enthusiasm of the new world I’d thrown myself into. So I began my first full Ironman with a curiosity to find out more about this enjoyment that so many were describing.
The day of the Ironman arrived and it began early with a 3am wake up call. I’d rehearsed my early morning routine in the half Ironman event in May, so I felt at ease with what I was doing. On the 20 minute bus ride to the start, whilst I polished off the last of my breakfast, I felt relatively relaxed and nerve free. I also felt relief that the weather forecast showed it was set to be a calm and warm day. I was one of the first groups of athletes to arrive at the course and got straight to work getting myself organised and ready. I knew there would quickly be an influx of competitors and crowds making it difficult to move around, queue for the toilets or find a small space to do last minute stretching, so I hurried through my preparation to get ahead. As the day dawned the numbers of people around increased. Everyone busied about, the music started playing and the commentator started the build up to the 6am swim start. The atmosphere was palpable as anticipation and excitement built amongst everyone.
In my previous articles I’ve documented how I feared the swim and struggled with it during the half Ironman. Because of my bad experience, and knowing how important is was for me to get a good start to the day, I tried to make sure I was as fully prepared for the swim as possible. This came down not just to the physical swim training but also to the mental preparation. There were 1300 competitors all getting into the water for a deep water swim start. It took some time to get everyone in the lake, so for early entrants there was a fair amount of time spent waiting in the water. I was in the water for about 10 minutes and was careful to try and conserve energy whilst treading water and trying to keep warm. Thankfully it was a good distraction for me! Because I was more concerned about keeping myself afloat, I found I wasn’t becoming concerned about the mass of bodies that were now surrounding me in every direction. Just as I started shivering and my teeth began chattering from the cold, the hooter sounded and we were off.
The mental rehearsal of the start that I’d been through time and time again served me well. My strategy was to set off being very slow and deliberate, almost pretending I was moving in slow motion like an astronaut walking on the moon. In reality I wasn’t moving that slowly, but that thought helped to counter balance the rush of adrenaline, keep my body calm and stop myself from over working. I wasn’t fazed by any of the ankle grabbing, knocks to the head, swimmers in my way, swimmers changing direction underneath or over the top of me, and I wasn’t put off when the swell of white water or splashing prevented me from getting full breaths of air. I could feel the panic and rush from people around me but I remained calm and kept a constant rhythm. I knew that after around 10 minutes it would all settle down. Gradually it did and I felt great confidence that it was all going so well. I found a really good comfortable pace and actually began to enjoy the swim, especially because I was moving past other swimmers with ease! Even as everyone bottle necked around the buoys I wasn’t affected by it. It was so brilliant to be having a much more positive experience compared to my last race. We had to swim two big laps but get out after the first lap, run past spectators and jump back in for the second lap. I deliberately kept my effort low for the first lap. It was a good marker point to get too and as I got in for the second lap I was so happy that it was going so well. I knew I was going to be able to get through the 3.8km swim trouble free.