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Je Suis un Ironman - IM Vichy Race Report

Impossible Dreams


Have you ever set your sights on something that (secretly) you thought you might never achieve? I know I have. But, once I set my sights on something, I make it my business to achieve that goal. Let me give you an example.


Casting my mind back (probably about 15 years) I got an irrational and overwhelming urge to be the owner of a Jaguar XJ6 – which seemed an impossible dream on my lowly bank clerk salary. But the XJ6 became the goal and within 6 months I was the proud owner of a Daimler Sovereign 4.2 – what a beauty.


I drove that car for six months and relished every second behind the wheel and then, when the dreaded MOT man failed it, I spent the best part of 6 months lying on my back underneath it before taking my rightful place behind the wheel once more.


The car and I remained the best of buddies for another year or so before she was finally retired to sit – like a garden ornament – upon my drive. But she was still loved and my friends and I referred to her as ‘The Gentlemen’s Club’. On long summer nights, we would often sit in that Connolly Hide, Walnut Burr and Axminster lined cocoon – taking in a fine wine or single malt and talking nonsense (as men are wan to do) whilst listening to Prog Rock through the glorious on-board stereo. The sheer fact that the vehicle was, at that point, sitting on four stout axle stands mattered not a jot – we lived the moment and enjoyed it all the same.


As time marched on and as I left my bachelor pad to start a new life (with the current Mrs. SprokectWaffle) the Gentlemen’s Club was snapped up by a classic car enthusiast – to begin a new life of her own. As she was towed away, I felt both sadness – for all the memories that were going with her – and pride – I had aspired to be a Jaguar Owner, had met that goal and could honestly look anyone in the eye and talk with conviction about the driving experience / cost of ownership etc. More importantly, I think that the sabbatical the car had taken with me firm installed underneath, had given me a greater appreciation for it – I had not simply rocked up, paid my money and wafted about in a Jag – I had sweated, cursed and literally spilled blood to keep that car viable for as long as I could.


Now, why am I spending so long reminiscing about a car on what is, essentially, a cyclist’s website? Well, it’s a bit of a metaphor, I think, for many of the things that I have achieved since I renounced the virtues of internal combustion – in favour of the simple pleasure that I derive from Human Powered Movement.


Those who have followed this site will know where I came from – fat bloke turned fit bloke. It’s not a unique story – but it’s unique to me (if that doesn’t sound too shallow). And what has kept me going along this journey has been setting goals – aiming to be better in some way than I am today – and then busting my ass to make that happen. Throughout this, I’ve had many a moment when I’ve hit a goal that had seemed impossible just months before – and then relished that moment.


Never Ending Goals


In my early days as a cyclist, I read an article about ‘The Century’. Reading that article, it seemed incredible to me that someone could get on a bicycle and, in one day, ride 100 miles. But, even as I sat there, wondering if this was fiction or not, I could feel the need to ride a Century gently bubbling up within me.


A little over six months later, I went out on my bike one day and returned about 7 hours later, proudly grasping a Garmin 500 showing 101 Miles. I was both exhausted and elated – to the extent that I almost did not want to download my Garmin data and destroy the 101 miles proudly recorded upon that little LCD screen.


And I continued to set myself cycling related goals – which I continued to hit; my first 20 mph average for a 20 mile ride, Numerous ‘killer’ sportives completed (including the Kentish Killer and King of the Downs) and, of course, the odd satisfaction of regularly hitting my Strava Target of 150 miles cycled per week.


As much as I loved cycling, however, I felt that there was something missing from my fitness regime and, with this in mind, I set out to add running to my physical fitness repertoire. Naturally, as soon as I had donned a pair of trainers (and established that 10K probably wasn’t a good idea for your first ever proper run) the goals kept presenting themselves. And, as with all these things, those in the know pointed me towards the Legends that would become the stuff of dreams until I had achieved those goals myself; my first competitive 10K, The Benfleet 15, my first Half Marathon and, of course, that self-imposed bloody Strava target!!!


There’s Something Missing!


With myself now firmly established as a credible cyclist and evolving runner my mind began, once again, to wander. And, for those who run regularly, it will probably come as no surprise to learn that this happened most frequently during those long solo training runs. I’d made myself a cyclist and a runner; but there was still something missing – one last goal which I felt I should achieve; I just couldn’t – for the life of me- figure out what it was.


Then, one day, I found myself at Euston station, awaiting a train for a business trip to Manchester. Aware that I was about to spend at least a couple of hours trying to avoid conversation with whoever had booked the seat next to me, I made my way into W.H. Smith – to pick up a cycling (or running) magazine. However, one of the consequences of being such an ‘enthusiast’ is that, by this time, I had already purchased and read all of the current month’s cycling glossies!! In desperation – and with my train imminently due to depart, the cover of a previously unknown publication drifted into my peripheral vision.


Standing at the checkout with my first copy of Triathlon 220, I reasoned to myself that the purchase was valid on the grounds that I already did the cycling and running – and could just ignore the swimming bit that those cranky Triathlon types add into the mix. A little over an hour later though – and getting drawn into articles on Open Water technique – pool sets and wetsuit reviews, I was beginning to get that familiar, “This could be for me” feeling. Coincidentally, a Facebook friend had also recently commented to me, “Will we be seeing you compete in Neoprene next year?”


If I’m honest, that copy of T220 got filed in my magazine drawer shortly after getting home. But the seed had been sewn and on those long winter runs the little voice grew louder every day until one day, returning home from a run, a neighbour asked me why I ran as well as cycled. Almost spontaneously I responded, “I’m aiming to start Triathlon next year!”


God only know why I answered that way – but it did the job – from that moment, I became focussed on the goal of one day being able to look the world in the eye and say, “I am a Triathlete”.



Why Did I Say That!!!


Although I’d set this as a personal goal, if I’m honest, I didn’t have a clue how to make it happen. But it’s funny how fate leads you toward your destiny and as my use of Twitter began to grow, I soon found myself hooked up (both virtually and physically) with a number of our local Triathletes.


Two of these guys became regular Saturday riding buddies – and friends. And both wore their Triathlon credentials with pride; one (who we shall call Dave) being a respected coach and age-grouper with our local Tri Club and the other (who we shall also call Dave) an IronMan in training.


When you start mixing with like-minded people, the mindset rubs off on you. As I got to know Dave and Dave (and many of the other Triathletes I was now chatting with in the virtual world) better, the more I began to get the feeling that this Triathlon malarkey was really something that I could do.

 

 


The turning point – or moment when this stopped being just another impossible dream and became something that could really happen – came during a ride with Dave (1) one Saturday. He’s a sage guy and shoots from the hip with fair critique and sound advice. He’d previously suggested that I enter a local Duathlon – as my first race – and I had agreed. However, the voice of doubt niggled in my mind and I’d found reasons not to do it. On this particular Saturday ride, we swept across the bottom of the bike course for said Duathlon and Dave said to me, “You’ll be riding this in a few weeks when you do Great Notley”. I came clean and fessed up that my entry was still ‘pending’.


As always, Dave knew exactly what to say, “Why are you training so hard if you’re not going to race then?” It was a fair question – and honest challenge. We rode on and chatted and, by the end of that ride, the voices of doubt were quashed and my mind made up – no sooner had I got through my front door than I had fired up the PC and completed my registration.


On the day, I actually raced with the other Dave (2). We had a great time and, as I crossed the line, I was a multisport convert. I immediately sent Dave (1) a text thanking him for giving me the shove I had needed and encouraging me to race in the first place. That post-race euphoria continued until well into the evening – and the following day during which a conversation with Dave (2) saw the matter of actually entering a Triathlon break surface.


Act in Haste……

 

To cut a long story short, just a few days later, I was looking at a registration email telling me that I had officially entered out local Half Iron Triathlon. If I’m honest, the stats (at that time) were largely meaningless to me – a 1.9K swim (yeah – I can do that), a 56 mile bike (Hell – that’s like a warm-up for me) and a half Marathon (no problem with that – I run 13 miles all the time). Of course, what I’d missed was that although I could do all of those things in isolation – I’d never actually done them in succession!!!


At this point, a wise man – and one who had not ever swum competitively – would have been straight into the swimming pool to make the most of the nine months or so between registration and race. However, this fool then spent the next three months doing what felt comfortable; riding my bike and running lots. In fact, I didn’t actually don a pair of jammers and googles until just a few months before the event.


I won’t bore you with the details but if you have read my blog on Fear, you’ll know how that early swim ‘training’ went. To cut a long story short, with just two months to go before I was due to jump into a fast flowing tidal river – with the sole intent of being out of the water a little over a mile later (and in under 1 hour and 10 minutes) I had talked myself in to the fact that this would never happen and, with head hung low, withdrew my entry; a hasty decision and one which I regret even now!



Plan B!


But there was still hope that this Triathlon dream could become a reality – the Great East Triathlon (which I had entered also). This early season race runs just a month before the Half Iron I had already withdrawn from. Although the swim is equally as challenging, it was shorter – at just 800m.


Notwithstanding this, I was still concerned – but as the race drew nearer, I defaulted to doing what I know best – training like a lunatic!!!


I got myself into open water (and actually loved it). I swam race distance in open water (and loved it) in fact, I swam past race distance every morning in the pool (and got faster – not a lot – but a bit). Moreover, with every swim, I found myself a little less breathless and a little more chilled. As I stepped from the pool on the Friday before Race day, I finally felt ready!


The Best Laid Plans!!!


In fact, I felt ready until the very next day when my wife and I drove to the venue so I could register for the race. Standing on the quayside, looking at the swim course, it didn’t actually look as big as I had imagined it would – but the wind was fierce and, even at this stage, whipping the water into a frenzy of white horses and froth! Things didn’t get any more promising when the registration tent collapsed in the gales as I picked up my T Shirt and race number.


After an early night I woke early. The wind howled outside – but I knew there was no backing out. As we drove to the start, I could see that river fiercer even than it had been the day before and as I racked my bike the concerned looks on the faces of even the most seasoned Triathletes had those voices of doubt screaming to the fore again.


Things didn’t improve when the Race Director bellowed through the P.A. System, “We are going to be swimming today!” But they improved marginally when he added, “But it will be a shortened swim for all race distances – for safety reasons”.


With the race briefing done, I walked back past my wife and the assembled crowd and made my way down to the slipway. Stepping in to the water, I was pleasantly surprised with how warm it felt but, to be fair, anything would have felt warm compared with the 15 minutes I’d just spent on a wind-lashed quayside in early May! The claxon sounded and we were off.

And Then - It Happened!!


The next 20 minutes or so was a blur of white water – random body parts interfacing with me and total fear as I swam into the ‘trough’ of the waves and had to then ‘climb’ back out (so much for this swimming downhill malarkey, eh!)


I won’t bore you with the details but I made it through the swim. And then I made it (very convincingly) through the bike! I even managed a decent 10K to top it all off.


Crossing the line was, for me at least a special moment. In fact, I even remember pausing a little just before I stepped across and thinking, “the moment my foot crosses that line, I will be a Triathlete!” I stepped across, heard the ‘beep’, took my medal and then went looking for my wife in a state of elation and confusion!


Get Real, Mate!!!


OK, I hear some of you saying, “Get real mate – it was just a shortened Olympic – now’t to boast about!” And you’d be right – and I’m not boasting – but for me it was simply the realisation of a dream – like the moment many years previously when a lowly Bank Clerk had driven Arthur Daley’s motor off of a showroom forecourt – something I’d aspired to, worked for and made happen.


I recall exchanging emails with the Daves the day after and in one, Dave (1) use the phrase, “You are a Triathlete”. It meant a lot to me personally and was almost (if this doesn’t sound too lame) official validation in some way.


Start as you Mean to Go On!!


My first full season in Triathlon came to head just last week with the Hever Castle Olympic Distance. I had originally been entered into the Cambridge City Centre Triathlon – which was cancelled at short notice due to water quality issues. If I’m honest, that worked out fantastically for me; without a word of a lie, I had been standing in a chip shop and reading a Facebook post from the Castle Triathlon Series, showing the revised Hever Swim route just minutes before I got the Cambridge cancellation email. At the time, I had been wishing I could do idyllic Hever swim – instead of the potentially polluted crawl along the River Cam.



If I’m honest though, that swim (although idyllic) was still a hurdle for me. I knew I’d cover the distance but the pre-race nerves nagged away at me.


Even as I crossed the bridge to the starting pontoon, the doubts were there but, as I slipped into that icy water, they melted away and, as the claxon sounded and the water whipped into a froth around me, I found myself soon settling in to a steady and controlled front crawl – and loving every minute of it.


Swimming the last hundred meters or so, I could see the crowd in the Castle’s Italian Garden cheering us on and then, just minutes later, I was being helped out of the water by the Speedo Swim Support Team. As I ran (or wobbled) up the ramp, I knew I would be in good shape for the rest of the race and, uncharacteristically, even managed to start removing my wetsuit before I reached Transition! In fact, I even got a cheer from my wife and nieces as I ran to T1 – and they grabbed a couple of pics!!



What followed was a couple of shockingly bad transitions, a strong bike and a reasonable run. As I reached the end of the second run lap the Marshall directed me straight on toward the finish – I dug deep, strode long and sprinted to the line! In the last few metres, I could hear the commentator announcing my name and commenting on the East Essex Tri Club colours I was racing in (my Tri club and, I have to say, probably the best). And then, moments later, there was that moment when I crossed the line, picked up a medal and suddenly thought about what I’d just done.


Believe me, I’ve experienced many addictive things in my life – from the thrill of cornering a motorbike at nearly 100 MPH with my knee planted firmly on the deck – to the gut-wrenching buzz of recovering a light aircraft from a stall. But, believe me – nothing, but nothing, comes close to the feeling of crossing the line at the end of a Triathlon!


And it gets better as you tick off your next official distance – in my head, I’m not just a Triathlete; I’m a Triathlete who has gone Olympic distance.


I think we all know where this is going, don’t we; the next step is middle distance. I have unfinished business at Fambridge so in 2015, I’ll be there to finish the job. And then in 2016, I think it would be rude if I don’t take this all the way – and add the word ‘Iron’ to my online moniker!!





I Am A Triathlete…..and Proud to Say it!!


I’ve done a lot of things in my life that made me proud. But it wasn’t until I started racing Triathlon that I realised how many of these previous’ achievements’ had been nothing more than a materialistic milestone. The Jaguar was a goal – I worked for it, I owned it, I cherished it and bought the T Shirt. My Hever Medal, however, was worked for, sweated for; it tested me, it scared me, it inspired me and terrified me, it drove me to be better and made me appreciate what real goals are all about.


And I know that every race will do the same. But better than that, when you race, you join a special community who understands what you are going through. From the fellow East Essex competitor who loaned me a cycling jersey at the Big East (thanks Mark) to the fine chaps from Manchester I chatted with before the Hever swim, they have all experienced the same fears – been to the same dark places in their training and push themselves to be more than they were before they set out along this path. But through it all (and maybe because of it) they are all a credit to the Human Race.