After almost 9 months of training, 6 days a week, the day had finally arrived. Sunday 20th July at 3am I heard the click of the alarm, but I turned it off before it actually sounded, because even though I had only gone to bed at 11pm I was already awake and full of nervous energy. The weather looked perfect and after my usual breakfast I did 1 last check that I had everything and was on my way to Pennington Flash. When I got there, the place was already buzzing as I made my way to the transition area to make sure nothing had happened to my bike over night. I don’t know what could have happened in a secure compound overnight, but I checked anyway as it seemed the thing to do; I also put my drinks and food on my bike that would fuel my ride.
Some people seemed to spend ages inflating their tyres and checking their gears were working correctly over and over again; maybe it was necessary and I was missing something, but I think it was just an OCD ritual that they went through to calm the nerves. I was lucky that an old school friend had been my training partner and he was also a veteran of 6 previous Ironman races. His experience and calmness was invaluable as the whole build up to the race start was very relaxed and even enjoyable. We checked our bike once and we checked our food and drink once, then we went to do the most important thing before any big race…..we queued up for the portaloos.
About 20 minutes before the start, the commentator asked us all to start getting into the water to swim the short distance the start line in the water, which could be identified by a line of safety kayaks. A lot of the fast swimmers went left to get the shortest possible swim on an anti-clockwise course, but the majority of the other swimmers went right to get more room. I found that the middle offered a nice compromise and so with a minute to go, they started to play the National Anthem, but just before the end I heard a clear shout of “Oggy, oggy, oggy” to which I couldn’t help reply. It turned out that the shout had come from Marc Laithwaite and yes it was a bit unpatriotic to interrupt our Queen’s theme tune, but it didn’t half calm my nerves. As the claxon sounded bang on 6, I was still smiling from the corniness of shouting “Oi, Oi, Oi” out loud in public.
The 1st casualty of the race was a guy that was freaking out in the water begging to be saved from drowning. I momentarily thought about stopping to try to calm him down, but then changed my mind as he couldn’t possibly drown because as his head was about a yard above the water line as he treaded water like a demented dolphin waiting to be thrown a fish. He would officially be classed as a DNF, but realistically he was much closer to a DNS, as he wouldn’t have even earned his 1st badge in the ducking club. After the chaos of the 1st few hundred metres, I tried to relax and control my breathing and managed to alternate this whilst keeping one eye on my direction. As I reached the 1st buoy it became apparent why so many were happy to swim a few extra metres. They had the angle to get round the buoy without getting caught up in the “washing machine” of the turn, but I tried not to panic. Although I got pushed and kicked a few times at the turn, it was no worse than a training swim at 3 Sister’s and I was soon out the other side and heading for the next buoy. From there it was pretty uneventful until the end of lap 1 when I had to try my 1st “Australian” exit. I’d read that you should kick harder with your legs to get the blood flowing through them and it must have worked as I managed to get out without falling over. I resisted the temptation to run too fast around the short distance to the start of the 2nd lap as I wanted to keep my breathing under control. My heart rate increased a bit though as I was hit by a wall of noise from the crowd, it was incredible how many people were there cheering us on and was my 1st taste of the fantastic support that was ever present throughout the race.
The 2nd lap was slower than the 1st, but I’m sure that this was only down to where the timing mat was positioned and the fact that it was a short swim back to where we started lap 1. As I exited the water one of the helpers told me that I had done it in 1 hour 12 minutes, which was well within my target time of 1 hour 15. I was happy to have completed the swim in 1 piece and pretty quickly.
As I ran round to T1 to change into my bike gear I was concentrating on not losing my goggles and cap, but soon got alerted to people shouting my name; something I would hear for the next 11 hours or so. My wife shouted to me and then tried and failed to take my photo and then I heard the mad screaming of Darren J and Nina. They certainly made sure that I knew they had got up at daft o’clock to come and support me. Next up was Kelly Anne standing on a table to make sure she could see. The support from friends from all over and that of complete strangers never ceased to amaze me and at times could have got me quite emotional if I didn’t have a race to run.
The bike was something that I was looking forward to and I knew that after riding the bike course lap over 20 times in training, I could not be any more prepared. Only a fall or bike malfunction could have slowed me down. Riding out of Pennington Flash was quite congested and several people were surprised by the speed humps and almost fell off. This wasn’t helped by the vast array of bottles, gels and even tool kits that were bounced off bikes into our path. It’s a good job they took so long checking their bikes before the start; at least they knew what stuff they had to go back for. I later found out that my mate John had hit some gravel trying to avoid a hump and had fallen off; he was ok, but it took its toll later in the run. Well that was his excuse anyway.
The ride to Adlington and the start of the loop was pretty straight forward and my only concern was the risk of getting a penalty for draughting. For anyone that doesn’t know, you can get a 6 minute penalty and then disqualified for riding within 10 metres of the bike in front. There were times in the 1st 15 miles that it felt like I was on a leisurely club ride with bikes all around me, but Sheep House Lane soon put paid to that. SHL is the longest climb on the course and skirts up and over Rivington Pike and soon spread out the field of riders.
Even though it was only just after 8 am the crowds had started gathering and the support was excellent. Plenty of riders set off up the climb like they were trying to win the polka dot jersey, but the length of the climb meant that staying steady and spinning your legs was the most efficient way to get up it and I tried not to get into a race with anyone. There was loads of support telling me how strong I looked and I was soon at the top and on my way down the fast descent into Belmont that I had practised so many times. 2 riders sitting in the grass verge checking out what looked like serious cuts and grazes proved how easily your race could end if you weren’t careful. The ride from Belmont through Abbey Village to the motorway was undulating but fast and was an opportunity to make sure I was taking on food and drink; malt loaf and clif shot blocks were my food of choice and I alternated with energy drink and electrolyte to wash it down. From the motorway it was back uphill to Wheelton before the new part of the course through Brinton and Clayton le Woods. It didn’t seem to matter where you were on the course, there always seemed to be a short sharp hill, followed by a cheeky little descent. The knowledge of the course I gained by training endlessly on it really helped me, because I’m not the most proficient cyclist around, I really felt that all the hours were paying off now.
If you asked anyone doing the Ironman what they were looking forward to least, if they didn’t say the swim, then they probably said, “Hunters Hill”. For any of you that don’t know where that is, it’s the road that goes up Harrock Hill from the Farmers Arms to the Rigbye Arms. The problem is that the gradient is so STEEP, but there were crowds all the way up it shouting encouragement. The 1st time round was at about 55 miles; 2nd time round was at 96 miles, but in true Boy Scout tradition I was well prepared and had practised just that, so I was almost looking forward to it.
The 2nd lap was more of the same just slightly warmer, but with even bigger crowds. At the top of SHL the mist had cleared and there was Tour de France style support from a bunch of fellas in fancy dress. There was a guy in a mankini, Bo Selecta and Superman cheering us on with plenty of “normal” supporters as well. Hunters Hill was just as loud if not louder than before with the Triathlon Hub brigade renaming it Hubsters Hill; I even managed to high 5 a mate from work that was enjoying a pint at The Rigbye Arms. The best by far though was Babylon Lane in Adlington with only 6 or 7 miles to go. It was the 3rd time we had ridden up this cheeky little slope, but Colt Tri club had made it their own and a huge crowd were in the road forming a narrow funnel for us to ride through. There was a DJ playing music and as I passed through them “Happy” was belting out through the PA; this couldn’t have described my feelings any better. Someone spotted my name and shouted that I was making it look easy and at that moment I would have happily done another lap just to ride past them again. The whole thing made you forget that you had ridden over 100 miles and still had a marathon to come.
Transition 2 was at The Macron Stadium (that’s Reebok to those that don’t follow Bolton Wanderers). My bike split was 6 hours 15 minutes which was 15 minutes faster than planned. After a quick burst on me banjo (comfort break to any budding sports commentators) I was changed into my running gear and off; ONLY a marathon to do. I had fuelled really well on the bike (or at least I thought I had), but I fully expected to hit the wall at some point during the run, so I was keeping a careful eye on my mile splits to try and delay the inevitable for as long as possible, but I was straight into my running and feeling strong. The course was initially a point to point, before starting to lap along Chorley New Road into Bolton Town Centre. I checked my watch as it buzzed to tell me I was 1 mile down, 25 to go; it said 7:12!!! I tried not to panic and just eased off the gas. I passed the 1st feed station as I was carrying a water bottle and my watch buzzed again; 7:21 so I slowed again. Next mile was 7:37 and although still too fast, (I was looking for 8:00 pace) it was going in the right direction and I was feeling good.
After a turn round point in the road, the route dropped off the main road and went down onto the canal at Lostock. It was the 1st and possibly the only time that I noticed it quiet with no support; it was also the 1st time it had dawned on me just how hot it was. I’m not sure if it was actually a few degrees warmer by the canal or whether this was really my body overheating, but the wheel nuts were going slack and my wheels were definitely getting ready to fall off.
After a couple of miles of lonely running I could see a large stone bridge that was full of people again, all cheering us on. I had to run underneath the bridge and the noise momentarily muffled, before I could hear them once more on the other side. A short distance further on we crossed over the canal and turned back to run towards the bridge and the cheering crowds again. The pathway up onto the bridge was a steep little dirt track that had my legs screaming for me to stop, but I just about managed to keep going. The encouragement going over the bridge was fantastic, but the sight of another hill in front of me filled me with dread as I realised that this was it. After just over 6 miles, with 20 left to go; I had hit the wall. This had happened to me a few times before, but never after 6 miles. Maybe I’m being a little bit harsh on myself as you do have to consider the 114.4 miles that I had swam and cycled before the 6 miles that I had run and the 8 and a half hours they had taken. Either way if I finished, I knew I was going to have to earn the title Ironman.
I walked to the top of the hill and told myself that I was going to run once I got there. The crowd was 5 or 6 deep at the top and there was no way I wasn’t going to run or more realistically shuffle once I got there. The crowds were amazing and lined both sides of the road; every single person was clapping and shouting encouragement. I started to think about what I needed to do to try to refuel, but I remembered the simple fact that said you can’t absorb energy as fast as you can use it up. Then I thought about the guy that gave the pre race talk 2 days before, he had said that you should prepare mentally to walk, because you WILL end up walking and so I tried to think of a plan B. By the time I reached the next feed station I hadn’t really come up with a plan B or with anything new or radical in Ironman race tactics, I just stopped running. I wasn’t sure what I wanted or needed to do, but throwing 2 cups of cold water over my head was a good start. I didn’t want to try the gels they had on offer as you always get told not to try anything new and I really didn’t fancy anything so sweet. Instead I tried the warm, flat, coke which is a bit of an Ironman tradition apparently, but it was probably the worst thing I had tasted in years. I eventually popped another clif shot block in my mouth and grabbed another cup of water and I started to walk on my way.
To start walking again after being stood still, even for a few seconds was tough, but not nearly as tough as trying to start running again after 50 yards of walking. I could only think that this was going to be a very long day if I had to walk the rest of the way. For the next few miles all I could think of was keeping running, but my body was screaming for me to stop. I tried to hold off walking again for as long as possible and eventually I had sort of come up with a plan B; I was going to try and run for 2 miles and then walk while I ate an energy block and took a sip of electrolyte, but then I was going to run again….simple. As always this was easier said than done. As I got into Bolton Town centre my mind was distracted as I looked out for the Scope cheer point as that was where my wife and family would be. Even in the huge crowds the purple gazebo could be seen as soon as I had turned the corner. I stopped when I got to them and told them what state I was in, but they thought I was doing great as I had arrived exactly when I said I would; the walking had so far been cancelled out by my fast swim and bike. After a few more words of encouragement and a few hugs and kisses I turned to see a placard in the road that said “honk if you’re tired”. I wondered whether it was an invitation to be sick in front of everyone, but then noticed the horns that you could press if you had the energy; I did and got a loud cheer for my effort.
I found the run course quite tough and not just because for most of it I was trying to keep moving. It was surprisingly hilly and there were lots of twists and turns and 2 complete double back turn-a-rounds on each of the 3 laps. After each lap you could pick up a wrist band that indicated which lap you were on. As I picked up my 1st wrist band I could see the top of a white gazebo; great, the feed station…no such luck. Although it looked like a feed station and was lined with people holding out drinks it was actually outside a pub and all the drinks were alcoholic; I haven’t wanted a glass of lager as much…EVER. I saw this mirage on the next 2 laps as well as my tiredness got worse.
By the time I got back into Bolton to see my family all I wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep; I could even feel my eyes drifting shut as I was running towards them. I stopped to speak to them again and with 10 miles still to go; I wondered if I had been kidding myself and was going to have to try and explain to everyone how I ended up with DNF in the results. I did get some sympathy from my wife and 2 sisters, but my brother in law soon put paid to any doubts that I had. He simply said, “Come on Glynny, you know you’re not going to quit”. With that I tried once more to break into a shuffle come jog and I told them that I wouldn’t be stopping the next time round. I was determined to run between the feed stations and walk through them and try to eat and drink something at each 1.
4 miles later a strange thing happened; as my watch buzzed to say 20 miles complete, it dawned on me that I was going to finish. I had long since forgotten about pace and mile splits and I wasn’t in any better shape, but I just knew that I would finish. It was still just as difficult to get moving after each walk, but when I was running, I was running a bit faster and with a bit more focus. I picked up my last wrist band to say that the next time I got into the town centre; I would be allowed to run down the finishers chute and onto the red carpet. Wearing that wrist band was like having a great big sign that said “Cheer now”, because every time I did a left handed fist pump everyone knew that I was on my last lap and soon to be an Ironman.
As I got to the red carpet, the commentator had already told everyone that I was arriving; I could have been the winner the way he introduced me. My name was written above the finishers’ gantry and I spotted myself on a huge TV screen and then he shouted, “Mark Glynn, YOU ARE…” and the crowd that was at least 10 deep on both sides of the road screamed back at him “AN IRONMAN!” It was without doubt the most euphoric I had ever felt and I wasn’t shuffling in, I was somehow running like I was on air and grinning like I had cramp in my cheeks. I crossed the line in 11 hours 44 minutes and 4 seconds and I was an Ironman. Would I do another? What do you think? Of course I’m going to do another, anyone want to join me?