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20 Aug 2009


Ok I admit it, this post has been a long time coming, and for that I apologise, but here it is, finally, the account from the big day itself.

I made it to Friday not having drunk a single drop for 3 weeks, and 2 days prior to the big day came the biggest challenge yet - a work trip to Cowes, mainly involving hideous amounts of boozing. I stuck to my guns and enjoyed a relaxing day messing around in a speedboat, eating as much as possible and generally relaxing in the sun.

On Saturday the nerves began to kick in a bit and I must have checked and sorted my kit fifteen times that day, packing and unpacking, going back time and again. Having visited the course last week I tried to think about a strategy, where to conserve energy and where to try and nail it, but all I could really come up with was don't go too hard too early, on all three stages!

For the fourth night in a row I stuffed myself with as much pasta as I could force in, feeling uncomfortably full and bloated and also hugely lethargic - perhaps I should have gone out for a gentle run on Thursday after all. With the alarm on for 4.45 I slept sporadically but woke feeling surprisingly fresh.

The early morning drive over to Excel was surreal, a beautiful morning, nervous excitement, energy drink and a steadily growing sick feeling in the pit of my stomach all merging together at 5.30am to make me feel pretty uneasy. The centre was a mass of fit looking, sporty types running around in cool looking kit, wetsuits worn half off, £4,000 road bikes and then little old me, in my tracksuit and hoody wondering what the hell was going on. We registered in an aircraft hangar sized hall, queuing up in a line of impending doom as we waited to receive numbers and race tag. The transition was on another level completely, thousands of bikes racked up and the other end of the hall barely visible. I found myself a spot next to a cheery northern chap and got myself ready, spying Jenson Button just two rows away and looking pretty serious.

Having negotiated toilets that smelt worse than Glastonbury I headed over to the Swim start area along with four hundred others and donned my hat to become just another nutcase in rubber. The mood was excited, friendly and energising and helping others with wetsuits, chatting and getting involved in a jovial bit of Ogi Ogi Ogi settled my nerves tremendously. Anna got some great shots as I stood in the pen with all my other green hatted mates and then followed me outside to get some more as I grinned like a child in anticipation of the water.

Nothing really can prepare you for being in a group of 400 grown men swimming out across Victoria Dock at 7.30 in the morning with Canary Wharf behind you and nothing but blazing early morning sun in front of you. A couple of 'good lucks' and a few deep breaths and we were off. I had no idea where I was headed and was surrounded in the washing machine esque turmoil of water but got my head down and stuck in. The first few hundred metres were infuriating, people swimming across me, banging my legs and stopping in front of me but after a while I settled down and got into a reasonable rhythm. The half way point was upon me before too long and feeling good I carried on, looking up less and less often as the Excel centre to my right guided me home.

With the Swim over in 32 minutes I managed to get out of my wetsuit without too many issues and scoot into the Transition, jogging carefully along the painted concrete floor, paranoid that I would stack it, all the way to the top end of the hall to where Jessica was waiting. Talc in my socks worked a treat and although it was painfully slow I felt like T1 passed all too quickly. Suddenly I was out of the hall and into the bright morning once more, fumbling with an energy gel and settling into a good pace. Without pushing too hard I overtook a few quicker swimmers and got an added boost on seeing Mum and Dad walking along the route, shortly followed by Anna, Mike and Andy after the first turn.

Pushing along sweetly and getting out onto Embankment I began to get a nagging pain in my lower back which lingered on, getting slowly worse. At the 27km mark and turning point at Westminster I was relatively alone, passing the odd person and having the leaders of the next wave come flying past me on their carbon fibre clad speed machines. The pain was more annoying than anything else and meant I was constantly adjusting my position. The benefit of this however was I spent more than half of what I thought would be my favourite section really wanting to get off the bike and start running. As I came back in towards Excel I saw the guys again which gave me an added boost and helped me power through the last few roundabouts before spinning quickly in a low gear to ready myself for the run. This worked so well that I somehow spun the chain right off the cog and dropped dangerously close to the top tube before realising and standing up, saving my under-carriage from total destruction.

Slipping along the polished tarmac floor in my bike shoes was pretty hair raising and I'd almost made it back in to transition when I heard some useful advice from Bob, standing by the sidelines as he shouted 'don't fall over' - cheers Dad! T2 was much much better than the first and the elastic laces came into their own so much so that I was out and running before I could even think about it. The course ran under a covered walkway to the side of the dock before emerging into the open and taking on a cruel wooden bridge, steep and slippery. Once more the guys were in a perfect position and spurred me on right from the start.

My legs felt good and sticking to the strategy of going off gently I took on some water and tried not to push too hard. The route followed the edge of the dock and before long I passed the 3km mark and even though it felt like I was barely moving I'd averaged just over 4min/km. I tried to stick with this pace, excitedly realising that I was on for a 41 or so minute run. Going back into Excel to start the second loop gave me another burst but everything was starting to properly hurt by this point and on the loop back round the dock my body was suddenly feeling really quite painful. I pushed on through, trying to keep the pace steady and had become so transfixed on my km splits that I didn't even start to consider my overall time. Once the realisation began to set in that I could actually get near to 2hrs 30 I had another spurt and gritting my teeth picked up the pace. I hit the 9km mark and absolutely went for it, going as hard as I possibly could for the final 1000m. The crowds were fantastic and helped to block out the pain, as did I, running for too much of this last part with my eyes almost shut!

I came to the final turn and pushed up and over the wooden bridge for the last time, legs screaming and lungs burning,sprinting past 2 other guys with similar numbers to me and powering as fast as I could back into Excel and through the finish tunnel, to cross the line in 2hrs and 34minutes dead.

I was absolutely done for and was feeling pretty dizzy, but I'd finished and that was all that mattered. Later Anna showed me a great picture having just finished, hand clamped over mouth and eyes shut, looking like I was about to vom. It was an amazing feeling to finish and to have felt like I did so well, and although I felt I had given it everything I was already thinking about how to shave off those additional 4 minutes and post a sub 2:30 time next year. It was damn hard, but so much fun and yes I would definitely do it again next year.

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