Some events in our lives never leave us and change us forever, from getting our first job, getting married and the birth of a child. Coming across the line of the Ironman on Sunday for me is a massive milestone.
Having once been a 17st 7lbs and never very sporty it was the ultimate test for me. I started cycling for sport and to raise money for people with special needs in 2007 cycling solo from Dover to Lands End. Then a few years later I upped the mileage with an 1108 mile solo ride to every premiership football and rugby club in the country in 12 days. I then did a 99 mile, self-routed triathlon with Katie Blair (Price) back in 2013. I was bad at swimming and running but I loved it. I read a book by Andy Holgate called Can’t Swim, Can’t Ride, Can’t Run; and I started to believe that maybe an Ironman would be possible.
I started 2014 way outside my comfort zone, I had never really trained with anyone let alone a club, so joining Hedge End running club took a lot. The warm welcome and the support the club offers soon made me feel at ease and I begun to get better. Now, if you have been following me you know that I’ve gone from being able to run 10miles to running 55 mile ultras all with the clubs support. In September last year I was lucky enough to help get the triathlon side of HERC up and running and after help from the swimming sessions and Sarah Lown I finally mastered my swimming technique. No more painful shoulders from swimming with my head out of the water.
The training for an Ironman is not easy, everyone around you is affected. The early mornings, the hours in the saddle and murky lakes are all part of a triathlete’s life style. You have to have a good support network and I have the best. My girls have put up with and missed out on so much for me to follow me my dream, I am truly grateful for all their support. Like any training plan there were bumps in the road and breaking my hand at the beginning of April was my bump. My hand came out of cast just eleven and a half weeks before the race. I had to work hard to regain my strength and get back on track.
Race weekend came round fast and before I knew it I was in Bolton. People are shocked when I tell them I spent over £400 to enter a race. It is expensive, but to race an Ironman is not just any race, it’s an experience. From the second you arrive you can see and feel the difference. At registration you are given a backpack instead of a brown envelope with your number in. There is a three day expo with some of the leading brands in triathlons. The welcome party and race briefing were more like shows. The welcome party included a sit down meal and gave a chance to meet the pros and made you feel like you were part of something amazing. I know Ironman is a company and a massive brand, but they make you feel like a pro from start to finish. It was worth every penny.
The night before the race I got very little sleep and when the alarm went off at 2:50am I sprang out of bed sorted myself out and headed for breakfast. Putting food inside you at 3:30 feels wrong if you don’t normally do it. We travelled down to the lake and I gave the bike one last look over to check it was ready. I zipped myself in my wetsuit and joined the line of over 2000 athletes. The swim this year was a rolling start instead of the mass start of years gone by. This meant there were just 30 swimmers on top of me instead of hundreds! My first lap seemed to go well and I was happy sticking to a comfortable pace. As I exited the water of Australia swim I checked my Garmin and was happy to see the time. As I jumped back in for the second lap the first pros were running into T1. My second lap also felt comfortable, as I was pulled up onto the platform I checked my watch once again and couldn’t believe my eyes, it was my best Iron distance (2.4miles) open water swim ever at 01:24:27. I ran past a very wet looking Pippa with a massive grin on my face.
Transition tent was like a steam room with everyone peeling off wetsuits and getting ready to brave the wet and windy conditions of the bike course. I exited transition carrying my bike over the massive muddy puddle which had formed. I took it easy for the first few miles to settle myself after the swim. The roads were already lined with supporters, most of which were residents’. The bike route climbed out from Pennington Flash up to the laps section of the course. By the time I reached the first major climb of the day the rain had stopped but the wind had picked up with gusts of 35mph on some very exposed roads. Overall the elevation gain on the bike section totalled 2160meters, so no easy course. The support was amazing with crowds ten deep in places, it was like riding the tour de France. My average speed was a bit lower than I would have wanted but with those hills and the conditions I was more than happy to reach T2 in 07:29:23.
This time in transition I took my time made sure I had fresh socks on and some sun cream, as the day had cheered up. My plan for the run was to try and run 5 mph, I was soon to realise that this was not going to be the case; this course had 1106meters of climbing and that would take its toll. As I got to mile nine and past Pippa for the first time, I was starting to get stomach cramps. I headed back out up the course and started to feel dizzy. At the next fuel station and took a quick loo break and refuelled myself like my life depended on it. I set back off and within five minutes started to feel much better. The cramps had died down and my head was back in the game. My plan was to walk the hills and run the rest. With legs burning the support from the people of Bolton really helped, there were people dressed up like super heroes and small children lining the streets wanting high fives from everyone who ran past. The next time I ran past Pippa in town I had my smile back and was trying to claw back my lost time. I always said I wanted under 15 hours and I wasn’t going to let a little set back stop me reaching my goal. The last lap was awesome, I thanked every marshal and person I could for the great support. As I run into the town centre for the last time I knew this was it. I over took at least 30 people on the last half a mile. I ran towards the finish line pointing at my number when I saw the commentator, knowing that would signal him to say the words I had been saying over and over in my head for months. As I run under the tunnel, all I could hear was ‘Keith you are an Ironman’, that moment will never leave me.
It was almost an hour off my normal marathon time but I didn’t care. I had just covered 140.6 miles under my own steam in 14:56:47. Not bad for a unit, on a hilly, windy course where 150 did not finish. The strap line for Ironman is ‘Anything is Possible’ and I think on Sunday I proved that. It’s not just about how fit you are it’s about going to places in your mind that help you get through, a mental toughness. I’ve been asked how much energy you use doing this event, personally I burnt 13633 calories over the race.
I have so many people to thank that it would take about 3 sides of A4, so I will give you the short version.
My friends: sorry for not being there and thanks for supporting my girls.
My family: thanks for helping the girls out when I wasn’t about and all your support.
The running and triathlon clubs: Thanks for the inspirational people, the training and advice.
The charities I was doing the race for: You are amazing and the difference you make to people’s lives is incredible.
Everyone: Thanks for all the support and encouraging messages.
My Girls: Things haven’t been easy in your own lives and yet you still made time for me to train. We have gone through highs and lows together over the past few years and I think we are have come out stronger than ever. You girls are my world and I couldn’t ask for a better wife and daughter.
I have already been asked what next? I have a half iron distance booked in for September and an ultra marathon for December. As for if I would ever do an ironman again? Yes I would but not for some time, my girls are my main focus. It will be nice to have the time to help others who have just started the sport I love.
Thank you for coming along for the ride