Right from the start of Ironman UK race week, this felt very different to anything I had done before.
I was glad when the time came to travel to Bolton on Friday, arriving in time to register and attend a race briefing. Luckily I was kept busy on Saturday delivering my bike and transition bags to the right places, but Sunday morning couldn’t come fast enough.
Even by triathlon standards the 3am alarm call on Sunday was early. Three hours later I’m standing in a queue of 2,000 very nervous competitors waiting to be allowed into the water. With over half of the field – including me – doing their first Ironman, the atmosphere was incredible.
Once in the water my nerves turned to excitement. I soak up every moment of it, it was exhilarating. As I swam towards the start line I looked behind me to see a huge crowd of people treading water. I was somewhere in the middle of the pack. This was going to be interesting! Suddenly the hooter went and we were off.
The noise is incredible as 2,000 people burst into action. For the first few hundred metres there’s no room at all. I get clattered a few times, but nothing too bad. By about 600 metres I’ve found some room and some rhythm.
The second lap is much less congested. As I approach the exit for the last time, a volunteer reaches his hand out and I grabbed it gratefully. He pulled me up the ramp and seconds later my feet were on terra firma. One Ironman swim done in 81 minutes. I was quickly into T1 and six minutes later I am on my bike.
The bike course was two circuits of the Lancashire countryside and the support’s fantastic. By far the highlight of the bike course for me is “Colt Alley” – the hill out of Adlington where hundreds of spectators line the route, pressing right into the road and leaving only a few metres for competitors to cycle through. It was a real goosebumps moment.
Finally after just over seven hours on the bike, I pull into T2 at the Reebok Stadium. I love my TT bike but I wasn’t sorry to hand it to a bike catcher and head into the changing tent.
The run course of Ironman UK is brutal – there is no better word to describe it. It includes 1,000 feet of ascent. It consists of a short run into the centre of Bolton and then three times round a town-centre circuit.
I spot my wife Cate about two miles into the run – a huge morale boost. Then onto the towpath of the canal where I take a short break and walk with two guys from Team True Spirit. Two humble but deeply inspirational human beings – suddenly my aching legs seemed unimportant.
The first loop in town is fun and the route is lined with supporters cheering. But coming out of town is a different story, as most of the outward part of the run loop is uphill.
The second lap is tougher, but made easier by meeting many people who I’ve been virtual friends with on Facebook for a while, but who then become real friends in Bolton through our common struggle. Whoever you are, an Ironman ultimately boils down to a moment when your body says no and you have to find a way to say yes. It happens to me around 30km into my second run lap. From there it’s one long negotiation with my body. I don’t think I let myself off lightly, but I definitely slow down on the last third of the run as my weary legs falter.
Eventually I’m at the turning point at the far end of town for the last time. I pass over the timing mat and turn for home – four kilometres to go. Past the noisy supporters at the pub – three kilometres. Past the volunteers giving out lap bands on the other side of the road – 2.5 kilometres. Down the steep hill into town and into the final feed station – just a cup of water this time – less than one kilometre to go.
As I leave the feed station I can hear the announcer at the finish line. I run round the corner, into Victoria Square and there’s the finish – 200 metres of Bolton’s dusty cobbles are all that stand between me and my Ironman dream.
I run into the top of the long-winding finishing chute and stopped for a big hug with Cate. I continue slowly down the red carpet and hear over the PA system: “Enjoy your finish Peter, YOU – ARE – AN - IRONMAN.” I’ve done it. 13 hours and 33 minutes after I started in Pennington Flash I have finished. I am an Ironman!
The next morning I find myself wide awake at 5am. As I lie in bed reliving the events of the day before, I feel a real sense of satisfaction and pride. I hadn’t come to Bolton to qualify for Kona, or to win a prize or even for a fast time. I came looking for the answer to a question: when I push myself to my limits and I am staring into the abyss, have I got what it takes? The answer came at about 7.30pm on Sunday evening when I heard those four words.
You can read my blog at http://peterwhent.wordpress.com.
(Main image: Getty)