Phil Hodgson recently completed one of the most beautiful and demanding races on the circuit – Ironman France. Here, in his words, is his story…
I’m an Ironman!
Unless you’ve been to an event of this size, it must be hard to imagine the awesome sight of two-and-a-half thousand swimmers setting off from a 120m wide stretch of beach and heading straight out to sea towards a buoy on the horizon?
The mass of flailing arms and bobbing heads resembled a shoal of piranha zeroing in on its prey, or so I’m told. I couldn’t see it as I was part of the melee of wetsuits and multi-coloured swim caps jockeying for position and trying to find a calmer patch of water where I could get into some sort of rhythm.
This was it…the goal I’d focused on for the last six months was here and now… Nice, 6.30am, 28th June 2009… Ironman France.
I recall being encouraged to enter by a friend. We’d had a few drinks. "I’ll enter if you do", he’d said. “We’ll have six months to train for it.”
Swim 3.8km. Bike 180km. Run 42km. Doesn’t sound too bad if you read it quickly. With my ultra-running background, the marathon wouldn’t hold many surprises and I was confident that the biking would be okay, with six months of full on training and well-padded bib shorts. However, having never contemplated doing a triathlon before, my major concern was that I could only swim two lengths of a 25m pool… and I hated swimming.
I’ve heard it said that you’re past it at 50. I beg to differ. I’m 53, but there’s a few PBs left in me yet! And, “You can’t teach old dogs new tricks”. I’d disagree. Although I found learning to swim one of the most daunting challenges of my life, I got there in the end.
Fast forward six months and, having spent hours each week in the local pool, and finally overcome my innate fear of open-water swimming only three weeks before, I found myself part of the thrashing shoal of would be Ironpersons, swimming out to sea in the Bay of Anges.
Once underway, with heart rate steadying after the initial adrenalin surge, I started to enjoy myself despite the alien environment. The surreal nature of the situation brought an underwater smile to my face.
T1. A forest of saddles and wheels beyond wheels disappearing towards infinity as if reflected in opposing mirrors. Some of the bikes cost more than a car but I remember a certain person insisting that “It’s not about the bike”.
My legs agreed as I ground up the relentless 21km climb to the Caussols plateau. More hills follow as the race route undulated through picturesque Provence scenery. Then the best bit. Big downhill… 38km of it.
Down on the drops, hammering the biggest gear, leaning into the bends, occasionally ‘caressing’ the brakes on the hairpins and overtaking lots of less reckless riders. My smile, which had retreated since hitting the big climbs, had now reached Cheshire Cat proportions. The climbs were worth it just for this sheer exhilaration.
Picture the tens of thousands of spectators lining a 10km stretch of Nice promenade, cheering and calling competitors’ names.
Thousands of runners, well spread out now, are running, jogging, shuffling, walking… staggering under the searing south of France sun. Four laps – sheer purgatory.
But, eventually, the last lap and a sprint up the blue carpet to the timing arch over the finishing line. 13:16:21. I raised a fist for the photographers, “Yes”, I grinned, “I’ve done it! … I’m an Ironman”.
Phil Hodgson, Team Krypton Tri
Fell runner and ultra runner