His First Ironman

Amy Martin gives a first-person account of what it's like watching your loved one compete in an Ironman


Amy Martin’s boyfriend, Daniel Clarke, is a keen triathlete and 220 reader. When he competed in his first Ironman – Ironman Wales – in September, Amy wrote an account detailing what it’s like for people who watch their loved ones compete. So remember Ironmen and women – this is what you put them through!

My boyfriend Daniel competed in his first Ironman on September 11th 2011. I thought I’d write my own experience of what it’s like to be a supporter at an event like this, because whilst I can’t understand the dedication it takes Daniel to complete such a feat, similarly I don’t think those who have never been on the other side of the barriers can appreciate the emotional toll it takes to watch someone you love put themselves through that.
One of Daniel’s good friends Bryan Riley was competing too, and was there with his wife Lynn. Bryan had just completed Ironman Bolton and done Ironman Switzerland and Lake Placid in previous years. Having an experienced athlete there was invaluable to Daniel, and I was very thankful for an experienced companion like Lynn because this experience was like nothing else.
At transition the next morning I watched Daniel, standing a dozen rows away from me and have never felt more separated from him. He paced around the bike and I knew there was no help I could give him. I felt useless. I realised as he walked up and down that I was following him, mirroring his movements. But the dividing barrier there meant that I could never understand how he felt at that moment, nor him me.
We were joined by Daniel’s brother Paul on the walk to the swim start. The sheer volume of people there put my heart in my mouth: how would these guys get past each other let alone the buoys? I realised that it’d be hard to tell where he was and I’d have to wait until he was out before I saw him again.
Daniel had predicted 1hr20m for the swim so from 1hr onwards I was tense and silent. In every other race I know roughly where Daniel will be in the field, but the huge number of racers made me feel like everyone was out of the water but him. I saw Bryan at around 50min, gave him a cheer and then went back to waiting. When I saw Daniel at last it was a relief! He looked strong and smiled when he saw us waving. I was a huge relief as the swim always worries me the most.
Lynn and I walked to where the bikes would come back ifrom their first loop west. Daniel had predicted 6hrs on the bike, Bryan slightly less. As this was Daniel’s first Ironman I was getting loads of messages and Tweets about his progress and Lynn was able to access Ironmanlive.com for the official times. Eventually we were told the lead bike was about 10 mins away.
The time came when we both sensed we should’ve seen Bryan. We’d definitely see him first given his 20min lead on Daniel from the swim, but as the minutes ticked by, Lynn was silent. I completely understood. Not knowing where your racer is is hard to accept – and there’s nothing you can do about it.
When we saw Bryan and he passed us almost before we realised it was him and relief flooded through us both. I knew Daniel would be about 25mins behind, but that came and went. I tried calling his brother who was at an earlier vantage point but couldn’t get through, and we couldn’t track him on Ironmanlive.com, so where was he?? But he eventually arrived smiling, totally oblivious to the panic in my head. So, knowing he was fine, I went off to find a good spot at transition.
We waited there but Bryan was having a slow transition – these happen so we didn’t think too much of it. But when a runner came past that we’d seen go in quite a bit after Bryan we were both nervous. Eventually Lynn couldn’t handle it anymore, left her things and ran off to see if she could find him. 10 minutes later she was back looking relieved. She hadn’t seen Bryan but she’d seen another Mersey Tri racer who assured her he’d seen Bryan go out on the run and we must’ve missed him. Daniel finished the bike in 7:04:02, an hour later than predicted which explains my worrying. Of course, I didn’t know he’d had mechanical trouble.
On the run, he eventually appeared at the special needs station where I was waiting on the end of lap two and shouted that he didn’t need any of the energy bars I had, but asked that I wait until lap three just in case. This was a low point for me, it was lonely waiting there by myself and I was cold, wet and tired. But I knew Daniel would be far worse so I had to be there.
When I saw him for the third time he looked very tired. He didn’t take any food but gave me his race belt and carried on. I screamed encouragement but he didn’t even hear me – he looked completely out of it.
I went to the finish and met up again with Lynn. It was uplifting to see what finishing meant to the racers and the crowd alike. We soon spotted Bryan sporting a huge grin as he ran into finish in 11:54:58. It was another hour before I saw Daniel running steadily up the home straight to finish in an amazing 12:59:23. I rushed as fast as I could to behind the finish where he spotted me and came over and grabbed me. I was speechless. I couldn’t believe what I’d watch him do.
We are already booked to go off to Challenge Roth in July next year and who knows what before and after. I’ve learned that for racer and supporter Ironman brings a unique concoction of bonding and separation. I’m so glad I was there with Daniel, but I know I’ll never fully understand what goes on during those long 13hrs, just as he’ll never understand what it’s like to wait them out.