My first Ironman: Doug Hadlington’s Nice experience

Doug Hadlington was in Nice to attempt his first Ironman. Here he recaps his journey from tri newbie to the Promenade des Anglais finishline…

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As I stood on the beach in Nice at 6:10am I thought back to last September when I was entered in a Sprint Tri for my 48th birthday surprise. Having not swam in the sea since I was a child, and having only run a few hundred yards, I relied on my cycling which was still in it’s infancy.

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Back then a 400m swim took nearly a quarter of an hour, furious splashing, and copious amounts of water swallowed. I now looked out over a tranquil sea topped with an early morning golden glow, mulling over all I had learnt since then.

A friend (she still is!) whose boss had done an Ironman entered me in the Sprint Tri following my flippant comments along the lines of “Well, how hard could it be if Lee’s done one?” I later met Lee who began to fill my mind with such terms as, hydration, fuel intake, and bricks, and I guess my somewhat blank expression lead to him giving me a load of back issues of assorted tri mags.

In March I phoned Lee about doing the Stratford Sprint Tri, he agreed, so I dived into some swimming, upped the cycling and started to jog. Following the event, in which he beat me by 19secs, one beer followed another and I found myself agreeing to do an Ironman France on 24 June.

I embarked on buying some proper gear. “I’ve come for a tri-suit,” I proudly announced as I strutted into the shop. “ Right mate, what you doing?” Quick as a flash “a triathlon” I boasted. “ No mate, what you doing?” Before he could continue I`d said “ Stratford”. “What distance?” began the shopkeeper. Again I butted in “about 40 miles away.” After a moments silence he got a word in sideways “What distance tri are you doing?”  My knowledge had already been severely dented as I uttered “Sprint.”

Laden down with the kit I needed, head spinning with advice, and a dented bank account to match my dented pride, I left the shop with “ Welcome to the world of Ironman, mate,” ringing in my ears.

I visited the shop several times with loads of advice coming my way, with wetsuits, real running shoes, supplements, energy bars, a superb second hand P2, technical assistance and a flow of cash in the other direction. All this was fitted in around three swims a week, two long bikes and some running. I did another Sprint Tri, which showed big improvements were being achieved.

Disaster struck on a long run, iliotibia band said the physio. I knew my marathon would be extremely painful. Not to be put off I had some coaching to improve my swim.

Lee went through training regimes for hydration and fuel intakes, my preparation was now looking a lot more proficient; bricks aren’t just to build houses with, fartleks aren’t rude.

I arrived in Nice four days before the race to acclimatise and get some sea swimming in. That was vital. No amount of pool work prepares you for the taste and the swell. There’s no comfort zone to reach for or floor to stand on. The heat called for a rethink on the hydration strategy and fuel intake.

Cut to 6:30am and a klaxon sounded and we were off. Well, everyone else was, I dropped my nose clip which took 30 seconds of scrabbling in the pebbles to find. This proved a bonus as 2,500 bodies all fighting to be first in the same bit of sea resembles a rugby scrum where points are scored for; ducking opponents, kicking them, pulling off caps and goggles… the actual swim starts a little later. 3.8km never felt so easy, only to realise that it was a two-loop course and I still had 1.4km to go! I took immense confidence in seeing how many people I’d overtaken. 1:43hrs for the dreaded swim, which I’d only swam twice before in a pool, was completed 7mins better than my PB.

Now with my bike, sun lotion and bum cream applied, both of which were confiscated at the security checks in the airport. Helmet on I legged forward, effortlessly gliding my leg over the saddle into the other pedal clip. Well no, not quite. My “gliding” leg actually kicked out both of my hydration drinks from my rear holsters. One holster was broken but the practising of bottle grabbing proved it’s worth.

My long rides had been 70s and 80s with only one over 100. With other riders crawling along and others flying past or skidding off, there was plenty to occupy my mind. The scenery was breathtaking, as was the hill climbing. Keeping out of the draught zone, hydrating, eating hot jelly babies, runny muesli bars, slurping in the energy gels, I finished the bike a few seconds under 7hrs and realised I had spare fuel in my tanks.

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I noticed a man with one leg in front of me, strapping on his prosthesis. I smiled at him and, with the camaraderie I’d witnessed throughout the whole event, he said “Bon course,” and legged it. With a mix of walk, run, hobble, walk I finished the marathon in 5:50hrs. I am an IRONMAN.