It’s 4:45am – I am bent over the sink in our room at the Intercontinental hotel Bayside Miami, our window looks over the swim course for the ironman 70.3 Miami which is due to start in about 2hrs time. A little voice in my head is saying “go back to bed, You have nothing to prove, seriously this isn’t just a man cold it’s a proper flu, you have no voice, this is stupid…”. The past 24hrs had been spent on a plane traveling from Cayman to Miami then into the hotel to build the bike all while convincing myself I was not getting sick. I even took the Mrs B out for dinner in South Beach whilst attempting to get someone to make me a good hot toddy (Still to find a bar tender who can replicate an Irish mothers hot toddy, one conversation resulted in me trying to explain what a kettle was to a young waitress when I asked her how she boiled water and she replied in the coffee machine!). So I have now been awake most of the night as a) I can’t breath as my nose is all blocked and b) have the beginnings of what I assume is Ebola, or the plague or something equally evil that has decided to infect me on the one day of the year I need to feel at my best. Now any endurance sports types out there reading this will acknowledge that it is the one thing we all dread, even more than a twisted ankle or pulled muscle, getting sick is just not in the plan. I mean why should we be sick, we are healthy people, eating good food and exercising like it’s a reason to exist. We become hypochondriacs, moan about every single malady that could strike us down, we all have witches brews and secret potions that we are convinced only we know about but that they will cure anything… so we are the greatest at convincing ourselves we are not sick because we have not put in all that time, training and expense to let something like the bubonic plague stop us from competing on race day.
So now you have it 4:45am I have bubonic plague.
Ok it’s a man cold but I feel like sh!t. My training over the last few weeks hasn’t been great either. I’ve not stuck to the plan, mainly because I have been traveling on business and had to fit runs in where I can. It’s that plane travel that’s made me sick, I know it! Clean recycled air my arse.
I take a look at myself in the mirror and say to myself “well I will start and if I can’t finish at least I know I did all I could. Mrs B was equally doubtful. The morning was cool and calm, a little breeze and the water temp for the swim was 83 degrees. I met up with Jon, Chris and Stuart as we headed into transition to set up our bikes and prepare for the hours ahead. All of us were quiet going through our own routines; me trying not to cough was the main thing! Once we had set up our stations I went back up to the hotel room for another check of myself, more ablutions and vaseline application to parts you shouldn’t apply to in public…Stuart and I were in the same swim wave, which was nice to have a familiar face to talk to pre race and ease the nerves which were plentiful. Stu was in pique form and looking forward to an amazing time, which I hoped he would get. My goals were simple. Try and finish! If I can finish, beat time from last year of 6hrs 8 mins, if I feel great do sub 6 hours. We jumped into the water and it was soooo much better than last year, for starters not a jellyfish in sight just me and some pretty clear water. We had 30 seconds before the starter fired the horn for our wave start and I took the time to look back upon the spectators some 5000 people lining she seafront cheering on their nearest and dearest. It always makes me smile because its one of the best sides of humanity to see. Encouragement, support, love.
With the sound of the horn I flicked the button on my watch and my race had started. I moved into some open water to the right of the swim channel found a nice rhythmical pace with few interruptions from other swimmers. The swim gives you a chance to think, reflect and talk yourself into the bike portion of the race, it also cleared out my sinuses brilliantly which I hadn’t expected and so my breathing became easy and lungs felt strong. This gave me a real lift and the hope that I might do this today after all! But this is mile 1 of 70 so lets not get too carried away. Once you hit the final buoy on the swim course and you can see in the distance those magical stairs that will take you out of the water and on to the bike its like being caught in a black hole it just sucks you in, you stay on course and for me there was no congestion as I exited the water. I took a look at my watch. 40 mins – sh!t – I had swam the same course in 32 mins last year that’s 8 minutes off the pace – immediately my head went into negative mode – “you must be sick, don’t worry just take it easy now…” but my rational side kicked in, “no way” I said to myself “ that felt good” & “my watch must be out” just keep going.
I ran up to transition putting the swim behind me and focusing on my favorite part of the race, a 90 kilometer bike ride. The Miami bike course is pretty much out and back so you get to see the pros on the other side of the course and it always gives me a boost to see how far I am behind them etc. Especially as they started first! I flicked my watch to the second setting for bike and off I went spending only 3 minutes precious time in transition.
Once out on the bike course I got my first shock, what felt like a hurricane of a headwind was severely hindering my forward momentum, I was looking at my speed and only maintaining around 30kph(19mph) considering I would normally average around 34-36Kph this was not amusing. You see the longer you spend on the bike the more energy you consume and I had only planned to spend 2hrs 35mins on the bike and had fueled for such. This pace would set me back 30 or so minutes which would mean I would have to grab another drink from an aid station which I didn’t want to do. So again plenty of time to think, watch your heart rate don’t over do it and remember that this headwind will become a tail wind for the return journey. So that’s what I banked on, a hurricane force tailwind on the way back, but with wind and weather you just don’t know till you turn! I don’t get passed by many other athletes on the bike section as its probably my strongest discipline, it doesn’t mean I’m the fastest but it does mean that people have to be going some and be able to maintain it to go past. I took solace in the fact that this was still holding true, other athletes were not over taking me which meant they were finding this headwind tough as well. When the turn around finally came it was with a euphoric roar that I immediately felt the release of the wind and a metaphorical shove in the back.
It was pure joy and another much needed lift, as I was sure I could not have carried on or finished if that wind had persisted. I looked down at my speed now 45kph (27mph) wow if I could just maintain this all the way back it will be awesome. Alas the wind didn’t give as much gusto as I had hoped but it still allowed for a solid 38kph average on the way back. I sailed into the bike transition full of hope that I might get through this. Just 13.1 miles of running torture, just 4 times over that bitch of a bridge that separates downtown Miami from South Beach. You got this.
That phrase you got this lasted until mile 4 when it turned into – You stop this now! My joints ached, my lungs burnt I was hot and quite miserable. I knew that I couldn’t stop there as I still had to get back over the bridge so I just said to myself Kym (Mrs B) is waiting at the halfway point just get to her she will make it all better. I don’t quite know how Kym was going to make it all better, but I knew that seeing Kym had to be the point of my decision. So I plodded on for 2 more miles. I saw Stu he was looking strong and on his final loop which gave me a lift. I don’t mean to sound cheesy but I do get joy out of seeing other people achieve what they want to, I know how much effort they put in. Each have their own demons, each has their own level of skill. Stu’s level is Jedi master compared to mine but either way he trains hard to achieve what he does and therefore deserves the success he achieves. I also wanted to see my other friends out on the course Jon who did this race with me last year and Chris S who has done 3 full Ironmen one of them with Jon and has certainly been another inspiration on my road to fitness as Chris battled some serious illness of his own and came through it stronger and more determined. Jon then came past in the opposite direction as he headed out on his first loop (They started about an hour after us as they are old men so were put in the geriatric wave at the back 😉 I’ll be in there age group next year, Jon didn’t notice me till I called his name, he was focused and looked really strong, I shouted he smiled and we both had said all that was needed.
As I neared where I knew kym would be I started frantically looking for her but I needn’t have worried she saw me way before I saw her and I saw the relief on her face and excitement that I was nearly done along with that look only your wife can give you. That look that says, your mad, but I get it and I love you keep going! That’s all I needed to turn round and do the 6 mile loop over that sodding bridge again. I got emotional as she ran by me for a few seconds wishing me well and asking how I was, it was difficult to talk, I think I said I’m done, I’ve nothing left. I told her I was going to the turnaround point and would be back in a sec, she crossed the road so she would be on the right side for my run back out.. During the 400 meter run to the turnaround point through the thickest of the spectators and well wishers I took stock. OK legs do you hurt? A little but we are not done yet, OK Hips, do you hurt? Yes but we are not done yet? Lungs how you doing – we are still working – It was at that point I remembered the 40% rule – when you think your done your really only 40% done, I was prepared to argue that I was about 80% done at this point but it would have wasted energy. I saw kym again then and received the lift I needed to get the last bit of this thing done. I set out on the final loop. It goes a bit blurry here lots of walking/running lots of self pep talks a bit of coughing and then as I was coming back over the long uphill part of the bridge I received a hug. It was Chris S, he must have seen me walking up the bridge and caught me up. His day wasn’t faring much better than mine plus he was still on his first loop. We walked briefly and I suggested we run back down the bridge we did but I didn’t want my slow pace to affect his if anything he had given me a boost and a distraction from my own internal monologue that got me going again. I have 15 minutes to break the 6 hour mark! Well reality kicked in I was prob moving at about the 12 min mile pace so I wasn’t going to make that, but I could beat my time from last year if I just keep moving! So following Chris’ lift I did, I urged him on at his pace and carried on at my renewed pace. It carried me into the final mile at around 5 hours 56 minutes crossing the line in 6 hours 6 minutes! A new PB Miami time for me.
So I started this with “get out of your head”. I was in and out of my own head so many times during that race, I was ill, I know I was but it didn’t stop me. We spend so much time deliberating in our head whether we should do something or not that very often we choose not through procrastination. I said I would do 3 Ironman 70.3 events this year. I said I would get enough points to qualify as an all world athlete. I said I would get down to 250lbs by the end of the year. Well 2 out of 3 isn’t bad and the year is not over!
Don’t let your head get in the way of a good idea. As Nike says – Just Do It!
NB: The swim course was slow as the tidal current was against us so everyone was slow! Phew! And my bike 2hrs 36 mins – we don’t talk about the run 😉