August 25, 2013

I did it! I swam 3.8 km in the sea, cycled 180 km and then ran 42.2 km in 13 hours and 10 minutes.

I am an Ironman!

In August 2010, 3 years ago, I was about halfway through my chemotherapy when the first ironman distance triathlon took place in Copenhagen. The bike route passed 500 meters from our house, so we went out to take a look. I stood there with my bald head and in the worst shape of my life and, totally in awe of those guys flashing past on their bikes, thought to myself that I would like to try that one day.

In the three years between I have learned to swim, though not without a lot of heartache; I have gone from being a “transport cyclist” to one of those lycra-clad types on a racer bike; and I have worked really hard to regain the running fitness I had before cancer struck. As I approach my 50th birthday, I am now fitter than I have ever been in my life, I weigh less than I have done since before puberty (though my husband says I’m too thin and need to fatten up!) and I have muscles in places I have never had muscles before!  

Biking through Birkerød about to cry

Biking through Birkerød about to cry

So last Sunday when it was ME who flashed through our town on my bike and my family, friends and neighbours were there cheering me on, I clearly remembered that day 3 years before and began to cry, with big, loud, happy sobs!

With a build up like that, my Ironman experience could so easily have ended in fiasco. But it didn’t. Not only was it not a fiasco, it was one of the most amazing experiences in my life. A truly fantastic day.

I can’t explain how it is possible, but I got through the whole thing without having a single crisis. Not once did it cross my mind that I couldn’t go on, or I needed to stop, or that I was in agony. On the contrary, most of the time I was feeling totally high and completely happy (and no, I wasn’t doped, unless you count beetroot juice). The most negative feelings I had during the day were some moments of boredom on the bike. Believe me, 6 hours 42 minutes is a very long time to sit on a bike without any breaks…..

The swim was clearly the biggest challenge for me and I can understand that most of my family and friends held their breath until they saw that I was successfully out of the water again. It went really well though. I was slow, but I knew I would be and I swam in the time that I expected to (2:01). My original expectation though was that I somehow just had to “survive” the swim, but instead it was actually a really good experience. For the past couple of months, one of my strategies to manage my swim panics has been a daily visualisation exercise of the swim and amazingly the reality was exactly as it plays out in the visualisation. Not only was I relaxed throughout, but I had strong feelings of happiness that finally I was underway.

As I mentioned I had moments of boredom on the bike, but most of the time I was in a state of complete flow. Like a trance. During a lot of my long training rides I have motivated myself by counting down the kilometres or targeting one half-hour at a time, but during the Ironman I was not aware of the time or the distance passing. I did notice when it started to rain and got quite windy and can understand from other athletes that they had a tough time with it. However, I experienced it as something going on around and outside of me, while I just kept on cycling. After I passed my home town for the second time and had stopped sobbing, I woke up again and with 25 km to go I started getting excited about getting off my bike and starting to run.


Having a party!

While my focus was almost totally inwards during the swim and bike, during the marathon it was more or less completely outwards! The 4 x 10+ km route was totally lined with cheering spectators and the atmosphere was incredible.  I was totally having a party! I smiled and waved and high-fived my way through the entire run. As with the bike ride, I was more or less oblivious to the time or the distance, quite unlike my other marathon experiences where I have meticulously counted down the kilometre markers! Along with my trainer I had agreed a strategy to start running at around 5:30 minutes/ per km and stick to that as long as I could, knowing that at some point I would run out of steam. I was somewhat surprised that I actually managed to hold that until at least half way. From then on I gradually got slower, but never experienced any crises or “the wall”; my legs just couldn’t run any faster any more – and who can blame them!

For the last 2 km I did start counting down the time and the distance until I got to the finish line and when I passed my

I did it! I did it!

I did it! I did it!

husband and daughter 200 m before the line I started crying and was shouting to them “I did it, I did it!”.  When I got to the finish my swim coach, Torbjørn, was the speaker and I got a high-five from him and a special shout-out, which is a pretty big deal.

And then the crossed the line and I was an Ironman!

My goal for the Ironman had always been just to finish and to have a good experience. As it turned out I didn’t just have a good experience, I had an absolutely amazing, fantastic, wonderful, and every other superlative you can think of, experience. In my wildest dreams, I had not imagined that it was possible to get through an Ironman without having a single crisis and I can still not explain how that is possible. While I hadn’t a specific time goal in mind, I had anticipated that if everything went according to plan then I would finish in around 13+ hours, so I am more than satisfied with 13:10. I had however not expected that I could run my marathon as fast as I did though. 4:04 is not a bad marathon time for a woman of my age, even without swimming 3.8 km and biking 180 km as a warm-up, so I am hugely, immensely proud of my marathon time!

And having read this if you are wondering whether I am going to do it again, then the answer is no! I am an Ironman, and I have no need or desire to be a faster Ironman. And I do not believe that it would be possible for me to have such an amazing experience one more time!