Anything is Possible
Updated: Nov 7, 2018
On July 15th 2018 as I stood on the start line of IronmanUK (Bolton) after 12 weeks of swim, bike, run training, little did I know that exactly 12 weeks later I’d be on the start line of The IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. 3rd place in my AG (45-49) in Bolton meant the possibility of a coveted roll-down spot to the World Champs. Turning up at the IMUK roll down event, Rich and I hadn’t even discussed the possibility of going to Kona, so it came as a huge shock when my name was actually read out. Swept up by the excitement of the previous AG slot winner (7th place roll down) and still on a high from the previous day's event, we grabbed this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity and signed up there and then (this actually means handing over your credit card to pay the extortionate entry fee before you realise what you’re even doing!). Still in shock but with the excitement building, the reality of 12 weeks of swim, bike, run training stretched out ahead of me for what would end up being the trip of a lifetime, culminating with an iconic event that would surpass all expectations.
As an ordinary Mum, who loves to swim, bike, run, I'd like to share my extraordinary experience to the 2018 IRONMAN World Championships, 40 Years of Dreams.
We arrived in Kona, Hawaii 9 days before the race. It gave us the opportunity to acclimatise to the energy-zapping heat, humidity and burning sun. It also meant we could swim, bike, run and get familiar with some of the course. There’s a lot of hype around the build up to the big event and the streets of Kona are brimming with athletes running/cycling all day, every day. Despite my concerns of feeling intimidated by all these world class athletes and their flashy bikes (and WOW, there were some very flashy bikes!), we soon learnt to ignore the hype and just do our own thing.
Having said that, there are a number of fun events leading up to the World Championships which I would highly recommend:
The Aloha 2.4mile training swim - despite many of the Pros taking part, it’s a fairly relaxed event, a chance to swim the course with hundreds of others and be distracted by all the beautiful fish in the clear warm waters of Kailua Bay (watch out for the jellyfish though!).
The PATH Charity 10k & 5k - another fun relaxed event for all shapes, sizes and abilities. Despite the 7:30am start, you’re still running in 30+ degrees heat so we dressed appropriately (shirtless for most of the guys!). Richard ran well in his first international 'race' and picked up 1st prize in his Age Group!
The Parade of Nations - This is a chance for the Athletes from all the competing countries to fly their flags and walk down Ali’i Drive to the Ironman Expo Village. It’s an opportunity to meet and chat with other GBR athletes and proudly wear your team T-shirt (which this year was sponsored by HUUB). Despite the rain, which made us feel very at home, it was fun and probably the one & only time I’ll ever get to represent my country.
The Famous Underpants Run - This is a crazy charity event where participants walk/jog c.2kms along the famous Ali’i Drive in underwear/bikinis. Believe me, anything goes! In its 32nd year, I gather over 3000 people took part (more participants than the actual IMWC). For someone who's not so keen on stripping down to their underwear in public, it was a good laugh, even though I think I was still more over-dressed than most!
In the days leading up to the race we also made sure we spent as much time as possible ‘on holiday’. We didn’t want the week to be just about the race. We did some amazing trips including a Night Swim with Manta Rays, which I highly recommend if you’re ever in Hawaii and a trip to Kilauea, one of the most active volcanoes in the world.
13 October 2018 - The Big DayThe alarm went off at 4:45am after a surprisingly good nights sleep. This was a much more civilised start compared to my 3am wake up call at IMUK, probably helped by the fact that we were staying just 5mins from the start. After my usual pre-race breakfast of porridge and banana, I was off to get body marked and then weighed! This was a first for me but I was told it was so they'd know how much fluid I’d lost if something happened to me. Not what you need to hear just before the race start but I took it in my stride as I was here to enjoy every experience and make it to that finish line.
I made my way to transition area to place my nutrition on the bike and check tyre pressure. All was good, though everything was soaking wet after the torrential rain that we’d had the night before. The forecast for the day was mixed, with sun, clouds and light winds, followed by a chance of rain later. Humidity and temperatures were expected to be high, so pretty much the same as every day we’d had so far!
As I walked down the famous steps into the clear waters of Kailua Bay I took in the sights around me and I had to pinch myself that this was really happening! I decided there and then that I would enjoy every moment of the day and be forever grateful for this amazing opportunity to take part in such an iconic event. I had no pressure to perform, I just wanted to finish with a smile on my face.
The swim start was crazy manic. 600+ Age Group women all bobbing up and down in the ocean waiting for the cannon to fire is a sight to be seen! Within 50 metres I was hit on the head twice but soon found my rhythm and enjoyed the beautiful water. Nothing compares to swimming in this water. At the turnaround point of the 2.4mile swim, I was stung by a jellyfish but I ignored the pain and ended up having a good overall swim [Time 1:09:35].
As you exit the water you get a chance to stand under a hose to wash off the sea salt and then it’s straight into T1 changing tent. I’ve never seen so many women crammed into a tent with volunteers slapping on sunscreen, helping you get ready. A very surreal experience but I took it in my stride (again!) and left with a smile on my face [Time 00:05:36].
On to the bike and despite this being my weakest discipline (not ideal in an Ironman event!), I wasn’t going to let that bother me today. The cheers from the crowds lining the streets are deafening but I somehow spot Rich shouting my name and that smile gets even bigger. I'm so ready for this. The majority of the 112mile route is along the famous Queen K Highway. Some would say it’s boring but I loved the rolling hills through the black lava fields, along the stunning coastline of Hawaii. We had a light headwind on the way out and just a few gusts on the way back but nothing like the strong crosswinds that the event is famous for (this is probably why both female and male course records were broken on the day!). However, the heat and scorching sun definitely made up for lack of winds and despite slapping on the sunscreen I ended up with some very strange tan lines by the end of the day.
On the bike I stuck to my nutrition plan of drinking little and often and filled up with water/electrolytes at every aid station. My saving grace was definitely my newly purchased Speedfil drinking system. I couldn’t ignore the straw in front of my face and it meant I drank much more than I normally would. I stuck to my tried and tested flapjacks with my now favourite ‘sweets’: strawberry flavoured Clif Bloks (I highly recommend) and as a result, I came off the bike fully hydrated and feeling great. This was a first for me as in all my 3 previous Iron-distance events I’ve suffered severe stomach cramps going into the run. Something was definitely going right for me today! [Time 06:26:15]
Into T2 and again, I have the biggest smile on my face as I spot Rich at the dismount line (he was killing time by volunteering as a bike catcher). We share a high five and a quick kiss before I'm off to the changing tent where the volunteers smother you in yet more sunscreen and help you get ready for the run. It really is first class support at this event. I leave T2 with another big smile on my face feeling very lucky and very spoilt. [Time 00:05:25]
So, on to the run and with temperatures hitting 30+ degrees, it was clear that the next 26.2 miles were going to be hot, hot, hot! After c.4 miles out and back along Ali’i Drive, you hit Palani Road and a steady climb to the Queen K Highway. My plan was always to walk up this hill and I joined many others doing the same. It also gave me time to reflect on the day so far and to enjoy the cheering crowds encouraging you all the way up. The majority of the run is along the Queen K with another out and back loop at the famous Energy Lab near the airport where it seems to be even hotter! The aid stations were definitely my saviour on the run and I stuck to my plan of walking through each and every one. Grabbing cold sponges, cups of ice/cold water along the way kept the body temperature down. By mile 18, when the sun went down, I sampled the famous chicken broth which sounds disgusting but was delicious and kept me moving forward during those final miles in the dark (and believe me it was VERY dark with only glow sticks to make you visible and to 'sort of' light the way).
At Mile 24 you can see the lights of Kailua-Kona town and it gives you the lift you need to run down Palani Road and onto Ali’i Drive for the final stretch. As I picked up the pace, part of me didn't want it all to end. I felt surprisingly good and after such an amazing day I was sad that it was almost over. Being at the World Championships was not something that I ever imagined would happen to me and here I am about to cross the finish line. The famous red carpet is everything you imagine and so much more! I can’t deny that I shed a tear or two as the crowds cheer you home but I just about managed to hold it together for those famous few words “Lucy...You Are An IRONMAN”. [FINISH TIME 12:23:54] ️
On to the ‘After Party’....despite the sore legs and achy body, we slowly made our way back down to the finish line to cheer on the final finishers before the 17 hour cutoff. It’s an emotionally charged event, watching such inspiring people finish, many of whom are in their late 70s. The oldest finisher (ever!) was Hiromu from Japan at 86 years old, with just 2 mins to go. The roars and cheers from the crowd were deafening and gave me goosebumps. It really topped off the most fantastic day!
Final few words.... I just want to say a HUGE thanks to the following people:
Rich - for being my No1 supporter before, during and after the event (and for all the crazy events I do!). I’m forever grateful.
Adam & Amy - for putting up with their Mum always doing these crazy events!
My Parents - for looking after the kids so we could go on our trip of a lifetime.
Friends - for putting up with the fact that I’ve spent most of the last 6 months training or talking about triathlon.
Liz & Ali at TriSpirit Events - for the loan of the SwimSkin and for putting on the Owler Full Iron-Distance event back in 2014. I recall saying never again when I crossed that finish line but I'm glad I carried on because that's what started this crazy adventure!
Ben Ward - for all his insider knowledge of the IMWC and his words of support/advice prior to the event.
Ocean Lake Triathlon Club Members - for all their words/messages of support before, during and after. I was proud to wear club colours on the day.
Paul & Tom at Senacre Cycles - for getting my bike race ready, for encouraging me to go ‘more aero’ and for sorting my bike pre & post race. Nothing is too much for these guys. I highly recommend them.
Thank you for taking the time to read my Kona adventure at the 2018 IRONMAN World Championships #AnythingIsPossible