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Ironman Cascais Portugal

My ramblings and thoughts of the event.  Apologies if it’s too long for you.  Maybe I wrote it for me, so I can look back on it in the future with pride.  Those who’ve done an Ironman will know.

The final few miles of an Ironman and the moments after gave me one of the best feelings I’ve ever experienced.  That realisation that I was going to achieve that goal that I’d spent months training for after being anxious, nervous and scared about it.  Those who don’t follow Triathlon don’t get it.  You only get that feeling when you become a Triathlete and achieve that Swim, Bike, Run goal that you’ve set yourself.  Completing an ‘Ironman’ is almost the pinnacle of our sport. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked ‘Have you done an Ironman?’  I’m fed up of saying ‘well I’ve done Lakesman and Outlaw’, but that’s not what the questioner wants to hear!

‘Have you done an Ironman?’ Hell, yes!

I am super proud of my achievement.  I’ll shout it from the roof tops, I don’t care who hears me.  I am an Ironman.  I’ll never have that taken away from me.  Will I be a multiple-Ironman?  Hell, yes!  There, you heard it here first.  I’m not stopping until my body stops me, or I’m ‘stoney-broke’!

I went to watch Ironman Wales.  I never thought I’d top the elation and emotion I felt that day when I saw my team-mates compete and then collect their team prize and their Kona slots.  I’d never felt so proud, tears of joy flowed.  I followed Becky and Mel virtually in Kona.  I cried on the tracker; I was so proud of what they were accomplishing.  I watched my daughter, Ellie, complete the London Marathon, coached by my coach!  I was a proud father, I cried again!

What’s all this got to do with my race?  I wanted that feeling again, I wanted to be proud of my achievements, I wanted that feeling of elation and raw emotion for me.  By crikey I got it in Cascais.  Completing an Ironman gives you that.

I’d gone to Portugal a little subdued.  Two full distance triathlons in one season were a big ask for me.  At my age, my body takes time to recover.  Was my heart overruling my head again when I told Gemma ‘Ok, I’ll do the full’!  Had I bitten off that little bit too much.  I knew I’d get round, that was never in doubt, but I expected it was going to hurt and I worried that I wouldn’t do myself or my coach justice!

Ask Lindsay what I was like during the weeks leading up to Portugal?  Probably unprintable, but she’ll tell you know no doubt.  I was anxious, feared failing, but too frightened to really talk about it.  I just kept the proverbial upper lip stiffened.  Talking may have helped, but I would still have had to do it.  Only today I discussed it with a colleague at work who asked how you feel before.  I likened it to having to give a presentation to the CEO and his board of directors.  You have sleepless nights before, you don’t want to do it, but there’s no one else to take your place.  You wake on the morning with the realisation of ‘this is it, no way out’.  But, when you’ve done it, you ask yourself what all the fuss was about and are completely satisfied afterwards.  For Outlaw, my second full distance, 3 years after doing Lakesman, I kept thinking of it as just another training day.  That helped me through Outlaw, but Cascais had the added stress of doing it only 12 weeks after the last one.  Would my body let me do it.  No matter how much training you do, how much encouragement you get, only you know your body and how it reacts to the strain we put it under.  I expected the worse.

So how did the race go?

Portugal is a beautiful place.  I’ve been lucky enough to travel there on multiple occasions.  Cascais is a fantastic place to have a vacation.  You have everything there that you need.  The sea, the sand, the sun, mountains, historical places, Lisbon, international cuisine.  A perfect location for an Ironman.  I’d had a taster in 2021 when I managed to dodge the Covid restrictions and get to the 70.3 start line with Shawnie.  I enjoyed the location that much I had intended to go back and do it again in 2022.  Gemma had decided to defer in 2021 following that faff we all had with flights etc, so I knew I’d have company if I went again.  Trouble was, little pocket rocket Gem, was upgrading to the full!  ‘You doing it with me?’, she asked!  ‘Yeh, ok’, I said!  What?  You idiot!  Don’t you know you’ve got Outlaw to do! Doh!  No going back!

We arrived on Thursday before the race on Saturday!  Schoolboy error here, when I booked the flights, I automatically assumed the race was on Sunday.  Even though I’d been there the year previous and the full distance race was on the Saturday then.  It was only after Outlaw and I started focussing more on the race that I realised that I could have planned it a little better.  Oh well, it is what it is!  We stayed in Estoril, near enough to walk into Cascais but far enough from the hustle and bustle and noise of the event.  We met up in the afternoon with fellow OTCF racers, Gemma, Craig, Zoe, Aaron and Skid and got to meet Sarah (of @positivityandpopcorn fame) and her partner Kevin.  We went to registration which was slick, too slick really, it made you think something was missing and I hadn’t done something, thankfully not the case.  There was some disappointment with the Event Merchandise, most of the clothing to commemorate the full distance event had already sold out.  Oh well. I guess it saved me a fortune!  Registration done, back to the hotel for the bike build.  A recent investment in a TT bike box made the bike build straightforward, just the wheels and pedals to put on.

Race racking was on Friday.  Weather was good, hot, but no wind and calm sea, and was looking similar for Saturday race day, if not a little cooler.  A quick bike test on Saturday morning and off to the race racking with bike and run bags.  Lisbon to Cascais and beyond is blessed with a reliable rail service with plenty of local stations.  To save my legs we jumped on the train for the 3-minute ride into Cascais.  Racking, like registration, was also slick.  I spent 5 minutes racking my gear and another half hour worrying about what I’d forgotten, but made use of the time studying bike and run exit and entries, vital for race day to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.  Racing in hotter climates always raises the dilemma of whether to leave tyres inflated or not.  With the temp looking cooler for race day, I decided I’d be OK and had my tyres fully inflated ready for race day.  With Track pumps not allowed to be brought into the racking area, that decision proved right as the queues for the event-provided track pumps on race morning were long.  I was thankful I didn’t have to wait in them.

I decided I’d go to the swim practice after racking.  Not quite sure it was a necessity, as on race day, when it’s a sea swim, conditions can be quite different, just ask those who had to endure the Wales swim!  Anyhow, the sea looked so inviting, and I had the opportunity to set off just as Nikki Bartlett set off for her practice swim.  Alas, she couldn’t keep up with me!  Sorry, that should say, I couldn’t keep up with her!  She was off, so decided to leave her be and just enjoy the conditions and watch the shoals of rather large fish underneath me.  Swim practice ticked off, that was it now, just a wait for race day.  Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have the company of other members of the OTCF family to spend time with to help to take my mind of the race.  I was still managing to keep the race nerves at bay.  I was setting myself no targets and still just trying to think of the following day as another training day.  So far it was working.  Off to bed by 8.30am and actually slept quite well considering what was coming.  Normally I wouldn’t sleep well, toss and turn most of the night.  My ‘it’s only training strategy’ was maybe working.  I woke with my alarm at 4.30am and then the realisation hit.  This was it, race day.  I don’t want to do it, but I have to, I can’t let myself down.  How would I feel if I pulled out.  How will I feel when I’ve done.  I’d be an Ironman.  Easy decision, crack on!

We ventured down to the train station to get the 6.08 train.  I panicked as 6.08 came and went.  5 more minutes passed, then 10.  I’m then starting to get a bit jittery.  Don’t let me down train!  Ready to start the 30 min walk to transition, the platform bell rang and the train appeared.  Phew!  We made it into transition with plenty of time.  Huge queues for track pumps and no queues at the porta-loos.  I ceased my opportunity and took my time to make race weight!!  That was a weight off my mind, I could relax now.  Checked my bike, all good.  Checked my bags twice over, all good.  Headed out of transition and bumped into Claire, Gemma and Sarah.  Quiet excitement and maybe some nerves amongst us.  The sun was just coming up as we had the customary pre-race photos and then headed to the swim start.  We took a slight diversion to see the start of the 70.3 race which set off 30 mins before the full distance race.  This proved a little bit of a misjudgement as when it was time for us to line up for the swim start, we couldn’t cross the swim exit route and the 70.3 pro men and women were starting to exit. Doh!  Extreme measure were required and we had to force our way through the crowds and over the barriers.  Not the best preparation as I then had to run to get to where I wanted to be for the start of the swim at the back of the sub-1 hour start location.  I made it, just as they started to filter the athletes through.  Everything happened very quickly as no sooner had I got into position, that music started ‘Thunder, Thunder, Thunder’.  The bell rang and the race was on!  Ironman have a TT style start, no mass start.  It’s controlled, 6 athletes let off every 10 seconds.  My favourite start formation.  Allows a relaxed start with plenty of water to find your rhythm.  About 20 bell rings go by, then it’s me.  This is it; this is what I’m here for.  I will be an Ironman!  The bell rings, I’m off.  I run, skip and jump as far as I can before hitting the water.  I get into a comfortable rhythm fairly quickly, surprisingly as I usually take a while to settle and get breathing under control.  I turn at the first buoy toward the left, then the second toward the right and then it’s a circa mile long swim before the 90-degree turn.  I’m swimming into the rising sun now and sighting proves difficult, so I don’t bother, I just swim.  Remarkably I passed with only a few metres of every yellow marker buoy up to the turn; straight swimming in action!  What was noticeable was that so many athletes had overegged their start position, I passed so many swimmers, albeit some did also pass me.  By the turn, I’m comfortable, swimming in my own water, I keep telling myself just to go steady, no records to break here, I want to come out feeling fresh and not exhausted.  I make the second 90 degree turn and all of a sudden there’s some congestion as we head back to the exit, circa 1 mile to go and the red buoys are lit up like beacons by the sun, sighting is easy.  Another athlete comes alongside and gets very close, I hold my ground, but then, whack!  An elbow right into my left eye socket with some force.  It felt intentional.  I reared up.  For a split second I thought race over.  I had to pull my goggles out of my eye socket.  Relief, no immediate damage apparent.  Goggles straight back on and back into my rhythm.  I begin to sense the exit is close as the huge Ironman flag marking the exit comes into sight.  I don’t go mad, just keep the rhythm but start thinking about T1 and what I need to do.  I’m out, and a quick glance at my watch suggests another sub-1-hour swim.  I’m pleased as I felt I hadn’t pushed too hard but still managed a quick time.  Out the water and up the steep swim exit and into the 600m run to T1.  The crowds are cheering and it brings a smile to my face, filling me with confidence for the bike.  I spot Lindsay on the exit as she shouts to check I’m ok.  Thumbs up.

I’m now in T1, wetsuit off and bike gear on.  I take my time, but the change goes smoothly and slickly.  Thankfully everything I need is there and I’m off to collect my bike and to the bike exit.  The exit was steep and carpeted, in cleats it was slippery so had to take care.  Over the mount line and I’m on the bike and off.  Straight into a climb as we weave the streets out of Cascais.  Before long I’m on the coastal road and there’s the Atlantic Ocean.  The views were amazing.  Just enough time on the rolling road to get comfortable, take on some nutrition and fluid before the climb started.  Not a steep climb, but long.  No rush here, just took my time, tapped it out.  Plenty of cyclists coming past me but I pacify myself by thinking that they must be slower swimmers!  Although I’d been here a year earlier, I couldn’t remember the exact detail of the climb, I knew that the steepest part in the mountains had been taken out in place of faster road nearer Lisbon.  The climbs hadn’t been too difficult, no worse than an easy day in the Peaks!  Within 45 minutes I was at the Estoril race circuit, climbs over, and I could now concentrate on just getting aero and comfortable.  To me, the Estoril circuit is just a bit of an inconvenience.  If you’re into F1, it’d be a thrill, I just wanted to get into Estoril and out on the main carriageway toward Lisbon.  Before long, I’m there, I’m aero, I’m comfortable.  I’m sticking to my nutrition plan, and trying to drink, drink, drink.  It’s so easy to forget.  My best discovery this year has been Salt tablets.  Thanks to Ali for introducing me to them.  I’m taking one every 30 minutes to replace salt lost through sweat.  I’m finding my recovery after the run has been so much better after introducing these into my nutrition plan.

I’m nearing the end of lap 1 and I come across Zoe, she’s doing the bike and run of the 70.3 relay, she’s making great progress.  We have a quick chat, then I’m off into Cascais.  The course is a little cruel as it’s a steep climb up to the transition area.  Left for transition, right for lap 2, let’s do it all again.  Into the climb again and now I’m starting to feel it in my legs.  Panic sets in a little.  If I feel like this now, what will the run be like?  I settle down and tap out the climb.  I spot a ‘Stompette’ and have a quick chat, tell her my mate, Gemma, is in the club which makes her smile.  Then she’s off and disappears into the distance.  Estoril race track appears again, things are going better, I’m getting my second wind, or nutrition is working.  Down to the main road and I’m heading to Lisbon, I’m comfortable, cruising at 23 to 25mph, a light tail wind helping the legs recover.  I hit the turn at Lisbon, 18 miles to go!  Bam! Head wind.  I was hoping to make an average 19mph for the ride, but the head wind made it difficult, I could barely make above 18mph.  The ride home was an effort, but I was making it, just the little climb up to transition and I’m home.  I’m going to be an Ironman!

Bike racked, helmet off, shoes off.  Empty my run gear out of my bag, have a seat, take my time, make sure I’ve got all my gels and salt tablets.  Co-ordinating visor and glasses on.  Look the part at least! I’m off on the run. I’m going to be an Ironman!

The run is 3 laps of c.8.5 miles.  An undulating course, but I knew the route from the 70.3 last year.  My long-distance run training had been based upon a 9-minute run, 1 minute walk recovery strategy.  My watch was all set to alert every 9 minutes and 10 minutes.  This also helped plan my nutrition.  Drink after every 10 minutes, gel and salt tablet after every 30 minutes.  I was carrying enough gels for 3 hours of running and would then revert to the aid stations.  The first lap was a struggle, legs were heavy and I started getting dark thoughts of not being able to achieve the finish without some walking.  As much as I wanted to go faster to just get to the end, I couldn’t.  My hamstrings were tight.  I kept telling myself they’d adjust, but they didn’t.  The laps took us up the steep slope of the swim exit, I had to walk up, but I saw it as conserving energy.  Around the M-dot turnaround and I’m onto the second lap.  When I come back again, I’m on the victory lap, I told myself, to spur myself on.  Heading out to the far turnaround I came across Lindsay and Craig, out on their e-bikes.  Seeing them gave me a great lift.  I was around 12 miles in, not comfortable, but sticking to the 9/1 plan.  Running was no worse but no easier.  Heading back to Cascais, I started to see my OTCF family members, first Claire, then Carl, then Gemma, plus a holler from Sarah.  Each one I saw gave me a lift.  I knew at some point they’d catch me up and I could get to have a chat with them.

End of the second lap and I’m turning again at the M-dot.  I spot Gary and his partner Ellie from @thatsportsphoto.  This gives me a huge lift, we hi-5 and cuddle.  I start to get emotional as I run away to start the final lap.  Tears start to flow as I tell myself, I will be an Ironman.  I’m starting to get excited; I feel elated.

My pace picks up.  Carl passes me within the next mile.  He’s charging, running so well and looking strong.  Then Claire arrives, we exchange words on how we feel as she passes, again looking so strong.  I make a quick decision to pick up the pace and see if I can hang on for a while.  I catch Claire up and ask if I can track her for a mile.  We chat and settle into a comfortable pace.  All of a sudden, I feel good.  I’m going to be an Ironman!  Claire’s happy to do the 1 min walk recovery with me, then we set off again.  I’m grateful to Claire for helping me round that last lap, she helped me no end.  We make the far turn around, and I’m heading home, 4 miles to becoming an Ironman!  I’m now on the Caffeine gels and Red Bull, just for that extra bit of help to the line.  A ‘parkrun’ to go; I’ve finished the rolling hills and I’m heading down into Cascais.  I thank Claire, wish her luck, and start to pick up the pace to the finish line.  I’m into the harbour, I can hear Paul Kaye’s voice at the finish line ‘you are an Ironman’.  10 minutes of running, then it’s me.  Don’t go mad, go steady, but finish strongly.  I run up the swim exit this time, 400m to go, the excitement is killing me.  200m to go.  Straight on for the turnaround, right to the finish line.  I’m turning right, I’m checking behind and in front, I want that red carpet to myself.  It’s dark now, the runway is lit up, the music is blasting the crowds are cheering.  Paul Kaye is on the microphone ‘Rob Marshall, you are an Ironman’.  I’m over the line, I’ve done in.  I’m elated.

Why did I ever doubt myself?  I never really looked at the time on my watch or bike computer after the swim.  Ok, so I said no expectations, but I secretly hoped for another sub-12 hour, I just didn’t want to broadcast it.  Fear of failure, I guess.  I’d nailed it.  11 hours, 24 minutes, 34 seconds.  A 10-minute full distance PB!  Even Paul Kaye acknowledged the time.  I was over the moon.

I took my medal and went through the finisher’s village.  I couldn’t eat, I just wanted to find Lindsay and the rest of the OTCF supporters.  When I found them, I was singing and dancing, I couldn’t hide my excitement.  I think the Caffeine and Red Bull was taking it’s affect on me.  It was going to take some time for me to come back down, I was on a high.  The finish line area was a party.  I hung around to see the rest of the OTCF family members finish and party at the finish line.  I could go on more about how I recovered afterwards, but writing it just won’t top those words.  I’m an Ironman!

That’s the 2022 season over.  I can’t thank Steve enough for his coaching methods.  I’m no spring chicken anymore and he gets the intensity level and sessions just right for me.  Thanks to Emily, she has kept my muscles supple and amazes me how she always finds those knots and ‘bubble wrap’!  Thanks to Andy Coulson for my monthly MOT; dam those glutes, they always need your encouragement!

Most of all, thanks to Lady O.  For always being there for me, for letting me do what I do, for being my No.1 supporter.  I couldn’t do it without you by my side.  Love you.

What have I learned from Ironman Cascais?

I don’t fear full distance anymore.  I’ve done two this year.  The second one, on a tougher course, felt easier.

I’ve accepted my body will do it, just trust in Steve’s plan and it’ll get through it.

I will talk about how I feel about the race, what I fear and how to deal with it.

I don’t have to be anxious anymore, I’ve done it 3 times now, it’s nothing to fear, I enjoyed Cascais.

I can and will do a sub-11 Ironman.  That’s my target.  There, I’ve said it, everyone knows my ambition.  It might just need the right course!

I will get round Ironman Wales, it doesn’t frighten me, I haven’t bitten off too much.

I’m not bad for an old man!

I am an Ironman!

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