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Ironman Copenhagen by Mel Walker

Ironman Journey to the best but worst race of my life.

The slow start. Completing an Ironman has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember and having ticked pretty much every other sport challenge off my list (Killimanjaro, London marathon, Mallorca 312, C2C in a day, Marmotte, LEJOG & more), 2019 was the year to tick the IronMan box. My preparation started slowly mainly due to lack of commitment and injury! Someone recommended Steve at Off That Couch Fitness to me and I signed up to start training in December 2018 and the first few months went a bit like this: December – didn’t really stick to the plan, spent more time in the pub getting drunk. Fail! January – started well (don’t we all seems it’s a New Years resolution!) but after straining a hip flexor on a ski holiday with the hockey girls (when drunk competing in a limbo dancing competition in a bar!). I was on rest for the next 6-8 weeks. Fail! February & March “rested” (continued to be lazy really!) and went on another ski holiday with Rob this time at the end of March. By this point I knew I had to get my act together as I was less than five months out from the event and hadn’t done any training. Steve suggested I join a tri camp in Mallorca so I did.

Mallorca tri camp – the turning point. At tri camp I met new people who I’d not met before and what a bloody great bunch they turned out to be. Motivated, experienced, successful, friendly, welcoming, athletic are a few words that spring to mind. I had the best time and “lived like a pro”, kick starting my training. Mike Bennett looked after out for me on the swim – was my first time swimming open water, never mind sea. Dave Hinch looked out for me on the bike as I was one of the back markers but smiled for miles out there – hard not to and I come from a cycling background so I wasn’t out of my comfort zone. And the running – well I got round and lost often as dropped off the back all the time! On returning it was time for the hard work to commence – four months to race day. I stuck with Steve’s plan supplemented by swim coaching sessions in the endless pool and booked on the OTCF swim improvers course with the amazing Sarah Lakeland – I couldn’t swim that well without feeling like I was going to run out of breath so I put some graft in and it paid off! I learned to swim – good job really as I had quite a long swim to do in a few months.

The build up In the weeks preceding race day I felt calm and relaxed and confident but 10 days out I started to panic couldn’t help but vision everything that could go wrong and from no where I started to get knee pain when I biked adding to the anxiety. I work in risk management and turned into someone with zero tolerance for risk so plans commenced to mitigate anything that could go wrong. I had a bike fit by Kev Dawson that I probably didn’t need and did many other things that varied from asking Flick at the event to stand on the first bridge of the swim with spare goggles and a nose clip in case I lost mine (not needed!) and Lindsey on the course to ensure her sports watch was charged in case mine ran out – it did half way through the run so this proved worth while! The other 100 contingency plans I had in place were not needed but was peace of mind to know they were there! I was a psychopath.

The flight that almost didn’t happen Two days before the event I flew out from Manchester with my bike and 40kg if kit. Ridiculous I know but Sue and Ingird joined me early to help! My risk management head was worried about losing the key to the locks on the bike box so I stored this safely in my hold bag. I realised this wasn’t the best idea when airport security wanted me to open the box to show them my Co2 canisters. At this point the key was on its way to the plane! Que panic mode as I was told my bike box would not be let through. Fortunately a lovely Easy Jet Manager located my hold bag on less than half an hour and in time before check in closed. That episode proved any situation can be sorted, releasing all my anxiety. I was back to being the happy, chilled relaxed Mel. Much needed – I was starting to get annoyed with my own company!

Pre race In the two days running up to the event I did everything that was needed to stay in the zone and keep the anxiety at bay even paying for a bike service I didn’t need to it made my head feel better about the fact I’d built the bike myself. I was sleeping and eating well and having lots of fun with my support crew – my mum & dad and eight amazing friends that I play hockey with who made the effort to come over and support me. What top mates I have, they proper looked after me and watched out for me! I felt like I had my own butler as they were running around after me the whole time. I milked it as knew it won’t happen again!

Race day… we’ve made it. The swim I’m not one for early mornings so despite staying over 30 mins from the swim start I left it as late as I could to get up and managed to sleep until 4:45am. I managed to eat my breakfast (made by Flick & Lindsey!) and seven of us were out of our apartment before 5.30am to get the Metro to the start. Sipping on water I felt calm and confident and ready to get the job done. There was a buzz at the start with thousands of people on what was a beautiful calm morning. How fortunate as it wasn’t forecast. Waiting for my swim group – pink, my fave colour I spotted Laura a lovely lady I’d met twice previously. We bonded over my nail design at the expo. and she sat next to me at the Women for Tri brunch (where I met Michelle Vesterby, winning her book – written in Danish!). We supported one another in the pen where I felt surprisingly calm and collected. I was dreading the swim the most but at this point I was looking forward to it – little did I know it’s be the best part of the three events! It was a six person rolling start which was easy and before I knew it I was swimming under my support crew on the first bridge – I could hear the cheers from my suppport crew especially Sam shouting “Mel” and Sue’s wolf whistle and slowed a little to acknowledge I’d seen them with a wave and a hello. A massive boost. I felt confident with my sighting and managed to stay out of everyones way which felt like an uneventful and relaxed swim. A jelly fish did get me around the 1800m point so the nettle like sting distracted me for the rest of the swim and before I knew it I was calmly getting out of the water thinking that it has passed quickly and happy with my 1hr 18. 56 time – not bad seems I couldn’t swim. In my head I was thinking the race starts here… my support crew were there again. I blew kisses this time and headed for my T1 bag.

Transition wasn’t super fast but I took my time to make sure I was comfortable for the bike opting to put a gillet on as it was coming in overcast and cool. In my risk management approach to packing I had a full change and wet weather gear but decided they were not needed. I ate a jam sandwich as I ran to my bike and one last cheer from support crew before the bike leg commenced.

The bike bit… The bike took 10 miles on winding city roads to reach the stunning coast road. I love views of water so found this calming and relaxing and settled into a comfortable cadence. I relaxed too much & made a fatal error – I accidentally put a double mix of tailwind into my torpedo bottle. I had a concentrated mix of tailwind mixed up to make four bottles for the bike course and I decanted half. I didn’t think much of it grabbing 750ml water at the feed station (when the mix needs 1.5l!) and sipped away knowing I just had to drink it. I was struggling to get my solid food down so even more so. As I approached the 40 mile point I started to feel bloated and ill and kept throwing up into my mouth. Little did I know this was my stomachs reaction to the excessive amount of Tailwind causing my body to draw fluid into my gut to dilute it. I continued to be sick several times throughout the rest of the bike but mind over matter and I just got on with it continuing to drink the rest of the Tailwind also taking on a gel every hour. I’d seen an endurance athlete Dietician in the run up to the event so was determined to stick with what she told me to do and I’d practiced. Half way round the course my support crew was on form and cheering loudly. I wanted to stop for a good moan but they all encouraged me to keep peddling so after give Lisa, Ingrid, Rochelle & Megan a high five I gave my mum & dad a kiss and cracked on with lap two. By which point the knee pain was starting to trouble me more than I could take. Fortunately a Danish guy rode past me carrrying a small pharmacy in his rear jersey pocket. Already dosed up codeine, paracetamol, ibuprofen and naproxen I managed to get another 1g of paracetamol from him. With my tender guts this probably did me no favours. People following the tracker assumed I had an awesome bike (which on reflection I did!) as I averaged 19mph but in reality I didn’t enjoy it all. Time to get myself pulled together as I commence the run. It’s marathon time.

The run bit… As if things couldn’t get any worse – they did! My poor guts were not happy at all and were insistent about emptying the contents which took until the 10 mile point to settle down! I felt so strong physically and mentally but had to keep stopping at the loos and felt horrendous. Fortunately my knee doesn’t hurt when running – silver lining and all that! Sips of water were all I dared to take on and that coupled with cheers from my supporters got me round the course – there were loads of people lining the entire course but I heard them ever time I passed! Awesome and much needed even when Megan ran alongside me at one point holding her pint of lager!

The finish…. I finally felt a wave of emotion as I entered the finish funnel… a moment I’d visualised many times. I saw my support crew and heard the commentator say “Melanie my colleague has a message for you – you are an Ironman”. As I heard those words and saw the finish line I realised I’d done it and felt a tear in my eye! OMG I had done it. Bucket list well and truly ticked. As my watch had died I didn’t know what the time was so shouted to Sam and Lindsey who managed to wing their way into VIP and they confirmed I was under 12 hours. Job done. Hard graft but so worth it!! That night we all warmed up and sipped champage back at the appartment decorated with balloons and congratualtions banners eating pizzas from the local take away. Such a perfect end to a long day for us all.j

Post race… After the race I was elated with my time but couldn’t get rid of the dark cloud that followed me knowing I could have been faster. As much as I told myself it didn’t matter, my monkey was naughty telling me I shouldn’t have made the mistake and how my marathon should have been sub 4 hours. Now a week post race I am starting to overcome the monkey and what I have achieved is setting in. I still feel like the adrenaline is pumping, all week I have been full of energy and waking before my alarm which is unheard of! My body has felt good and I am not broken. I am a very fortunate person to finish with that time and feel this way with amazing and supportive people around me. I have to pinch myself every now & again.

I knew this would be a journey for me but did not expect this. I planned to move on to another sport or just go back to cycling and running for fun with my mates but am already thinking about the next Ironman event!

Splits: Swim – 1:18:56 T1 – 7:45 Bike – 5:51:40 T2 – 10:21 Run – 4:14:43 Total – 11:43:23.

Lessons learned:

  1. Prepare – be a psychopath.

  2. Carry your keys with you at all times.

  3. Get your nutrition right.

  4. Love and appreciate those around you who support you throughout your journey.

  5. Listen to your coach and stick to the plan – it works.

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