Wow where do I begin to even give this iconic race justice?
After only a couple of hours light sleep my day started at 04:00 with an alarm call that wasn’t required. Then it was down to the hotel restaurant for a breakfast of oats, raisins, orange juice and a few slices of toast.
I’ve waited four years to the day to hit the start line of Ironman Lanzarote and now I was only a couple of hours out from entering the Atlantic Ocean to start the swim.
At this point it was all about trying to keep calm and try and control the nerves. I kept telling myself it’s a Swim, a Bike and a Run, nothing new, nothing I haven’t done a thousand times before and nothing I’ve not being trained and conditioned for…..
But this is Ironman Lanzarote, the Toughest Ironman in the world. A 2.4 mile swim with strong currents and swell, a bike with 112 miles of wind, heat, 2550m of elevation but some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable then a run of 26.2 miles on the rolling sea front of Puerto del Carmen.
I arrived at the transition area at around 05:30 after a 40 minute walk from our hotel. I handed in my personal nutrition for the bike and run then the last few checks to the bike.
While I was changing into the wetsuit I bumped in to Steve from work and his Barracuda Team mates, all great guys with seemingly plenty of triathlon experience. As we chatted about what lie a head of us it was clear that this was going to be a long, hard, tough day.
Wetsuit on, it was now time to say goodbye to Steve and his teammates wishing them well and make my way to the beach. As I’m not a strong swimmer I seeded myself in the sub 90 minute swim start pen. As the race got underway it became evident that there wasn’t many other athletes behind me so this had the potential for being a fast paced swim. I got chatting to a guy from Liverpool as the athletes in front edged ever closer to the start line about what lie in wait, family, what brought us here and of course football.
This distraction lead to us both being in the last 15-20 athletes to enter the water and as we entered the pro men and race leaders were just getting ready to exit their first lap after having already swum the first 1.2 miles in around 22 minutes.
I settled into a decent rhythm and soon started to find that I was passing some of those that had started before me and making good headway through the field. The sea was crystal clear, very little current and minimal swell, you could say almost perfect conditions.
As I exited from the first lap of 1.2 miles I felt strong and took a second to glance at my watch to check on my progress. Just under 44 minutes and around the pace I swam at Ironman Portugal in October.
Into the second lap and I soon got back into a good rhythm although now the number of athletes I was passing was reducing but I still felt strong.
I exited the water after completing the swim and was relieved to have beaten the cut off time (something that was constantly at the back of my mind). As I ran up the beach I was frantically looking around for Sally and the little ones however I couldn’t see them anywhere and began to think that I wouldn’t now see them until l was on the run which would be much later in the day. This started to play on my mind as I knew seeing them on the course gave me such a boost at Ironman Portugal.
Into T1 I was quickly met by a group of volunteers waiting to lather me in factor 50 sunscreen, quick change into my cycling gear then up the 300m run to my bike.
In the two weeks leading up to race day I suffered an injury to my right hip that had prevented me from running and almost straight away as I ran to my bike I felt the pain and discomfort return. I knew I could survive on the bike with this type of injury but how would I feel running a marathon with it?
I mounted the bike and set off on the incline out of Puerto del Carmen still frantically looking for Sally and the kids. Then just as I rounded the first corner I could hear the cow bells that I had bought for Ruby and Jack and there they were cheering me on. Even though I only saw them for a split second this brought a huge smile to my face and gave me a massive boost.
The bike leg was tough with a combination of hills, heat and a constant head wind for the first 50 odd miles however as I had started almost at the back of the field on the swim it was now all about chasing the one in front and making my way through the field.
I took on hydration at every feed station and ate jam sandwiches, croissants and energy bars that I had taken with me to keep me fuelled. I also took one salt tablet almost ever hour although this would later become apparent wasn’t enough.
65 miles into the ride I began to feel cramp in my left quad, I quickly unclipped from my left pedal and tried to shake the cramp out. This then turned into the quad cramping even further and now going into spasm. I immediately reached for the salt tablets hoping that this would cure the problem quickly. It did and I was gingerly on my way again now measuring my power output in the hope that the cramps wouldn’t return.
It now became apparent that I needed to take on more salt if I was to avoid any more cramps.
The final 5-10 miles back to Puerto del Carmen were all relatively flat with some fast decents thrown in on very poor road conditions. Now was the time to switch back on and not become complacent as a crash at this point with a tired mind and body could potentially be race ending.
Into T2 I quickly rack my bike and begin the run down to collect my running gear. Immediately pain rushed through my hip and I know this is going to be the longest run ever and one that might even turn into a walk.
Trainers, run cap and sweatband on I set off and almost immediately enter the first feed station. I reach down into my pouch where I’ve got my salt tablets stashed and go straight for the ibuprofen that I hoped I’d never need. Two of these down the neck and I’m off and running. Not fast but trying to maintain a steady 9 minute mile pace. The pain is now manageable and I’d hopefully be able to tick the miles off, walking through the feed stations taking on water and bananas.
I’m also looking out for Sally and the kids to give me that fresh boost but I don’t see them as I leave Puerto del Carmen for the first time. I’m hoping that I haven’t missed them in the huge crowds that had gathered in the town centre. Along the run route I do regularly bump into familiar faces from the Barracudas and a few of the guys from Real Fitness. And again I’m making my way through the pack as I pass athletes on the same lap as me (identifiable by now wristbands) chasing down the runner in front.
As I’m now past the turn point in Arrecife we’re running along the sea front close to our Hotel where I see Sally with Ruby and Jack running towards me with open arms. We stop for a quick kiss and cuddle and I tell Sally that the pace is slow and give her an estimated finish time so she knows when to be at the finish line.
I set off again and even though the stop was only brief my hip seems to have tightened and is very sore. I slow the pace to around 9:15 minute mile pace and begin to once again settle in. The next 10 miles or so go past without any issues as I switch off and just concentrate on moving forward.
I’ve now completed the one big lap and one little lap and start the last 10k loop up to Matagorda and back. As I slow down to take on hydration at the feed station in town I’m suddenly hit by a massive cramp in my right hamstring. This completely stopped me in my tracks and I immediately tried to stretch it out. Briefly it goes then it comes back with bells and whistles, much worse than before. I’m now screaming in agony and asking myself how am I going to get through the next 6 miles. An English voice then shouts get some sodium down ya, so I reach into my pouch and quickly get two salt tablets down my neck.
I hobble over to the nearest wall and once again stretch the legs out. Standing up I now feel that the worst has past and I set off again very gingerly, but only a hundred metres or so further up the road the cramps set in again. I know I have to keep moving forward so decide to walk until I feel able to run again. I walked for about 3-4 minutes then tried to run again, I now feel that the salts have taken the desired effect and I settle back into a pace that I hope can be sustained.
I reach the turn point at Matagorda and know now that the Ironman Lanzarote dream will soon be achieved. I pass the next soon feed stations without stopping and try to pick up the pace as I hear the crowds and music at the finish line.
As I enter the finish chute I hear Sally and the kids calling my name. Don’t forget to hit the Griddy shouted the kids, so as I bent over to hit the Griddy for them I felt my hip pop followed by a shooting pain right through it. Thank god I’d only got 20 metres to go!!!
As I entered the finish line area those iconic words rang out and the dream was complete….
Carl Harrington you are an Ironman!!!!
If I could offer one line of advice to anyone reading this it would be to never give up on your dreams.
Finish time 13:12:38
Swim - 1:27:23 (exactly the same time to the second as my Ironman Portugal swim)
T1 - 8:43
Bike - 7:21:51
T2 - 7:51
Run - 4:06:51