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Ironman UK by Shawnie Lovatt

I certainly didn’t think I’d be writing an Ironman race report this year so this is very exciting and it could be a long one so if you’re going to stick this out, get comfy. My decision to do the ironman was made in March when coach told me that id be ready for an ironman this summer, I don’t think I took too much convincing and was soon signed up, so here we are!

Its been a fabulous journey to the start line, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot and I’m extremely grateful that my training went pretty perfectly, the 5am starts, the windy and rainy ‘character building’ rides to get me to the start line was all for that day. And I have met some of the best people on the way who have come on long training rides with me (as my navigation skills aren’t exactly tip top), have swam open water with me every week, altered my bike for me and fixed my punctures/tried to teach me how to do it and just generally helped me out with advice because I’m technically still a newbie to the triathlon world (even if I did jump in at the deep end!).

For the last week before ironman (taper week), I was a bit like a coiled spring I was absolutely ready to go… Knew I couldn’t do a lot of training and it was about a week of resting and getting myself mentally ready, I had my bags packed by Monday night!

We travelled down to Bolton on the Friday, me and Aaron met the gang to collect our numbers and go to the race briefing, all of us super excited, the task ahead starting to sink in. Saturday was a rack your bike, stay off your feet kind of day but we spent most of the day running around to sort out our transitions– the day absolutely flew by and 15,000 steps later, I’d definitely accomplished the stay off my feet mission ;).

RACE DAY – oh my goddd it was here!

3am wake up calls usually mean I’m going on holiday (keep dreaming). Armed with some of the support crew we was on our way to the swim start, we arrived at 4.30am. First priorities was pumping my tyres up and sorting my nutrition, then I got chatting with my fellow competitors (surprise surprise), spent 30 minutes in the toilet que and then started to panic because I had 25 minutes to go and I still wasn’t in my wetsuit! In no world was it going to take me 25 minutes to put on a wetsuit but that was nerves kicking in, we had a team photo, gave everyone goodbye hugs, quick words of advice from coach and I headed off to the swim start. I found 1 hour 15 minutes and got myself tucked in. Music was playing, I was feeling very excited, my head was on and I was counting down the minutes. I got stood next to a lady who had a gold swim cap on, I assumed this meant she was good (I googled this afterwards and I was correct) but she was totally rocking out to all the songs without a care in the world, made my morning, nobody wants to be stood next to a negative nora now do they. Then ‘Thunderstruck’ started playing, I remember Gemma telling me it was the ironman song last year so I knew it was time (actually just got butterflies writing that). We started moving forward, lots of pats on the shoulders, goggles down, couldn’t stop smiling and off I went! I’d never done a rolling start in a race before and its my new favourite thing. I felt like people genuinely had your back, most people was cautious and I didn’t get hit with too many hands and feet like you normally do. I was comfortable from stroke one, my breathing fell straight into a good rhythm and I found the swim almost a relaxing start for the day ahead. Lap 1 was over quickly and then a quick run back round to start lap 2. I did have a bit of a moment when everyone was elegantly diving off the side of the pontoon, I have certainly not mastered the art of diving yet so I panicked and did some kind of pencil/tuck jump (very lady like) and lap 2 began. Concentrating on getting my head in the game for the bike it was soon over and I was out of the swim. As you can see from my face at the back of the photo, I was pleasantly surprised with my swim time – great start.

T1 went smoothly, I remembered to put my socks on which is a first for me and I was off again!

The bike – the first 20 miles was getting to Bolton from Pennington Flash, it was a comfortable start. I had good speed and the hills weren’t anything out of the ordinary, I remember thinking I wish all the miles was going to be like the first 20but I won’t speak to soon because then the laps began. Without being a drama queen it was pretty brutal from the go but I was on such a high cause I was doing an ironman I seemed to take the hills really well. I was getting into a familiar rhythm of passing people on the up hills and then they’d shoot back past me on the downhills, this went on for most of the first lap with the same people so I could have a bit of a giggle and a chat with them about it. Lucky for me the course seemed to have more uphills than downhills so in that sense I was benefiting. The miles were ticking away, nutrition was going down well (shout out to Gemma for making me some delightful energy balls) and I’d mastered the art of taking water bottles off the marshals without stopping. Then I had my ‘Tour de France’ moment and my favourite moment of the whole course (apart from the finish). Dave, Mel and Warren were waiting for me at the start of a shortish,very sharp out your seat climb; it was outside a pub and there was loads of people all lining the hill cheering people on. Dave was waiting at the bottom with a small bottle of wine attached to a bit of a rope and he ran up the hill in front of me dangling wine in front of my face whilst everyone else screamed at me up the hill. Honestly it was awesome, I felt like Bradley Wiggins, (obviously they don’t motivate him with wine). I had been pretty much T-total for the past 5 months as well so good choice in motivation from Dave! Whilst on sheephouse I knew that this was the last big climb so lap 1 was nearly over. However, I decided I wanted to spice things up a little bit when I took a sharp right hand bend and landed myself straight into a pothole. Me and my bike went on a small journey through the air and I landed face up on the grass verge on the side of the road. It was a scary moment for me and happened very quickly, I would like to think I’m a sensible rider and I’m not speaking out of turn when I say that some of the corners were dangerous and the road surfaces weren’t great. There was a lot of accidents on the course and I am just grateful that I was okay and was able to carry on. My back had taken a bang, I’d grazed the side of my leg but I wasn’t about to quit, I had to sort a few mechanical issues with my bike and after a few moments to myself, I was off again, a little shaky and less confident but mind over matter. Naturally lap 2 felt harder, I saw my friends and family which was amazing and a real booster. The climbing was more difficult and I spent a lot of my time out the saddle on the second lap, mostly trying to ease the pressure off the bottom of my back which was straining and I did think a few times ‘oh hell another hill, are you joking’ but I pushed on. All the marshals at the feed stops were amazing, so happy and encouraging and even though I wasn’t stopping at the feed stops I had them wrote down and it really helped me break down the ride in my head. Sheephouse lane second time was soon approaching and I was feeling very nervous for that corner, but you’ll all be pleased to know I did not make the same mistake. My legs were definitely feeling it from all the climbing and the thought of getting off and running a marathon just made me want to keep cycling! I was soon rolling back into Bolton again and I was more than happy with my bike time.

T2 – little bit messy and I had a bit of a run around trying to find my bike rack position.

The run – running is meant to be my stronger discipline and for the first mile I thought it still might be but who on earth puts hills into the run course after that bike course! IMUK race director, that’s who, such a nice guy. I was still focused but I soon had slowed right down, I got up the hills on the first lap because I believe that once youstart walking, that’s it, you’ll just keep allowing walks, so I tried to put it off as much as possible. I lasted a lap (lol). Without making too manyexcuses the bottom of my back was not great, I gave in to walking up the hills and was adapting to the ironman shuffle quite well, flat coke and orange segments had never tasted so good. I thought I’d find laps torture but I saw so many people so many times, it was ace, I knew exactly where our supporters would be after the first lap so I used this to break down the run, our supporters had spread themselves out well and felt so lucky to have them all there. Amazing to see all my teammates on the run as well, can’t beat a good chat and a high five to pick up morale when you’re struggling and we all helped each other. By the time my last lap came around I was feeling emotional, I saw Gem and Craig who knew I was on my last lap so when I saw them for the last time it was quick cuddles and they told me to enjoy the finish! The last 2 miles I had a lift and I was on a mission to get to the end.

And WOW what a finish! All of our supporters had dotted themselves down the finishing straight, I had the red carpet all to myself and I cant really describe how awesome it was but they sure know how to put on a show. So yeah, OMG I’m an ironman now and a very happy one! 😀

BIG thank you to the support crew who did an excellent job of locating themselves in random places across the course and for giving up their day (some their weekend) to come and watch us, it is massively appreciated and I promise to also be a top supporter for you guys one day! Also BIG BIG thank you to my coach Steve Clark who had every faith that I was capable of an ironman, did me a fabulous and challenging training plan that I secretly loved and who got me in tip top shape ready for that start line. And to all my OTCF teammates who have looked after,encouraged me and welcomed me into the family, wouldn’t of been on that start line if you guys weren’t all doing it too!! However next time I’m putting my foot down and going abroad 😛 

things I have learnt 1) coach is always right, rest days are important m, take them 2) a career in cycling acrobatics is not for me 3) we can do more than we think if we put our mind to it 4) break everything down and don’t let the dark spots win 5) I need to brief race commentators before they try pronounce my name publicly 6) wine seems to motivate me now

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