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Ironman ambitions - Part 11

by Paul Hayward
Friday 2nd October 2015
Tags  Paul Hayward   |   Ironman Wales   |   Triathlon

Our obstacle racing columnist Paul Hayward has been inspired to become an Ironman and last month in Tenby he finally fulfilled his ambition

Ironman ambitions - Part 11

I have held back writing the final instalment of my Ironman journey, wanting to let what happened settle in and allowing for me to take it in. The night before Ironman Wales (Saturday 12 September 2015) was one of the hardest evenings of my life. I kept thinking "I have made it to the start line, this has to happen and I have to finish". However as I sat with my feet up (following Victoria Pendleton’s advice at the Oxford Half training day) the fear crept in.

What happens if I do not make the swim or I get a puncture?  We, I say we, but the girlfriend mainly, decided we should go to bed at about 10.45pm and try and get some sleep. “Try” being the operative word here. Despite sleeping well all week, the nerves and the excitement kicked in and I struggled to sleep or calm down. I just could not settle and I felt I had not been asleep at all when the alarm went off at 4.45am.

The walk to transition to put my bottles of High 5 and bacon bagels on my bike had to be one of the quietest moments I have shared with my girlfriend. Words just did not come easily at all. On checking my bike I felt my tyres, they felt inflated but then they did not. Did they need more air? I must have walked up and down transition three times checking them before deciding to leave them. I decided that if I made the swim then I would worry about it then.

On arriving to North Beach and hugging my girlfriend goodbye, I was still in a daze. As I said goodbye and “see you in 16 hours and 59 minutes”; she began to cry and the tears did not stop. I held her as tight as I could and all I could think was “I have to make the swim now”.

The swim was a “rolling start” and in between the sea of red hats I opted for the 1.35 - 1.50 wave of swimmers. I thought to myself that if I could go steady and make the swim then I should be in or around this time. In theory. As I stood there with my fellow competitors and the Welsh national anthem played, I could do nothing but stare out to sea. I had to swim round the buoys, twice and despite the music and the noise; time stood still and I felt very alone. It looked such a long distance and I felt that I was not ready for this.

I had learnt to swim, I had gone from someone who could not swim in my coach Scott’s eyes, to someone that could make it. If it was going to happen, it had to happen today and I went with my line into the sea. I stuck on the outside as I went across the sea to the first buoy. It had taken an eternity at the Long Course Weekend (HERE) and it was not getting any quicker this time around. On turning it I had made the first buoy and I was swimming straight to the RNLI jettison and then back to the beach.

On coming in from lap one the crowd were going mental and screaming and I looked at the clock - 1 hour and 8 minutes had passed. I had no idea what time I had got in the water but even if I did the same time I thought to myself that I was through on the basis of a 7am start. Madly the second lap became comfortable as adrenaline took over and I calmed down. I felt I did some of the best swimming I had done all year.

My Zone 3 Wetsuit was working overtime but giving me the confidence to push further and harder and I felt that I made the first buoy quite quickly, and then the second before turning in to the beach. On making the beach and climbing up, the music had stopped and Paul Kaye (the voice of Ironman) had gone, but I ran to the line - if I was going to fail then I was going to do my best.

All I could hear was clapping, screaming and cheering as I ran to the line. No-one was stopping me, so I thought I must have made this, I must be okay. I just could not believe it. I downed my small bottle of flat coke, put my trainers on and started running topless towards transition. As people cheered and screamed I just smiled and said “thank you”. My girlfriend, in her green Muddy Race Dryrobe, was smiling so proudly and I could have stopped then and cried. I didn’t as I was not sure how long I had, but I was tempted.

Ironman ambitions - Part 11

Inside transition I asked a man the time and he said “9.10 mate, loads of time”. So I thought to myself that I must have made the swim in about 1.50 or so and it was on! I managed to put all my bike kit on this time, compared to the Outlaw Half (HERE), and sink a small Chia Charge bar, before grabbing my bike and going. I had actually done it - I had made the swim and I had half a chance now of being an Ironman, subject to Wales’ roads and weather.

As I made my way out of Tenby across the first 70 mile lap of the bike course I could not get over the amount of people watching and cheering. Despite leaving Tenby and entering into Pembrokeshire’s beautiful countryside, the support remained huge, with people screaming and ringing their cowbells. As I watched my Garmin, I knew that I needed to average about 14.5mph, eat every half an hour and make it back to transition by 5.30pm (without my extra time for the rolling start) to make the cut.

Despite the sun shining, as opposed to the heavy rain predicted, the wind battered me and I was thankful that I had gone for a wind cheater over my tri suit. At points I was like a parachute, but I was not cold and I was thankful as the wind was relentless. Ironman Wales is notorious for the terrain on the bike course and as time went on the hills began to bite and slow me down. They just did not seem to stop but thankfully I was not alone as I started to pass a lot of competitors that had equally pained faces.

On reaching the first aid station, at around mile 26, I decided to stop and eat half my bacon bagel. I had read a lot of thoughts on nutrition and my plan had been eat some Chia Charge flapjacks or malt loaf every half an hour and then eat a bacon bagel half at mile 26 and 52 at the aid stations. As I tucked in to my bagel and took a moment, an elderly couple passed me, smiling, and said “lovely day for it and a sandwich!”. I had to laugh! I may have lost a minute or two but I knew I needed to keep eating.

At around mile 60 you face Wiseman’s Bridge, a 20% climb just past a pub by the beach, and “Heartbreak Hill” in Saundersfoot. I recall at Long Course Weekend I had cried at this point as to just how steep they were - fortunately I had a sneaky cassette change at Pro Bike Fit when I got my service done, surely it would be easier with more gears? I would like to have said yes but it was just as steep and just as nasty but I made it up quite quickly.

My pained expression was replaced by adulation though as I hit Heartbreak Hill. It was akin to a route from Tour De France; both sides of the hill were lined with people cheering and screaming your name and there was barely any space to cycle at points. It was simply magical and even now I smile when I think about it.

At one section I came across this lady jumping up and down screaming my name and making the most amount of noise with her cowbell. I am unsure if it was the shock of the amount of noise she was making or the fact I was thinking I need to make this hill before I fall over, but it did not dawn on me to begin with that this crazed lady was my girlfriend proudly screaming for me to keep going!

Due to her energy and that of the crowd, the remainder of the hill did not seem so bad and on freewheeling back into Tenby I had made the cut off for the first lap and started the shorter second of 40 miles with a massive grin on my face.

I had heard that you need to break the course down into sections and just concentrate on those. At this point I kept telling myself; “make it to 80 and then you are only 32 miles away”. Somehow that seemed manageable and I kept going past other competitors thinking that I was doing okay here.

Sadly though around 90 miles in, the wheels came off and despite eating my emergency large Chia Charge bar, I was struggling. I was sure I would make the cut off but I did not know how close I would be. It was “only” 22 miles away, but somehow that seemed an eternity away. I said to myself I had to do this, I had to make transition; I was back pushing and before I knew it I was back at Heartbreak hill.

The time was around 5pm and I had half an hour (without my extra time) to make it to transition. The crowds had gone down a little but I was still met with people screaming my name and shouting “great climbing” or “you can do this”.  As I pushed through to the top of the hill and turned for the Tenby descent I was met with a number of people running up the huge hill!

It was absolutely crazy that people were off their bikes and already two laps into the marathon. As I cycled into transition the clock said 5.15pm, I had made the cut off with 15 minutes to go and I now had until midnight to do the marathon.

Should I make it this far, my plan had been to do 10 minute miles and aim for about 4 and half hours. At the time this “brilliant” plan was made, I had not factored in how I would feel after the swim and the bike ride. I simply thought “that sounds about achievable” and for the first two laps I was running happily, smiling all the way round and taking on more horrendous hills.

I had witnessed some of the magic of Ironman Tenby last year, but nothing compares to you racing it and I was really enjoying myself. At almost every turn people clapped and shouted “well done Paul, you have got this”. I could not believe the support and by 8.15pm I was still feeling good. However mile 13 came and I started to struggle. I was dropping down to 11 to 12 minute miles and I was in trouble.

Despite taking a gel, and some Redbull with water (so naughty but yet so good), I wasn’t feeling good and at this point I saw my girlfriend again. She was smiling and she tried to run with me. Although some athletes had people running with them, I said to her “I love you but please don’t get me disqualified, I cannot do this again next year”. Despite her best attempts to raise me I was struggling and I walked some of the hills before running back down them.

There was no shame in this and I knew that I just was not fit enough to run the whole thing, despite my thoughts that I could do it. The sun was drawing in and as the darkness fell, it became a battle for survival. I had to keep going, I had to make these last laps and the red carpet - I had come too far not to, but it began to hurt.

This struggle did not compare to the urge to stop at Fecci’s fish and chip shop though. Literally hundreds of people were happily eating fish and chips in front of me as I raced round, all clapping and cheering, and all I could think of was how much I wanted fish and chips as the smell was infectious and my body wanted salty chips washed down with full fat coke. This somehow distracted me from the pain and as I made the last climb I knew I was on the final lap.

It was around 9pm and I just thought to myself “stop mucking around Paul, you have to finish this now”. As I began to run again, and take on more Redbull, I saw my girlfriend who was bouncing at this point “see you at the finish line” she screamed. It was hard to hear those words as it dawned on me I was going to make it, I was going to be an Ironman.

The last lap was really a blur, as I collected my last band (showing I had done four laps) everyone cheered me and even the people I passed said well done. I recall I was really pleased as it was green (my favourite colour). There were still people out there with two bands and I made a point of saying “you can do this, keep strong” and I hoped they could do it. On making the final turn into the finish line I was a little lost to be honest, the music was so loud as was the crowd.

I could not believe I had made it. I honestly thought that I would not make it and although I would give it my all, this was beyond me. As I saw Paul Kaye and pointed to my number, as requested to do, he said “Paul you are an Ironman”. I just could not stop smiling, I had done the impossible and I had made the swim, made the bike and now made the red carpet and heard those words.

I desperately looked for my girlfriend and I just could not see her, there were so many people shouting and screaming. I finished running down the carpet and stopped under the arch, arms aloof and I was beaming. I could not stop smiling. I did not cry, despite thinking that I would do, and I looked up - “P.Hayward 15:15:18”. I had made it before midnight at Ironman Wales - even now typing this it does not feel real and I have to question did it really happen?

On getting my medal and staring at it, I heard my girlfriend scream at me and tell me off, between tears, that she had been right by me and I had missed her. I said sorry and we had done it, we had done Ironman Wales. It has taken a while to sink in and I often touch my medal even now to see if it is real.

Ironman ambitions - Part 11

I cannot really describe what this journey has done for me, save for change my life forever. I have never cared so much about a race or wanted something so badly - now it has happened I am just blown away.

I need to, as per most Ironmen, repay the love and faith those people have put in me and make sure they know it is appreciated.

I would like to thank Hugh, Bobby and the team at Zone 3 for supporting me through this journey and giving me a massive hand in achieving my dream. Tim Taylor at Chia Charge for his support for my nutrition.

Also my coach, and now friend, Scott Farnell , because without his influence and teaching I would never have been able to make the start line. To my friends (sorry there are too many to list) that I have bored to death, missed out on their birthdays or made excuses not to see them so I can ride a bike instead - sorry!

Finally my girlfriend, my biggest supporter and best friend. Without her I would not have made the start line and I am unable to put into words just how thankful I am for her support, love and hugs through the hard times. I am sorry I ate all your chocolate!

I am not, despite popular belief, “going long again” next year but I cannot say I never will again. At the moment I am happy to let it set in and it is amazing that a few people, including some close to me, are now learning to swim and looking at triathlon. I have signed up for a half next year to keep it ticking over and promised the girlfriend some sun.

Thank you for reading this, when I started the blog I didn’t think it would end like this but I never really knew what being an Ironman meant.

For all the essential information on triathlon, why not check out our sister site www.tri247.com


About The Author

Paul Hayward

I am 33 years old and spend the majority of my life within an office environment. Whilst I played football, I never really took an interest in sport let alone athletics. In 2011 I joined a gym as I was slightly concerned about my weight. However I was, like an awful lot of my colleagues, coasting and I considered spinning three times a week a workout.
This changed when I took up a circuits class and found myself entering Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest London in November 2011. I was assured by my friends that this was a good idea and would be a “challenge”.
I had never entered any form of competitive event before and training for this run changed me. I listened to my personal trainer, who assured me that if I quit drink I could be dangerous, and sorted out my diet, stopped drinking so much and focussed my training. I completed the race in just over an hour and I was instantly bitten by the racing bug, I loved the challenge the event offered. 
Nearly two years on I have completed a half marathon in 1hour 49 minutes, came 6th in the Rat Race Horseplay 5k event and usually come within the top 30% at Obstacle Course races. I am also a part time triathlete and I am lucky to find myself in a running club where we have a great coach and the focus is on members. If I am honest - I came to running through these events and I am not alone.
My aim through Run 247 is to promote, discuss and publicise Obstacle Course racing. It is becoming huge and over the coming months we will cover all of the major races and the new competitors entering the scene. 

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