🏊🏼♀️ 3.8k 🚴🏼♂️ 180.2k 🏃🏼♂️ 42.2k
After completing my first IRONMAN Triathlon in France last year, I of course swore never to do another one again. Inevitably that thought lasted only a few weeks as rumours started circulating within my local Tri Club that there were a few people signing up for IRONMAN Barcelona 2019.
Fast forward to September this year and it was announced that JBR Run and Tri had secured third place in the ‘IRONMAN Triathlon Club Pole Position Awards’ meaning we were the third biggest club by entry globally into the biggest IRONMAN triathlon in the world. 20 brave souls, me of course included 🐑, from our little local Tri club were heading to Barcelona to compete alongside nearly 4000 others on the Mediterranean coast.
Landing in Barcelona airport on Wednesday morning gave us plenty of time to check into hotels and spend a few days chilling out, doing recces of the swim, bike and run courses and sorting any minor mechanical niggles with the bikes. Transporting bikes on planes (or as some did, in a lorry) often tends to knock something out of line so a bit of fettling is always needed. The other mandatory exercise during the week is to register and then raid the IRONMAN Merchandise store (this is best done before the event as everything tends to sell out).
Registration was a breeze and included receiving an ID band and a nice new backpack containing 2 swim hats (one souvenir one for the Pole Position Award I mentioned earlier), race number, instructions and number stickers for the bike, helmet etc…. Unlike registration, the merch store had the biggest queue I’ve ever seen with someone in our group likening it to an “everything for a pound sale at Primark”…. Everything wasn’t however a pound, it’s expensive gear, but should we all finish on Sunday we can wear it with pride!
Especially when it has your name on it…..
Saturday morning and it was time for the event to start its buildup with the awesome Ironkids races. 4 running races of varying distances based on age groups and we had competitors in three of them. By Saturday, the 20 of us competing had turned into over 40 people including families and friends. You can only imagine how much support the 4 JBR girls, Connie, Ava, Pixie, and Freya got. The atmosphere was amazing and there were beaming, proud parents everywhere.
Watching the kids was particularly hard for me as Lisa and Sophia couldn’t make it out to Barcelona, I know how much they would have loved it and I made a teary promise to myself that they would be there next time.
First emotional rollercoaster of the day over, we began the long walk down to race briefing where we would receive reinforcement of the things we needed to know for the race. Walking into ‘Irondome’ (a really big tent), the atmosphere was electric and gave me instant goose bumps, videos of past events played on the massive screen accompanied by loud music and ‘Team JBR’ had arrived! I think it’s fair to say however that the briefing did nothing to calm the nerves of the first timers (did I mention that 15, yes Fifteen, of the 20 of us were first timers with one crazy man doing his first ever Triathlon).
There were lots of warnings about yellow and red cards and ensuing disqualification for drafting (cycling too close behind someone to gain a ‘tow’), however the main thing everyone seemed to be worried about was the dreaded CUT OFF. The combined time for your swim and 1st 90km bike ride HAD to be under 5hrs and 20 minutes or they would pull you out. The swim cutoff being 2hrs and 20mins meant that psychologically people were thinking “I only have 3hrs for 90km on the bike”. Which is fast! In reality, and something we did our best to reinforce to those doubting themselves, everyone would be out of the water in well under 1hr 45mins, leaving plenty of time for the ride…. Something which turned out to be true but more on that later.
From the briefing, it was time to get our team photo under the finishers arch (another one of the perks of being placed in the Pole Position Awards mentioned earlier). This was a great thing to get to do and I think you’ll agree; We all look awesome!
Final preparatory order of the day was to rack the bikes. In IRONMAN events, you are only allowed to put your bike on the rack and nothing else, this means all your kit, clothing, helmet, shoes, nutrition etc has to go in a system of bags which you have access to in transition. In short Blue Bag for bike needs, Red Bag for run needs and a White Streetwear bag that you hand in at the start with your ‘normal’ clothes to change into after the race.
As you can see, being faced with this sight after an hour and a half getting kicked in the face in the sea could be a little daunting.
As is finding your bike amongst 3799 others…. (Only a problem for the person in the lead however, there were considerably fewer when I got there in the race (more later).
Once racked and and ‘bagged’ we were finally given our race timing chips (to be worn on the left ankle throughout the event) and sent off to chill for the rest of the day. For me that meant finding somewhere to partake in my usual pre-race staple of Pasta and a nice glass of Red Wine.
Dinner + wine consumed with friends and it was off to bed…..
After a very broken night’s sleep, no doubt somewhat due to nerves but also a lot of noise outside the hotel, it had finally arrived. IRONMAN Barcelona race day. Last minute check of the Streetwear bag before leaving the room…. Wetsuit, Goggles, Swim Hat, Body Glide, Flip Flops, Race Chip, Garmin + Drinks Bottles (for the bike)…. CHECK! Quick breakfast consisting of 4 coffees and a bowl of sugar puffs (athlete food).. Let’s go!
Arriving in transition before sunrise it was time for a final check of the bikes, meet the rest of the guys and gals and make sure everything was ready. It’s times like these that being part of a team really shines through: During the final check, Paul discovered he had a split in his tyre, he’s running a tubeless setup and the gunk simply wouldn’t seal it. Hannah to the rescue with some tyre patches and the three of us quickly had the problem rectified. Panic over let’s head for the beach!
Walking onto a beach to banging music with 3800 other people about to take part in the biggest IRONMAN event in the world kind of takes your breath away…. Which is ironic really because breathing is something you are about to spend at least the next hour concentrating on. Mike Reilly (the voice of IRONMAN) was on the PA with his usual unbounded energy and words of encouragement. It’s a gift for someone to make something so big feel so involving and so special to each and every person. I felt genuinely privileged to be stood on that beach about to undertake something amazing with so many amazing people.
8:08am and the gun goes for the Pro Male field…. Wow are they fast in the water…..
8:10am and its the Pro Females
8:15am and it’s us…….
Getting nearly 4000 people into the water, as you can imagine takes a while. With 4 at a time in 5 second intervals and the fact a few of us had seeded ourselves towards the rear, it was something like 8:40 by the time we got to the front and in. The beach in Calella is more like a cliff: First and second steps into the water – feet wet, third step, out of your depth and swimming. The course is a relatively simple 300m out from the beach, turn right, swim a mile turn right swim 100m, turn right, swim a mile, turn left swim until you hit the beach.
The weather had been kind to us and the sea was pretty flat and completely clear; this provided great visibility of the various jellyfish, sting rays and the odd discarded (or pulled off in a tussle) swimming hat at varying depths below us. Unfortunately for club Chairman Jon, the aquatic debris also included his £500 Garmin watch which was kicked off en route.
The swim was actually pretty enjoyable, the photo below is NOT normally how I look coming out of a Tri Swim at any distance, I was however pleased to be heading for my bike, and also later finding out about my PB swim time of 1hr 25mins.
Running (walking) into the transition tent, it was great to see some of my team mates and exchange quick stories of the swim whilst chucking a ham and cheese sandwich into me and getting out of my wetsuit.. I had opted for a complete change of clothes between disciplines for this event, this was great advice I had received from a JBR member before my first IM, however something I would only do on a full distance event due to the time taken. If you are about to spend 6 hours on a bike, fresh dry kit is a nice place to be!
Changed into bike gear, helmet and gloves on, grab the bike from the now much emptier racked area and off on the bike course.
Which was FAST…..
We had been told in the briefing that the bike course was flat and fast.. I’m not sure I would have called it ‘flat’ but it was a quick course with fantastic road surface and anything resembling a climb was either very short or very slight. All this meant I could stick to my average speed plan of 30kmh over the 180.2km course. I had a pre-race plan that if I felt good getting out of the water, I would aim for a sub 6hr bike. (This is one of those times that holds some significance for normal humans, like the 30min 5k or 4hr marathon, so that was the target). Like an excited puppy I shot out onto the course completing lap one in well under 2hrs and 50 mins and I loved every second of it. Lap 2 frustrated me a bit, seeing many groups of competitors working together (drafting) to help each other and many others discarding empty gel wrappers and bottles all over the course. Both of these are strictly against the rules worldwide and against the spirit of competition, in the latter case also against the law. I was doing my race however and finished the bike in a very respectable (and another big PB) 5hrs 55mins.
Heading back into transition, the last few KM are slow and twisty allowing you time to prepare for the upcoming run. Spinning out the legs, bit of food, try to relax a bit and think about where to rack and where the all important red bag is in that enormous tent. Into transition, rack the bike and head for change number 2, this time into my running gear. Again, great to see a few JBR competitors in the tent albeit briefly, inhaled a sugary donut and headed for the ‘Run Out’ sign.
The run course starts with a quick run down to glimpse the finish area then essentially 3 laps of 8.5 miles to make up the marathon distance. Just 26.2 miles between me and those immortal words… “You are an IRONMAN” and I felt good.
Lap 1 was ticked off with relative ease, running past the first few aid stations and then running between subsequent ones grabbing some water and nuts at each to stay fuelled. Starting lap 2 however, I needed a poo! There were plenty of portaloos on course but opening the first one and looking in, I can only describe the scene as apocalyptic! Imagine someone had put a large can of dog food in a blender, left the top off and turned it on. HOW does a human do that???? Cue mild panic and a walk run (in pain) to the next one, same scene!!! Heading back through the transition area I finally found a clean one with paper and now couldn’t go…. Grrrrr.
I’ll spare you the details of my second lap but it was not pleasant; largely consisting of ‘run walk repeat’ with lower abdominal pain, broken only by the pleasure of seeing other JBR competitors and the awesome JBR supporters. Coming back through the transition area towards the end of the lap, I was in pain and mentally had enough. I knew without any shadow of a doubt that I would finish and with reasonable time to spare even if I walked the last 9 miles in pain, but, in my last visit to the only clean portaloo on the course, 2 things happened.
I sorted my stomach out and I looked at my watch.
“You have 1hr and 40mins to complete just over 8 miles” I said to myself, at least I thought that was right, by this point over 10 hours into the race and having been in a bit of pain for a while, maths wasn’t exactly top of my skill base!
Having gone into this race with no other plan than not drowning, attempting a 6hr bike then finishing (even walking) before the 15hr 40 cutoff, there was suddenly a new target,
“I can bloody do this in a time beginning with a 12”
This was suddenly, and from nowhere, important as my previous and only other IRONMAN was completed in a time of 13hrs 26mins.
The last lap of the run was amazing, it was dark at the far end of the course making running a little tricky but I didn’t care, all I had to do was keep running and make sure each mile ticked off was in the 10-11min range. I ran between aid stations, walked through them grabbing flat coke and nuts, and ran again. At the far end of the course I took my first 2 gels of the day and with 4 miles to go started smiling. At 2 miles out there was a RedBull stand, large cup downed, smile increased. I then spotted someone going into one of the ‘dog food’ portaloos I had seen earlier, it was now pitch dark, I still wonder today what atrocities may have become him!
1 mile to go and I passed another JBR team member, funnily enough one of the people who was worried about the bike cutoff all those hours ago. I felt great knowing her worries were long gone and she was about to absolutely smash it! Couldn’t slow though, my smile by this time was hurting more than my legs.
The closer you get to the finish the more the sound of cheering and loud music grows, loads of JBR supporters lined the final few hundred metres too which was awesome. Nothing however prepares you for the adrenaline rush of turning onto the red carpet and seeing the finish gantry. The noise is deafening, the atmosphere electric and I’m about to destroy my PB.
The last 50 metres, the sound of the crowds, crossing the line, arms in the air and hearing
“Chris Hyde, you are an IRONMAN”
will stay with me forever, as will turning round after getting my medal and seeing the clock. 12:48.21. To say I was pleased would be the understatement of the century.
I’ve run more than 10 marathons over the years, 3 ultras, several 100mile+ bike events and many, many other events over many distances and disciplines but, for me, this one beats them all. Besides the absolutely impeccable organisation, the amazing volunteers, the crowds of people, the awesome support from our club, the location, the weather, the merch, the pain, the sweat, the tears…. It’s that finish and those 4 simple words!
After a few quick beers, a bacon sandwich and a change of clothes, I headed out of the post race area to find the JBR crew. Hugs all round from an awesome bunch of people and stories from those teammates who were already in (with some amazing times too: Remember the guy who’s first ever triathlon it was? Tyler finished in 11:18.58 which is mind blowing).
Competitor became spectator and attentions then turned to those still out on the course so I headed for the grandstand around the finish chute. It was now nearing midnight so the crowds had thinned out a bit but the noise level hadn’t changed at all. It was amazing. Mike Reilly, who had brought a tear to my eye now over 15 hours earlier was stirring the crowd into a frenzy and welcoming every single athlete down the chute like they had won the whole event, it was epic!
Time was tight for our last 4 team members home but 1 by 1 they all made it and with each one our shouts grew louder. I was emotional, exhausted and could barely speak when we were all done but WE HAD DONE IT!
20 members from a little Tri club in Essex started the 2019 IRONMAN Barcelona with the biggest entry from any club in Europe and 3rd biggest globally. Team JBR took on world’s largest IM event and SMASHED it!
15 first timers, 18 PBs, the best supporters in the land and a weekend I will never forget.
Footnote: Training and inspiration!
I am extremely fortunate to seem to be able to maintain a pretty good level of fitness without doing much training and as a result usually manage to pretty much turn up and come good on the day. This event was no exception. I have been REALLY busy with work this year and travelling a lot, as a result weekends become precious time I want to spend with my family; it’s also no secret I like a beer or 2……. because of all of this, training suffers. Many people put way more work into getting to this event than I did and it shows in each of their achievements, I know some people probably don’t like me for it, but if nothing else it proves that ANYONE can do this, you just have to WANT to do it!
This year I have seen someone go from barely being able to swim to completing 2 miles in the Serpentine, my own wife grow as a swimmer, conquer her fear of open water and swim 1 mile at the same event, I’ve seen people who said they could never ride complete the London 100, complete ‘non runners’ with a Brighton Marathon medal around their neck and my own crazy little 7 year old girl complete her 60th parkrun despite having Cystic Fibrosis.
If I inspire anyone then I’m proud of that but it’s people like the above who inspire me everyday.
If you WANT to do something, YOU CAN DO IT, just remember one thing:
DON’T BE SHIT!