Closing Many Chapters of My Life – Ironman Austria 2015

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Deep huh?!?

Yes, yes it is but what ‘Ironman 2015′ (as it was originally known back in 2012) means to me is deep. This wasn’t just a race, not just another event…this one was big and I’ve used it to try and move on with my life.

I’ve always been an achiever, a go-getter, a bit of a “Billy Two-Shits” meaning if you’ve had one, I’ve had two…haha, I am joking but “Billy Two-Shits” are usually liars, I’m not. I’ve done many things in my life, like becoming a black belt at 10, Scottish Karate champion at 13, won many sporting awards in my teens, became a Sergeant in the RAF in less than 5 years, freefalled from 25,000ft, been a member of the RAF parachute display team and have successfully run my own personal training (PT) business for 10 years after leaving the security of a contract of RAF service that would have me employed until 2017.

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‘Life is for living’ and ‘you only have one life’ are two of my many motto’s as it truly is…I don’t want regrets as everything happens for a reason. I have lived through three horrible times in my life and they were part of my fuel for getting me across the line at Ironman 2015.

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I’m aware that you’re probably not here to read about this so I’ll be brief. The first one was when I made the decision to leave the RAF after 10 years to fulfil a dream of owning my own PT business. I made this decision as I no longer had any desire for any other job in the RAF after my time on the display team and when both of my coaches (2003 & 2004) told me I’d do well in the outside world or civvi street I made plans to leave. I started speaking to the right people and before long I put my papers in and had a date to leave. What happened from then on deeply hurt me. Despite my immediate bosses on the parachute team’s pleas, the Wing Commander in a very hurtful way kicked me off of the parachute team and let me serve my remaining 8 months of service doing the most basic of jobs. His words were, “you don’t care about the RAF anymore, so it doesn’t care about you”. People who I’d counted as friends spoke to me less and I got treated unfairly by people (who have since admitted this) who were jealous that I had the balls to leave. When physically sick during some parachute ground training, I got told that I was here for an easy ride and was faking it. I also remember being so upset about work that one side of my face had swollen…I was low and I began counting the days until I was FREE!!! In other words…I kept going.

The second one involves my ex wife…ringing bells with anyone?! What I mean is how many have been married and are no longer? This situation either makes a person stronger or it leaves them with scars…mine gave me both. Scars because I’d committed my life to someone who I felt I could help become stronger but when that person has an insecurity that drives them to try to make you feel jealous (problem was I’m not the jealous type) to the point when their affair or “deep underlying love for each other” makes newspaper headlines, it kind of hurts a bit. I moved on as quick as I could but was constantly reminded as I was being contacted by the tabloids for my side of the story. The truth is it was desperately difficult to move on and I became desperately sad. Some friends even sided with her due to her fame so again I lost out on friends but I had to keep going.

The third “horrible time” is the one that has slowly hurt over a long period of time. When you finally feel ready to commit to someone else after a divorce you don’t do it lightly. Someone came back into my life and after a hesitant period from me, we fell in love and decided to try for a baby. Sam was born about 15 months after we met for the second time and people were telling me that you go through the bad times to get the good and that really did feel true. However, things started to become a bit ‘brother-sister’ like and I reluctantly put that down to ‘living with a child’ but over the years we drifted apart though neither of us could work out why. We always said we would have two children so a few years later we tried for ‘number 2’ and after a month she was pregnant. The relationship went downhill soon after but for the sake of being there for the birth of Eva and to help make my family’s lives easier with the addition of another, I kept going.

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We split in July of last year and I was able to move out on Boxing day which was difficult but hey…I kept going! There’s no hatred at all between us just disappointment…I never intended to live in a different house from my children who I adore and it hurts daily.

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SO…you can wake up now and I’ll get back on to the epic journey that is Ironman 2015!!! I started doing triathlons as a means to test myself further…I was good at running but doing the run after a swim and a bike leg sounded like a challenge so I did. I started with a pool, sprint distance and then did the 2012 London Triathlon. In the same year, Graeme Brouder did Challenge Henley an ‘iron distance’ triathlon and when a mutual friend and I went to surprise him at a curry house in Twickenham afterwards he pointed at me and said “You could do it!”.

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The question a lot of new or seasoned triathletes face is when are you going to do an Ironman? It’s seen as the ultimate goal by many, some will do loads, some will have no desire. It’s a strange question because it’s almost like asking every runner “When are you going to run a marathon?”. Strange because not everyone wants to go long the same as some people don’t always start with the smaller distance…basically is speed or endurance. I decided to shut Graham and everyone else up who was asking me and say in 2015…the year I turn 40.

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It was now a milestone challenge, the one to do before the big 4-0! I wasn’t phased by it because my plan was to build on 2012 by doing the London triathlon olympic distance again in 2013, a 70.3 mile triathlon (or half Ironman) in 2014 and the Ironman in 2015.

In 2012, I had set another major goal in running a sub 3 hour marathon and came close doing Edinburgh in 3.08, half marathon personal bests (pb) in Bath running 1.21 and a 10km in Twickenham of 37.19. What was helping me achieve these target was parkrun…I was constantly getting faster and setting new 5km pbs. In 2013 the week after doing a 3.05 London marathon I set my current 5km pb of 17.26 and since then I have not broken any personal barriers. The reason I mention this is my motivation has struggled since. Like most I have had a few injuries that weren’t major, they just niggled. I posted on my blog about losing my mojo and this was due to the injuries and my relationship with Kirsty.

In 2014, with Ironman 2015 getting closer I booked the Swashbuckler and Midnightman half and finally decided that Ironman 2015 was to be done in Austria. Why Austria? Because it’s not the UK and I was only going to do one AND it a few months before my 40th AAAANNNNDDDD because I’m worth it!!!

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Nothing against the UK but it was to be special for me and to be in a country that I’ve never been to before would only make it more poignant.

When I first started doing triathlons I popped into Sigma Sports and thanks to Tierney walked out with bike shoes, cleats, pedals, a tri suit, a wet suit, goggles, a race belt and some elasticated laces. The only things I have to replace or upgrade was my goggles as the polarized filter has gone and my tri suit as it was a one piece. My advice to anyone planning on doing longer than an Olympic distance is to get a two piece due to the act of relieving oneself. My wetsuit has been fantastic (I’ve cut an inch or two from the ankles to aid in a quick T-1 – thanks Mark Yeoman).

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The other thing I’ve replaced and upgraded is my bike. I inherited an old Trek bike from my mum and it served me well for a few or my early tris but I was a future Ironman and needed a suitable steed. I’d budgeted £1500 to get one as it could then be the basic carbon time-trial model but was surprised when I did the 2013 London triathlon in (2.20.06) and see the Specialized Shiv Comp on sale for £1495. This bike was normally £2500 and still being sold for that in loads of stores. I had to have it and bought it from Total Fitness in Bath. I got fitted and picked it up on my 38th birthday…the best way to spend my birthday as things were very sad at home. I didn’t know what to expect on getting a bike fitted but there was a lot of time just chatting and it took a lot longer than planned. I mention this because the bike has been an issue since I bought it. If I go for a longer ride than 90 mins my arse hurts and I mean not a numb bum hurt a real pain that makes me want to stand up or get off the bike. I have upgraded to a Fizik saddle in desperation but it still hurts. So much so that I started to hate cycling which is obviously not great when you have a 112 mile bike leg between two other disciplines.

So to sum things up, I hate cycling, I had niggling ‘running’ injuries, my mojo had gone as things were sad at home…surely the swim would be okay!?!?!

Well, if anyone has read my open water swimming blog post you’ll know that I suffer from ‘swallowing air’ when I swim!!! WTF is that I think a lot of you will say?! I seem to breathe normally but gulp every so often when my face is in the water. On my 3km swim in 2012 I ended in sheer agony due to the fact that if I farted any more I was in great risk of shitting myself!!! When I got out of the water, as you can see, I was in sheer pain and when I finally made it to a portaloo, I single-handedly recreated the ‘Beans scene’ from Blazing Saddles!!!

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Chatting to a good friend and former client who’s an epic swimmer, he recommended I breath on one side and not go bi-lateral to reduce the time I have to gulp…fortunately it works but only just. I still have to fart but not as much therefore reducing the likelihood of ‘soiling my wetsuit!

Ironman 2015 was my goal but due to being vocal on twitter, a client of mine, Sean (mentioned above) said he’d do it too however probably due to my sudden excitement of booking Austria and not consulting him he opted for Ironman UK. He wanted his family to be there and Austria wouldn’t work due to it being during term time…maybe I saw Austria as a break from the situation at home. However, two other clients Conall and Peter (who was already signed up for Ironman Copenhagen 2014) signed up for a trip to Austria. Since then Sean and I have seem to lose contact which is upsetting as we’d become great training partners and friends.

All the sadness is almost over as Conall had to drop out due to him coming off of his bike, not resting enough and therefore never able to be ready in time for the big event.

My lack of training and motivation has been put down to the many reasons above but one thing I did have is time. I had become lazy but managed to be a realist. I could finish an Ironman. It was never in doubt in my head. I am fortunate to be in that position as I’ve been active all my life and I had the mental strength to believe that I could achieve even if I had to walk the marathon.

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I know the hardest part of doing a challenge like this is to have a strong mind. My clients hear me mention it all the time either during a session or when they are setting themselves goals. With time running out I had to work on my strength immediately. When I thought about Ironman 2015 I had thought about an 11 hour finishing time and dreamed of a 10 hour finishing time. Both of those are within my capabilities but not now I am not in that form at all so I had to re-evaluate. I needed to work on swimming and not swallowing air, I needed to test myself on a bike and I needed to run.

Fortunately another client called Peter had signed up for the Pearson 150 sportive from London to London…via Brighton. I decided to do it with Peter as I needed time on my bike. Peter said I wouldn’t be able to do it on my sore ass inducing Shiv and I didn’t want to risk it on the old Trek so I decided to replace the Trek with a new Specialized Allez Sport from Evans. Would my arse hurt?! Simple answer…no. I was cycling with Peter for over 7 hours and all I got was a mildly numb bum…was the Shiv about to be dropped?!?

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Five weeks before the London marathon ( I had a ‘good for age’ place), the cycling trip to Majorca I was going on got cancelled and I saw that as a sign. I have only five weeks to train for a marathon and soon I’m going to swim and bike a long way before a marathon…perfect, the marathon was back on. In three weeks I ran 13.1 miles, 18 miles and 22.5 miles and felt great. I realistically set myself a target of running at 3hr30 pace for about 20 miles and then seeing what I had left. I crossed the line in 3.27.45 and after 6 marathons finally ran a race where I got my nutrition right…probably due to running at a pace I knew I could.

I managed to motivate myself for a 2000 metre pool swim and a 2200 metre open water swim in which I had to stop due to Shepperton lake closing but felt confident I could’ve carried on all day.

The time had come to go to Klagenfurt, Austria. I opted for the “Sit up and beg” racing bike over the TT for comfort reasons and borrowing a client’s canvas bike bag made my way to Heathrow early on Friday morning. On the advice on my bike bag client, I put my helmet, shoes and pedals in my hand luggage just in case the bike didn’t arrive with me. Being a triathlete I put my wetsuit in too. The rest of my kit and clothes was stuffed in the bike bag.

I flew to Vienna at 6am, landing at with only 20 minutes to make the connecting flight. It was close and I wasn’t the only one as it’s quite easy to identify triathletes with their branded bags and t-shirts. Next we got on our plane to Klagenfurt and there it was…the start of the Ironman signs.

As if David (bike bag client) saw it coming, my bike didn’t arrive with me however Austria airlines said that this may not happen and that they would deliver it to my hotel. I was as cool as a cucumber…seriously. I was in a position where I had learned to accept my situation and to not be stressed about it. My situation in my lack of training, my situation in not having my bike with me and my situation in living apart from my family. Ironman Austria had become my opportunity to close many chapters in my life.

Without putting too much pressure on myself I thought if I take 90 mins for the 3.8km swim, 7hrs30 for the bike and run a 4hr marathon with slow transitions I could cross the line in 13hrs 30 mins. A huge difference from the 2012 Stuart who had declared an 11 hour finish with the possibility of a 10 hour but I am not him any more. This event was about keeping going and crossing the fucking line and feeling epic again!!!

I arrived at Hotel Esplanade and soon met up with my client Peter and his friends Mike and Tania. A lovely couple who made my experience all the better as I had more people to share my virginity with…if you know what I mean. Mike was there as support, invaluable support as he has done 3 Ironman events and was relaxed so became the perfect person to quiz. Peter and Tania had been training hard and were in the zone at times…me I was lapping it all up.

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Peter and Tania had arrived on Thursday so were already registered, I was planning to come out on Thursday too but when I found out my son’s sports day was on Thursday, my plans changed. The huge source of motivation I have is to set a great example to my children. Sam loves his sports and it’s only because he sees me enjoying it…Thursday was his big day and daddy had to be there. Strangely it was also the day that Eva decided to really give walking a go after showing months and months of ability but never really going for it. Great decision Dad…Sam got a first, two seconds, a third and a fourth but more importantly, he enjoyed himself.

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On Saturday we headed to the “Irondome” with the knowledge that my bike had arrived to listen to the brief in English. Ironman is a huge event and you see the scale when you look at the nationalities next to your name on the starting list so briefings and announcements were given in different languages. We were hyped up, the ironvirgins were applauded but most people were there for one announcement…was it a wet suit swim or not?! The dread of many is do we have to swim 2.4 miles without the aid of our lovely buoyancy aid aka the wetsuit. It keeps you warm, helps us leg draggers but in hot temperatures has a risk of overheating but to a huge sigh of relief it was declared a wet suit swim. Again, I was so relaxed that I was already imagining me doing breaststroke if the outcome was different. Once the comprehensive briefing was over I headed to registration and to avoid spending money on Ironman merchandise. It was quite east to be honest because I wasn’t an Ironman and felt a fraud if I had bought anything. I spotted that the expo was open on the Monday and just eyed up what I planned to buy later. I did need to get some more Compressport calf guards and due to my trainers being red, decided or a matching set!

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I felt good walking to meet Peter, Tania and Mike with my Ironman backpack but remembered that they now owned 9 among them. The next mission was to rack our bikes with my focus being on seeing and building my bike first. Our hotel was about 6 miles away and we were so grateful to Mike to have his Range Rover to ferry us back and forth as this is exactly what he did. He took me and my bike AND my bags to transition for me to rack my bike.

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I mentioned on my social media account some Ironman Austria facts and a stand out one was that on race day 2,500 volunteers would work 30,000 hours! I’ll work it out for you…an average of 12 hours each! What blew me away more was that when I walked my bike into transition with helmet fastened and race belt and number on, they were clapping you in…shit, I’m getting emotional typing this! When I got to the end of the line, the last volunteer stepped forward and smiling sweetly said “are you okay?” they same way your mum would. The difference is she was in her twenties and fit!!! I thought I’d pulled, haha! She started to point out where I was to rack my bike and then said I’ll take you there!!! Some people who are after your money are not this nice!! We chatted about where we were both from, our sporting backgrounds, our countries and when I got to my racking point we almost hugged…in fact I think we did as she wished me loads of luck for tomorrow. I was absolutely blown away…these girls and guys were amazing.

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I mentioned I had bags with me as on an Ironman your bike is the only thing at the rack. You may attach your shoes to it but only if you plan to do a running mount, even you helmet is to be in your “bike bag” (BB). So you have a “bike bag”, a “run bag” (RB) and a “streetwear bag” (SW). Now to do this you have to put yourself into race day mode. Your swimming stuff goes into your SW bag, your bike stuff goes into your BB and your run stuff goes into your RB. Then when you get ready to swim you take off your track suit etc and put it in your SW bag taking out and putting on all the stuff you need to swim. Then you’ve got to imagine what you’d need in you BB when you finish the swim. THEN you’ve got to imagine what you’d need in your run bag before you run. Once you’ve imagined ahead the BB and the RB get rack in a different area corresponding to your race number…phew. Fortunately you can back to those bags in the morning because on arriving back at the hotel I realised that I forgot to put my helmet and race number in my BB!!!

Every so often we “did a Tania”…it was so-called because every so often we’d catch Tania take a deep breath due to the whole enormity of tomorrow’s task…we soon realised we were doing this loads too. I took a video on Instagram saying “Welcome to Ironman Austria…“and just as I thought the video had ended I let out an “Oh my god!”. These moments hit you from nowhere even the experienced!

During our evening meal we talked about a desired time and a dream time. I feel it’s important to do this as after the event you could be disappointed with a time that you said you’d have been happy with the day before. An example is if someone was to say that they’d be happy with 12hrs 30 and get a 12.01 then be annoyed that it wasn’t a sub 12. So we declared ours and as I mentioned I’d be happy with a 13.30 but ecstatic with a sub 13. Mike questioned why I didn’t want to go for a 12.30 and queried if I had a competitive spirit and I said I have to be realistic and this is not a race for me to go for it…it’s a long way.

It was now time for bed and I relaxed by chatting to a few people on social media and reading the many messages of support which I’m overwhelmed with and very grateful for and then sleep. I had a great sleep and woke up looking forward to testing myself, having a load of me time, seeing some epic scenery which we’d actual driven the day before and becoming an Ironman. I stayed quite close to Mike as he was obviously relaxed and enjoying having someone to chat to before his long stint as a supporter. I just kept in a relaxed state of mind. You could feel the tense atmosphere…even the best would be exercising for around 8 hours. I took my time check my bags and getting my wetsuit on. I packed a bottle of diet coke to aid with my farting after the swim…sorry, it’s a no holes barred blog!

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I made my way to the irondome to put my SW bag in, sent my last text and walked towards the swim start in my flip-flops…Oh crap! I jogged back and asked the volunteer who was buried under a mountain of SW bags to please put them in bag 490! She just looked at me and not very confidently nodded…I could always just wear my trainers…I told you, I was relaxed.

I had already said my goodbyes to the others and went to the warm up area of the swim…for a wee as I was bursting! I made sure I was hydrated as I knew that could be an issue but at the same time so is weeing. I came out of the warm up area, relieved and then stood on the start area. I have never swam 3.8km so I was going to use some of it to warm up. “One minute to go for the 40-44 year old men” was announced and although still only 39 I was reminded of my big goal…bloody hell that came around quick. I shook hands with everyone around me and then put my goggles down. I can’t remember how we were started as it wasn’t as if I was going on the “b of the bang” was it!?

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I walked in as far as I could and then started to slowly swim in the beautiful Worthersee lake. Another reason I chose Austria was that it was a lake swim and not a sea swim…salt water is rank, simple! We were told by locals that we could drink this water, mmmmm I’m not sure but quite a nice thing to hear when you know you probably are going to anyway. On a good day I can swim 1500m in less than 30 mins so I thought it’s 3,800 and I’d be slower so thought 90 mins would be about right. I purposefully started reading my friend and fellow Fisherman’s Friend Strongman competitor Sean Conway’s book about Swimming Britain in where he did just that and he’s not really a swimmer. If he could do THAT then I could do this. The first part of the swim was uneventful as I kept to the right of the masses and was never affected by the speedy swimmers from the other age groupers starting 5 mins behind us. I turned at the first bouy, got to the second and turned to come back. Problem was that the sun was low and we had to spot the opening of a canal. This is where I moved amongst the other swimmers and risked getting swam over or kicked. Swimmers are not nasty, they just don’t want to drown and if it means crawling over you to save themselves then they do. It can take some getting used to and would recommend open water swimming in close proximity in training before racing!

I got to the canal and felt a sense of relief as I was almost as 3km and didn’t feel I was going to poo myself! I had had some major smelly farts that I felt travel up my back and come out the top of my wet suit but this was a million times better than 2012. The canal was tight and I stayed close to the right to let the fast swimmers get through without causing me any problems. You could hear the crowd shouting and cheering and that felt awesome…I had nearly done the first discipline.

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Every so often I bumped the side and sometimes it hurt. I knocked my arm or leg or got caught in some roots but I turn that into a positive and pulled myself passed them, however at one point I felt a sharp pain in my hand and then immediately one on my toes…I thought, I’ve cut myself as it started to really sting but I kept going…I simply had to.

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Eventually we turned into the swim exit area and I put a bit of a burst on to just get the blood pumping a bit more in my legs before heading to the first transition (T1). As we got to the edge there was a funnel of volunteers helping you out of the water and passing you onto the next one. Out I got, took my hat and goggles off and whilst taking the top of my wetsuit down spotted blood. My hand with the mixture of blood and water was red. So was my foot. I kept going…I had too.

I made it into T1 and grabbed my bike bag. Yesterday I thought about the race and how I had to treat each discipline with respect. I had never swam 3.8km before so I paused for a few seconds before thinking about the bike leg…112 miles again, I had not completed this distance before either. I assessed my cuts and got ready. One thing I was grateful for was the bottle of diet coke I packed as I downed most of it in an attempt to expel the air I’d swallowed from the swim. Bike shoes, helmet, race belt with number and sunglasses on and I left the changing tent as I threw my bag with my swimming stuff (which a volunteer had put into the bag for me) into the ‘dumping zone’ and went to the toilet. This was the first of many but I was about to cycle 112 miles.

There wasn’t many bikes left on my rack and it didn’t bother me at all…this is an Ironman not a sprint! I grabbed mine, jogged to the mount line and made my way on to the 56 mile, 2 lap course. As I said earlier, we drove the bike route and it undulated but pretty much had two hills, one at 20 miles and the other at 38 miles and of course again on the second lap. In doing the London to Brighton to London ride with my client Peter, Pearson (the sportive organisers) had a planned fuel stop at Brighton and then one half way back so I planned to do the same on this route too. Nothing about this Ironman had anything to do with speed in my opinion…just keep going.

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The first lap was pretty much me being passed by loads of people of different ages, nationalities, sizes and of both sexes. Oh man, I was ‘chicked‘ loads but that just added to the entertainment. On a race like this you have to play games and I was loving reading the names of the other athletes and imagining them as porn stars…I don’t know why either but I think it was ‘Juan Carlos’ or ‘Reinhard’ that started me off.

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I remember enjoying the hills and recalling pretty much that was the only place I overtook people…who had overtaken me before the hill and were quick to overtake me back on the downhill. Quite often I would stick my ass over the back wheel and stomach on the seat to get as aerodynamic as possible to make the down hills work for me…to be honest, I was just having fun!

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The fuel areas were great. Firstly you’d get a 500 metre sign, then a litter area where you could drink the rest of your bottles and throw them before collecting full ones from the volunteers. My refuelling pretty much consisted of drinking the last of both bottles, throwing them, grabbing a water one and an “iso” then grabbing a banana and a cookie dough PowerBar. I’d quickly chuck the banana in my mouth, drop the skin at the side then squeeze the PowerBar in too then drop the wrapper before crossing the end litter line. I got better at doing this as the ride went on.

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My fuel strategy was to do the swim, drink the diet coke, not eat for 30 mins on the bike to let my stomach settle, then eat every half hour. I carried two Chia Charge flapjacks with salt flakes, that I split into two and I had four of their minis with banana. They worked a treat at no point on the bike leg did I ‘bonk‘ or tire out and the were great to have between the PowerBars as they were quite sweet. The chia seeds are also a great way to distract your mind as you try to remove them from your teeth…genius! In preparation for the hills, I would be drinking more of the isotonic drink and then use the  water for when I felt thirsty or needed to cool myself down.

Everything was going great until I completed the first lap and then I had a dark moment. I needed a pee and I needed to find a pee stop. Yes, I could’ve done it by the roadside but I risked being caught by a marshal and anyway there seemed to be nowhere to stop one the first 12-15 miles of the second lap. This combined with my head telling me I had to do that ALL again made me start to get a bit moody. I remember arguing with myself a bit when I suddenly realised I was wasting negative energy but nothing could bring me up until I found the next fuel station at about 67 miles. I stopped, physically got off my bike and walked into a portaloo…heaven!!! I then stood next to the ‘banana volunteer’ and ate 3 pieces of banana, then walked to the ‘PowerBar volunteer’ and ate 2 halves of the bar. Then carried out a few quad and hamstring stretches and was on my way. I enjoyed my picnic and felt tons better for it. I aimed to eat quite a bit on the bike leg as the run is where you can feel sick and I was trying to pre-empt that happening.

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On one of the hills I remember saying in time with my breath “Sam”…”Eva”…”Sam”…”Eva”…all the way up the hill. I’m a firm believer in getting your mind strong and I was getting up that hill for those two. A lot of my clients have heard me going on about your body not allowing you to utilise every muscles unless you are in a ‘fight or flight’ situation so I believe that if I must complete a physical task otherwise my kids die…morbid I know but it works for me and I saved them on that hill!

When I got to 92 miles I smiled and congratulated myself on a distance pb and then pushed on to get off the bloody bike. The first lap was fun as there were loads of other people but on the second all the speedy ones had gone so it was much quieter. When I reached 103 miles, I whooped thinking I only had single figure miles left and tried to push hard to get my average mph to 15. Not a great target but for me it was realistic especially with the numerous stops I had. I think I had 3 proper stops and one sneaky woodland one. I need to tie a not in it. As I approached T2 I took my feet out of my shoes, placed them on top and cycled up to the dismount line in anticipation.

I got of the bike and jogged with it towards my racking point, this time there were loads of bikes…haha! I jogged to a cubicle and had a number 2 as that’s what I always do before a marathon and funnily enough that’s what I was about to do! I grabbed my Run Bag and made my way into the change tent before emptying it on the floor. Helmet and bike socks went in the bag and trainers, visor and gel belt went on. I had stopped eating about 40-45 mins before the run again to aid digestion but with me I carried 3 nectar gels and 2 packets of Clif Shot Bloks.

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I made my way out of T2 turning my race number round to the front and felt great. I was catching people within the first mile before being told to put a yellow band on. As I continued on the run, catching people I noticed that most of them were wearing a yellow and a blue band. At first this didn’t bother me but it got to me around the 10 mile mark. I was catching people who were already a lap ahead of me…somehow this affected my mental state and I had my second ‘dark moment’. It was combined with an intense feeling of sickness. On the run I used the Shot bloks taking 2 every half hour and at the fuel stops I only ate fruit but I still had the urge to heave. My strategy for the run was to run for 8mins 30 secs and walk for 90 secs. This had worked on my longest training run so I was going with it. Every so often I allowed myself to walk through an aid station but I quickly went back to the strategy. I never veered from it despite my head asking for an extra few seconds but I was strong.

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The sickness feeling went when I started telling my stomach to shut up and when I got the second band. 13 miles complete just another 13 to go!!! Everyone I was catching now meant I was overtaking them. I know it’s you vs you but I take heart in thinking if this is hurting me it must be hurting them more…every little positive helps. Keep going, keep going!

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The crowds were great and I found that their volume increased if you reacted to them so I kept pumping my fist in the air and they loved it shouting “Go Stuart” in various accents. I saw a couple waving a Scottish flag and a group of Irish drinking in one of the pubs so they got high-fived and hugged! The charity bell was something else that kept me going as every time you rang it a donation was made…I can’t remember the charity but it was a great feeling and motivation knowing that I was helping someone by experiencing this event. My mind went to Ronnie Milne too. Ronnie is the father of my good friends Chris and Kelly whom I’ve known for over 22 years. Last year, he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and from what I heard before I left for Klagenfurt was that things were getting worse. Ronnie…you kept me going sir!!! Thanks to all of those who ‘guessed my time’ as I raised £439 for Brain Tumour Support.

The only wee bit of pressure I had put on myself before the Ironman was that I’d like a sub 4 hour marathon on the run. At the halfway point I was quite confident that I would be there or thereabouts but it wasn’t my main focus…that was to enjoy this experience and make the finish line. My watch said 3.40.00 as I started my next block of 8.5 mins and I thought I’ve got this so pushed on towards the line. When my watch said 3.48.30 I started my 90 second walk and I thought this is it Stuart one more block of running and you’re an Ironman. I saw Peter just before this and he reminded me of this fact, so did ‘IronTarsh‘ and Michel Barnett‘ and it was only now sinking in. I’m going to be honest here and tell you that the run never really hurt me…I felt the same way throughout which obviously wasn’t fresh but apart from the sickness half way through I felt ok.

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I started the final block of 8.5 minutes thinking this is it…I’m almost a fucking Ironman…I managed a swim pb by 800 metres and I managed a bike pb by 20 miles. This race was less painful than the Swashbuckler (almost 70.3) and Midnightman 70.3 as I pushed myself so hard in those events. Everything had gone to plan and I was happy. When I clocked turned 3.58.30, I still hadn’t made the line…what do I do?!?!? I thought to myself RUN and make it a sub 4 but then I thought no, walk it, so I did. I decided to enjoy the moment and by walking it in I could. People were urging my on and I just winked back. I hate to admit it but Martine McCutcheon’s song Perfect Moment came into my head.

I’d been told my many to enjoy the finish, to milk it and this is what I was doing waaaaaaay before the line. I was also told to go up the ‘Ironmile’ (about 50 metres) on your own and not share it as your finisher photo should just be you. There were two guys up ahead of me and one behind so I kept a rough equidistant between them and then turned to face the finish line.

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All I saw and heard initially was crowds in stands either side of the line…it was a wall of noise. At the briefing we were told to point to our number if we wanted to hear “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” so I saw the MC and pointed to my groin (where my number was and heard “Stuart from Great Britain…YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!”. I high-fived him then jogged forwards. It was at this moment, when I got to the cheerleader that I proceeded to do some sort of running man with a skipping action…dad dancing at it’s best!!! I was loving it as I made my way to the ramp. My Oakleys fell off as I approached so I went back, collected them and made my way up the ramp with my arms raised high! I was an Ironman!

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I made my way down the ramp to get my medal and I felt it a bit strange that there was two very young girls handing out the medals. Strange because I really want to hug the medal giverouterer but she was teeny. She gave my medal and I couldn’t help but pick her up and cuddle her, putting her back down gently as saying “thank you so much for my medal!”. Another marshal walked up to me and asked how I felt? I felt my bottom lip go so gave her a hug too before she walked me over to get a beer…low alcohol but a beer nevertheless. My quads started to really tighten and I saw about 5 days into the future and thinking that this is how long this would last.

I made my way into the Irondome and grabbed myself Pizza and a real beer. I sat down and seemed to just stare at it for a while. It felt as if my body suddenly wanted to attack me for doing what I had just done to it. I wanted to put my head down on the table and sleep but at the same time my body was still feeling hyper. I shovelled the pizza down my throat, left most of my beer and went to get my bag which had my flip flops in thankfully. I then noticed a sign for massages informing us that we had to have a shower first. The showers were freezing and that is my only complaint with this whole experience but I was too tired to let that bother me so I got naked, splashed myself a few times and put my other clothes on including my finisher’s t-shirt.

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On my way back to the massage area I spotted the comfiest seats in the world but the users were fitted with oxygen masks and electrodes on their legs. I enquired immediately and was told something about recovery and 20 minutes…I wanted some of this! Before you laugh, I volunteered for this!

Whilst recovering Mike called and asked where I was…it was so hard to describe where I was and what I was doing without sounding I was receiving medical help! I was then told that Tania had achieved a pb with 11 hours 45 seconds…BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM! Peter however has crossed the line after me and was now on a drip.

We eventually all met up got our bikes and went back to the hotel. We’d decided that we wanted to all go back to the finisher’s hour where the final finishers, the ones who’ve been out there for 16-17 hours would come in. It was immense. We were given all manner of things that made noise and all screamed “Ironman!!!” when the MC grabbed a finisher and said “YOU ARE AN…”. I never had any doubt that I wouldn’t complete the race within 17 hours but these guys were so close and here they were pushing hard to make it. The crowd really got behind them, mainly because it was mostly made up of finishers themselves! To top of my experience was when the final finisher, Penny from Great Britain came in, there was a firework display and a video made up of the day which included about 4 seconds of my dad dancing!!! Brilliant!!!

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After a great night’s sleep we made our way down to the Ironvillage to buy the Ironman kit I had my eye on but was gutted to see that a lot of it had gone especially the small kids t-shirt that had the Ironman logo on the back made up of all the competitor’s names. I know Sam would’ve loved that but it was my error for not growing some balls and buying it before I was an Ironman. Anyway, I bought Eva a t-shirt, Sam a fleece and myself a jacket, towel and a mug.

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Peter had to leave so said his goodbyes as Mike took him back to his hotel. Tania and I scoffed another pizza, a plate of chips and a beer before heading to the Hawaii slot allocation. Tania was not to sure about going as she was third in her age group and there was only 1 slot. Mike and I demanded that she went because you never know. Mike arrived back and we sat there listening to the rules of the slot allocation. Basically they will call the name of the age group winner three times and if nothing is heard they will move to the second and so on. When it came to Tania’s age group the winner wasn’t there so we got a wee bit excited, one down one to go. The announcer said “Second in group 50-54 is from Great Britain, Tania Atwell”. She was second and was now jumping up and down the aisle as Mike and I hugged over the top of the table!!! Tania was going to KONA!!! She was going to compete against the best in the world!!!

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My Ironman experienced couldn’t have ended any better as they decided not to leave and stay in Klagenfurt where I had planned another two days anyway. We went back to the hotel on a massive high buying some Veuve Clicquot and Captain Morgan’s rum before making our way to the awards party and then the after party. We decided the after party wasn’t up to much and made our way home to the rum. After much discussion and loads of drinking, Mike went to bed about 4.30am sort of promising me that he was going to swim the channel in 2017…I kept telling about Sean Conway’s book that I was reading and how “anything is possible”…Ironman’s motto. I eventually went to bed about 5am after sitting over looking Worthersee and taking in what had happened 24 hours ago.

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On Tuesday I woke from 3 hours sleep to have breakfast and say goodbye to Mike and Tania. I am so happy to have met them as they were a fantastic couple and clearly love each other and it was great to share the whole Kona celebration with them. Tania will compete in the world Ironman Championships in Hawaii the day after her 50th birthday…what a way to celebrate!!!

I chilled for the rest of the morning catching up on social media etc before moving myself to a hotel in Klagenfurt itself. On checking in I asked the guy at the desk for recommendations on tattoo parlours. He didn’t know but his friends recommended one and I made my way there quickly. I was told to come back at 4pm and by 5.30pm I was sporting a large M-Dot tattoo on my right forearm…about 18 years since I got my first tattoo in Newquay. I walked around Klagenfurt retracing some of the run route which now had gone completely back to normal with tables and chairs and clothes rails where I had been puffing and panting 48 hours before. Another pizza and some beer and I made my way to bed.

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Up early to repack my bike bag as I now had more kit and make my way to the airport. I arrived about 30 mins before check in opened…I forgot it wasn’t Heathrow and then flew to Vienna. I had booked an early flight in and a late one out of Vienna to make the most of this trip. I’d never been to Austria as I’ve said and I had an opportunity to see the capital city. I made my way in to town on the CAT and booked myself on the open top tour bus…typical tourist. Vienna is quite simply beautiful which some amazing statues and architecture. After one lap of the ‘red route’ I decided to go back to the airport and start this blog post. I paid 35 euros to go into the lounge and spent the afternoon writing away. On the flight I almost finished Sean’s book and thought to myself was Ironman a big enough challenge for me?!

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Sounds crazy but I had made myself believe that is was achievable if I kept going. Everything went smoothly apart from two wee dark moments. I will plan an epic challenge, one that I’ll probably do on my own but I’m not sure when. I’ve spent some time at the Fisherman’s Friend Stongmanrun with Sean Conway, Tobias Mews, Jamie MacDonald, Sophie Radcliffe, James Ketchell, Finn Christo and Martin Cox that it’s easy for me to see that most things in life are possible if you believe!

What has been good too is that I’ve been reminded how big Ironman actually was by friends and clients. I now believe it was an epic challenge and the only reason I felt it might not have been is because I managed to mentally prepare myself so well into not getting phased by it at any time.

However, you can do it! Yes, you reading this. In 2012, I said I would do one after watching this video of the famous Team Hoyt…please watch it but beware…you may sign up for an Ironman!

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5 thoughts on “Closing Many Chapters of My Life – Ironman Austria 2015

  1. What an Epic Journey !! Never Stop x

  2. Amazing achievement – many congratulations. X

  3. Well done Stu, I’ve watched your journey to IRONMAN through Twitter, such an achievement with all that was going on behind the scenes. Wishing you the very best and looking forward to following you in your next major challenge, Shelley X

  4. Johnny dorris July 7, 2015 — 7:43 am

    Well I’m knackered just reading this!truly inspirational well done mate!!

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