Backing up an Everesting with an Ironman

“You are an ironman!”

At least I think that’s what Pete Murray said when I crossed the finish line. I’ve never actually heard the announcer say it, I’m always so filled with emotion crossing the line that everything else gets blocked out.

So I did the everesting the weekend before. It hurt, I went to some dark places, but my legs came up okay. I knew I was absolutely not prepared to race an ironman. My best ever effort was 10 hours 20 minutes and I was nowhere near that shape. Being that I’d been suffering from some mental demons for a few weeks, I’d taken my foot right off of the gas when it came to running. Actually I stopped completely, and I hadn’t run for 2 months leading up to the race. Nor had a swum a stroke. I’d even given up riding my time trial bike, and I just rode hills. A LOT of hills. So many hills. I like hills. Riding hills is not ironman training, not even close. But it helped me calm my mind, and was a way I found that helped for me to relax. So I rode hills a lot right through April and May. It made everesting awesome. It did not make me full of confidence to race in a very long distance triathlon.

I spent the best part of the entire week in between events trying to ignore the race. If I thought about it, I knew it would defeat me. My mind would start playing tricks, I would get too scared, and I would lose. My mind was very cross at me for the previous week’s effort, and was trying to throw what it could at me not to race the ironman. So if I just ignored the race altogether, I could at least wait until race day to square up against the reality that I was in for an oh-my-god-how-the-hell-am-I-ever-going-to-finish kind of day.

To make matters better, on Wednesday morning, my time trial bike was killed in an accident. I thought I’d take it for a quick squirt before work, to see if I could still ride in that position. 20km’s, down to the coast and back on a flat road. Easy. I went over a railway line near my house, and my front light got knocked out. No bother, I leaned my bike against a pole, and stopped to pick it up. A large truck came along, so I stepped out of the way, but the force of the wind from the truck knocked my bike over, and it proceeded to crush my wheels and the rear triangle. Now I had a totally broken bike. AWESOME. Not awesome. Huge thanks to Bike Society on ANZAC for loaning me a set of clip on aerobars to put on my road bike, so that I at least had something resembling an aero bike when I flew to Cairns the next morning.

Get to Cairns, and I get an email from the international marketing manager for Strava Cycling!!!!! OMFG!!! They wanted to do a little thing about the everesting we did last week. How much does that rule?!?!? Then someone on the plane recognised me for doing the everesting last week. Strutted off of that flight like a king, still ignoring the ironman. Easy to do when you are on cloud 9.

Catch up with Shannon Stacey when I was at the room and it was good to chat, he’s a top bloke. Helped to ignore the race some more. Next day Tod Horton arrives, and he’s doing the full ironman too. He was entered the half, but decided he hadn’t trained much, and so did the full ironman with me. Then on the day proceeded to crush me like a bug. So fast. More on this later. Tod was great, as he totally allowed me to ignore the race. He was aware of everything that we needed to do, so I just followed him around like a puppy. I didn’t know where the swim started, what the swim course looked like, what time we started, where we had to put all of our bags, or any of the other details one would know at a race. Tod knew. I followed him, and he told me. Mind started to scream obscenities at me. I thought of something else, ANYTHING else. Just keep ignoring, and hope to somehow find a way to stand and deliver on the day.

Night beforehand, I was like an overweight person with a box of donuts. I figured I was so far behind the 8 ball, letting slip now won’t make a lick of difference. So I went to the pub, had 3 beers. Went back to the room, and had 3 wines with dinner.

I awoke on race morning terrified. WHAT THE FUCK AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!?!?! I do not have the legs for this. I cannot do this. I will drown in the swim. I might ride okay. I will not be able to run that far, FULL STOP. No amount of blagging, ignoring, or laid back attitude will allow me to stand and deliver on a race like this. It was the same feeling as when I had 100 laps to go the weekend before, but I hadn’t even started the damn race yet.

Walk down to the bus stop to get a ride to Palm Cove. Head screaming even louder now. Try to pretend I’m as cool as fuck, and sleep on the bus ride. No good, panic starting to set in. Walk through the crowd at transition, and I could feel my heart. I was terrified. Right on the edge of a full breakdown, wanting to hide somewhere and for it to all be over, hoping I cut my foot, and could pull out with a reason. I was more scared than I can remember. I was struggling to speak with Tod now, not even a nervous laugh. So I forced a smile on my face. You can’t be scared, cross or angry if you are smiling. It is something I do in endurance events a lot. Smile, and everything is better, even if only for a second. Smile, and you will lift. Smile. A very small voice in the back of my mind said “C’arn mate”. It was my first rally of the day, even if only tiny. Still terrified.

I got to my bike to check it before the swim, and there was a red cover on my saddle. Specialized bikes are a major sponsor of the race, and they had gone through overnight, and put a small nylon cover onto the saddle of every Specialized bike in transition. It just said “Good luck from Specialized”. A tiny little thing, that wouldn’t have cost a lot. Maybe some people didn’t care. I cared. I cared a stack. From big events, it’s the little things that really stand out. This little thing stood out in a big, big way. This little thing was what settled me. It made me smile genuinely. It filled me with confidence. It lifted my mood, took a lot of the fear away, and made me stand tall and proud, ready to take on this challenge. Thank you Specialized Bicycles, I am very proud to ride my sweet S Works Tarmac.

Tod and I got ready and headed over to the start. He forgot his swim cap, so went back for it. We didn’t see each other again until we were well up the road on our bikes. When you are standing amongst a sea of other people, all in black wetsuits, with coloured swim caps on, you could walk straight into your best mate, and perhaps not even realise. Everyone looks the same. That anonymity allowed me to stand still, collect my thoughts, and wait for the start. In a sea of people, I was by myself. I was finally calm now. I was ready. I had 17 hours to finish. “Let’s just take it as it comes mate.” Race started, I started. I didn’t run into the water, I walked. Slowly. I wanted to make sure that I was calm and steady, and I wanted to hold that for as long as I could.

Somehow I got out of the water in an hour and 10 minutes. Not the worst swim I’ve ever had! No idea how, but it was easy. Had a very long and lazy transition, making sure I was properly ready for the ride. Started the ride. Calm and steady, no need to push, we’ve got all day. 40km in, it started to hurt, and in a lot of places. The back was the worst, but there was a general malaise to everything. To be expected I suppose. I’ve been through worse, so I just kept pedalling.

When I did see Tod, he was already 20km up the road! How is he that fast?! He was on fire. Well done mate, you went hard that day.

Seeing my friends Dave and Frances in Palm Cove was a real lift
Seeing my friends Dave and Frances in Palm Cove was a real lift

The pain got worse. Then worse. Then worse again. Then the worst came. After that it pretty much went downhill. I couldn’t ride in a tucked aerodynamic position, so I just rode on the hoods of the brakes as best I could. The road was rough, the headwind was strong. The last 70km are straight into it. Tough day out. With 30km to go, I was really hurting a lot, and I started crying. Wrecking you body that much plays with your emotions in a big way. I was weeping out loud, and started talking to my wife Sarah. I started talking to the kids. I let go of anything I was holding back, and let it all out. Lucky no one was around me… I asked them for help. It sounds super corny that I asked for help from 2500 km away, but I did. Weird thing is, I got stronger. I rode the last 30km quite well, I overtook most of the people that had gone past me in the hour or two beforehand. Just thinking about my family made me stronger, and I finished the ride in good shape, feeling strong, and ready to run.

So here it is. The run leg. People were watching, I had to run. Rich Kemp taught me that, look good when people are paying attention. So I did, I ran. But then I walked. I wasn’t stupid (well I was, just for doing the whole thing, but that’s a different argument), I knew I couldn’t run 42.2km. I had a deliberate run/walk strategy. Run a bit, walk a bit, run a bit again. Try to prolong the inevitable staggering that I knew would come at the end. People who finish ironmans strong are people whom have trained well. I was not one of those people. So I walked some, I ran some, I walked some.

The crowd was tops, really tops. Lots of cheering, lots of support. It’s a great event to get out and spectate, go there one day. Eat, drink, walk, run. Even I was starting to believe that it was going to happen. I was going to make it! I might even go okay for time too…

Lap 1, done. Well done mate. 2 more to go. The crowd is biggest around the finishing area, and stretched for about a kilometre and a half, so I always ran this point. Made sure I looked strong too. People were watching, and I am a stupidly proud man. It hurt, I refused to let on. Half way through lap two, and the wheels fell off. I could hardly move, let alone run. It hurt so bad, but my mind was still clear. Red Bull was helping that. I even stopped to help a girl that was power chucking onto a tree. She was in bad shape. Always someone worse than you. Stagger, shuffle, stagger, try to run, fail, stagger some more. I got back to the crowds, and ran again. Welcome back legs! I even went past my spewy friend. Past the crowds, back into the darkness. It was dark now. Dark and raining, and I was cold. I was in the tropics and I was shivering. My body couldn’t regulate its own temperature anymore, I was in a fair bit of strife. On the way back past the crowd, I finally walked. I couldn’t run anymore. I asked at aid stations for warm soup, but instead they offered me cups of ice. Yeah, not so helpful at that moment. Going past a bin, I saw a spare bin bag. I stole it, ripped a hole in it, and wore it. I was wearing a fucking garbage bag. Could be worse, not sure how though. At least I wasn’t as cold now.

10km to go. 10km. I could run that well inside of an hour on any day of the week. I could do it barefoot and drunk. I realised it was going to take me in the vicinity of 2 hours to cover that distance, at the speed I was staggering. That was depressing. A relatively short distance, yet it was very, very far away. One foot in front of the other, well slightly in front, more to the side, as I try to hold my balance, and I was leaning to one side now. I was dizzy and nauseous. I couldn’t walk in a straight line, I could stand up straight. I could barely move. I was wearing a garbage bag. Everything hurt. I wept. I wept loud, hard and openly. I could not stop crying. I cried for the best part of an hour, it wouldn’t stop. So again, I started speaking to my family. But now I was having back and forth conversations. Out loud. Mixed in with rhetoric motivational phrases like “come on mate, let’s go mate, c’arn mate, keep going mate.” Pretty surprised I didn’t get taken to a homeless shelter. Another competitor went past, looked at me strangely, and asked if I was okay. “Yeah, no worries, ta. C’arn mate, hi Daddy, hello darling, you look sore Daddy, yeah Daddy has an ow-y…”

Unsurprisingly, at the next aid station, she asked the medic to check me when I came through. I was a total wreck. I was so deep in the hurt box now. My mind was doing everything it could to get me to stop. Everything. Now the thought of sitting down seemed lovely. “Beware the chair” is a popular saying in long distance sport for a good reason. Getting back up is tough, and will kill a lot of races. I didn’t care anymore. I couldn’t stand up anymore. I needed to sit down. I just wanted to get in a car, and be driven back to the start. I was finished. I couldn’t go anymore. I was broken, and this time I had lost. Kim was the medics name that came to help me. She was from Scotland. Best thing about her, is that she didn’t interrogate me like some medics do. She asked me a question, I answered. I told a joke, she laughed. She got me a chair, which was uneasily comfortable. I did not want to sit, but I had to. She gave me a space blanket, and that helped. She got me a coke, and that helped. She said that I’d be right to go soon. I asked for someone to call Sarah, so she got a phone for me and dialled. Speaking to Sarah was it. That was the thing. Sarah is the best lady in the universe, the best wife, my best supporter, my best mate. I love her. She spoke quietly with me, and when Matilda my daughter woke, she put her on, and she spoke quietly with her Daddy. “I love you Daddy. Go Daddy.”

5km to go. A few hundred metres still to walk away from town, then turn around, and it’s straight back home. 5km. About an hour. 5km. If I ran 5km on it’s own, I wouldn’t even class it as a run. That’s barely a lap around the block. 5km, and I was ready. My mind had given it everything it could, but it was tired too. I’d thrown caffeine at it, I’d thrown my will at it, but it couldn’t beat me. Not when I had Sarah. I had the ace up my sleeve the whole time, and I saved it until the last hand before playing it. I went all in, played my ace, and I won. My mind finally relented, and climbed on board.

I started staggering again, wearing an aluminium blanket and a clear, plastic poncho. It wad not a good look, but it kept me warm. Those last 5km I managed to speak with every competitor that I saw. I was joking, and offering encouragement. I was back. Then out of the darkness I saw Shannon. He had come out, and was now walking with me. Top bloke. Top, top bloke. Then we saw Tod also. He’d finished in 10:40 (smoking fast, especially for no training), and I staggered with the boys. I had a few moments where I had to rest, and a few little downhill slides, but I was making it. I knew I had won. I had defeated the demons of my mind. I had gone to a very deep and dark place, a very nasty place, but I had come out on the other side, and was still moving.

I've looked better...
I’ve looked better…

300m to go, and I saw my mate Xavier Coppock, at the pub with his team, cheering on the runners. He yelled abuse at me, I yelled abuse back. It was bloody good. 300m and I took off my space blanket and plastic poncho, and I forced a run. That was pain. I had a blister on the ball of my left foot that I later discovered as big as the whole of my left thumb. Feet and legs were screaming in pain, but the closer I got, the faster I went. The crowds were still there, the lights and music were on at the finishing line. Everyone putting out a hand for a high five, I high fived them all. It was awesome. Turn the final corner, and the last 100m is straight up the finishing chute. Carpeted red, with the ironman logo up the middle, a big finishing arch, huge VIP tents down one side, and a grandstand down the other side. I had my mates Alexis, Adam and Eric showering me with beer as I went past. I ran to the line, and crossed the finish. Pretty sure they called me an ironman, but I didn’t hear anything. I collapsed across the line. I couldn’t move anymore. 14 hours and 55 minutes. I got my money’s worth this time! They took me to the medical tent, and there we discovered that I had a huge rash up both legs form the toes to the hips. That would explain why my legs were burning… Some anti-histamines, a lot of questions, and then I got to go and eat. HOT FOOD. Soup and pizza, and bloody heaps of both. Shannon went and got my bikes and gear for me, top bloke. Thank you for everything you did, and still do for me mate.

There was one thing left that I needed to do. I hadn’t done it the week before, and I wasn’t going to miss it now. I staggered out of the finishers area, and across to the VIP tent. My name was on the door, and in I went. My friends were there, Tod was there now too. I sat down, and they gave me a beer. That was the thing that was missing last time. A beer at the finish. I drank two. It was like god giving the inside of my mouth a massage. Man that beer tasted good.

And so now I’m all done. It’s been a rough few days since. Emotions are all over the shop. I had to make every effort not to cry whilst walking down the street with Sarah yesterday, and I it wasn’t over anything at all! The soles of my feet still hurt bad, and the rash is still burning my legs. No idea what it’s from, it’ll go away soon enough. I am drained now. Totally drained. Time to relax a little and recharge.

I am a 5 time ironman, and I now have no intention of doing any more. 5 is enough. 5 is a lot. I am happy being a cyclist now.

Thanks for reading my blog, please feel free to leave a comment!

 

 

David Edwards's photo.

 

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Author: Dave Edwards

Exploring the mental side of endurance cycling challenges.

2 thoughts on “Backing up an Everesting with an Ironman”

  1. Wow – what a great read, a great achievement. Achievement, gratitude, emotion captured so well.

    I can now wipe the tear from my eye and get on with surfing the easy parts of the internet again. Thanks Dave.

    Liked by 1 person

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