Sunday, 3 August 2008

What a day of true inspiration...

What a day or rather 25hrs we've had from getting up at 5am yesterday (Sat) morning to getting to bed at 830am this morning (Sun.)

We kicked off with the National Team Relays held in Nottingham. It's got to be one of the most chaotic yet well organised team events I've ever been to. How it all works I'll never know because it just looks like pandemonium but like clockwork it went and our club Leeds Bradford Tri Club had a brilliant turn out. My team of four girls (see pic - L-R) were Louis Rosindale, Louise Hanley, me and Donna Edmondson Booker. We had about 11 teams in total of all girls, all boys and mixed and everyone put their everything into it. In between scoffing from the BBQ, chatting, catching up, meeting new club members, cheering mates on, laughing at Francis who had forgotten his trishorts (a sight to behold) we were also obviously racing. It's such a great thing for a club to do as a unit and one that this year I think we did particularly well. The racing is almost irrelevant. Everyone gives their all and the result is irrespective. It gives a relaxed no pressure feel to racing and also makes you push yourself that little bit harder as you know you're doing it for three others not just yourself. Yesterday LBT was awash with true team spirit and I feel incredibly proud to be part of that. We did really well in the girls race coming a very respectable 6th out of 57. The icing being that the top three are more-or-less elite so a big pat on the back girls, you were awesome.

After I'd eaten more than an elephant could consume Tom and I left to drive to Lichfield (Birmingham) where at 6am that same morning 50 competitors embarked on Double Ironman UK. Oh yes, you heard that right, DOUBLE Ironman. Double the swim (4.8miles), double the ride (224miles) and double the run (52.4miles.) Holy cow, it makes my legs hurt and my body ache at the very thought of it.

Now I thought that Ironman was hard. And of course it's as hard as you make it. But let me paint you a comparison...

In Ironman you swim in a lake or the sea, usually in beautiful surroundings with thousands of spectators, horns honking, whistles blowing, clackers clacking, DJ giving a full commentary etc etc. Yesterday the swim was in a swimming pool (wetsuits allowed) with none of the above glitz...

In Ironman the ride is usually on closed roads with feed stations every 20km, enough spectators to line major parts of the course two or three deep and you finish in daylight. Yesterday the competitors (or super heroes) took to a 14 mile loop ( x 16!!!!) on un-closed roads and rode through the morning, the afternoon and well into the evening, some into the morning again today. The only contact with supporters was normally at the turn around in a brilliant set up in a leisure centre car park where their own support crew would be there to give their super hero whatever they needed, food and drink being taken on board in vital quantities. Steve and Lucy Haywood (the organisers of the event put on by Enduroman Events) were fantastic. Lucy was constantly co-ordinating the marshalls out on the course and Steve kept an eye on the competitors, checking they were lucid and fit to go out on the roads in the dark.

In Ironman the run is lined from end to end with people, feed stations, music, thousands of other competitors, family, friends, DJ's, and at the end the pull of the finishing chute complete with red carpet, thick with people eager to share your joy, a huge medal and a food tent that would make Marks and Sparks look shoddy. Yesterday having already completed 228.8miles the super heroes took to a 2km loop which they had to run 42 times. 42 times up through the pitch black woods and out onto the desolate lonely road that led back to the leisure centre where they turned around and started a new loop.

Last night Tom and I arrived at 8.30pm and we watched in awe and amazement as these guys and girls turned around on their bikes to leave the safety and the companionship of the leisure centre car park and go off into the distance, full lights blinking away on their bikes and helmets to complete another loop. I imagine riding all through the day is hard enough, but at least you know other people are up and about going about their daily business too. However, when the night falls and living room lights start to shine their cosy glow onto the quiet streets, and people start to settle for the evening and you're still out there cycling that loop for what feels like the gazillionth time, that's when you know you're doing it. That's when you know you're made of different stuff to everybody else, that's when you're challenging yourself, facing demons and the desire to stop and that's why I think these people are amazing, just something else. As they went off on the first loop of the 52mile run I can't imagine what must have been going through some peoples minds. How do you have such mental strength to go through such desolation, pain and utter loneliness? That's the challenge, right there, it's all in the head.

Ironman's easy compared to this and I know that sounds so obvious but actually I'm not really talking about the distance, of course that's a challenge but it's the ability to keep going when you know you've got nothing to prove except you want it, you want to do it and you don't need a red carpet lined with cheer-leaders, ticker tape, fireworks and spectators screaming in your ear. There was such a calm, quiet respectful atmosphere out there last night, it told a completely different story. When I trained for my first Ironman the thing that got me through some of the hard training sessions and then the hardest part of the race was the expectation of what the finishers chute was going to feel like. I wanted to feel like I'd won irrespective of my position and that's what Ironman is geared up for. The love you get all day is in abundance, and it makes the pain so much more bearable. We sat marshalling in the pitch black woods from midnight last night until 6.30am this morning marking off the laps using a little head torch to see what we were doing. We couldn't make out anything other than the sound of breaking twigs under a runners foot and the bobbing head torch as they approached us in better spirits than I could ever have imagined. They called their race number out to us and as the night went on we began to feel attached to these lonely runners ticking off each lap in their own consistent way.
The above pic is the lap sheet which we marked every time an athlete came past.

I know I haven't got the mental capacity to undertake such an endurance event. It's impressive on so many levels. I'm inspired by a lot of things and people and actions... but last night I was truly blown away by this amazing feat of mind over matter. To some who look in on things like this and just think 'why?' me being one of them before last night, I can see it now, I really can. It's the mother of all tests, it's sleep deprivation, loneliness, darkness, day time, night time physical fatigue and hunger but of course it's pushed on by the urge and desire to finish rolled into the biggest mental test of all times.

To each and every competitor who started and finished (some still going now while I write this!) I bow at your feet at your very strength, congratulations, you're a Double Ironman and that sentence contains facets of your strength, places you had to go to deep inside of your souls to get to the finish line that no-one can possibly know.

Hanno (number 31) great to meet you, we've heard an awful lot about you from our mate Paul, fantastic result for you. Sorry we couldn't stay to see you finish, you were brilliant.

Towel (number 25) super human, super fast and super strong, impressed doesn't even scratch the surface.

Toyota Crown (number 35) Steve Howes (number 32), Daz (number 27), Monique (number 23) all from the Triathlon community of TriTalk, well bloody done, honoured to have been able to witness part of your journey out there in those lonely dark woods.

It's lack of faith that makes people afraid of meeting challenges, and I believed in myself. Mahummad Ali

You all believed... happy recovery.

H. x

P.s A huge well done to the speedy Eekster (our mate Emma-Kate) and Ozzer who raced in Antwerp 70.3, can't wait to hear all about it guys.

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