Going Long

By Matt Hammerton

Gentle summer cycle rides with friends or a sneaky lunch time run though the local woods to put a few miles in the legs are great for getting the endorphins flowing. However, if you ever find yourself pondering for a while, about how ‘nice’ this feels and how ‘lovely’ it would be to attempt an ironman… 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42.2km run…for fun as you are having such a good time and would like to attempt the challenge, stop pondering! Carry on training until you can’t feel your legs, you are having the shakes, dreaming about mars bars and a lie down. If you’re still keen to give it a go, fire up the computer and proceed straight onto the event entry pages to sign your life away on the dotted line.

Unfortunately, I didn’t follow this advice but instead, decided to boast to a few friends about how I was going to take on The Forestman; the New Forest’s idea of an Ironman run by Race New Forest. The normal gruelling distances are the same; the only difference is the inclusion of an off-road marathon to finish you off (plus a few ponies, donkeys, cattle grids etc. to navigate around). Having told too many people to back down now, I closed one eye, winced and pressed the “Put me in pain” button for entry into the event 8 weeks before race day.

My mind then turned to training plans. As well as the 5-6hours of running and cycling that I’d been doing for months, training was extended to running or cycling to anywhere myself, Emm, my wife, and our one year old, Eloise, happened to be visiting at the time. I didn’t bother much on the swimming front as I figured a few minutes lost on the swim was going to be tiny compared to the chasms of time engulfed in the latter stages of the run. Training progressed well and I’d managed to get round both the bike and run route giving myself a good idea of what things were going to be like on the day. I’d even endured a 6 hour sportive ride in driving wind and rain experiencing what I hoped to be worse conditions than I would possibly have to withstand on race day…oh how naive of me! As the day got nearer, closer attention was paid to the weather reports as this was going to essentially dictate hydration and feeding strategies. Two words became more and more prominent: heat and wave. The man on the radio was predicting the hottest day of the year with temperatures hitting 30 plus. Sun tan cream, water and salts suddenly became very important.

The day finally arrived and started with a very serene experience driving through the forest at 3.30am with the full moon reflecting off a blanket of mist that hugged the landscape. An amazing photo opportunity if only there was time. In fact, the mist played an important role in the race as it hung around resulting in a 30 minute delay to the start and an unexpected navigational exercise for the swim. I never thought I’d be shouting into a white out asking the way to the swim exit. However, the safety kayakers did an excellent job of guiding us all into first transition.

Onto the bike, and the race really started. An ironman friend of mine gave me a good bit of advice; eat, drink, eat, drink, eat, drink and finish the race. This is exactly what I set about doing, religiously taking a gel every half hour and drinking my juice in between. The first 80 miles flew by and I was exceedingly grateful to my support crew, Jimmy and Hannah, for their provision of nutritional supplies and encouragement as the race went on. Things were going well and I was positioned well within the top ten overall. The weather was not disappointing predictions and by the final lap of the bike, the high temperature was becoming increasingly noticeable. Nevertheless, I exited the second transition in a very respectable time of just under 6hours 40 with a positive attitude to the ensuing discipline; the off-road marathon.

All good things come to an end though and this is where my body decided it had had enough of food and energy drink and would rather survive on sips of water now and then. This was only going to head one way and 14km into the marathon, energy had all but evaporated and I was running on fumes resulting in the adoption of the classic ironman shuffle. The only things keeping me going now were the support crew, fellow competitors and the opportunity to see Emm and Eloise briefly each lap.
Everyone has a different way of coping in these desperate situations and mine was to resort to numbers; 60 steps running, 20 steps walking over and over again. It broke the efforts down into manageable chunks that I could just about handle. The three laps passed all too slowly and after 10hours40 of racing done, I turned the corner to finish the laps and head for home. Just the small distance of 4.5km back to Sandy Balls, yet a feat that would take me almost 45minutes of complete, part of it walking backwards to stave off the cramping! Needless to say, the finish did arrive eventually and was a very pleasing view after 11hours23 of racing.

So, having had several weeks to reflect on the experience, I find myself settling back into those gentle summer rides and lunchtime runs while thinking, ironman isn’t so bad, maybe I should try another one…reality then kicks in. All that is left to say is a huge thank you to everyone who supported me before, during and after the event especially Emm who quietly made many sacrifices so I could realise my dream.

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