Ironman 70.3 Estonia: The one I thought I’d never do

‘Legs, legs, legs’ came the chants, but my legs no longer worked and my brain was fixated on the differences between a moose and an elk, I kept moving forwards but it felt like wading through treacle, the crowds were jubilant and cheerful but my smile was fake, plastered on my face with a delightful mix of sweat and salted watermelon energy gel, the energy gel appeared to be faulty, random people kept walking on the course and I had no patience for it, it was hot and I cursed 2021 me who decided 2022 me was going to do this. I loathed 2021 me.

After what felt like two whole days on the run course, I saw the 20km sign and heard people shouting my name, I focused tired eyes towards the familiar voices and was surprised and delighted to see Cookie and Louise on the side of the road cheering me on. Somehow, my legs had quickened from a walk to a shuffly jog and my smile became genuine, not just from seeing those friendly faces but also the simple joy I got from Cookie crossly telling the random people on my run course to GET THE HELL OFF. Buoyed on by their presence I plodded onwards, the end was near, but one and a bit k’s was also so, so far…

Don’t worry, I finished!

Somewhen in the depths of Covid lockdown I decided it was a good idea to enter an Ironman 70.3. I hadn’t done a triathlon before so it was a logical step to go from zero to half Ironman. I mean, I couldn’t swim properly but all triathletes hate swimming anyway, right? I knew there were a few other Chasers doing Tallinn and I’d always kinda wanted to get involved in tris at some point anyway…soooo I popped my details into the website and gleefully pressed the button that would cost me 300 euros to do something I was grossly unqualified for. We all did stupid things when Boris was dictating our freedom though didn’t we?!

August 2022 rolled around quicker than expected and I found myself at Gatwick with too much luggage and not enough arms, hoping it would all make it from London to Riga to Tallinn in one piece and on time.

Pre-Event Prep

“Rebuilding a bike is neither fun nor easy”, I thought as I watched randon pieces of my bike fall out of places I didn’t know existed and roll all over the floor…still, I thought it would be simple enough to pop them all back and tighten a few bolts. I was wrong. So wrong.

It turns out all those small pieces rolling around the floor were all vitally important pieces that needed to go back in a very specific order if I wanted to be able to steer and brake. In addition, if your handlebars have been swinging around haphazardly, they must be untangled if you would like your wheel to work. I mean, who would have thought?

The only reason I now know this is because Dave and Sharon (complete strangers) found me in the courtyard of our apartment block looking helpless at said pieces and took pity on me. Luckily, they knew everything about bikes and spent a good 40 minutes not only sorting my life out and making sure my bike was safe, but getting Becky and Cookie out of their various bike pickles too. Honestly, Dave the Stranger was an abolute hero!

To sum up. Rebuilding a bike – 0/10 would not recommend.

 

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Apart from those fun and games, the rest of the prep was fairly uneventful. On Friday we registered at the expo and spent too much money on delightful and overpriced Ironman branded gear (or tat as Becky called it…) then sorted all our various stuff into different bags and took them down to T1 at the lake with our bikes on Saturday.

We went to Vapiano for pasta for the second night in a row and I was ready for a cuppa tea, bed and six last minute panics.

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The Swim – 1.9km (1.2 miles)

It’s not an exaggeration to say I couldn’t swim 2 lengths of a 25m pool and breathe at the same time as recently as April. There wasn’t a magic formula, but years of childhood swimming lessons, regular Chasers coached sessions, some dips in the Lido and a trip to a lake for open water practice (ahem, 6 days before race day but better late than never right) seemed to pay off. The swim was great! I felt strong, comfortable and able.

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Lake Harku was 19.5 degrees on Sunday morning, it was a little choppy but luckily it had calmed down a lot since the previous afternoon. The start was self seeded and we set off in groups of five, five seconds apart, which seemed to work well. The lake was pretty murky, I couldn’t see anything, not even my own hand, but it tasted OK so hey ho.

I stayed calm, remembered to glide, used the smiley face palm, bubble bubble breathed and swiftly kicked anyone who thought it was a good idea to clomp me on the head. It all came together and I was delighted to finish well under my hour goal.

The Bike – 90km (56 miles)

Into T1 I quickly changed, ate a banana and hopped on the bike. It was a one loop course on closed roads which meant we were all quite spread out and there were a couple of times I wondered if I was still in the right place!

The Estonian countryside is stunning, despite wishing away the miles I really enjoyed cycling along the road with tall forest trees either side (it might not have been a forest, but it looked like it). There were signs warning of moose crossings which is when I got to thinking about if it was a moose or indeed an elk. I’ve since found out they are one and the same and it’s Americans that call them moose…

Anyway, the bike leg went on, and on, and on, headwind after headwind. I saw a squished shrew and what I thought was a moose/elk, but disappointly turned out to be a boulder (was I delerious already?) but nothing particularly eventful happened. There were pockets of locals lining the road to shout at us, ‘legs, legs, legs’ they hollered.

I tried to cycle as fast as I could but I was very aware that I was being overtaken a lot and was likely near the back. Still, I think I did a good job fuelling, hydrating and pacing, when I came off the bike I didn’t have anything left in the tank so couldn’t have pushed much harder anyway. Eventually I started to see the signs for T2 and I started to wonder how I was going to get myself round a half marathon and if there was time for a nap first. The volunteers weren’t forthcoming with fluffy pillows and mugs of tea so I guessed not.

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The Run – 21km (13.1 miles)

I was quicker in T2 than I thought and got onto the run course pretty quickly. It was two laps of just over 10k that started at Seaplane Harbour and looped through the Old Town on some lovely cobbles. There were several inclines to tackle but they weren’t particularly long and I walked up most of them.

I had done a fair few brick runs in training, which I think helped, because my legs seemed to be doing a better-than-anticipated job of carrying me forwards and didn’t let me faceplant the floor which I was grateful for. When we spectated the full Ironman on Saturday the support in the Old Town was lacklustre to say the least, I think we were the only ones cheering and making any noise, so I was plesantly surprised to find it was better supported than expected.

I had a run/walk plan but I ended up just running when I could (or when someone shouted at me loud enough) and walking when running was impossible (impossible I tell you). I kept an eye on the time and tried to calculate at what point I could switch to a permanent walk and not get a DQ for missing the cut off. How long does it take to walk 7 miles anyway? However, my desire get the bloody thing over with took over and I quickly squashed that idea.

The running highs!

  • Spotting Becky running the other way and her slurring at me ‘you alright gurrrl?’ She sounded drunk, I found it hilarious
  • Three seperate groups of British lads in the Old Town who were LOUD. So loud they even got me running up a hill, on cobbles. Twice!
  • The voluteers, honestly, they were the most supportive and encoraging bunch
  • Ex-Chaser Matt on the sidelines who gave me a high-five and hung around until I had passed him no less than 4 times
  • Seeing Cookie and Louise with 1km to go and Cookie’s cross telling off at randoms
  • The bloody FINISH LINE!

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The Aftermath

The finish is all a bit of a blur, running up the Ironman mat to the famous finish arch was an incredible feeling, they really do make you feel like a star, no matter what time you finish in.

I was greeted at the finish by some of the girls who gave me sweaty hugs and steered me in the right direction (which apparently was absolutely not just plopping on the floor…) and we slowly made our way to collect all our stuff and attempt to cycle back to the apartment.

Note to Ironman: it would be helpful if the backpacks you give out were actually big enough to put your stuff in. A drawstring bag with your cleats repeatedly bashing into your leg as you try to cycle home is not the one at the best of times…

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I still can’t quite believe I’ve completed an Ironman 70.3, it seems like something only epic people do. I guess you really don’t know what you’re capable of until you give it an honest effort. I cannot be more grateful to everyone who has supported me, trained with me, encoraged me, and made me believe I can do it.

Could I have trained harder? Of course. Should I have trained harder? Probably. But I’m just an average person with a full time job and a life trying to fit my hobbies around everything else. Gives me a base line to improve on though hey!

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What’s Next?

I’ve got the Great North Run and Swim Serpentine in September but, firstly, I’m off to Italy to eat all the pizza and drink all the Aperol. As for my triathlon future…well, I can’t stop thinking about how much quicker I would obviously be with a fancy new bike…

I already know 2023 me is going to hate 2022 me.

R&R at the Iglusauna

Prosecco, Cupcakes & Chrissie Wellington

“I approached the race in good spirits…that said, I shat myself at the start.  Literally.  This is going to be a long day, I thought to myself.  The race hasn’t even started and I’m shitting myself already…It’s all very well crapping into your swimskin when you’re in the water, but doing it on a bike is horrible.  And trying to run a marathon with poo dribbling down your leg is not much more fun.” 

Chrissie Wellington: A Life Without Limits

After I had such a good time last year, I was excited when Runners Need announced they would be running their exclusive Women’s Running Events again this summer.  It’s an evening dedicated to offering expert advice specifically for female runners from training to physio to  nutrition.  They even give you a goody bag & a glass (or, ahem, 3) of bubbly.  Perfect!

Cupcakes and prosecco on rest days…

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Having signed up to the Covent Garden event with some running club buddies I was buzzing when I received an email saying Chrissie Wellington would be making an appearance!

Chrissie Wellington is a British 4 time Ironman World Champion and she is my sporting hero.  She competed in 13 Ironman distance triathlons.  She won them all.

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However, none of this came easy, she suffered from an eating disorder in her early days, was bullied by her teammates who were jealous of her performance, had to sleep in a brothel the night before a big international competition, and regularly suffered falls off the bike which left her with fractures, bruising, and even 3rd degree burns in the form of road rash (which you can partly see in the picture above, ouch).  

Her journey to the top was an eventful one – it was sheer commitment and determination that allowed her to overcome the odds more than once.

Inspirational speaker

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I was looking forward to hearing her speak again, what better person to give us advice than someone who has conquered what is arguably the toughest sport on the planet?

Chrissies’ top tips and advice:

  • Find your passion
  • Set a goal that scares you
  • Remember your motives and why you want it – this is what keeps you going
  • You need a plan – there are 4 key sessions you should incorporate in the plan
  1. Steady sessions
  2. Strength work – eg Hills
  3. Race pace sessions
  4. Intervals – and they should ‘hurt like hell’
  • Rest & recovery is vital
  • You need to train the mind and brain as well as the body so you can teach it to shut up in races
  • Learn to hurt in training
  • Break the race into smaller segments – a marathon is never 26.2 miles, it’s 4 x 10km with a little bit on the end
  • Remember racing is supposed to be uncomfortable – if it’s not you aren’t going hard enough
  • The measure of success isn’t always the time on the clock – it’s the feeling of giving it everything you’ve got
  • Finally, and one I live by myself, Never Give Up

Chrissie signing my book at an event last year and telling me not to be so hard on myself!

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Thanks Runners Need – a fab event and an awesome swag bag once again! Not quite sure about the ‘drinking oats’ though?!  Already looking forward to next year.

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