My adventure began on the 10th June 2016 when Jon Brown posted a link on Facebook for entry to Barcelona Ironman in October. I am not sure what came over me at this point, but I remember calling my wife to ask if she would mind me doing this event. I made sure that she was very aware of the commitment that would be required to make this a possibility. She didn't say yes, but also didn't say no. She knew I had always wanted to do an Ironman event and being the wonderfully supportive wife that she is, I proceeded to book my place.
I was in; the buzz of knowing my slot was secured was fantastic! Now I needed to start cranking up the training as after all I has less than 4 months to get in shape to get across that finish line and had no experience of triathlon at any level!
The weekend of the event had finally arrived and after weeks of hard training and a couple of practise races over smaller distances it was time to deliver the goods.
My wife and I flew out from Southend airport on the Friday before the race having packed our 2 children off to their Grandparents. We travelled with our supporters for the weekend Arron and Vicky Benstead and Ivor and Keely Watson, all of whom were looking forward to a great weekend!
We landed just under 2 hours later without any problems. There was a moment while waiting at the oversized luggage conveyor belt that I wondered if my dream of completing the race could be shattered by a no show of my bike. But thankfully a few moments later it came rolling through and we were on our way to Calella.
Calella is around an hour away from Barcelona by car, typically the town is very quiet but once a year it comes alive as it’s taken over by triathletes! From the moment we arrived at our hotel there were people everywhere dressed in Ironman finishers t-shirts and m-dot tattoos.
I had read about and spoken to people about the behaviour of triathletes at races but had yet to experience the 'pea-cocking' first hand. Watching these triathletes around the hotel and around the town was like a massive game of Top Trumps with each athlete trying to outdo the other with their impressive finishers t-shirts. I saw t-shirts and other clothing items for some of the most impressive races around the globe, Kona, Norseman, Roth and many more! These people were serious show offs and as sad as it sounds I really couldn't wait to be one of them!
We arrived late on the Friday and not wishing to expend any more energy than necessary we decided to get to bed.
In the morning I was up early, I was very excited and wanted to get my bike built and ready for action. My wife wanted to rest, but I was like a kid at Christmas and wanted to get out around the town and soak up the atmosphere!
The race briefing was at 10am, the tent that it was staged in was completely packed out with athletes and their families ready to be run through the rules and regulations of the following day. The atmosphere was electric! You could just sense the excitement in the air and for me personally I had some serious butterflies going on and couldn't wait to get started.
My wife was competing in the IronGirl Race that was scheduled for a 12pm start, this was a fun run for all the wives, partners, daughters and friends of Ironman athletes over 5.6km taking in some of the marathon course for the following day.
There were around 150 women taking part, which made for a great side event to the big show. The music prior to the race was blaring out of the speakers and the race organisers on the microphones were getting all the participants and the crowd pumped up for the race.
My wife is a very decent runner and her competitive spirit came out at this event, she finished an impressive 11th out of around 150 and was rewarded for her efforts with a great finishers top and a cracking medal! So far so good!
After the race I was itching to get down to the Expo and buy some Ironman clothing! Even my wife now had a top and I was beginning to feel left out and inferior to all of the athletes surrounding me. I purchased a t-shirt and now could strut around shoulder to shoulder with everyone else and feel part of the club.
Next stop was for some lunch with the gang, a nice carbohydrate rich paella hit the spot!
Back to the hotel to pack up the transition bags and then head down to transition to rack the bikes. I met with Jon so we could rack our bikes together and walk through the process of how we would go through transition. It was great to have Jon there; he did the race a year previously and could show me the process and calm any nerves that I had. While we were in transition the wind was kicking up quite hard and rain was beginning to fall. The noise of the sea behind us was quite loud as the big waves were crashing on the shore. I would be lying if I said I wasn't slightly panicked by the choppy sea. We had intended on going for a quick dip in the sea after racking the bikes, but once on the beach and seeing the angry waves we decided to give it a miss and hope that by the morning this would have calmed substantially!
All preparation was complete; it was now time to get a good feed and an early night. (Yet more sacrifice as it meant no watching England v Australia in the Rugby) :-(
My alarm went off at 5:30am for breakfast. All the hotels in the area were putting on special early breakfasts for the athletes and their families. Leaving nothing to chance I brought my own with me. I had trained all summer having porridge for my breakfast and didn't think it was sensible to change this on the morning of the race.
The atmosphere in the restaurant was very quiet, probably because it was 5:30am! But it was more likely that people were apprehensive and nervous about the challenges facing them.
Breakfast done, now time to walk down to the transition area to make some last minutes checks to the bike and stock it up with any fuel required for the ride. The atmosphere in T1 was calm. The DJ booth was playing out some calming music and Paul Kaye, the voice of Ironman was talking over the music about the weather expectations for the day, giving shout outs to various clubs and competitors and telling everyone that later that day you will be hearing those words 'You are an Ironman!'
Time quickly vanished and before I knew it Myself, Jon, Brad and Darren were zipped up in our wetsuits on the beach getting ready to tackle the swim. We all went in the water for a quick warm up. The sea had calmed down from what it was the day before, but there were still some large swells. Once I had taken a few strokes and got used to the water, I began to feel much more relaxed about the swim. We exited the water and for me the nerves had now turned to excitement! The music on the beach had been switched to a more upbeat tone and I now could not wait to get started!
Jon and I managed to see our wives one last time before we had to join the starting area. We had a chance to take a few quick pictures and a get a quick kiss before we were on our way.
The swim start was a rolling start with athletes seeding themselves by their expected swim time. I lined up in the 1:15 - 1:20 section as this is what I had hoped to achieve given that I done no training in the sea and it was choppy out there! My time to enter came around quickly and before I knew it my arms were wind-milling and the first buoy was in sight. Despite the rolling start there was still a bit of toe tapping and barging going on, but once everyone settled into their stride things calmed down. The large swells in the sea made breathing a little difficult at times and led to me taking down some large mouthfuls of sea water. Sighting was also a little difficult as often when you looked up there was a wall of water in front of you. But other than that it was a good swim. As I started the home straight into the beach you could see and hear the crowd roaring! I could at that point relax knowing that the swim was nearing completion and that I had actually really enjoyed it. I got out of the water, unzipped my suit and saw Tash, giving her a wave as I passed. No time for a kiss as I was fully in race mode! I checked my watch for the first time and to my absolute delight I had completed it in 1:08, it was then I began to think that today could be my day!
Into transition, I quickly located my bag. Wetsuit off, dried my feet with a towel. Sock and shoes on, helmet on, race belt on. Ready to hit the road!
The first 3km of the bike course was a quite technical. Lots of speed bumps and tight turns meant there was no speed being built up. Once through this section it was time to settle down, get some food on board and push those pedals!
My fuel of choice on the bike was iso sports drink, gels, power bar energy bars and malt loaf. I was eating around every 30 mins mixing it up to avoid boring my taste buds. The solid food was front loaded so that I was not trying to digest it while on the run, so after the 4 hour mark I was pretty much just taking on gels at regular intervals. Hydration is obviously very important and I was making a very conscious effort to drink a large gulp every 15 minutes. I think this also helped me pass the time as I was constantly watching the clock, giving me something to focus my mind on.
The bike course itself was a 3 and a half lap setup. The roads were in great condition, very flat and with only a couple of small inclines. It felt on the way out on the first lap that the wind was behind me and as a result I was making great time. On the way back it felt a little harder, but still the time was good. Our support crew was situated at the roundabout where we completed the first lap. I got a big cheer and gave back a big wave before pushing on with the next lap. The wind had changed and seemed to be facing the opposite direction just at the mid-way point of the 2nd lap. I managed to keep pushing a pace that I was extremely happy with, my only concern now was had I pushed too hard and left nothing left for the run? It was soon time to find out. I whizzed past the girls for the last time and headed back into the technical section before reaching transition. I glanced down at my clock to see a time of 5:37, this was 23 minutes under what I had wanted to achieve. I was starting to believe that a sub 11 hour Ironman was possible, but tried to control my excitement and stick to the plan and take the view that what will be will be.
Bike racked and into the tent to get ready for the run.
The weather had been quite overcast for most of the day but in the last hour of the bike the sun had come out and it started to warm up. I had put sun cream on before the day had started but that would have long gone. In the change tents were volunteers with big bottles of sun cream and rubber gloves. They gave me a nice coating and I ran out the tent to tackle the marathon.
My legs felt great, which I was pleased about. I made a conscious effort to get into my pre planned run pace as soon as possible. I normally find it hard to slow down immediately after the bike as the legs have been turning a much higher cadence for the past 5 hours.
My aim was always to get a sub 4 hour marathon and I knew that if I could do that a sub 11 overall was on the cards. The target pace was 8:15/8:30m/m and I was hitting this with ease!
The run course was 4 loops of just over 10km, had this been a standalone marathon the course would have been boring, but from a mental point of view it made it easier to focus on smaller targets, just one 10k at a time. The other benefit of this is being able to see your friends and family at regular intervals for encouragement.
Fuelling on the run was the toughest part of the day for me. I was aiming to get a gel down every 25 minutes and this really became a battle from 15 miles onwards. I was beginning to feel physically sick and had to control my mind to focus on other things. The on course nutrition was a choice of water, iso drink, coca cola, red bull, bananas, and gels. I was drinking iso drink and water at every stop and once the gels got too much I moved onto coke and bananas which made the sick feeling subside a little.
The crowds were really great; so much encouragement from everyone and you really cannot put a value on being able to see your family at such regular intervals. My last lap of the run was coming up. I knew I was going to be an Ironman; I just needed to get through this last 6 miles. This was quite an emotional time for me and at certain points I felt ready to burst into tears. All I could think about was what I had put my wife and kids through over the past 4 months and that I was only a short time away from hitting that finish line and hopefully making them all very proud of me. As I approached the last 3km I saw Keely. Tash had since made her way to the finish line to get a good spot. She shouted out to me that Arsenal had won 3-0 against Manchester United! I was so wrapped up in the day’s events that I had forgotten it was even on. That news gave me a massive boost and I punched the air with joy, my mind had been relieved from the over emotional thoughts I was having and with only 3km left it was time to pick up the pace and get to that red carpet.
I got closer and closer to the stage; I could hear the MC clearly over the speaker as he greeted competitors home. That is going to be me very soon! I ripped through a number of other runners; I wanted to get there first. My heart was beating so fast, I could see the finish line; the crowd was screaming and then the words I had been longing to hear all day left the mouth of the MC...."JOE...YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!"
10 hours 33 minutes and 11 seconds, way, way, way beyond anything I ever dreamed of!
I had to fight back the tears at the line, I was completely exhausted and felt physically sick, but I had done it!
The medal was around my neck, the foil was wrapped around me and I had a finisher’s shirt in hand. I took a few minutes to compose myself and took on a bit of food and had a massage. I was then ready to go and find my wife and enjoy the rest of the evening.
I was absolutely blown away by the level of organisation of these events, yes they are expensive but you can see why! The attention to detail in making the experience so fantastic for everyone involved is nuts!
I am on a massive high still from the whole thing and cannot wait to do another one! I will be doing some serious pea-cocking in my new Ironman Finishers t-shirt when I do!
'I would highly recommend this race to anyone who is thinking of making the step up to Iron distance'