There was a good Team Cherwell representation out there, including John Sexton, who had raced IM Copenhagen with me the previous year, Rich Hughes and Debi Coles, with the wifely cheering contingent of Annie and Nicola on support duties. I had taken a short turn round the warmup area, having really done all my transition faffing the night before, and there is only so much time that you can stand staring at a bike on a rack and a bag on a hook at 6.00 am (a positively leisurely wake up time, as our hotel was only a hundred metres from the start). I entered the start pen, choosing to go right at the back, by the furthest left railing. This would not affect my time as it was a rolling start, with the chip only setting off the timing when I went into the water. This would allow me to keep to my favorite minimal contact policy by keeping to the outside of the course as much as possible. The beach shelves very gently, so there was actually about 20m of wading to waist depth before the swim proper began. I found this pleasant as it helped me to pick a line and not rush, get clear of other people and set myself up for a nice relaxed swim.
Wading into the water, under the arch and through a corridor of cheering fans was invigorating, and there was not really much to report on the swim. I enjoyed my first ‘Australian exit’ turn, which came about two thirds of the way round the 3.8 km course: a chance to reset and readjust the goggles on the way back out to swimming depth, and I was pleased to finally exit the water in 1:13.40. I had certainly overtaken many more people than had overtaken me, and the majority of these had been wetsuit wearing so it was with a spring in my step that I ran through the shower zone, trying to rub some of the salt out of my hair, towards one of the longest transitions on the Ironman circuit – one street wide and about 400m long. Despite this I was out on my bike pretty quickly, I had no trouble finding my bag on the rack, and I was glad I had put a small towel in there to dry my hair and to get the sand off my feet, as I didn’t particularly fancy 112 miles in sandy shoes. My shoes were on the bike already, so as soon as I was over the mount line I slipped my feet in and got going.
My legs felt strong, and I knew that I had paced the bike to perfection, coming in in 5:55.10. I took care not to head off like a stabbed rat (as is my wont) and checked my watch regularly as I splashed through the puddles that covered the course, which at some points stretched across the whole street, several metres in length, and a few centimetres deep. The course was four and a half laps, with a few sections of out and back. Coming in off the bike I had passed the first of these sections, and thought it a long way. Running it was mentally draining, as it was seemingly endless, and did not get easier with repetition. I preferred the second half of the lap, along the beach front, past the bar where the support crew were making heroic efforts to stay sober, and looping out and back through the centre of town.
I was going well, not overstretching myself, and my legs still felt in reasonable shape. However the constant soaking that my feet were being subjected to was taking its toll. For the first lap and a half this was ok, a mild irritation, but the abuse that they were taking got worse, and by the end of the second lap this had turned into actual pain. I was still getting a bit of chafing from the bottom half of the trisuit which added to the torment. I survived another half lap before I had to walk for a few paces. This was phenomenally irritating, as it was purely due to the pain of my saturated feet hitting the ground that caused this, rather than a misjudgement of pace or from going too hard on the bike. After a minute or so of walking I mentally steeled myself, and started running again. For the last full lap I had to walk for sections with increasing regularity but I disciplined myself as much as possible – if I had been forced through foot pain to walk I would pick a lamppost, tree or other landmark and start running again at that point, no excuses. As I collected the last lap band as the course swung back past transition I was determined to finish properly. The rain had stopped and at this point my feet were going to hurt whatever I did, so I ran, and as I turned onto the beach front I could see the lit up M Dot on top of the finish arch, over on the other side of the curve of the bay. I kept on running, the red glow getting closer with every step, and actually built up speed. I ran through the pain, out the other side. (I actually expect that everything below my waist had gone numb by this point, and my body had given up telling me I was damaging it, rather than this energy coming from some hitherto untapped well of athleticism.) The finish chute finally loomed up and I turned onto the carpet, savouring the wall of noise that pummels you (in a good way) under the arch, and all you can hear cutting through all of this are the speakers booming out the catchphrase – ‘You are an IRONMAN’. (Again.)
As ever huge thanks are due to Coach Brian Butler who got me to Mallorca in great condition, and gave me the best advice to give me very good pacing on the bike.
(Seven days later I almost crippled myself trying to run Bournemouth Marathon, with Ironman still hanging heavy in my legs. I did 4:14.29, so only ten minutes slower than Mallorca, and my Marathon PB still sits at my 3:58.30, from the run at Ironman Copenhagen in 2015.)