On 27 August 2017 I stood on the swim start line of Ironman Vichy 2017… crying.
Five and half months of training and I had made it to the start line and now I had to put everything into practise – a 2.4mile swim (non-wetsuit), 112mile bike and a 26.2mile run.
My training programme commenced in March 2017, I had a whiteboard which allowed me to write and see 7 weeks of training. Ticking each session off was a great feeling. However, as the training increased, the realisation of what I was taking on was becoming a reality.
Training went well, most of the sessions were in Heart Rate Zone 2 – they say to go long, you have to go slow. So slow, I went. I remained injury free, with the help of strength training, regular massages and visits to my chiropractor.
I enjoyed the swim sessions, training with my Triathlon Club Tri20, and the open water. I wasn’t really too concerned about my swim, however, I wanted to feel comfortable and efficient. For the last two years, Vichy has been a non-wetsuit swim, therefore, I needed to become efficient without a wetsuit – those early morning non-wetsuit swims in a British lake certainly woke me up!
I also enjoyed the bike sessions. I had a training buddy Lisa, who was also doing Vichy with me, so we managed to get some long rides in together – the company really helped. My partner Matt also came along on some of the longer rides but he’s much fitter than me on the bike so I always felt like I was holding him back. I managed to complete 3 x 100mile sportives so knew I could do the distance comfortably.
Now to the run…. I used to love running through my thirties, I then discovered triathlon and I fell out of love with running. There was a lot of running in my programme, and I tried, despite not wanting to sometimes, to do most of the running sessions with the longest run being 2hrs 45mins.
Two weeks before race day, I fell off my bike and injured my left wrist – A&E confirmed damaged ligaments – I also hurt my hip – whether that was from the fall I will never know – to say I was annoyed was an understatement, but there was nothing I could do, I had to look after myself and hope it would heal.
We arrived in Vichy on Thursday after navigating Lyon in our little hire car, the Ford Fiesta.
Registration was open, so we checked out the area whilst walking to registration over the other side of the river, it was a long walk and it was hot. I picked up my race number and pack, got my free backpack and my coloured bands for my race. A green one indicating I was an Ironman Virgin and an Orange one to show I was doing the Ironman. There was a Half Ironman taking place on the Saturday – the competitors were given a yellow band. We checked out the expo – a chance to spend your money on loads of Ironman stuff. I was not feeling nervous or even excited.
Our bikes had been shipped out and were delivered late afternoon. I didn’t sleep very well that night.
On Friday, we headed off to find a pink balloon for Matt to have whilst spectating, so that I could see him easily. You would have thought it would be easy to find a place that sold Helium balloons – it wasn’t, but eventually we did. Matt wasn’t impressed. Lisa and I tested out our bikes to make sure nothing had fallen off in transition. It was hot cycling. I prepared my bags and kit for my race – there was a lot of stuff. I slept better.
On Saturday, we got up extra early to watch the Half Ironman swim. The lake suddenly looked massive and the distance seemed so far. The emotion hit. I would be doing double that distance in just less than 24hrs. The swim looked calm though which helped although it looked a little difficult to sight as swimmers seemed to be going off course. Later that day, we headed onto the run course with our cowbells and lots of enthusiasm to encourage the Half Ironman competitors. It was so much fun but hot. Everybody wore a number with their name on which made cheering on so much more personal. The emotion was overwhelming – I would be doing this but double the distance. We didn’t see the bike course but we had researched the profile – relatively flat with a few climbs. Later in the day, we headed back to the expo to drop off my bike, transition bags for the bike and run. That was it. Race day was tomorrow. I didn’t sleep too great but better than expected.
4.00am – the alarm goes off, I had been lying awake for an hour before trying to visualise the race and the emotions were overwhelming. I even considered not doing it, but that wasn’t an option. I had my two porridge cups with banana, got ready, put some bio-freeze on my wrist and met my friend Lisa and off we went to the start. The emotion was getting stronger.
We headed to our bikes to check them over and inflate the tyres. I had to change my front inner tube as the valve pinged off as I went to inflate it. This was not going well. It could only get better.
Time to drop off the streetwear, I would see that after the race. It was time to head to the swim start – a non-wetsuit swim as the temperature of the lake was above 24.5 degrees. It was still dark, but warm.
I cried. I cried more. I couldn’t control my emotions. One last hug from Matt and off I went.
It was a rolling start – 3 people go into the water at a time. It took a while for us to get into the water. Once in, I was in my happy place. I love swimming. I struggled to sight the first buoy – it was 900 mtrs away and my goggles had started to fog up. I didn’t want to stop just incase someone swam over me. I eventually rolled onto my back, cleared my goggles – I could see again and off I went. After 1.9km, you exited the water. It’s know as an Australian exit. You then jumped back in again to do another loop. I felt good but I needed a wee. Oh yes, I wee’d in the water. If you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go. If you are triathlete, you’ll understand. Second lap done, out of the water in 1hr 18 mins – the crowds cheering us all on. I felt like I was winning – I wasn’t.
Time to find my bike bag and put on my bike stuff. I wasn’t going to change out of my trisuit, so only had to put on some socks, my glasses, helmet and bike shoes. I made my way to my bike whilst scoffing a bagel. I found it and off I went, ready to take on the 112 mile bike ride through the French Countryside.
It was a pretty cycle – slightly hillier than I had expected but it was nice to cycle somewhere different. We had to do two loops of 56miles. The sun came out, it was hot. I put into practise my hydration and nutrition on the bike, eating every 30 minutes and drinking every 15 minutes. I was being overtaken by men on their very expensive bikes, but I didn’t mind. I had my own race plan, and I was sticking to it. It was getting extremely hot.
At 56miles, I saw Matt at the special needs station, where I could replenish my food and drinks. It was nice to see Matt.
I then hit a mental barrier, I didn’t want to carry on cycling. I didn’t want to do the second lap. My mind had failed me although my body was feeling okay. I took a slow release ibuprofen for my hip in readiness for the run. I dug in deep and continued. It was getting hotter. I needed to hydrate more and take in more salt tablets. My left foot had started to hurt and the sole of my right foot. At each feed station I would pour a bottle of water over my head to try and cool me down. It worked.
I could see the end of the bike – I had made it – 6hrs 38ins later. I was looking forward to getting off the bike, seeing Matt, the crowds and hearing the support.
Off the bike, and time to find that run bag and off into the change tent. I changed my socks, popped on my trainers and visor, slapped some bio-freeze on my hip to numb the pain and headed out to tackle the 26.2mile run. It was going to be a hot one.
I had planned on taking the run slow and steady – four laps of the lake in 36 degree heat. I had to be careful. The crowds were amazing – I felt like a winner. Clearly I wasn’t, but they made everyone feel that way. The aid stations, run by volunteers, were amazing. I would walk through those, taking on water, flat coke and get hosed down.
I managed 2.5laps before having to go into a speed walk – my legs were hurting and my pace had dropped. I knew that if I maintained a fast walking pace (8.5min per k) I would still get in under 14hrs. I bumped into Matt on every lap of the run, he was there, cheering me on. He even tried to keep up with me whilst I was walking.
I encouraged people to walk with me that had started to struggle and one guy, Damian, he was French, walked with me. We didn’t talk much but we supported each other. The crowds on every lap, recognised me and encouraged me further – it was so overwhelming.
The last lap – we were almost there.
Crossing the bridge for the last time, Damian said we should run once we were over it to the finish line. I told him to go ahead. We started to run… and my legs didn’t fail me. I could hear the crowds closer to the finish line, and the emotion really hit. I had done it. I ran through the finishing shoot with my arms up in the air, stopping to give Matt a kiss – he had supported me the whole day, updating Facebook to keep everyone updated on my progress.. and there was the finishing line… I was an Ironman… I crossed that finishing line, looking up to the sky. 13hrs 43mins and 57 secs. I heard those words, “Vanessa Elliott – you are an Ironman”. Damian had waited for me – he thanked me for getting him to the finishing line.
My medal was hung around my neck, I grabbed a doughnut, found Matt… collected my bags and bike and we headed back to the hotel. I hurt. I hurt badly but I felt no emotion. I didn’t feel happy, I didn’t feel sad. Was I proud of what I had achieved? No.
I didn’t sleep well – I woke Matt up at 4.00am for a cup of tea and a cry.
We headed home on the Monday. I was tired, very tired.
Tuesday I got my Ironman Tattoo and took my Kettlebell class – the girls had baked me a cake and bought me flowers. I was overwhelmed by the support from everyone, not just after, but during the race as I looked back on Facebook. So many people had been tracking me. There are so many nice people out there and I am glad to know them all.
Wednesday I was tired and sad.
Thursday I was tired and very sad.
Friday, as I write this blog, I am still very sad – they call it the Ironman Blues. I went out on the bike for an hour cycle in the hope that it would cheer me up. It hasn’t. I have to just ride it out.
It’s not uncommon to feel this way after such a big event that has consumed my life for the last five and a half months. I need to find other things to do. Things I never managed to do whilst training. We have a long weekend booked mid September and I am already starting to think about my next challenge – so watch this space!
Thank you for reading my blog. For all your support.
I am an Ironman xx
A selection of photos captured on the day… there were some good moments and some moments of darkness…