Midnight Man (Ironman distance) – Emily Taylor

Getting carried away

I had always planned to do an Ironman at some point but promised myself that I’d get all the children into school first so that I had time to train properly for it. All four kids are not at school yet. I hadn’t had the time to train for it properly. I’d trained to Imperial Centurion distance and squeezed in my longest cycle (95 miles) just last week whilst cycling home from holiday in Norfolk. What I had done was get carried away again!

It’s always worse for someone else…

I did the Midnight Man half Ironman in 2018. I can clearly remember thinking as the darkness set in that “it’s always worse for some other poor bugger” in that case those completing the full Ironman and still out on the bike course when I’d finished the race ‪at midnight‬. On Saturday night that ‘poor bugger’ was me.

Laps, laps and more laps.

The Midnight Man is lap intense. I’m quite happy with a ‘lappy’ course. No surprises, you know what’s coming next and just have to keep repeating it until monotony sets in! The full Ironman was a 4 lap swim, followed by 26 or 27 lap bike course and an 8 lap run.

Ambiguity

The bike course was originally 20 laps on closed roads. In the final race notes last week it became 26 laps as each lap was shortened as one section of road could no longer be used. I then spotted on the website on Friday the bike course would be 27 laps. I was confused. What I did know was that my plan to eat a jelly baby each lap until all the jelly babies were gone as a way of keeping count was not going to work. I’d had too many of them during my Ullswater swim a month ago and the thought of 26 or 27 did not appeal. In the race brief 30min before the start, it was decided the bike course was 26 laps. 26 laps was short of the full 112mile Ironman distance but 27 would be too many miles. Everyone opted for 26. I was uneasy.

Pre race prep

A race that ‪starts at 6pm‬ turns your whole pre race strategy upside down. If I didn’t have 4 children then I’d have slept all day Saturday. In reality the day started in normal fashion with the kids waking me ‪at 6:30am‬. It was to be a long day! I ate breakfast as usual, followed by a proper lunch and then grazed on arrival at Dartford and had a banana 30 mins before the start. Coupled with pre race nerves my poor tummy didn’t know what to think about starting a race with this volume of food in it. I’d made sure I’d eaten well all week and felt more prepared to sink at the start line rather than swim.

Swim

The start had been a long time coming – I could have completed an Ironman in the time I’d already been up that day – so it was somewhat a relief to finally get in the lake ‪at 6pm‬. It was a very warm evening. So warm I’d forgotten to actually put the top half of my wetsuit on! I was just adjusting my hat and goggles before getting into the lake when I realised my wetsuit was still around my waist!My new goggles annoyed me from the outset, filling up with water. This was disappointing as they’d been brilliant on the recent Ullswater end to end swim when I hadn’t adjusted or cleared them once in 8 miles! I decided to try and make do rather than loose momentum adjusting them. The idea of swimming in a lake in the shadow of the QE11 bridge, Dartford, doesn’t sound that appealing, especially given signs for a nearby sewage plant. Actually it’s a beautiful lake and the temperature – for once – felt perfect. People in houses neighbouring the lake were enjoying BBQs and the smell of sausages and garlic bread was appetising – even to a veggie swimming with a mountain of food in my tummy. Lap four and the sudden onset of cramp I had experienced at Box End Beast two weeks before took me by surprise again. Again I felt panicky but knew that I just needed to breathe through it. It subsided and unlike two weeks before I couldn’t feel it when the bike course began.

Bike

The bike course is both super fast and super slow. Long flat car free roads give you the confidence to spend the majority of time on the Tri bars. Four super tight u-turn turnaround points (each lap) bring you almost to a standstill. I was pleased I’d had the cornering practice on the recent Tri-force ladies bike handling course! When I spontaneously entered the event a month or so back, Chris kindly said he’d come and support me through the night. He then got as carried away as I had and decided to enter the half distance – his first in many years – and so he found himself on the start line on Saturday too. As I started the first bike lap I saw him almost instantly and we shouted support to each other as we passed until his bike laps ran out at lap 13…including his friendly reminder to turn my bike lights on – he hadn’t spent time sorting them for me to not use them! Interestingly so many people chose to have their lights on flashing mode. It was quite off putting to see so many bright flashing lights, reminded me of when I used to stay up into the small hours partying rather than cycling! As an alternative to jelly babies, Allie had kindly lent me her lap counter, a little device which goes on your finger like a ring and you press a button each lap. What a clever idea…in daylight at least. Somewhere around lap 14 I fumbled with the button and was convinced I’d added on an extra lap. From lap 14-20 I began to question how many I’d done. I was anxious about completing the right number and shouted to a marshall in transition to ask them to check. Turns out there was a screen you could check but this required stopping, getting off the bike and peering at a small computer screen. Stopping! No way! I got myself into a right quandary, probably not helped by the fact it was now the small hours of Sunday morning and sleep deprivation was kicking in. On the one hand I believed I was in the lead out of the women. Did I find out for sure how many laps I’d done and do the required 26 laps and retain my lead? OR did I forget laps, look at my Garmin/bike computer and do the full 112miles of an Ironman, sacrificing my lead in favour the full Ironman distance?This was my first Ironman, I’d done three quarters of an Ironman a couple of times before with the Centurion imperial. In my mind this needed to be a FULL Ironman. No almost, no having to justify your time with “but the bike course was a bit short”, no “I’ve almost done an Ironman” this needed to be the real thing. Full fat, f*#k off Ironman. Lap 26 (according to my count) came. I ignored it. Lap 27 came. I ignored it. The Marshall’s shouted, come in you’ve done your laps. I ignored them. Lap 28 came and my Garmin/computer registered 114miles. Now it was time to stop.

Run

Transition was pretty dark. Lucky really because some flash decision made me have a wee right there and then whilst taking my bike kit off and getting ready for the run. Never done that before and will never get away with that again!I started the run feeling strong. Chris was half way around the course with a table stacked full of everything I thought I might be craving. Poor Chris had just completed a half Ironman and each lap I’d run past him twice and shout out my requirements and he’d leap from his chair and be the dutiful husband (which was actually quite satisfying as so often it’s the other way around when we’re sat on the sofa at home 😉) Over the course of 8 laps I got through 2 large oranges (cut into quarters), 3 bottles of lucozade, 1 gel and 1 chocolate milkshake. All the salty things I’d thought I would crave remained untouched.On the first lap Chris shouted “you’re first lady”. I couldn’t believe it. I’d done the extra bike distance and still managed to retain my lead. This gave me a real boost and I ran strong for 6 laps, only slowing as my body began to say “hang on, a marathon, at what point did we train for this?” By laps 7 and 8 I was seeing stars (ironically the sun was coming up) and my legs were very sore (but both were equally sore so that’s ok in my book!) My initial speedy pace inevitably was dwindling but I continued to run EVERY LAST STEP so determined not to walk at any point.

Done… and won!

A final sprint towards the finish line and I’d done it. I’d completed my first Ironman. I say my first because I have a horrible feeling it won’t be my last.

After a brief lie on the grass (always a treat I promise myself) the race organiser ran over with a large trophy and presented it to me as first lady. He also began an interrogation as to why on earth I’d done so many laps on the bike. I think secretly he quite admired my justification that this was my first Ironman and it had to be the full distance. I’d finished in a time of 11:40:32 😊 (Chris was delighted with his sub 6hr half too!)

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