• Nikki Bartlett

A journey into the unknown...

Ironman UK 2011 Bolton. A short blog on my first Ironman experience.

So, where do I begin? Firstly for those of you who don't know, an Ironman consists of a: 3.8k swim (2.4miles) , 180k bike (112miles), 42.2k run (26.2miles/marathon!).

Since the London marathon I have been dedicating my time to rowing, with being a rower, standard! Unfortunately I picked up an ankle injury whilst steering in May. When experiencing pain in training, like many of you will comprehend with, is that a niggle can be blamed on general tiredness or muscular pain. Which, I did put it down to, so I continued to row and cycle. Until late June, where I went on my first 100 mile ride for a few months, and was in total agony. So after getting knocked out in the semi finals at Henley (women’s), I went to the physio to discover that I had tibialis posterior tear! I was bed bound for a few days then to swim once a day 40-50mins, which down from 2-3 sessions a day rowing/cycling, it was a shocker to the system. However, after resting I picked up a cold which lasted a week, making me rest up. I progressively got better, as the days were ticking towards the event. Two weeks before and I could walk again, so I kept swimming which may have been a blessing as I had done about 2 swims up to 3 weeks before the event. One week to go and still niggles were apparent, I was having regular acupuncture and ultra sound. But I felt okay to do it. So I went for it. Here is my journey, do get a snack and drink before reading on.

Few stats: hadn’t run since my 3.03.53 London marathon in April. Only swim training once a day, with a few spinning bike sessions with 5 weeks to go before the ironman. Will I become an ironman? The stats don’t sound supportive.

Saturday 30th July: The Day Before!

So with no sleep the night before, I woke up at 5.30am in Cheltenham, ready to drive to Bolton to begin my journey to...hmmm...to be discussed! Arrived in Bolton at 9.30am. Met Cath to register and look around the expo, buying bargain clothes, getting ironman stash. I still held back a little just in case I didn’t reach the finish! Today involved going around the different starts of each discipline. T1 (transition 1) was obviously where you started the swim and got onto the bike, so we went there and had a little test on the bikes to make sure all was ok. The day before I paid £238 for bike repairs so I was pretty confident all was fine. OHHHH so wrong. My gears came apart...and yes all over the busy road we were on...so into repair it went. 2 hours later, bike fixed. Off we went to T2 where we started the run, the other side of Bolton to the bike start. Then to the race briefing! If you weren’t nervous before you bloody were now! Comments such as; the bike course is the equivalent of climbing Everest, taking a journey to the unknown, thinking back to when I woke up this morning and how much I have done through the day, and the equivalent tomorrow I will still be doing the ironman, but inspirational thoughts overcame these such as, when you approach the red mat before the finish all the pain from the day will disappear and that memory will be one of the greatest in your life, and you will walk around with a smile for weeks on end, retelling the story over and over whilst showing your medal off.

So, we finally checked in at 7.30pm. Alarm set for 4am. Bed 9.30pm. As if we slept a wink.

Sunday 31st July: Race day.

Stomach, check, ankle, check, both not great! Off we went, dressed for the swim, we waited in a queue like lemmings (remember that game on the play station?!). Into the water we approached. Nerves racing, heart rate, probably 220! To the side and back we started. 6am, national anthem, go!

So we were away, I wish, had people literally on top of me, pushing, kicking, was like we were all fighting for one thing; survival! So I held back and went to the side, but still, turning around the buoys and generally the whole swim section was crammed, but I still somehow managed to enjoy it. When I got out, I saw on my watch 68mins, I had to double take, I was aiming for 80-90mins so couldn’t believe it. Into T1, it was packed, managed to get out of there changed within 7mins (I know pretty slow but had to get those compression socks on!).

Onto the bike, Garmin on, and boom my aero drinks bottle came off, great start! I just hoped this was all of the bike disasters to come (including yesterday), as I prayed to not get a puncture as I didn’t have a clue how to fix one! It was a three lap course, with gruelling hill climbs. I took the bike course quite steady, and I loved every minute of it. The crowed were fantastic, and seeing Helen shout my name so loud that I heard it 80miles into the race made me smile! I did spend the whole course with the same group of guys, and due to the no drafting rules, we kept constantly overtaking each other, a bit annoying but got used to it! My ankle seemed to be holding up fine, so I was a happy bunny. The scenery was lovely in parts, but couldn’t fully appreciate it whilst climbing up the hills. I think I took on about 12 gels, 4 power bars and plenty of fluids! I felt that the bike course went so quickly and came in after 6.13hours, so chuffed considering I was aiming for 7 hours, and that I felt completely fine, no aches, heart rate very low, so all good...hmmm...think again Nikki

The ‘run’: so whilst approaching the bike finish my chain came off, so I got off and OUCH, my ankle. I hobbled over to the bike racking, gave my bike over and went straight for the toilet. Sat down and put my hands on my head, thinking ‘what am I going to do?’! Then I realised that it bloody stank, got out, changed, head down, thoughts positive, grit your teeth and get on with it. So for those reading, I expect your thinking ‘idiot’. Well, I hope you can read on and think otherwise.

I haven’t mentioned yet, one of the most important reasons behind my ironman journey. My dear friend had been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. Cancer has affected many, and has affected our family and friends. Today, we miss opportunities, don’t go for goals, dreams, aspirations, or simply sometimes take the ‘easy route’. Today, I could have, I could have stopped, pulled out, but there was no way I was going to. I was doing this to raise cancer awareness, to take an opportunity that others simply cannot, to embark on a dream, and to live life in the moment. I will complete this ironman.

My face welled up with tears with the thought that I could now be ‘out there’ for another 7-8 hours hobbling around. So I got on with it, trying to change painful triggers to my brain with happy memories and sheer guts and determination to get through. I have visited this pain place before, rowing, many tests, training pieces, the last 6 miles of the London marathon, but not at the start of a potential 7-8 hour marathon, and also not the same pain as lactate, but sheer localised pain in an injury.

I tried to compensate in many ‘running styles’ and this started to determine my fatigue and ability to actually run at all. We started the run along a flat road, onto a canal, and back through towards the town. After running unusual styles, my quads and calves had definitely fatigued, and I looked at my Garmin; 3miles gone. So far throughout the race, I had thanked people supporting, smiled, waved and generally thrived upon this experience. Here, I was going through a new experience, journey and I was certainly going into the ‘unknown’. When we looped through the town I was so glad to see my parents & brother, I smiled and waved, and that was definitely the last thing I can really remember! When we looped back around I noticed I hadn’t even received one red wrist band, and that we needed 3 of them before finishing, I was in for a long haul! We had three loops to complete, and they were very long killer loops. The way back out of town was one long hill, killing off every single muscle that was merely functioning. Then after being so exhausted ‘running’ up, you just wanted to walk back down. That I did, after I received my first red wrist band, two more to go.

For those that know me in a training environment, im one to never stop or give up. Walking felt like I had already given up. This was definitely not how I had run the London marathon or in fact ever ran before. The athletes were great and I was soon inspired by a lovely man to pick myself back up. So I did and ran with him for the next 3 miles, now, my running had turned into a shuffle...slow...shuffle, chaffing away at my very white, pail looking skin. My lips had turned purple, my breathing fine, my body; on shutdown. Mile 7; pins and needles spread all over my body. I had NEVER experienced this before, it even spread on the back of my neck, up towards my ears. I reached the feed station and sat down and poured water all over my body took on as much calories as possible and mistakably lay down, eyes shut. Until I came around a few seconds later with cheers of encouragement and two teenage girls chanting ‘just keep going, just keep going’, so I got back up and poured....bloody Gatorade not water dammit, all over my body. Great, another added touch, stickiness.

So now, looking at my watch, countdown of 19miles to go. I kept going into states of seeing black and white spots, so I just picked a person and aimed for them, and tried to run with someone. At this point I saw Rach and Ross, I had seen Ross on the bike which was great, but hadn’t seen rach yet so was great to see them, they looked strong...I did not. After the race, Rach said that I was running with my head on my shoulders, I have no recollection of this (lets pretend that didn’t happen ey!). So, looking like this, I wasn’t going to be finding my future husband for sure. So I kept plodding, shuffling along, seeing cath, ben, family, friends, kept me going. I stopped to cry a lot, lent on bins, people, benches, athletes, I walked and pin pointed land marks where I would run again. I stopped to ‘massage’ my foot, clearly had no benefit. I was totally away with the fairies.

I kept thinking about the medal, the after celebrations, the bragging for life, anything but the thought of pain! So, hours later, one lap to go THANK GOD. However, this was still a looooong time away from the finish and I was walking, again. My dad saw me and said ‘nikki just walk it to the finish if you have to’. In my confused head I started to work out how long that would actually take me, and the thought made me feel sick, so I started to plod up the long 3mile hill, I was so tempted to pin someone down for one of their red bands, but finally got my last one, and knew I was on the 3-4mile home straight, which at the rate I was going, was unfortunately still another 40mins! Then in the distance I saw Ken, sorry Ken, but at this stage he looked in the same world as me, although going through this, I knew we were so close so I had a little pick me up after my final little walk, and plodded towards the town centre where the finish was, yes, the finish we had to run past 3 times until we had all of our wrist bands, listening to people finishing! This time, it was my time to finish and let people hear me go through the finish.

So I reach the ‘turn point’ to either continue on with those killer laps, or head towards the finish, I held up my red bands with pride to ‘allow’ me to take the final turn to become an ironman. I hit the red carpet, and remembered watching back on the internet before the race, all of the different types of finishes people had made such as the famous ‘crawl’...I was not crawling...I was flying. I felt on top of the world, and forgot for those few seconds about the previous 11 hours 12mins and soaked up the crowed, atmosphere, red carpet and enjoyed the last few seconds on my feet. I crossed the finish line punched my hands in the air with sheer elation, and collapsed onto the volunteers

I then scrambled into the athlete’s tent, collected my medal, finishers t-shirt, fish and chips and cried. I don’t think I have to describe why I cried if you have read this blog and have taken in the emotion I have just had through this ‘race’ (I don’t think I can call it that surely?!)...! I found my family and have never appreciated seeing them as much as this moment. I sat on the same bench for a few hours, in pain, still bloody purple, not really understanding what I had achieved and still can’t believe that awful run was a 3hour and 40min marathon! I am now on crutches with stress fractures, torn tendons and ligaments. It still hasn't sunk in!

Time: 11 hours 13mins 35 seconds

Breakdown: 68min swim, 6 hour 14min bike, 3hour 40min marathon.

1st in my age group 18-24, 20th woman overall, 206 overall finisher.

Qualified to represent Great Britain in Hawaii at the World Championships, qualified to represent GB at the World Long Distance ITU Championships in USA, Las Vegas.

Next day: amazing awards ceremony to receive some compression gear and great trophy!

I have taken much of your time to read this, I could go on forever, but here are my last words;

What I will take away from this race is pure emotion in many ways. This journey has been remarkable and will guide me and hopefully others to go for their own personal goals, to take a risk and live life in the moment, to the full. Life is there for the taking, it can be taken away like so many with cancer, so suddenly. This experience has been shared with many with similar journeys and stories, and therefore makes it a special life changing moment. I will relish this forever and this journey may be the start for me. Take a chance in life, I have, and it has guided me towards my future.

I take this opportunity to send my love to those who have been affected by cancer, and to those who I personally know with cancer. Cherry you are strong, and have a fabulous family, my love will always be with you all. Thank you for those who have supported me and have donated to the cancer research. I have raised over £2,000 and will still be collecting for another few days: http://www.justgiving.com/Nikki-Bartlett Highlights are on channel 4, Sunday 21st August at 7am

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