So the stones didn’t get my feet and I made it to the race start.
I’d decided that I was doing this and almost everyone else was in the water so I suited up and got straight in with no delay, after finding my guardian angel Phil the Sea Scout and telling him I was going again.
The sky was a bit more overcast and the sun was higher in the sky which I was pleased about as there was less chance of glare from the sun blinding me.
Phil apologised that he wouldn’t be following me around this time but that I’d pass from kayak to kayak. I wasn’t bothered, as long as someone was generally around.
The start signal went, I set off, and very soon Phil told me that he’d accompany me around anyway, and that he had a message for me over the radio. In the middle of a lake like that is the weirdest place I’ve ever had a message delivered, and that then turned into a relayed conversation!
It turned out that the legendary Swim Smooth coach Paul Newsome from Australia that I mentioned in part one of this report was watching me swim from the shore. he said he was really impressed by me and had heard how little a time I’d been swimming for. He invited me to meet him the week after the race for a free tailored one-to-one swim session. I knew it was a massive honour and relayed my thanks. I joked that I’d be happy to travel to Australia to do the session. I said that even if I couldn’t make it, I’d really appreciate if he added something to my JustGiving page.
At this stage I was a third of the way around the lake and the start signal sounded for the next wave of swimmers. I turned wide around the buoy as they approached to avoid them going over the top of me. Goggles now steamed up, I asked Phil to assist with navigation again and focused on getting through the swim efficiently and in good condition for the bike and run – after all, I’d done this before and knew what I was doing!
Of all things, my fingers grew tired towards the end of the swim and I was glad that by disciplining myself not to use the legs through all my training, I hadn’t tired them at all on the swim legs of the races. I also took note that my breathing was really calm and was pleased with that as I knew how hard I’d be working on the bike.
As I approached the shore the waters were busier and choppier as the subsequent wave were exiting at the same time. Phil congratulated me again on doing the swim without stopping, said he was amazed I hadn’t had lunch and that he couldn’t swim like me. That last one was unnerving – he was my potential rescuer! He asked me to go and introduce myself to his team after the race, and upon putting my feet down to exit the water I saw Paul Newsome crouched right in front of me taking my photo and shouting encouragement. These aren’t his photos, but I’ve asked him for a copy of the ones he took.
There was a guy a couple of bikes down from me in transition about to leave. He said that he’d decided not to rush through transition because he could make up time on the bike, and he left as I muttered a rushed, “enjoy it”.
Helmet and shades on head, race belt on tidily, sweets in pocket, correct socks on correct feet, shoes done up as I wanted, I ran the bike to the mounting area and got going on the long low incline towards the first corner and the hill, passing the guy who was making up his time on the bike within a hundred metres.
Maybe the hill hadn’t become any easier but it definitely wasn’t any harder, and I planned ahead how hard I would push on whatever section I was on and the next, remembering how it had been in the morning.
I passed a lot more people than last time, though the figures say that only four of them were in my heat. When I got to the turning point at the far end of the bike course, I made the same joke as last time to the marshal, and turned to head ‘home’.
The journey back up the hill behind the hotel was harder than last time, but I was still passing people, taking on liquid whenever I could to prepare for the run, and I was even more grateful when I heard the elderly marshal shouting his encouraging words. From him to the ambulance at the top of the hill seemed further than before, and focusing as I did before, I pushed past the ambulance as if it wasn’t there and took one more drink as I prepared to make up as much time as I could on the flight downhill onto the run.
There were two golf buggies driving along and I flew past them focused on my body position and the road ahead.
This was fast, I mean silly-fast. I could have pedalled a fair bit faster but I’m pretty sure this was the fastest I’ve ever been on a bike. It was a lovely feeling, having complete confidence in the bike, wheels, tyres and the road and being able to project your consciousness ahead of the bike, pulling you forward.
Determined to outdo myself, I took up the same central road position with no other bikes around, and really pushed hard to arrive with the transition marshals at the highest closing rate possible. I braked later and stronger without skidding, the marshals seemed more startled then laughed when I joked, “I wasn’t sure if I was going to make that” as I dismounted.
Racking the bike, I took a large swig of my drink, a deep breath, then headed off on the run. I made sure that the race number was properly rotated to the front, as on the first race it got messed up. I’d taken advice from the internet to do something creative with four safety pins and not use the toggles on the race belt. This time I used the toggles in conjunction with the safety pins and it worked perfectly. That’s the only one piece of triathlon advice from the many things I’d learnt from the internet that hadn’t worked and helped me along!
Just as I was settling a few metres into the run, RG Active’s Anne popped up like Tigger to my left above the clapping spectators and with a wave shouted, “go on Simon!” I was so pleased for that and felt stronger and positive, then no more than a second later my right leg tried to shout, “cramp time!”. There was no way I was going to accept that so I stretched my toes and adjusted my stride as much as I could to reduce the muscle’s ability to knot up, and it slowly started to behave itself.
I was careful through the rest of the run, drinking as much from the water cups as I could and pouring the rest on the back of my calf to try to keep it stable.
I passed a few more people on the run but decided not to push as hard as I might because of the leg. At the last water station a girl shouted, “you’re so almost there!”. I replied, “you said that this morning!”, and everyone laughed. As I thanked the next steward, an elderly lady shouting encouragement, I remembered that I’d actually said “thanks” to every steward I’d passed on the bike and run, and laughed at what they must have thought of me. That ridiculously polite guy in pink.
On the last section past the swim start, two of the runners around me decided that they would try to sprint to the finish. I knew that a full sprint might be a bad idea but that I could go quite a bit faster and harder, so I went for it, looking forward to feeling really dynamic as I crossed the line.
I crossed the finish line, got the bottle of water (yes I’m keeping that empty bottle too) and the medal – it was a bit strange but nice being on the receiving side of that after having been the one handing them out as a volunteer at IM70.3 Wimbleball this year – and I’d planned ot stretch my legs straight away as I did the first race, but right in front of me with a handshake, a smile and a business card was Paul Newsome. That felt like such an honour, and we had a chat about what was the next step for us.
I absolutely loved that moment and that conversation, and if I could have a life of being met by someone so well-respected in this game who had respect and interest in my performance to discuss a possible alliance as I finished a good race, I’d be an extremely happy bunny.
Paul also offered to add generously to my JustGiving page for Cancer Research UK if I could make it to his one-on-one swim session, which was the icing on the cake! I really hope I’m able to do a session with him, and soon, whether in the UK or elsewhere.
…so that’s the end of that then.
…actually, not quite. I headed off a bit later in the afternoon in search of orange juice and was directed to one of the hotel’s bars which was pretty much empty. As I leaned on the counter while the cashier worked out how to put a pint of orange juice through the till, I once again heard a very familiar voice behind me. I kind of sighed and grinned as he told someone how he’d love a beer, maybe a Bitter.
“this is ridiculous,” I thought to myself, “you’ve been crossing paths all weekend and this is an empty bar. You may as well say “hi””. I sat down and started my orange juice while a girl ran up and asked, “Jenson, can I take a photo?”, and then we had a chat. While we were speaking, he surprised me a bit by taking my phone and taking a ‘selfie’ photo of us with it. I didn’t complain, and his arms are longer than mine anyway.
That photo’s staying offline, as is our conversation. Some nice things have happened and some nice messages received since that day and the rest, as they say, is history…or it will be one day 😉
Next up? Rasmus Henning, the former Ironman world champion, invited me at an early stage in my training to do one of two specific races with him next year. I’m considering that before anything else as he’s been a great supporter and has helped with lots of supportive messages and other things. Actually, when I got home from the race I found an email from him asking how it went and advising me on recovery.
These guys are all just so nice…
Thanks once again to every single person who has supported me, whether noisily or quietly, permanently or momentarily. You know who you are.