Back in October 2021 I booked an Ironman Triathlon in Texas USA. An Ironman Triathlon is a long distance race consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run.
Fast forward 6 months to 6.30am on the 23rd of April 2022 and I’m standing at the swim start line in Texas with 3000 other athletes. For some it’s their first ever Ironman, for others, they have completed many. There are pro’s like Jocelyn McCauley, Ben Hoffman, Sam Laidlow, Lauren Brandon, Danielle Lewis, and Magnus Ditlev all looking to win and book their place to Kona in Hawaii for the World Championships!
As I get in line to enter the water the nerves are starting to kick in, but it’s time to enjoy the experience, the hard work has been done over the winter in the pool and I know I can cover the swim distance. Boom, a cannon fires and the pro’s set off first! It’s a rolling start for everyone else, we start to edge closer to the water. With a rolling start, athletes enter the water in groups of 5 separated by 5 seconds to ease congestion. Beep, Beep, Beep from the buzzer and it’s my turn next, I’m off! The start is frantic but it’s good to be going, time to settle into my pace and enjoy the swim, I love swimming! It’s round the first buoy and onto the middle 3rd of the swim, the lake is warm but the water is pretty dark and visibility is poor, so I need to look forward to sight and keep an eye on where to go for the final 3rd. As we head into the final 3rd section of the swim it enters a canal section which is narrow, each time I breathe side to side I can see all the spectators cheering everyone on, this is amazing!! As I round the last buoy I see the steps out of the water and a helping hand from one of the support crew to pull me out! That’s it, swim done, I’m out!
T1, time to find my bike, where did I leave it? There are thousands of bikes here!! I remember my marker and go straight to row I, “I” is for Ironman! Bike off the rack, out of T1 and onto the road. The roads in Texas are smooth and it’s good to be riding them. We head out of town for 16 miles towards the toll road which we need to go up and down twice to complete an 80 mile section of the bike course. As we get onto the toll road the wind is really strong and seems to slow you down a lot, but it keeps you cool in the morning sunshine which I’m grateful for. I’m not paying attention and ride into a traffic cone, it doesn’t take me off my bike but I’ve lost the straw to my hydration bottle at the front of the bike. I really need that so jump off quickly and run back 20 metres to pick it up. Got it! Back on the bike! I’ve completed the first section on the toll road and now I have the wind on my side heading north back up the toll road, it feels like someone attached an engine and I’m really flying, “wind with” is much easier. As I complete my first lap it’s time for a treat. I’ve got 2 “Soreen Malt Loaf” bars, one of which I quickly eat as a reward for making it through the first lap on the toll road! It’s a bit of real food which makes a pleasant change to the 20+ energy gels I have in my drinks bottles for nutrition. One more lap of the toll road to do, the wind seems tougher the 2nd time round and it’s really draining on the legs, but I know once I get to the turnaround point it’s going to fire me along so just stick with it, it won’t last forever and I can’t change the wind! I make it to the cones at the end of the toll road and turn to head back up the toll road for the final time. The wind is definitely my friend now, the after burners are lit and feel like I’m making great progress which is ace! Round the last turn on the toll road and it’s time to exit, only 13 miles back to transition, time for my 2nd “Soreen Malt Loaf” bar! As we ride back towards the town there are people on the pavements cheering and shouting, it’s good to be off the toll road getting support from the crowds again. Into T2 and a member of the support crew takes my bike to rack it and I head down to grab my Run Transition bag and change my cycling shoes to trainers!
T2, I need to grab my cap and put some sunscreen on as it’s 30ºc and the mid afternoon sun is hot! The run course consists of 3 laps around Lake Woodlands and through the town centre. My legs are a bit wobbly from the bike but once I get into my stride it feels ok. I need to try and not run too fast, it’s going to be a long and hot afternoon. On the run course there are aid stations every mile, each handing out water, ice, energy gels, fruit, salty crisps and Red Bull! It’s a fine Ironman buffet!! At the first aid station one of the support crew offers me a sandwich bag with ice in which I put down the back of my tri top to keep me cool. The first 5 miles go by ok. I’d made a deal with myself to try and run to each aid station and then walk through the aid station as I topped up with water and ice. The support out on the run course is AWESOME, people are having small parties and music is playing, the best bit of the run is a section that is known as “Hippie Hollow”. There are lots of people in 70s Fancy dress with music blasting. As I pass through the first time, Bon Jovi, Livin’ on a Prayer is playing (I really wished I was halfway there!) People are singing, dancing and giving you high fives which is a massive boost!!
At the final corner of the run section, someone has placed a big bell with a sticker that says “Ring on your 3rd lap”, only two more laps to go and that’s going to be mine!! I’m making good progress as I get to the halfway point on the run but I start to feel a cramp in the back of my leg, arrggghhh! All through the bike I’d been taking salt stick tablets to help replace the lost minerals through sweating. I’d started to take them on the run but forgot to keep it going and the cramp had started. I had some in the pocket of my tri shorts so I grabbed a few and drank some water. The next few miles will need to be a walk and see what happens. As I passed the next aid station I picked up half a banana and some crisps to help with the salt intake and extra calories. My legs are coming back a bit now and I start to try and pick my feet up again. It’s a very slow “shuffle jog” but it’s progress, and I’m moving forwards faster than if I was walking. This is good, just keep moving forwards! Back through the hippie hollow and everyone is giving out high fives and cheering you on. There is a guy with a bongo drum which all the athletes are banging as they run through, I give it a bang and get an instant power up! The smallest things from supporters can give you the biggest boost to pick your feet up! I pass the bell again, this is going to be my 3rd and final lap! It’s a stop at every aid station now to refill my bag of ice and put it under my cap to keep me cool. As I run back through the centre of town, I start chatting to another athlete who’s on their 2nd lap, she’s running at a good pace and having someone to run and talk to picks up my pace.
As we pass the final aid station, I see the bell… this is it, I’ve completed my last lap… DING DING… I’m on the home straight now, back into the centre of town, 3 more bends to go… round the first one and I can hear the crowds cheering all the other athletes on, it feels like a carnival! This is it, everyone is cheering and shouting, the atmosphere is electric, I can’t believe I’ve made it, round the final corner and onto the magic red carpet…. There is a massive lump in my throat, I have made it, the Ironman finish line is right in front of me… I hear Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, call out:
“From Buckingham Great Britain, 43 year old Rob Kersey, YOU, ARE, AN IRONMAN!”.
I never imagined swimming, cycling and running would take me halfway round the world with such a big smile, it was an amazing experience and one I will remember forever. Time to rest and recover, look back at what went well, what could have gone better and what key lessons will I take forward to my next race.
Anything Is Possible!