The premise of Isoman is that a traditional Ironman triathlon is weighted towards the bike. The premise of me entering the Isoman is that I’m no cyclist. “Triathlon Equalised” it claimed, there’s even a prize for the most equal, because this is an event for the balanced triathlete. (Oh, and it’s NOT an Ironman, which is another reason I entered, I’m NEVER doing one of those again!)
I was confident before entering that I could do this. It comprises of a 7 mile swim, (after completing my 1st 5k last year, I reckoned could build up to that,) at 61.3 miles the bike leg is half that of an IM, (hurray!) and a 26.2 mile run (yay, I love marathons!) Throughout my training this confidence never waivered. I knew I could complete the distances each within the 5hrs 30 cut offs.
In the 6 weeks prior to race day I was feeling relaxed and strong. I swam 10k in Windermere, covered the bike and run distances twice and completed a middle distance tri. I had a slight wobble when I realised my estimated finish time could place me last in the field, but given the scale of the challenge, complete not compete was my aim. I didn’t expect to enjoy the day, (this kind of endurance event isn’t fun,) but I had 100% faith in my training.
So, when I was on my final lap of 8 around the lake at Arrow Valley Park and I could only see one other swimmer I wasn’t concerned. I had studied the previous years splits and knew there was a possibility I could be exiting the water up to half an hour after everyone else. Yes, the safety kayakers were all making their way to dry land but I was happy to concentrate on my sighting (the buoys were a long way apart and I had no one to follow.) I’d been keeping an eye on the clock, coming into the feed jetty every 2 laps to refuel and was happy I was on track.
As I approached the timing gate the final time, I couldn’t see the timer, it had been moved. I shouted to hubby, Richard, to call out the time but he shouted back that it didn’t matter; I’d done it. He was urging me out of the water. No wonder! The clock had been shifted as the cut off time was imminent. I had finished with less than 3 minutes to spare!
On the waddle up to transition I was fuming. How had I almost screwed it up? How close had I come to failure without realising it? What had I done wrong? With hindsight, the Windermere swim was probably too close to Isoman for me. I had a niggle in my shoulder as a result and, despite rest, it flared up right from the start. By the end I couldn’t pull back with any gusto and was effectively swimming one-armed. It was taking a lot of concentration on my form to stop me going around in little circles! Another issue I had was that I got caught in the mass starts from the later, shorter distance races. I was battered!
Excuses. Let’s just put it down to the fact that 7 miles is a VERY long way to swim.
My previous swimming had not prepared me for 5 and a half hours of graft and so I knew that, as moved onto the bike, refuelling was going to be an even bigger issue than I’d planned. I wolfed down 2 Mars bars as I changed, but was worried that a bonk was on the cards. I’d suffered this in previous long tri events and was desperate to prevent it this time.
It took 20 miles of constant eating, cheese rolls, wine gums, energy bar, peanuts and isotonic drink to make me feel happy. I re-stocked at the mid-point aid station and set off on what was turning out to be a lovely ride. Even a heavy downpour couldn’t dampen my spirits. I’d not seen another soul, was in last place, but was riding my best, concentrating only on eating and following the yellow signs. Then I managed to pull half a filling out of a tooth on a nasty protein bar and for last 20 miles I could feel my energy levels dipping no matter what I ate. I remembered I had another cheese roll in my back jersey pocket but couldn’t bend my sore shoulder behind me to reach it. I didn’t want to stop, got a little teary, and had an angry rant at my bike.
As I rolled into t2 I shouted for Richard to find me a cup of tea.
A quick change into my running gear, a brew and a scotch egg in hand and I walked around the 1st field grumpily comparing the experience to childbirth. I knew I could run 26.2 miles but had no enthusiasm for the prospect. Could I actually be bothered?
Richard gave me a telling off and sent me stomping off onto the run course, 4 loopy loops around the park. Very quickly I remembered that I’m an ultra runner, that this is the bit I can do, and enjoy. Again, it was all about the fuelling. I’d stuffed a waist pack with a different selection of goodies to those on the bike and had malt loaf, scotch eggs and chocolate pretzel bites to look forward to. Except, I couldn’t eat any of it with a hole in my tooth! Plan B was gels. Lots of gels.
With no significant landmarks to get a handle on I latched on to anything that divided up the laps. Signpost to school. Underpass. Marshal point. Long grass bit. Burnt-out dustbin. Lake. There was no banter with other runners, many of whom were walking, everyone was focussed on doggedly doing their own thing. With several events taking place and runners being on different laps, there was nothing to do but concentrate on my own run and keep it going. Ok, I stopped briefly to look at the little bunny rabbits hopping across the path at dusk and I did chat to the man walking his ferret; but apart from that I was on a mission!
With each lap the number of people out on the course dwindled. As I headed out on the last lap I expected to be on my own. I spotted a group of 4 men were leaving the field, they were about 5 minutes ahead of me so I made it my goal to try and catch them up. Richard waved me off one last time with a shout of “finish it in style!” and off I went.
Determined not to be the last out on the course I slurped another caffeine gel and trotted along singing Bananarama to myself. Pretty soon I could see the group leaving the aid station in the distance. Grabbing another gel from the table and remarking that I intended to catch them I was informed they were a great bunch and would be good company if I could close the gap. Another half mile and I trotted past with feigned nonchalance as they took a walking break!
On the last lap, I was surprised to pass quite a number of people. Most were walking. I kept hearing Richard’s words and was determined to “finish in style.” It may have been a classic ultra running shuffle but I felt good; if even one of these people were in my race it would mean that I wouldn’t place last. Knowing how badly I’d fared on the swim compared to others, I was enjoying being back in my comfort zone.
As I entered the final field there was a couple walking ahead of me. Running; I came up behind them as they broke into a jog for the finishing straight. Instinctively, I broke into a sprint, which the woman tried to kick in alongside. Even as I did it, I thought what a ridiculous thing it was to do. Who has a sprint finish in this sort of event? The likelihood was that I was risking pulling something, for the sake of finishing a split second ahead of someone, who was probably not even in my race! Honestly though it wasn’t about the race then. It was about finishing in style.
The exhaustion came over me like a tidal wave. T-shirt and medal given, bike and kit grabbed from transition and as I sat in the boot of the car watching other runners donning headtorches and still heading out for more laps of the park. I wilted fast. Nausea. Knowing I needed real food but fed up of eating constantly for the last 10hrs. Dizziness. Just the feeling that I wanted to stop and close my eyes. Richard bundled me into the car, forced me to eat and drove me home, making sure I had another cup of tea at the first chance!
I was not hit by a wave of euphoria as I finished; I had been sure from the start that I would. Richard assured me that I wasn’t in last place, related tales of athletes he’d seen drop out and others he was sure were behind me. I was so far behind on the swim, I didn’t believe him. I’d set out to complete and I had but I was disappointed that my marathon split was 4 minutes slower than IM.
The real satisfaction came on Monday when the draft results came out. Not only was the lady from the sprint finish in my race, so were the group of chaps and, it turned out quite a few others! 64 started the race and 56 finished. I placed 42nd, so somewhere on that loopy old run I managed to sneak past 14 people! It gets better. Of the 12 women finishers I was 5th. I was faster than those in 2nd, 3rd and 4th on both the bike and the run (that rotten swim!) Ok, so this is a rather niche event in only it’s 2nd year but becoming only the 11th female to finish something is a bit special.
Isoman is the toughest event I’ve done to date, not because of the distances or the time it took but because of the mental effort it required. Getting the nutrition right was vital; more so after such a long time in the water. Endurance triathlon is like poker: all about strategy. Physically I coped remarkably well and my biggest niggles today are a bit of wetsuit rash on my neck and a mouth ulcer from that damned filling. Funnily enough, I still don’t feel like a proper triathlete, I’m still an ultra runner who can swim and cycle a bit. Would I do it again? Well that swim time is going to bug me for a while…