Ironman Race Report

How on earth have I come to be here? It’s 6.00am and I feel like I am having an out of body experience. I am stood almost at the back of long queue of people in wetsuits, swim caps and goggles waiting for Ironman UK to start.

Rewind just 4 months when I made a rash decision to enter and start training. WHY?
For most of 2015 I had suffered with depression…it really knocked me for six. I stopped exercising, spent a disproportionate amount of time in the safety of my bed, started to drink far too much and put 2 stone on as a consequence. I felt like I was dying and just didn’t recognise myself.

I have always loved fitness and I desperately missed having the desire to do it. The doctors prescribed anti depressants but they were not for me… I needed something to focus on…something that was going to get me fit again…but it had to be a tough challenge..I didn’t want to be able to wing it!

After reading Operation Ironman by George Mahood I decided on BOLTON IRONMAN…no spaces left…no problem..I had decided and felt determined for the first time in 12 months so I grabbed a Charity place with SCOPE…I WAS IN!

I tried not to be discouraged that I had never done ANY triathlon before, only once tried open water swimming but had a major panic attack for my effort, not run for years and the only cycling I did was teaching spinning classes…oh and I had a bad back. It all just added to the challenge.

Back to the queue in the field in BOLTON…we start moving forward…oh shit…why hadn’t I even practiced by doing a sprint triathlon in training…because like having your first child..ignorance is bliss!

I flopped into the water which concealed my emotional tears…lots of people swam past as I faffed about a bit adjusting to the murk and the reeds..then I was off. I never knew 1 hour 40 minutes pass so pleasantly…There is one guy though who keeps swimming across me, and I thought my line of swimming was bad! It was really annoying at first, but this turned into utter relief as he was with me the whole of the 2nd lap as well..it was like having a friendly annoying wasp by your side…made me feel less isolated, he was oblivious but thank you to whoever you are.

I exit the water in an ungainly fashion and the guy next to me trips and falls…I help pick him up, which feels like handling a giant eel and we proceed to do a sort of tango, country dance fusion down the gangway towards T1 to much applause!

I take so long in T1, I literally could have my hair blow dried in the time it takes! Only women will understand this and I am sorry to be graphic…but my period started the night before…4 days early! Just something to make the IRONMAN challenge even harder! Who uses T1 toilets when you have just exited a giant communal one?…I have to!!

More necessary faffing and I grab my bike which is very easy to find as there are not many left, probably the only positive about being at the back. 

It’s laden up with my nutrition of choice…controversial I Know, but I am doing the whole thing on freshly made fruit/veg smoothie. I have 2.5 litres of the stuff on my bike. Banana, avocado, celery, cucumber, pineapple, Apple, lime and hemp protein powder….delicious, natural and easy to digest. It does the job. I am also reassured by the photograph of my husband and 3 children I have stuck to my bike frame…along with some words of encouragement and two silver feathers…I know I am a soft git! 

As I get a few miles in I am aware that there are not many others to be seen..I overtake a few stragglers which feels like I should be awarded the yellow jersey for my achievement! I eventually get to the two 47 mile loops and I now feel like I have joined the party. I love it, even the hills. I turn into Babylon Lane and experience the euphoria of COLT alley which happens to be my very lovely local tri club…There are so many supporters there it’s hard to take it all in. It is like walking down the aisle on your wedding day and you just don’t have time to connect with all the smiling friendly faces. The tears come and I feel an overwhelming sense of achievement…I want to go round again…oh I have to! 

Hunters hill is another highlight…The flat roads seem to have gone on for ever so I welcome turning into the challenge. The support is just incredible…I spot another couple of COLTS who help more than they realise..it’s bloody hard but good..I want to go round again..oh I have to! 

The 2nd lap is a very different story..the party seems to have finished and someone forgot to tell me to leave. I find myself cycling mainly on my own..it really does feel like I am out for a Sunday ride, not taking part in the biggest Triathlon in the country!  

Even COLT alley was almost empty..just my friends and family and 2 die hard COLTS..thank you! There are just 3 people left on Hunters Hill…I really do dig deep mentally…I just will myself up, thinking of all the people who have helped and supported me…I am utterly delighted that I do not have to get off and push. Emotionally I am struggling though…The solitude is killing me…It is touch and go if I am going to make T2 cut off. My chain falls off for the 4th time and I stop yet again at a portaloo…it’s just a random set of 3 on a lovely country lane…they look more like Dr Who’s Tardis. I must have spent at least 30 minutes on toilet stops…so frustrating but it is what it is.

I go in and sit there for 8 minutes!!! Who the hell does that in an IRONMAN…but I feel broken and I am so close to quitting but I know it’s not an option.


I come out and hit the last 5 miles hard and just make T2. The volunteers are amazing and recognise me from Facebook…’are you Sally with the fandango on fire?!’ This really makes me laugh as I shout out that it feels like it has fallen off!

Another long transition but I just make the cut off. My back is killing but holding up. My plan is to walk the first couple of miles until I can straighten up. It’s hot, hard and lonely. I am trying to work out the numbers…Is it normal to spend all your time doing this? It is doable but it is going to be close…I always knew it would be and that makes the challenge even more important to me.

Like the bike loop I have to shuffle to the party that was going on when you reached the loops. On the way, I feel foolish as I pass IRONMAN local side street parties that had obviously finished ages ago when the other athletes had passed in their hoards. People were still sat out round tables drinking… they didn’t notice me.

One elderly couple are still sat out and clap as I hobble past..I still love them.

I get to the laps…party number 2! I want a band immediately…not realising I have to run 3/4 of a lap first. Envy is not a good quality but I just cannot take my eyes of people’s wrists, 2 and 3 coloured bands..I am looking at them in awe running past me on the opposite side of the road. I have to really stop myself jumping over and getting a piggy back. I feel so much admiration for everyone else on the course and use it to motivate me to get my first lap band.

I am walking a lot now..I just can’t seem to go faster…I have to stop at the portaloos twice on every lap…it is what it is. My family and friends are supporting me. As I run past them, my son who couldn’t be there, is on FaceTime…the floodgates open. I am emotional and it is getting dark. The supporters have left the metal barriers and everything feels quite eerie but I know I am coming to the end of my almighty challenge. I look up and see the full moon…come on Sally, get over yourself and get a shift on!

A lone runner, Steve, comes from behind along with the sweepers on the bikes and tells me we are the last people on the course. Everyone else behind were pulled as they didn’t make the 10.20pm last lap cut off.

I cry and shuffle and listen to Steve and the sweepers encouraging me as we literally shuffle along together.

With just 2 miles to go a COLT comes out of the darkness and gives me much needed encouragement..as I have fallen behind Steve…I tell the sweepers I doubt I will make my time…i just can’t seem to run faster.

I pass my cut off time with less the a mile to go. I keep going, keep crying with disbelief that I am going to complete the IRONMAN distance. I ‘run’ into the town centre….Everyone has gone home…the noise I was greeted with on previous laps is now a dark silence. There is no man on a microphone and no official photographer. The dismantling process has begun. I am late for the party for the third time that day! I run under the IRONMAN finish line…17 hours and 12 minutes (approximately). I am classed as a DNF..I know it feels harsh but I respect this rule..I knew it when I signed up but I am delighted as I still did the distance!

When I signed up just 4 months ago to the mad world of IRONMAN my goal was to do enough training to get me out of my bed and out of my depression, to just get to the start line…BELIEVING I could complete it. I achieved that and so much more. One man messaged me before the race to say the dark moments you experience in IRONMAN are nothing compared to the dark moments of depression…he was so right. No matter how physically hard the swim, bike and run gets it is all far better than hiding under your duvet not wanting to live. If I can inspire just one person to exercise as medication for depression then it has all been worth it. It doesn’t have to be an IRONMAN…it could be a 5K run…just something that gets you moving. Never underestimate the gift of movement, we all so often take it for granted.
Thank you IRONMAN for making me wanting to be me again. I will be back next year to hear those immortal words..”SALLY WILKINSON YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!

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