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“Ironman UK - Sherbourne, Dorset 2005” by Mike Charlton (Durham Tri Club) Dear All, I must admit that over the last 6 weeks, I never thought I'd be writing this, but I'm now officially an IRONMAN !! And boy does it feel good. Thank you all for your e-mails of encouragement and support or advice over the last 6 weeks, it really did help on some of the more frustrating days. As you know, preparation did not go too well after the car hit me. The physio only signed me fit to compete on the Wednesday and my bike only arrived on the Thursday morning as I was driving down to Sherborne. I had ordered a Merlin but the importers were so unprofessional it was unbelievable and that bike still hasn't turned up. Westbrook Cycles in Stokesley were fantastic and found me a Cervelo R2.5 Team bike and had it shipped same day, staying open through the night to collect it and build it for me in time to collect on Thursday morning. Totally fantastic service. So, to the Ironman. I arrived at the campsite on Thursday having never ridden the bike and yet to swim since the accident (not perfect preparation). The atmosphere was excellent and there were still two days to go. After registering on Friday I had a little shakedown ride and then fitted my tri-bars and X-lab. Then spent 2 hours trying to figure out the transition bags. What made me laugh was the 'Top-Trumps' game that everyone was playing with their TShirts as they walked around the expo - Ironman this - Ironman that, Marathon De Sables, Everest Race etc etc. Plus everyone looked so fit. However, it did remind me of those days in the school yard before exams where everyone talked about the fact they had done no revision to try and look cool, even though they had been swotting 4 hours a day for 3 months! By Saturday’s briefing and transition bike racking I was absolutely cra--ing myself, but found a tubby bloke to sit beside as that made me feel good, until he told me this was his 4th Ironman! Anyway, bike in and bags racked I returned to the campsite to eat. There were now over 4000 people at the campsite all with family and friends but it was strangely silent. This was when I realised everyone was as nervous as me. Sunday morning, 03:30 rise and ate a huge breakfast then set off to the start. It was unreal, 1500 athletes in the morning mist all in wetsuits queuing for the toilets. Time for a couple of Imodium plus. Race was delayed by two hours due to mist on the water and by 08:00 I had p---ed in my wetsuit so many times it was like a sauna. As the mist lifted and the all-clear was given I was filled with excitement and fear. Would the arm work in the swim? Would one-arm swimming get me through? Would I let everyone down ? Soon found out and at 08:09 we were away. I'd heard horror stories about the Sherborne swim, about struggling to get space and it not being deep enough but it was brilliant. I found some space and powered on one handed. At each turn I got more confident and was soooooo relieved to get out of the water at 1 hr 16 mins. (I had planned on 1 hr 50 mins) Very slow and deliberate transition as I completely changed into full cycling gear (no tri-suit heroics for me with 112 miles ahead). I have never seen so many naked bodies in one place. Then picked up my bike and nearly took two people out at the mounting point as I swerved all over the road, not a good start and carefully rode out onto the course. For me, the bike course was excellent. Everyone complaining of the fact it was too hilly, but for all us Durham folk, it was absolutely fantastic as it was just like a training ride up into the Wear Valley. It was hot though and I was taking on over a litre of fluid an hour, but only needed one toilet stop. The bike itself was awesome straight out of the box and contributed to a very comfortable and quick bike time of 6 hours 46 mins which was 45 minutes faster than I had planned and all with an average heart rate lower than anticipated. I passed some 300 + athletes on the bike and gained strength from every one, even though I was worried that I may have been overdoing it. Things were looking good though. As I came into transition I had to laugh as I actually had the most bizarre thought of my life. I actually thought to myself "only the marathon to go!", a phrase that will never form part of my vocabulary again. By this point the field was really spreading out and transition was very quiet, so I felt a little silly standing there totally naked as I changed into my running gear with all the female helpers looking on - not that I cared by that point. As I left transition the crowd was a real lift and I actually felt very strong getting into a steady Ironman shuffle. But then the crowd thins out and you hit Babylon hill at 4 miles, a 150 metre climb that you know you are going to get on the way back! This was where I reverted back to my old military days and did the Para shuffle (much less pretty, but very effective nonetheless). At this point I caught up with another runner and we decided to grind it out together. I had been aiming for a 5 hour marathon but hadn't banked on the hilly nature of the course, it was relentless. It made Sherburn Hill look like a mere bump on the landscape. But grind it out we did, with a mix of running and shuffling and we soon found ourselves heading back into Sherborne. My stomach was cramping up, my legs were screaming out and my calves felt as though someone was twisting a knife into them. My vision had become blurred and my head was pounding, but none of it mattered as you rounded the corner and could see the castle and hear the announcer on the P A system giving out the details of an athlete crossing the line. You knew that within 10 minutes (very painful minutes) 18 months of sacrifice, training, pain, camaraderie and family support was going to be justified. Just one more hill up to the castle. At this point it was dark and I couldn't focus on my watch so I didn't know what the time was, then we heard the announcer screaming our numbers and names and that we had 20 seconds left to break the 13 hour barrier. I don't know where it came from, but we grabbed each other and pulled, pushed, cajoled up the bank eventually breaking out onto the flat section into a sprint and crossing the line in 12 hours 59 minutes and 51 seconds. Don't ask me what it felt like as I was numb. A mixture of painkillers, adrenaline, exhaustion and relief. Was it all worth it - you bet ya! Would I do another one – NEVER! Will I tell everyone I ever meet that I did it - GOD YES! Everyone who took part said that there were better and easier Ironman races, but I have nothing to compare against. All I know is that it hurt like crazy but I loved it. I was two and a half hours faster than I'd planned and I have no desire to go quicker so a lot of demons have been laid to rest. Was the feeling better than crossing the finish line at Prince Bishops alongside Paul in my first Triathlon - I don't think so, just different. I've now been in the sport for a year and I know I'll be doing it for a long time now. That's the beauty of it, it doesn't matter about the distances, or the course, or the times, it's the feeling you get when you cross the line and the people you meet along the way. Long may it continue and good luck Mike Charlton IRONMAN !!!!!!!!!!!!!
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