My Longest Day – Ironman Germany

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					My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey The Preparation Since starting competing in triathlon in 2001 I was in awe of the ultimate endurance event of an Ironman Triathlon consisting of a 2.4mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride and a closing 26.2-mile marathon run – this was just a pipe dream of mine. As my enthusiasm for triathlon grew so did my desire to complete this impossible challenge. I began to step up the training and the competition distances, by the end of 2002 I had undertaken my first Half Ironman event in Llanberis, Snowdonia. To my dismay, on the final part of the run I experienced an excruciating pain in my left leg but still foolishly carried on the last few miles to the finish. I later found out I had broken my leg on the descent from Pen-y-Pass! My determination never faltered and I understood that if I wanted to reach my final goal of an Ironman I would have to train a little smarter! I realised that I had over trained during that year and under the guidance of my team mates I steadily regained my fitness and had a solid 2003 triathlon season. I still longed after my Everest and understood I was not going to get there without some professional assistance. After discussing things through with Katharine (wife) I employed the services of Joe Beer ( and commenced my winter base training in 2003/2004. This added a whole new dimension to my training. I now had a plan and I believed that could now focus on my dream of an Ironman. My 2004 season was my most successful season to date with numerous podium finishes in local triathlons and a top 5% finish in my third Half Ironman in Sherborne, Dorset. I believed it was now time to put my dream into reality. My next dilemma was where in the world should I do my first Ironman (IM)? There were rumours running rife of a full IM in Sherborne, Dorset – this had many advantages – many IM's are abroad but this one was 50 miles from my front door, there would not be a language problem and overall it would be cheaper. The downside would be the several large hills in the area, it was their first one – mistakes were made on the first Half IM there and the support would not be as good as in Europe! I was looking for a fast time on my first IM –the distance was going to be the same but some course profiles are a lot kinder on your legs! After some deliberation with team members, IM Germany was our chosen venue and soon a flurry of entries were entered from the club (6 in total). The easy bit was now done- now came the real hard work. While the event was in July 2005, the training started in October 2003. My training plan was moderated by Joe to slow and steady – as those of you who know me this was alien territory to me! It felt embarrassingly slow at this pace. During previous cross country run sessions I got my heart rate to max out several times during the session – this was totally opposite to my new plan – I had to quickly acclimatise to this new way of training. The Psychology bit During the early winter of 2004 I realised it was not just my body I would have to train it was going to have to be my mind – this is something I had never really thought about. Due to the enormity of the event and the horrendous training schedules involved it was
My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


going to be my mind wanting to give up and not my body. I reaffirmed my friendship with Dave Alcock, a lecturer in Psychology at UWE who has a keen interest in Sports Psychology. Our meetings commenced in early January and were very informal but allowed me to understand the importance of using the power of my brain as part of the arsenal of tools that were going to be used to complete my goal. Dave was intrigued at the thought of such an endurance event. He showed me how to break it down into manageable chunks – ‘you cannot eat a whole elephant but you can start with the trunk and see where you get to!’ One of the most important lessons I learnt was joining ‘Team Me’. This was a special team where I was in control and I was not to get sucked into a testosterone-fuelled battle with training buddies who were doing different events. I also found out about ‘Team Us’, ie, training buddies that had the same common aim and would not deviate from the IM plan. I could not afford to upset all my hard work by stretching my body beyond its limits and become injured or ill which would prevent me from training for a few weeks. Dave’s sessions helped put this worry at bay and allow me concentrate on other things like the actual race itself. We began to break it down into segments:The swim - The 2,000 triathletes in the water all swimming at once was going to be an issue I had to deal with. However, thinking laterally, you really are only going to be affected by the 10 people that were going to be swimming around you. Thus in one quick thought I had reduced the opposition down by 1,989! Not bad. I needed a mental goal to get me through the 2 lap swim. I thought for a moment and came up with my plan of a 75% ‘bonus’ getting to the end of lap 1 and an extra 25% if I see my parents. He asked ‘what would happen if you don’t see your parents on that lap – how will that affect your swim?’ After a few seconds of thought I said – ‘OK I get 100% for getting to the end of the lap and then reward myself with an additional 50% if I see my parents!’ Positive Mental Attitude. On dissecting the bike section, I found out from a training buddy who had done the event the previous year that he had gone off too fast at the start of the bike section. After the first lap of the bike ran out of energy /’bonked’ (triathlon term!) and suffered for the rest of the race, never fully recovering. With this valuable knowledge I named this stretch of road as ‘The Horn’ to portray the devil’s horn. It was a test to see if I could hold myself back while watching all other athletes pass me as they were all fuelled by adrenaline and had little respect for the price they were going to pay later– I would force myself not get swept up in the ‘red mist’ of the race – it was going to be a long day – I would tell myself I would see them on lap 2 of the bike or on the run! At the start of the marathon - I would be a 66% IM and then, with only 26.2 miles to go, I would be able to call myself an Ironman! Many people see the marathon as a huge
My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


achievement in itself, but I was going to have to do this after swimming and cycling for a total of 7 ½ to 8 hours! Whenever I thought of this I would feel a chill run up my back. Then I would imagine myself running across the finish line waving a Union Jack and I would feel an immense sense of pride run through me and I would start to well up. I planned to completely change my race kit from the bike to the run to fool my body into thinking it had fresh legs/body. The run would be 3 laps and I knew once I got started I would be able to finish as long as I did not get a serious injury. My parents threatened me that I was to stop at anytime I ran into any serious difficulty and not to inflict such trauma to my body as in Llanberis. One of my main worries about such an important event was my inability to sleep the nights before the event due to excitement/ trepidation /dread / fear etc. Dave suggested some relaxation techniques which I tried out in the sessions and at home and found them invaluable. I also thought of all the things that could go wrong in the event and tried to mitigate these in turn (key stress moments). I also kept the words of Rich James (friend/ mentor/ training partner / Kingswood Tri Club Chairman) in my head - 75% of the race is won when you get to the start line! I just hoped to get the last 25%! All the above would come into play during the race – read on! The Coach bit In early January 2005, Joe gave me my outline IM plan - 173 days to the event – months away, ‘no probs’ – I thought! Then I looked closely at some of the training distances required 100 mile rides and up to 20 miles running – this is when I took stock of the daunting task ahead of me. My body seemed to sense this as well and in protest I came down with a series of colds and infections which seemed to last for weeks on end – I was so worried I even went to the Doctors – unheard of for me! In my training I was very conscious of ensuring there was sufficient quality time with Katharine as I would not be able to do the event without her continued support. In my build phase I was training up to 14 hours per week and on some occasions up to 17 hours per week. So Wednesday and Friday evenings were sacred and were for our quality time to socialise or go to the cinema. In total (since October 2003) I had clocked up over 900 hours training and since last October had put in an average of 11 hours hard grind each week. This is a phenomenal amount of training and I was relieved to get to the end of June with no serious injury. Now it was time to put it into practice…….. The Physio In order to undertake this excessive amount of exercise I needed monthly courses of massage which was the task of Ian Reinge, of Fishponds. This was invaluable and an essential part of my training programme. Ian was able to assess my body and treat niggles prior to them becoming a serious threat to my well being. Thanks Ian for all your hard work and not forgetting listening to my ramblings while on your massage bench. Ian would understand the importance of the event and would always try to fit me in as soon as possible. In our last session Ian commented on the state of my leg muscles –
My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


after 2 years of treatment I was starting to follow his advice and stretch properly after exercise! The Taper This is the name given to the period of time prior to the event when you reduce the volume and intensity of your training. I was relieved to get to this point in my training plan as it gave me back some of my life I had lost due to the training – However, it was quickly taken up with all the things I had neglected over the last long while! Katharine and I had a multifunctional party (Birthday/ Anniversary/ Garden re-launch and IM party) prior to my departure to Frankfurt where a number of friends confirmed they thought I was a nut case but still wished me the best of luck. A big thank you to all of our family and friends who offered their good wishes and support for the big day. During the day, one of my friends recounted that she had told her mother what I was up to and she replied ‘How many days will that take!’ I laughed at the naivety of the comment – I hoped to finish the event in 11-12 hours! The event still felt along way away and I did not feel really ready. The last few days……. The race suddenly become very real on the Tuesday before the event as I broke my bike down and packed it away in the bike bag. Then I had to sort out my triathlon kit and finally packed my suitcase with a few ‘normal’ clothes! Looking at the weather forecast, it looked very ominous and I thought that this was the only thing I could not change but I had trained in the wet so others would find it as hard. My last race happened in the rain so it could not be any worse – I would have to be prepared! I had planned one last ride prior to getting on the plane on my training bike. Katharine was worried and said ‘what if you have an accident and cannot go’ – ‘Go steady then’. I said I would be careful, as you do to pacify a worried wife but don’t really mean it, so off I went on a 1 hr’s spin along the cycle path. I descended a small hill coming up to an underpass and very nearly came a cropper on a plastic bollard that had been burnt to a stump but just enough to take out your wheel – thanks who ever did this! Once my heart rate came back to normal I proceeded on my way only to get a puncture 200 meters further on! Just my luck! While fixing it I noticed someone sprinting very fast toward the main road in cycling shoes – very strange I thought – then they came running back. I thought nothing of it and carried on my way – we get all sorts in Fishponds and the surrounding area. On my return I was shocked to see an ambulance on the cycle path blocking my way! God what was happening? Was I dreaming? No this was real! Cycling slowly passed it seemed that an old man had hit the plastic ‘stump’ and come off his bike and hit his head on the tarmac. He was not wearing a helmet and was obviously in a bad way. I then heard Katharine’s wise words in my head – ‘go steady’. The accident could have so easily have been me!

My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


At the airport, our first hurdle was getting the bikes through check in. After some lengthy negotiations by Rich we had reduced the overweight baggage from £120 per person to £60 and then to a reasonable £15!! We explained that we did not want the same on our return so we paid another £15 to ensure a smooth transit from Frankfurt back to Bristol. Rich told the check in supervisor if God cycled he would have his bike – which fell on slightly deaf ears. Once in our hotel in Frankfurt it was a great relief to unpack the bike, fit it together and find it all working properly. This was one of my many horrors about things that could go wrong. I did have a backup plan in that I had asked one of my team buddies, Matt to bring a spare set of wheels. Any other problem I would have had to sort out with one of the pre race mechanics. We knew we were not going to have any problems liaising with the local Germans as Lee (Rich’s nephew) had spent 5 years learning the language at the tax payer’s expense. On his first attempt to converse in the native tongue he pondered on his choice of drink and then said ‘Water’ and when the waitress said ‘large?’ he replied with confidence ‘sweet’. Lee’s credibility was well and truly dashed! After dinner we took a small tour of the race finish area – it was a hive of activity with roadies working late into the night trying to finish off the grandstand and athletes village. I woke to find a few butterflies in my stomach which I knew was a good thing as it was dawning on me that all the training was for this event and that within 3 days it was going to be all over. I had a quick thought back to those 173 days on the outline training plan when the race seemed such a long way away. Now we were finally here and there was only one way I was going back home to Blighty - as an Ironman! ‘75% of the race was getting to the start line’ I was not quite there yet but as far as I was concerned I was! The next morning at registration we received a huge goodie bag of IM rucksack, triathlon top, food, maps and Triathlon magazines. It was extremely painless and efficient. It was our first real chance to check out the other athletes – easy to spot with neatly cropped hair, honed muscular bodies and obviously supporting a myriad of IM memorabilia from top to toe! ‘Was I ready?’, ‘Had I done enough training?’ – these were some of the stupid thoughts that were going through my mind. The other competitors all looked remarkably relaxed – I thought I bet they are as apprehensive of the next few days as I was!

My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


Rich, Steve, Lee and I descended on the expo to lighten the Euro’s that were burning holes in our pockets. On returning to the hotel we took out our shiny steeds on a little tour of Frankfurt… Being chicken and not liking riding on the open roads we stuck to the run course and the finish straight. How do you like our matching tops?….. Then it was off to the Race Brief and Pasta Party. On entering we were greeted by friendly bar staff manning free flowing beer pumps! What a place to have free beer 2 days before an Ironman where you could be sure the athletes would be up for about ½ a pint and then roll around drunk on abstinence. The food was exciting, varied and plentiful – there were over 2,000 hungry mouths to feed when all was said and done! This was the first chance to see the full variety of shapes and sizes of our fellow competitors. There were all ages represented from 18- 70! After eating my fill I needed to ablute - as some great mind once said ‘Cr*pping is the fear leaving your body’! That made me smile! And I felt better for it! So it must work! That night’s sleep was planned to be very restful and peaceful but I could not keep my mind from thinking of all the things I had to do as a final check prior to the race. Once I had exhausted this I moved on to all the problems that could go wrong on the day and how I would overcome them. I tried Dave’s relaxation techniques a few times with no direct success – but they let me think of other things for a while. I must have slept for a few hours as I awoke with a shock when the alarm went off. After breakfast it was time to put my race bags together and get my bike to the pickup point to take us to the lake. The sun was really hot and there was no wind. I did not relish the thought of the race in this heat. I prayed for at least a few clouds. We were waiting for Lee to get ready and we realised that space was limited on the bus so we left the hotel to join the queue. We arrived at the bus stop to find a large number of people in front of us patiently waiting/ melting in the sun! Then we realised the bus only had space for 40 bikes there were more than 40 people in front of us. Rich reassured Lee and I that there was plenty of space so not to panic. As time went by and the number of bike racks were dwindling I realised it would be extremely close - as luck would have it one of the loaders picked my bike and then I realised I had the last space! My parents and I boarded the bus with a big sense of relief but I felt bad for Lee as he would have to catch the next bus in an hour! The bus was packed with athletes and supporters I found a patch of floor and sat down, trying to keep off my feet as much as possible. The smell of nervous sweat was very apparent – not sure it was all mine. I lost myself in my thoughts – lost in ‘Ironworld’. On arrival at the lake due to the loading delay we had to walk the last 1.5km which annoyed all of us but that’s life and you make the best of it. Luckily I had M+D to act as porters for my bike and run gear! I had packed for all occasions as the weather was planned to change for the worse. I had made the mistake at Weymouth Tri and did not
My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


want to repeat it. There was a long line people having their bikes and helmets checked and then it was my turn to be escorted to my bike racking position. All the bikes in transition were covered by huge plastic covers. Did the race organisers know something we didn’t about the weather or was it a chance for one of the sponsors to get his logo on 2,000 bikes? I then had to take my race bags to their final resting points – I was loathe to hand them over as I would not see the run bag again until after the bike section. I would have access to the bike bag in the morning to check everything was in order (for the 10th time in reality and 100th time in my mind). Once out of the transition area I met up with M+D to check out the lake and to dip my hand in the water. The 2D laminated plan of the swim course I had been using in my psychology sessions had suddenly become reality. Laid out in front of me were the yellow buoys demarking the swim course. As well as this there was the hr3 presenter (local TV station) doing his sound check announcing the forthcoming ‘Early Bird Party’ starting at 5:30 am the following morning! It was all now very real – in just over 18 hours I would be back here again! Yikes! The water looked cool and inviting but it was missing the 1,999 other people so not really a good thought! We timed our return to perfection as a bus had just dropped off a new set of worried faces and we were some of the first people on to get a seat. I was relieved to see Lee had made it with his bike onto this bus! After lunch M+D and I headed off in the car to reccie the bike course – I felt this was essential as it gave me an appreciation of what was to come. Some may argue that it was not going to be a problem and there would always be someone in front of you. If you were on your own then you would be first or lost and I knew which one I was going to be! The route headed out in an industrial part of Frankfurt and the traffic was quite heavy. I knew that the roads would be closed for the event but all the same I am sure a car would try to get through the barriers and run the gauntlet of a load of cyclists just for the thrill! With Dad negotiating the difficult driving and Mum having the harder job of map reading we headed north out of Frankfurt. Lots of switch backs, honk of horns and one u-turn later, we got to the northern town of Friedberg (where Elvis was stationed during WW2). The route of the course was lined with banners, barriers and posters ready for the next day. We spent the drive time thinking of new names for the different parts of the course and writing course details down. This had a beneficial effect of making it ‘my race’ and it was going to be like a training ride. The hills on the course, The Beast, The Hell (cobbled hill!) and Heartbreak Hill seemed less daunting than their names suggested so this was ticked off one of my many mental lists. However, there were other parts of the course that had just as steep a gradient but had not been mentioned in the race brief so to harness them we christened them as well.
My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


Totally exhausted, we returned back to the hotel and all I wanted to do was fall asleep. After a cat nap it was time for an early pasta supper. This night’s sleep was spent trying out the relaxation techniques – again with little success! Race Day At 3:30am the alarm went off (2:30am English time) – people would only just be coming back from the clubs at this time in Bristol! At 4:00am, we made our way to the dining room and to our amazement the night porter had laid on a full spread of breakfast for us all! This was the first time he had done a cooked breakfast for 10 years! I thought this was not the best time to practice your scrambled egg making! I was apprehensive but at the same time relieved that all my training and preparation had been done and now it was time to prove to myself that I could complete this colossal challenge. The bus journey to the swim was a sombre affair with all of us in deep contemplation and you could hear a few hushed whispers as though it was illegal to talk loudly at this ungodly hour! Quite surprisingly the roads were clear of traffic but the bus driver still managed to take a wrong turn and cunningly did a 3 point turn on the main road as though he was driving a smart car! Great start I thought! There was an air of excitement and expectation stepping of the bus at T1. I waved good-bye to my parents as we entered the athlete’s only area. On moving to our bikes we were met by the greatest bike porn show on earth - more deep rim than deep throat! Here was everybody’s pride and joy and there must have been over £3 million worth of bikes in this small area! Then I thought it is the engine that provides the power not the machine – however it does give you a modest boost having a hand crafted titanium speed machine with disk wheels to add to your arsenal. The ‘Early Bird Party’ began pumping out motivational tunes to get the adrenaline racing through the body. We arrived early so had plenty of time to chat to new best friends – all with similar goals to finish but not too worried about a time. I was remarkably calm at this time – I had done all my worrying prior to this point. I could not change anything – all was in place - my bike was all set and my cycle bag was in place. I walked through transition a few times to familiarise myself with the route to my bike location. I knew it would not be so calm when I finished my swim. The usual butterflies that unsettle my stomach were gone, so no repeated trips to the loo’s were needed – a good sign as the queue were getting quite long. I had packed an emergency loo roll but had no cause to need it. The Swim (2.4 miles) After a team group hug we made our way to the swim entrance. With our wetsuits on we looked like a bunch of giant lemmings following each other into the water. We treaded water in a central location and about 100m back from the start line. Some of the others dropped back a little to suit their pace. I looked
My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


back up the hill and it was a sea of yellow hats again moving down into the water. One of my final thoughts prior to the start was ‘Why after 18 months of dedicated training and preparation was I in a lake at 6:40 in the morning with 2,000 other mad fools!’ There is no answer to this question! The gun fired and my aim was to stick with Rich as far as possible as he had previously done several IM’s and knew what steady pace to keep. I was not used to pacing myself for such an event. My mind thought back to another great IM quote – ‘if it feel fast, it’s definitely too fast. If it feels about right it’s probably too fast, if it feels slow, its about right.’ There was a mêlée of arms and feet all around me but I focused on Rich’s multi coloured back of his wetsuit and we began to move forward at a steady pace and swam around small groups of swimmers taking the odd hit in the process. It was like being in a spin cycle of a washing machine without the soap powder. It was reassuring to see lots of canoeists to assist us if the need arose. The first turn at the top of the lake was a real challenge as it was very congested and we were all pumped with adrenaline – there were arms and legs were everywhere! I was not too worried about the greater picture but I concentrate on those 10 around me as my training had taught me. I survived the onslaught but did lose Rich in the process. The first lap was nearing the beach section and I had promised myself a small mental reward for reaching this point with an added bonus for spotting my M+D. This thought kept me going – I raised my hands as a prearranged signal as it was going to be difficult for them to spot me amongst all the other swimmers all in our wet suits and goggles. However, this was not needed as I was elated to see Dad at the barrier – I had succeeded in my bonus and survived the first lap only 1 more to go! Off I went following someone else’s feet! On this lap second lap I felt a sudden rush of cold water down my back and realised that one of my fellow competitors had kindly pulled the zipper of my wet suit down. Thanks mate – no time to stop with 1,500 swimmers behind me! So I went on to my back and tried as best I could to pull it up and tie it off – I was a little challenged but I managed and it remained most of the way up for the rest of the lap. In the last 200 meters of the swim my arms began to ache but I had a renewed vigor as I was soon to be a 1/3 IM. I didn’t see M+D on the way out of the water but managed a grimace at a camera man. I did see some other KIT support crew who shouted encouragement – Thanks to you all. T1 (For non triathletes -T1 is the area where you change from the swim to the bike) The usual hurried affair was nowhere to be seen – people were taking their time to ponder on what they had just accomplished and preparing them self for the bike segment. I did exactly as the others and slowly checked all my gear and put it on and jogged off to get my bike from its temporary resting point. The pre race preparation was a great help as I went straight to the bike and wheeled it out to the start. The calmness of the changeover was a refreshing change!
My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


The Bike (112 miles) On the track leading from T1, I looked down at my bike computer and to my horror it was not picking up my speed and distance! I stopped on 3 occasions to rectify the problem but resigned myself to focusing on heart rate and cadence (foot rotations per minute). This would have been a complete show stopper if I had not had Dave’s training and I realised I still had the most important functions and carried on my way. I was rolling down ‘The Horn’ and smiling inwardly at all the cyclists shooting past me – also it crossed my mind that I was a better swimmer than they were and possibly a better runner and would see them later! I passed a group of draft busters (bike marshals) who were being given a briefing. I was determined that I would not have any altercation with them having been wrongly accused of drafting (cycling too close behind another competitor and protecting yourself from the wind resistance) at the last Ironman event I completed! Once we were out of Frankfurt and into the villages the crowds lined the route and had set up tables and benches on the road. Some had already started on great big Steins of beer and were very merry – don’t forget this was 8:30 am! The first hill we got to was an experience as it was cobbled and I had just filled my front water bottle. I got a face full of sticky carbo drink and then it descended all over the bike. The crowds closed in ‘Tour de France’ style and were shouting ‘Hopp Hopp’, ‘Zuper’ and ringing cow bells in support. I felt a great sense of pride that they had taken the time to come out and support us. The children held their hands out in anticipation of a ‘high five’. To allow my mind to wander for a short while I allowed myself some time out to oblige the children as long as it was safe to do so. I was not expecting to see my parents on the bike course as I had told then to have a rest as I would need them to be strong for me on the run. As I passed by our hotel I heard my name being shouted out by my fan club and that really lifted my spirits. Only another lap to go (48 miles)! The aid stations were extremely well stocked with power bars, gels, drinks of power bar, Red Bull and water. It was a relief to get to each one in one piece as I was crossing them off on another of my mental lists. As I had no mile indicators it was important to note where they were and how may I had left for the final push to Frankfurt. For the last hour of the bike my feet began to give me a little trouble. The pain began as pins and needles and gradually became more intense until I almost lost the sense of feeling in my feet. I even got off the bike to stretch my feet out of the shoes – this helped and gave me some relief but not a great deal. I feared for the run because if my feet were hurting on the bike, how would they last for the marathon? I pushed this thought to the back of my mind and enjoyed the German scenery and small towns and villages we were passing through. I high fived a few more children to give me a boost for the last part of the bike.
My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


Once we had reached the outskirts of Frankfurt I knew I was going to make it and as luck would have it another of my team buddies, Andy, passed me to give me a grateful mental boost. He asked if I was OK and I said ‘yes’- but in my mind I wanted to swear at him as my feet were killing me and I was about to leap off the bike and run 26 miles! How can anybody be OK at this stage? He pressed on at rapid pace and I again felt good in myself at not chasing him to the finish as I would normally do. The winner of the race would be those who got to the finish line, not who had a good bike split! T2 (the area where you drop your bike off and change into your running gear) It was with a great sense of relief that I approached the end of the bike course as I ached all over, especially my bum which had been sat on a very thin seat for the last 6 ¼ hours! I was looking forward to a good massage to relieve the built up tension in my body. I felt that after a 15 minute massage I would feel like a new man and carry on the run as though I had fresh legs but would my body be fooled? I was looking forward to putting on a fresh set of clothes and not forgetting my treat for finishing the bike some posh Jelly Beans imported from New York! Going into T2, I gleefully handed over the bike and started to prepare myself for the run. I asked for the massage tent and was told that there was no massage and if I wanted a massage it would be the end of the race. My discomfort was not that great so I spent the next 5 minutes stretching as many of my muscles as I could. A stretching session had never felt so good; I gorged on the Jelly Beans. What drives someone to cycle 112 miles for some Jelly Beans? – they were damn good! I realised that there was only 1 tent for the ladies and gents to change in but by this time I did not care and stripped off totally to don the fresh run kit. I decided to put on a long sleeve vest on even though it was baking hot outside as I knew it would actually keep me cooler than a short sleeve one and I would not get sun burnt, another of the potentially lethal issues you had to contend with! The Run (26.2miles) The pain in my feet had abated a little so I told myself – ‘how about running one of the three laps to see how it would feel’? I had planned to run at a 4 hour marathon pace. I needed to do the first lap in 1hour,20 minutes. I felt I could not give up without at least trying the run so I donned my cap and off I hobbled for the next little while. My support crew were near the start and I was so relieved to see them I stopped and touched them to make sure I was not dreaming. They were shouting at me to carry on but I felt I needed to let them know I was alright and ready for a gentle jog in the park. I passed Andy’s wife and children and later Corinne (Matt’s girlfriend) and his parents so I had tripled my support blanket and again this charged my mental batteries and forced me to keep going. The aid stations were every 3 km’s and they were stacked with all sorts of delights from bananas, dried fruit, crackers, oranges and lemons! Yes lemons! – Why? I hear you ask – no idea! But they did take the incredible sweetness out of your mouth and send a sour shockwave through your body and revitalised you for a short while – so it worked for me!
My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


The crowds of support were incredible and they lined the whole route a few deep in places. They all deserve a medal for their assistance as they had had as long a day as the athletes. (see Ken Maclaren article in 220 (August 2005)). My first lap ended in 1hr 20mins. Bang on target. I was ecstatic that even with the early pain in my feet, I had made my pace without really trying. This was down to the countless miles I had done at this pace! I knew the next two laps were not going to be that easy. With 1/3 of the run done and I had made my goal time I thought what the hell, I may as well start the second lap so on I went. Because the run was in a ‘H’ shape my parents could cross the river each lap so I had the chance to see them twice – I never really knew where they were going to be so it kept my mind alert looking for them. The route was also a series of switch backs so I had plenty of opportunities to see my fellow team buddies but I never once thought of chasing them down as this was not part of my intention. I kept saying to myself my only objective was getting to the Finish line in one piece! The run route included a section where a troupe of scantily clad Brazilian dancers strutted their stuff - I unwittingly upped the pace at this point! After completing the second lap in a slightly slower time I was not disappointed – in actual fact I was amazed that I had got this far and it was then that I realised that I was going to finish and a rush of emotion came over me! I felt a real sense of achievement and this helped me through the next part of the course. The third lap was a struggle and I kept reciting Lance Armstrong’s famous words – Quitting in forever, pain is only temporary! This became my mantra for the rest of the run. My knees began to ache and I felt the blisters on my feet pop – I had plasters in my bottle bag but thought that if I stopped to sort them out, it will be extremely difficult to get going again. Then the next panic – my bowels began to twitch and I realised I had to get to a porta loo pronto or there would be a big problem! I managed but only just – my stomach was reacting to the 10 previous hours of high carbohydrate and no roughage! I had trained with the Power Bar nutrition but never to this extent and this was body payback! I had to make one more visit to the porta loo before I finished – not pleasant I know but this is a warts and all account of what’s in store for somebody else if they want to do an Ironman. As I made the last turnaround on the run I realised that I only had a few km’s to go and the race was going to be over – this really spurred me on and I forgot about all the aches and pains and tried to get out of my IM shuffle and run normally to prove to the hordes of crowds I could run even after what I had put my body through. The Finish I headed up the cobbled path to the finish grandstand and was met by an almighty roar from the crowd and the PA announcer called my name out and at the same time I spotted my parents in the Grandstand madly waving their flags. I was flabbergasted at this reception – it was truly awesome! I jumped for joy as I crossed the finish line waving a Union Jack Flag. I was too tired to cry but I was thrilled to be able to call myself an Ironman. I felt like I was on top of the world and the medal around my neck made it all
My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


worth while. I collapsed into my parents arms and they led me to the athletes garden. This was an area where the IM organisers had laid on a massive party with a banqueting tent; massage tent, medical center and not forgetting the hot tubs. People just stripped off and dived into them without a care in the world. The steps up to the hot tub prevented me from joining them as my legs were getting very stiff. After meeting up with some of my team buddies I devoured a plate of food and made my way to the massage tent. After rescuing my bike and triathlon gear it was with great relief I hit my bed. It had been a very long day! ‘Ironworld’ comes to an end I awoke to realise the full magnitude of what I had completed. ‘Wow’, I thought what a day! It was one of the most emotional days of my life since our wedding 13 years ago! I knew race day +1 was going to come but had not really prepared for it. What was I going to do after my recovery? I had been fully focused on the IM and now that was over! I realised I needed to set my sights on some mini goals/events to take me to the end of the triathlon season in October. Back to more immediate issues, my legs and feet were causing me some discomfort but all in all I was surprised at how little damage I seemed to have sustained. After a hearty breakfast we headed off to the after race party where we proudly wore our race finishers T-shirts. The organisers had worked through the night and they had produced a full set of results and all the photos of the athletes. I was lucky as I had managed to get quite a few and they were all good – well I would say that! The Ironman was a very personal event for me – I felt I had shared the day with 2,000 multi national training partners and I had achieved my goal of completing the event. Thanks A special mention has to go to Katharine, my parents, Joe Beer, Ian Reinge, Dave Alcock, family, Tri buddies and friends. Thank you all for all your support and good wishes. It was you all who pulled me through the darker moments of the race- as you have read above there were quite a few of them. It still brings me out in goose bumps when I think of the event and I start to get all emotional! Conclusion I was relieved that I had climbed my Everest but that doesn't mean that I can't look to do K2 in the future!

My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


A few interesting statistics from IM Germany 350,000 Spectators 3,800 Volunteers 14,000 Bananas 12,000 cans of Red bull 8,000 cakes 5,000 oranges 3,000 bread slices 150 kg’s of dried fruit An Ironman does not only waste a load of energy but a load of rubbish,….. 25,000 plastic cups 20,000 sponges 14,000 drinks bottles 12,000 energy gels are all dumped on the streets of Frankfurt. The cost of the clean up is E 40,000 or (£28,000) A father (66) and daughter (32) combo did the event ! One man got into trouble 200m into the swim as he could not breathe Once rescued by the support team he said he could not breathe as the wetsuit he bought 2 days earlier was too small! – I think there is a lesson here! Thanks for reading this far!

My Everest – Ironman Germany 2005 Eric ‘the iron eel’ Downey


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