The Tuff flag in first position in the water -fantastic work Iris
It is very rewarding if our club can play even a small part in helping our members to attain a PB or step up to a longer distance. Such a goal doesn’t come any more challenging than the full distance Ironman of 2.4mile swim, 112 miles on the bike and finish with a full marathon – 26.2 miles – a grand total of 140.6 miles. Tuff Fitty are delighted to report alongside one experienced Ironman, Craig Hunter, we have three more who have run up the finishing funnel to hear the immortal words “You are an Ironman”. Congratulations to Dom Amey, Mike Barrett & Clare Worgan we are so very proud of you all. Also huge kudos to Iris Bennett who literally flew the flag, popping up around the course all day – as the above photo testifies. Do make time to read each of the Fantastic Four’s stories below; they are so inspirational and who know’s maybe it motivates some other Tuffs to consider the full distance Triathlon?
Ahead of the reports the photo gallery is below:-
Most people will be aware that the Ironman World Championships are held in Kona, indeed a location where Craig Hunter has competed previously. However there had been mounting concern about the logistical inconvenience for the residents of the volcanic island which came to a head last year when the races were split over two days. The conclusion has been reached that the event is now too big for Kona with the result that on September 10th Nice will stage the male World Championship and Kona will host the females. Next year the ladies go to Nice and the gents Kona but this arrangement has caused disquiet where couples wish to compete together, on top of the ever-increasing, already high, cost of Ironman. It is hoped this paragraph explains why this year there has been much talk of qualifying for Nice, albeit the September date is already crowded with other Ironman events including Wales full and Weymouth 70.3 either side of the date.
Craig produced another brilliant performance with Austria adding to an impressive Ironman CV, finishing in a time of just 9 hours 48 minutes. This saw him cross the line in 3rd position in his age category including a strong marathon split time of just 3 hours 20 min despite Craig’s modesty below. When asked about qualification Craig picks up the story:-
“Thankfully I qualified for Nice last year so I’ll be going in September. The downhill is going to be interesting 🤔”
“It was nice to meet some fellow Tuffs out there who did really well 👏👏”
“Race – The stunning lake and canal made the swim enjoyable. I don’t think you could want for a better location. Had cramp in my thighs halfway through but didn’t worry too much about it”.
“The two loop rolling bike course is stunning. Great support from the locals. Swim and bike times were about what I expected and was really looking forward to getting into my run”.
“Run started on pace but after a few miles the cramp in my thighs came back really and I really couldn’t run properly from that point on. Grovelled home a bit disappointed but really enjoyed the weekend in Klagenfurt”.
“I wonder if I can do that” I thought to myself six years ago as I listened to a friend talk about her Ironman experience. At that point I was in the depths of grief after Alice had died, I may not have been thinking straight but thoughts turned into action as I googled ‘triathlon clubs in west sussex’
Joining Tuff Fitty has been one of my better life decisions. Slowly over the years I’ve turned into a triathlete and met some wonderful friends along the way. Those friends include Dom, Mike and Iris, my fellow Ironman adventurers, and what a wonderful weekend we had in Austria.
The event atmosphere was inspiring and the setting was beautiful. I loved the swim, the lake was clear and warm, I could have happily stayed in there for another lap but I had to get out and onto the dreaded bike. My biggest worry was not making the bike cut off time, so I knew I had to give it everything.
I actually enjoyed the first half of the bike course, beautiful views and the cheers from the Austrian crowds pushed me up those hills. The second half was hard. The sun was high in the sky, it was very hot and around every corner was yet another climb. A little determination and a lot of swearing that got me into T2 but I was well inside the cut off so very happy and relieved to go out on the run.
The run didn’t go to plan, I think I underestimated the heat on the bike and was dehydrated into the run which caused major stomach cramps. I had to walk more than I wanted to but I did the maths and knew I had plenty of time before the cut off so focused on making it up that red carpet. “Never again!” came out of my mouth many times on that run. The finish line was quite overwhelming and made all the more special knowing that the Tuffs at home were cheering us on (thanks guys 🤗). At the end there were big hugs for Mike and Dom, who were just awesome and Iris, the best of support crews.
If anyone is thinking of an Ironman I would certainly say go for it. The training is relentless and the race is ridiculously tough but so worth it. I have wonderful memories shared with good friends and a huge sense of achievement. Now my thoughts turn to “when can I do it all again”
“Way back in lockdown times Clare and I ran together and talked about the idea of one day doing an Ironman. It seemed almost impossible that travel or large gatherings would ever return to normal back then but 3 years on it feels like a lifetime ago that we were so restricted. Mike and I also started having Ironman conversations some time ago and gradually pipe dreams became real ideas soon followed by first payment instalments and commitment to months of long distance training.
We looked at a few but settled on Austria for its beautiful lake swim, “rolling” bike course and flat run (2 of those were true!) and training began in earnest at the back end of 2022. Long winter bike rides became the Sunday morning norm and weekly training hours increased as we all tried to juggle the 3 disciplines.
After some early season sun at the Tuff training camp in Majorca it finally felt like the long winter was behind us which was quite a relief and then all of a sudden we were counting down to the big day in days rather than weeks.
Austria is a beautiful country with picture perfect mountains and lakes and our race setting was spectacular. The 3.8k swim is mostly in a lake but the last kilometre or so is up a canal with hundreds of spectators lining the banks creating a superb atmosphere. It was self seeded and a rolling start, apparently everyone was super optimistic with their seeding as we all spent the swim picking our way through slower swimmers but there didn’t really seem to be packs forming so perhaps it didn’t make a huge difference. A long run to T1 and then out on the bike which may have started out fitting the rolling description but soon became hot and hilly. None of the climbs were huge but some were definitely steep enough to sap the legs and as temperatures started to nudge towards 30C it was getting tough out there. That said, it was great to see spectators dotted along the whole route, some of the towns were really busy, the locals definitely appreciate having a big race here.
Even though the promise of a final 25k downhill to the finish was stretching the truth there was some downhill towards the end. It definitely felt like we’d earned it and I was glad to get off the bike.
The run route was 2 laps, each lap went west for an out and back and then back to the centre and east for another out and back. Roughly 10k for each of the 4 segments. Getting my trainers on mid afternoon the first 10k was super hot, no shade, no wind and blazing sunshine, it was a tough start to the run. I’m not sure I’d realised quite how tough until I made it back through the start point to head east for the first time and found that running was so much easier under the shade of the trees that line the canal. There were great crowds on this section too and I was getting a lot of energy from interacting with them as much as I could. Iris spent the day running all over the place and kept popping up to support us which was fantastic, my mate Dan had also travelled down from his home 3 hours north of Klagenfurt and it was great to get cheered on by him.
I was slightly dreading heading back out to the western arm of the course again but in fact it had started to cool down a bit by the time I got there. I settled in to a rhythm of walking the aid stations to take on fuel and liquid and although it was getting harder to start running again as I passed each one I was managing ok until I hit one on the eastern arm at around 34km. After having a clear idea of what I wanted from all of the previous stations I suddenly arrived at this one without deciding and my focus just went all of a sudden. I did grab some food in the end and I walked with it but this time I just couldn’t get back in to a run. I’d walked too far and my quads had started to seize up. I needed a bit of crowd energy to get going again and fortunately I spotted someone who was giving walkers a hard time so I was able to catch his eye and use his encouraging/bullying shouts to get going again. It was a bit of an awkward waddle to start with (to be honest, the whole run was probably a bit of an awkward waddle) but I managed to get moving again and my quads gradually eased. After that I decided I just needed to crack on, I’d eaten enough sweet stuff to last a lifetime, taking on any more of anything wasn’t going to make much difference now so I just ran through the last 7k, very pleased that I was able to get it done at a reasonable pace having had such a slump before.
The crowds lined the finish chute to cheer everyone home and there’s no doubt it is a special atmosphere to finish a race. Iris had popped up at the right time again and there was just time for a quick hug before the finish line (I know you don’t believe me Iris but those 15 seconds really don’t matter to me) which was up a ramp on to a big stage, lights flashing and music pounding out, they really do know how to put on a show.
And then the reality of the 3am alarm clock and a long day out in the sun hits pretty quickly, I was exhausted but also pleased and relieved at how well the day had gone. I’d hit all of my Ironman goals and had a wonderful weekend away with great friends. If you’ve ever been tempted I’d thoroughly recommend it, it really is a fantastic experience, one that will certainly stay with me for a very long time”.
Everybody’s Ironman journey is different for many reasons, when Dom and Clare announced they were on for Ironman Austria 2023, I hesitated at first as swimming isn’t my strength and I’ve never run further than 21k. A little procrastination and then sod it, I’m in! I recall timings from 70.3’s and set a target time of 10hrs not including transition. I believe this is achievable and set up a training plan.
It’s the end of October and I’m flying down the hill, I mean mountain, in Bike Park Wales stupidly trying to catch Pete Littleboy and pop, I jump and land badly, a few days later I’m in AE and being told it’s going into plaster followed by surgery (a full plate and 7 pins into the elbow). Mid-February and I’ve achieved a few swims and a few Zwift sessions, by mid-April I’m back to full training.
It’s late April and I’m out running just before Majorca training camp and pop, my right of my calf goes. I’ve had this before, I know it’s not good and requires at least 3 weeks rest, my fear was more missing out in Majorca. Fortunately, rest worked and I was able to enjoy a full Tour De Majorca training camp and achieved running 42k across the 6 days we were there. Back in the Kingdom and I’m upping my training, I attend Tuff Saturday morning run, running with no other than Peter Littleboy and the inside of the my right calf starts to bite, I back out of the run quickly and gently get back to the car for some nursing… No running for 3 weeks, I go for a jog down the road and bang the achilleas goes. I get home! I am 4 weeks out from Austria what the **** am I going to do???
I franticly ring around physiotherapists pleading if they can cure me before June 14th!!! I find one who is hell bent on making me stretch than treat, I cough up for 5 treatments. In between this, I’m also up and down the country working a contract for Matalan who’s head office is in Liverpool… It is now Tuesday June 13th and I’ve not run since May 8th, the treatment however stupid and wrong it felt, has appeared to have worked and I’m ready to fly! 3 weeks ago I couldn’t walk across the room! Now cured, in my final week I decide to injure myself again by stubbing my toe, black and blue and race ready! Sooo, poor me and my Ironman build up.
Sunday 18th and it’s race day.
I’m confident, but I know I can’t get 10 hours however, something between 11 and 12 hours would be a good target, I know I’m strong on the bike and I feel like (with all the rest) I can run at 6 minute pace forever. So that’s my stupid and crazy target.
Lovely warm waters, it is, as other Tuffs shared with me a great experience for a swim, around 2800 meters are a flat lake before condensing down to a canal for the final 1000m. What can I say, it’s all very enjoyable and doable for medium based swimmers. The turn towards the canal is tricky as you are swimming into the sun and the canal does go on a bit, I was ready to get out around 3400m. At this point, I randomly pop my head up for the first time to see the Tuff flag and Iris shouting, “don’t bloody stop you’re nearly there”.
Deliberating with Jon Roper I ask him, if you were me Jon and knowing the race, what would you ride, the TT or the Road Bike? Road bike Jon says, comfort over speed. And so…. I choose my TT bike. It is my trusty steed for these situations having competed 5 70.3 around the world, I know I can go fast, really fast in this.
First bike failure… riding a TT bike set up for speed, is not a great choice for a 180k bike ride.
Second failure, I did check and test my bike, twice in fact before race day. But, it wasn’t bump fit. In the UK we have pot holes, in Austria they have gaps in the road. Big gaps that when riding in the TT position make your body shudder, da doom, ba dump, da doom, ba dump… and with a metal plate in my arm around 90k my elbow was sore as hell and I kept having to sit up. Made worse as Jon Roper’s face keeps appearing in my thought bubble with his finger wagging … “I told you the Road Bike“, he wasn’t making it any easier.
Third failure…. The bumps caused the seat to drop putting me in a very painful bike position and I just couldn’t hold the TT position for any length of time.
Fourth failure… and pretty much the fatal one, near kilometre 130 my gear shifter popped out of the housing and was loose. Making it virtually impossible to change gear. The net result was riding up and down some tough hills in the wrong gear by the last hill I was done! My back, my arms, my elbow were screaming … but it was my thighs which were burnt.
The route is rolling hills, I’m flying from the start and the TT bike is paying off, I catch Dom but something isn’t right and I’m losing power he catches me back up on one of the hills, you ok he says…? Yeah but something isn’t right and I explain. I power on and make it to the mechanic station to sort the saddle out. Hopping back on, it feels good, that’s better and I’m back on it, hang on there’s the Tuff flag and Iris (what the, how did she get there??) another 20k goes by and catch Dom back up… explain the saddle and we ride together for a bit, another big ba bump and the saddle shifts again, I ride the next 20k in a very awkward position. At 90k we stop together at the special needs station and I again attempt to resolve the saddle problem. Dom’s pit stop was quick and he was off, I faffed a little before restarting. With the saddle now as tight as I could make it, (without fracturing the carbon) I set off. I catch Dom (again) we exchange and now I’m head down all the way still with several big climbs in my way to the finish line. Again I spot Iris, she’s like Miss PopOff (Rent-a-Ghost (those old enough to remember)) who, when sneezed would arrive in a new place.
Another big bump in the road and this time the shifter has come loose, flapping about in the wind, this is not good, as the climb ahead of me rises I’m frantically trying to steer, hold the cable and shift, I manage to get it into a lowish gear but it’s not the right gear and I’m standing on the peddles to get to the top, thighs screaming… ouuuuuwwwwwww, stopppp. The way down the other side isn’t much better as I can’t safely hold the cable and get into a high enough gear to make up the lost ground on the way up… (If only I’d brought my other bike!!!)
This hurt me. I set off running at 6 minute pace but my thighs at this point were slabs of concrete, around kilometre 4 Dom passed me, we chatted and I shared how much I was in a dark place. I plodded on, my pace dropping and dropping… It was so hot out there. The saving grace was that there was an aid station every 2km and we can all run 2k and then walk a bit. It was hard and the realisation of not knowing what 30k or more actually felt like was a metal challenge, never once did I feel like I would quit though. My calf and my achilleas never hurting just the relentless pain in my thighs. Our support crew was brilliant not just because it was Iris but because it lifts your spirits there’s time to stop and chat and share, although not sure you could call what I was saying as chat, “I am never [beep] [beep] doing this [beep] again“. I left Iris with the words, “have I really got to go around again?” And off I plodded, “come on you got this” she shouts… I ran again the 2k to the next aid station. Stopped, taking on more water. Hosing myself down with the brilliant Ironman volunteers. A quick chat with myself which is often heard of when doing these endurance events and I went into 1 minute run, 1 minute walk. It was the only way I was going to get around this final part of the course. A blister the size of the moon on the sole of my foot and 10k to go, it wasn’t long before I was around and in to the final 1km.
The finish chute
Things happen for a reason and today, the slow pace meant I could do the finish chute in the dark (LOL, that’s what I’d convinced myself anyway) which is a much better experience (so the two athletes either side of me told me).
The Ironman compere on the mic has been going since the early hours of this morning and his passion for Ironman and its competitors is relentless, he speaks about you like you’re the first athlete of the day not the two thousand and thirty first. The music is loud, heart pounding, Michael Barrett from the United Kingdom, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN… and up the 50 yards I travel, the crowd are shouting and elated for me, I can’t see a thing for the lights just the stage and the finish line. I choose the right side of the chute and high five 3 people (one of which was Iris ;-)) and I was done.
Dom is in the athlete’s finishers tent (eating again), I’ve caught up with Iris and we’re waiting for Clare and tracking her. The music is still pumping and the voice over guy is on Duracell because his drive and passion still hasn’t altered. The atmosphere is loud and buzzing and Clare comes around the corner and she too is an Ironman. How you feeling Iris says to me. “just my thighs, they’re so sore, I can’t walk properly! ” As I download my poor me story, she asks would you do it again? “I’m not sure, maybe!! LOL… I need to conquer the bike!“.
I don’t think there are many Tuff’s who I have had the pleasure of meeting who, if they put their mind to it, couldn’t do this Ironman. It truly is an epic stage for your first Ironman or if you’re a seasoned Ironman and want to do a fast course then this is it.
One of my take away thought (no pun intended) is that I simply didn’t have the stomach to do the Ironman and by stomach I literally mean tummy, my tummy. Both Clare and Dom have this remarkable ability to eat, to eat when they’re not hungry, to consume food when they’re full. I’m eating small bowls of pasta, feeling full and stopping, I’m waking in the morning not hungry and therefore not eating, I have brunch and maybe an evening meal. I tried really hard to teach myself to eat but I this year I just didn’t have the stomach (must do better read my report) or the best build up to realise my times.
6pm, Pasta in the form of linguine, it was a relatively large bowl and I ate it all.
7pm, back at the apartment, I didn’t feel like eating, so I didn’t
Sunday Morning (Race Day)
5:45, forced down 3/4 of a bowl of shreddies and 2 slices of toast
6:30, in water for warm up, left banana on the side as couldn’t face eating it
7am, started swim
8:30am, on bike and ate a rolled up crepe and a few gels, at 90k, stopped and had half a homemade cheese and cucumber baguette
5pm on the run, a slice of pizza and some orange segments
11pm in bed, with a single slice of toast
According to Garmin, I burnt around 10,000 calories.
Challenge Roth anyone where do I sign!!!!
Thank you Dom and Clare for sharing this journey with me, and of course thank you Iris for supporting me along the bumpy journey. And thank you too to all the Tuffs who send words of encouragement and watched through the lens of the Ironman App. It is sooooo powerful getting Texts and WhatsApp messages and a Tuff card pre and post-race.