Would I do another one? You bet I would… but not for a while yet!
On the 6th of July 2014, Lee Sleight took part in the Ironman Frankfurt in memory of his mum who passed away at Thames Hospice last year. The Ironman Challenge is a gruelling 3.8km swim and 180km cycle followed by a marathon to finish! Here Lee has shares his story from the beginning of his journey, through to completing the epic feat.
Swim-bike-run - a three-word mantra defining triathlon, but also encapsulating everything a child learns to do at an early age… but Sunday, 6th of July 2014, was anything but child’s play.
Setting myself the target to complete an Ironman Triathlon in June last year, I knew it would take some planning and dedication to get me to the finish line. Putting together a training plan, my main focus was to increase my swimming efficiency (to comfortably complete the 3.8km open water swim) and increase my bike endurance (the 180km bike ride follows) whilst still leaving enough “in the tank” for the marathon run at the end.
I found a great swimming club and coach (thanks Salvo!) who pushed me to my limits and beyond during the long winter and spring months. Tuesday and Thursday mornings saw me leave the family asleep to meet at the pool for training at 6am… followed by a full day in the office, trying not to develop an over-reliance on coffee!
Biking was my weak point, especially when compared to the tree-trunk-thighed cyclists that thunder by me on a regular basis. I tackled this over a long, wet winter by setting the race bike up on a turbo-trainer in front of an old TV in the garage. Watching DVD box-set after box-set numbed my mind as the bike numbed my nether-regions. But when spring came, I hit the roads and increasing distances were covered at a pleasing speed.
Running was pushed to lunch hours as I gambled on my past ability. The Luxembourg Half Marathon at the end of May saw me achieve a PB of 1 hour 34 minutes fuelled by carbohydrate gels and carried along by a wave of enthusiasm... but then I caught a cold, not a case of man flu but nonetheless sniffles and coughs that I was unable to shake until the final week before the race!
A nervous pre-race week of tweaks to the bike gears and packing-repacking of equipment soon disappeared with the loading of cars, and Team Sleight were on their way to the Frankfurt rendezvous. Race packs were handed out and bikes checked in as the rain started and I noticed that I was the only one:
a) sporting an English “tan” (everyone else had obviously been attending overseas training camps);
b) not wearing an impressive “been there, done that” ironman/ultra endurance event t-shirt;
c) with unshaven legs; and
d) seriously lacking in tattoos.
Team Sleight (athlete plus support crew) enjoyed an early dinner of pasta, burgers and chips, followed by more pasta (as I cleared the kids’ plates) and then retired to bed early. Dad & I set an alarm for 3.58am…. which then went off far too early after a restless night!
A detour around closed roads led to a last-minute adrenalin boost as we arrived at the lake just before 6am. A quick check of the bike and fill of water bottles and then it was time to struggle into my wetsuit and control the nerves as the sun shone down on the crystal blue lake. With the pros starting 15 minutes earlier, I entered the lake with 2,500 would-be ironmen. The starting shot sounded just before 7am and the water turned into a tumult of whirring arms as people fought for space, an elbow to the head unsettled my goggles which I wedged on as I struck out for the first turnaround buoy… Here things got even more fraught with people struggling for clear water amongst the mass of bodies.
Things got better after that first buoy but there was never open water ahead and it felt like swimming in a school of fish! Getting out of the water in a respectable 1 hr 10 min, I then had to run up the sand hill to transition whilst struggling to get out of my wetsuit (always an amusing sight!). A quick change and it was onto the bike and off.
Potholes and tramlines made for fun riding as we navigated through the outskirts of Frankfurt, cheered on by old guys sitting outside the bars with a beer in hand (at 8:30am!). Leaving Frankfurt behind, we headed into the countryside, whizzing our way through picturesque villages, countryside and cobbled roads. Yep, that’s right, one of the hills was cobbled making for a punishing uphill ride and chattering of teeth on the descent! More hills followed culminating in Heartbreak Hill with crowds narrowing down the street to cheer a la Tour de France. A nod to the Elvis statue (he was stationed here as a GI) - an “uh-huh-huh, thank you very much” and it was downhill back into Frankfurt, passing a cheering Team Sleight, before doing it all again! The second lap held no surprises, save the fact that it was not as tough as I had imagined and I managed to hold a decent speed. A final whizz back into Frankfurt, thrusting my bike at a helper, and it was off with the helmet and on with the running shoes.
Feeling surprisingly fresh (everything is relative in Ironman) at the start, I quickly settled into my rhythm. The first 10 km lap went relatively smoothly, so did the second, but things started to get tougher on the third, when the 30 degree heat and punishing kilometres started to take their toll. I wasn't able to eat any gels and it was difficult to stomach water. Aid stations were 2km apart, so it became a routine of water, isotonic water sponges and ice to keep cool. Things deteriorated on the final lap when I resulted to what I termed the “Ironman Shuffle”, with feet barely leaving the ground and scuffling my way along. The mantras become more basic, aimed at reaching the next tree/bridge/shade before setting myself the next target. Kilometres 32 to 39 are a bit of a blur, although I suddenly found myself with a few kilometres left to go and the bloody determination to make it.
The final hurdle
A little stumble onto the finishing carpet and I wobbled across the finishing line an Ironman in 12 hours and 16 minutes - dehydrated, exhausted and swearing never to do one again. Sitting and writing this a week later, I’ve fully recovered and have started training again. Would I do another one? You bet I would… but not for a while yet!
For those of you interested in timings (and giving me a chance to boast just a little more):
3.8km swim - 1 hour 10 minutes
180km bike - 6 hours 19 minutes
42.2km (marathon) - 4 hours 36 minutes
And most importantly, to you my sponsors, THANKS! Together we have raised almost EUR3,500 for Thames Hospice via www.justgiving.com/lee-sleight-ironmanfrankfurt/