Saturday 1 July and it was time to head to Edinburgh to register for the following day, drop off my cycling kit, rack my bike and drop off my running kit. I then attended the race brief from the challenge organisers, Ironman. Nerves, excitement, apprehension, trepidation all rolled into one and meeting and talking to other participants only heightened those feelings.
A trip to Prestonpans to look at the swim course just one more time before the big day made things worse. A very choppy sea with high winds throughout the day and the same predicted for the following morning made my tummy churn and my head spin at the thought of what was to come.
Well the big day came and with all of my training done, very little sleep the night before, a forced breakfast of porridge, banana and coffee, we headed off to collect a local fellow participant Hector and his partner Sam and went to Edinburgh to collect coach Mark and on to Prestonpans to the swim start.
The car was a mixture of nervous chatter, laughs and jokes about what the day ahead would bring. We then discovered a decision had been taken at 5am that morning to reduce the distance of the swim to 1000 metres due to the adverse weather. Hector was disappointed but to be honest I really didn’t care, my gut told me the swim that morning would be a challenge.
We got ourselves ready: wetsuit on. I had eventually treated myself to a nice new one for the occasion that had been broken in nicely with prior swims at Pilmuir and Portobello. The countdown commenced and the professionals got themselves ready for the start. The horn blew and off they went into what I can only describe as a washing machine of waves. We watched as the professionals chopped their way through and over the waves and on to the course proper, making their way around that 1000-metre course in no time.
It was then our turn. My game plan was to remain at the back of the pack and to the right, allowing myself as much room as I needed and avoiding any collisions with other participants.
This plan went right out the window. There I was mid-pack, right in the middle of the group among lots more nervous participants including Ian, a guy who participated in the North Course 500 cycle with me the previous year, and new-found friend Lisa, who had been introduced by another fellow athlete and friend Paul.
Something in my mind just switched and my focus changed: “Let’s get through this and get it done.” I entered the water after what felt like forever and fought my way around the course battling waves from all directions. I received a few undeliberate knocks from fellow competitors who like me were doing all they could just to get through the water. Front crawl, breast stroke, doggie paddle and side stroke … no rhythm, no routine, just dragging myself through the course and aiming to keep the buoys to my left side as the current pushed me in the opposite direction.
Five yellow buoys behind me and just the orange one to go, which was to remain on my right side, and I would be on the home straight. Easier said than done when the tide is fighting with you every stroke to push you in the opposite direction. With the last one eventually behind me I was making my way back to the shore and it started to feel a little better.
I was trying to work with the waves to help me forward towards the spectators. I could hear the cheering and support of the people on the beach and then clearly heard the shouting of both my hubby Neil and coach Mark hollering their support. Almost there and within 30 metres of getting my feet on the sand I scrambled forward, found my feet and managed to stand up. As I punched the air and waved my arms with the relief and pride I knew the toughest part of the challenge for me was over.
Transition, well that was harder than I thought. Cold and wet from the sea with a smile from ear to ear, changing from wet kit to dry and onto the bike took a lot longer than I ever expected. Who would have thought a dry pair of socks could be such a challenge? Eventually outside the changing area and reaching for my bike I made my way to the start of the cycle and welcomed the sight of Neil and Mark cheering me on again at the start of my favorite discipline of the day.
All 56 miles of that ride felt like it was into a headwind but I really didn’t care, the support from the marshalls, volunteers at the drink and food stations, other participants, and supporters on the course made it a fantastic experience and one I will never forget. Having completed the bike course previously I was familiar with the course and knew what to expect. However, the wind could have been kinder and the course took me longer than it had previously. I didn’t really care, I just worked my way through it, taking it all in and enjoying every mile - even the tough ones.
Holyrood Park was a welcome sight and seeing my supporters as well as my family as I entered the park was fantastic. I thought I was done but, oh no, a further climb up Arthur’s Seat and then a descent into the changing area to get ready for the run.
Three laps of the running course proved a challenge for the mind. I like a start and finish point, so running laps of a course would never be my preference. The uphill sections were tough to deal with as my body started to tire. However, having some company from Michelle and Carol who I had met during the day at various stages kept me going and we got through the three laps with dogged determination.
With the finish line in sight and the increased noise of the welcoming crowd at the red carpet I ran on. They called out my name and welcomed me as an “Ironman” and the final sprint I had kept in the tank for just this very moment propelled me forward and through the finish to the welcome sight of my family, friends and the finishing team with my medal and foil blanket. I did it!!
An amazing day experienced with some amazing people for an amazing cause and one that I will never ever forget.