With my 40th year approaching fast, I wanted to set myself a suitable challenge. In 2011 I had completed two marathons and really enjoyed setting myself a goal and completing it. Having the discipline to find a training plan and sticking to it suits my personality. It gives me a sense of achievement.
With my running taking its toll on my body and getting niggling injuries I decided to try swimming and cycling with a group of fellow runners. They too were suffering with injuries and we sought solace in still getting together to do different sporting activities. The thing was that swimming and cycling were just as exciting as running. So we all decided to give triathlon a try! I decided the Austria Ironman would be a great first one for me.
I flew out to
At the race briefing, it was announced that under triathlon rules the water temperature was too warm for competitors to wear wetsuits at 25.5c. Wetsuits give you extra buoyancy enabling you to swim faster. This is quite a big deal for people whose swim is their weakest discipline. There were some who didn't make the swim within the allocated time and were therefore disqualified and unable to complete the race. My ability at all three disciplines is fairly similar so this decision wasn't too much of a problem for me. It probably added 5-10 minutes to my overall time. Still, very daunting though!
Race Day: Ironman races have an overall cut off time of 17.00 hours. This is so people finish the race the same day that they started! Our gun was set to go off at 7.00 am. As I was staying 30 minutes drive from the start, I had to be up at 3.00 am to have breakfast, get to the transition area to check my bike, pump tyres and do one final look in my race day bags. It was a stunning (warm!) day. Temperatures were due to rise to 39c!
As I said goodbye to my family I was absolutely petrified; how on earth was I going to do this and what on earth was I thinking?! That usual feeling of doubt & uncertainty before an event was set in! There was a sea of white swimming hats lined up on the shore of Lake Worther See, music was pumping all around and crowds of loyal spectators fought for their places against the Iron balustrade, hoping to get a glimpse of their loved ones (which is nigh on impossible!).
I suddenly wasn't nervous anymore, I was so excited. I had worked hard and put 100% into my training, there was no turning back; I was going to enjoy this. The gun went and I entered the water along with 2,700 other athletes. It was like being in a washing machine! I was punched and kicked. It was hard to get a good swimming stoke, but I eventually managed to start swimming in earnest! 2,800m of the swim were in the beautiful clear blue alpine lake. The last 1000m went up a narrow (and muddy) canal, lined with spectators. Usually when swimming you cant hear what is going on around you, but this was amazing: people were ringing cow bells and shouting encouragement all the way. What an amazing atmosphere.
Swim complete, my mind started focusing on the next stage, the two-lap 112 mile bike course. The first lap was hard, I was mindful that I had to do it all again. The roads on the bike course were of excellent quality (unlike a lot of our roads here!!) with three or four good hills, but what goes up....! They wound through beautiful 'Heidi' villages and countryside.
As soon as I went past the half way mark I started to feel really positive and loved every minute. As fellow athletes flew past they shout your name (which is on your race number on your back) and said hello in all different languages! This was especially exciting when fellow GB athletes passed. At one point I was singing Freddie Mercury songs with the Conductor of the Abu Dhabi National Choir!! Random, but what a moment!!
Spectators were lining the roads and locals had their hose pipes out to cool us down, volunteers worked tirelessly at aid stations in the scorching heat giving out much needed water, powerbars, bananas and flat coke. There were hundreds of people giving up their time to help/encourage us all on our quest. I had a lump in my throat several times during the day at how truly lovely some people are!
Finishing the cycle was a good feeling, now only a marathon to go!! I wanted to finish the whole race in sub-fifteen hours. With a swim of 1 hour 28, a cycle of 7 hours 7 minutes and at least 10 minutes for each transition, I calculated I had about 5 hours to reach my goal. I set off on my run knowing it will take at least two miles for my legs to switch from cycle to running mode. The run course wasn't as inspiring as the bike and very flat. I got to see my family about a mile into a run. They ran with me for five minutes, I appreciated that support greatly. They told me friends back home were following my progress on the live website updates. What a morale boost!
About half way through the run my stomach started falling to pieces and I felt awful. Gastro problems are very common in long distance events. Its not surprising considering what you eat (or lack thereof) and how much strain you put on the body. Getting nutrition and hydration right before, during and after is vital in any sport in order to succeed. During my training I read and learnt a lot about food and how it fuels the body. I had calculated that I needed an intake of about 300-400 calories an hour to keep myself going. On the bike, this came in the form of energy drinks, bars and carbohydrate gels. On the run it was gels and flat coke. My stomach was complaining and my run was slowing drastically. Luckily at about mile 17 my friend caught me. I had an Immodium and my stomach settled. The pace increased; encouraged by each other we battled through the last gruelling 9 miles.
We knew we were getting close, you could hear it. As our children saw us, they leapt over the barrier and ran up the finishing funnel with us. The atmosphere was amazing, crowds cheering, music blaring and the man on the microphone shouting Victoria Sylvester, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN. I looked at the clock, 13 hours 20 minutes and 33 seconds. I couldn't believe it.
Post Ironman: When I started this journey, I was worried I had taken on too much, what had I let myself in for? Having completed my Ironman, all I can say it was an utterly brilliant experience that has changed me forever. I am lucky to have an amazingly supportive family and friends. I learnt so much about myself and others, especially that if you want to do something and you put your mind to it, you can. I highly recommend having a go! Its life-changing!