By Alan Pople
Waking up in the New Forest is normally a very pleasant experience, but this morning its still dark ( its only 4.30 am ) and I’m feeling more than a bit nervous. Today is the New Forest Half Ironman and we are in our campervan parked at a camp site a couple of miles down the road from Moyles School where its due to start at 7.00 am. After boiling our kettle for the morning cuppa our van chooses this moment to run out of gas , so the promised cooked breakfast will have to wait ( lets hope this isn’t a bad omen ). The camp site seems extremely quiet as we drive slowly out over a cattle grid and head for the venue. As we drive into the school car park there is a real buzz about the place. Bikes are being unloaded ,competitors nervously rearrange their kit and apply numerous numbers to helmets bikes and bags. The Swim start is a kilometre down the road at Ellingham lake which is normally used for water skiing. There are rumours of traffic chaos on the roads ( even at this time in the morning ) and the start may be delayed. Sue and I walk down to the lake anyway and try to get to grips with the plan of the day. Two laps of the lake ( 1.9k ), three laps of the bike course (90K ), and two laps of the run on compacted gravel paths ( 21K ). This does seem a lot further than my normal Sprint Tri / Park Runs, but there is no going back now..
After a briefing ( the mike fails and the man in-charge resorts to shouting ), the 230 half Ironmaners don our yellow swim hats and head into the water. There is a lot of nervous chatter as we tread water waiting for the start gun. The gun goes and the usual melee starts , all trying to find some space and rhythm . There is one guy in a random blue hat that I keep pace with and start to feel relatively comfortable on the first lap. The swimmers spread out and despite a little pond weed all seems well. At a buoy about three quarters of the way round there is some shouting going on between the safety boat and a kayaker. Cant work out what that’s about but no one seems to be in trouble so we carry on. A group of fast white hatted Sprint Triathletes start to over take me and I seem to be heading for the get out point ( not where I want to be ). I stop for a second to take stock and realise that I’m getting separated from my yellow hatted competitors who are starting lap two. I have to do a quick swim across the white hats to get back on course. I catch up with the yellow hats, and I’m back on track. I finish lap two and head for the get out point feeling a little cramp in my right leg . As I get out Sue explains that about a third of the swimmers were led round the wrong buoy by the safety boat ( hence the shouting ) causing chaos with the faster swimmers (but I did the full 1.9K.. phew ).
There’s a quick “shoe transition” by the lake where we shed wetsuits and don shoes to run the 1 K back to the school to pick up the bike. Transition is fairly smooth and I start lap one of the bike route. We had cycled a lap of the bike course the day before so it seemed familiar. Now for some reason although the animals have hundreds of acres to roam around in on the Forest, a lot of them seem to want to stand around in the roads. This is not ideal when you are trying to compete in your first Half Iron man. Horses seem to be totally oblivious to cars whizzing past but seem to take exception to the humble cyclist. At one point as a cyclist starts to pass me, a horse grazing on the verge takes fright and leaps into the middle of the road ( no road sense ). I shout whoa, the other cyclist shouts F…. and we both take avoiding action. The other cyclist veers right, I go left and luckily Neddy stays where he is, and all is well.
Later on the lap we slow down for a group of cows who are taking their morning stroll down the road ! Lap one is nearly finished ( Jacob’s lap ). In my head I’ve decided to do a bike or run lap for each grandson and the last lap for Sue). Quicker than expected I see Sue back at the School , exchange a few words and head out on Sammy’s lap. On this lap I pass a guy dresses as Spiderman waving two cow bells as cyclists go by ( yes really ! ) I try to get into a bit of a rhythm and make as much use of by Aero bars as I can. I pass a sign, “ Wine. Dine and Relax “ outside a restaurant.. that sounds like a much better idea ! On a steep down hill stretch I over take two donkeys ! Checking my speedo each lap seems to be 20 miles ,which is a bit more than the promised mileage by my calculations !
I start lap 3 ( Caleb’s lap ). Things start to get tough. For some reason the hills have got steeper , the number of fellow cyclists have got fewer and the padding on my shorts seems to have got thinner . Spiderman is still there doing his stuff ( Bless him). That cramp is starting to come back as well ! I get stuck behind a caravan , which is stuck behind a slow moving group of cows, and I feel that I too am starting to run out of gas. I hit a pot hole that I didn’t see and my bike gives an ominous groan. If my chain broke would I been frustrated or relieved… not sure . Come on, cant give up on Caleb’s lap. At last I see Sue back at the school and she passes me some extra drink with a Tab for the cramp and I start the run ( Harry’s lap ).
Both legs are cramping now and my hope of not having to walk soon fades I’m afraid as I encounter the first few hills. An unusual shape route means that I’m passing lots of other competitors on “out and back” routes . I’m pleased to see that I’m not the only one suffering and many others are having to resort to a walk / run policy. The cramp is bad now but a coach helps me by showing me some stretches which help. Sue’s there at a water station which helps enormously. On the last part of the Run there are only a few competitors left, and I know Im right at the back ( but I cant give up on Sue’s lap). Those of us at the back give each other some encouragement with a thumbs up, or a “well done- keep going “ as we pass each other. Sue runs the last 2 and a half Km back from the water station with me to the finish line, and Ive made it! Out of 230 starters, 25 did not finish, and only 4 finished after me ….but I was a STARTER and a FINISHER even if my time of 8.05 hrs was a lot slower than I had hoped for.
Am I pleased to have done it….YES. I felt I may not have shown much speed, but I stuck to it despite the painful legs… but how anyone can do a full Ironman I do not know ( respect to those of you who have ).