Billed as the "Toughest Triathlon", it was with only a slight trepidation that I lined up ready for the mass swim start at South Queensferry on the 31st May. Kitted in full 5-3mm wetsuit, hood, gloves, and neoprene socks, in an attempt to block the cold of the north sea, it was going to be a very long day and I was going to need a good deal of mental and, physical toughness to get through the next 141.4 miles. However I had trained and was feeling confident the day would go my way.

The road that had led me to choose to complete an ironman is a simple one, I enjoy pushing myself beyond what I have previously achieved. I believe that so long as you are mentally prepared for whatever you are going to attempt, you will succeed (providing nothing untoward happens to you). I firmly believe that anyone can complete a marathon if they want to, it's not the marathon that stops most people from registering, it's their lack of belief that they will finish or that they are strong enough to complete it. As I say, I like to push myself, the problem for me is once a challenge has been completed, there is no challenge in redoing it as I know I can do it. This is why I have completed the London Marathon only twice, once was the first marathon I ever completed, the second was part of a two marathons one week apart. So having pushed myself in the three disciplines singularly, I decided to tie them together and try for the "Big One", I was going for the Iron distance triathlon.

The problem with this year for me is that I needed to be in the north to complete some professional training, I was also limited with the training I would be able to complete due to the various essays and otherwise I would be required to do, and finally, it would need to be within reasonable driving distance. With those things in mind I searched for triathlons at around the date, region and price (some are a ludicrous price) I was after. As you can imagine there were very few indeed, however Rat Race had their City to Summit starting in Edinburgh and finishing in Fort William and it fitted the bill. It seemed ideal and would only be the second year of running, as such it would be relatively unknown and this would keep the number of people doing it down. There were options for doing it across two days or even completing it as a duathlon and dropping the swim, but the triathlon over 1 day seemed the one for me. So I dutifully paid my entry fee (the most reasonable I'd seen, if booked early) and set about coming up with a training plan that incorporated my trail marathon (later to be reduced to a half) and my Triathlon.

The training went well over the winter period and into the spring, but as can happen with me I managed to get a bought of tonsillitis that knocked me for six, and meant the reduction of my Marathon to a half, and I had to go into the race with no running in 2 weeks. Despite this the half marathon went better than I ever could have hoped and gave me confidence that the triathlon was going to be a success as well, it was clearly a sign that the training over winter had done its job.

The training continued, and towards the final exams and in some way due to them and the training for the triathlon, the load pushed my body over the edge for another week of sickness. It was at this point that I decided for the last 6 weeks I would go out and push myself on long distance rides and runs and have more rest days. The distances were at or very close to the triathlon distances, and I would continue with the swims (4 km in a pool is never that much of a problem). This technique worked well and was filling me with confidence at how easily I was dealing with the distances, although the extra days rest gave me plenty of recovery and prevented me getting too tired with the other things I had going on.

So that leads us the morning of the race, the water was found to be warmer than I'd been expecting by 4 degrees. Now I realise 4 degrees seems like nothing, but the water I'd tested my kit out in was 8 celsius, so 12 seemed like a positive bath in comparison! Waiting on the quay and talking to another first time Iron-athlete, he mentioned he'd been doing his testing and training in the London docks, he wasn't wearing gloves or socks, and was questioning whether they were necessary. I tried to allay his fears (everyone else had socks, and most had gloves) telling him it's not as cold as it could be, given the north sea is 9 degrees at this time of year, although I think that just made him realise how foolish he'd been.

The claxon eventually sounded and we were off, not wanting to get caught in the scrum, I dove into the water a few seconds later behind the fast people and immediately felt the shock hit me as the cold water shot under my hood and hit my forehead. The temperature may have been better than expected, but standing on the quayside with no wind had meant the temp inside the wetsuit was pretty high, and so the sudden change had hit me hard! I spent the first 30 seconds trying to reduce my breathing rate and settle into the stroke, and despite the initial shock I managed to calm my breathing to a point where I could breathe my normal stroke. The swim was between the two bridges across the Forth of Firth, only, the time of day and the position of the buoy meant we were heading into the tide as it headed back out to sea, the swim up to the first buoy therefore was a bit of a battle, but allowed me to settle my stroke further and work on efficient long strokes which work best for me in these conditions. By the time I reached the first buoy the field had spread out and it was nice and easy to navigate around without getting swamped on the turn. I headed slightly into the current, and for the second buoy which was cutting across the river and heading for the south bank, so the tide would have a little effect for the beginning part at least. The gap between those two buoys seemed to fly by after the length of the first section, and I was soon rounding it heading back for the start point. By this point the buoy for the second lap had been put into the water, although seeing it was impossible. We were heading for the bridge and into the rising sun, so the only thing we could see with any certainty was the lifeboat station and that was a silhouette, so heading for that (it was in the rough direction) I was hopeful I wouldn't veer off too much. It worked.

By the second lap I was really relaxing into the swim and felt great, so I decided to count the strokes on each length as a mind filler. The mind filler did it's trick and I sped through the next lap counting strokes, on the way to the first buoy into the current I did a little over 1000 strokes (I can't remember the actual number now) but on the way back from the second turn buoy I did only a little over 300 (despite the fact the current didn't help us there). You can see how much the current hit against us and slowed us down on the "uphill" leg!

Out of the water and effort needed to get vertical was high and took all four limbs, but upright I could see loads of people clapping and supporting the swimmers, always nice as it helps you get your brain in gear to start the next part on a race like this. I looked at my watch and found I done my fastest ever 2.4 mile swim time, big smile on my face as I ran past my support team of one (a great friend) who supportively shouted "hurry up", my two word reply involved an off in it. Into the tent my neck felt sore but wasn't so bad that I thought it was going to really affect me. I changed in 10 minutes and off I went on the bike...

...the first section of the bike was straight onto a cobbled road, not that easy when you are trying to settle but along I went until reaching the up route to cross the bridge. As luck would have it, there is a bike path across the bridge and over we went, initially taking it easy and then giving it some on the downhill side of the bridge. It was from this point forward that the ride started to blend into one a little, I certainly remember hills featuring reasonably heavy for the first 10-15 miles and I distinctly remember whooping when the inevitable long downhill finally brought my average speed back near where I wanted it! I peddled conservatively up to the first checkpoint where I grabbed a quick half a banana, refilled the bottles and headed for the next checkpoint. Heading off for the next checkpoint I pressed the wrong button on my Garmin and ended up spending a couple of minutes trying to get it to work in some way, which frustrated me no end as I wanted the entire thing in one file, but that's life.

The second section was much more to my liking, nice and easy, a lot less hills, nice warm weather and, no particularly hard work, although towards the end my legs were feeling a little like they had ridden 60 miles (appropriately, as they had). I arrived at the second checkpoint 15 minutes ahead of when I thought I'd get there, and I was very happy when I realised, as I was planning on taking a little break at this point to recover a little get some fuel and fluids on board. I was also hoping to meet my one man support team here but he was expecting me later, and the traffic was heavy (lots of people on a tourist road) so he was behind me. Heading off again from the second checkpoint things changed, despite being refuelled and legs feeling ok, the body didn't want to deal with the hills that were there almost immediately, it was always going to be an interesting one, but stomach cramps (only light, but really not great at that moment) started and from then to the finish wouldn't leave. I'm sure the cramps had something to do with my diet of energy gels and bars, but I needed easy sugars and that was the best option. I haven't tried to eat a pizza on a bike but the wind resistance every time you open the box would probably negate the positives?!

By the time I reached the final bike checkpoint I was starting to recover from hill hell, and glad to see my great friend Duncan there to hold the bike while I ran off for a fluid evacuation. We had a little chat, I ate everything in sight that wasn't an energy gel, refilled the bottles and headed off for the highlands.

The end of the bike involved going over three big climbs, which I was well prepared for, and was actually looking forward to. The advantage of the three big climbs was that I would drop down into a nice low gear, spin my way up the climb and enjoy what turned out to be view of the day for me. I have a real love of bendy roads and the ride that you experience, I've never minded the hard work, and I loved these climbs. I lost a few places on the climb as I was trying to conserve the energy for the run by this point, but when I got to the final downhill I couldn't resist a 10 mile downhill, and so I hurtled downhill 30mph minimum, despite the dodgy wind and the crazy traffic, enjoying every minute of the downhill as I took every place I'd lost back and then some.

By the time I reached the run transition I'd used up every bit of cycling energy I had left and was ready for it to stop, and something else to start. A change and the most amazing ice cream that has ever been tasted on the planet (supplied by my one man support team) and I was off on the run. Now I realise that the aim of a run is to move at a reasonable speed but honestly this was hard work and I had very little energy to work with for the first few miles, inevitably I walk/jogged them. They were on the road, but with no wind and what was turning out to be a very hot day there wasn't much protection from the elements and so the heat was making it hard work as well. With the first five miles defeated the route finally headed off road. Now when I say the route went straight over the hill, and that the aforementioned hill was only about 500-600m above sea level (where we started), I cannot describe how the 45% gradient makes you feel as a person who is becoming increasingly defeated! Still, despite the hard hill, there is always the knowledge that if you make it up the hill you will experience the bliss of a downhill, I made it over. That said it took a while to get up the hill and I was travelling at a speed greater than everyone else around me.

With the first hill defeated, the route headed back down the other side at an easy sloping angle and made for a reasonable descent, although I was not feeling brave enough to run all of the route, so it was back to the walk/jog that had got me this far. After descending the route and gaining very wet feet to boot, the route almost doubled back on itself and headed along a path that was well made and very nice for some light jogging. It was at this point I met a guy called Brian, he too hadn't done anything like this before and was enjoying and yet struggling a little, but with a healthy dose of sheer bloody mindedness like me, was refusing to walk the entire thing and so we helped each other in the motivation department, and kept a little running in the challenge.  By the time we had rounded to head north and were travelling along the valley, Brian had left me for dead as I was struggling to run with low energy levels and so I took the opportunity to eat with the hope I would feel more capable in a while. I can't honestly tell you whether things were hurting at this point, because my mind turns my nervous system into survival mode which allows me to feel no pain and simply feel certain part of my body as not working properly. The advantage is I can push my body when it's tired, painful and low on energy, the disadvantage is felt the following day!

Re-fuelled a feeling a little better I passed another "number checker" checkpoint and grabbed a bit a food (moralibo) and set off forward at a better pace. Another advantage was that it was flatter and had a few nice little downhills at this point. The downhills meant by the time I was heading toward the descent for the final run food checkpoint I'd caught Brian back up and we headed into the checkpoint together. We arrived a good hour inside the checkpoint and both agreed we needed a good refuel before we attempted Ben Nevis, so after a half hour of hot chocolate, sugary tea, biscuits, chocolate bars and other food I can't even remember (but you can guarantee it involved chocolate) we headed for the final 14 km. While I realise 14 km is nothing, and at a good walking pace you should do it in about 2 hours, but when you put that distance on the top of the tallest mountain in the UK, and you place it as the last part of an 141.4 mile triathlon at mile 133 then the time taken tends to double!

So we set off running to the start of the climb, we hit the climb, the running stopped, the heavy breathing started, and the sweating increased. There is little to tell you about the ascent other than I left Brian after about 1/4 of the way up the ascent and didn't realise that I had. I can also tell you that the ascent was hard, harder than I ever thought it would be, and that people descending the route don't move out of your way despite the fact it's a lot harder for you to make your way up!

Despite feeling tired I plugged on, with dreams of a medal and the finish in my head, I took regular breaks to breathe and drink water, but the ascent was relentless, and the sweat was starting to get into my eyes, which made things feel tough. Just as I was starting to lose the plot with trying to get the sweat out of my eyes I passed a waterfall and took the decision to wash my face and hair, it was the right decision. The waterfall was fed by the snow melting on the summit after the hot day we had been experiencing, and refreshed me no end to the point where I had a skip in my step for the next section (figuratively speaking of course). By the time I reached the top, fog had closed in and the "amazing view" we had been promised was not visible, so a quick clothing increase left me considerably warmer and with only the descent to go.

Two and a half hours to get up the mountain I reached the top of the Ben at around 22:30, and I was determined, as soon as I started my descent, to make it down by midnight. So I set off, and quickly realised that the steps which had appeared to be so much work on the route up, were in fact a great deal easier on the way down and allowed you to bounce from step to step on the way down. Defiantly descending quicker than I was ascending, I stopped again at the waterfall for a quick water bottle refill and headed for the bottom. I caught a group not too far from the base, and as they were travelling at roughly my speed, stayed with them until the easier flatter part. It was at this point they stopped to ring a friend to let them know they were coming in and I could hear the generators for the finish, so decided to run the last part. What I had failed to realise is the finish doubled back on itself a few time before the line arrived, and so what I thought was a 2 minute final run in turned into a 10 minute run for the line.

I crossed the line to a large amount of fanfare, considering the time of night/morning, and finished only 3 minutes and 14 seconds outside my planned time, but none of that mattered at all to me, I had finished, I had actually done it, and I was sure as anything I'd never do anything that stupid against a clock again...

...after about half an hour, a beer, and the most amazing pulled pork burger I'd even eaten I was already planning how I could improve my time for the next year...

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Dreamer, blogger, alternative journeyer