Posted in Athletes stories
Since starting participating in triathlon events in 2012 I have had competing in a full distance race on the brain. Thanks to wise advice from my coach I delayed jumping straight in and instead spent the last 4 years preparing my body (and mind!) for the challenge. And I am so glad that I did.
Whilst the event itself is gruelling challenge the preparation is a million times harder. I think that is why for the 3 days leading up to Ironman Wales (my first full distance attempt) I spontaneously burst into tears. Yes, I was nervous, but I was also thinking about everything that had gone into taking part. Not only in terms of training and investment but also in terms of what everyone else had given up to help me in my endeavours. Ironman is more than a race, it is a lifestyle, and having the culmination of the effort in sight is an emotional experience and something I will never forget.
Going into the race I had a hidden hope that I could maybe, just maybe, earn a place at the World Championships, but I kept my ultimate focus on being the best that I could be on the day. I wanted to cross the line knowing that I had given 110%, and that was all that mattered.
Race day morning dawned and it was a beaut!
Wales is knows to have turbulent weather…especially on race day… but not this year. This year the weather gods looked favourably on us and we had a cool, calm, overcast day…perfect for the swim, bike and run that lay ahead.
After the walk down to the beach we stood on the sand and nervously waited for the hooter to go off. There is something so magical about that hooter…the minute that it sounds all the nerves that have been dancing around your stomach just disappear. Your feet hit the water and then it is just a rhythmical motion that sets in and before you blink the swim is over and you are heading towards T1.
The swim could not have been more perfect. Water temp was 18.9 degrees, the sea was flat, the swell was light and there was even a slight pull back towards the beach after rounding the final buoy. I managed to find some good feet to swim on and finished the swim in 52 mins, 4th lady out the water and feeling great.
Ironman Wales has a 1km run to T1 up a nice steep climb so they allow you to grab some shoes for the dash. I pulled on my trainers, shoved my goggles and cap into my bag and off I went. T1 went relatively smoothly and before I knew it I had pressed the lap button on my watch and I was off on the bike course.
I had come up to compete in the Long Course Weekend in July so I knew what I was in for…a LOT of hills!! The bike course is not a joke, it is the lumpiest course I have ever ridden, but also one of the most beautiful. Being relatively quick out of the water meant that I soon started to be passed by some of the weaker swimmers who were ready to smash the bike, and this was quite a psychological struggle. Going “backwards” is not fun. Thank goodness my wonderful friend Di McEwan had messaged me the day before and had reminded me to “just be patient”. I said that over and over to myself and stuck to the plan. Speaking of which, I had planned to ride 6:25 minutes, and came in at 6:23. Bingo!
T2 was my first moment of “oh dear”. This was the first time I have ever attempted to run a marathon straight off the bike (and actually only my second marathon ever) and I honestly did not know how I was going to do it. My legs felt like they weighed 100kg each and they did not want to move. The run course, like the bike course, is not joke. It is a very “honest” course. There is nowhere to hide, if you have not prepared correctly then this is where it would show.
I started off running, feeling dreadful, and when I looked at my watch it said 4:55 pace. What? I feel like a snail, how is it that my watch says 4:55? Is it broken? But no, it was working just fine, my legs were just going! It was crazy! Not to fear though, that soon passed… the pace slowed, and the legs started to hurt and I had to bribe myself to keep running by allowing myself to walk the aid stations. At 5km I started to get hungry, and the thought of another gel/chew made me gag, so it was then a “shove anything and everything savoury into your mouth” kind of run. I ended up running the entire marathon on Coke and Doritos. Nice.
It was a four lap run and that last lap towards the finish was incredibly difficult, the legs were really aching by then. I could not have run 100m more than the 42.2km of the course. That said, it all magically disappeared as my trainers hit that red carpet. It is like the magic hooter that gets rid of the nerves, the carpet removes all the aches and pains and I scampered over the line in 11h13.
I had done it!!! I had finished an Ironman!!!
I got my medal and hobbled over towards the finish tent to get my t-shirt and some food. On my way there I spotted Paul Kaye who, after giving me a much needed hug, then told me that I had provisionally won my AG. What? Are you serious? I was just over the moon to have finished my first Ironman, but win? That was unbelievable! The rest of the day passed in a nauseous blur. My body had really had enough and there was no chance of me doing anything but lie very still. I tried eating but failed dismally. I did, however, wake up at 00:12 and eat a tub of Pringles (thanks again to Gareth for putting up with the crunchcrunchcrunch in the middle of the night!).
The next day was the awards ceremony and, after a full English breakfast, and 2 sandwiches and some more Pringles (my stomach had clearly recovered!!), we headed down the awards venue. There was the presentation, the video of the event (thanks again to the guys that worked through the night to pull it all together, it was brilliant) and then the moment I had been dreaming about…. The Kona slot allocation. When Paul asked “Tracy Markham, do you want your slot to Kona” it was the biggest and loudest “YES PLEASE!!” I have ever shouted. What a moment.
Leaving the ceremony we went to the merchandise tent to do some final shopping. Upon walking in I saw a t-shirt that said “She believed she could, and she did”. And the tears sprouted again. Knowing that all the sacrifice and commitment had been worth it is something that words cannot describe. Not only had I given everything I had to the event, but those around me had given up so much too. As much as Ironman racing is a solo sport, it is also a team effort. It is simply not possible to do it alone and why I have so many people to thank.
Thanks, firstly, to Gareth, without whom I would not have got to where I am now. His constant support, motivation, strategizing and planning kept me going. He basically did all the thinking for me, all I had to do was focus on eating, sleeping and training. I am mostly grateful to him for putting up with all my “I can’t do this” moments, and for his patience when there were no clean clothes to wear because I had to swim instead of doing the laundry!!
Thanks, from the bottom of my heart, to Diana, not only a coach but a friend and mentor. Without her I would have long since given up. Having a coach who knows you so well and is able to be there for you when things are going crazy is incredible. She really did help me “be the best I can be” and I am eternally grateful.
To all my family and friends, and especially my cycling crew, Justin, Adrian, Lawrence and Stef, you guys are the business! You pushed me to give this everything I had and it worked! Drinks are officially on me.
Finally, a thanks to the people of Tenby. You blew me away at the Long Course weekend and did it again at Ironman Wales. Never have I experience such support at an event. Having the owner of the hotel we were staying at stand and cheer me on for the entire race was crazy. Having to squeeze through people 5-deep going up Saundersfoot whilst they shouted and screamed in support is something I will treasure forever. Thank you Tenby for making my first Ironman event such a memorable one, it is going to be hard to beat.
But for now, it is feet up and time to relax…
See you in Kona.