I don't stop when I'm tired; I stop when I'm done
‘A woman’s will. For if she will, she will.
You may depend on it’
Working at the University by day and being a Mum to my 8 year old takes up most my time. This of course only harbors my passion for ‘Sporting Adventures’ out of hours. Last year I travelled to Wales to watch the notorious IRONMAN (Swim 3.86km, cycle 180.25km, run a marathon 42.2km) It looked gruesome but fun too; so much fun in fact that I find myself wondering whether I should try it out...? I signed up-
Incorporating training sessions to my daily life means finding the time and striking a healthy balance. The only option to make this happen is to assign specific times on weekends when Athina is not around and to fit small ‘chunks’ of daily training around my other activities. Phenomenally lucky to live in Leeds, I commute to work on my bike regardless the weather and sometimes run next to Athina while she cycles after school. It’s true that a little creative thinking goes a long way and this plan helps me ‘clock-up’ extra hours whilst we also have fun!
Extreme endurance came about almost by accident. Just over four years ago I begun cycling with Athina behind me. It escalated from there; a pretty natural progression. The most fun so far has been completing our own sporting challenges; sporting adventures that I can include Athina in. For example a 5 km swim in a cold lake while Athina sat inside a kayak and I pulled her, or recently canoeing the Leeds-Liverpool canal together inside a blow-up boat. Along the way there have been the dream-stealers, those who say I’m 'crazy', too 'old', too 'inexperienced' and obviously (!) too 'small' in stature. This never changed anything for me, on the contrary it got me more excited about what laid ahead.
Friday morning after the school run, a friend and I make our way to Wales. Within the first half hour of leaving Leeds we have a puncture. I can’t stop laughing, this is hilarious; we have gone through not one, but two nails! Luckily a nearby garage fits in a new tire and we are back on route.
The night before the race I phone Athina and I say: ‘My love, Mummy might return from Wales without a finisher’s medal. The hills out here look steep'. My nerves had betrayed me- Wonderful as always Athina replies: ‘Mummy, it’s alright. If they don’t give you a medal I will make you one’. God, I must have done something right in my life- Whenever she says such beautiful things I love her more than her little heart will ever know (just when I thought this isn't humanly possible.)
There are always butterflies in my stomach before a big race and the Welsh Ironman is no exception. It’s 5.00 am and after very little sleep my stomach is in knots. 2.000 participates and only 10% are female. Pretty shocking demographic figures, right? There is a sense of pride inside me for being part of that small minority.
At bike transition participants pump extra air on their tires and add fresh water onto their bikes. We are told to slowly make our way towards North Beach and place ourselves in the most relevant swimming group. I move towards the back, by the post that says 1hr 45mins. The man next to me asks nervously: ‘Do you think this is all a mistake?’,‘Too late for regrets now. We might as well get on with it!’ I say with my bestest-fakest- smile.(a true believer that if we don’t over-analyse things they should turn out just fine.)
The national Welsh anthem plays on the speakers and a sensation of excitement makes my heart skip. ‘I’m doing it, I’m really taking part in the Welsh IRONMAN’ (I feel like screaming out loud for the whole world to hear this!) My strategy is basic: Keep a steady pace throughout the whole thing. Eat loads, keep track of the cut-off times and stay positive. One last adjustment on the goggles, a big stretch and I jump in the sea. That is the moment I forget everything, as if I’m no longer at present. The noise from the exited crowds and the loud music stop here.
For every stroke I take the reward is a stunning view of a sun rising from below the sea. It fascinates me how far the mind travels while one swims. This time I remember Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ from elementary school, Ulysses' temptation by the deadly Sirens. Swimming in the sea feels surprisingly easy it must be the wetsuit and the sea salt making me buoyant. After the first lap we exit, run across the sand and get back in for one last. It all happens very quickly, it’s the amazing adrenaline running through my system. I’m out the water, I check my watch and realise I’ve got a new PB: 1hr 30mins. ‘Great start to the race’ I think to myself. ‘A whole 15 mins to add to the hilly bike ride’.
You know that feeling of hope when you put everything you’ve got into things? Well this is the case of my cycling leg. My training has been a joke; I dare say so myself! Commuting to work and a couple of relaxing 50 mile C-Rides with the cycling club (motivated primarily by the scrumptious coffee and cake on-route!) Today’s distance is 180km and the most I’ve ever cycled is once when I did 90km. ‘This is going to hurt. Get through the first cut-off time and it’ll be fine’ I tell myself. The cycling begins, I keep a steady pace and let others overtake. Climbing some of those killer hills with 30% ascent is no fun. It is a test of mental and physical stamina. My plan is working: Keep a steady rhythm and don’t look up. Lots of supporters everywhere shouting ‘Come on Iron-Ladyyyyyy!’ and ringing cow bells loudly. Some pat me on the shoulder so hard, I’m surprised to still be on the bike. Luckily there are some breath-taking downhills, the opportunity to make up for the lost time. What a feeling of freedom cruising down the Welsh hills, at top speeds! After the first cut-off time some riders noticeably slow down and it’s an opportunity to overtake; a good morale boost. I munch on ginger biscuits and survive on gels, sweeties and bananas; this part of the race I like to call: The Great British Feast. Eight hours later I’m back at transition and wondering if I’ve done something wrong- Have I missed out a lap? Still to this day I can’t believe I managed to do the full 180km with practically no bike training.
Within the first hour of running I stop all sugar intake, if I could have it my way I'd like a Spanish ham baguette sandwich but as that's not an option I stick with water only. As I run my first lap, I complete what is probably twenty-five minutes before I receive my first of four bands; though it seems like forever. The reality is that my sugar levels drop dramatically, suddenly my world begins to spin; I feel extremely unwell. To make matters worse I’m surrounded by runners with two or three bands on their arms, this demoralises me. Up to this point, nothing affects me, overall it has been tough and I cycled further than I had ever done before, yet in a short period of time it all turns around. I try to focus on positive thoughts. ‘Right, I can still move (albeit with a terrible dizziness) but as long as I keep going, I‘ll be fine’. By the second lap I feel flat. ‘The voice’ and my watch urge me to keep pushing, to finish what I started but I can hardly pick my legs up and it feels as if I am no closer to the next band. It’s dark and the rain is pouring down (we are in Wales after all!) We are given glow sticks to avoid collision with other runners.
In IRONMAN what’s evident to me is the camaraderie amongst the female participants (several nods, smiles, and words of encouragement). A fellow Iron-Lady-To-Be notices my pale looking face and stops to ask if I’m feeling alight. ‘No’ I reply, ‘I feel very lightheaded’. ‘Here, take these. I’m on my last lap. You need them more than I do'. She takes my palm and places a small bag of jelly babies in it. ‘You’re doing great you know? Hang on in there you’re almost done’ she says and makes her way to the finish line. Truly grateful to this stranger’s kindness that instantly picks me up. Slowly chewing on my jelly babies, no longer looking around me, I face the ground and break the remaining distance in mentally manageable chunks.
At the finish line a man with a microphone announces: ‘Addi, you are an IRONMAN’ Despite the 15 hours of racing, it is hard to believe that I’ve done it.
The following day I meet Athina with my IRONMAN medal and I can’t wait to tell her all about this new experience! Another opportunity to show her that the mind can overcame the body on many occasions and armed with dogged determination, physical courage and a little help from those around us we are capable of achieving incredible things.