Ironman Barcelona – John’s Journey

Sadly for one of our group, Ironman Barcelona didn’t quite have the happy ending they wanted (or indeed the one all the rest of us wanted for him). In this report, John McGargill gives an honest report on his experience. Everyone at the club wishes John the very best for a speedy and full recovery.

I always believe writing things down makes you feel better and despite Barcelona Ironman being my first DNF I feel writing my experience may be a good thing. (At least for me ). I will apologise now if you want to read a report about the club members experience, I’m sure someone else is writing that. This is selfishly only about my experience. ( sorry Pont Ironmen ).

When I entered the race 12 months ago I was determined to enjoy the whole journey, and I kept reminding myself every day I trained, that accomplishing that session was as valuable as finishing the race. I did not see finishing as a god given right for putting the training in and I was well aware anything can happen on race day. ( just as well).

So my race report is more a short diary of my journey over the past 12 months. As this was to be my first IM race I secured the services of Coach Woody who set my programme, guided me when I struggled, and motivated me when I was tired. Along the training programme I did have mishaps including getting knocked off the bike, developing a rotator cuff issue, breaking my little toe and severely bruising my shin. Despite those set backs Woody taught me to carry on regardless as anything can happen on race day and you have to be able to cope with setbacks.

I tried the best I could to stick to my coaches plan which involved training every day without planned rest days. I loved the regime despite getting very fatigued as the race approached. Some days I would be buzzing and raring to get started, other days flat and tired. However as we all know, on those flat and tired days the endorphins kick in and I always ended with a buzz and satisfied I’m a step nearer my goal.

The first target was to get to the start line fit and uninjured. It was great just knowing I had reached that goal. Race weekend was fantastic, exciting and memorable. I was fit and uninjured when we flew out of Newcastle airport in a group from the club, most of us staying at the same hotel in Calella north of Barcelona. Everyone was excited and in high spirits on the night we arrived. Those who could drank a few beers and got a little tipsy. I’m a notoriously poor drinker and chose to limit alcohol consumption as I couldn’t afford to get a hangover.

Now I’m not quite sure where the next two days before the race disappeared to, but indeed they seemed to fly over. We went to the expo, ate, cycled a bit, ate, swam a bit, ate, ran a bit ate, racked our bikes and set up transition then ate even more. Pre race fuelling wasn’t going to trip me up !

Being with and around people from the club was invaluable, and I soaked up everything the more experienced Ironmen told me. Doing my first IM race with people who knew the ropes certainly reduced the stress. Thanks guys.

So to race day. Walking to the start I felt quite calm, excited certainly, but I wasn’t fearful of what was to come. When we arrived to check bikes in transition and get into our wetsuits I decided to go off alone. I felt that being with the rest of the guys might make me nervous and I didn’t want to feel compelled to follow their pre race rituals whatever they are.

Conditions in the sea were not great for us first time IM athletes. I was standing on the beach and watching the waves crash in with a 2-3ft swell and said to myself, ‘if all these people around me can do it then so can I. ‘ ‘Swim from buoy to buoy and don’t even think about the distance’ . Race reports after the event were that up to 300 people failed to complete the swim and there are some reports of people being knocked over by waves and having to be pulled from the sea.

The first 300m of the swim were crucial for me. I knew if I could get past the breaking waves, into clear water and settle down my stroke, then I could finish the swim despite the conditions. At the first turn buoy  I felt comfortable and settled. Despite the choppy conditions I never felt stressed and just concentrated on getting to the next buoy. The swell made spotting between buoys difficult at times but I was lucky enough to swim reasonably straight. My target was to complete the swim in 1:20 but given the conditions I would have been ok with 1:40. You can’t Imagine how much I was buzzing when I got out and looked at my watch. 1:20 exactly and right on target. Nowhere near as fast as others from the group but a decent time for me. Two targets already met, Happy days I thought, bring it on. Thanks to Barry and Phil who taught me to swim as far in to shore as possible before standing, my exit was smooth. However many others were washed towards the beach by the waves, stood up then were knocked over and dragged back out. Great for spectators but not so for the swimmers.

Transition between swim and bike was smooth and unrushed and I felt calmness again as I mounted the bike. Mark Kelly posted the same swim time and kindly gave me a great shot of encouragement when we saw each other in the T1 tent.

Heading out of Calella on a two lap bike course my strategy was to hold a steady average pace on the first lap then to push it a bit on the second. Pushing along, passing more people than being passed and I felt good. Towards the end of the first lap before the turn around point I saw a huge crowd of supporters a group of whom were screaming my name. The Ponteland support crew were the most vocal on the course and I relished the thought of passing them again. Turning at a roundabout and returning for the second lap I passed the support crew again, this time I was able to smile and wave to let them know I was loving it. That support gave me a real lift and I felt I could push on a bit, I had hit my target pace for the first lap and was buzzing.fortunately I was prepared for the odd mishap on the bike, my tool bottle bounced out twice, I stopped for a puncture I didn’t even have, and I got myself a well earned 5 minutes rest which was strangely described as a penalty! All in all though things were good and on target.

110k into the bike ride and I started thinking, not about if I could finish the race, but in what time. I was confident, loving it, fuelling and hydration had gone well and I was looking forward to my favourite discipline, the run.

Then…oops. I Fell off, ouch, race over, trip to hospital and my first ever DNF in the bag. A valuable lesson learned though, keep concentrating and don’t think of the end until you are there! 

A nice lady gave me happy drugs and despite the rest of the day being a bit hazy I certainly wasn’t going to let a mistake spoil the rest of my weekend. The sea was magically flat and inviting the day after race day but unfortunately I couldn’t swim due to my stupid injury and my happy drugs were starting to wear off. Lunch, snacks, beers and dinner with all the Ponteland Ironmen on Monday was a great opportunity to swap race day stories and generally chill with great people. All our triathletes had great races posting excellent finish times. I genuinely felt proud to be amongst such a talented bunch of people.

So, here I am today, dislocated and cracked clavicle and unsure of my future triathlon ability. However, I look forwards not back, that race has gone so move on to the next one I hope. I’m not sure what next year might bring, Hopefully a full recovery and more great triathlon race buzzz.

I loved the whole IM experience and learned so much , every second was worth all the training and Im hoping to get the opportunity to do it all again. I cant call myself an Ironman yet, but my journey will hopefully continue next year.

Finally, I must give thanks to Fiona and her role in my journey so far. She rode turbo alongside me when I was tired, swam with me in the pool, sea and lake when my motivation to go swimming was low, and rode alongside me with drinks on my long runs. Thank you Fiona.