Ironman Barcelona – Report 3 (the big one!)

If you get injured after entering an Ironman then you may as well go along and watch the misery (and ecstasy) of those who are taking part.

That’s exactly what Rich Winter did. A great report from him which is well worth a read.

AC/DC are brilliant. They really are. Some their guitar riffs are legendary and can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Try “Highway to Hell” as an example. The opening guitar chords of this song alone can have the mystical effect of taking you to an altogether different mental plane. The results can be quite unnerving and often inspiring, making you run faster, jump higher and feel stronger. Caution must be used while listening to it while driving- “Sorry Officer, AC/DC were on” doesn’t get you off a speeding ticket, I promise.

“Thunderstruck” is another brilliant example (and probably the best of the lot). So much so that Ironman have adopted it as their theme song. It is played at the start of every Ironman event with the simple aim of getting hundreds of nervous athletes inspired for what lies ahead (and quite often to get them into ridiculously cold waters at the start of the swim). I have first-hand experience of this. Back in July myself, Mike (Russell-more of him later) and 1200 other athletes were stood on a cold Scottish beach waiting to start the Edinburgh 70.5 (half) Ironman event. To coin a phrase, we were all crapping ourselves. Thunderstruck started and all of a sudden the atmosphere changed. Sphincters tightened, goggles were positioned, fellow athletes encouraged and smiles and best wishes exchanged.

And so it was last weekend on a similar (much warmer) beach in Calella, a small beach resort which was the venue for the 2019 Barcelona Ironman-the event that myself, Mike (the above mentioned Russell), David Stroud, Martin Hallissey, Steve Allison, Mark Kelly, John McCargill, David Levison and Mark Turnbull had spent the best part of a year preparing for-risking divorce, mental damage and in the case of myself and David Levison, injury. Both David and I had to drop out of the event due to significant injury, but were both there, stood on the beach cheering the (magnificent) seven on. Luckily David had managed to get rid of the frame that was holding his head on straight, but I still had the 6 inch scar on my chest from my operation to remove a rib. They say that the hardest thing about an Ironman is getting to the start line-David and I were certainly testament to that-we don’t do things by half.

The sight of 3500 neoprene clad athletes is quite something, especially when they are set to enter a sea with a 4 foot swell. And then swim 2.4 miles. And then cycle 112. And then run 26.2. You couldn’t quite smell the fear but the fact that the sea was like a millpond the day before certainly added to the nerves. “Thunderstruck” did its job though and before you could say “Portaloo”, a steady stream of brave, green swim-capped heroes entered the water-some with more success than others-one competitor was hit so hard by a wave he was thrown back, hit his head on the shore and withdrawn from the race by the medical staff. Race over! 2.5 meters and 3 seconds in. At least David and I had had a few months to get used to the idea.

The boys were ready. The days leading up to the event had seen gentle tapering and recovery runs. The previous day they guys had been out on the bikes scouting the course and had a dip in the nice, calm sea. They had carbo-loaded and hydrated-(Mark K mainly with beer) and finally they were here. And off!!!

The Ironman App kept track of every single one of them into the water. A steady stream of swimmers headed out around the buoys-some of which were beyond the horizon-and we waited anxiously for them to come in. Martin was first, not even out of breath, looking strong. Next Steve, then David, then Mark T, then John, then Mark K and finally Mike-all looking good, smiling and no doubt relieved to out of the water. The exit from the water was anything but elegant, with marshals desperately grappling with swimmers to haul them out as 4 foot walls of water washed them off their feet. It was quite a sight-but stage 1 done! Awesome stuff.

And onto the bikes. The bike course was a circuit of around 50 miles, and we managed to see all of the guys fly through-all smiling, all looking strong. Again, the app came to our rescue and we were able to track progress pretty easily and accurately. We all stood together, children, WAGS, friends and family with our Union Jacks, cow bells and sleigh bells-the atmosphere was amazing.

Disaster struck, however. Despite having an amazing swim and a really strong start to the bike, John sadly came off his bike and had to withdraw. The rain during the morning had left conditions treacherous and he lost control on a roundabout. Still smiling, we saw him later on bandaged up and philosophical, but we were gutted for him (and I know he was, deep down). The accident caused a nasty dislocated shoulder which interestingly was sticking up like a tent pole under is his t-shirt! As I said, these guys are made of tough stuff.

The others managed to negotiate the rest of the bike course unscathed and headed into T2 ready to start the run. Martin again led the field, with Steve in hot pursuit. David and Mark T were in close attendance with Mark K and Mike gallantly bringing up the rear. Again, all were looking strong as they started the run. We positioned ourselves about mid-way along one of the 3 loops designated for the run course. We chose a nice shady spot that also sheltered us from the rain that had now started to pour down! Undeterred, the heroes battled through the rain, forcing out smiles (or were they grimaces?) each time they went past us. “Nearly there guys”, “Looking amazing”, “Awesome stuff” and plenty of encouragement were doled out on each lap. The end was in sight. So close, yet so far. “This is TORTURE” was heard from Mark K as he commenced the last loop.

Martin was first to finish in an amazing 9 hrs 12 minutes. An incredible achievement-even though he was disappointed to miss out on his target of below 9 hours. Don’t be. Martin, it was an amazing time.

Steve was next to finish and first to hear those immortal words “Steve, YOU are an IRONMAN”-in an awesome 9 hrs 44 minutes. What an achievement, especially as a first timer. I suspect we will be hearing much more about Steve in the future. All I’m saying is that I hope he has a grass skirt and a loud shirt somewhere at home-I think he may need it in the coming years…. Hawaii and the World Champs surely beckon?

Mark and David were neck and neck at the finish with only 20 minutes between them in official times-10hrs 1 minute and 10hrs 25 minutes respectively. As seasoned Ironmen (well, it was David’s second, but Mark has done loads-Google Triathlon X to give you an idea of the nutty races he does), they did brilliantly well and looked strong throughout.

The next to see the finishing carpet was Mike, with our families in attendance. Having spent most of the summer training with Mike, it was quite an emotional moment for me to see him cross the line. Draped in a Union Jack flag-he looked pretty fresh as he skipped among the carpet and I have to say my eyes were a little moist. There were more than a few tears amongst the rest of the family too-although I am not sure if was due to Mikes achievement or the fact that another competitor had just asked his fiancée to marry him on the finish line. Whatever, Mike did an incredible time of 11hrs 55 minutes not bad for a first time and something to really proud of – as his training partner, I of course take credit for most of that.

With no time to dry the tears, Mark K then finished in an awesome 12hrs 8 minutes. Another first timer, Mark had battled through injury over the summer to get here and it was sheer guts, courage and determination that got him both to the start and most importantly, the finish line. It was an awe-inspiring thing to see-and his amazing powers of recovery to get to the bar and free beers were something to behold.

Ponteland can be very proud of these 7. Freedom of the village is an obvious accolade – I will be in touch with the local council to arrange this and the open bus tour. In the meantime, if you happen to see them why don’t you just buy them a beer. They deserve it. Mark might just take you up on the offer of a second, too.