No Fears - No Regrets
First I would like to thank my support crew.. Simon and Karen from Galway in Ireland who did a very competent job...... Thanks.
The 24 mile swim was in a 50 Metre heated indoor pool 30 mins drive from the Park. Once completed the swim, a car will drive to the park and record time taken. the time is then deducted from the clock for each competitor.
The Park is very well maintained, with 2 big lakes with fountains, many museums, an aquarium a baseball field, a velodrome, an aviary, an oak forest, a bamboo forest, a very weird shaped building which was a library, a huge outdoor tennis complex and many more facilities.
Around the park there is a road, and this road is the track which we were to run and cycle... it was in good condition but a technical course as the road had several tight "S" bends, a 10 metre hump back bridge and lots of gentle inclines as the road twists around the and through the numerous park features.
The closest point to the sports village accommodation (150 metres) was the start finish line for each lap and here all the tents were erected, one being for the computers and the lap counters who worked day and night in shifts with one person dedicated to each competitor at all times and the others for use by us.
We tended to form groups depending on language spoken, so the French and the Canadians too 2 adjacent tents, Myself, Arthur, Saraya and John shared 2 tents as we all spoke English (Australian) and the Swiss and German competitors shared the other tents.
Some of us pitched our own camping tents to rest and sleep in whilst others preferred the comfort of the sports village.. my theory was once awake and surrounded by noise then I would get up instead of falling back to sleep and I think it worked.
Before starting the swim, we all had to have a medical. We were weighed and our blood pressure taken as a base reference for the rest of the race. It only took a few minutes and then it was time to check out the food. There were large tins of mixed rice and vegetables, another of meat balls, another of spaghetti and one more of scrambled eggs. The tins were above a long trough of hot water whose steam kept the food at a high temperature.
I unloaded the 25 cans of slim fast, bananas, and bag of chocolate bars next to the number 9 lane as per training, the plan was to stop for 5 mins every 2K swam in order to maintain nutrients and energy.
Even though the water was 29 degrees, everyone decided to wear wetsuits so I decided to do the same, if too hot or uncomfortable I could always take it off.
We swam from the crew end of the pool where Simon and Karen were based to the Lap counter end where teams of people were assigned to counting each of our laps. Each competitor had a dedicated counter with a table which they filled in with the time when the lap was completed and the measurement was in distance (Kilometres) rather than laps.
After a few minutes, Jorge gave a brief speech then fired the starting pistol into the air..... That was it... 12:00 Hours on 10th November 2002 and the World championships Deca Ironman Triathlon had started.
After just a few lengths the heat was too much so I immediately removed my wetsuit in the water and then continued swimming my 3 strokes / breath breast stroke. (I can't swim front crawl but perfected this stroke over several years). The first miles were fine, every 2K I stopped and had food and drink and then continued for another set of 20 laps. The other competitors were all doing front crawl and obviously swimming much faster than me, but that is usual so I paced myself steadily at the 50 mins for 2K and kept going.
After 10 miles, I was feeling quite cold as it was now the middle of the night so on my next stop I put on my wetsuit in order to prevent a chill.... it was just a few lengths before becoming too hot and wetsuit was restrictive around arms and legs for breast stroke, so decided to cut the legs off above the knee and then cut the arms off at the shoulders. This helped greatly and swap a couple of miles with no problems at all. It was obvious during the breaks that the other competitors had similar problems, most of the wetsuits had been hacked into different patterns, each to enhance cooling but maintain floatation in the water.
My problem now was that I couldn't dive with first stroke and glide with numbers 2 and 3, so as I felt warm I decided to take the wetsuit off. As I approached the halfway mark, I started sneezing as the chlorine content of the water was very high, and by now most of us were sneezing every time we stopped, and often whilst swimming.
It was great relief to cross the 12 mile mark and it was all down hill from there, but as the arms and legs get tired, I started developing tendonitis in the right forearm and outside the right knee, it was ok but twinge from time to time.... This is when I turned to Simon and Karen and asked them to chop the off-cuts of my wetsuit to create a neoprene knee support which worked perfectly... with just 10K to go I sighed a relief, but then something in the brain panicked and reality was I had another 10K to swim...!!! After a few deep breaths the anxiety was suppressed and I put on my right elbow brace / support to prevent injury to my right forearm and had no more twinges or problems right through to the finish.
It was a great feeling to get out of the pool, the chlorine was very strong and I had completely lost my voice. Didier had finished 8 hours earlier and most were now finished, but 13th position was not bad for me during a swim session of any distance and after a shower and a change had a medical with the doctor (weight and blood pressure and heart rate) and it was off by car to the Park.
In the car was Emanuel (Who went on to win the race) and Alain... the time taken to travel from pool to the Park was recorded and subtracted from the overall time.
In preparation for the cycle, the seat was fitted with a 1.5 inch gel seat cover, but the cover was for a larger type saddle and to keep it in place it was secured with string bands to prevent movement. This worked well and felt great for the first 80 miles, no bruising or sores, but then I could feel that the inner groin was starting to hurt. With no pre-made solution I decided the only chance was to use elastoplast stretchy fabric tape which I had been using on my feet to prevent rubbing on new shoes. I had a shower then fitted the tape to all parts which could get sore, basically made a pair of tape underpants allowing for trips to toilet and then applied plenty of Sudo cream to prevent any forms of rash or infections.
This was the perfect solution, I did not get any sores during the whole cycle as a result, and regular applications of Sudo cream prevent heat and sweat sores from developing. Definitely success..!!
After approx 2 days on the bike, I did however feel every little bump in the road, the weight of my body on the seat for 18 hours a day was telling, so I sent Simon off to the rescue to find a cycle shop and buy a big touring saddle to replace my racing saddle and to buy another Gel cover.
A few hours later Simon arrives with a gel saddle to fit the racing saddle (1.5 inch deep) and a big touring saddle with built in 1.5 inch gel... Immediately I swapped the gel covers so that the racing saddle was correct and gave Simon and Karen time to fit the old gel cover to the new saddle as they were also a perfect match. After another 1 hour cycle, it was time to swap saddles and lower the seat post to accommodate the new saddle height and fitted a single cage for drinks to the frame as the double cage had to be removed to allow for seat adjustment.
Once complete, it was the most relieving point of the race so far... Comfort... Padded comfort and sure enough right through to the finish of the cycle there were no more problems with the seat or sores.
During this evening, as dusk dew in and the lights turned on, 2 lorry loads of troops arrived and stormed the start / finish camp all armed with Rifles. I continued with my laps waiting to see what happened, and on the next lap I saw Didier had been stopped and called over to the officer in charge. The next laps witnessed arm waving by both parties and the shouting of abusive language from Didier so I decided to pull into my tent to find out what was happening... Well... it turned out that the wife of General of the army base next door had been walking through the quiet part of the park and witnessed Didier pulling over to the side of the road and urinating in front of her.... she then told the General who over reacted and rounded up the troops. After much arguing, it was established that the grounds keepers only opened the public toilets which were numerous around the park during the hours of 8am and 6pm which were the park opening hours.. The General then ordered the grounds people to keep the facilities open 24 hours a day until the race was finished. This was lucky as the General has power to over rule the civilian police and although the permits were in place he could have stopped the race and confiscated all the equipment without warning, but as the event was featured on the news and in all the local papers each day it was allowed to continue...!!
During day 3 of the cycle, whilst climbing the little hill again, there was a very peculiar ting..ting..ting noise coming through my headphones, and I discovered some spokes on my front wheel had snapped. The bike mechanic was not there and so I removed the broken spokes and slowly continued hoping he would arrive, but after a few laps the wheel had started to buckle so I stopped. Simon had gone to the bike shop to get spare parts, I hoped he had listened to my request and would buy a good quality new wheel.. up to $400, but he returned with just replacement spokes which were a good idea, unfortunately the blades were too big to fit through the rims. 3 Hours later and the mechanic finally arrived with a replacement wheel and spare spokes. The Rolf wheel was a good quality wheel and I decided to buy it and get back on the circuit as quick as possible whilst he repaired the old wheel and at $380 it was in the right price range.
The mechanic took the magnet for the computer with him to try and fin one for the new wheel and did not return it for 2 days.... I was cycling blind and just worked to the cadence of the pedals and how I was feeling... On the final day, he returned the magnet after 20+ phone calls and complaints and within seconds managed to fit it to the wheel and was back in action for the last 100 miles.
The feeling of satisfaction to finish the 1800KM cycle was amazing... I was happy that no matter what happened in the run with 7 days to complete 422KM I had already achieved a very respectable result.
Now there was just a 422KM run.... I went for a shower and shave, it took almost 1 hour to carefully remove the tape as it had been well and truly stuck in place and clean and refreshed returned to the track.
It was the weirdest sensation to walk after 6 days of cycling.... one second bouncing high, the next stamping into the ground as the brain tries to re-learn where the floor is and how to walk. I decided to tape my toes as they always are the point of trouble on long extreme runs in hot weather, and then fitted into a converted pair of running shoes which had the toes cut out on top to allow for the large swollen feet and I commenced the run.
The first laps were fine, but after 10 miles I felt a bit of heat in the small toes and a few more laps I knew there were a blister to be popped. I was horrified to find the 2 smallest toes on each foot were completely blistered, whoppers underneath which were big problems. They burst easily but the throbbing pain was there every time pressure was applied and without a new invention there was no way I could complete one marathon let alone 10.... I thought back to Badwater Ultra 135 miles, the hottest foot race on earth through Death Valley where on both occasions I endeavoured against bad blisters to do a competent time, and remembered the last time wishing I had a foam platform which I could cut away the toes so that I would only walk on base of feet.... As I described this to Karen, she turned and said "Why don't you cut away the shoe under the bad toes".... Brilliant idea, much better than using stones like in the 2000 Badwater event.
So with the Leather man knife I cut away the sole and carved a slot for the 2 small toes on each foot to reside without any pressure. Immediately I was able to walk pain free... So I thought back to recovery from Badwater, and decided instead of using Second skin which is excellent for treating Blisters, I would use large Menolin wound dressings which have a gauze on one side and deep absorbent cushioning. I taped these to the balls of my feet to prevent friction and trimmed them to the correct size as not to interfere with the toes... This process was done after completing a lap as i carefully fine-tuned the system.
I then realised that the runners were not quite right for this task as the feet were able to move too much, and the Salomon Amphibians, good trail shoes were destined for the knife..... I did not cut away the tops, just underneath and above the injured toes, allowing them to float in the air whilst the other 3 toes on each foot did the walking. Also discovered that it was better to have the big Menolin dressing under the ball of foot and all the toes to remove the edges and provide cushioning, but still taped very firmly in place. That was the deciding moment and from then on I did not get another blister.
The sleep pattern used for the walk was 9 hours walking, 3 hours sleep. The days were hot and nights were cold, so sleeping 12-3 noon and night was a good pattern. After 8 hours the feet were very sore due to pressure and the joints / muscles tight, but a large portion of eggs and 3 hours rest everything was fixed ready for another 9 hour effort.
The insoles would be squashed flat after 9 hours, normally 4 millimetres deep, they would be less than 1, so it was important to find some better quality versions, and I decided to cut the Sorbothane insoles which were much better than the normal foam insole.... but after 9 hours there was pain from right foot by big toe... next morning I put on shoes and it felt like a stone so examined the sole to find a solid lump in the insole... Couldn't beleive it... By now the blisters had dried up and were ok to walk on so I reverted back to my 3rd runners, fitted Double strike sorbothane insoles and cut off the upper toes as the feet were several sizes larger than normal.
This proved to be the winning combination which saw me through to the finish... 12 days, 21 hours, 09 minutes and 20 seconds... It was over.... We had done it.... I had completed the Deca Ironman Triathlon and was welcomed by many hugs and congratulations from all the crews and previous finishers.... What an amazing feeling.... A beer and a rest in the glorious sunshine.. what had I just achieved.... the whole concept was crazy... what has happened over the last 12 days? no tv, no civilisation, just 18 athletes competing day and night in a very lavish and well maintained park with no other concerns apart from hanging in and finishing the race.
I finished in 9th place but several of the competitors failed, running out of time during the run / walk section.... this was an awful feeling for them, all the training and hard work.... their dreams shattered into pieces. But they were all happy with what they achieved, Pascal competed in the Ironman and finished 3rd after recovering from saddle sores, hector was genuinely injured and the others did complete several marathons, each marathon officially completing an Ironman distance...
But for Athletes like Emanuel who finished in 8 Days 11 hours... awesome... he cycled 23 hours a day and ran all of the 422K to come from 11th out of water to second off bike and win the race during the run. Uwe was just a few hours behind and both ran all of the run.....!!!!
The good news is that the injuries all healed during the event, the blisters healed, the tendonitis healed, I am now stronger and fitter than ever before... :-)
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