My race report is slightly different to the ones you may have already read – this was not a plan to get to win my AG or to get to Kona, no, this was simply someone who two years ago set out on a path to complete an Ironman. January 2016, the first Dubai 70.3 – I took part as a relay team, completing the bike leg. The event and atmosphere got me – it all seemed amazing, and I said to myself, I want to get involved in this… a couple of issues immediately presented themselves – I couldn’t swim, and hadn’t run since I was at school over 20 years ago. But I could ride a bike!

So the next year was spent learning to swim, building from 20 metres upwards, and in January 2017 I completed the Dubai 70.3. Well where to we go from here?! I entered IMSA2018 pretty much as soon as it opened.

Time flew by, and suddenly here we are flying DXB to CPT, hired a car and drove the garden route over 2 days to PE – thoroughly recommend it, as the scenery is stunning. Arrived in PE, built up the bike, couple of short rides, a sea swim with David and the guys – water cool, quite lively, but bearable; registration, athletes briefing and then bike racking. All the while trying to stay calm and not let the nerves get the better of me.

Saturday evening, early dinner, and early to bed. Alarm goes off at 4.15. Breakfast of porridge, then it is off to the start. Arrived with plenty of time – probably could have had a bit more sleep, but think it was better to be there and not be rushing.

Wet suit on, watching the sun rise over Hobie Bay – stunning.  6.15, time to get down onto the beach. Sand is wet but quite warm under foot. We are self selected by predicted time, and I put myself right at the back in the 1hr30 plus section. At least there is no pushing and shoving here, like there seems to be in the groups further up. Time for the Nation Anthem and then the pro’s are go. And then so are we – well the fast guys are! We slowly start moving forward and I can feel my heart beating in my chest, but it’s not too fast - yet! Just stay calm, like the sea thankfully is.

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And soon enough, it’s my turn. We are released in groups of 10 every 10 seconds, and I jog down the beach and into the water, not too cold. Sight the first buoy – directly towards the sun, and start swimming. I hear the announcer state that that all the athletes are now in the water shortly after, but I focus on where I am going, and it feels like a reach the first turn in good time. Then the long haul to the next turn, and the half way point. The sea is choppiest along this section, and I kept feeling I was drifting away, but looking at Strava afterwards my course looked straight… looked my watch at the turn, and I had done 1984m @ 42min. This is going ok!

The return was easier, waves seemed easier to read and to sight the buoys. Out of the water, watch said 1hr29min and 3,886m – really pleased with that. U2 beautiful day playing…!!

Into T1 – nice and slow, catch my breath, eat, and walk up to my bike. Mine is the last bike in my row… oh well, let’s go catch some people! Started gently, get comfortable and warm up – I am shivering for the first 10km or so. Road surface is AWFUL, and this is the case for the whole route. The first pro’s head by in the opposite direction! Let’s see how long I stay away (I get to about 50km before being lapped!). What did upset/annoy me was the amount of blatant drafting going on at the front… and then the draft busters seemed to be picking on the guys at the back…

Start to warm up and speed up. I am passing people constantly for most of the first lap. Get to the turn and realise why it’s been so easy – tailwind turns into a headwind – for the next 45km. Oh well better just get on with it, stick to my power number and get on with it. Back to the start, into special needs for some more bars, and back out, enjoying the tailwind. If anything the wind was even stronger on the return.

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And then into T2. What a relief to not be being bounced about anymore! Bike racked, grab run bag and sit down for a couple of minutes and compose myself. Listen to Lucy Charles winning the ladies race. Everything done, double and triple check – ok, here we go, my first marathon.

1st lap, feel good, sun shining, hit the 15k mark, still feeling strong, then slowly but surely legs start to give up! No particular pain, just not able to maintain the previous pace. Ok, we won’t stay at 6min k’s down to 6.30, then 7, but we are still moving forward, and that is the mantra for the rest of the run. I am still passing people, which helps the motivation.  This lasts until kilometre 39… when I just have to walk… too tired to chastise myself! 500m of walking, then we go again.

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And there is the finish line – ‘James Thomas you are an Ironman!’

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I would love to say I felt a huge sense of achievement but that didn’t arrive until a day or two afterwards – I just wanted to stop running! Stairs were hard work for a couple days, but that was about as much pain as I had. I finished with a time of 13hrs 14min & 9 seconds – a good friend asked why I didn’t wait another 6 seconds to finish the sequence! I would love to do another one, although where and when? Suggestions welcomed.

James Thomas
April 2018

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