Story By: Mandy Hulbert
Photos: Mandy Hulbert
If you have ever been involved in the whole “Ironman experience” you will know that it is not just one day, where it is hoped that either you, or a loved one, or friend can reach the finish line in sub 17 hours. Ironman happens in the 20 weeks beforehand where, if you are like me, an “Iron-wife”, you take on all manner of jobs around your home whilst watching your loved one train for ridiculous hours and then promptly fall asleep straight after dinner. July roles on relentlessly through to mid November and countless social invitations are turned down. Suddenly it’s “taper time!” and you have a Sunday afternoon free to do what normal people do but you can’t quite remember what that was?? Your highly tuned athlete has too much time on their hands and is eating like a pack horse. Five days prior to race day it’s time to start packing and the front room begins to resemble the floor space at Total Triathlon. I’m not entirely sure why so many socks and hats need to be packed but I guess you can never have too many….
The pilgrimage to Busso is a nervous drive and we always count the bikes on the back of cars to keep “Ironman” focused and allay the need for more than one wee stop. Turning onto the Tuart Drive bike course is where it becomes VERY real with the big LED road signs alerting everyone to the weekends race. Once in town you feel like you are in the “Ironman bubble” and it is ok to talk purely about Tri stuff – no one will be bored by it. You spend a small fortune in the merch tent and seem to bump into someone you know at every turn. Everyone is high on the anticipation and it is one of the most positive environments you can ever hope to experience. The next 48 hours or so are filled with checking in, weighing in, packing kit, re packing kit, etc etc and if you’re like us, managing to lock yourself out of your accommodation and inside the garage! We weren’t the only North Coasters to do this either. The welcome party comes and goes, the bike gets checked in on the Saturday afternoon after being polished within an inch of its carbon bones, being photographed by an official and probably hugged by its owner before spending their first night apart in months. Friends and supporters start to arrive in town ready for a great weekend away and you sadly announce you have to go to bed early….. again. Everything for the morning is laid out ready, the fridge is full of interesting potions in gel flasks and bidons and there are “post it” notes everywhere reminding you not to forget “this and that” when you get up at “stupid o’clock”. Then you go to sleep…..
Race morning is dark and still, transition is filled with lycra clad warriors pumping up tyres and visibly withdrawing into their own private head space. The portaloos are a popular destination and the anticipation of a long day ahead lingers everywhere. It is at this exact moment where the support crew take over, there is nothing else the athlete can do except race. The race commentators take to the microphones, wetsuits are zipped up, the anthem is played and we say our goodbyes on the sand. The sun rises and the helicopters buzz overhead as the first timers wave to the crowd on the jetty.
And then it begins, 1900 pairs of arms and legs, in a swarm, enter the water. The sick feeling strangely disappears and everyone is in race mode. What happens over the next few hours is different for each individual and cannot be summed up in their entirety. I can say there are plenty of highs, a few tears, a massive feeling of “family” not only around the club tent but with every spectator you meet along the way who is waiting for just one small glimpse of their athlete. It’s amazing how uplifting it is just to be able to see your participant still smiling even if it’s for a mere moment after several hours of waiting. Walking out to the far end of the run course there are less smiles and lots of pain on view. This is not where the crowds are and the athletes are not having to put on a show out there. This is where the “pain cave” is. All you can do is support each and every person who passes by and this is what we do…. I will end by saying that the finish line is incredible. Every person is cheered home equally loudly whether they have a support crew or not. When your own Ironman enters the chute it’s like adding up all the best moments of your life and then injecting them into yourself simultaneously. I know this may sound over the top but don’t knock it til you’ve experienced it. Your athlete crosses the line and gets taken away from you again! You wait for what seems like ever to meet them with their medal and “inclusive shirt and towel” (you’ve paid a lot for that stuff!). The next morning you wake up way too early again, retrieve the bike and heaps of smelly equipment from transition and then catch up with other club friends at the roll down ceremony. Feeling physically and emotionally spent you then get ready for the after party where you are surrounded by what seems to be hundreds of limping but happy people. The rest is a secret, you had to be there.