Can’t swim, to Ironman

Can’t swim, to Ironman

“Congratulations! You are now registered for the 2022 Ironman UK – General Entry”. Right, I thought, time to learn how to swim…

By Patrick Clifford-Tarry, Sales at ZONE3

For 30 years I have done my absolute best to avoid water. My ideal daytrip to the beach would be to see the sea in the distance from a coastal path or within the safety of my car, with a large fish and chips. Pools were the same, either on holiday or at the local leisure centre – the idea of even standing in one filled me with dread. But for several years I have wanted a challenge to help focus my training and completing an Ironman is for me, the ultimate challenge.  

But I did it, and with every width of every session I started to relax, and the more I relaxed the easier it became. I moved to the deep end, enjoying the confidence that I knew I could get to the other side and started doing more and more lengths down at my local pools, slowly building more strength and stamina.  

Sometimes I find it quite therapeutic, sometimes I get a buzz, sometimes I hate it, but having the goal of finishing the Ironman in my mind helps me get through the days where I am low on energy/motivation/buoyancy.  

I should come clean that I am an experienced runner and have cycled for years, so I am not completely new to multi-sport events like some entrants are – I absolutely take my (ZONE3 swim) cap off to those guys as well as those who have much larger obstacles to overcome than me. 

Cut to almost a year later and to the weekend of Ironman UK 2022. 

In my opinion you should only be awake at 3.15am for 2 things: catching an early flight to go on holiday, or queuing outside the local kebab van wondering what happened to the ‘quiet few drinks’ you popped out for. However, this time 3:15am meant it was time to get a bus to Pennington Flash to begin Ironman UK 2022. The next 2 hours were a blur of nerves, excitement and triple checking I had my swimcap/goggles/ear plugs 8 times. Then once more to be sure. 

Bike checked, nutrition loaded and wetsuit on it was time to head to the start line! As we were waiting for the pros to get underway, the heavens opened leaving us shivering in the cold, Lancashire rain. Finally, it was time to go, and I stuck to my game plan of staying wide of the racing line and focusing on my own race. This was easily the most enjoyable moment of the whole race, watching the chaos of the fast groups taking chunks out of each other every time I took a breath to the right, and before I knew it I done with my swim and jogging through to T1! 

Being a slow swimmer has its advantages, as most of the field already gone, my bike very easy to spot and I had a constant stream of people to try and chase down in front of me. The bike course at Bolton is savage, with over 3000m of climbing, poor road surfaces and technical descents. I don’t mind riding in the rain; however every cyclist’s worst enemy is the wind, and being on such exposed roads on the top of the moors meant you had nowhere to hide right when you needed to recover! I trained as much as possible on hilly routes, but the 3rd lap of the bike was extremely tough, and I had to give it everything to get round. I cycled into transition with my legs in pieces, knowing the run was going to be a run/walk and very, very miserable. 

Sadly, I was right. Whilst my legs started to ease after a couple of miles my stomach had other plans. Cue some walking and toilet breaks! I hit a real low point 16 miles in, my run was mainly a walk and was running very low on energy. The crowd at Bolton however were absolutely sensational and got me going again. Several miles later a friend surprised me on the run, who ended up running with me for a while telling me about the F1 to take my mind off things. I have never been so grateful of a bit of company, and before I knew it I ran past the 26 mile marker and realized I’d done it.

A lot has been said about the red carpet moment as you finish an Ironman. I’ll be honest, I was in such a mess I didn’t even hear my wife shouting at me or the legendary ‘You are an Ironman’ from the race director. I just wanted it to be over and get back to the hotel. However, rounding the last corner and seeing the finish line was incredible and now I’ve had chance to reflect, there were some amazing moments throughout the day. I was aiming to complete it in 15 hours and ended up finishing in 15.47, but I honestly couldn’t care less. In less than a year I’d gone from swimming widths of a pool with arm bands, to completing a 3.8km swim as my warmup to one of the toughest triathlons in the UK. There are so many incredible stories that far eclipse mine, but all I will say is if you are thinking of giving open water swimming or triathlon a go, I can’t tell you enough – do it.  

Now, time for a beer.