Three out of Five Ain’t Bad

The Event

Enduroman are ultra-event organisers who run a series of challenge races every year. These include the Arch to Arc challenge – an 87-mile run from London to Dover, then a swim across the Channel followed by a 181 mile cycle ride to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, as well as the annual Festival of Triathlon. The festival is held at Avon Tyrell Outdoor centre in the New Forest every May/June and sees a few dedicated and slightly odd characters test themselves against their chosen ultra-event.

The events vary year to year but the 2015 line up was looking pretty special and the following events were on offer -

- Run to max: Think of a distance and see if you can achieve it. Start and stop when you want. Run at any time on any day, for as long as you want.

- Marathons: Run 26.2 Miles. As one per day for 6x1 or 5x1 or 4x1 or any one on any day.

- Swim Enduroman: 12 mile continuous swim.

- Quin Enduroman: Continuous. Swim 12 Miles, Bike 560 Miles, Run 131 Miles.

- Quin Enduroman: 5 x 1. Swim 2.4 Miles, Bike 116 Miles, Run 26 Miles per day.

- Triple Enduroman: 3 x 1 - Swim 2.4 Miles, Bike 116 Miles, Run 26 Miles per day.

- Enduroman 200 Ultra Marathon: 200 Miles.

- Double Enduroman: Continuous - Swim 4.8 Miles, Bike 232 Miles, Run 52 Miles.

- Double Enduroman: 2 x 1 - Swim 2.4 Miles, Bike 116 Miles, Run 26 Miles per day.

- 200 Ultra Marathon: 200 Miles.

- 100 Ultra Marathon: 100 Miles.

- 50 Ultra Marathon: 50 Miles.

- Single Enduroman: Swim 2.4 Miles, Bike 116 Miles, Run 26 Miles.

- Enduroman Duathlon: Run 13.2 Miles, Bike116 Miles, Run 26.4 Miles.

- Half Enduroman: Swim 1.3 Miles, Bike, 58 Miles, Run 13 Miles.

A fairly mixed bag but definitely something for everyone!

After a year of suffering with overuse injuries and the loss of my training mojo, I really needed something to kick start my training again. A DNF and a DNS in 2014 had affected me mentally and my confidence was pretty low – not a great place to be considering the year before I had completed my first marathon, first ironman distance triathlon, first open water endurance swim (5 miles in 2 hrs 10 mins) and then went onto the finish the year doing my first ultra-marathon.

Somewhat foolishly, I opted for the Quintuple Enduroman. The 5 x 1 event which would hopefully see me complete a 2.4 mile swim, 116 mile bike and a marathon every day for 5 days. I had no idea what would happen; whether I’d crash and burn after Day 1 or make it until Day 5, but my aim was just to have a go and see what my body might be able to do. I knew I could do 1, and if you can do 1, you can do 2. Anything after that was entirely unknown.

Training and Preparation

There aren’t many books or training plans for how to train for a Quintuple ironman triathlon and to be honest I’ve never been one to follow these things anyway. However, this was different so I used Gerry Duffy’s book Tick Tock Ten as the basis for my programme and developed a rough training plan from there. Training started in earnest in December 2014, giving me 6 months of focused training up to the event. Prior to that I had been doing 14 hours weeks since the end of summer and so I thought I was starting from a fairly good place.

Over the 6 months before the event I averaged around 18 hours of training per week, with my peak being 30 hours and my lowest being a measly 2! This was no mean feat when trying to juggle full time work in the Royal Air Force and also complete a 20,000 word dissertation for my MSc which had to be submitted by 1 Jun, the day after the race finished.

In March I decided to do a little tester and signed up for the Jurassic Coast challenge. This is a foot race covering 86 miles over 3 days, along the Jurassic coast (unsurprisingly). An amazing event and an exceptionally well organised multi day challenge. The hills are brutal, descending by far the worse bit and I lost 4 toe nails but it was a great training experience and I learnt a lot about my nutrition and ability to hold down food when running. I spent day 1 throwing up from mile 17 to mile 27 and decided the only way to remedy this was to avoid food all together on days 2 and 3. I got through and didn’t bonk which was a miracle but I know my performance would have been stronger had I been able to maintain a decent calorie intake. Annoyingly the same issue had occurred at Snowdon Marathon 6 months before this and I had put it down to nerves as I was chasing a PB. As it stands, I still can’t be sure what was the cause on either occasion but I did learn that you can keep going after repeatedly being sick – no matter how awful you feel.

My Crew and the Kit

Once the Jurassic Coast was out the way time passed worryingly quickly and I was in full-on training mode. Not only this, we needed to start sorting the administration for the race.

The kit list was unfeasibly large and included –

• 2 x bikes

• 2 x spare wheels

• 2 x garmins

• 4 x spare tyres

• 8 x spare tubes

• 3 x trainers (in varying sizes)

• 2 x wetsuits

• 4 x swim hats

• 3 x swim goggles

• 2 x tents

• Bedding

• 5 x running clothes

• 5 x cycling clothes

• 2 x bike helmets

• Imodium, plasters and many, many packets of pain killers

And most importantly –

• 6 bottles of Malbec

• 24 x loo rolls!

And that doesn’t even touch on the food requirements! Reeses Pieces, peanut M&Ms, haribo, jelly babies, pretzels, salt and vinegar crisps, peanut butter, porridge, nutella, and list went on. We had also opted to camp for the duration of the event. It really did seem like the best option at the time but added a significant amount of equipment to take.

The Set Up and the Routes

We arrived and quickly set up camp, including 2 ‘forward’ tents for the support crew to be based from, one during the bike and the other during the run. The bike support tent was in close proximity to our main area of accommodation so there was easy access to bike repair kit and spare bike/wheels should the need arise. Each lap was 11.6 miles and we would do 10 per day to total 116. Usually an ironman is 112 and whilst 4 miles doesn’t seem like much, I can assure you there was a degree of resentment toward those extra miles even on day 1, and for those who told me the New Forest was flat, it isn’t. It really isn’t.

We then had another support tent positioned just before the end of each run loop. The run route itself was 24 laps of a 1.1 mile course. It was essentially half a mile down and half a mile up, all off road, over tree roots, under low hanging branches and round the swim lake where we’d take our morning baths.

The swim was 2.4 miles in a medium sized lake around 10 mins walk downhill from the tent. Transition was situated about half way up the hill and being the only girl meant I had an entire changing area to myself. The lake was beautiful. Calm and clean and warm – to be honest you couldn’t ask for a better swim.

The day before the race I was a bag of nerves, excited, anxious, a little short tempered but equally resigned to what was to come.

Day 1

Up at 0500 and straight into my swimming costume and dry robe whilst drinking coffee and eating porridge (with peanut butter obviously). We walked down to the lake where I put my wetsuit on and had the race briefing at 0550 before getting into the lake. The line-up was 8 of us, and the others were truly inspirational athletes. Everyone there (except me) had done at least 2 x triple ironmen, with 2 having completed Decas and 1 bloke from Slovenia who was a triple deca champion. Yes, that’s 30 ironmen distance triathlons in 30 days. Awe inspiring and I was honoured to be on the start line with them. One of the Race Directors, Dan Earthquake (yes his real name) gave the race brief and we were off. I felt oddly calm during the swim, just trying to maintain a steady pace and tick off the laps until I heard the bell indicating it was my last lap. I finished in 70 mins which I was pleased with, swiped my timing chip, took off the wetsuit and made my way up to Transition 1.

Transition was straight forward, warm and dry so perfect really. I had placed my bike kit bag in there whilst I was swimming and so I just needed to dry off and get changed. I decided early on that comfort would be key over such a long event and as such there was no way I was embarking on the cycle course without some proper padded cycling short – none of that flimsy tri suit nonsense!

Setting off on the bike course before 0730 was exactly where I wanted to be. The worst (or maybe the best!) part is that I can’t recall big chunks of the day itself, certainly not the ride. It was fairly sunny with a light wind so nothing dramatic there. Having ridden the bike course previously I thought I knew what to expect but I really didn’t. It was ok, bearable, doable, but my speed was much lower than on previous rides around the same course. I have no idea why this was but actually in the overall scheme of things it didn’t matter. I knew I wasn’t eating enough or drinking enough so stopped for my main meal around lap 8 sin time for digestion before the run. My time wasn’t great but it was steady and overall, I was happy and comfortable. By 1530 I was out on the run and happily ticking off the laps of the course.

The run was uneventful but became increasingly hard as the lack of food during the bike leg began to take its toll. Not eating for 26 miles is one thing; not eating for 26 miles when you’ve cycled 116 and swam 2.4 is entirely unsustainable. Scared of throwing up as I had during previous events, I was cautious about eating but knew I needed enough to allow me to recover for the next day. Jelly babies, peanut M&Ms and the large reese’s peanut butter cups were being thrown at me every lap, along with bottles of carbohydrate drinks, electrolytes and water, with the occasional coffee! By 2130 I was all done having finished in 15 hrs 30. Almost 3 hours slower than my previous ironman experience (a very flat course) but I was happy with my pacing. I felt good and ready to take on day 2.

I decided early on that the evening ritual had to involve an ice bath. This could have been taken at the lake but it would have been a 10 min walk there and back so I opted for a huge plastic box full of ice water, a stone’s throw away from the tent! Wearing nothing but a head torch I was unceremoniously helped into the box and left to sit there for 15 mins whilst eating cold chilli and rice and drinking protein shakes. Thankfully it was dark otherwise I think I’d have been arrested.

In bed, in full compression gear by midnight after a quick chat and a catch up, and the alarm was going off again at 0500 before my head had touched the pillow. The morning ritual was already smooth despite it only being day 2 and we quickly ate and drank and made our way to the lake for the 0550 race brief and 0600 start.

The swim was a little slower and I came out the water in 73 mins, but I was happy with my performance and made the way to transition for a change into bike gear. Again I can’t recall the bike, apart from getting very excited about seeing the pig that lived in someone’s garden. I would shout good morning to him on every lap and report back whether he had been sleeping or eating or walking around. He was a great distraction and it’s fair to say I got a little obsessed with reporting his movements to everyone. I was slower on day 2 but I stopped more frequently and ate a lot more, plus the weather conditions had taken a turn for the worse with some truly horrific head wind. By the run I was slower still but still feeling kind of ok. I plugged my way round and had time to chat with many of the other participants as we all dragged our feet up the hills. After 17 and a half hours, I was done and in bed by 0100.

Day 3 was a whole world of hurt. I woke up at 0500 as usual and got into my swimming costume and dry robe. I was reluctant to get into the water as I was feeling the cold by now – my body was tired and I just couldn’t get warm. The aches and pains had started and my lower limbs were beginning to show the signs of swelling. Eddie Ette, one of the race directors took one look at my face before the swim start and gave me a massive hug which was much needed. Today was also the day which the triple ironman event started and also the day when our merry band of 8 became 7. One of the other 5 x 1 quin competitors had withdrawn after finishing day 2. A real shame as he had travelled all the way from Finland to compete. It would later transpire that none of the triple competitors would complete the event with the first withdrawal taking place within 50m of the swim start.

For me, the swim was slow and cold. I came out the water and asked Dan what my time was. He told me 1.26 and to be honest I was pretty devastated. Even on a slow day I can do better than that. However, he then went on to tell me that we had all swum an extra lap of the lake and so everyone was a good 10 minutes over their usual time. Weirdly that really cheered me up as it meant that my swim hadn’t been utterly horrific. But now we had the bike course to face. Mentally I was struggling and physically I had some epic sores and blisters. It is important to note that none of these were on my feet…..

I took it 1 lap at a time but there were tears and there was a lot of rain and wind, so full kit changes were needed as I was completely drenched, more first aid required as blisters burst and sores deepened and an incident when I was completely naked eating sausage and mash at the side of the road when a good friend from work and his wife arrived to cheer me on. They can never un-see that and for that I apologise profusely.

The world became bearable again around 70 miles when I realised that I might actually make it through the day. Typically as my mood picked up so did my speed, but then I got a puncture after hitting a pot hole. We fixed it pretty quickly and the last few laps actually went quite quickly. I was even smiling again.

It was late, much later than I wanted by the time I started the run. I think deep down we all knew that getting the triple under my belt was probably going to be the end of my event but I tried my best to push on regardless. Until around mile 13 I was happy and plodding along at a slow but steady pace. After this the cold really took hold again. It was pitch black and in the middle of the forest so a head torch was a must. I was willing my legs to move but they just wouldn’t have any of it. I was getting slower and slower and more frustrated with every lap. One of the strangest physical effects was that I just couldn’t get my breath. My HR was through the roof despite making slow progress and the hills were completely putting me on my arse. It was around mile 17 that the decision was made that I wouldn’t participate in day 4. This felt like a relief at the time because I had been stressing about not getting enough sleep and was trying to push through so I could get to bed, ready for the 0500 start the next day.

Realising that in less than 9 miles I would be a triple ironman was a pretty special feeling and whilst those laps took an age, at no stage did my support crew ever show signs of fatigue or frustration. Their patience and determination to see me succeed was humbling. With the pressure off, the shuffle became a fast walk which became a slow walk in no time. I was really cold, wearing base layers, 2 pairs of trousers, gloves and a fleece. The only aim was to keep moving and eventually around 0400 I crossed the finish line and became a triple ironman.

The race directors had said I could sleep by the lake in order to be ready for the 0600 swim start but I knew in my heart of hearts I had given it everything and whilst I could have done the swim, I knew that getting back on that bike was not an option. I would have happily sold it for less than a fiver at that point and never seen it again! I managed a couple of sips of wine but was fairly useless and dreadful company if I’m honest. I was wearing 2 jackets, compression gear and a hoodie when I got into bed and stayed that way for around 4 hours. After that I couldn’t sleep. A combination of the adrenaline that I had become triple ironman mixed with the disappointment that I wasn’t going to make day 4 and 5 cost me of many hours of precious recovery sleep over the next few days.

Recovery was slow. My feet and legs were swollen for almost a week and I was unable to wear any of my own clothes. I spent at least 3 days sitting with my feet in an ice bath drinking wine which was actually pretty awesome. My skin has mostly grown back and the blisters healed. Over all my feet faired incredibly well and I only suffered from 2 small blisters on them thanks to Injinji socks and Hoka trainers. I do still feel disappointed that I didn’t make the fourth and fifth day but it was always going to be a big leap into the unknown. Completing 3 is a fantastic achievement and the 5 will always be there for another day – although this time I’m going somewhere flat, that doesn’t have cattle grids. Overall my time was 55 hours which does include all food stops and changes of clothes and much needed pep talks.

I hope in some way this article inspires other people to just have a go at things. You really don’t know what you can do until you try and I will never regret my experience at Enduroman. I also got my Masters submitted in time and was awarded a Merit for my efforts. Yes I didn’t achieve the 5 that I set out to do, but that’s not to say I won’t in the future and no what matter what, I’ll always be a triple ironman.

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