Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Race weekend

The race weekend begins on Saturday when we drive up to the National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham with a car full of kit.  The children are staying with their grandparents for the weekend, which means that the race bike doesn't have to suffer the indignity of travelling on a bike rack, it can sit on its very own blanket in the back of the car.

bike bits
The gleamingly clean bike (in bits) on its special yellow blanket in the back of the car

The day before race day

There are three important things G has to do on the day before race day: registration, racking and race briefing.

Registration takes place in the main building at the National Water Sports Centre.  Most people, including G, are wearing club sweatshirts.  The lady at the registration desk knows G's swimming coach and makes a special fuss of him because he is the only competitor from his club, East London Triathletes.

At Registration

The nice registration lady gives G his race number, which he will wear on a belt around his waist all through the race.  He is also given his timing chip which he will wear on a strap around his ankle all through the race.  The timing chip records his finish time as well as his times for each separate discipline and at various other points around the course.

Run number and name
His race number, which he wears all through the race.  It has his name too, so people can cheer him on!

Once registration is done, we go back to the car and G gets everything ready for racking.  Racking means leaving the bike in the bike racks ready for the race the next day, and also leaving the bike kit (helmet, bike jacket, socks and special clippy bike shoes) in the Bike Transition. 

Transition is where you switch from one discipline to the next.  In Bike Transition you peel off your wetsuit (you will be wearing a tri-suit underneath), and swimming hat, put on your bike kit and load your pockets and your bike with snickers bars and water bottles.  In Run Transition you take off your bike kit and put on your running kit (a new pair of socks and your running shoes - still wearing your tri-suit).

Getting ready for racking, G has to be very organised and concentrate to make sure he is leaving everything he needs in the correct place.  Triathlons are complicated!  Luckily G is a very organised person, so this bit is trouble free.

The car boot - full of kit
The back of our car, full of kit being prepared for racking.

We take the bike to the bike racks and G is pleased that the slot for his bike is easy to remember - at one end of the second row.  He won't be dithering in Bike Transition looking for it amongst the hundreds of others.

Racking the bikes the day before
Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of bicycle in the bike racks. Early in the afternoon - the racks filled up much more as the day went on.

He leaves a labelled bag with his bike kit in at the Bike Transition, and another labelled bag with his running kit in at the Run Transition.

Then G heads back into the main building for an hour long race briefing.  He finds out important things like what time he has to be in the water ready to start the swim (5:50am) and what will be available at the feeding stations on the run course (bananas and water).

I stand on the balcony of the main building, admiring the view of the lake (usually used for rowing races) and wondering how far the swim actually is.  When G comes out of his race briefing I ask him.

We leave the Water Sports Centre and drive into Nottingham to check in at our hotel and get everything ready for a very early start the next day.

Race gear prepared the night before
Everything he needs for race day, laid out on the hotel floor the night before

Race day

We set our alarms for 3:30 am.  G gets up and makes himself breakfast: muesli, wholemeal bagels with peanut butter, and fruit smoothies.  I make a pot of coffee and put it in a flask for later.  At 4:15 we leave the hotel and set off for the Water Sports Centre.  We are there in plenty of time, and G goes to the bike racks to check that everything he needs is in the right places at Transition, and to pump up the tyres on his bike.

The moon was still up at the start of the race
The sky was dark and the moon still up when we got to the Water Sports Centre at 4:45am

We go into the main building and while I sip my flask of coffee he inches his way into his wetsuit.  Swimming wetsuits are made quite differently to surfing or diving wetsuits.  They are eye-wateringly tight, and take a good ten minutes to put on.  I watch everyone else wriggling into theirs, and rubbing vaseline around their wrists and ankles to stop any chafing.  Seeing hundreds of men peel themselves into skin-tight wetsuits is a bit much at this time in the morning, actually.  I sip some more coffee and avert my gaze.  Wives are applying suncream to husbands' ears and necks, and I put some on G too.

We head down to the lake and I say goodbye to G before he heads into the competitors' area and lines up at the edge of the lake.  I am suddenly utterly overwhelmed by the enormity of what he has to do, and burst into tears, but he is grinning his very widest grin and looks ready to take on the world.

Supporters at the swim start, 6am
And he's gone. Spectators outside the competitors' area at 5:40am, just after I said goodbye to G

The start of the race

The race is a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 mile (marathon distance) run.  He is hoping to do the whole race in twelve and a half hours.

I next see him early in the afternoon, about a quarter of the way into his run.  I stand on the grassy bank with loads of other supporters and shriek madly when I see him running towards me.  He is pleased to see me, is still beaming, and high fives me as he runs past.  The next time I see him, about an hour and twenty minutes later he is still looking good, although the grin has faded a little.  He has one more lap to go.  I move closer to the finish line and start to get very excited and nervous.  He is nearly home, and it looks like he is going to be much faster than he expected.

I finally see him coming into the home straight at 12 hours and 3 minutes - a full half hour faster than he expected.  The grin is back and I shriek with excitement again and shout to the world how wonderful he is.

He did it!

Outlaw Bike

Outlaw Finish

Outlaw Finish

I push my way through the crowds and press myself against the railings separating the spectators from the finished competitors.  We have lots of sweaty kisses and he disappears into a marquee to collect his medal and eat some pasta.

Later still, he retrieves his bike, wetsuit and other kit and comes through to the spectators side wearing his new t-shirt, his medal...and that big grin!

My hero

Outlaw in his Finisher t-shirt

His brother and sister were also there to support him and we all tell him how amazing he is and how very, very proud of him we are.  Tears are shed (mostly by me) and dozens of photos are taken.  It has been an amazing weekend, which we will all remember for the rest of our lives.

Graham with his very proud brother and sister
G, with his incredibly proud brother and sister


The race, though, is just one day. 

The training for this race has been a full year of complete dedication and focus on G's part (on top of seven previous years of competing in the usual shorter-distance triathlons), as well as sacrifice, compromise, thoughtfulness and determination.  It is for these qualities that he gets my admiration and pride.  He has truly been an inspiration to me.  Nothing with value comes without hard work, and the race day is a celebration and illustration of all that hard work.


  1. Absolutely fantastic! Congratulations all round.

  2. Absolutely amazing - iron man indeed! The race is just the tip of the iceberg, isn't it - after all those early mornings and hours training which lead up to it.

    Pomona x

  3. No wonder you're so proud of him ... what an amazing achievement. Will he do another one???

  4. I'm speechless. Huge congratulations!

    (I described what Graham had done to my husband, and he went very, very pale.)

  5. I should perhaps rephrase that - "I described to my husband what Graham had done." ;-)

  6. Amazing achievement Graham, well done! Doesn't he look like his brother? I am particularly impressed that he was competing in the colours of the Worcester Warriors!

  7. I feel quite teary myself just reading about it. Well done Graham - something to be very proud of indeed.

    (And never forget the importance of fab family support too)!

  8. You've captured the day brilliantly. Many congrats to Graham and have some for yourself for being so incredibly supportive!

  9. Wow, just wow. I had tears in my eyes reading that toward the end. Well done G.

    And look at that family resemblance! Or are they twins? Amazingly alike, at any rate.

  10. That was a very emotive post and made me feel your pride and tears. What an incredible achievement for your husband.

    These sports people and their focus and dedication are completely amazing - I feel the same about the cyclists who do the Tour de France - they push the boundaries to fantastic limits - as did your man.

  11. Congratulations, what an amazing achievement.

  12. Huge well done to G my hat is well and truly taken off to him!!

  13. Wow, what an enormous achievement. Congratulations Graham!

  14. Oh wow! Congratulations! I'm so incredibly impressed!

    And hats off to you too for all your support behind the scenes :)

    K x

  15. yee-ha! fabulous. Sat here like a grinning idiot with tears welling up. What a fabulously informative post about what G has achieved,and in the words of Roy Castle (ahem) "Dedication Is What You Need" (Going to be singing that all night now, bugger!)

  16. Well done to your man.! I am sure your support helped him on his way. You have captured the excitement of the day perfectly.

  17. Wow. That is amazing. I am a bit slack jawed at the commitment and determination needed for something like that. And to still have a smile on his face at the end of it! Pretty impressive.

  18. Well done everyone- you too! I'm also practically in tears just reading about it! Can't get over the footage of all the swimmers!

  19. Congratualtions! I'm a cycling and can't understand how you manage to do an ironman. Incredible!


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