Probably not of much interest to anyone who doesn’t do triathlons, but, I finally wrote a race report for Kalmar Ironman – it’s long.
Ironman Kalmar 2022 –
YOU ARE AN IRONMAN
Ian and I started our journey “back to triathlon” in 2018, after me working away for months on end, eating a lot, not doing a lot of exercise and essentially ‘burning the candle at both ends’ (as my Mum would say!). I casually suggested to Ian that, after not having done triathlon since 2012 when we only did a sprint tri, that we sign up to our first half distance ironman in order to give me a kick up the backside – and so Jonkoping 70.3 in 2019 was born. The reason I tell you this is because, following said 70.3 I resolutely said never, ever would I do a full distance. Roll on 2 weeks, and over a rather large bottle of red wine Ian said, shall we… do a full? This, dear reader, was how it all began…
Of course, neither of us ever thought that Kalmar Ironman in 2020 would be cancelled, let alone Kalmar 2021 so a few false starts later we found ourselves re-starting our training plans in November 2021 – third time lucky, eh. For me, this time round felt a tough journey. My dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer in May of 2021, and passed away only a few weeks later, at the start of August. The training kept me good though. Week in, week out, build, build, build, de-load. Rinse and repeat for 10 months. In May, we did our first 100km ride – our longest ride ever! That was quickly surpassed week on week until we hit our first – and only – 100miler in early July. BOOM,100 miles in the bag. Ready to go, let’s do this.
We decided to drive across Europe to Sweden, because why not?! Also, with the thought of airports, lost baggage, bikes not turning up etc. etc. filled us with dread, so we set off on the Monday, stopping in Antwerp and Copenhagen before arriving in Kalmar, Sweden, on the Wednesday before the race on the Saturday. When we arrived the atmosphere in Kalmar was already buzzing, the construction of the finish chute was well underway and big crowds came to watch both the Kalmar Tri and Ironkids – then it was time to register.
Eeek. Once that IM band is on your wrist, reality sets in! Before we knew it, Friday was here and time to sort the transition bags, rack the bikes, prep nutrition.
Plain chicken and copious amount of rice eaten on Friday night, all that was left to do was set that 4:30 alarm! We brought our own bagels and peanut butter for breakfast because, well, you just CAN’T try anything new on race day haha. Chew, chew, chew, just try to get it down and not think about the day that lay ahead. Next to us while we were eating breakfast was a couple who were doing the Scandinavian Double – Kalmar on the Saturday; Copenhagen on the Sunday – all I could think was thank god I’m not you! (They managed it by the way – absolute madness!)
Then it was time to take the short drive into Kalmar; check the bikes; wetsuit on; video to the family and streetwear bags dropped off. Cheeky little gel and it was time to self-seed in the snaking long line to the swim start. Ok. Let’s do this. Time to become an Ironman…
The swim entry was a rolling start along a purpose-built platform – one last hand squeeze and Ian and I lost one another immediately in the chaos! I got kicked hard in the quad as I got in but ok, breathe, relax, get into a steady rhythm… and wow, the swim was stunning. Glorious clear waters in the Baltic strait, about 17 degrees which felt quite balmy in comparison with Wildshore at Delamere! I tried my best to stick on someone’s feet but before long I’d lost them – I’m really not great at sighting at the best of times and I’d managed to sight a completely irrelevant buoy and go off course to the right. Never mind, back on track, keep swimming, onto someone’s feet again… I kept that up for a while but the course had about 6 90 degree turns to navigate! Not ideal! I managed to go off course again but some kind, kind person gave me a gentle push on my shoulder to the left and steered me back on course (aren’t triathletes the best?). Before long I was swimming along the shore, where supporters were stood all across cheering us on and then onto under a low bridge where again there was a huge crowd shouting and cheering us on, what a buzz!! At this point I saw loads of jelly fish – luckily I’d googled this in advance and knew they weren’t stingers so instead I just felt so privileged to be swimming alongside them. Finally, the end was in sight, kick, kick, kick, get that blood pumping! Yanked out of the water by a volunteer and before I knew it I was, slightly off kilter, gently jogging towards T1.
T1 – I had to get fully changed as I decided for comfort (ahem) I would wear bike shorts and top instead of a tri suit for the bike portion, so I took my time knowing it was going to be a long day yet! Finally, out of the changing area, bags re-racked, hydration backpack on, grab the bike and goooo!
Now, the bike was the section I was really worried about. I am slow. I mean, I am slow at everything, but 112 miles is just a really long way, isn’t it? But we’d picked an Ironman with a flat bike course for that reason, hoping I could just get through it. Out I went though and I was cruising along at an extremely decent 17mph! One of the coolest things about Kalmar Ironman is that you get to cycle across Oland bridge, which – on every other day of the year – is only open to cars. 6km of bridge across the Baltic strait with cars on the other side sounding their horns and cheering us on, amazing!
And then, all at once you’re on the island of Oland! I was incredibly lucky too as not long after I made it to Oland the first set of pros came flying past me ready to take on the bridge back to Kalmar again. At this point a sense of calm washed over me; the island is very remote, peaceful and it was a gorgeous day. Endless fields, little villages – such picturesque scenery. Then it was just me myself and I for several hours, time to dig in and get comfy… Now, Ironman say the course is flat. It is PANCAKE FLAT. Which, quite honestly, I didn’t realise meant that every time I stopped pedaling slightly, got up and re-adjusted or stretched, would mean I would slow down hugely. So, pedal, nutrition, pedal, nutrition, pedal, nutrition. Relentless! More fields, cow bells, pockets of cheering Swedes! And yay, finally the 100km mark! Oh – no – I need to get my eyes tested because as I got closer I sadly realized it was the 80km mark haha.
As I got closer to the 100km mark though there was one, unexpected, delightful hill – still, that got the HR going and changed things up a bit! 110km and it was time to go back across Oland bridge to the mainland – this time, it was uphill with a headwind and I was holding onto a gel that I’d taken from the last aid station with cars coming towards me (they were coned off, but I still felt vulnerable!). Pedal, wobble, argh. I didn’t enjoy coming back across the bridge so much.
70km to go…40km to go… when will this end! 7 hours is a long time to spend on your own, and my thoughts turned to my dear Dad, whose funeral was exactly a year ago to the day. Lump in throat, a few tears were shed before the thought of him sat at home saying to me and Ian when we told him we’d signed up, “ARE YOU CRAZY?!” made me laugh and I pulled myself together. The last section of the course was not pancake flat, it was a little lumpy and tired legs struggled but onwards… and finally I rolled into towards transition!
T2 and time to fully change again – into my trisuit and my smaller Dora the Explorer hydration backpack! Stupidly forgot any kind of chamois cream/ body glide at this point which later became, very, er, painful…
Time to run!! At this point, just a marathon to go right? I was always worried about not finishing the bike, getting a mechanical or flat and not finishing that section so a massive sense of relief washed over me and I knew then I was going to finish. The run got off to a rocky start almost immediately though – my plan was always to run 9, walk 1, take on nutrition in that minute and crack on. And that was also why I wanted to use my hydration pack with maurten drink mix in. But my 9/1 plan didn’t align to the course aid stations, and I found myself stopping at the first aid station to walk through that instead. Never mind, carry on, but I was a bit out of kilter. The run was a 3-loop course, out through Kalmar town, into the countryside back down a fairly main road and through a bit of a forest, down into the stadium/ running track before running back up, past Kalmar castle and back through town. The first 8 miles I was feeling pretty good – well – as good as you can be after a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike eh! Yay! First band given to me in the stadium – lap 1 down, I can do this!!
After that though, my head just got into a bit of a negative space. I was still running (ok, jogging!) but my 9/1 was becoming more 8/2, stopping a bit more. Plod on, one foot in front of the other, keep going.
The course had a section along the main road where runners were going each way and at about 16km I saw a familiar bearded face running towards me – Ian!! The first time we had seen each other all day and relief and happiness flooded me – he shouted to me, HANNAH YOU F*CKING MEGA SUPERSTAR YOU; a quick hug and 20 seconds of chat and we went our separate ways but having not seen each other all day or knowing or how the other was doing it was such a needed boost in that moment, I’ve never been so happy to see him!
Despite my negative head, oh wow the support yet again was just incredible – out of the town there were entire extended families and friends who had set up tables, gazebos and huge speakers blasting out tunes and they were there for HOURS. My particular highlights were the scaffolding structure which had been set up alongside some apartments specifically for people to able to watch and cheer people on – and not forgetting the inflatable dinosaur which had been set up to spray water across people as they came through. People everywhere, dancing, high fiving and HEJA HEJA (come on!) was all you could hear for miles!
Lap 2, done!!! One to go. Jog/ walk, jog/ walk, jog/ walk. Grinding it out now. Lots of people in front and behind now walking. These last 8 or so miles were a real struggle. The tears came again as I thought about my dad, wondered why on earth I was doing this, what a stupid idea!! The thing is, even then, I knew I WOULD finish but at the point the finish felt like such a long, long way…
And then, miraculously, Ian and I crossed again, and this time I couldn’t keep the tears from coming (god, woman, pull yourself together!) and I said to Ian I just couldn’t run any more, the wheels had come off and I was finding it so hard. He came to my rescue at this point and said do a 4 / 1 strategy, just try and run a bit – that’s all I’m doing. You can do this! What a hero he is because, once I started doing that, I felt much better. I can do this!! Last run through the forest, now lit only by candlelight… FINAL band on in the stadium, homeward straight, 1.5 miles to the finish line!!
Coming back towards the town that final time, wow, what a privilege. Not only were the crowds immense, but the bars and restaurant outdoor areas were teeming with people all shouting encouragement; the atmosphere was truly electric. And then all at once, suddenly, the finish chute was in front of me… I took my time here, walking, trying to soak it all in.
Hat off, glasses off. Pose! Cross the finish line… YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!
14 hours 59 mins later, I had done it. There is simply nothing better than hearing those words for the first time. It gives me goosebumps still just thinking about it. And then Ian was there, throwing his arms around me after waiting over an hour for me at the back of the finish. And then, you guessed it, more tears!
I had said one and done and Ian suggested I shoot him if he ever again suggested doing a full! But a few weeks on, that pain has faded and now I’d say, never say never….
I feel so honoured to have joined the Ironman club, but even more so having raised £2k for bowel cancer and finishing this on a day which meant so much to me. I’m pretty certain my dad would be immeasurably proud, despite his rather outspoken reticence to us doing it haha. All of those long Saturdays spent cycling, running on tired legs, the self-doubt and no social life…. Absolutely worth it. Genuinely, the best thing I have ever done.
Finally, if there is even a tiny seed in you of considering doing an Ironman, just sign up, what’s the worst that can happen?