At three o’clock in the morning, all was right with the world.
(Translated by Katharine Donachie)
Not a breeze stirred, far before dawn on this momentous day of Ironman Lanzarote 2014.
I hadn’t slept much. Understandably. But my legs felt good, and no sign of the nerves I’d been dreading.
Quite the opposite: The bull stamped his hind legs impatiently, longing to be off and to unleash his power… .
Even the disaster shortly before dawn in the transition area could not ruffle me:
Bicycle pump pushed too deeply into the valve, only able to be removed with brute force – resulting in a torn valve and a trip to the mechanic before the bike could even be used.
Promptly and professionally, the mechanic fixed it. And still plenty of time before the start of the swim as the sun rose!
The air was thick with determination at Playa Grande in Puerto del Carmen as more than 2000 people readied themselves in those last few minutes before the start.
But there was also uncertainty in view of the adventure that lay before us. Inside each head, a different story, of why they wanted to undertake this special test.
Inside each body there was will and discipline. Without this, they would never have signed up for such a life-changing event.
How many hours had the competitors, particularly those taking on their first Ironman, spent analysing whether all the preparation they had done in the months leading up to this would be sufficient?
Into the water. In my case, that meant quite a bit behind and to the far right of the circuit. Better to swim a few metres more and avoid all the thrusting and prodding in the ocean. Very early on in the world championships, it became clear to me that I had forgotten something in my ambitious training plan: That is, to learn to do my laps alongside many others. Instead, I had to accept that I could not simultaneously keep my head under water and swim in peace while alongside, before and after me, other athletes were also swimming frantically towards the finish line.
Breaststroke then. Head out of the water, goggles away from my eyes.
Otherwise I would not have been able to orient myself. A beginner’s error which meant my legs now had to work even harder. However, in such a long world championship, is it just as important, to be flexible, to develop concepts in case of emergency. And in my case, better to enjoy the sunrise and a peaceful swim than to drive myself crazy. At the end of the day, I also wanted to go easy as possible on my nerves throughout the many hours of gruelling adventure. A brief cramp in my calf when leaving the water was the result of the unfamiliar movement, but this in no way diminished my desire for the bike ride.
The most unpleasant part is behind me, I thought at 9 o’clock, when my wetsuit had been bagged up and my sandy toes hastily cleaned. Now followed a 180km cycling route cutting right across the island, a treat where sweating was mandatory! So I felt positive as I set off en route and very much enjoyed the encouragement on the way out of Puerto del Carmen. And for the first three hours, I capitalized more and more on this good feeling. The wind became stronger. No matter, I had trained for this. I had the home advantage in Lanzarote. I went up a few places at an average of over 25km/h. Up to around the 60 kilometre mark, I counted the overtaking manoeuvres, they stood at 68 to 16 for me. El Golfo was as beautiful as ever. Goose bumps and good legs.
What the hell came over me when I decided to eat several sticky strawberry-flavoured “power bars” in El Golfo, instead of putting my trust completely in my Gofio power biscuits, I don’t know. For months I had been refining the recipe and testing it out during training. Probably I was over-motivated and thought a bit of extra “quickly converted energy” could not hurt. And in doing so, I committed the very elementary mistake that you are always warned against during a long distance race:
Never try out anything new during a race that you have not sufficiently tested during training.
The result of my over-eagerness became apparent barely an hour later during the ascent of the long slope of the Timanfaya volcano. Instead of a quick energy boost, my body soon felt a noticeable discomfort due to the chemical onslaught, this high intensity manufactured energy source. There may be plenty of scientific know-how behind this work of the devil. However, it is also clear that your body should get used to this very special type of energy consumption, since it is basically artificial nutrition. My internal power house, however, refused to transform this stuff and now just wanted rid of it. The remaining over 5 hours on my bike was spent with a queasy feeling in my stomach and chest. Maximum performance in the midday heat, but always hovering on the point of vomiting. During the stretch through my local Teguise, how I longed to fall from my bike, throw up properly and lie down in bed. Instead, however, I now had the exciting dance over the mountains ahead of me; the hardest part of the cycling route, around 1200 metres to climb with a fierce head wind!
During preparation, the “old hands”, multiple Ironmen and Ironwomen, told me about the moment in which you want to give up. They said that this phase came without fail, but that it would only last a short while. Having a positive outlook, staying power and plenty of self-confidence will help you get over it. Nobody told me that the fight against nausea and the associated toing and froing between giving up and struggling on further can last hours. During training I only once briefly experienced the so-called “bonk”, otherwise I have never felt anything comparable. In everyday life, if you feel that ill you lie down in bed or spend a while bent over the toilet bowl in the bathroom. If you’re caught like this on your bike, you cycle home reaaally gently to prevent your poor insides being shaken up even more. But here and now it was race day. Ironman.
Giving up was not an option. So what could I do?
I kept up an internal Buddhist/meditative talk to myself as I cycled up meter by meter. “Okay my lovely body: Let me continue and please pull yourself together a bit during the next few hours. In return, I’ll give you a suitable reward, despite perfect legs, I’ll take the speed out of the running and go as easy on you as I can. Understood?”
My body grumbled and growled for hours, continually reminding me of this deal when I ascended Monte Corona and when it was so dreadfully hot between Arrieta and Tahiche. And my brain took on a new disposition. From now on, it was all about surviving. Kilometre averages fell by the wayside, best condition, stomach sluggish. The Ironman adventure had now turned into a personal make or break test.
Beacons of hope during my lonely journey on the verge of collapse. Nausea, black spots and flickering before my eyes. Cosmic tiredness. Several times I had to watch out I did not drift off into a lethargic state on my bike. But then suddenly whistles, dozens of bright yellow shirts, wild, jubilant people leaping around who had obviously been waiting far longer than planned for a special competitor:
The 727 fan club from north Lanzarote!
A small delightful group that dispelled my last doubt, whether the fight with my own raging and rebellious body today was really worth it. They thumped against the safety barrier as if they wanted to tear it down. They had hurried here by car to meet me further along the route. At the start of the race, shortly before Arrieta, in my lonely agony, I hardly noticed the yellow group. But now they gave me second wind during those tough, extremely hot kilometres. The next physical turning point in a long, long race. Slogging on through the mountains, the finish line was still far away, but once again achievable. Up to Nazaret and there stood the next group ready. Replacement. Relay. GO Dio, 727. They are short moments only, for which my tireless friends spent long minutes or even hours cooling their heels. Mobiles and social networks overheating to coordinate the cheering. But these short moments are so crucial for the competitor. When the question of “why” comes up time and time again, the people out there are an important answer to it. I’m doing it for me, I have trained well and put a utopian goal within reaching distance. But I’m also doing it for you, because I want to reward your efforts, the preparations, the waiting and the good moods, and not least your trust in the championship that I have before me. In your simple sentences “GOOOOOO”, you can do it, go on” is expressed our friendly collaboration and your considerable contribution to my ordeal and my achievement.
I am proud to offer you this private hero for a day and I am happy to have those friends!
The last 40 kilometres. Don’t think of the marathon, rather think of trials already undertaken. Think of what I have already achieved.
Unfortunately the view of the island’s beauty which I enjoyed so often during training has now vanished. But never mind. It is late afternoon, the time is still okay. I have also trained for this, for the time buffer if the worst comes to the worst. The marathon is now a numbers game, medals are awarded only if your time is less than 17 hours.
That I could run the nausea out of my body was told to me by my sporting friend Carlos towards the end of the cycling torture. Such sentences are the stuff from which hope is made. These words accompanied me at the beginning of the marathon and gave me a boost. Is it really true? Who knows, but for me it had a good effect on my psyche, which despite everything remained positive. Warm up gently, enjoy mingling with the crowd. Don’t think that over 40 kilometres await me. Take on board new energy very carefully.
Bananas. Only bananas.
In the hope that this completely natural energy source, on the one hand, is sufficient and, on the other hand, soothes my mistreated stomach. The power bars, those chemical cudgels that I had not permitted to reverse up my oesophagus for hours, my body now wanted to expel in the classical way. However, the far too few portaloos that were set up were not suitable for dispelling the rest of my nausea, therefore I was forced to wait for a few bars and restaurants and take into account a diversion of a few metres as well as several more running minutes for a detour to a quiet place. Run, walk. Run, walk. Stand still and then run again. A hundred times perhaps. Again and again, suppressing my weaker self that demands his comfortable walk. My calculations gave an average 8 minutes allowed per kilometre. A doddle for me as a marathon runner. Normally, however, not for a marathon after all those hours of work before.
A marathon run at the end of the Ironman cannot be compared to a normal 42 kilometre run.
This for me had the distinct advantage that the torment did not begin at the famous kilometre 30, rather already at the first step to my companions. Further on it would not get worse. Amazing that you can put a positive spin on something like that. The spirit of the endurance athlete rises to the surface here. Darkness falls and I count fewer and fewer people on route. Instead there were medal wearers everywhere, giving thumbs up signs and how I envied them in this moment. However: The last 15 kilometres, the last 2 hours of marathon run in in Puerto del Carmen on this windy evening was a pleasure! Stumbling and painful. But with my eye on the ultimate prize. The magic 17 hour mark firmly in my grasp. The goal obviously reduced considerably during the course of the day. But what did that matter at this moment. In the middle of this indescribable atmosphere filled with proud people who had fought excellently and who each had their own story to tell. In the middle of fans and volunteers who, down to the last man, always had a smile for us heroes, an embrace, a piece of banana. An excellent achievement. Spurred on by us Ironmen, these people had shown so much commitment and zest for life. For this collaboration alone, each extreme sport is worth it, to bring joy to so many people. However, when boundaries are not involved, there is not so much excitement in the air. Not so much atmosphere and not this enthusiasm and particularly peaceful atmosphere that showed another side of humanity. Prepared to go outside ourselves. Ready for battle without going into war against others. Only a battle within ourselves. If everyone lived out their appetite for war in this way, I am quite sure, there would hardly be any serious conflicts in this world. Ironman makes you humble. Self-confident and sure of yourself, on the one hand, but also completely spent and without strength for useless conflicts, on the other hand. Respect for humanity remains behind and no shadow of a doubt is left about the intrinsically peaceful nature of men. Sport has the power to change the world!
The last 5 kilometres flew by.
Not least thanks to a little flower that I was able to collect by the wayside. Someone spoke to me in the semi-darkness of Matagorda, asking if I had taken a shortcut. It then turned out that after all my suffering, I still had a wide grin on my face. For almost half an hour, Mariesheen from Ireland peppered me with questions during those final kilometres and enabled me to release the pressure that I had built up, not just during the world championships, but also during all the training months leading up to it.
Her response to my small story brought me to just before the finish line and showed me that everything was all right! After all my self-doubts during the long day, I had quite forgotten that, from the outside, I still had the appearance of a man who could enjoy each hour of this day despite the great exertion! Who unbelievably, after more than 16 hours pushed to his limits, still exuded strength and joy. It is wonderful to receive such a response after so much loneliness over the long 227 kilometres in battle only with myself!
Finishing line. Walking on air. Naturally.
My little daughter is there ready.
The fans held out the long wait bravely.
Run time: unimportant.
The finishing tape waits for the first victor, even when he comes in place 1872… .
An unbelievable noise. The whistles from Arrieta were right in the thick of it. A deafening noise, but for the brand new Ironman arriving home having reached the goal of his months’ long dream, it was a symphony. How often during my thousands of training kilometres and many many hours of sweat and toil had I seen this picture before my eyes and yet I still could not imagine how it would look in reality.
Medals and photos.
No trace of pain remains.
No pride either.
Arrived. Finished. Survived.
All records broken, all doubts vanquished.
“I will enjoy my race” I said to many people during my preparation.
That can be said so easily. Finally I gave it everything I had, despite all the nausea. I did not necessarily enjoy the race itself, as planned. But I enjoyed the experience of being at the limit of what is humanely possible. That was ultimately what had compelled me to compete. If I had just wanted to complete a run and keep myself in good shape, as well as show myself and others my readiness for action and self-discipline, I did not have to go looking for an Ironman. This consists of more than just three types of sport and a few hours of effort.
It consists of the philosophy to continually push yourself up to and beyond your limits. To ask something of yourself and to support yourself in carrying it out. These events which show you what you are capable of, give you self-confidence and inner peace. What everyday problem could seriously stand in the way of a person how has conquered these 227 kilometres? Insecurity and discontentedness are all too widespread in our affluent society. People have a tendency to make life in general and other people responsible for their own grief and trouble. All I can do is advise all who read this to find yourself such a goal, one that seems unreachable but that can be achieved if you surmount some initial resistance and then courageously stick with it. Since achieving such a goal fills people, as a matter of course, with a sudden insight into the wonder of our existence. “Anything is possible”, this somewhat flippant-sounding guiding principle of the Ironman family has, considered in this way, a hidden depth:
It does decisively change your own perception, when you understand that everything is possible if you just take that first step.
Work every day at it and simply push disappointments aside, think of them in the context of the big dream, and as necessary mile stones. Good and bad are transcendent, just as Buddha always claimed. As soon as you are on your way and focussed on a higher goal and you don’t lose sight of it. But I digress into domains outside of sport and therefore, with a fitting final example, I return to the case in hand: Imagine the wind is blowing in Teguise harder than ever before. “Bad” weather in fact for a regular training session in Mirador del Rio. But for you, who wish to soon belong to the Ironman family, that is rubbish. Bad weather? Best conditions! With a grim smile, you acknowledge the head wind or the relentless sun. There is no bad and no good. There is only nature out there and your goal within. That is the foundation upon which the Ironman was built and that is the hope that I have for the future and for us all: Let’s go out and train. Go to our limits and beyond. Experience an unimaginable happiness and peace of mind because we are proud of ourselves and can look ourselves straight in the eye. No. Not everyone has to become an “Ironman” to experience this. Everyone has their own personal limit, there are always horizons to extend, naturally not just in the physical/sport sense.
But I’m warning you: It is so exhilarating to extend your own limits, this horizon of what is humanely possible, step by step, by your own readiness for action, that you too may end up one day in this strange world championships, at 7 o’clock in the morning with your swimming cap on your head, battle lust, fear and determination in your gaze. Snorting like a wild bull in his box and prepared for the ultimate test of body, spirit and soul.
Some Hyperlinks to Fotos and Videos
- Official Ironman-Video from Marc Bennett - 727 in an Interview from Minute 3:38 / dio and friends at the finish line, Minute 34:05
- Some private pics and vids within a 4min video – thanks to ManDy for her brilliant work
- Ironman-Fotoalbum of Mandy on facebook
- Sands Beach Active Short Video about Ironman Lanzarote 2014
- DJ Aitor: Ironman Lanzarote 2014 (Videos and Pics)
My highest respect to all those who did not finish. 180 people who of course earn the same respect than the rest of the crowd!
Thank you to everyone who helped me to fulfil this dream. Thanks to those who waited hours just to cheer for a second.
Luza, my daughter, source of motivation since so many years. We are stepping together through this life and I like you as you are. You made me happy on May, 17th and you earned lots of symphaties.
Thank you to Mariesheen Monaghan for all the inspiration on the last kilometres, and for helping to translate with her friend Katharine Donachie! I appreciate this work very much, as I am able to share my experience with the english friends and those of my spanish friends who do not speak german! Helps a lot to make me even more famous, hahaha!
Thanks to my sponsors – hope to make some more ideas and projects become reality in the near future. I am working hard to tell everybody who you are!