Rebecca Romero has won an Olympic gold medal in cycling and silver medal in rowing and been World Champion in both sports – twice. This was a uniquely successful athlete. But she had never tackled a full Ironman event. After seven months training here is how she got on…

Since the day I started triathlon I’ve been blown away by the warm welcome, the friendly atmosphere and the enthusiastic passion for their sport that all triathletes have shown.  A willingness to engage novices in their sport with gusto is quite a distinctive and defining trait of the sport and certainly from the Ironman breed of triathletes.

Genuinely welcoming and inspiring messages certainly helped raise my anticipation of and enthusiasm for the new world I’d thrown myself into.  So I began my first full Ironman  curious to find out more about this enjoyment that so many were describing.

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The day of the Ironman arrived and it began early with a 3am wake up call.  I’d rehearsed my early morning routine in the half Ironman event in May, so I felt at ease with what I was doing.  On the 20 minute bus ride to the start, whilst I polished off the last of my breakfast, I felt relatively relaxed and nerve free.

I also felt relief that the weather forecast showed it was set to be a calm and warm day.  I was one of the first groups of athletes to arrive at the course and got straight to work getting myself organised and ready, I was keen to beat the rush and get all my preparations in hand.

As the day dawned the numbers of people around increased, everyone busied about, the music started playing and the commentator started the build up to the 6am swim start. The atmosphere was palpable as anticipation and excitement built amongst everyone.

In my previous articles I’ve documented how I feared the swim and struggled with it during the half Ironman. I tried to make sure I was as fully prepared for the swim as possible, not just physically but mentally.

Starting with swimming

The swim start necessitated getting 1300  competitors into the water start which took quite some times and for early entrants there was a fair amount of hanging around in the water.

I was probably treading water for about 10 minutes but managed to conserve energy and it was probably quite a good distraction!  Because I was more concerned about keeping myself afloat, I found I wasn’t becoming concerned about the mass of bodies that were now surrounding me.  Just as I started shivering and my teeth began chattering, the hooter sounded and we were off.

Roberta Romero IronMan

The mental rehearsal of the start that I’d been through time and time again served me well.  My strategy was to set off being very slow and deliberate, almost pretending I was moving in slow motion like an astronaut walking on the moon.  In reality I wasn’t moving that slowly, but that thought helped to counterbalance the rush of adrenaline, keep my body calm and stop myself from over working.

I wasn’t fazed by any of the ankle grabbing, knocks to the head, swimmers in my way, swimmers changing direction underneath or over the top of me, and I wasn’t put off when the swell of white water or splashing prevented me from getting full breaths of air.  I could feel the panic and rush from people around me but I remained calm and kept a constant rhythm.

I knew that after around 10 minutes it would all settle down.

I found a really comfortable pace and actually began to enjoy the swim, especially because I was moving past other swimmers with ease!  Even as everyone bottlenecked around the buoys I wasn’t affected by it.

It was brilliant to be having a much more positive experience compared to my last race!  We had to swim two big laps but get out after the first lap, run past spectators and jump back in for the second lap.  I deliberately kept my effort low for the first lap and as I got in for the second lap I knew I was going to be able to get through the 3.8km swim trouble free.

Exiting the water in 1hr 8mins, running past the cheering crowds and into transition was exhilarating.  I took my time in transition, got myself organised for the bike and downed a bottle of recovery drink.

On the second part of the Ironman…

On the bike I could feel it was still a chilly morning but I got my head down for the first 14 miles of the course.  The main loop was about 33 miles which we went round three times.  My strategy was to work solidly but not too hard over the first lap to get a good average speed in the bag.

At that point I assessed the effort and knew I was comfortably inside a good time.  I eased off through the second lap to keep my heart rate under control and focused on getting enough fluid and nutrition in.  On each lap we had to tackle a long nasty steep climb which was a severe lung buster and leg-burner.

Minimising the damage from these climbs was my priority so I approached these sections as easily as I could but maximised my effort for the downhill or tail wind assisted sections of the course.  For the third lap the wind had picked up making it harder work, but as I was still on good time so I backed off a fraction more to conserve my legs for the run.

This was the part I feared the most!

In Part 2 tomorrow Rebecca concludes her candid account of her debut Ironman. Find out how she gets on!

Read mora from Expert Rebecca Romero

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