Thursday 16 February 2012

Upping the ante

When I signed up for IM Wales I thought I was taking on an immense almost insurmountable task. A monumental day of challenging myself and pushing my capabilities - and I'm sure that would be the case. However, something has been nudging at the back of my head, an urge to do, well, I don't know, just "more".

I know I can't take on an ultra-style event at this stage - I simply don't have the urge to try a double-iron distance race (some nutters in Lanzarote have finished just that, check out the Double Enduroman), and the concept of anything as insane as a deca-Ironman is a bit too "out there" for me right now (who knows, one day maybe...).

It seems like the fairies over at the WTC (World Triathlon Corporation, owners of the Ironman brand and series of races) were listening though, as earlier this week they published the following onto their news page regarding a new Ultimate Challenge:

Athletes of all abilities are pushing new boundaries in endurance racing although a fresh test has emerged which is arguably one of the hardest in Western Europe. The series of four UK and Ireland Ironman branded races is proving to be the ultimate challenge for some competitors next season. This will see athletes attempt an amazing two full distance and two 70.3 races between June and September next year.

It looks like we have Charlie and Kate from Suffolk to thank for raising the profile of this particular challenge, and piquing the interest of the WTC. From the same news article:

Charlie Stannett from Suffolk is a multiple time Ironman UK finisher and along with his wife Kate, is setting himself this ultimate goal in 2012, he said: “As 'Repeat Offenders' Kate and I had already entered Wimbleball and Bolton for 2012. As for Tenby I have a 2011 DNF to put right and Kate has a DNS to put right as she reluctantly withdrew from Tenby to focus on Kona. That meant we were already looking at the three UK events when, after an evening drinking too much wine, we spotted that Galway was also a possibility.” 
The UK organising team have agreed to provide some extra reward for athletes who are attempting the task that they are calling the Ultimate Challenge.

Dan James, Operations Director for IRONMAN UK, explains: “After launching the Ironman Ireland and Ironman Wales events last year some people started to talk about the ultimate test of completing our four races in one season. We thought this was incredibly hard but knew we had to recognise the achievement if someone could succeed in finishing all four in the same year.”  
As a result athletes embarking upon the ‘ultimate’ will receive special race numbers and a commemorative package including t-shirt, jacket and a unique medal as part of a special awards ceremony. A ‘Wall of Fame’ will also be created online to honour the success of those who can overcome the odds to finish all four races in the same season.

Well, as soon as I heard about a special finishers' medal my mind was made up. Game on!

I've exchanged emails with WTC and it looks like there are currently 9 people signed up for all four. A fairly exclusive club so far!

After the excitement had died down a bit (and I'd parted with a sizeable volume of cash) the reality of the undertaking started to become apparent. Whereas previously I would have had 13 weeks of recovery and training between Wimbleball 70.3 and IM Wales I was now going to be significantly more pressured.

17 weeks from this Sunday, on 17th June, is Ironman UK 70.3 Wimbleball:

Just 5 weeks after that, on 22nd July, is Ironman UK Bolton. This means my first full distance race is now 22 weeks away rather than 30.

I then have 6 weeks until 2nd September and the next race, Ironman Ireland 70.3 Galway

There is then only 2 weeks until 16th September and the fourth and final race in the series, Ironman Wales Tenby.

The two weeks between that last two will be hard, very hard. There will be barely enough time to recover, so appropriate pacing will be essential. In fact, pacing will be the key to success all the way through the year, from now until September.

I consider the Ultimate Challenge not to be about the distance or the individual events; it's in getting to the start line at Wimbleball injury free and mentally strong, and then maintaining that fitness and aptitude over the next three months. The 13 week recovery and training time I was expecting between Wimbleball and Wales would have really meant that I was competing in two independent races, whereas this challenge rolls the events into one three-month marathon.

At this stage, 17 and a half weeks out form the first event, I'm not thinking too much about that three-month period. I'm thinking about keeping my training consistent and productive. Getting my un-swimming turned into actual swimming, building a strong endurance base, and keeping fit healthy and injury-free.

It's very exciting though - I love having an adventure on the horizon, and this is the biggest one yet.

Oh yes, and the Mrs is doing it too. It's her birthday in October, it's a big one and I'm already thinking about how we can celebrate. It seems a dream that by then we'll have both completed four Ironman races!

It all just got a whole lot more serious…!

(And that's it now, really seriously definitely absolutely definitively and categorically no more race entries for this year).

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