Chronicles of an Ironman

I moved to Nigeria in 2016, shortly after completing my first marathon, and was lucky enough to be introduced to the Road Warriors almost immediately. A few of us soon started swimming together (usually followed by a substantial breakfast), and eventually I borrowed a bike – also from fellow Warrior Big Sam. I really need to have some variety in my training to keep me motivated so a triathlon was a natural next step.

Substantial breakfast with a few Road Warriors after swimming.

Breakfast Crew

Substantial breakfast with a few Road Warriors after swimming.

I bought the cheapest wetsuit and a tri-suit available online and tested myself at an ‘Olympic’ distance event at Bewl in the UK (1.5km swim, 40km bike, 10km run). I’m a fast swimmer but a slow cyclist: this makes the bike leg slightly demoralising because all the people I was ahead of coming out of the water will overtake me on wheels one by one before the start of the run! The idea of completing an Ironman probably followed a lack of motivation for pure running after the 2017 Berlin Marathon. Rather than run 5-6 days a week I wanted to get stronger all-round and challenge myself in a different way. I managed to break a toe over Christmas but, once recovered I began Crossfit and dropped running to just twice a week – one tempo and the usual Road Warrior Saturday outing which I did not want to miss. Cycling was then partly at home – I have an indoor trainer that links to Zwift, an online platform – and partly outdoors, either laps of Ikoyi or occasionally a trip out towards Epe where the roads are smooth and empty. These were the days before Mr Bond became one of Cycology’s top athletes so we sometimes rode together! The Warrior swimming (and eating) group continued twice a week as well so all-in-all I typically had 7-8 training sessions each week.

After a May 2018 warm-up race in Setubal, Portugal (Half Iron distance: 1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21km run) – also an experience in itself – I peaked at about 10-14 weekly hours of training. Looking back I really enjoyed pushing harder each week, but at the time I know it was tough in terms of effort, motivation and just finding the time – I remember dropping out of a long run with Affi (also my most dependable swimming partner!) because I simply couldn’t keep my eyes open and legs moving at any pace… and back then I couldn’t drive past Johnny Rockets without stopping for a milkshake. I really could not have done this kind of training without being a member of this amazing club. There are many reasons to be impressed by members of the Road Warriors, but in terms of pure endurance, the Comrades runners had definitely inspired me [side note since I’ve been asked lots of times: if you’re comfortable in the water then simply completing Ironman is easier than Comrades because the time cap is much more generous].

Almost all my running and swimming was on the road and in the pool with other Warriors, plus the encouragement and camaraderie is second-to-none. In June 2018, after 5 months of training, I realised my goal by completing Ironman France in Nice! The race itself went pretty much to plan: the swim in the Med was perfect, the cycle route was beautiful, winding, hot and ridiculously hilly, with 2,000m climbing, plus 2,000m of mostly terrifying descents. At the second transition I had 8hrs of time remaining for the marathon – 4×10.5km laps of Nice’s Promenade des Anglais – so, despite the heat and some cramping early on, I knew I would make it. The nutrition stops seemed endless too, with chocolate, sparkling water and even walk through showers so I took my time. Best of all was heavy rain for the middle third of the run which cooled us all down.

The crowd support at Ironman events is immense, especially in the last 500m when they made an arch across the path with their arms. Then when you cross the line, the announcer calls your name out: “Neil.. you are an Ironmaaaan!” What an amazing feeling!

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Written by…

Neil “Special Forces” Mackin