The day I became an Ironman…August 15th 1999, Lake Placid, New York, USA
“all men dream: but not equally. those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”– T.E.Lawrence, ‘The Seven Pillars of Wisdom’
8 years ago I dreamed (during the day of course) of becoming an Ironman, which meant completing a race which involves a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile (marathon) run, all in under 17 hours. Heck, I had run 11 marathons (the last 4 under 3 hours) and I didn’t own a bike and couldn’t swim. So, I buy a racing bike, teach myself to swim and then……..train for 8 years (well I waited until I felt I’d stopped improving) !!
04:21 am (approx!) Alarm goes off. I’ve slept. I eat breakfast cereal, marvelling at the fact that it goes down and stays down, but nothing else. Load my drinks bottles with my carbo drinks and grab the rest of my gear. Since my folks couldn’t make it (my dad had to go into the hospital at the last minute) my brother Rob is here. He is quiet, we know the significance of today. We drive the 1.2 miles to the Park ‘n’ Ride and get aboard a yellow School bus (first time for me!). I start retching involuntarily, which betrays my inner stress.
We arrive at the Olympic skating oval (remember Eric Heiden winning 5 Olympic Gold Medals?) and I walk serenely to my bike. I meet Doug Fuller and we chat. I load my bike bottles (2x750ml Leppin orange behind my seat and 750 ml in my Jetstream on the front). I gingerly test both tyres. They are ok, but am I? I change into my wetsuit (put on my heart rate monitor for post race analysis only!) and find my brother, we bump into AquamanJon, he is strong and composed, I stay with him as we walk to hand in our special needs bags. In bare feet I decide it’s too far, so I leave them to hand my bags in.
We wish each other luck and I march slowly toward the start, a small Scotsman, ready to be brave. Today I will do the longest swim of my life, the longest bike ride of my life and the equal longest run of my life…..back to back !
Swim (2.4 miles)
I’m in the water, some 20 metres back from the start line, I can feel the crowd tense, expectant, listening for the gun. It goes, I hit the start button on my heart rate monitor (HRM), and so it begins… I have clear water (I’m so far back) I swim steady. Halfway down I start thinking about what I’m doing, my dream, my parents eagerly [with assistance] surfing the internet 3000 miles away for mention of me, a lump forms in my throat and my eyes water. No, I tell myself, this is not the moment, not yet… They know I will swim slowly.
I am steady and out of the water in 39 mins and change for my first loop as I cross the timing mats ‘BLEEP’ and ‘BLEEP BLEEP’. This is the music that interrupts my focus to let me know that a little electronic signal will send my time to the Internet web page and my family will *see* me with electronic eyes. [In fact it is so fitting in my case as I studied computing before it was popular and have loved and worked in it all my life] I glance at my HRM ooops, over 150, and ease myself back in for lap 2. The mass of swimmers have gone , I try and draft. I follow bubbles and succeed. While swimming from Alcatraz I perfected the technique of swim-peeing, each lap, I contribute to the lake’s ecosystem. As I round the far away buoy (say boooooeeeey) I feel good and this time look down to see the scuba divers on the bottom, I wave to them, awkwardly, they wave back . I am energised by this and look for more feet to follow. I approach the pier, I see the crowd, the sandy bottom, the weeds. I surface, stand up, unsure of balance, I undo the top half of my wetsuit, without thinking, automatic now. ‘BLEEP, ‘ BLEEP-BLEEP’
I lie down for the wetsuit strippers to do their job, two tugs and it’s off. Great job, guys. I am in 1200th place only 300 behind me!!
Bike (112 miles)
I run with my wetsuit down to transition, did I hear my brother, I can’t remember, I’m focused, then I’m in transition. I grab my bike clothes bag (not many bags left). Easing lycra over wet skin is like trying to dress a sticky tape man with paper clothes. I pull my Jason jersey on and stop for the girls [to get some sunblock], I smile, I feel like a warrior. Run Peter, grab my bike [easy to find!] and out on the road. My bike is part of me, it fits well, it had better, we have 112 miles to enjoy each others’ company.
Then we’re climbing up the hill out of town, a procession of silent cavalry stretching into the distance ahead of me. No one speaks. Someone says ‘so this is the only hill, right ?’. I switch the alarms on my HRM on, it will go above 150 bpm. Beep,Beeep,Beep,Beep. I switch the alarm off. Onward. I switch my bike computer from distance to time…I must use time for eating and drinking. The hill goes on, I am steady, I look for friends, I approach a small figure wearing a Harvard Cycling top, I’ve seen it before. ‘Hey , Rebecca’ I call, ‘Hey Peeedeeer’ she replies. Next the downhill, I love it, I am so dense [sic], I tuck in as small as I can be. I am like a tomahawk missile at 46 mph & 2 foot elevation. Nobody passes me. The hill ends and we’re rolling, I pass AquamanJon, I only realise as he shouts (encouragement, I think!). Drink, salt tablets on the hour. pedal, pedal. Steve Pells (an Englishman who lives in Edinburgh!) passes me. The out and back, I see the *good* guys 15 miles ahead of me, I get ready to jettison a used fuel container, remembering what the race director said about getting a minute off your time for putting it in the ice hockey net at the start of the feeding station. I am pumped, I launch the bottle with my right arm, the kids duck, and the net does it’s job (thank goodness!). A little easier next time, methinks. I grab a bottle of water, I drop a bottle of water, I grab another. It’s mine . I’m 1/1 in the new sport of water bottle grabbing.
Out and back. I meet Kathy Putnam, embarrassingly she passes me later as I water the weeds. Next the uphills, I feel good, still passing people. Use my small chainring but not my *bail-out* gear. Then we’re done and I get my special needs bag and sprint towards my brother [in kilt] up a small hill. I give him a thumbs up. I soak up the cheers of the crowd and ‘BLEEP’ BLEEP-BLEEP’ the electronic eyes have seen me, 2-58 for lap 1. It feels good. I know it’s good and tears fill my eyes as I know my internet watchers will know it too. Back round past transition, a voice calls me ‘hey Peter’ John Cohleach says ‘You have an easy number to remember (777)’. We e-mailed back in September, I didn’t think he was coming. ‘Great to meet you John’, I yell and then it’s up the hill out of town again. Now the downhill, again I tuck, think aero, somebody passes me pedalling like crazy as the hill starts. I coast….and coast…and fly. I pass him on the inside, he is blocking me. I help him to reposition by using my left arm to point behind me and towards the kerbside. Tooooommmahhhhhhawwkkk…. 46 mph again, though there is more wind. Yikes that’s a big bike I’m catching, and it’s two’s up and he’s hogging the yellow line in the middle of the road. I ain’t sitting up, he’s blocking me. Whoosh, I’m past on the inside. Now I wait for the repercussions and wait and wait…. the motorbike marshall catches me a few miles later and I speak to the guys. I apologise, but they smile and say, no problem, ‘Thanks for being out here guys’.
I meet many Onelisters. I repass Dr Steve resplendent in his Union Jack bike jersey. 7 miles out and back, it’s getting warm. I switch to Powerade, just as some of the drinks stations run out. Now the last hills, I still feel ok, up up we go, still not needing my bail-out gear. I check my mileometer we’re over the ton, I’m in uncharted territory.
Up the last nasty little climbs and down, past my brother again, I think. ‘BLEEP’, ‘BLEEP-BLEEP’, that’s it, no mechanical failures, the time wings it’s way round the world in a data packet. Only the run to do. Little do I know, I have passed 500 people on the bike.
Run (and walk) (26 miles 385 yards)
Feet out of shoes, pedal the last few yards, jump off the bike and hand it to a smiling volunteer who eagerly waits to rack it for me…there is a knowledgeable look of respect on their face…inside, I feel a warm glow…it makes you feel like a hero. Run and grab my bag. I sit down outside the changing tent. A volunteer assists me, as time slows [I see no red shift so I guess I’m not nearing the speed of light] while I tape up my feet (blisters, no thanks). Socks on, shoes on, hat on. It’s a continuous movement, I don’t feel like I have stopped, through the tent and queue for sun block. Calmly I wait, it’s too hot to miss it.
Then we’re out, hit the Lap Split on my HRM, my body knows what it has to do, the deal is we run and then assess problems while we move. Do I feel ok? dunno but I’m moving, running I think. I know that if I run under a 4h13m Mary (Marathon) I can break 12 hours. First mile is downhill, I look at my HRM, for a time…..yikes 7-30 for mile 1, enter feedback loop, whoaa, slow down.
Wow it’s hot. My heart rate is 150+, an up-tempo pace run value ! Hmmm I try not to think about it. I decide I must take on fluids every mile at the aid stations, I cannot risk not finishing due to dehydration. I grab a cup of Powerade and sip it. Then I start to run again. This continues mile after mile…..6 miles in 52-30, 9 miles in 1-21, I’m slowing and getting hot. I can’t eat the tasteless carbo gels I’m carrying, I retch even thinking about it. I see Jon, Rebecca and Chandra. I don’t know if I acknowledge them with speech. I am tiring …booleanEnterSurvivalMode = true.
I run the first hill back to town, it is the last one I will. I stop to contribute to the forest ecosystem, thinking I would get arrested for this back home, but I see no scared horses, so I guess I’m in the clear. I start to retch as I run down to the next aid station, volunteers look at me as my body wracks involuntarily trying to communicate with me. I ease off. Walk the next hills. My head clears a little, I run again and see my brother, I give him a status report ‘Too hot!’, I mumble. He will understand. The mile out and back along the lake is done, I shake my head at the volunteers who hold out my run special needs bag. It is too late. I cannot eat. ‘BLEEP BLEEP-BLEEP’ One lap to go. I know I will not break 12 hours. I know it should cool down this lap. I walk long through the aid stations. I calculate what time I would do if I have to walk the whole way. On and on we go. I see a sign at the next aid station, it says ‘ Olympic Gold Medal won by Joe Somebody [Joseph Amlong in the rowing 8?] in Tokyo. Touch for Luck’ I see the medal hanging from a pole. I am moved. I didn’t see it first lap, I touch it for many reasons. respect to Joe, luck, it fits with my mood, it’s the big G Now I switch to [did somebody forget to defizz it huh?] Coca Cola, I walk looonnngg, I walk all the hills, I walk anything that looks like a hill. Welcome to Ironman! We’re all farting and belching. My heart rate is 138 even when I’m walking.
When I run it hurts, all over, but it is familiar, I’ve been here before, in my first Marathons. It’s just a matter of time… I see Rebecca, Jon and is that Chandra I’m catching?, she does not turn round, I am not turned to stone 😉 I look up again, she’s gone. I near town, walking, there is my brother Rob for the last time, I do not speak, I can’t, I look at him from deep down inside, I have shut down all non-essential systems. 2 miles to go. Can I break 12-30? I don’t know. Unbeknownst to me, Rob phones home to tell my folks I’ve 2 miles to go and that I’m going to make it. I don’t doubt it, it’s when not if. I walk and run and walk. Progress is slow. Then I’m nearing the Oval, ‘BLEEP BLEEP-BLEEP’, I wait until the last downhill before I start running. Can I break 12-30 ? Yes, I will break 12-30.
A group of spectators (encouraged by my brother!) are shouting my name………….my eyes fill………………my throat lumps.
I am proud, I will run the last 200 yards, I will not walk. I round the bend, my legs scream ‘WALK WALK’. I say “Keep it together Peter, Keep it together Peter”.
I’m on my own, I see the finish line, I raise my arms in victory. It is so sweet sweeeet sweeeeeeeeeet. I remember the finish choreography I read from a first timer in Ironman Canada last year…..to leave the ground, to fly, and when you land you will be an Ironman.
I leap, I fly, I land.
I knew I would cry, I wanted to cry……alas, I am too tired to cry.
I smile, it is a smile that comes from deep within, from my soul, it is saying hello, and now I know who I am.
8 years of dreaming and training, tens of miles of swimming, thousands of miles of cycling, hundreds of miles of running. Thanks to my family, friends, the Onelisters, my colleagues, the volunteers, organisers, spectators and Commander John Collins for giving me the opportunity to test myself and to look deep down inside and see what I am made of.
I am an Ironman.
Peter Harry Mathieson Gauld (12 hours 27 minutes 10 seconds)
PS After the race (since I was the only Scotsman taking part) my friend Rebecca gave me my nickname “IronScot” – The Iron Scotsman
‘Veni, vidi, vici’ (‘I came, I saw, I conquered’)
— Julius Caesar