Ironman Cascais

Ironman combines the three disciplines of Swim, Bike, Run. They cover distances of 3.8km Swim, 180km Bike and 42.2km of running. They are performed consecutively on one day without stopping and with just a short transition period between each and must be completed within 17 hours to qualify as Ironman status. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it! https://www.ironman.com/

Here I am, 2 days away from the biggest sporting challenge of my life. I have been running this race in my head for the past few years, intensified during my COVID period. I am more determined than ever to take on the challenge and succeed. Have I trained properly for it, no but I did do as much as I could between a hectic work and family life. I bought myself a great new bike in Canyon CF8. I have done once before a 180km, and I have done the Madrid and London marathon in September. I am ready!

The most exciting part is the preparation. Packing your bags for a triathlon can be tricky as there are so many elements to pack. A bit of added pressure this time, I cannot go back home to pick up my missing gels or gear.

I get to Gatwick airport and I am not alone. Few athletes are there. In fact the plane had not anticipated that many bikes, so we got a bit delayed. We arrive in Lisbon with beautiful weather. Sunny and 27 degrees. Take a cab and direction Cascais. Wow what a place. A beautiful place, a little Monaco of Portugal https://www.cascais-portugal.com/index.html

We get into our accommodation, Casa Vela hotel and it is beautiful and only 1km from the race. With the support of my incredible wife, whilst she prepares my sandwiches, I put the bike back together. Then we go to collect my race numbers and bags. Once all the admin done, we go and have a walk in the town. Again, I cannot stress it enough, amazing!

After a good night sleep, 5am and I do the final preparations for the race. I make my way to transition and lay the foundations and run through the multiple scenarios in my mind…main one are where the toilets are located 🙂 You never know when you will need those. I make my way to the port, where the start will be given, and wait in my pen. I am right next to the finishing line, and my focus is total. I know my wife is talking to me but I hear no words. I just keep starring at the beach and I listened to the national anthem. The emotion has got to me, and I am fired up.

COVID regulations in place, we start in groups of 4. I tuck one of my gel in my sleeve, and prepare for my first sea swim. I hear the bell and here I am running towards the sea with an ocean of support all around. Goose bumps material. It doesn’t last long…first gulp of sea water, horrendous! Then with some gentle waves, after 2km, I am starting to feel sea sick. I know crazy! I get pushed towards some rocks and that ain’t gentle. I needed that gel to bring back a sugary feeling in my mouth rather than the salt! I conclude the swim course in 1h32min. I am pleased with it as I have not swam for years (don’t worry knowing you can die if you stop means little training won’t matter unless you are looking at a specific time)

Then onto the bike. Amazing views. It starts gently along the beach, but the cross wind is a killer. Then the hills. Crickey, we thought it was a flat course. Huge elevations and a 12% climb. That was hard on the legs. Good thing I have the Cotswolds nearby. Then it gets flat for the remaining 100km. I must say that the organisation for the cycle part was poor. I ended up doing more than needed, and a lot of people did. This is really challenging on such a long distance. One for the organisation to review for sure. I met a Canadian lady in her late 60s telling me that she has done all Ironman courses. Impressive. She was my hero for the day.

Final part, just a mere 42.2km to do. I take my time to start with. Eat a good sandwich then start at a gentle pace. I did 20km at around 6.20min. Half way there and the legs are starting to give in. Now it is all about mental strength. The night has begun, and temperatures dropped. I get into a routine. Run 5km, then walk 1km. I do this for about 10km and then it is run 1km walk 500m. I am always looking at my watch to make sure I am going to make it before the 17 hour cut off time. Finally, I am on the last stretch and I hear those magical words…’Ben, you are an Ironman’. Wow what a feeling. Total elation. I suck it all in, milk it. I collect my medal, which I can only imagine what those Olympians must feel when receiving their gold medal. I grab a food bag and then crash onto the pavement. My body is in shock and I am feeling sick. I know the feeling and I know it will last 1 hour. So here is where your support crew plays a major role…looking after you. By then you are drained physically and mentally. My wife deserves that medal as much as I do. I will repay her well the next day when visiting Lisbon with a monster of an ice cream 🙂

In the following days I realise truly my achievement. I remember those ambulances coming to pick me up during COVID. I remember suffering with my lungs for over a year. Just going to the bathroom what an Ironman effort. If you have long COVID, I hope my story will give you hope. Push yourself mentally and ignore the pain. You CAN overcome it, just believe it.

Now onto the Rome marathon this week and then the Hamburg Ironman European Championship. I look forward to new experiences

Benoit Mercier