Paul, you are an Ironman…
These are some of the most powerful words you can here after an event. The emotion that runs through your body at this point is overwhelming. After working so hard through the event, and to get yourself to this point, it’s all about these words. I have done this once before, and experienced this. Ironman Weymouth 2016 was my first Ironman, and it is even more special as it appears to have been a one off, now running as a half Ironman. If you want to read more about Ironman Weymouth then check out my blog from last year HERE.
Where did this journey start? Well, before I was an Ironman I entered Ironman Kalmar. The idea was that with the right training I could record a great time on this course, and also have an awesome family holiday. I was thinking about a few different events, but the highlights of the 2016 event made the decision for me. If you are thinking about this event, you have to watch this video:
Wow… I thought I would love to do this, and here I am, just a year later, and on 19th August 2017 I did it, I became a 2 x Ironman.
Before talking about the event, and experience, let’s first look back at the build up. We arrived on the Wednesday. It was a long day as we decided to fly to Copenhagen and then drive. This makes it much cheaper, but it does mean that you have a 4 hour drive after the plane journey. A few added benefits of doing this are that the car hire is significantly cheaper in Denmark than Sweden, and you will want to hire a car. You also get to drive over the most expensive bridge in Europe, I did not realise this, but the toll to cross the bridge is 56 Euros, each way.
The drive is painless enough, as it is pretty much one straight road, but you need to remember to drive on the right, so it is a little confusing at first.
Rather than staying in central Kalmar which looked expensive when we looked, I found a lovely place to stay in Rockneby which is just 15 minutes drive from the centre. It is owned by a lovely couple who own stables, and have a cottage on their land. What is great is that Jorgen (the owner) also took part in the Ironman this year for the first time.
When we woke up on the Thursday it was time to start thinking Ironman. We went to register, and to be honest I think the registration is always basically the same with Ironman. You get your bag and number, which was pretty quick, check out your name at the big M-dot.
We then went into the merchandise tent. They had separated it so that you don’t have to go in if you don’t want, but of course you do. I got a cotton top for me and all my family, and a visor. I want to collect the visor from every Ironman I do, and it’s cool that the top has the M-dot with your names on the back. There is so much more I would have purchased but it gets too expensive.
After the registration we went to have a look at the finish line which is just around the corner from the registration. The registration is also situated with the transition area, and all transitions are in the same place, which makes the logistics really good and easy. On the way to the finish line we walked past the truck, that lets everyone know Ironman is in town, I posed for a picture with my two bags. Point to note about the bag is that it’s not as good as last years, and I’ve been told by others that the quality seems to be reducing each year which is a shame.
We then went to the finish line which was set up ready for Ironkids. On the mat I saw a familiar face, that’s Paul Kaye I told my wife. Then he waved and said “hi Paul”, wow he knows me, in fairness I had just tagged him in a tweet, but still.
After a quick chat with Paul we thought we would let the kids have a quick warm up for their race. I had signed them both up to Ironkids which is great. Benjamins 4th international race, and Amelie’s 2nd.
The centre of Kalmar is small, and easy to navigate. We went for a coffee, and on recommendation of Paul Kaye we went to Balck, which really was the nicest coffee I’ve ever had. They ask you what coffee you want, weigh the coffee beans and ground them fresh. They also want to know how it was, they really do know how to make a good coffee.
On the Thursday evening I went with Jorgen to the race briefing. Wow, I’ve not seen anything like this, the venue was huge and the race briefing for all participants was at the same time. It was announed that it was an Ironman record with the most people in a single briefing.
The atmosphere was amazing, with around 3,000 people in one hall. I can only compare this to Weymouth last year, and it really doesn’t compare. The actual briefing is rather generic, led by Paul Kaye it’s always going to be good.
However the welcome you get here is very different. In Weymouth you did not get anything. Here you got a beer and water on arrival.
I had heard about a meal, and thought it would be something you had to pay extra for. There certainly wasn’t a meal at Weymouth. I soon realised that the food was included and 3,000 people lined up to get food. I thought it would take ages, but the queues were really quick, I got another beer and the food was great.
The Friday was pretty much the same, an Ironman day. I had to rack my bike and drop my bags. I know I had everything as I had already laid out my kit before coming to Kalmar.
I thoroughly recommend doing this. After doing this I looked at the picture and it helped me remember I had forgotten my bike shoes, helmet and body glide. I then did the same again when putting my kit in my bags, and again, almost forgot that you have to leave your trainers in your bag.
Racking the bike was seemless, and didn’t take long. I didn’t spend long in there, just oriented myself to my bags and bike.
It was then time for Ironkids. I had entered both Benjamin and Amelie. Now technically Amelie isn’t old enough, but she is advanced for her age and would be very upset if Benjamin did it without her. The 3-5 group was for accompanying adults, which is ideal for us and our little ones. So we split up into the boys team and the girls team.
The event started with its own race briefing and warm up, and we started on time, the youngest group first. We were off for a 500 m loop finishing at the same finish line as the Ironman. Benjamin ran with me and absolutely loved it.
Amelie wasn’t too far behind with Kirsty, and they both got a medal and ice lolly. They had already received a tshirt at registration. A thoroughly enjoyable experience for the whole family. I have two Ironkids.
We enjoyed the rest of the day and took in the atmosphere. The lead sponsor hotel, which is literally at the finish line, were offering a buffet for a tenner, so hard to argue with that, just one more sleep.
With transition opening at 05:00, I set my alarm for 03:30. An early start to get myself ready, have breakfast and ensure I did not forget anything. It was a little cold, so my Dryrobe came in handy. I spent a bit of time just sitting there, thinking about what I was about to embrace. It was pouring down with rain, and really windy, which did not bode well for what would otherwise be a fast course.
A quick check of my bike, and bags, and then decided to go and check out the swim course.
The Swim – 1:34:15
Before we knew it, it was time for the swim start. A standard rolling start, where you self seed and queue up to run into the Baltic Sea. I lined up at around 1:25 as a rough estimate. I also considered many would self seed unrealistically, and knew that 40% of starters were doing their first Ironman. The rain had stopped, but the wind was still up a little.
The Swedish National anthem followed by other music led us into the water, and it was a smooth start. Overall I had a good swim, I took it very steady, not pushing myself at all, trying to keep heart rate low and save energy. I think I started in the right place, but it was a fairly rough swim, and I discussed this with a few others who felt the same. I got kicked a couple of times, punched, my leg pulled and someone tugging on the cord to zip up my wetsuit. I’m not the most confident swimmer, so I don’t overtake without room, and don’t want the fight in the swim. The problem I found was that people would slow down in front of me, meaning I slowed, and then this is when I got hit being passed. The people who passed me were often slower than me so would slow in front of me and the cycle would continue. The most annoying bit was when the person who fought to pass me, slowed then started to do breaststroke carelessly, and one guy kicked me in the head so hard it dazed me. If you want to do breast stroke that is fine, but just be careful, I was so conscious of my kicking, I wish everyone was as considerate.
After the first 1 km I had more space, and enjoyed most of the swim, the 2nd km went well without much interference. I noticed the wind, and the sea was a lot rougher than other days. It wasn’t too bad until we turned and had about 1 km swimming against the tide. This didn’t slow me down too much, except some guy with a gold AWA cap (so experienced right?) couldn’t sight at all. I noticed this a lot with many swimmers. I kept getting cut up with people swimming in front of me in the wrong direction. This guy in the gold cap went back and forth in front of me so many times it wasn’t even funny. This resulted in me slowing down, and then getting hit again, I have a cut on my ear where someone punched me in the head.
I noticed a few pink jelly fish, and it was a strange sensation the first time I hit one, like putting my hand into a gooey mess. These didn’t bother me, and apart from the fighting, and the blocking on the swim, the first 3 km was rather good. I think I probably lost about 10 minutes as a few times I had to stop to catch my breath after being hit, or slowed because of people in front of me, but it’s not the end of the world. The final 800 metres weren’t great to be honest. The support along the harbour was absolutely fantastic, but the water got shallow, and I found myself clawing through weeds. It was like a scene from Harry Potter getting tangled as I swam.
I was surprised to hear I got a 1:34 after feeling I was slowed considerably. On a more settled morning, and being confident in a pack, I think this could be a fast swim, and I certainly feel like I took it in my stride, not pushing myself at all.
T1 – 7:03
As far as transitions go, this was fast. You run across the road, straight into your bike bags. Pick up bag and carry on into tent, then drop bag on way out to bike, sorted. I took my time in transition, putting on socks, and had a fizzy drink to give myself a sugar boost.
The Bike – 7:02:48
Rather than bringing my bike, I decided I would hire one. My bike is a low range one, and would cost more to ship than it’s worth. I’ve had people tell me that I’m crazy using a bike I’m not used to, but frankly I’ve not used my bike enough to benefit from my own bike. Jorgen said his friend had a spare bike, and it was better than my bike, so I borrowed this and paid for a service as payment. It was a little small to be honest, but I adjusted it so it was about right.
This course is branded flat, I would say it’s undulating. I wouldn’t say its hilly, but has slight ups and downs. You start off by crossing the bridge to Oland. This is a bit of a climb, and there is no other climbs like this throughout. This is a beautiful bridge that stretches about 10k, and you can see where you swam (this is the roughest the sea looked the whole trip, typical). This is one of the exposed sections meaning the wind makes it tougher, but it was not so bad on the way out, especially as we had just had a climb, so momentum for most of the bridge countered the wind. A point to note is that you are not usually allowed to cycle over this bridge, so this really is a special experience.
It was beautiful cycling through Oland, and the first 120k is spent doing one big loop of the island. The course is smooth, with good roads. It’s fairly easy to get good times, and even with the slight inclines you could generate, and maintain some great speeds. The thing that can make a difference here is the wind, and it happened to be windy on Ironman day, and the wind picked up more throughout the day. Oland is mostly large open farmland. It is beautiful, and the roads stretch for miles and miles, without anything in between. The wind was south westernly, it had a small hard section near the start, but then wasn’t too bad, but at one point we turned the corner and it was like cycling into a brick wall. There was the smallest of inclines, but the headwind dropped my pace as if I was climbing a mountain.
I have since spoken to others and they agree that it was a hard bike course. My bike training has been minimal this year to say the least, so this probably impacted me more than others, but I’m sure everyone was slower than they could have been. This bike course really has fast potential if the wind is down, but that headwind was hard.
The support was great on the bike, and everyone appeared to be gathered in gardens, having parties along the route. All the aid stations were perfect and I seemlessly got all the nutrition I needed without having to slow. The course isn’t very technical at all, it is literally long straight roads for the most part. At one point on Oland you do a 180 degree turn around a cone, but other than that you don’t have to worry about turns, and could stay in TT position the whole time (if this is your preference).
On the return from Oland you have another good section and then you turn to cross the bridge again. This time it was harder against the wind. My legs were obviously tired, and I had numerous chats with myself about why the hell did I think this was a good idea. Naturally I had the bike cut off in the back of my mind, as I quickly evaluated my expectations after experiencing the wind. I expected a quick bike time, and yes it was easier than the hills on the courses in the UK, but could be a lot easier without the wind. I knew I should make the bike cut off, but I was very mindful of this. Interestingly, although I’m not particularly fast, I have good endurance, so even at the end of the bike I could generate the same pace as the start when there was a flat section.
When taking on the small loop back in Kalmar you first cycle past near transition, and along some of the run course. I had a 60km loop to do, yet there were already a good few on the run. It felt hard cycling through and then away from this, knowing that some of these would be finished before I even got back to start a marathon. It made me also think about the fact I had a marathon on the bike left to do, followed by a marathon. Really, why am I doing this to myself? My lower back and everything was a little sore by now, so this had an impact on how hard I pushed. For a long time now I had thought I would like a sub 7, and although I didn’t know how long I had been in the swim I thought that I could be out of T2 with an overall time of 9 hours.
My lower back, well everything, was starting to hurt by now. I had been spending time in different positions and standing a lot to try and prevent this, to make the run easier. During the loop in Kalmar I stood up a lot thrusting my hips forward to stretch my back, this slowed me down a lot but I didn’t care about time, but wanted to finish in one piece. You don’t spend a lot of time in Kalmar, and the wind is lower around here, but by now the time on the bike starts taking its toll. I had been looking forward to this point as we passed my holiday home where I hoped Kirsty and the kids would be able to see me. It was great turning onto my road and seeing them there waiting for me.
It was fantastic seeing my family, and this left me with about 20km to go, which is nothing right. I spent the last section just stretching off my back, I could have gone a bit faster, but thought I would be better off feeling better on the run and I knew now that I would definitely make it. As we approached the centre of Kalmar the support was fantastic, with people cheering everywhere. At this point I was happy, jumping off the bike, I knew I would be a two time Ironman.
T2 – 9:46
I took my time in T2, I wasn’t in a rush, I knew I had done it. After dropping my bike I went to the toilet, and was pleased that my back wasn’t in the same pain as last year. It hurt, but I could stand up straight which was a bonus. I found it easy to get my bag, and put my trainers and visor on. I had also brought a can of redbull which I spent time drinking, to give me a boost before the run. Then I was off.
The Run – 4:39:21
I felt good at the start of the run. It’s 3 laps, and you start by running through the centre of Kalmar, and running past the finish line. This is hard, as the turn to continue the lap is just before the red carpet. Apparently this is the longest lead up to the red carpet in all Ironman events. So we run towards the finish line then turn right and run past alongside the carpet. Ok, just 3 laps. I actually felt good, I had a 4 hour target in my head, which would get me a finish time starting with a 12, but was comfortable at a 3:30 pace.
Everywhere you ran there were people cheering, so many parties, people having BBQ, dancing, shouting. I always like an international run to see the culture differences, and the welcome you get. In Sweden the most common cheer is “Heja Heja”, everyone cheered this as we ran past. I lost count of the number of Mexican waves and cheers I got as I ran past.
The first lap I was flying, but every time I went under 8 min miles I slowed myself down. I could have gone faster here, but new it wouldn’t last. The aid stations were great, and all consistent with what was there, and the order it was provided. Water, electrolytes, redbull, Coke, food (snacks), electrolytes and finally water. The aid stations were also every 2 km, which is far more than needed, but I decided to walk through every aid station and look after myself. I was flying for the first lap and it was great to see my family. I stopped for a cuddle and kiss with my family.
After the first lap I was easily on for a sub 4, allowing for a slower finish. The atmosphere was amazing, and the support really was excellent. Everyone treated it like a party and had huge speakers in gardens playing music, and as soon as you passed one there was another. I had people making tunnels for me to run through, and so many personal cheers.
On the second lap I needed to stop for the toilet, it was very painful, and I won’t go into details here but it really hurt to go to the toilet, and the smallest fart stung. Although I walked through every aid station, the thought of red bull or Coke made my belly turn. I took some lemon to try and settle, and it helped a little, and I ate a few crisps. I just couldn’t really stomach anything so I slowed taking this into account.
I never once couldn’t keep going, I just didn’t want to push. I knew I would have a huge PB, and at first thought it would be an hour PB. I knew I could have done more, but was less likely after a slower bike than aimed for. I could have pushed to get an hour PB but would have had to really dig deep, and would have suffered after the event. Instead, taking a more casual pace, I was able to just enjoy the atmosphere. I hi fived so many kids but this was getting harder and harder, especially when one hit me so hard he almost took my arm off.
When I next saw my family I told them I had slowed, and the last lap was likely to be slower. I still had energy, but I didn’t want to push myself too much and overdo it.
I pushed on and knew I had just one more lap. I took in this lap, thanking all the marshals, supporters and taking everything that Kalmar had to offer. As I approached 40 km I turned into the track for the final time, where I got my 3rd band. There were still people getting there 2nd band, and I wished them luck in their final lap. This final 2 km is special as you come back into the centre, and run past transition for the final time, through the centre, before coming back out around Kalmar Castle. By now I had increased my speed again to sub 9 min miles. I was overtaking everyone again like I was in the first lap. I had plenty of energy, and the last push felt great. As I turned into the finish line stretch for the final time I overtook one final guy and knew I had a much better pace. My family were there before the carpet where I gave them all a cheer, and kept going. Two people ahead turned to carry on for their last lap… timing is everything, there was no one on the carpet, and no one close behind. I had been travelling for over 13 hours, if I needed to sprint, or wait, in order to get the carpet to myself then I would. I went onto the carpet so fast cheering, what a great welcome, and then I heard “stop” – “Paul wait”. So I stopped, just before the finish line, just 20 metres to go… and then the MC, Bjorn (Paul Kaye must have been on a break) and 100’s and 100’s of others all together said…
“Paul. You are an IRONMAN”… what a finish, the emotion that fills your body, I held back the tears.
The finish line experience was incredible, they had lots of volunteers who came up to you, taking one finisher each. I was given a medal and a foil blanket, and with one hand on my back she led me through. Would you like a photo? Yes please, so she held my blanket for me, before putting it back on afterwards. I was passed a can of red bull, then shown the showers, asked if I wanted to go in the ice pool… nah I’m ok thank you. Then I was taken to the baggage tent and told after you get your bag just go left and get food. So I was given my bag and finishers top (which I must say is better than last years).
I then went through to the food area, I was given a beer and burger and had choice of marquee or these canoe beanbags. I was helped onto the beanbag and then people kept coming up to me asking if I wanted anything else. I couldn’t eat the burger, so they took it away and got me some watermelon and crisps. I was given more beer. I could have stayed here all night, but I had my family waiting, and it was time to share this experience with them, so I left to find them, an Ironman… again.
Overall Ironman Kalmar was fantastic. The beautiful course and the support makes it an unmissable event. This year was harder than it could be because of the wind, but I still finished in 13:33:13 which is a massive PB from Weymouth at 14:17:17. I know I have more to give, and have already entered Ironman Hamburg 2018, and would like to see a 12 at the start.
If you want to see more reviews then check out Racecheck. Also a final request, I am currently in a photo competition with CEP to win a trip to Vegas, if you like my photo then please vote for me. Votes close on 30th September 2017.