Ironman Lanzarote 2022 – Nathan Blake

A few words & pics from me on last Saturday’s humungous Ironman…

361 days post op to Ironman Lanzarote

I entered my first long distance triathlon in 2008 and got such a buzz that it moulded my lifestyle for the next 14 years. I now have 25 long distance triathlon medals hung up in my office. When I look at them I still feel the energy and emotion of every single race and the journeys that got me there. The good, the bad and ultimate epics. Every medal carries memories of a wonderful, magic adventure. I wouldn’t change anything.

At 7am on Saturday 21st May 2022 my bare feet were wriggling into the soft cool sand on the beach in Lanzarote. I nervously awaited the honk and cheers which would signal the start of the final big one. My pulse was surging. There were so many reasons why I should not have made it to that start line. This journey had been the most challenging roller coaster ride of them all. But I remained calm, confidently imagining myself on that red carpet passing under an Ironman finishing arch once more.I moved carefully into the water choosing a group of swimmers that looked like they had a clean technique and could move in a straight line. I positioned myself tactically to do the least work possible, lazily gliding between athletes’ hips and feet. Having broken my collar bone at the end of January, I had only been able to start swimming 3 weeks before the race and most of that was with one arm. I had to be careful to prevent injuring myself further. It worked out perfectly, no shoulder issues, no arm cramp just a smooth swim and I wasn’t last out of the sea either – bonus!

I walked up the beach, into transition, changed swiftly into the bike gear, popped a gel and strolled off to the racks to collect my sexy new TT bike. I was so really looking forward to this bit. I’d ridden the bike just six times prior to race day; but I knew it was bang on. It did not disappoint.Honestly, if you’ve not seen any footage of the Lanza bike ride – do it! And while you’re watching direct a hair drier into each ear, put them on level 10 and stay like that for 6-7 hours whilst smashing your legs with a large lump of lava rock. It’s utterly fantastic! I love rides when I know everyone else is suffering. Sunshine, heat, wind, sickly sticky gels, blue hydration liquids, more wind, stunning luna landscapes, massive high-speed downhills and slow grinding uphills. They all blended into what I’d class as a legendary, monumental epic ride. Top points and mega kudos to everyone that finished that one.

I climbed off feeling chuffed to see only a few bikes on the racks. But the biggest challenge was about to commence. Pre 2020 I’d have rushed through T2 and hopped onto the run course targeting 8 minute miles to pull off a 3:30 marathon. More often than not I missed that target, but it was always my aim and possible. Today’s plan was completely different.I’m going to keep the “woe is me” short here. I started getting severe knee pain at the end of 2020. After rest, scans and expert consultations I went in for knee surgery on 25th May 2021. The surgeon stitched my left medial meniscus back in place and sorted a few tears. VERY PAINFUL! Two months in bed, followed by months and months and months of recovery. Dark times, but in the past now. In April 2022 a review with the consultant showed that things were OK but not perfect. I was told to avoid impact sports, specifically running. Training in the lead up to Lanza involved regular short walks and strength work at the gym. I was highly protective of my knee to manage the pain and did not want to do anything to cause further irreparable damage.

And here I was 26.2 miles away from the Ironman Lanzarote finish line. It took 2 miles of casual walking to drink a bottle of chocolate milk, sort my head out and get me in the zone. To minimise impact on my knees I’d developed my own fast walk-shuffle technique. I was wearing massively cushioned trainers, with additional absorbing insoles and I self-consciously felt I looked ridiculous. Having athletes run effortlessly past me was equally soul destroying. At mile 9 the gastric distress I’d picked up finally stopped (details not required). The shuffling improved and I crossed halfway in under 3 hours. Once I collected the first wristband a few miles later the frustration lifted. I had a whoosh of adrenaline, finally feeling like that this was going to happen. <Fight off the emotion and crack on> Digging deeper I pushed one foot in front of the other as efficiently as the throbbing legs would allow and by the final lap I was passing fatigued athletes. The light was fading, the crowds kept cheering, AC/DC was roaring, my head was spinning. I wobbled down the red carpet and under the finish line arch listening to the OxfordTri fan club scream. A powerful feeling of contentment and completeness rushed through me. 

The impossible was possible.

And that, my friends, was my farewell to Ironman*

It’s been an immense love affair! 😍

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