Ironman Austria 1 year and 10 months after I completed my first Ironman in Wales. A lot has happened in that time. It is actually difficult to know where to start. I guess it makes sense to go back to the day I signed up…
July 2016. I was at home with Chris and our friends Laura and Cat were all online waiting for the race sign up page to go live. IM Austria is a notoriously popular race which sells out quickly and the four of us were determined to get a slot. Chris and I had been together since IM Wales, meeting at my party the week after the race. This would be our first race together.
Race entries completed and sign up emails received it was time to start thinking about training. The usual process for me, start trying to train alone, realise I am shit at following a structured plan written by me and then seek the help of a professional. In this case Philip Hatzis, founder of Tri Training Harder.
Training was hard from the start. My head never seemed to really accept that we were going to do another Ironman. My drive and passion for it didn’t come back. Every session was a struggle. I had a different set of priorities this time. Chris and my newly adopted Golden Retriever and the home we all shared. I would say the last year has essentially been an up hill battle from the start to get my fitnesss and mental strength back to IM grade.
February saw me join KPMG Banking as their Chief of Staff. The pressure and stress in comparison to my previous jobs was now incomparable. March 31st and I turned 30. April saw me desperately trying to pick up the training for the 70.3 (half distance Ironman) in Lisbon. The first bank holiday weekend of May the race arrived. It was a huge success with one of my fastest ever bike splits (sub 3 hour 90km) and an agonising half marathon in 28 degree heat.
Following that weekend my life took a decided turn for the worse. Without going into detail (some things should remain private) my relationship fell apart. I found myself in a situation I would never wish upon anyone. I gave up training. I gave up on Ironman and instead got through each day smoking cigarette after cigarette, living on one meal a day, only sleeping when I took sleeping pills and eventually left London to be with my mum.
Returning to London I moved out of the place I had called home for 6 years. My mum and Dad (and sister and friends and work colleagues) were – well I wouldn’t have made it through those weeks without them. Three weeks to go to IM Austria I had a change of heart. I could still do this race. I was strong enough.
I started training again. I threw myself into every session and spent hours on the bike in my living room listening to music whilst simultaneously crying tears of determination and visualising the finish line.
Thursday last week I traveled to the race. I spent most of the flight looking out of the window with tears rolling down my face. The emotional war raging inside me was overwhelming. Ironman plus a break up does not make for a stable state of mind. Arriving into Austria was like turning a corner though. Registering for the race, being amongst the other competitors. It is an incredible atmosphere.
Sunday morning 4am. I had been awake since 2:30am. This was it. Months of sheer hell were about to come to an end. I had one aim… Get to the finish line.
Saying goodbye to your family at the start of an Ironman, for me, is one of the hardest moments of the day. I couldn’t stand still. I couldn’t stop the tears rolling down my face. My mum had tears in her eyes. My dad gave me a huge huge. Maggie and Fraser were so excited for me. “You can do it Cat”. The last words I heard from my mum.
JEEZ it is hard to write this. The tears have been rolling down my face for the last ten minutes and we haven’t even started the race yet!
So the start. Very different vibe to Wales. Serious athletes at this event. Serious faces. Serious goals. I placed myself in the 1:15 hour swim time pen. A full 15 minutes faster than IM Wales. Let’s do it.
Goggles down, race volunteer held us back and then it was GO. Into the water. Dive in head first and swim. It felt good. I was comfortable. I was gliding past people. How was this happening? This never happens. I am always overtaken. Turn the first buoy. No don’t you dare grab my ankle. Get off my back. Swim in your own space. Did you really just kick me in the mouth?! Keep swimming. Focus on the catch and pull. Hand in the water, force the water back, stop kicking so hard, you don’t need to. Into the last 1000m and it was like a water based rugby scrum. Fortunately I am no wall flower. You wanna swim over my head? I am going to elbow and kick past you.
Out the water, stop the watch, 1:18 hours. GET IN. Great start. Up the ramp, rip the wetsuit down to my waist. “CAT!!! CAT!!” Mum, Dad, Maggie, Fraser at the barrier; gave them the biggest smile and ran to my bike. Why is the water on my white transition bag a funny colour? Oh Jesus you cannot be serious. Yes. Great. Love being a woman. Here is my period. Perfect timing. Oh what? Your trisuit has white legs? EXCELLENT. No time to focus on that, get on the bike.
The bike exit/turnaround point for the IM Austria is like something from the Tour. Thousands of people are 2, 3 deep at the barriers. I can see my family, it feels awesome to see them before I get up out of the saddle and power out of town onto the first 90km loop of the bike.
The bike course is hard. So so hard. It is easily as hard as Wales and I didn’t expect it. My legs were burning and my eyes were closing after 70km. So tired. Just keep going Cat. Eat something. Drink your Iso fluids. The night before the race I spoke to my fellow Ironman friend Keith. The last thing he said to me on the phone was “there are dark mental places on an Ironman course Cat. You know there is. Never give up. You will never be alone. I will be with you in spirit the whole way round”. Well Keith, you got me round that bike. You were there, just like our old training rides. In my mind “keep going pet, you’re doing great, keep going”.
90km done. Jan Frodeno the world number 1 Kona champion screams past me surrounded by motorbikes. He has finished the full bike course. I am halfway. You’re a freak Jan!
Turnaround point, crowds are going MENTAL after Jan went past and the music is BLASTING. Mum, Dad, Maggie, Fraser are at the barrier making up 70% of the total noise hahaha. I give them a thumbs up and a smile and set off on the second loop. My legs are screaming. My brain is tired. The hills are relentless. But —- the downhills are mine this time. Full aero position. No brakes. 68km/h. It is amazing how fast my 70kg frame can get a bike down a hill. Screaming past other competitors and shouting to get out the way (apparently people don’t realise you have to stay right unless overtaking – I was overtaking – get out the damn way). Last 20km. Head down. High gear. Work the legs. Picking off people every few minutes. Cars beeping at me in support on the other side of the road where the traffic was still flowing. Get to transition, get to transition.
Off the bike. A sub 7 hour bike. Going well. Stay strong.
I had spare clothes in my transition bag. Ruined Trisuit off. BLACK run gear on. Goddammit, I wanted to wear that Trisuit for the run! Humph. No time for this; Out onto the course. Oh my god this is hard. My feet. I can’t feel my toes. My calf muscles feel like they are on fire.
The house we had rented was on the run course. Pure fluke. It meant I knew at 4km I would see my family. Run to them. Keep running. There they are. They went crazy. They had made signs. I told them I was ok and ran on. There was an aid station with food and drink and soaked sponges to cool down every 2.5km. Run to every aid station Cat. Just keep going. 3rd aid station I broke down. The tears came. I was hyperventilating. I wanted my mum. I don’t want to be out here alone. German man comes over and pulls me forward. Talking to me in German and saying something along the lines of “it is ok – come on”. I started running again.
10km – that’s a quarter done. 15km – that’s a third done. Keep going. Stop crying, you can’t breathe if you cry. There’s my family. They believe in me. Keep going. There’s Chris, he is telling me to keep going. Just keep going. Laura is on the run course! I hadn’t seen her all day. Such a relief. Everyone is off the bike safely and now it’s one foot in front of the other for 26 miles.
Last 12km to go. Mum, Dad, Maggie, Fraser have screamed at me for the last time. They are going to the finish line. Watch says 12:30hours. You can do this in 14 hours Cat. You can do this. Keith is in my head. Steady away Cat. Keep moving forward. Everyone that wished me good luck in the lead up to this is with me. Jess, my oldest dearest friend who will never let me give up. Lizi, who has held me up through the break up, never let me feel alone. Lizi who was so worried about me months ago because she could see I was sinking. You’re here Cat. You’re doing it. You are going to get to that finish line.
Last 8 km. I am walking. I told myself I would walk to the final turn point and run the last 4km to the finish line. I stuck to my word. The nausea was overwhelming. The verge of the road has never looked like such an enticing bed. Don’t throw up. Don’t throw up. Nearly there.
2km to go. Pick up the pace. You’re nearly there.
1km to go, back into the park where the finish line is. Complete strangers are screaming my name as I force myself to RUN.
Into the barriers. Chris is there. Go get it Cat.
Turn left and the lights are blinding. The music is deafening.
There is my family. They are screaming. They have the signs.
I am on the red carpet. The finish line archway is in front of me. The pain is nearly over. Paul Kaye calls my name “Cat Macpherson – You Are An Ironman”. I run up the ramp, I scream, I scream again. I have done it. 14 hours. 2 hours and 19 minutes faster than Wales.
Medal around my neck, helped over to the foil blankets and water. And then I hear Maggie. They are here. I walk out of the finish line area and my dad hugs me. He is crying. I can hear him. My absolute hero of a father. My mum holds onto me and cries. You did it Cat. You did it. Maggie, my sister, who spent the whole day filming, photographing, facebooking so everyone would know how I was getting on. We hug and hug and even Fraser get’s in on the hug action. Top bloke.
It’s over. The Ironman I had given up hope on. I had done it.
The rest of the evening was spent getting my kit and getting back to the house. I did eventually throw up when I got home. Delightful. A day of gels and cola and red bull and watermelon will do that to your stomach. Toast, three mouthfuls of tea and bed.
The messages I have had from people before, during and after this event have blown my mind. It has been utterly unbelievable. I am a very very lucky girl and I will NEVER forget the people that were there for me when I wanted to give up and they wouldn’t let me. I also have to mention Emma Hughes. The girl working for the charity I chose to support. She has tirelessly promoted the cause since I said I’d like to raise the money for Little Hospice Hoima. Of course if anyone wants to donate the link is at the end of the page.
I have to thank my family. And actually I would like to dedicate this entire piece of writing and the race result to them. My mum and dad weren’t mad keen on the idea of my doing another Ironman (!!!). But they have supported me unconditionally throughout. When my world fell apart before the race they picked up the pieces. They helped get me back on solid ground. They are always there for me. I will never be able to tell them in words what they mean to me but I love you.
And finally I want to remind everyone I know… Never doubt yourself. Never give up.
……You are so much stronger than you think.
All love, C xx