Zoe and I went over to Bolton on Sunday to soak up some of the Ironman UK atmosphere. We were there primarily to support Tim Owen, who was completing his first long distance triathlon, but also to shout and scream for anyone else who looked like they needed some encouragement. We made it over to Bolton by mid afternoon (we’d both done a sprint triathlon that morning, give us a break!) and found a spot on the run course as the faster athletes were already finishing.
As the run course consists of three and a half laps, we would see the runners come by us into town, then five minutes later, head out the other way. Then, after about 8km of running, they’d come back and repeat until they had the tell tale red wristband that showed they were on their last lap, at which point they would disappear into the finishing funnel.
Eventually Tim appeared, and was looking determined under his hat and sunglasses. We shrieked and hollered and, for a moment, I feared he might go straight past us without noticing, so focused he seemed to be. You’ve got to be meditating like a Buddhist master to miss me in full voice though, and we managed to get his attention. A big smile rewarded our noise, and I hope we gave him a little spring in his stride.
After Tim had headed back out of Bolton Town Centre, we walked a little further into town and found Mel – Tim’s wife – and his support crew. They were standing about 200m from the finish, and so we settled in. It was a great spot to offer support to the tired looking athletes as they ran through the human corridor of noise. I’d by now got the knack of reading names from race numbers and personalising the encouragement. My absolute favourite thing was to spot the people with red bands (so close to the finish now), read their name, and give them a “Congratulations, Mark. You’ve done it. You made it.” Quite a few were revived from their pit of concentration and broke into a full beam smile as they prepared to enjoy those last few strides. That felt like a really positive contribution.
While we were in Bolton, we also met up with an old friend Craig Moat – he did this race a couple of years ago – and his daughter Lucy. She's the world’s biggest fan of her namesake Lucy Gossage, and Craig had managed to organise a meeting between the two Lucys after the race. Everyone knows that Lucy Gossage is an incredible triathlete, and sure enough yesterday she won her sixth IM race. However, I am happy to report that she is also an absolutely fantastic person. Despite having just completed a gruelling long distance race, she not only made time for the younger Lucy, but spent time asking her about her training and her ambitions, gave her the finisher’s t shirt and medal she’d just collected, and signed her race number too. When Lucy came back to us she was floating on air. What a wonderful gesture from a great athlete.
Tim finished in 16:29.56. What a shift of work. Can you imagine doing anything for sixteen and a half hours? The man is made of concrete. I am full of admiration for the way he has thrown himself into the training this year. He hasn’t flinched at the miles and miles of training, and I couldn’t be happier for him.