“I’m never doing that again…”
~ Adey Cole ~
4th June 2023 @ Cotswold 113 Middle Distance

Well, how did I get myself into this position again!

Well it started with a trip to Tenby in September 2023 to experience an IM event as a supporter. There is a novel published on the club website that documents this event, but it is rarely spoken about, and probably a little known fact who was being supported on that day…..

Anyway, drawn in by the immense atmosphere despite my neuro diverseness, I hovered over the enter 2024 button for a long time before finally accepting that 2024 was neither the time or the place for the long course in my life. Step up IM 70.3 Bolton.  A massive risk taken as this was a new event replacing the full course, and no race profiles had been advertised. I knew I wanted to do a branded event this year, so I took a leap of faith and before I knew it I had entered!

Now with what it thought to be adequate training for the 113 in 2023,  I suffered with serious cramp for 12 of the 13 miles of the run, so I knew that I would need a different approach this time, and have a properly structured plan to get me through this time as what I previously thought was sufficient training clearly was not.

It is prudent at this point that I make my first thank you. Coach Charlie. I cannot thank you enough for all of your time, your patience, expertise, support and understanding, all alongside your own training, Coaching and family life. Yes, I did the hard graft at the business end, but without your input, I do not think I would ever have got there, let alone get to race day. So thank you.  I don’t think the words thank you are enough, as it will soon become apparent below, but it goes some way to start to show you some appreciation and give you some well-deserved, hard earned recognition and praise.

Training started for me in Late September/ Early October 2023. Juggling shift work, along with my work dogs and family life made it a challenge, but a challenge that I had to live with.  All in all, I believe the programme was a success. Charlie had often told me  to trust the process. I did give the process everything. I will not lie, it has been an eye opener and at times really hard for me to adapt to, but if the race doesn’t speak for itself, my training outcomes speak volumes alone.

Now bearing in mind I have never been a strong confident swimmer, 100m looked around 2:20/100m at a push for a fast pace and anything about 200m felt like an endurance swim in front crawl for me. Over the winter, I had worked hard on consistency, technique and form and then before I knew it, I was getting set workouts entitled “I’m a sub 2 minute 100m swimmer” or “I’m still a sub 2 minute 100m swimmer”. This tied in with seeing clear improvements in my 400m times at the Tewkesbury Aquathon Series in 2023. In 2022, my fastest 400m time was 09:02 for 400m with a mixture of BS and FS. In 2023, I swam 07:43 – all front crawl.  I was also able to transfer this into open water, well, the confidence to swim in open water at the very least.  In the build up to Bolton, I took to Lake 32, unplanned and got in without acclimatising and swam 2400m non stop in 56 minutes, all front crawl. This was massive to me and again shows how far I had come in the last 12 months, especially for someone with a fear of deep and open water.

This was evident too across all disciplines. I have seen massive improvements on my bike, getting stronger and faster ….. “It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger and faster” makes complete sense to me now. I remember thinking when I first started multisporting that 30 miles at an average of 15.5 mph was a long hard ride. That is almost considered a warm up now…. And as for running, I will always maintain, my size is deceptive and I can move for a big lad,  I can only say that had been improved ten fold if not more, and my size is even more deceptive with the improvements I have seen and experienced. To put a figure on it, my 5k time is around 22 minutes now where previously it was closer to 25 at a push.

The build up to the race has not been all sunshine and rainbows, as I am sure most athletes experience. Residential work courses interfered with routines and training habits, which as you can imagine for someone that thrives on routine and instruction,  caused me some stress and instability. In the closing weeks to the race, my  father suffered a brain haemorrhage which led to a prolonged stay in hospital (he is still in hospital now, rehabilitating post operations) and thankfully he is now on the mend, however, I relied on my training, my coach and my club mates more than I ever had before to help keep me going.

I can honestly say I enjoyed the whole training process, from start to finish and have learnt a lot. I had never worked with a coach before and the more the time went on, the more I enjoyed and thrived on just being told what to do, and having the accountability to get stuff done.  My next worry that has been floating around in my head is “What do I do next?” and “How can I stay being coached?” as it suits my lifestyle and abilities. Tell me what I need to do, and I will do it.  The uncertainty of post 30/06/24, believe it or not, causes me undue stress and anxiety that I am sure I am not alone in experiencing, but also highlights how different my head is wired in comparison to others.

Into Race week and final preparations were in place. On to my next thank you, Jon M , who after brief conversations, set about manufacturing me items for the bike with his 3D Printer, items that I needed on race day, that until this point, I had failed to find or source. Firstly, the club coloured and branded Garmin mount for between my bars that had to be custom made due to the gap and then secondly, the gas canister holder to hold my CO2 canisters on race day.  I was petrified that I was going to get a puncture and was trying to find somewhere to hold my canisters, and Jon produced a solution the day before travel day , without being asked I may add. Absolute life saver and legend. Thank you.

I was aware on the Wednesday before race weekend that 5 members of the club were coming to Bolton to support me. Originally just myself and Treen were going up. With the added 5 people coming up, I was genuinely surprised, shocked and made up that club members would be coming up too.

Race weekend had finally arrived after months of build-up and training. We had booked an Airbnb on the outskirts of Bolton which later transpired to be on the bike course and what was to be the perfect base camp for the weekend’s pending activities.  On getting to Bolton, my primary goal was to get to registration, get signed in, spend all my money on merch and then get to the accommodation. I had passed the first task with some relative ease. Having not experienced an IRONMAN branded event as an athlete before there was some anxiety but also excitement about what was to come.  Everyone was so friendly and it was a well oiled machine of a process. I collected my loot and parted with some hard earned cash and was soon out to our apartment. It did not take long for restlessness to kick in and for me to start being irritable which promptly led me to wanting to go to the swim venue, Pennington Flash for a quick recce.  Whilst in my head this was a good idea, in the same breath it was not. There was a strong wind blowing across the lake that made it look very choppy and more terrifying than it actually was. One positive was that the water felt warm,  so I wouldn’t have to contend with the cold alongside the choppiness come race day should the conditions not subside.  We left the flash and we drove the bike route as I had not managed to ride it before the day due to the race location, making sure that there were no surprises come race day….

Early Saturday morning, after a pretty restless night of sleep, mainly through worrying about the swim, I had packed all my transition bags up, loaded up the car and headed down to Pennington Flash with my bike for racking. It was also an opportunity to go for the official practice swim in the lake. I got my bike racked, dropped of the T1 bag and picked up my timing chip and then headed the short walk across the carpark to the lake. Thankfully, it was a lot calmer in the lake on the Saturday morning, so the choppy water element had seemingly removed itself. Until this point, I had only swam in three lakes. Ploddy, Lake 32 and Lake 86, with Lake 32 being my clear favourite. Chris Basnett had given me his opinion on The Flash and this probably did not allay my fears.  I got my wetsuit on and went for my practice swim. There were not a lot of athletes in the water, or at least a lot less than I had expected.  I got acclimatised quicker than I thought, and eventually set about doing the 500m loop that had been set up in the lake to practice in. I ended up getting stopped by one of the water safety team as they thought I was going to cut across the centre of the course. I used this as an opportunity to have a break and recoup what I had done so far. Again, super friendly safety team, one of whom asked me where in Gloucester I was from, which confused me, until I remembered I was proudly wearing my club swimhat. They were from Hereford and had travelled up to do the water safety for the weekend. Not long after this, I had done 1000m and then headed out of the water back to the car and then off into Bolton to find T2 to drop my Run bag off. I had never experienced a split transition before so this process was alien to me. Again, I walked transition entrance to exit and deposited my run bag before another quick visit to the expo, thankfully this time though, no money leapt out of my wallet in exchange for more branded kit!

The rest of Saturday was pretty restless for me, and involved going for a few walks before having dinner in the apartment and watching TV before I finally thought I was ready for bed. I could do literally nothing else, I believe I had controlled all the controllables and had to have faith in everything that I had done to this point. I had had several well wishes from family, friends and teammates. It was time to go to bed and hope for at least a decent night sleep.

Race morning arrived and again after a broken night sleep, I got up around 03:45 and forced some Weetabix and jam toast in me along with some water, donned my kit and then headed down the Flash in preparation for the start. I checked my bike, added my computer, bottles and nutrition to the bike and then went lakeside. Treen had dropped me off initially and headed off to park our car near her brother’s house who lived nearby, but returned quicker than anticipated. In this short time alone, I could feel the atmosphere building up and buzzing already. I started to feel real nerves and some excitement about it all. I tried not to look at the swim course, but it was impossible. It looked huge and daunting. Nerves started to build up more than I expected. I set up a brief camp on a bench next to some people, who incidentally turned out to be from Dursley, it is a small world, and made small talk with them, prior to Treen returning.  We were stood lakeside with the crowds and athletes beginning to build when 5 familiar faces arrived. Cue the arrival of Ryan, Charlie, Hannah, Gary and Jon. The 5 had left super early that morning and driven up from Gloucester to support me as promised. I knew they were coming but seeing them all arrive made me feel even more nervous but also added a sense of familiarity which seemed to calm me down all the same.  A quick chat with everyone, and last minute nervous exchanges with Coach Charlie, I said my goodbyes and made my way to my start pen. I had decided that 50 minutes was going to be my safe area, and allowed me some wiggle room should panic start to set in, this is me after all, and in the words of the IRONMAN group “Anything is Possible”.

It was now all very real. I was stood in amongst a lot of athletes, some laughing and joking , some doing press ups. I was stood there, 06:05 , ready for the 06:15 start, but knowing I wouldn’t be moving for some time. The announcer was blaring away at the start line, and before I knew it they announced and played the national anthem. I had experienced Tenby as a spectator with the Welsh Anthem the year before, but to me, this was another level as it felt more personal and this time I was in the firing line at the other end. I closed my eyes and could feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. The anthem was soon over, and the announcer induced a series of thunderclaps and then the iconic IM brand start music happened. AC/DC’s Thunderstruck started playing loudly, followed by the sound of a hooter, bang on 06:15. Its time to go……

Well not for me…. Turns out sending athletes out 3 abreast every 6 seconds takes some time…. Fast forward nearly an hour to 07:00 hours and I find myself staring down the gangway plank about 5 away from the front of the line. I am level with the water. There literally is no going back now… I then hear the noise from the start of Mario Kart races.

For some reason this really cheered me up, completely threw me and distracted me, and my final thought getting into the water was throwing a banana skin behind me or using star power to get me through and before I knew it, I was face down in the water and starting off the 1900m , out and back anti-clockwise loop. I was thankful for the practice swim at this very moment, and my mind was not racing or struggling with my usual race fears or struggles. I tried to keep away from others and stayed wide of the long lines of buoys, ticking each one off as I went along. The swim in all honesty, whilst not the greatest of performances, was over and done with without note or incident, other than the occasional curse at poor sighting from other swimmers. I had decided that if I didn’t manage to replicate my last decent Open water swim then I wouldn’t be disheartened, and would just get through it by hook or by crook and this is exactly what I did mixing up Breast stroke, easy and moderate pace Freestyle. 47 minutes later and I finally found myself on the exit ramp and running into T1. I had made it, it was over. Thank. God! Garmin recorded me at 2038m.

I first hear Gary shouting as I ran up the ramp (much welcomed), quickly followed by Charlie who seemed really pleased and excited for me shouting I had gone sub 50, this  was not the first time on the day where I was lucky to have not only my friends but also my coach race side with me! As I moved along the route , I picked off Hannah, Treen, Ryan and then Jon before going to the tent to find my bag and then get changed into the bike kit.

Through T1, dropping my blue bag off with the race team, I made my way out of transition.

I was onto the bike and set about trying to stay within my numbers to get me round the course. The first section of the course was a pretty flat 20 miles. Two 10 mile loops around the area surrounding the swim course.  Believing this part to be the strongest element for me, I knew I would have to keep something back for the run but in amongst  some of the subtle climbs there was plenty of opportunity to recoup on the opposing descents. The course was awash with supporters and in general the road surfaces were OK to move around on. I set about taking on fluid and making sure that I was taking on salt tabs at regular intervals alongside food to keep me fuelled, especially remembering what had happened 12 months prior in South Cerney. What ever was to come, I knew that I was better prepared this time.  I regularly kept sipping my bottles and had set myself a bottle per loop target allowing me to replenish at each pass of the aid station.  

After completing the 20 miles in just around the hour mark, I turned and started to make my way towards Bolton towards the more challenging section of the bike course. The next 10 miles or so was littered with climbs, potholes and hidden speed bumps. The latter had reminded me of Chris Basnett’s fate in 2022 and I was determined not to suffer the same fate and thankfully, the speed bumps were clearly marked with orange spray paint. I passed several other competitors on the bike which filled me with confidence,  but unfortunately I did pass at least 2 bikers on the floor, one of which appeared to be in real discomfort. He had a number of other riders around him, so there was nothing else I could do for him so I continued to push on. From reading a couple of updates on socials, that rider had broken his collar bone and his race day was over…. (sound familiar?) . Before I knew it, I was on the “familiar” section of near the accommodation which was pretty much a long straight undulating road, with plenty of opportunity to put some power down whilst staying within my numbers.  The next of the aid stations on this straight section and I was keeping to my nutrition plan having consumed nearly 2 ½ bottles and a decent amount of food. I came into the aid station which was filled with Umpa Loompas. Yes you read it right, Umpa Loompas. It was a welcome distraction in my head, yes I did sing the theme tune…. I picked up more nutrition and then headed out to the far turn around point for the first time, knowing that on my way back I would have my first real test, the 293m climb to the top of Old Kiln Lane. The headwind on the way out was real, and took me by some surprise as to this point, apart from the odd bit of drizzle, there was no real weather hindrance. On the return approach to the aid station, my visor had steamed up slightly and I wiped it both inside and out, which had turned out to be a mistake, as within 2 minutes of doing this, my visor was gone, bouncing down the road behind me. I was carrying a little bit of momentum and speed at this point and had travelled about 100 metres before it had come to rest on the pavement. I did not stop, but thought I might be lucky to spot it on the way back through on lap two . In cleaning it I must have dislodged the magnets causing it to come clean off.

I made it to the testing part. I had carried speed to the foot of the climb that was instantly deemed pointless as there was a sharp left turn from the flat section before immediately hitting the 6% climb, removing any advantage or momentum that I had hoped to use. I dropped the gears and kept my cadence high and didn’t really feel too bad on the climb, for the first section at least. Turning off Victoria road onto Old Kiln Lane, I carried on pedalling and pushing on up the incline when I first started to feel twinges of cramp in my right quad. This was roughly mile 35-36. One quad followed the other and by the time I got to the top of the climb and turned about and headed down the hill, the feelings had partially subsided, but I began to wonder what had happened to me. I was staying within myself and sticking to the plan, nutrition was on point but I was still heading down the same route from 12 months previous.  I took on more fluids and salt tabs as I headed towards Bolton Town centre, past T2 out for my second lap. The second lap, much like the first was into a headwind all the way out. At the turning point to go up Victoria road, (the climb), there was another turning, this time it send me down an undulating section where I utilised momentum and power in the descent to minimalism efforts in the rises. After an out and back, I was back heading towards the Umpa Loompas at the bike aid station. I had gone through plenty of bottles so felt good and positive with the nutrition and my legs hadn’t really suffered much more than the twinges of cramp that I had suffered on the Old kiln Lane Climb. To the furthest part of the course of the second time, I headed back towards Bolton for the repeat of Old Kiln lane. Just before the climb, I met someone also on the bike from Gloucester, who I had a brief exchange with and that wasn’t in any form of club kit. By the time we had exchanged pleasantries and continued on our way, I missed my opportunity to reach a new level, recruit a new club member mid-race!

I got to the base of the climb and this time it was different. Cramp hit at the bottom of the climb with every pedal push. Strong power = cramp, so again I tried to combat this with high cadence in my lightest gear, but very quickly ran out of gears and made my way to the top of Victoria road, and then to the top of Old Kiln lane. This hurt the most. I remember looking at the computer, and seeing a cadence of 50 odd and a low speed, but power was high.

My quads were screaming a me, much like the crowds at the turn point, willing athletes up the hill.  I made it to the top, dropped the gears and let gravity take its course initially but then tried to get my legs moving again. The quads quietened down after the climb and I navigated the rest of the bike course safely into the town when before the final corner before transition I heard my name being shouted  and I could see sign boards and there was everyone who I had really last seen at swim exit , waiting for me seeing me in off the bike. This lifted my spirits and gave me a huge rush of adrenaline, but did not prepare me for what was about to come. The bike was over, a non to shabby 3 hrs and 6 minutes. I had hoped for sub 3 hours, but had prepared myself for a slower bike segment in return for a good run segment.

To the dismount line, unclip and legs down and disaster had officially struck. Double cramp in my quads again locked out my legs. I was stuck, like a turtle on its back. The volunteers present were awesome, and they immediately recognised I was stranded. Sheer panic set in and I genuinely thought I was done. I had stopped just short of the dismount line, was helped off my bike and hobbled towards it and up a kerb and into T2. I hobbled to my bike racking spot and racked the bike and hobbled into the tent. This seemed to take an eternity but I made it to the tent and grabbed my bag and sat down on the bench. Go slow to go fast I told myself as I took my time getting my cycling shoes taking on more nutrition and then realised I had left my salt tabs on the bike. I stood up and without thought broke into a gentle jog as I ran back to get my salt tabs. My legs felt OK, maybe just the initial stopping off the bike had caused the cramps and a little walk and jog had reinvigorated me, or so I hoped…

I collected my salt tabs and headed out transition onto the run course. Now I was only too aware that I had seen the fantastic TTG support crew along with my wife and brother in law on the way in, so it was reasonable to expect them to be in roughly the same place on the way out, and I was not wrong. I turned a corner to what felt like a hero’s welcome, shouting, cheering and clapping holding the signs high. I cannot  put into words what this did for me, other than it spurred me on no end. I couldn’t really read them at the time and was trying to save face as I ran down the hill to start one of many turns through the town centre.  My legs were sore, but I thought that once the blood had got moving through them again I might be OK, I had after all left something for this stage of the event (allegedly).  The first incline of the run hit and the cramp set in, every bit of power needed to get up the hill induced the quad cramps, so from a very early point I made the decision, walk inclines, and walk aid stations and get through the rest. This is where Coach Charlie had really hit home with me the training building up to the event. Its ok to do this, it is not a failure, it is coping, dealing and overcoming and more importantly getting it done.  I hit the top of the incline and started to run and then followed the loops, twists and turns, seeing all of my supporters pretty much each time I turned. I tried to save face again, even threw out a smile and kept moving forward. Now it was a point of moving forward, trying to keep within my limits and manage my legs.

Count down the miles, soak up the atmosphere and just try to enjoy myself, as I was often reminded on the course…. I had paid to do this! It was a two 10k loop course, winding through the town and park and then some climbing up to the Chorley New Road to join the bike course for some out and back action, all uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back, before going out for another loop through the town to repeat. Before leaving the town for the first time, I had a proper read of one of the team’s signs that summed it all up for me, “If your legs are tired, race with your heart!” This hit me good and proper in the feels and set me up for the next bit of the run away from the town where I would be alone. Every aid station  I got to I walked, and treated it like a shot bar on a night out, and pretty much took in every bit of fluid and electrolyte mix that I could. I knew I had my hydration on point as I used the porta loos at 3 out of the 6 aid stations, so the Cramping must have been more down to fatigue than poor hydration or nutrition.  It wasn’t long before I had hit the turn around point and then used the down hill momentum to get me back to the town before again I was welcomed back by the team. I managed to catch Coach Charlie on one of the turns and explained my predicament and the reason for what I felt was a poor run for me, but again proving more than her worth, she remained encouraging and supportive telling me how strong my running was looking.  It was such a boost to have my coach on the course. I was doing this race for me, yes, but I knew I could not let my supporters down, or more importantly someone who had invested so much of their own time and efforts into getting me there, so that was the extra motivation that I needed. It is one thing to let yourself or disappoint yourself, but to let down or disappoint others is not an option in my book.

I kept an eye on my watch, kept within myself and realised that the miles were ticking down and before I knew it I was past the finishing line for the second loop and nearly out of the town for the final lap. I knew what was coming and how to manage it… Walk the inclines, walk the aid stations and run the descents. On the final descent before the last turn out of town, Jon repaid my run with him in Tenby and ran with me for a short distance. I felt like I needed to account to him my poor performance in my head and get my excuses out and let him know I was doing what I could to finish.

Out onto the last section of the course, I started to enjoy myself a lot more still suffering with the cramps that had hampered me the previous 8/9/10 miles I had already completed. I started to pick people off when running and would stick with individuals and chat with them about their day, some of whom were still on their first lap of the run all whilst sticking to the plan of running down slopes and walking the aid stations and inclines.

Before I knew it I was back in the town, I past the 12 mile marker and was on the final mile. I rounded the few final corners and could hear the finish line crowds. To make it to the finish line, you first had to run past the town hall steps which was full of people cheering and shouting. I saw Treen waving and cheering and gave her a high five, and then saw everyone else , just before the final turn I could see Coach Charlie clapping, cheering and smiling. This was my seal of approval. One last push for a strong finish, at least make it look like it wasn’t a struggle hey… I saw Ryan as I took the finishing funnel and waved and then felt my calves twinge with cramp, on top of the already over cramped quads. I adjusted my running style ever so slightly and with just around 100 metres to go, I told my self “Shut up legs! You are there! Finish strong!!”  So I did exactly that…..

Well that’s how I recall it anyway. I looked up at the nameboard above the finish line and saw “Adrian Cole M 40-44 06:26:59”. I had finished. I was done. Run time of 2:19. Not bad considering I couldn’t originally bend my legs when I got off my bike.

I stopped and turned to the Mayor of Bolton who presented me with my finisher’s medal and thanked me for visiting Bolton, and before I knew it, I was in the recovery tent.

Shortly after, after gathering all of my emotions, I walked out to thank all of my “race crew”. Without Ryan, Hannah, Gary , Jon, Coach Charlie , Bro in Law Chris and Treen I do not think I would have been able to get round the run course in the manner in which I did. What ever happened on race day happened, and I couldn’t change it, I just had to accept it and in Coach Charlie’s words “Suck it up princess” and get on with it.  I’m not one for giving up as most people know, so by hook or by crook, I was going to make sure I finished, I just didn’t want to embarrass myself.  To all of you guys , for my race day experience, thank you. You got me there and you embody the TTG spirit through and through.

It’s now over, all the months of training have come and gone, I feel a void, more than likely the post race blues… who knows what is next…?

This race for me was always about the journey, and yes whilst race day was frightening, exciting and at times slightly overwhelming for me, the journey itself has taught me a lot about myself and helped me learn and develop as an “athlete” being coached by someone who is nothing short of amazing. I cannot recommend Coach Charlie enough. Our Club is VERY lucky to have such an asset as a resource.  ……… and so onto the next one …  😉

Would I recommend this race? 100% yes …. 2.5 hours away and a nice but challenging course.

Would I do it again? Yes.