Ryan Shiel – Becoming an Iron Man

September 30th– up early; although later than normal, to catch a flight at 9am. Next stop Barcelona.
It was 6th October 2014 when I received the good news. The day before; my dad had raced the Ironman Barcelona and I expressed my jealousy all the way. And on the 6th, I received my own entry into the 2015 edition. Now the pressure is on.
Fast forward to 2015 on the final day in September and we land at Barcelona Airport. Although we weren’t greeted by the sunny skies we expected. Instead it was gale force winds and pouring rain, tropical storm they called it, not lifting hopes for Sundays antics along the Mediterranean coast. But being greeted by my parents who had been out there two weeks prior was a happy sight for any siblings.

ryan ironman

Thursday the 1st October we went down to Callela beach or as it was better known to the racers ‘City of Dreams’ this is where the Ironman expo was located to register and spend amounts of money and countless items of memorabilia. But with numbers collected we carried onto view the run course and scope out the high swells on the beach. Again not lifting spirits for the coming Sunday.

Friday 2nd was athletes briefing, a chance to meet, greet and stare down the other 3000 athletes in the race, and also the time for myself to find out I was the youngest in the race. Quite the accomplishment I took with me. As it was my first Ironman, I was already beginning to feel a little emotional at everyone cheering when they officially opened the event, and how better to celebrate it than to be there together with the man who got me into triathlon, my dad. Saturday is bike check in day therefore Friday was a night in getting the last preparations of kit ready before heading down to Callela town for ‘the last meal’

Saturday 3rd– off to an exciting start with mam racing in the 5.8km Iron girls event, her first ever race and I couldn’t have been prouder. It took an hour to eventually get our bikes checked in, clearly we picked the peak time to go down. It was nerve wrecking racking my bike and walk away, nerves were getting to me but I didn’t tell anyone. I knew I could just grab my bike, walk away and be over with it. But that’s not me, how could I cope with myself knowing I walked away from a challenge such as this. But with my bike left it was time to make final checks before the big day. The day that I became an Ironman.

Sunday 4th October. Iron day- an early start of 5am to start breakfast, 2 lots of porridge and a coffee to get fuels burning, then the longest walk of my life, the 2.5k walk from the caravan down the beach front. We left my mum and brother at the start line to get a good viewing position whilst we made some checks on our bikes. We had to walk along transition before entering and for some reason emotions got the better of me when I saw all the bikes. It was the self-realisation that I was actually here and how I was so excited to gain this accomplishment. But very quickly I had to clear my tears, as a familiar figure soon came across us. It was only Johnny Brownlee (Olympic 2012 Bronze medallist) there supporting Harry Wiltshire. But time goes on and the bike as fine, it was time to line up on the start line and begin the day.
Standing on the start line the emotions were going again as the announcer gave his emotional speech, random people patting me on the back. But suddenly we were told to get ready, and the formidable sounds of the Iron heart beats could be heard. The suddenly BANG! The starter gun goes and we sprint into the water. I had put myself into the front swim pack, however within 20 seconds received quite the kick in the face and developed quite the bloody nose, only to find out my goggles were also snapped. Nevertheless, I carried on to pull out a sub hour swim with no goggles, pretty impress considering the 8 feet swells.
Now the bike ride, 112 miles. Not much excitement to report on, other than the constant throwing up after 25 miles. Turns out my mix of cliff bars and carb filled nutrition drink was too much. Naturally I opted to throw my food as it was unnecessary weight. But the final turn and 12 miles to go, which to me can only mean flat out TT mode. Not a wise idea.

The part that everyone looks forward to beckoned, the 26.2 mile marathon. I was excited, felt relaxed, breathing in time, cramp holding off, energy levels were holding. That was until the second half of the marathon, where it turned out running a 1.45 half marathon in your first Ironman is not a god idea. Cramp set in, all my energy absorbed but my stubbornness begged me to keep running hard. The remainder of that run came down to mental toughness. You question a lot of things in a scenario like that, and you also find out a lot of stuff about yourself, things you didn’t know you were capable off. But the home straight was just 3 kilometres away, and then that meant another 6k on the home straight. This was the darkest I’ve ever felt, I just wanted to cry, I questioned everything I was doing. But I knew what I’d achieve if I gave in. Absolutely nothing, I’d have failed myself, my family, friends and people who believed in me. I couldn’t have that hanging over me. So I pressed on, the last mile and the crowds began to gather, I’ve never smiled so long in my life, high 5 to everyone I saw, emotions running high. I saw my mum on the course side and tears began to flood. 100m meters to go and no one around me. This was my moment; I could soak it in. I got a high 5 from the announcers, and as my foot hit the line, I heard it, those immortal words that will always be in my mind “Ryan!! YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!” I did it, and as I write this I still get a shiver down my spine.

I’ve always been a believer of mental toughness and motivation in sport and now more than ever. And I appreciate anyone who has the strength carry on through thick and thin to fulfil a task, I challenge everyone to push themselves to the limit, and discover just hard far you are willing to go to experience greatness within. I did, and it lives within the Undergroundea for me, ‘Take the Risk’.
Ironman Barcelona was the greatest experience I have ever lived and cannot wait for the coming summer where I take on another long distance challenge in the form of Challenge Poznan Poland, also claiming the European Championships.

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