April 13, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Ironman UK 2023: Part 16

This is race start. This is why I never ask my wife to see me off. It’s impossible to find anyone. (Credit: David Roher)

2.5 hours until Ironman United Kingdom (3:15 a.m.)

The race was scheduled for July 2, 2023, in Bolton England.

(Where is that?)

Where is England?

(No, you dolt. Where is Bolton?)

Bolton is in the North of England, near Manchester.

(Is Bolton flat?)

No, it has some of the most difficult hills on any Ironman course.

(So, why would you enter this race?)

  1. Because it takes place during my vacation.
  2. Because I like a challenge.
  3. Because I’m an idiot.

(How about “D. All of the above”?)

On Ironman race morning there’s a delicate balance between having too much time on my hands when I let my mind wander and too little time when I’m running late and something gets forgotten.

Swim, done. I’m so happy to be out of the water I’m not even touching the ground. (Credit: David Roher)

(So? Nu? What happened?)

3:15 a.m. Alarm. Time to swing my feet over the side of the bed and stand up.

3:30 a.m. Pray. The sun was rising in the east, but my brain kept saying, “It’s too early to pray.”

3:45 a.m. Eat. I didn’t feel hungry, but I knew I needed to eat. I had some lox and coffee.

4:00 a.m. Transport. We gathered outside the hotel and climbed into a van.

4:20 a.m. Arrival. Time to set up my bike for the longest day of my life.

4:30 a.m. Wait. With my bike prep done, I asked myself, “Now what?” (Porto John!)

5:40 a.m. Suit up. You don’t want to stand around too long in a neoprene wetsuit. It traps heat.

5:45 a.m. Line up. We were packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes, to quote Sting.

It was five minutes to race start and I heard race announcer Joanne Murphy on the microphone,

“Every Ironman in Europe starts with the national anthem (God Save the King) and the playing of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck!”

I love this song. I’m feeling the music and there’s a palpable excitement of the moment. I’m dancing as we start the walk to the water’s edge. I lined up with the third wave, the one-hour 20-minute pace group. I didn’t want to be swimming around slower athletes and I didn’t want faster ones swimming over me.

(That’s happened to you?)

That’s happened to me.

(What does it feel like?)

Like you’ve been pushed underwater.

(Like you are drowning?)

No, but if you don’t relax, you can panic.

As I walked past race announcer Joanne Murphy, she tell everyone in her thick Irish brogue,

“There’s David Roher! He’s gonna wear his Iron Man kit tonight when he crosses the finish line.”

(No pressure.)

No … none. She just gave me a shout out in front of 3,000 competitors…

(And you raised your hand.)

…and I raised my hand as I walked into the water with the rest of the lemmings.

6:02:47 (race start)

I walked down the rubber mat and slid into the murky water. The sky was overcast and the wind kicked up as I started to swim.

(Welcome to England.)

The water was surprisingly comfortable at 65 F.

(Well yeah, you are in a full-body neoprene wetsuit.)

I got elbowed in the goggles and I got grabbed by the feet.

(So … just another Ironman swim?)

Pretty much.

At the end of lap one, we swam under what looked like barbed wire on pontoons. This was meant to pick up the signal from the timing chip strapped to my ankle. At previous Ironman swims, I exited the water at the end of lap one, ran over a timing mat and ran back into the water to start the second lap.

(Europeans.)

7:31:13 (+1:28:26 since race start)

I exited the water after swimming 2.4 miles.

I was 3.5 minutes down from the time I expected but there was no time to dwell on it. I was competing in an Ironman Triathlon and I needed to focus.

(Something you don’t do very well.)

I grabbed my bag and changed quickly, but deliberately. Off with the wetsuit and swim trunks; on went the bib shorts, tzitzis, bike jersey, socks and, most importantly, my helmet. If your bike helmet is not fastened to your head, you will be disqualified.

It’s like Chaim Backman told me 14 years ago, “It’s a long day. Take that extra few seconds to make things comfortable.”

“T1” or transition from water exit to bike on the course took me nine minutes and 48 seconds.

(Sub 10 minutes is good … right?)


David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6.He can be reached at [email protected].

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