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Anything is Possible – Joanna’s Ironman Journey

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It’s been 3 years since my Ironman Italy race. I am sharing the blog post I wrote then. I hope it will inspire someone to do something amazing!

x Joanna

PART 1. THE JOURNEY

It’s six days after the IM ITALY. Today I am choked with cold and feeling the post-race blues. That’s very normal after the big event.

This one was the biggest race I did in my life: I swam 3.8k, biked 180k and ran the marathon on end. My body has the right to be tired.

The first idea to do an Ironman Triathlon came to my head when my husband Leszek completed one in Barcelona in October 2016. When I have seen him crossing that finish line something has triggered in me. I had to become an Ironman myself.

There was only one major problem. I couldn’t swim, and I had a fear of being in an open water environment. I also didn’t cycle much, but I had a road bike at least.

At the end of the same year, my friend Barbara took me to the pool, and she started teaching me the front crawl. Since then I have visited the swimming pool three times per week. I was learning, practising and struggling a lot. Once the weather got warmer, we started swimming in the North Sea.


OMG, it was freezing, dark and scary. I was so lucky I had the support of my friends Barbara, Leszek and Alistair (Barbara’s partner). Alistair is a strong swimmer and he did Channel swim a few years back. He gave me lots of great tips on how to cope with the open water environment.

I did my first triathlon in May 2017. The 750m swim was tough. I wasn’t able to maintain the front crawl and had to mix it up with the breaststroke. I had tears in my eyes during each of the three disciplines, and I cried at the finish line. Those tears were emotional. I was actually doing something I never thought I will be able to.

For the next few races I managed to improve my front crawl, and I was able to keep going for the whole distance.

Fast forward 5 months I did my first half Ironman distance triathlon 1.9k swim, 90k bike and half marathon. This was a massive milestone!
And then, one evening after that event (after drinking a couple of glasses of wine) I have signed up for the full Ironman.

I started preparing for Ironman Italy in mid-January 2018. My husband, who is also an Ironman Certified Coach, set up a program for me that fits my active schedule of teaching fitness classes.
The plan consisted of 5 days of training and two days off. One of the days it was completely no exercise, the second one I was teaching my Zumba class in the evening. Saturdays and Sundays were the long days or the race days. Leszek encouraged me to sign up for a few triathlons, runs and swimming events as part of the training. We also had a training camp in Crete in April and training weekends in May and August. Through this year I was teaching my regular classes Zumba, Legs Bums and Tums, Pound which was a great cross-training. I also did some core work, strength training, stretching and trigger point pilates. The mix of activities and days off definitely helped me to be injury-free.

Along the way, I had an episode when I always felt tired. I was training a lot, plus I was taking my classes and running the fitness studio on the top. There was one week during which I slept 12 hours every night plus an extra 2 hours during the day. I was exhausted.

My friend Barabara who is a doctor suggested it might be an iron- deficiency. I went to GP to do the blood test. Barbara’s assumption was correct. I had very low ferritin. The GP has prescribed me a strong iron tablet which I was talking about for 3 months. I also changed my eating for iron-rich food and avoided iron inhibitors. This did the trick! I had again tones of energy and my ferritin level increased.

The last month of training was quite full-on. The volume was big, my body was tired, and I had many doubts in my head. It was great to have my teammates around to talk about it and friends who supported me.

Two weeks before the race it was time to taper. My coach decreased the amount of my training to just a few short sessions. By the week to go, I was roaring and couldn’t wait for a day.

PART 2. RACE DAY – “CHERRY ON TOP”

Although I repeatedly imagined myself on a red carpet, crossing the finish line with a big smile on my face and with my hands raised high, I was not sure what would happen.

Ironman is a long and exhausting race, 3.8 kilometres of swimming, 180 km cycling and a marathon at the end, nothing can be predicted.

Throughout the race, I was wondering what I would do at the finish line: will I be crying, will I be broken, or will I lie on the ground out of breath?

I did not even consider the option of not completing. From the very beginning of the training, I took root in my head that I have to get to the finish.

It was a very hard and very warm day. And if that was not enough, on the day of the race I got a period.

Swimming – My weakest discipline.

Until the morning of the race, we did not know if the wetsuits would be allowed. It was due to the high water temperature (the limit is 24 degrees).
For a person like me, I am not a born swimmer, the wetsuit helps with buoyancy.
On the other hand, there were many jellyfish in the sea.
The organizers had a hard decision to make, they didn’t want us to overheat, but they wanted to avoid many people being stung by jellyfish.
Luckily, on the race day, the sea was 24.5 degrees and the wetsuit was allowed.


The swimming route had 2 sections. The first longer, 2km. Then “Australian Exit” which consisted of running out of the water, running through timing mat and jumping again into the water. The second loop was shorter, 1.8 km.
I did it! I swam 3.8km in 1 hour and 21 minutes, 10 minutes faster than I expected!

From the swim, it was around 1k run to the transition zone. I took the wetsuit off put the helmet on and shoes and I was ready for the bike.

BIKE – Cycling with the numb feet

The cycling route was 180k and consisted of two 90k laps with a total elevation of 700m. I was a little afraid of that distance as I haven’t cycled more than 90k during the training and never cycled more than 100k in my life.

It was a very hot day, around 30 degrees, so nutrition was crucial. I roughly drank one and a half bottles of liquids: electrolytes and water per hour. I poured the rest of the water over my back and chest to lower the temperature of the body. I ate about 300 kcal per hour.

The first lap went well. I lost the speed on the second one.
It started being very uncomfortable. Everything started to be sore: the bum, back and shoulders. I had to change position every few minutes. The worse thing was my toes. They began to get numb in both feet. It was very painful. I have noticed one of the guys in front of me was pouring water on his feet. I tried this method and it worked. The pain temporarily disappeared but returned after some time. I grit my teeth and I kept going.

My little reward while cycling was to overtake the boys on expensive carbon TT bikes on my aluminium Giant.
I managed! I have finished the bike and I did the longest distance in my life, 180 km in 6 hours and 32 minutes

RUN: -The last part of the triathlon (marathon)

The running route was 42.2k. I had to do four loops through the pinewood and old city of Cervia. It was 4 pm and still very hot. In the first feeding station I packed lots of ice in my bra and back pocket of my tri shorts, I drunk some water and isotonic. Feed zones were every 2.5k. I did repeat the same thing on every station. The first lap went well, despite I wasn’t able to keep the pace I was planning to (6min per kilometre). By the 13k I started having gastro problems. I eat a diarrhoea tablet but it didn’t help. I started feeling even worse and there was no toilet nearby. I walked for about 1k and I had another tablet. I don’t remember ever feeling so happy to see the toitoi. What a relief. It helped and I was able to run again. I had to eat 5 diarrhoea tablets through the run. They made the trick. By the point of a half marathon, every single part of my body was sore. Feet were the worst. The best release was pouring cold water over them. The highlight of each lap was seeing Alistair and Ewa, our supporters. Their cheering gave me wings.


FINISH:

Red carpet and the finish line. I did It. Crossing the line was the cherry on top. The months of hard work, learning, commitment, sacrificing and going out of the comfort zone were finalised. I was so happy to finish the race and was waiting for a big kiss from my husband.

I would not be able to achieve this if not for people who supported me.
My husband Leszek – at the same time my coach and mentor.
My wonderful friends, on whom I could always count, instructors from the club who have always been there for me and my parents, sister and family who believed in me, encouraged and always stood behind me.

Now it’s your turn! Put your dreams into plans and start with the small steps. It will not be easy, but it will be worth it!

 

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