CLARE’S STORY | Journey to Ironwoman in 18 months
Clare didn’t own a bike or a pair of trainers, and couldn’t swim one length of front crawl – this is her journey to Ironman.
“Two years ago I was fed a ridiculous idea. A few months after my friend uttered the words ‘ironman’ to me, I got Chrissie Wellington’s book as a present, and started to think that perhaps it wasn’t such a ridiculous idea.” Clare read Chrissie’s book and started to gain a better understanding of what the task of doing an Ironman entails. “I was taken with the true grit, the determination and the positivity. I found myself getting a lump in my throat whilst reading.” She said.
The journey begins
It had been eight years since she’d owned a pair of trainers. So the training started small, but Clare was determined, and 18 months out of her Ironman, she began to run. A diary excerpt from her very first day of training in January 2014 reveals:
‘Having geared myself up the whole of the day before for a six mile run, 8am came and went, yet I was still in bed.
At last I got ready at 8.32am, went downstairs and told Jason: ‘I AM GOING TO RUN 6 MILES!’ I walked up the hill for the first mile, disappointed at this point, I started to run.
Back at the house my fitness app told me 8 miles. What? I was dead but awesome! At mile two I had an epiphany and a weird euphoric tear: I WILL complete an Ironman! I laughed, smiled and kept going. ‘No limits!’ Clare’s Facebook page that night read:-
Clare bought her first road bike, a second hand Specialized. When she tried it, her first thought was ‘do I have to!?’ She promptly found herself wobbling around on it, bought it, and then experienced the aches and pains that usually come with adjusting to riding in a lower position. But like many others, Clare thought that if anything was going to stand in her way, it would be swimming, for she couldn’t actually swim one length of front crawl.
‘I started swimming twice a week with a friend from work. A few weeks in to us swimming together, she told me that she could give me some tips because her mum was a swim coach. I couldn’t believe it, what luck!’
Clare signed up for her first triathlon the same month that she started her swimming training – a sprint triathlon to be held that May. But after just two lengths of crawl at the race she felt shattered and had to do breast stroke for the remainder of the swim. The following month she was due to take on the one mile Great North Swim in Lake Windermere. ‘Again breast stroke was all I could manage but I got a time of 38 minutes… how on earth had I done that?’ She thought.
Clare’s motivation to nail swimming was evident. She was swimming three times every week, in the pool by 6am, having worked until 9pm the previous evening, and knowing that the next day would be the same pattern. It was tough, but starting to see improvements was just the boost she needed.
On July 20th 2014, Clare was stood at Pennington Flash in Bolton at 6am, watching the swimmers go off for Ironman UK. She was there to support her friends brother. ‘The very next day I entered Ironman UK 2015, and I was teary all day just thinking – what on earth have I done?’
Yet 12 months later, after only three triathlons (two sprints and an olympic) Clare was herself lining up at the start of Ironman UK at Pennington Flash to race.
‘I’d stayed at a hotel that had a party going on until past midnight, so my 3am wake-up call felt far too soon! I forced rice pudding and a banana down at about 3.45am but I didn’t feel like eating anything.’ She said.
Ironman Bolton Race Day
Clare was quiet on race morning and says she felt ‘clueless’. Bolton was due heavy rain that day, and as the sun came up, competitors racking up their bikes next to the Flash, the cold rain set in. ‘It was wet to say the least and even with my layers on it was cold. Trying to tape ham sandwiches on white bread to a wet bike did not work! I looked at Jason on the other side of the bars and realized he couldn’t help me.’
Clare eventually secured her sarnies with elastic bands; a bit too secure, she’d had trouble eating them and when she went back to her bike the next day there were ‘crusty bits still attached to the frame.’
‘I felt completely overwhelmed. I needed the loo a few times, I didn’t know when to change into my wetsuit. It all seemed so alien and so many bikes looked like a million dollars! Waiting was horrid. I did the exact opposite to what I thought I would and became very teary (Not that anyone would have known with all the rain!). I suddenly felt like a little girl who was at a big boys action party and shouldn’t be there. I knew I could do the distance, but could I make the time?’
Clare’s partner Jason saw a couple of female friends who were there to support the race (one had done Bolton two years prior) and he called them over. Clare spotted tears in their eyes too. At that moment she thought ‘right! Stop wasting energy and get to it!’ And at that, a well versed Chrissie quote popped into her head:
‘You will remain the same person before, during and after the race so the result, however important, will not define you. The journey is what matters.”
– Chrissie Wellington
The gun went off, and at five past six in the morning, the crowds started to descend into the murky yet warm at 19 degrees celsius waters of Pennington Flash. Clare crossed the finish line in Bolton’s Victoria Square exactly 15 hours, 33 minutes and six seconds later, beating the cut off time by 87 minutes.
‘People may say why put yourself through all that emotion, but the sense of achievement can be addictive and to trying to describe the feeling at the finish line would be too difficult! The finish line kept me going.’
‘My Ironman journey has had its ups and down, both mentally and physically. I truly believe, that if you want it, you’ve got it. If you have determination, willpower and the drive to achieve – then you will be able to conquer anything.
To start with I felt like a fish out of water, but it felt good being a girl doing it. If you’ve been inspired in any way, I tell you – go for it!’
‘I want to thank all those who have helped me in this journey and I know there are more fun times to come. Thank you to Jason who supported me though my adventures with notes of encouragement and running me Epsom salt baths. I am sure he must have felt like he was the one doing it at times!’
‘If you’d have asked me during the bike section then the answer would have been no! Ask me now and I’d say yes, but a flat course would be nice. Ask me to do it with you, I may be idiot enough!’