If you've done even one triathlon, you've probably been asked whether you would ever consider doing a full Ironman. As more of a sprinter / short course warrior, my answer to this question was always "no, not in a million years". A few Ironman 70.3 races later, this softened to "ask me if and when I'm married and want to get away from my wife and kids", and then, in early 2019, when I was training for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Nice and accumulating a lot of volume, I realised I might well be talking myself in adding a full Iron to my bucket list. Plus, "going long" in Langkawi would be more than adequate revenge for having missed out on IM70.3 Langkawi in 2017 due to surgery, right? And a lovely tropical holiday to boot? You keep telling yourself that, Dom… With 7 weeks between the IM70.3 WC and IM Langkawi, I upped the training volume by about 50%, allowed myself a week to taper and arrived on the island of Langkawi, Malaysia with a steep ramp behind me and hip flexors tighter than a gnat's arse.
Fortunately, I was joined by a merry band of Tritons, including Jamie "ice cold" Beveridge, Mandy Tik, Cae "Randy Savage" Tolman, Thomas Schutz, Mark Lee and Jeff Wei, some of whom were also doing their first full distance race, plus better halves and a few Flamingo friends tackling the 70.3.
The searing tropical heat hits you as soon as you get off the plane, which, when combined with the distinctly "rolling" nature of the bike course and the decidedly "sunny" marathon, makes for a really tough course, probably one of the toughest full distance courses in the world.
Luckily, the island of Langkawi itself is a gem, and takes on a festival like atmosphere during the Ironman. The split start and finish areas are located directly on white sandy beaches, with the swim start in a natural protected cove overlooked by a picturesque lighthouse and old colonial style hotel, so it makes for a spectacular setting. The day before the race is always a bit of a tiring faff, but none more so than in Langkawi, where T1, T2 and the finish line are all in different places.
The day before the race, I take a dip at the swim start in my budgy smugglers, and decide that the water is probably salty enough to ensure decent buoyancy, but I'll opt for the swim skin on race day, terimah kasih. I cruise over on my bike to the MIEC (massive convention hall out near the airport and the location of the wonderfully air conditioned T2) and do a final trot around the perimeter. I glance at my watch - 31C and 90% humidity. Pleasant. When it comes to bike racking time, things start to feel real. I see that the 70.3 athletes have a separate zone for their bikes and that's not where I belong this time. Don't cry, you paid for this.
Surprisingly, I manage to get probably the best night's sleep I've ever had before a race, gorge on the buffet and give instructions to my girlfriend about how best to take photographs of me to make me look like I'm reaaaally enjoying this. I saunter over to the beach, dropping off my helmet and socks in the changing tent at T1 - even though it's a full distance I tell myself I'll be ready for a flying start, with my shoes already clipped in.
Down at the race start, nerves and excitement start to build. The 70.3 athletes head off first around the course. They're done after just one lap. We have two, with a nice short run along the beach in between. I high five Jamie and Mandy and wonder which one of them I'll try to draft. No time to think as wave after wave of athletes heads into the water with each blast of the horn and I find myself sprinting out in a pack, getting into a nice steady rhythm before the first buoy. I find myself moving up the field, which is strange for a mediocre swimmer, but hanging onto the toes of those in front is key and I come out of the water with a first lap of 31 minutes, grab a gel, slug some water and it's back in for lap 2. I find the feet of a decent enough swimmer and the guy behind me has the same idea - only he seems to be trying to rip off my timing chip with each stroke. I wish I knew muay thai but I don't have the technique in the kick. Arms starting to tire, the beach is in sight, and I'm out in 1 hr 3 mins, out of breath but exceeding expectations and all smiles for the camera into T1. I pull off the swim cap and swim skin, pull my tri suit over my shoulders and don my helmet. I grab my bike and run to the mounting point. I'VE FORGOTTEN MY SOCKS! Too late to go back, mate. Who needs toes anyway? I mount too early and get told to get off. I get off and walk two metres. I get on again, I put my salty, sandy feet in my road cycling shoes, only they don't seem to go in. I'm riding at 3kph performing an incredible balancing act, passed by 5 riders, now 10, 15! I manage to get the shoes fastened and off we go! Two and a half laps of the island to come. Momentum shortlived. 10km later I get off at a turning point and do my shoes up from scratch. Dom the short course warrior? So much for that guy.
Off we roll again, by which I mean sweat, climb, descend, repeat, a monkey throws a palm branch at my head from above - great shot, sir! My power meter dies, I'm riding on feel and speed, taking on an energy bar every half an hour and sipping on my electrolytes - a sweaty beast's best friend in this heat. I'm a tropical rain cloud, emptying onto my top tube and tri bars. It's 33 degrees and climbing.
I pass Jeff Wei at the 99km mark. Wait, am I on drugs? No, it's just the heat getting to him. I count the kilometres. The only constant is the sound of wheels on road, my breath, the noises of the jungle and the village kids screaming out for high fives and bottles.
Somehow I make it into T2 after 5h26 and the air conditioning hits me like a delicious wall of hugs. Only I still don't have any socks and I want to cry. I vaseline up to the max and a friendly Australian heeds my appeal for spare socks. Winning. I run out into the heat again and (what goes up must come down) I am hit like a wall of slaps from the angry midwife of tropical heat. Legs are so sore from the bike, but I tell myself that my run is my strong suit and the internal annoying life coach voice in me chimes in "You're crushing this!" I'm so not, but this is what all those hours of training have been for. A three lap marathon in the baking afternoon sun. I look out for runners in my age group, with the little "I" tattoos on their calves. I pass one, two, three, four. I tip water over myself at every aid station and take a gel every 5k. My stomach starts to complain, I couldn't run any faster if my life depended on it. Nor have I ever run slower, it feels. I pass a fifth runner and say something that was genuinely meant to be encouraging but probably came off a bit dickish. He ignores me. My stomach takes revenge and cramps up, the fifth runner passes me again, in silence, but I know he's laughing inside. Oh, how I'm not laughing now! I high five any Triton who passes in the other direction, I see Javier Gomez heading for the finishing straight. I've got a lap to go so I can't decide whether that's good or bad. Around we go again, no sight of friends at the turnaround, they're all at the bar - England are winning the rugby. I'm not winning anything. But wait, could I go sub 10? Do I have a sniff at Kona? Disengage brain, put one foot in front of the other.
I go down the finishing straight on the tree-lined beach, the Red Bull kicks in and I'm sprinting, I've got 200m to go, high fiving the Flamingos and blowing a kiss for the camera. I pause on the finish line to stand on one leg for the obligatory flamingo dance. It's over. "Dominic Edmondson, you are an Ironman". 10h11 and 10th. I'm thrilled, exhilirated and a tad emotional. I cry tears of joy in my beer. I cheer on the brave Tritons racing with me. I go to roll down next day with Mandy, Cae and Amanda and am pleased that the Kona slot doesn't come anywhere near me.
And I never need to do this again. ☺