An Ironman. A man made of Iron. Tough, unyielding, immovable. Built with strength, resilience and determination.
It’s not hard then to imagine how much grit and determination it takes to be crowned one. A massive feat of endurance, of will and of courage.
But that is what Nick Kenney became on Saturday. Years of multi disciplined training, hours of blood sweat and tears all came to fruition as he achieved his ultimate goal.
“The race is just the end of a very long journey” he tells me
Nestled between Ravenna, Forli and Rimini on the Adriatic Coast lays Cervia. An ancient fishing village nicknamed the City of Salt. It is here that Italy staged its first ever ironman competition. 2500 hopefuls, all wishing to test their metal in this ultimate test.
Before him lay 226k (140 miles) of continuous exertion. A 3.8k sea swim, straight into a 180k bike ride followed by a marathon to run and all within the cut off time of 16 hours. The marathon is something we know Nick is more than competent at but the swim and bike distances were measures that Nick had not completed individually, let alone in direct succession, so it really was stepping into the unknown. He’d spent years racing triathlons, building his core strength and pushing his endurance levels to prepare himself for this.
Air temperature 21c – Sea temperature 18.4c
“I arrived at Race HQ and watched the Sun rise over the sea as I put on my wetsuit. It was daunting to think that that same sun would have crossed the entire sky and set by the time I would finish”
After what seemed like an age, waiting for his staggered start, Nick got his 3-2-1 GO! And he was off! Into the water, into the unknown.
The swim, by Nicks own admission, is his weakest element. But he went in, and went for it. Following the trail of swimmers in front of him he soon started to pick them off one by one.
“I couldn’t believe how well I was swimming, all those hours spent in the water at Totland Bay were paying off”
70 minutes later he was back on dry land having smashed his predicted time and feeling he could have gone quicker. This really filled him with confidence as he knew his better strengths were still to come. Transition onto the bike was seamless and buoyed along by the presence of Nicks girlfriend, Julie Rasmussen, in the crowd.
“I was thrilled to see her”
The bike leg was 2 laps of a 90k course. Beginning and ending amongst the cheering crowds of Cervia, the route was mostly out on the winding roads and countryside of the surrounding area. Quiet and peaceful with only the steady whir of chains rotating on cogs and wheels rotating on tarmac.
“I just got into my aero position, eyes fixed on the road and thought only 6 hours of this”
His peace was disturbed somewhat as he was hauled into the “sin bin” penalty tent for a frustrating 5 minutes as he was penalised (unfairly in his opinion) for drafting another competitor. Triathlon rules state that to not have an unfair advantage, you must remain 12m away from your next competitor. A rule very difficult to adhere to in a busy event
But he took his punishment and set back out on the road. His energy levels starting to diminish by this point and his output beginning to slow.
“I was feeling tired approaching the town for the last time. The thought of having to run a marathon was daunting to say the least”
He was still on target for his sub 12 goal. He just (JUST!!) had to get through the last 26.2 miles on foot without hitting the dreaded wall. A difficult ask in any marathon when your energy tank is full at the start, but to ask this from your body when you are already on empty is brutal. And he only had 4hrs 15mins left to make it under his target time.
4 laps of a thankfully shady 10k loop of Cervia that’s all that stood between Nick and the finishline. Crowds were lining the streets the whole way, willing on these remarkable human beings. It is with no question that this is the leg of the journey that makes or breaks the race.
“It was without doubt the toughest and most painful run of my life”
As the laps ticked by, the scene became more and more like a scene from the walking dead. Those bright eyed warriors, full of adrenaline, that graced the beach at sunrise were reduced to lurching zombies at sunset. Their stares fixed, their feet metronomic. One foot in front of the other, desperately trying to keep going.
Nick kept going, his quads searing in pain with every step, his stomach lurching with nausea and cramp. Treading a frightening path of hypoglycaemic shock as his glycogen reserves were long gone.
The final lap. 10k left.
“For one last time, I took the right turn away from the finishing straight knowing that next time I saw it I would be turning left towards glory”
Despite all the pain and discomfort he was still working his way through the field, overtaking competitors as he went. A quick glance at his watch. The 4 hour marathon was still on. All he had to do was hold on. His stomach still bloating and causing him great distress. He knew he couldn’t swallow any more sickly gels. This last hour was going to be mind over matter.
“I knew I would either pass out with the other zombies lying on the side of the road or make it with pure determination”
Nick latched onto the back of an Italian competitor. He focused upon his stride and matched him step for step, keeping the rhythm, switching off the voices in his head telling him about the pain he was in.
Finally he made it to the turn off point. Left this time. Toward the cheers, toward the bright lights and down the red carpet . Arms aloft, eyes to the sky, he crossed the line to the immortal words
“Nick Kenney, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
“So many times in life the reality of a dream does not meet the expectation. Not this time however. My emotions heightened by physical exhaustion was an unsurpassed high. The feeling of relief, satisfaction, pride and just happiness was incredible.
Then i saw my finish time of 11:42 and another wave of joy swept through me. I battled through the crowds to find Julie for a very loving embrace and my race was complete”
A dream come true. An amazing feat of perseverance, determination, strength and dedication. I’m going to leave the last word to Nick, as his words were so humbling, so beautifully put, written as he was reflecting on his experience on the plane home.
“I have no doubt that many people go through far harder challenges than this in the world today, often just to exist on a day to day basis or battle against life threatening illnesses. I still don’t really know quite why i wanted to complete an ironman so much. Maybe it was vanity. I hope not. I’d like to think its because im fortunate enough to be fit and healthy and have time to devote towards achieving such goals rather than just exist.
Whatever the reason i am now an ironman for the rest of my life and actually feel some responsibility to behave how an ironman should, with humility and respect for all of humanity and never forgetting how lucky we are for having the opportunity to just do it”
One word…. inspirational.