I feel like I’m straining against an invisible leash. My legs saying ‘to hell with it let’s go’, my head saying ‘don’t be a clown’. I pass the three-kilometer marker. My legs have settled after the cycle and every part of me is grateful to be upright and not crouched down over my tri-bars. I shake my arms, working out the stiffness from the bike and my Garmin beeps to tell me I’ve done another kilometer. That was quick, I think. My pace is now bang on target but it still feels way too easy. I tell myself to have patience but the fear of being caught is building inside me again. I look over my shoulder, but there’s still no one close to me.
As I turn and look ahead I realise I’m gaining on the guy in front. I check my pace again and I’m still on target. Beep. The Garmin tells me that’s another kilometer done. I’m feel like I’m gliding, it feels so easy and I want so badly to stride out and push the pace. I still feel like I’m straining on an imaginary leash. I’m running alongside a canal and there are no spectators here – just the runner up ahead and one quite a bit behind. The sun is out and I can taste the salt from hours of sweat on my lips. The Garmin beeps again, six kilometers. I look down to be sure. It only feels like seconds since the last one. I look ahead and now the runner in front is only a couple of meters ahead. I pick up my pace just a little. Just to make the pass I tell myself, then I’ll slow back down. God it feels good to open it up. I glide by and as I pass I pat him on the back and offer a word of encouragement. He tells me I’m flying and to keep it up. I should slow back down to my target pace but I don’t. It feels too good so I just push on. It’s completely effortless. I cruise the length of the canal loving the feeling of the sun on my skin and the silence. The faster pace has my breathing a little quicker at first but as I’ve sometimes found the body adapts to the workload after a couple of minutes.
Sure enough everything settles again. My breathing slows and I’m holding the faster pace with what seems like no greater effort than before. I reach the end of the canal section and there’s a steep hill up to the main part of the course. I love running hills and normally hit the gas hard pushing right up to the red line and holding it there before backing off over the crest and recovering on the downhill. I don’t think that will work in an Ironman marathon. At least I don’t have the nerve to test the theory so I slow right down. Just as I’m reaching the halfway point of the hill a guy comes flying past me. Jesus he looks strong, I think to myself and almost give in to the urge to chase. I tell myself that he’s either going too hard in which case he’ll blow up and I’ll catch him or he’s just faster than me in which case I won’t. Either way I just have to run my own race. As it turns out I see him again in about fifteen minutes, vomiting at the side of the road.