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Tue 5th Jul 2022
Tej toughs it out at IM Mallorca
Posted by: Tej Thaker
Posted on: Thursday 16th October 2014

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Last time we heard from Tej Thaker, he was about to face up to biggest challenge of his short triathlon career yet: Ironman Mallorca.

Having got over a mid-season hospital stay, it was going to be a tough challenge - and one not helped by coming off your bike within the first hour. This is how his day went...

Music blaring, sun rising, feet stomping, crowds shouting.

7:30 am and I'm huddled like a penguin, with 2,500 athletes, across 100m of Alcudia beach, raring to go!

The inaugural Ironman Mallorca. Let's do this…

Tej Thacker

My swim practice a few days earlier prepared me for my first race in salt water. It did not however, prepare me to be kicked in the face, or try to be used as a float and pull buoy. The horn blows, and its chaos! After sprinting from the beach, and pushing and shoving through countless swimmers I managed to find some space, and get into a rhythm averaging 1:46/100m.

Having never raced without a wetsuit, it was daunting, but so much fun as it was in clear blue waters (compared to my previous races in the Thames).

Tej Thacker

Whilst enjoying the swim, dodging jellyfish, I turned to breathe at 3.4km and was kicked so hard in the face, I thought Jean Claude van Damme was racing with me! Goggles filled with water, downed half a pint of salt water and I lost a contact lens. This meant, I paced it back to the beach with one eye closed, followed by a sprint to my bike bag, where I had spare contact lenses. 67mins. Get in!

As I scoffed a flapjack in transition and fumbled to change into cycling shorts, a couple of lads sat down to eat a sandwich. What, in fact, could've been a bacon sarnie with brown sauce (we were in Mallorca, after all).

I tore through the first 30km in just under an hour and then…. Crash! Bang! Pow! (and any other cartoon sounds you can think of). At the first aid station I got knocked off my bike by someone who cut inside me as I was grabbing a water bottle. My biggest concern, pre-Ironman, was my hip playing up - and I'd just fallen on it within an hour on the bike. Also, to be honest, I really didn't want to scratch my TT bike...

Irrespective, I completed the first 115km in four hours and was on track to complete the bike course in 6.5hrs. This meant I'd be close to a 12hr finish, if I ran a 4hr marathon – well within my reach.

At 120km, ahead of a-never-ending-beast-of-a-mountain, my left ITB got very tight and my knee was in a lot of pain. By the turn of the pedal, the race became as much of a mental challenge, as it was physical.

This damn mountain now! With over 1km to climb, over 10km in 30 degree heat and cramping in both hamstrings, I soldiered on. With a couple of deceiving 100m down hills followed by 3km climbs and no aid stations, guys were sat on the side of the road, lying down and nursing injuries, as I panted and cycled through immense knee pain. It was like a war zone. This was all followed by a fairly anticlimactic downhill route and a very long, flat motorway with strong headwinds back to the city. It was very lonely out there.

Tej ThackerMy knee was in a lot of pain on each turn of the pedal, and I only realised just how bad when I nearly fell over as I went to pee at the final aid station. From doing 30kph over the first 110km smiling and singing out loud, I struggled to average 20kph for the final stretch with nothing but pain written all over my face.

After a challenging seven hours, I made it back to the city and into T2. The walk to my bike rack was testing enough, god knows how I'd do the longest run of my life. I have to stress, that I honestly didn't know how I'd do this. I knew I'd get through it mentally, but at that point, physically, I just didn't know how.

I'd been running for ages, nearly 10 minutes and I saw the simplest, but worst sign I could've seen. It makes me sick, thinking about read: 1km! I have never felt so demotivated. How am I only this far??! I've got to do this 41 more times!! Damn… (in fact, replace Damn with a much more distasteful word). Forget a sub 12hr finish, I was worrying about finishing at all. As much as you want to stop thinking at this point, that's all you do. It really does make you think about the person you are, dig deep and see how determined you are.

As I continued my run, the sound of “You are an Ironman!” fuelled me better than any aid station could. I hobbled the first lap before seeing medical and got my knee strapped up. I couldn't bend the thing, so I ran on my right leg and let my left follow. However, that was topped with cramping in my right hamstring, and calf and the fact I was baking in 30 degree heat. In all a tough day, as I passed happy ‘holidayer's' sunbathing on the beach.

I got incredible support from other athletes and the crowd as they saw the pain in my face, and my awful hobble! Each lap felt longer than the last, and on two occasions, for just seconds I thought I wouldn't do it. I said out loud: “Think about this sensibly Tej, you can't finish”, followed quickly, by shouting at myself. I didn't come all this way to fail! The Ironman slogan is Anything is Possible, so stop complaining like a little baby, and get on with it!

Tej Thacker

Lap after lap, it got darker and cooler (as did I!), but tougher and tougher mentally and physically. I found a method to cheat, a drug even! As the lines of crowds got thinner, I roared passionately to the remaining spectators and diners at restaurants who would shout back and cheer with a lot of energy. When I heard this, I didn't feel the pain, it was like my own EPO, on tap.

This was quickly followed by an empty stretch where I smiled at one spectator who looked at her daughter and said “Oh dear, he doesn't look good does he?” Now in the final lap, I had to make my one and only visit to the loo to empty the waste products of countless gels/flapjacks/energy bars. At this point, however, the loos at every aid station had been absolutely annihilated, as you can imagine. If you can't imagine it, allow me to set the scene. Picture Neil Buchanan in a small room, doing a big Art Attack throwing around chocolate cake and spilling apple juice. Now scale it down to a tiny public loo, and turn the lights off and add red bull/coke/bananas. Need I say more?

I got to the final stretch, had the M Dot in my sight and continued to hobble to the finish, somewhat faster. Lights flashing, music blaring, the crowd cheering and slamming the boards lining up to the finish!!

I punched the air, slapped people's hands, and shouted all the way to the finish line. It was an emotional race, but it wasn't just this one day that mattered, it was much more. Countless early morning and late night training sessions, so many sacrifices, my stint in hospital, injuries and all that dedication I'd put in.

In retrospect, the race was only 15 hours. It was all worth it to hear this shouted out … “Tej Thaker, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!”.

At the finish line, I said on camera “I'm never doing that again.” Then I woke up the next morning!”

Tej Thacker

Twitter: @th4ker

Inspired? Please click here to find out more about taking part in a Human Race Triathlon.

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