Julian Gibson Ironman Barcelona 2019

9 Months its ups and downs

So, after several nudges and people acting like they may be interested here goes. My personal Ironman story. I won’t bore you with too much history, however, to put context into my journey up until 2016 I had never run more than for fitness tests for work and the military, I only swam on holiday and the sea was for scuba diving as were a few lakes in the UK. Anyway 2 years later………

I blame one person pretty much for this mad hatched idea that a slightly overweight 40 something civil servant could do an Ironman, Mr Cowen you know I am referring to you and only you! As we were jogging around the track one September evening in 2018 the idea seemed slightly plausible, chatting about my initial Cotswold’s experience he made the point I was more like a diesel engine than a petrol one, (compliment in there somewhere I hoped.) For those reading this who don’t know me I have ridden bikes for a very long time, TT, long sportive and multi day charity rides across Europe were my thing.

I went home and with exactly 51 weeks till race day I entered IM Barcelona, to be precise for all, its 50k down the coast in Calleja. A day later I printed off the previous year’s maps, laminated them and put them on the wall above my turbo. Inspiration? fear? who knows! looked good though, and they are still there now.

The only early advice I will put here is that I bought two books; ‘Going Long’ and a new training diary just for the last 16 weeks of very specific training. I planned my year to include the normal stuff, a marathon, a half marathon couple of Olympic distance and the 2019 Cotswolds 70.3 which I would use to baseline power and heart rate averages for the IM. I was lucky and had a great 70.3 which gave me positive numbers to work with and a 15-minute PB.

So, to jump to 16 weeks to go. My plan was to build a solid base, with some key aims:

  • To be able to swim 5K comfortably in one go in the lake
  • To run off the bike at a pace I could maintain
  • To build up to 100k rides and run at sub marathon pace up to 10k

These may not align to everyone’s own ideas, but I knew my key limiters were how I would run off the bike for the marathon, I knew if my legs felt ok for the first 5k I would be ok. (‘diesel engine’ Mr C)

I won’t go into much more here other than for my totals for those 16 weeks were:

  • Bike 1500 miles Run 550 miles OWS 40 miles most of which include BRIC and short runs off all the bike sets. Oh, my weight dropped by 1.5 stones…(with a little bit of help from the ‘Slimming World’ diet)


I flew out on the Friday. Arriving in Calleja, the sight of all the competitors milling about and the sheer size of the event hit me. For all those who have competed you know what I mean, for those who have not it is an amazing moment, the Ironman brand is massive, and I now know IM Barcelona is the biggest single race they put on other than Kona.

My hotel was directly opposite the last 1k marker of the run course and a perfect view of the sea swim course. It looks a long way when you see them laying out the buoys… I am glad I had swum 5k several times I kept telling myself. Registration and the expo were open so headed off down the beach. Surprised to see so many out running and riding, ‘should I be?’ kept going through my head. Can’t change the plan now I reminded myself, anyway Bike envy kicked in and that was just on the walk to the Expo.

What I will say here is even registration was just cool, the staff and volunteers just make you feel good, the positivity was infectious. As my wrist band was put on and I was handed my bag, numbers etc I must say emotion over took me, I was registered to race my first Ironman. Only one thing to do, buy the t-shirt. Nothing to add here other than long queues, bloody expensive and well, you always need a new race visor.

Built my bike and Saturday morning did a recce of the first 15 miles or so, and to be honest settle the nerves of racing on the other side of the road and getting the route from transition to the main course. I now highly recommend. In my head, quite twisty and a few right-angled turns. Good to know.

My racking time slot was 1700-1800 hours and went without incident, blue and red bags sorted, the sight of 3500 other red and blue bags is mental by the way. Transition was an Astro-turf full size football pitch, clean transition meant simple, just needed to put shoes and bottles on in morning. Racking by numbers even easier to find a black bike in a sea of black bikes. Pink bar tape was a god send.

Nothing else to do now, food, hydrate and rest; so off to the hotel and I hope a good night’s sleep!

Oh yes, I did eat my weight in pasta.

Barcelona starts later than most IM events, and has a much lower cut off at 15 hours 40 mins. This was in my mind from day 1. The amount of times I wrote down predictive times for the various elements to check I should be ok… Don’t bother, it’s a fast rolling course, the only climbs I got told were long but great tarmac and low average gradient. Now Sleeeeeppppppppppppppp, oh I did surprisingly well.


If you don’t know the song listen to it, bought a few emotions.

Right here we go. Breakfast was normal, didn’t really feel like much but forced down what I knew I would need later. Transition was open early so off to the beach. A long line of what must have looked like ants between burrows, funnelling in lines towards the start. In the twilight of the breaking dawn, bike checked, bags checked and super focussed on learning the route in and out of transition. Then ‘BANG’ I sustained my one and only injury of the day by walking straight into the sign marking my transition lane! As blood flowed down my face all i could do was use the chamois cream to stem the flow! Nothing else to do now but join 3500 others on a beach and wait. It’s a strange place. Unlike most I competed on my own, as in I knew no one there who was racing, but on that beach strangers became friends, knowing glances or noticing the ‘I will become one’ orange band proudly worn by all us first timers, offers of water and nods of acceptance that soon it would begin.

And then it happened, AC/DC ‘Thunderstruck’ boomed across the beach, count down started, into the funnel, goggles on, and I was suddenly next in my pen to go, at that exact moment ‘Hall of fame’ began to play… and I was off running/jogging to the water. It was flat calm, and we were pre warned it gets deep quick, three strides and I was swimming. Tough first 300 meters to the first turn just because of the current, but I managed a glance at my watch and knew then it wouldn’t be a quick one, however, that in my head settled me into the next hour. It was a beautiful swim, a few jelly fish, some swell but just time to enjoy what I had trained for. Not a lot else to add, I never felt like I was going too slow, but controlled the pace, sighting was easy with so many safety marshals and buoys as big as cars. Swim completed, onto the beach with a few for company, huge crowds and through the showers.

Transition was a blur, I am sure they said no public nudity was allowed, however made me laugh out loud. Had the gel and drink I had put in my bag, no rush, keep to my plan, helmet and race belt on and out to the bike. No dramas here, so well laid out meant no headless chicken moments. Out on to the carpets, over the line and even managed a flying mount.

Some people say the bike is leg is dull:
I loved it, 110 miles of closed roads, thousands of spectators, professional aid stations, now I know what it is like to throw empty bidons at volunteers, to then grab a couple more on the fly with a thank you shouted every time, (they really do appreciate it.) The course is on dual carriageways and even some toll roads, so smooth tarmac pretty much the whole way. No punctures, no penalties and no mechanicals. I stuck to my plan re gels and bars and ate everything I took, plus grabbed bananas at aid stations, again held out so never needing to stop, at no point did I feel hungry, so feed strategy paid off. It’s a 2-lap course which gives you the opportunity to know when you can add extra watts and when to back it off. I learnt early on no one wants to chat, too scared of getting accused of drafting/blocking so just kept my head down and pushed on. Before I knew it, I was heading back into town on the route I rode on the Saturday and I felt elated. Into T2.

Bike racked, into the tent and more public nudity, didn’t laugh this time, just grabbed my run bag. Took the time to change socks, (pre-loaded with talc), quick drink, salt tabs and I was off into the unknown.

For me I know pretty quickly the state of my legs for running, I learnt at my first Cotswolds that I need to drink and take salt. My first 10k was sub 1hr and then I forced my self to slow down, I could hear Andy C clear as day, “use the aid stations, 30 seconds here will save your race”, from that point on I did exactly that, in order: wee, water, gel, banana, more water. Every time I started to run again I waited for cramp/pain but nothing. The K’s ticked by, chatted to a few people, was surprised at the amount of people I passed, but never worried when others passed me, it was my day. Then I looked at my watch, ‘What the hell?’, I had about 16km to go and about 2 hours to go sub 12hours. I know some will say I must have realised earlier but it never really sinks in. Soon after I was on the last loop, they are only short, but the furthest point is very quiet with no crowds it is most probably the only negative of the course, but for anyone who has run long we all know you can’t have crowds everywhere.

The last mile
As I came past transition, I knew I had 1600 metres to go, and it was truly the first time I admitted to myself I was going to be an Ironman. I ran with a Spanish guy called Sav, he noticed my wrist band and just said, “mate can I be the first to say, you are an Ironman”, I just smiled and he said “go and enjoy the red carpet”, as I turned that last corner it was just darkness and then suddenly I am high fiving the crowd in the bright lights and those immortal words came across the PA, “Julian you are an Ironman!!” I got given my medal, had a photo taken and before I knew it was ushered into the recovery tent. Oblivious to my time. I grabbed my day bag and there were so many messages it’s hard to understand the level of support back home, I was stunned.

Cheese and ham toastie and a beer
Two expresso, two cheese and ham toasties and a beer. Andy C had run a commentary for my whole race, so had my kids. I am led to believe I was trending on whatsapp 😊


I may have raced on my own, but I was never ever actually alone. My most important supporter, councillor, advisor, travel agent and sounding board was there for the whole day, even my step daughter and her boyfriend came over, all sporting TEAM GIBBO t-shirts! For 9 months Simone supported, helped fund and put up with everything this journey threw at me, including a torn achilles 2 months before the race (and the hotel being cancelled the day before we left home – that’s another story) On race day she was on the beach, I saw her on every lap of the bike, again going into and out of transition both times, and then somehow, she got to the best vantage points for the run, finally screaming at me from the stand on the finishing line, I was oblivious, sorry. For anyone thinking of doing one, do just remember those around you, I didn’t see my kids as much. Working full time and training impacts everyone and we do become obsessed. I smashed all my own predictions finishing in 11hours 27 mins, but it was because of coaches like Andy and Jolene and mostly my amazing Family. I AM AN IRONMAN. DONE.