<p><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>Some people feel challenged during the last few miles of a marathon, my biggest weakness is climbing hills on a bike. Ironman Nice is known for being one of the toughest bike courses for this very reason.</span></p>

<p><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>On Saturday morning, I went on my first endurance ride with coach Fi after my half Ironman two months ago. Since my introduction to the world of endurance sports in November 2004 (when I started training for the London Marathon), I have never encountered anything more difficult than this.</span></p>

<p><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>I headed out of Richmond to meet the team in Kingston. The plan was to follow our usual 25 mile ride into the Surrey hills to end at Box Hill, a popular spot for cyclists and triathletes because of its steep climb and decent. I had done this loop over a dozen times leading to my October event.</span></p>

<p><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>About 15 miles through the cold weather and damp roads, we hit our first hill, a medium gradient ascent over a few miles. Nice and steady, mission accomplished. A couple of miles later, we hit Leaf Hill (affectionately called &quot;Lethal Hill&quot; or &quot;The Wall&quot;). My legs began to give in and adjusting gears did not help. Is this what two months out of the circuit has done to me? Was it the weather? My small breakfast that morning? Long hours at work and a lack of sleep? Almost at the top, I fell off the bike and landed sideways on the wet and muddy earth. I felt an excruciating pain in my lower back. A cramp, and we have another hill to go, not to mention another 25 miles to get home once at the top.</span></p>

<p><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>After a lot of encouragement from Rob, coach Fi's partner, I was in the clear and on the way to our final destination. Coach Fi pulled back from the rest of the team, now a few miles ahead, to keep me company from the bottom of the zig-zag path, the steepest continuous ascent, that leads to the summit. After a few kind words that made me think she would be a great life coach, she began telling stories to distract me from the task ahead. It is all mental Tarek, just like your first marathon, you know this, you can do it. She was on her large front gear, I was on the easiest; I felt like a kid on support with two small wheels at the back of my bike relative to the adults.</span></p><p><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>We continued for what seemed like an eternity but we finally made it to the top. There, along with the rest of the team, was </span><a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrissie_Wellington&#8221; target=”_blank”><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>Chrissie Wellington</span></a><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>, an Ironman world record holder. (She comes here to train too, there was some comfort in that.) <span style=”font-family: 'Trebuchet MS', Verdana, sans-serif; “><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>After a few minutes trying to gobble up an energy bar, it was time to head back. It was mostly downhill from here, a cold cruise back to a warm home and a cup of coffee. However, I was faced with another unfortunate event: </span></span><a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hitting_the_wall&#8221; target=”_blank”><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>bonking</span></a><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>.</span></span></p><p><span style=”font-family: Helvetica;”>It is difficult to describe the feeling of bonking, no matter how many times it was explained to me, I could not envisage it. The best analogy I got is as follows: imagine racing through a tunnel, you can see the end in sight but halfway through, no matter how fast you pedal and how much you try to get to the other end, you appear to be at a standstill. There is a feeling of moving backwards, the tunnel getting longer and the end slipping away. Compounded with the lack of recognition of where I was, despite having done the course several times before, and the knowledge that I could fail the task at hand in June, I felt broken and overcome with a sense of failure. I did manage to complete the rest of the journey but the three hour ride took me four hours and forty-seven minutes.</span></p><p><span style=”font-family: Helvetica, Verdana, sans-serif;”>I went to bed early last night, 11pm to be precise, but I did not fall asleep until 4:30am as the events of the morning kept repeating in my head. As a result, I missed my 7am swim with the team this morning. I plan to run 10 miles now as a pick-me-up, a way of regaining confidence, but at the back of my head I keep asking myself: what have I gotten myself into?</span></p>