Goal setting: complete a half Ironman in Marrakesh

December has arrived and many of us are planning our goals for the new year. For Sophie, 2019 was a different year, she stuck to her New Year resolutions for the first time, found out how she managed to conquer one of her goals for the year.

By: Sophie Langman

On 28th Dec 2018, en route to my annual New Year get away, my good friend sent me this document. I spent some time on the journey, and over the next few days using it as a guide to draw up my 2019 goals. I’ve written New Year resolutions in the past and like many, most of them have gone out of the window by mid-January!

Whether it’s luck, coincidence, using this method, or perhaps a combination of all three, 2019 has been different to other years, in a very good way.  

The approach, outlined in the article, is a reflection-based exercise which makes you analyse the lows and highs of the previous year before you start looking to the year ahead. To get real value, you need to spend a good few hours on it, and I don’t think it necessarily needs to be done at the end of the year.  

 Time to get your goals going

A couple of weeks after writing my goals, my friend and I spent some time critiquing each other’s and agreed we’d have quarterly check ins throughout the year to see how we were getting on. Whilst admittedly a bit geeky, spending that time verbalising our challenges and aspirations made all the difference. I created 7 goals in total, kicked them around with a few more trusted friends and mentors before I was happy with them. Time to get going….by this time it was already February.   

My seven goals varied hugely from making a significant career move, learning French, to changing social media habits and giving a start-up business a go.   

For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to focus on Goal 3:  

Here’s, word for word, what I wrote:  
“Complete a half Ironman in Marrakesh :

Actions:

  • Write training and nutrition plan 
  • Book swimming lessons 
  • Buy wetsuit 
  • Join a running club 
  • Book time for France tri camp – sept?
  • Continue cycling with London Dynamos “ 

If only I had known then that buying a wetsuit would be the least of my worries!    

My background is running and football, so I suppose you could say I’ve always been sporty but cycling and especially swimming were pretty new to me. I completed the Blenheim triathlon in 2016, managing to achieve a fairly respectable time for a first outing, despite doing breast stroke on the swim! Back then I loved the race, but a busy life and other priorities meant I wouldn’t re-visit the sport for 3 years.    

The road to IRONMAN 70.3 Marrakech 2019

The distance in Marrakesh would be 4 times longer than Blenheim- most daunting of all I would need to swim 1.9km…and it was made quite clear to me that breaststroke wouldn’t cut it anymore! At the start of the year I could barely swim more than a few lengths of front crawl, so I knew the swim was going to be the toughest part. My biggest concern at that point was not making the 1 hour 10 min swim cut off point, making all the run and bike training redundant.

Finding and joining Hampstead Tri Club has really made this possible. I’m so grateful to the club and Daniel in particular who has been coaching me since February, putting up with my endless questions and encouraging me every step of the way. The club really is like no other: an inclusive culture made up of an inspirational, highly supportive group of people.   

There was a real buzz at our hotel as athletes prepared for the inaugural IRONMAN 70.3 Marrakech in the days leading up to the race. The build up to the day was great, with twelve other members of the club and a great squad of cheer leaders staying together in the heart of the city. I’ve never felt so judged on my swimming before, with tens of Ironman athletes watching my stroke from pool side loungers, no doubt critiquing my catch and dodgy rotation!   

Race day

On 27th Oct at 3.45am my alarm went off.  Immediately, adrenaline pumping around my body, I knew it must be RACE DAY! Anxious of the unknown, feeling slightly sick, but mainly excited about the day ahead, we headed to Lake Talla, 30km north of the city.   

The vibe at the swim start was amazing. DJ tunes pumping with an Atlas mountain backdrop, 2,000 athletes waited patiently to plunge into the lake for the rolling swim start. Before I knew it, I was off. To my surprise, I had a great swim and did a double take when my watch flashed up a time of 35 minutes! All those early morning swims had paid off. I was delighted going into T1 for a quick turnaround before jumping on the bike and heading out into the Atlas Mountains.    

Sophie Langman wearing a wetsiut at Ironman Marrakesh 2019

HTC really is like no other: an inclusive culture made up of an inspirational, highly supportive group of people.

 

Relieved to be on the bike, the course started with a tough climb, made harder by the presence of two-way race traffic and terrible roads. The route was so bad that cyclists on both sides were forced to move towards the middle of the road to avoid the worst of the pot holes and rubble.  After 7km the course looped back on itself and I started a speedy descent back past the lake. A few kilometres down the road, out of nowhere a stray dog strolled onto the course, the cyclist in front swerved colliding at speed with the safety moped coming the other way. I unfortunately went straight into the crashed bike, flew over the handlebars at 25kmph and found myself lying on my back on the side of the road.

Out of the Moroccan dust a lycra-clad hero emerged – my fellow club member Jeremy kindly stopped his race to help. He brushed me off, fixed my bike and helped me to get on my way again. I was in a lot of pain and knew my back was a layer of skin down, but it was my upper left leg and hip that was in most agony from the fall. With my bike still intact, I thought I would cycle to the spectators I expected to see down the road, and probably stop the race there. But after a few tentative kilometres the pain eased and by 20km (where the main climb started), miraculously I was feeling stronger than ever. Whether it was shock, adrenaline or all those hours on Zwift paying off, I was feeling good again and started to enjoy the race. Seeing some of my fellow club members on the way round helped me tremendously. After the crash, I was a bit nervy of the bad roads and traffic (roads were meant to be closed, but this didn’t stop a lot of Moroccan drivers!) but I got through the 90km bike leg in 3 hours 7 mins.  

The last stretch

Feeling buoyed and confident cycling into T2, I saw Tom in the crowd of spectators who must have wondered what had happened to me, as he saw my road rash covered back. But I was smiling, so he was happy enough.

Then it all nearly went wrong again, as I got off the bike at T2 the agony I was in earlier returned to my leg. I couldn’t walk, let alone run. I thought maybe it would ease when I put my trainers on, but it only seemed to get worse. Running is my strongest discipline, so to have gone through the swim and a bike crash only to be forced to stop on the run, was a pretty heart-breaking proposition.   

As I limped out of T2 with athletes overtaking me from all angles, I didn’t even bother starting my watch. After about 500m I reached the aid station and saw the superstar cheerleader Tracy from Hampstead Triathlon Club. I stopped, broke down and told her I didn’t think I could do it. She was amazing, gave me some water, some strong words of encouragement and told me to run a bit further and see how it was.

Finding it difficult to breathe and fighting back the tears, I wondered what the locals who came out to support us must have thought seeing me in that state. Crazy English lady, for sure! 

The next kilometre was dire, and I really had to dig deep. With the 34-degree heat also taking hold, I thought it was a matter of time until I would be forced to stop.  

It was pretty emotional at the end and I certainly couldn’t have done it without the support of my teammates and the amazing cheering squad who kept me going on that long, hot run.

Then, gradually, step by step the pain started to ease. Suddenly people weren’t overtaking me as much and I somehow managed to find my rhythm. By kilometre 8 Tom had got wind of the news from Tracy and had come to find me. Running alongside me for a couple of kilometres was amazing and helped to get me through the first half of the run, people weren’t coming past me anymore and I even started to overtake a few myself! Although slower than I had hoped for, I completed the half marathon in 1 hour 56, which brought my overall time to 5 hours 47. I came 10th in my age group and was absolutely delighted and relieved to cross that finish line. It was pretty emotional at the end and I certainly couldn’t have done it without the support of my teammates and the amazing cheering squad who kept me going on that long, hot run. Thank you! Thank you also to everyone back home who so generously sponsored me for the event. Together we raised over £2,000 for Cricket Builds Hope – four times more than my original target.

Give it a go

What’s interesting to me, is that this goal has become so much more than the goal itself. Triathlon and the club have become a huge part of my life. It’s also meant I’ve got a better, more healthy balance. I’ve drank less alcohol, slept better and the structure has given me a better focus on my work and social life, spending time with the people who really matter to me. The heavy training weeks have sometimes been tough to fit in (and some might say I’ve at times become a little obsessive about it all (something i need to watch)), but on the whole training has become a great stress release for me. Creating memories with people with the same passions is just great fun, and I feel so lucky to have made lovely friends through the club.   

Briefly, back to my other goals, earlier in the year I met Tom (Goal number 7, my lucky number) who, having also put himself through various Ironman events over the years, has been an amazing support for me. Surprising me by turning up in the pouring rain for a miserable Ealing half marathon to cheer me on, and everything he’s done for me since the crash, makes him a hero to me.

In September of this year, after months of networking and various interview processes, I landed a great job working for Liverpool FC combining my three passions: sport, Africa and partnerships. So, after 11 years of working at Cancer Research UK, it really has been a big year of change.


There have been goals where progress has been slower – learning French, for example, has been non-existent. I also had grand plans to set up my own business, which has gone precisely nowhere. Some of my social media habits have slipped in the second half of the year, and my podcast listening certainly peaked in April as I’ve needed the motivational tunes to get me through the last few months! So, there’s always more work to do, but what it has done is focus me in a way that I haven’t experienced before, so I highly recommend giving it a go.

Now, onto 2020…!    

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