Everyone has their stories about they got into triathlon. Having played GAA since I was 7 I found retirement a bit boring. In the summer of 2012 a friend a mine suggested that we do a triathlon to see what it was like and my first reaction was “are you mad? That’s a crazy sport”. I had never even seen a triathlon race. A couple of months later I jumped into the river in Castleconnell and huffed and puffed my way around a 175 m swim, 20 k bike and 5k run. But it was some buzz crossing that finish line! Two years later I find myself standing on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea. The seaside town of Callela stands behind me. A 3.8 k swim, 180k bike and 42.2 km run lies ahead of me!
Four months previously I decided to take up the challenge of finishing an Ironman race. It was a bit of an impulse decision. I had just finished the 70.3 UK in Wimbleball last June and was wondering what to do with the rest of the season. HOTW was in 2 weeks but I had nothing planned after it. The idea of ironman had entered my head for the following year. Frankfurt or Austria had caught my eye so I decided to do a bit a nosing about the ironman website and I noticed that Ironman Barcelona was still open. Now my wife Michelle had always wanted to go to Barcelona so I figured that might help my cause should I decide to try it. Have to secure the planning permission first! Having being left on her own with a new baby boy since January while her husband was off swimming, cycling and running around the countryside preparing for a race in England isn’t easy on an any new mother. But somehow she held her patience and didn’t divorce me…yet! This ironman training could tip her over the edge I thought. So I approached it very carefully. I eventually threw it out there. “Would you like to go to Barcelona in October Michelle?” She looked at me and said “Is there a race on there?” So much for approaching it carefully. We discussed it though and decided that I might as well go for it this year as next year wasn’t going to suit as much. Michelle had accepted a place in Mary I starting in September. Working a full time job, looking after a baby and studying is going to take up a lot of time so I would have to be around the house a lot more often than I had been.
A week after HOTW I started back training. I had done all my bikes and runs on my own up until then and I had swam on Wednesdays and Friday mornings with the club so I decided to keep that going. I spoke to Paul McMahon who had done the race last year when it was a Challenge event and so knew the course. He told me that the swim is nice but sea is very salty and the run was four 10.5 k flat loops. The bike course was like the old Limerick –Nenagh road but with a better surface so I decided to train on that mostly. When it came to my 6 hour bikes though going out and back that road 3 times wasn’t much fun but it was great preparation mentally for me as that was what the course entailed in Callela. I continued to swim every Wednesday and Friday and I did an open water swim mostly on my own every Monday in Castleconnell. I did my runs on a 10k loop around where I live in Murroe every Tuesday and Friday. I cycled every Thursday and did a bike-run brick on Saturdays and Sundays. Long bike, short run Saturday and opposite on Sunday. With so many ironmen in LTC advice was easy to come by and I got great advice from Shane, Noel, Eddie, Bryan and Anthony regarding nutrition and staying hydrated. And from Tom about positive mental attitude so thanks lads. On one of my last long runs I bumped into Paul Clancy who had just completed IM Copenhagen. He gave me some salt tablets which I had never previously taken and told me to bring them with me on the run just in case. As it turns and I’ll explain below they proved to be a bit of a race saver.
I trained as I planned to race. My plan was to swim steady. I learned to swim front crawl 2 years ago so I wouldn’t be very confident in the water. Hopefully id manage between 1-20 and 1-30. Keep my HR at 135 on the bike and 145 on run and not worry about times. This is what I had been doing in training and I hoped it would work on the day. Whatever time I’d do I’d be happy with. In the back of my mind however I was hoping for sub 13 hour but I’d never ran a marathon before so it was unknown how my body would cope after 7+ hours.
The morning of the race I got up at 5.30 and headed to the hotel restaurant with my box of porridge oats. Lots of nervous faces trying to eat greeted me there. I managed to eat my porridge along with some toast and a banana and had a quick chat with a lad from Galway who was doing his first IM too. I should probably have eaten more but I felt full after it so went back to the room to get my gear. Transition opened at 7 so I left hotel at 6.30 to walk the 1.5 k to it. As soon as I stepped outside the door the heavens opened. Thunder and forked lightning like I’d never seen before lit up the sky. By the time I got to transition I was saturated. Some athletes were walking down in their wetsuits. I was wet anyway at this stage so I went straight to my bike and pumped my wheels up and put my bottles and food on it. I went back into the tent and sat looking out the rain which was bouncing off the bikes. The race was due to start at 8.30 am. Around 8 o’clock they announced that the start was delayed by a half an hour. They also said they had to make a decision whether it was going to be a full ironman or not. For safety reasons they couldn’t let us in the water with so much lightning around. That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. After so much training over the year I was praying that it was going to be full distance and not turn into a duathlon. 20 minutes later though my prayers were answered and they announced to a huge cheer that we had a full distance ironman and would start at 9am.
The start of the race was in waves. Pro men and pro women were first off, then 50+ men, all the women then my wave 30-34 men and the rest followed. The hooter went and I walked into the water. No point in fighting the good lads. They’d only swim over me so I let them off. It took me a few hundred metres to get into a rhythm as the first turn buoy came after 200 m. We then had a straight section of 800m, 2 more turns 100 m apart and then into a long section of 2400 m. I kept the swim steady. I passed a few back markers from the earlier waves and was passed by the strong swimmers from the waves behind me. Sighting was fine as the sea was calm and the buoys were big. I turned the last buoy and swam the final 300m to the beach. I got out and had quick look at my watch. 1-15. I was delighted with it. I ran into transition, grabbed my bag, put on my gear, LTC cycling jersey, shoes and out to my bike.
The first 3km on the bike was out through the town of Callela. Lots of winding street turns and speed bumps. I got talking to another Irish lad. He was doing his 3rd ironman race. I let him in ahead of me and wished him the best of luck. As we came around a sharp 90 degree turn we crossed over a drain covered by a metal grid. The back of his bike went to go from under him. I still don’t know how he managed to stay upright. It certainly made me take it handy while in the town. I learned afterward that lots of competitors came a cropper on these grids which were wet from rain. Once we got to the 3km mark we were on the main road out to Montgat. The turn point was at 39k. The surface was really good but wet at the start. There were a few hillocks for the first 15 k. I wouldn’t even call them hills they were so shallow. Also a few roundabouts to negotiate carefully due to the rain. Then the road was completely flat with a slight kick when you came to Montgat. I started to get a slight headache on way out which I assume was dehydration after swim. I kept drinking electrolyte and it disappeared by the 60km mark. When we came back to Callela they were huge crowds on the side of the road cheering us in which gave everyone a lift. We had another lap of 72 k lap to Montgat and back. The wind started to pick up slightly which slowed me down a bit. I got back to Callela a 2nd time and headed out on a smaller 30k lap. Throughout the bike I kept watching my HR. My average HR for the 180km was 138 which was nearly exactly what I had planned. I got back into the winding streets of Callela with 3km to go, made my way back to transition and hopped off the bike. My watch said 5-50 which I was delighted with. Everything was going well so far. I ran to the bike rack with my shoes on and into the tent. Looking back at my times afterwards it said my transition was 1min 30secs approx. That was just the run from the dismount line to the end of the bike rack area. They added my transition tent time to my run time which didn’t give an accurate run split. In the tent I took off my jersey, grabbed my shoes, run belt and visor. I wasn’t in any rush so took my time. I took a bit of time to check I had everything, took a few deep breaths and headed off for my first marathon. My legs felt good. No stiffness or soreness. I had ran 10ks off all my long bikes with no trouble so I figured I’d be ok for that length anyway. The crowds on the run course were amazing. There was hundreds off people all the way along cheering us on. I saw plenty of Irish flags and they gave huge support when they saw the LTC top. We had to run from the transition tent to the finish line turn point which was 1.7 km then start the 10.2 km loops. I met Michelle and had a quick chat with her. I told her I felt good and everything was going well. My plan was to use the bottles of water on my run belt, have an isogel at 10k, 20k, 30km on the run and I had a spare one if needed. I watched my HR and saw I was averaging 145, exactly what id planned. So far so good. About 7k into the first lap I started getting a hunger pang. I decided that I’d push on and try and stick to my plan and have it at 10 k. Another km later I started to get a little light headed so decided to take it. Almost immediately I felt fine and ran on. At the 10k mark my left calf started to cramp up slightly. I’ve never had cramps running before. It wasn’t anything too bad at the start but It was starting to get worse after another km. I thought of the salt tablets that Paul had given me and took one. Within 10 minuted the cramp was gone. I took the rest of the tablets at 20km and 30km just to be safe. I walked the 30m or so through the aid stations and filled my bottle up with water and took some iso or coke. I met Dave Beary on the course and he was absolutely flying it. His time at the end proved how fast he was moving. He had an awesome race. The rest of the run was pretty uneventful. I did run out of gels after 25km however. I didn’t want to take the nutrisport gels they had at the aid stations as I didn’t know how I would react to them so I decided to take half a banana and 2 slices of orange at alternating stations and this worked fine for me. At the final turn point I had 10km left and still felt good. I was managing to hold sub 6min kms. I got chatting to a cork lady who was on her 2nd lap with about 8km left and I ran with her for 2/3 km which made the last lap go pretty quickly. At the last bend before the finishing chute Michelle was waiting for me. I have to say that this was pretty emotional for me. A full year of training and sacrifice had gone into this and I had only 50 m left. I composed myself a bit and crossed the line with what I only describe as stupid grin on my face. No amount of photoshoppping can fix my finisherpix photo! My marathon split on my watch was 4-10 and my finishing time was 11-29. Both were way better than I imagined I would be able to do and to say I was thrilled with my race would be an understatement.
So that was my Ironman Barcelona race. I hope I haven’t gone on too much and given too much detail but I found other race reports really beneficial to me. It’s good to hear how others deal with the race and the problems big and small that inevitably arise during the course of the day. I know a few lads are considering IM Barcelona next year and I hope this report helps them some bit. Thanks to all the lads and ladies of LTC for their support and advice over the past 2 years and especially the past few months. And most importantly thanks to Michelle for her support, patience, encouragement and the occasional kick in the backside when I was feeling sorry for myself. She deserves the medal more than I do.