On July 1st 2012, over 2000 athletes descended on the waters in Klagenfurt, Austria. For the majority from Limerick – this was to be our first Ironman. Some had already done this distance and were a great help to us rookies. But Ironman throws up obstacles no one expects and for the first time in Ironman Austria’s history – this was to be non-wetsuit. I felt like cracking up when we heard the news at the race briefing. My head went down. I think others went down too – I just couldn’t look up to see. The race was on in less than 24 hours and the biggest spanner they could throw had slapped me across the head. Anyone that knows my swimming knows I need a wetsuit. Within a short period of time (3 – 4 hours), I calmed down. There was no point in panicking – it was going to affect everyone and more than lightly other things were going to go wrong so deal with them.
Went to bed at 9 bells with a pencil and paper by my bedside. Read Eamonn Horgan’s manual on nutrition one more time (this was about the 5th time) and off to sleep. Every 5 minutes – I’d turn on lights and write something else down, not to forget. Before 11, I fell asleep. 3.15am woke. 3.30am alarm went off. Energy drinks – tick, garmins – tick, HR monitor – tick, nutrition – tick, etc. etc. I was relaxed enough on race morning. Nerves were there but all good. Breakfast at 4.00am — 2 Bowls of porridge, bread, jam and I was ready. We were staying about 10 km outside race start and so Ciara drove me to the start. There was silence in the car – a big day was ahead and I’d trained for this for 4 years.
Joe Chawke’s Tuesday night sessions had dramatically brought on my running. Paul Kearney’s swim sessions (where I was told in the second class – “Mike – GAA shorts create drag – get speedos”) had improved my swim technique, then onto Chris De Looze who helped me step it up again and finally, the Saturday and Sunday Union Cross and Parkway bike sessions were what got me through my first 3 seasons.
Into transition, straight to the bags. I had recorded my paths through transition so bags were done quick. Then down to bike. I was number 694. Brian Jenkens number 700. Good to see someone I knew. Drink bottles on bike, bars & gels too. Put garmins on and said I’d recalibrate powertap – Rookie error – trying to recalibrate powertap among 2,500 other bikes. I had trained with power all winter and now I’d none. Didn’t really panic this time. Said I’d try again on bike course and was hopeful it would work. (It didn’t but at that stage you’re in the race and don’t care – you just want to get through it).
Before I knew it I was at race start. I was at the front. Race referee in front of me. I asked him what was my position like – He said “Great – you’re in the fastest spot”. Nervously, I gradually moved to my left and back a bit off the front row! Then Bang!
Race on. Swim was straight forward enough for me. Took time, concentrated on techinique. Remembered John Dempsey tips – “Long stroke Mike, grab the water”. Out of the water and grabbed bike. Heading out of T2 – saw clock – 1.18 (including T2). I was shocked. Thought I’d swam so much better but I hadn’t my wetsuit. I’d saved energy, probably too much! But look – I’d seen other mates come back from bad swim starts – Ivan O’Gorman has done it on endless occasions, Rory Maguire – a mate based in London too (Thanks for all the tips leading into race Rory). The day was going to be long and this was my first Ironman – I now just wanted to get through it.
Started well on the bike. HR around 140’s – give or take a couple of beats. First loop on bike went quick enough. I felt good. I ate a bar in the first hour but didn’t take it great so bars were out. It was going to be energy gels and energy drink. Start of second lap – I moved it up a gear and still felt good. However, it was getting hotter & hotter. In the final hour – I was suffering. Gels were gone and it was just energy drink. A couple lessons learnt, for if I do Ironman again I thought. Going up last climb, something triggered left side of my back. Prevented me from going down on tri bars more than 5 min at a time in final hour. Biked into transition, hopped off bike and thought “oh my god – now a marathon”. Grabbed bag, emptied it. Couldn’t bend down to tie laces. Left side of back in bits. A lovely girl put on my shoes and tied my laces (But they were all lovely girls…)
Walked out of T2. Started to jog. Needed first wee of the day! Pulled over about 1 km in. No more messing – time to get running. Back was grand when running as long as I didn’t bend down. The support by the Limerick gang out on the course was great. I used them as markers. Everytime I passed Ciara, Chris and Ger Fitz, twas roughly 10km. First 2 times I felt great – running through all aid stations. Coke was great and helped no end. Then out by the railway lines for the second time. The heat now was surreal and twas at this stage I really began to suffer. But everyone else was suffering so I thought this is normal and what I’d signed up for. I started to walk aid stations and took on more and more sponges, coke and ice. Anything to keep cool. At stages I wanted to pull out but knew I’d regret it. I ran through the last aid station thinking not far now but it seemed to go on forever. Finally – the finishing shoot. I had the shoot to myself. No one close ahead or behind. I highfived a good few and then jumped high, fist in the air. As I came down – cramp came on! A tad over excited!! It had been 4 years since I took up this sport and I’d now reached my goal – Complete an Ironman. It could have shown anything on the clock – at that moment I really didn’t care. Getting up at 5 am every Thursday for a minimum of a 2 hour run, then off to work and home again in evening to hop on turbo for 1.5 hours was now worth it. 6 hour Saturday bike rides (majority by myself) followed by 3 to 4 hour Sunday bricks were now worth it. John Dempsey’s swim sessions 3 times a week, chasing the fish in the fast lane with Brian Shaughs were now worth it (Thanks for providing the draft Shaughs!). FTP tests – which I dreaded were now worth it (I cried with pain during one!).
Once I crossed the line, I was carried over to sit down. A great volunteer’s task was to make sure I was alright. She said not too many had finished ahead. I was shocked. I knew conditions on the day had affected everyone but never thought that 9.37 would be considered a high finish when you looked at last years results. After a while more of the Limerick crew finished. We ate and chatted and we all said it would be a long long time before any of us even considered doing one again. I continued to eat pizza. I hadn’t eaten it in over 2 years – that’s what this sport does. Over 10 slices later and I said I’d try some pasta. Barry Kent even had let his diet go now! We eventually made our way back towards race hotel and tried to give encouragement to those still on course.
Limerick Tri had a fantastic day. Joan Griffin was first finisher in her AG. Joan has helped me throughout the last 4 years. I think we’re both driven by the same thing – just not sure what it is. In my first Hell of the West – she finished 2 places ahead of me. From talking to her back then I knew she wanted to do an Ironman but she didn’t know if she’d get through the training. Through the help of Eamonn she more than got there and winning her AG capped it off. Hats off to you Joan.
Ger Shire was the final Ironman to finish. 16 hr and 52min from the start of the event. I had seen Ger half way through the run and I’ve never seen someone more motivated to finish. I’ve just seen the highlights on Channel 4 and the final shot was Ger. A fantastic way to end the day for Limerick Tri.
Next morning my legs were beyond heavy. I was lying on bed at 12.15 and Ciara says – “Mob – Kona slots on at one”. I didn’t want to go. I didn’t know where I’d finished in AG. Ciara checked – 9th. Blown away a bit by that (Top 20 in AG last year finished sub 9!). So we went to Kona slots. And it came to my AG. First 2 didn’t take slots, my head all over the place and before I knew it, I was up on stage with Hawaiian flowers around my neck… Phone ringing, messages coming though from home and I was shaking in shock.
Redmond & Louis were first to give congrats. Then over to the tented area where lads were having well deserved pints, and all gave me huge cheer and celebrated the good news. Great picture taken of me and Dave Beary with kona cap on!. Even now writing this – It hasn’t really sunk in. Myself and Ciara have a bigger day planned exactly 7 days beforehand so a busy time ahead.
To all those that competed in Austria this year – a huge well done. Listening to stats from IronmanTalk – 120 didn’t get through swim & over 500 had a DNF which is a huge percentage. I was in the same boat as a few after Austria 70.3 last year and didn’t get through it. My advice would be to use this in your favour and come back stronger in your next race. It helped me come 13th overall in Galway 70.3 last year.
I want to thank a few people who helped me along the way in getting to complete my goal. My parents have backed me 110% since I took up the sport even when they didn’t actually know what a triathlon was! My mam washed my gear on a daily basis and provided dinners to feed a giant every day. Having that help has made my training so much easier. Brian and Bridie Fitz have also been my number one fans and supported me since I took up the sport.
Joe Chawke has been a huge help in improving my running and has convinced me that running fast all the time doesn’t make you faster. Running smart does. John Dempsey who gets up before 6.30 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and pulled me aside on many occasions to give me tips – thank you. Darragh Dunne who builds and takes apart many of our bikes and is one of the most talented athletes I know – thanks. Eoin Gamble, Stuey McMahon, Emmet Ryan, Niall Collins & Darragh Dolan – for the rivalry and the slagging ye provided me over the last few years. One of these days Gams you will get through a swim session without taking a break! Eamonn Horgan – I sent you 2 lines asking about nutrition. What you sent back was too big to staple together – thanks. Conor O Dea & Colm Moloney who provided me with rubs and knowledge – thanks. Ivan O’Gorman, Dave Beary, Mike Casey O’Shea, Johnny Deegan, Alan Buckley, Eamonn Horgan, Dave O Rahilly & Mark Higgins who set the benchmark in Ironman in the club which I used for motivation. I am honoured to join this group. Limerick Tri Club – Thanks for all the help and the training for the past few years. The club has grown and grown but the club has continued to step up to the mark offering more and more services to its members. Hats off to Limerick Tri, the committee and its members.
To my mates at home – who I half ignored and refused to go beering with – thanks for remaining my mates!! And to the one who sent me the text message which I put as the title of this report – I qualified for ‘cona’!!
I am so grateful for the support and help of my sponsors. To be considered for sponsorship was great and you have made my training and racing a lot easier so thank you.
# Adrenalin Sports: http://www.adrenalinsports.ie/
# Cahill’s Pharmacy: http://www.facebook.com/CahillsPharmacy
Both based in Newcastle West – they both have opened new premises this year and are going from strength to strength.
Russell Cox – my coach. He asked me at the start (12 months ago) for my goals. Number 1 – Top 3 in AG in 70.3 – Tick. Number 2 – Complete an Ironman – Tick. Kona wasn’t down but it would have been next on the list in a couple of years down the line. To get it now shows what an awesome coach you are.
Finally Ciara – a lot of the club knows the support you have given me. You have been a great support at races, marshalling at many. You encouraged me to get up in the early mornings when I didn’t want to. You listened to me regarding training, eating, drinking for the past 4 years. You had my dinner ready when I came home grumpy and wet on a Saturday after the long bikes. I will be only thrilled to call you my wife in Kona!
Again – Thanks to all for helping me achieve my goals and to the many I have forgotten – Sorry – but I’ve rambled on too much at this stage anyway.