By Paul Mc Mahon: I know many have done reports on Ironman races and these have greatly helped me in my understanding of what was involved and required to complete a race and even convince myself that I might one day be able to compete and complete one of these crazy events. So here is my stab at a post Ironman race report.
For me swimming was and still is my biggest fear when racing, but in the last year or two have gotten a lot better. This part was always the part that I felt that, no amount of training or coaching would ever be able to get me to the point where I could possibly swim 2.4 miles. Even up till the start line of the race I was convincing myself that I was going to die during this swim.
My greatest sporting achievement was and still is in my mind my first completion of the Dublin Marathon in 2010. A marathon was always in my mind something I always wanted to do but never felt that I could achieve, but after completing this race it lifted a huge weight off my back and I sought out new challenges to achieve to see what else I can complete and accomplish.
Hell of the west was the next thing that gave me the confidence that I could swim as this was my first ever open water swim and I managed to finish it. Then came the Galway Half Ironman race which I thought would be my ultimate challenge, but after surviving this race I got a notion into my head that I could possibly finish a full Ironman.
I discussed this with Yvonne and when the list of possible locations for a race started to emerge, we decided that because we have never got on a holiday outside of Kilkee since we got married, that this was an ideal reason to save and enjoy a family holiday while also doing the race. A list of races was drawn up and a decision had to be made soon as the races were filling up and in some cases sold out.
Challenge Barcelona very soon won out for a number of reasons as follows:
• Sunny Location
• Ease of Access
• Nice place
• Time of year (October gave all summer in Ireland to train)
• Coastal resort
• Nice place to bring the kids
The only negative was the fact that it was not an Ironman branded race, but this did not matter too much to either of us.
Decision was made and I entered that race back in Christmas 2012. We now started to save hard and I started to put some of my many training plans together.
Eventually I had the kitchen and bedroom plastered with training plans. Several books were bought, constant web searching and research etc to see how I would prepare for this race. One of my biggest challenges was not the desire to train it was how I could manage to fit a training plan around home life, farm life, family life and work life. This was going to be my biggest challenge and would require the whole family to be affected.
I decided that the longest training sessions, i.e. bike sessions would have to be done on Fridays by taking all my spare annual leave as Fridays off as Saturdays and Sundays could not be wasted training when so much family and home stuff needed to be done. I also did most of the other stuff at lunch and early morning and spared my longer runs for early Sundays. This worked early on, but as the training got more intense in the last 2 months it was taking its toll on everybody, including myself. So I would warn all contemplating this sort of sacrifice in you life to ensure you have the backing of an understanding family, for which I was very lucky to have Yvonne who competes in races and understood the sacrifice required and let me do what I needed to do.
I did all my training on my own except for the Monday night swimming in UL & Castleconnell and I thing this option stood to me at those low points in the race when thoughts of not being able to continue take over for a few moments.
As I said the race was going to incorporate a holiday and we were all looking forward to this. I invited my mother along with us for the holiday and she was an enormous help and we really enjoyed her company. The house we booked was a 3 bedroom apartment overlooking the beach and transition area so it was ideal.
We arrived in Calella on Tuesday the 1st of October and it was great to leave the rain and cold of Ireland behind to be greeted by heat and sun in Girona Airport. But my immediate thought was that I would not be able to complete and Ironman in these conditions.
Wednesday morning I woke and assembled my bike and took of to do the bike route which consisted of 2 large loops and 1 smaller loop of an out and back bike course. I decided to do 1 loop of the large circuit, which was about 76km. The road was smooth and it seemed relatively easy to maintain a fair average pace. The road itself was similar to the old Dublin road with a few little drags, but with the good surface these were manageable. The only thing that seemed to be getting to me that day was the heat, which was touching 26 degrees. However at the end of the bike I felt tired but ok.
Next thing that evening myself & Yvonne decided to give the sea a go. It looked very rough, and there were signs up saying no swimming which concerned me slightly. We got in to the water which was cooler that I expected for a warm climate and attempted to get going however the waves and current was really making any forward progress near on impossible. Our plan was to swim in a square loop around a few buoys as a simple get used to the water swim, but as we attempted to swim out we realised we had to put in huge efforts just to fight the current and waves. Sighting was near on impossible with the swells and this was not doing my confidence any good. Eventually after 20 mins of getting battered and beaten by the waves we got out and I was really worried. Yvonne calmed me down and said we would try again the next day.
The following morning Yvonne & myself got up early to do the run course together, which consisted of a 10.5km loop along the promenade. This was a nice run on a compacted sandy surface which absorbed the pressure of running to spare the joints. This was a nice run and I was confident that if I could complete the swim I would have no problem with the race.
Again later that evening I decided to go for a swim myself this time without my wetsuit. However this was a bad idea and really dented my confidence. The sea conditions had gotten worse and I really struggled to get any forward motion against the current of the water (Kilkee on a bad day had nothing on this). I was now really panicking. My mother who came with us on trip was also worried for my safety and was paying regular visits to the church to pray and light candles for my safety.
On Friday I was now a bag of nerves and everyone was tiptoeing around me. (They have great patience). I could not think straight, as I was consumed by the fear of not being able to complete the swim in the conditions. The sea had again worsened overnight and I was afraid to even go near it on Friday. Registration was open on Friday and I went up to register and soak up the atmosphere. The registration Hall was quiet and I was one of the first to arrive. The people were nice but not many spoke English. Following this I was again a bag of nerves so I decided to go for a run to calm down a bit. A very slow 10k followed by a shower seemed to rest my mind a bit.
Later on Friday night there was a pasta party arranged for all the athletes and their families. This was set up in a large marquee at the finish line. Inside there were any amounts of different pastas, drinks beer ice-cream, cake and outside there was a huge 2m diameter frying pan with rice, sea food and sausages. I eat everything, yes everything. It was like my last super and I felt I needed to consume as many calories as I could to ensure energy levels for Sunday. I had 3 plates of my own and eat the left over’s of the kids also. This calmed me down no end, as I was back to what I loved, eating!!
During this event the heavens opened and a huge thunderstorm which shook the tent and destroyed the barbeque (lucky I was fully fed at that point). There was also a draw for 6 prizes on the basis of tickets they handed out at the door upon entry. The first number out was one of our numbers, so I went up and got a bag of goodies, following that the 2nd number out was Joe’s number, which he was delighted to win a bag of biking gear. We went home that night delighted with ourselves.
The following day the sea was calm, so perhaps after the storm of the night before, the sea started to calm down. I was getting a bit less nervous. I meet Connor O’Dea later that day at the race briefing and we decided to go for a swim to calm the nerves after placing our bikes and transition bags in their allocated spots. The swim this time was a very pleasurable experience. And really help me relax.
That night I decided to go to bed early and rest up for the following day. I went into bed and started writing out my dietary plan to ensure I would make no mistakes on race day. I did this and tried to sleep but not a chance; my head was going in circles and very worried about the following day. I eventually got a few hours sleep on the couch.
5am on Sunday morning all 4 of my alarms went off and I rose to start with my dietary plan of energy bars and energy drinks (yum). Following several trips to the toilet it was eventually time to leave and put bottles on my bike and check out everything in transition. Everyone was quiet and nervous. I met Connor here who said he had a bad night and did not sleep very well.
Time was moving very fast now and the start time was fast approaching. Although the closer it got the start time the less nervous I was feeling. I started to feel relief that it was about to start and the training was all over. My support crew arrived down to the start line and I was delighted to see all of them before I got going. I got one last photo together, hugs and kisses and before I knew it I was in the starting line on the beach with the starter saying 1 minute to go. A quick prayer and we were sent off. I let my age group off for a few seconds before getting going and I stayed to the far left of the crowd out of trouble. After a short 200m I was at the first turn point and feeling great. I had passed a few backmarkers and was now in a bunch of swimmers that were a similar pace to me. Not much pushing and fighting that one now expects in HOTW, very civil.
I purposefully swam at a very relaxed pace and fully intended enjoying the experience. I eventually was passing some of the backmarkers from the previous waves and of course getting passed by the faster chaps from the waves after me, but all in all I was comfortable in my swimming. I had never swum this full distance, but the more the swim went on the more confidence I gained that I was going to finish. A great sense of relief came over me and I really enjoyed the remainder of the swim. At the last turn to the finish line with 300m to go I started to kick my legs hard to get the blood back into them. At the end of the swim I gave a quick check of the watch as I was pulled out of the water by a very helpful chap, and it showed 1hr 25mins, I was thrilled. My family were there on the beach cheering me on, which gave me a great buzz. I could visibly see the blood return to my mothers face following my exit of the water. I spent a minute or two in a shower prior to crossing the timing mat as I wanted to wash off the salt for the rest of the days racing. I felt great and buzzing to get going on the bike.
In T1 I was determined to take my time and soak up the atmosphere of the event. I sat for a while looking at the people coming and going. Some people really take this thing way too serious, rushing through to save a few seconds in an ironman is crazy in my opinion. I eventually removed the wet suit washed my face and feet, dried myself and put on my bike gear. No Tri suits for me following an unpleasant chaffing incident in IM Galway. I strolled out calmly got my bike and started out on the 180km distance (a distance I had never covered before). Again my family were cheering me out of transition and I knew I would now be on my own for the next 6 hours plus. This is where the long hours of solitary training would come back to help me.
Out on the bike course I felt great on the first outward leg. My dietary plan of consuming 1 gel or one bar each 15km alternatively was followed religiously along with 1 full water bottle consumed every 30km. The first lap was completed with an average pace of 33km/hr. Too fast I said to myself and consciously slowed the pace for the second lap. However as this second loop continued, I started to feel very weak and doubting my ability to continue. A severe pain in the bottom of my right foot started to be the only thing I could think about. It was throbbing and unbearable. The wind was picking up and I was really getting under pressure. I took 2 Paracetomal tablets and said a little prayer. There was a lot of heat and humidity at this stage and it was taking its toll.
Half way through the 2nd loop the heavens opened. A huge volume of water started to fall and was making the job of staying vertical going around roundabouts very difficult. But this rain turned out to be the answer to my prayers. A new burst of energy was delivered with that rain and the pain in my foot vanished. I gained in confidence and again started to enjoy the race. I was now overtaking lads that had passed me much earlier on in the race and I was full of energy. Time started to go by very quickly and before I knew it I was on the last lap of the race, only 50km more to bike (it sounded like nothing at the time in my head). I flew home on the last shorter loop in the knowledge that I was going to start my favourite aspect of triathlons and also that I would once again see my family and fan club.
Whizzing back into Calella I came across my family again who were waiting patiently for the last hour in the odd hope that I would finish 1 hour ahead of schedule. It was great to see them again and really lifted my spirits. I slowly worked my way around the damp corners of the town and the roads were very slippy and as I did a chap who was keeping pace with me for most of the bike fell and had a nasty hop. I felt so sorry for him and hoped he could continue. I did not see him again though.
I made it into transition just as 180km came on the bike and exactly on 6hrs, I felt great and really confident that I could easily complete the run. I had achieved exactly my target time for the bike.
In T2, again like T1 I wanted to slow it all down, take my time and soak up the atmosphere. There were less people around this time as it seemed everyone was back and out on the run. I did not really care as I was only racing myself. I sat for a few minutes and drank a bottle of water. I fully removed all my clothes and put on my favourite marathon gear. Again I was not going to wear a tri suit to run a bloody marathon. I got my Garmin watch, turned it on and waited for it to pick up a signal.
After a world record slow T2 I eventually got out of the tent and started running. It felt great to be out and running, I love running. My family were again patiently waiting for me on the far side of transition, probably wondering what the hell I was doing for the last 10 minutes.
I started into the first lap of 4 carrying an energy bar, gels and water on the run belt. After about 15 minutes of running I could feel my stomach starting to grumble. Oh no I thought, this did not feel good I thought so I decided not to eat anything for the first lap and only drink. I started to think back to the great report Mike Lane wrote on his last IM race and thought if I went to the toilet and perhaps farted, I could sort out my stomach. I went to the portaloe and the one I went into was rocking and this caused me to feel and get sick. Perhaps this would now sort me out I thought and started running again. My legs felt fine at this stage and I ran a steady 1st lap in the time I expected to do, just under 1 hour. I felt that if I could keep this steady pace I would have no problem finishing, but I knew that I had to eat something or I would not finish at all, so I tried the energy bar I was holding for the last hour and immediately this did not go down well, but I did not get sick. I tried to drink a good bit of water on top of it, but this did not help, all eventually came right up again. Oh no I thought I can’t finish if I can’t get some water and energy into me.
At the next feed station I decided to change tact and drink the energy drinks they supplied at the race, but again anything that entered my mouth ended up straight back out of the ground. I decided to go to the toilet again and see if I could sort myself out by sitting for a while and sipping a small amount of water at a time. 15 minutes later, I got going again, but not much better. Yvonne and Joe were at the half way point and giving loads of support and it was great comfort to see them each time. I resigned myself to the fact that I would have to shuffle on for the rest of the race and hope I could keep going without consuming anything including water.
My pace was steady, just not as steady as I would have liked. I had trained really hard at the running and my plan was to be able to run a half decent marathon and feel good after it. At 22km completed I really started to feel weak and when I meet Yvonne I almost broke down and gave up. She reassured me and I got going again. (thanks Yvonne). Lap 3 went reasonably ok, just very slowly. I discovered that I could just about keep down oranges and at each feed station took 2 orange slices and this perked me up a bit. At the end of lap 3 Joe my eldest lad decided he would run the next 4km with me and keep me going, this was a great help and I am sure it is not allowed, but I did not care at that point.
After that Yvonne ran the last lap of the race with me. It was dark at that point and again I was getting the urge to vomit every now and then. With Yvonne’s support and sheer determination, I managed to keep going at a steady pace for the last lap. I could smell the finish line at this point and was determined to get there. I knew my mother would be at the finish with the 4 kids and I wanted to make all of them proud by finishing.
With 400m to go I meet my mother & kids who were patiently waiting for me near the finish. I got a big hug from my mother who looked very proud and I took all 4 kids with me towards the finishing area. I hoped that I would not be stopped on route with the kids as I wanted to finish with them and thankfully I was allowed finish with all kids in tow.
I eventually got into the finishing chute and the line was just ahead. There were a few people ahead of me and I hung back to allow them finish on their own and leave a clear run to the line for me and lads. It felt great to finish, I was an Ironman. I had forgotten about the clock and did not really care at that point. I hugged the lads and started to feel very emotional. Next I realised that I needed to sit down and fast, but the trouble was I had all the kids with me. I could not find Yvonne or my mother and I could not let go of the kids in the crowd. I eventually got to the exit gate and saw Yvonne trying to force here way in the finishing area, but no non racers were being let in. After a few words with security I was allowed pass the kids out to them.
At that point I started to feel very weak and sat on a chair for a few seconds, but this was short lived as I had to run outside and get sick everywhere. All of those bloody oranges came up. I now started shivering uncontrollably and noticed that 2 Red Cross folks were standing behind me. One asked if I was ok. I stood the get up and the next thing I remember was waking up on a stretched bed in the recovery area. A doctor was trying to wake me up and give me a drip. I really felt poorly at that stage, shivering, cold, dizzy and emotional. The doctor said the drip would help me stop vomiting and re-hydrate me. He asked me a few questions and was happy that I would live, but told me to lie there for 40 minutes. After 15 minutes a lady came over with a hot cup of soup. This soup was the nicest thing I had tasted in a long time and immediately I started to feel better.
At this point I was worried about my family who would be outside waiting and I am sure, worried about how I was. It was dark at that point and staring to rain again. I told the doctor that I wanted to leave, and after a bit of debate he let me go. I stood, again felt dizzy and nauseous, but felt I needed to get out of there and reunite with the lads.
Outside my amazing family were waiting patiently in the rain, cold and dark and I felt so privileged to have such a good support crew.
We slowly walked away home towards transition and our apartment. I collected by gear and bike and back up for a shower.
I had finished and was now an Ironman. 12 months of training and sacrifice had got me to that point. I felt very privileged to have been in a position to be able to do it and with the support of my friends and family who all had to make sacrifice to get me to that finish line. In the end I did not even stop the watch and in a way I was happy as the time does not really matter, it is all about the journey to get there, which did not start at 8am that morning, it started the minute I booked a place in the race 12 months previous. I did finish in 12hrs 40 minutes and I am delighted with that.
I must acknowledge all the support of lots of people who helped including my parents, friends, kids and many people in Limerick Triathlon Club who supported me, work colleagues who understood my sometimes lack of interest in anything to do with work, but most of the credit must go to Yvonne, who put up with me through thick and thin, listened to my complaints, minded the kids during those long hours I was away training and supported me all the way to the finish line.