As the final weeks approached I opted for a test and confidence session a ‘Metric IM’ 2.6km swim, 112km Bike and 26km run. This was an opportunity to put all 3 disiplines together, to practice my nutrition and ensure my gear was comfortable to wear for the day. I chose to do it on a Friday, to include a pool swim, as even tough I am a confident swimmer, I would never swim alone. This worked out really well and gave me a huge confidence boost. This was a month out and almost my last big weekend, with cycle time reducing and the midweek sessions remaining much the same. My taper began the weekend of HoTW, and although I didn’t train on the day, I was on my feet for 12 hours. The weekend made me very excited and I enjoyed chatting to fellow triathletes about their IM experiances.
Packing began early as all 5 of us going from Limerick had opted to go with Ship my TriBike – a fantastic service where our bikes and a bag were picked up in Limerick the week before the race and transported overland to the race venue, all ready for collection when we arrived. Sending the bikes made the whole thing suddenly very real.
We traveled to Frankfurt on the Thursday before Sunday’s event, this gave a bit of extra time for finding our way around and making sure there was ample rest, eating and relaxing time. It was easy to spot the Triathletes on the plane and we met some guys from Dublin and Waterford, who we would meet many times over the next few days. Frankfurt city is quite compact and very easy to get around. Thursday was hot and humid – after registering we were caught in a huge downpour while exploring the EXPO on the quays.
Friday’s race briefing hinted at the temperatures we may have to expect on Race day, but we were assured there were plans in place for extra ice, salt and water. The inevitable question of whether the swim would be wetsuit or non wetsuit would be not be answered until Sunday morning. I wasn’t bothered, but I knew it was a stress factor for the boys. You can only control the controlables, I resolved that I wasn’t going to let the heat be my undoing – I had done the training and the marathon wouldn’t be fun even in the cold.
The swim venue was a little out of town at the Langener Waldsee and we took our bikes out to be racked on Saturday. It was only then you could feel the scale of the event, with >2800 athletes Transition was long! The venue itself is a flooded quarry, and as we were there we took a dip. The water was lovely and the course better marked than any I had seen, with Yellow bouys marking the first loop, an Aussie exit and then a second longer loop marked in Red.
After some food with the lads I headed back to my hotel to rest – something I am not great at, but I did manage a snooze, and after a final run through of my gear, I went out for some Ice cream (easily digestible carbs and fat!)
I slept very well and woke to my alarm at 0430. My hotel was not doing an early breakfast, so I had some porridge I had brought from home with coffee before heading for the bus to take me to the swim venue. Tyres pumped and nutrition on the bike, I met with the lads as transition closed – wetsuits allowed the relief on their faces was obvious and we headed to the swim start. The atmosphere was electric with music pumping at 0630 as the Pros were introduced. I was strangely calm and not at all nervous, but was overcome with emotion – I couldn’t believe I was standing on the start line of an Ironman. I had worked to be here, but felt humbled and determined to give what I could.
It was a rolling start, with everyone self seeded in pens : 6 swimmers went over the mats every 10 seconds starting their race. I knew I was in the right place at 60 -70 min (I had swum around the OBB island with Richard at 3.8kph on Monday) but I couldn’t believe how many people were on the < 60 min pen. Once the pros went it really didn’t take very long until I was at the front of the line and it was my turn. It was the smoothest swim I have ever been in! I began to over take people very quickly (some breaststroking and clearly not going to be anywhere under 90min let alone 60. The swim did become a little more challenging when we turned into the rising sun it was hard to spot the bouys, but I just kept swimming. The Aussie exit really broke things up and the longer 2nd loop was actually easier, but I did feel I had taken a scenic route and had no idea of my time.
On land there were shouts from Ken’s family and others who spotted the LTC colours. I took my time in transition making sure the sand was off my feet before I headed off on the bike. I had been warned the first section was fast down into Frankfurt, and bikes were indeed zooming past me: I had my watch on my bike to monitor HR, and went off sticking with the plan. The bike course was 2 loops on lovely smooth roads passing through countryside and villages full of enthusiatstic residents. There were 2 or 3 hills on each loop (my many trips up the Birdhill interchange served me well) but otherwise pretty flat. I was sticking to HR and eating (Bananas & Cliff bars) as planned as well as drinking at every opportunity and taking salt tablets. I knew I was making great time, and was likely to break my estimated 7h bike split. I got lots of shouts from the Irish as they passed me, but as I hadn’t seen anyone from LTC I figured they were ahead.
On the second Bike loop the temperatures were rising, I had slowed down but I stuck to my HR plan. My feet were burning from about 4.5 hours in, so I poured water over them to try to ease it. A 1km or more cobbled section though one of the villages was fun the first time, but on the second loop I felt every cobble and it really tested the bike mechanics. I could hear some noise from the back and decided to have a look while riding (I may was well be looking at a pot of Spaghetti for all I know abour bikes) which led to a collision with a small bolllard. This shook me and I was lucky not to fall. I took some caffeine to wake myself up.
I rolled into T2 after 6:03 and handed my bike to a volunteer. I couldn’t believe my split and again took my time in transition putting on more sun cream. The run course was 4 loops and I headed out with the plan to steady the HR, and run as much as I could until I met my husband and kids who had flown in that morning. There was super support out on the course and lots of aid stations. I tried to keep cool using the showers and putting ice down my top. Every mat I passed over, I could picture friends and family tracking me at home, ticking off the kilometers. After 2 loops the tears came again, as I realised I only had to 20km more to go. I had taken my rings off and wore shoes 2 sizes up, to cope with the heat. My hands were so swollen that I couldn’t bend my fingers very much, and I got a bit worried so put them in ice baths for a few seconds at the aid stations. It was the 3rd lap before I found John & the kids, and this gave me a huge lift. They were expecting me to be in bits and I wasn’t – I hit off for the last 15km. This was the toughest part. I had been drinking coke and Iso, and having the odd jelly, I didn’t stop, but was walking more and it just felt hard. My feet were soaked from the showers and my runners felt heavy. I hadnt seen any of the lads, although John saw Keith and Phil so I figured they had overtaken me when I was in the portaloo. On the 4th lap I chatted to Susan from Pulse, and she gave me my swim split as 1:03 (I had forgotten to ask John) and my tiring brain added 1 + 6, I figured if I was under 6 hours on the Marathon it would be a 13hour finish – brilliant. As I collected my final band and had 3km to go, I allowed myself to check my run time and was shocked to see I had been out only 4:20. Well now I decided I owed it to myself and all those in my heart to run home. So I did.
The finish shoot was emotional, high five’s all the way; in the Grandstand my name was being called by the Limerick and other Irish supporters, and I stopped by to kiss and hug John, Conal and Orlaith. I have no idea if they said ‘Sinéad Walsh – you are an Ironman’ but I looked up and a saw 12 so knew I done way better than I had hoped. It was over and hour later that I found out my finish time, and it still hasnt quite sunk in.
I enjoyed every thing about the event and the weekend – the course, the atmosphere, the city and its people. The early mornings, rainy spins and missed nights out of the last 6 months were so worth it. I tried to not let the IM take over my life, and I hope I succeeded.
I could not have done this without the support of my husband, children, parents, brothers and sisters. Thanks to my friends and neighbours for help with pickups and matches, even though I am sure they thought what I was doing was crazy. The encouragement, advice and support from my great friends in Limerick TC has been amazing, míle buoichas (if I name anyone I am sure to omit someone so I won’t). The messages before and after have been really special.
Thanks to Ken, Keith, Mike and Philip for the banter, laughs and support.
I am privileged and grateful to have been able to do this, I dedicate my achievement to those we know whose lives were too short – all ways in our hearts.
It is a cliché (and the tag line of the huge multinational corporation that is IRONMAN) but ‘Anything is possible’. If anyone wants to know more please get in touch. My complete diary was IM Diary S Walsh
And, yes I hope to do it all again – when asked if she would like to go to another IM with her mother, Orlaith replied with the confidence only a 9 year old has, that she would like Austria, and of course ‘Koma’.