The above two pictures are the result of an incredible 2016. Not only finishing my first Iron distance race but coming 8th overall and 3rd in my age category and as a result I received that little beauty up there from triathlon Ireland.
A bit about where I was at before I gave Martin Kirwan a call.
I Swam competitively from the age of 8 to 17, huge commitment with early morning and evening training sessions, long story short, at 17 the many temptations out there won and from 17 to 30 the body wasn’t getting the best treatment, (smoking, drinking, the usual stuff you shouldn’t be doing! The body had forgotten what exercise was at this stage.
In 2010 I bought a road bike and started cycling with a couple of lads from work who had done one or two triathlons, I went on a couple of short runs with them (the heart didn’t know what was happening)! Getting back into the swimming was unbelievable, really made me appreciate what I was able to do all them years ago! Trying to get the body to do 1000 m without stopping! While remembering the 4 k I did every training session was frustrating but with the knowledge of how to swim and train it was more about conditioning the body again to be able to swim and train, and by sticking with it, it started to get easier.
So 2011 I entered my first Sprint Triathlon in Valentia, Co. Kerry, loved it. From here on I carried on running cycling and swimming, entering a few races here and there, I was hooked! I was feeling great, starting to feel fit again, and slowly losing the beer belly!
I entered my first Half Marathon in Waterford 2012 finishing in 1h: 58, but as I was getting fitter the competitive edge was coming back, the competing wasn’t enough, and I wanted more! In 2014 I decided to go for a Half Ironman distance race ‘The Lost sheep’ in Killarney. All the triathlons I had done were sprints so it was going to be interesting! I tried to put in the training, hitting long runs, long bikes, and long swims, and runs off long cycles. I got my half marathon time down to 1:43, not before collapsing at the finishing line, NO gels or water, we live and learn! Race day came and I didn’t know what to expect really, swim went well 32 minutes, bike 3 hours 15, and then the run! 2 hours 15, it was torture! But the sense of achievement I had after crossing the finish line was out of this world!
In 2015 I carried it on, keeping up the training, entering a few races, the running was becoming frustrating, it just didn’t seem to be improving and the ground I was making in the swim and the bike, I was losing then on the run. I entered Caroline Kearney, an Olympic distance national series race, put in a lot of training, finished the swim in 22 minutes, Bike in 1:10 and then 49 minutes for the 10 K. To be competitive that run time had to come down a good bit.
So I needed to get advice on how to train to do just this. The same name kept being thrown at me…Martin Kirwan. So I looked Martin up on Facebook and saw all these Ironman finishers that he trained and just said to my wife that’s what I’m gonna do! So I just booked a race called ‘The Hard Man’ in Killarney.
I rang Martin in Jan 2016 arranged a time to meet with him, told him where I’m at and what I want to do… that I don’t just want to finish, I want to finish well! He says what I and many others have come to hear him say a lot, “If you want it you’re gonna have to work for it”
So the journey began, I received a structured plan every week, mainly focusing at first on improving my running, as starting Feb 1 meant we had plenty of time. I took a while to adjust to working with heart rate as I never did it before, but I quickly realised it’s an integral part of improving. What I found most fascinating was the feeling of doing much less than I was doing before and experiencing improvement. It was an education, and I began to understand why working to HR Zones was so important, and from there I went from strength to strength. I entered my first race of the season, the Dungarvan 10k, Martin gave me a plan, HR zones to stick to. Main points don’t go off too fast! Build into it! … Cocked that up! Got stuck in a group and then realised after a mile my HR was too high and pace was way to fast and spent the next mile bringing it down, I still finished in 44 minutes, I hadn’t raced in a 10k before so Martin said all you can do is learn from it. The Wexford Half marathon, April 17 was the second race, I’d done the usual speed sessions followed by the bike, and the last easy 5 mile run 2 days before. The 20 km run I did the week before in 1:34 gave me great confidence going into it. Martin gave me a plan to run to, HR Zones to stick to, and how many gels he advises me to take, followed it to a T, stayed in control and smashed my PB by 7 minutes coming in at 1:36:23!
The next one, Portlaw 5 mile, May 6, Martin left a plan in Training Peaks to read, the big one is don’t go off to fast!… did the same as I did in Dungarvan got sucked in with a group, but managed to settle down at a pace crossed the line with a NEW PB of 33:20. So it was really coming together now and the confidence was high. The day after I had to do a 15 km Z3 run, and I remember getting up early and doing it, and then later on that evening sitting and looking over the weeks training and just thinking WOW!.
So as the weeks and months went by the training slowly ramped up, I was feeling A1, all I had to do was focus on preparing for, and executing each training session to the zones and power I was given, and then recovering ready for the next one. The build up to the Iron distance training was so perfect that it didn’t feel like a transition into anything, it felt natural and I felt totally ready and able. Its mad because at the beginning you’re like how am going to run so far after cycling so far after swimming so far and come June I’m looking at my Garmin and seeing 130km cycles followed by a 10 mile run, and then a 20 mile run on a Sunday, on top of 5 days training, and then he’d have in
Midweek ‘easy 10 mile zone 3 run! And I’d actually be looking forward to it! Sure there was mornings I looked out the window at 5am, rain was pelting down the legs felt sore from the 160km cycle day before, and the thoughts of having to run 22 miles, or cycle for 6 hours was a real mind over matter job. 7 hours on a bike in the rain or in the sun wasn’t fun and towards the end it was getting very hard and very sore!
But what did feel amazing was sitting in the chair on a Sunday evening feeling totally bollocksed! And looking at what you accomplished that week, looking at a week’s training that to someone else wouldn’t seem humanly possible to achieve, and that seemed to give me what I needed to keep going every week.
Martin arranged a practice Half iron distance race start of August, just to bring it together and build confidence, and it really did just that, 30 min for the swim, 2:48 for the 90k cycle and 1:40 for the half marathon, I was feeling A1!
Then to top it off the above were my last long sessions before the big day.
Weather forecast for race day was really bad, I went to see Martin the week leading up to it, he made it clear, the plan for the day; keep the swim relaxed, nutrition as soon as you come out of the water, keep in the zone on the bike and don’t fight the weather, otherwise the run will be a disaster, start the run easy and build into it, other than that he said your training has gone perfectly the hard work is done, go and do it!. I always felt confident coming away from Martin he would always tell you how it is, there’s no bullshit.
So get up to Killarney on Thursday, find the B&B do the 5 mile run he has me down to do and then went off to drive parts of the cycle route on the ring of Kerry, the lovely views filled me with no delight what so ever! coz the only reason they were nice is coz we were up so bloody high! Race briefing Friday evening nice big carb dinner and then time to sort gear out for the morning and get the head down. Alarm went off 03:50 big bowl of porridge with honey and banana and a big mug of coffee, leave house at 05:30, head to the swim start. Its lashing with rain the wind was unreal, but I tried to stay focused, racked the bike laid everything out, Toilet! And then wet suit on, at this point I was like a coiled spring I just wanted to get going! We were called to the water, wasn’t too bad, then the Horn sounded away we went, I felt good and strong the water was really choppy very hard to get a rhythm going but somehow I settled in, found some legs going at the pace I wanted to be at and stuck to them, I got out of the water in the top 10, but to be honest I didn’t notice I was just so focused on the next discipline, the 180 km cycle, I started the cycle and immediately started getting food into me, the conditions were horrific, I’ve never steered right to go straight before but that’s what you had to do in certain stages, with 23% DNF’s before the marathon it was no joke, it was the longest sorest wettest cycle I’ve ever done, but I was always confident I was going to finish, like I said earlier Jan to Aug was an education and I felt prepared for anything. Coming in from the bike and seeing everyone there was the biggest relief ever, I was actually looking forward to the marathon the cycle was that bad! that feeling didn’t last long though! 3 laps of a 9 mile loop.
Lap 1 was ok, probably on a high after seeing family and friends and the lack of athletes that were back!
Lap 2 still running with the same guy which helped a lot because towards the end of the second lap it really started to hurt, I needed to see family and friends to change the mind set.
Lap 3 just keep the legs moving no gels or magic potions were going to help me it was just me against me, with about half mile to go the guy I was sticking with pushed on, I honestly couldn’t, when I could see the finish, it was some feeling, and to see my two boys ready to run to the finish line with me, well I’ll never forget it.
It simply wouldn’t of been possible though without Martin’s coaching. His attention to detail, work ethic and knowledge is second to none, 2016 was an education for me, and for as long as I am able to carry this on I’ll be sticking with Focus on Fitness.
Bring on the next one!!!