Inside The Race
Mooloolaba, Ironman 70.3 World Championships 2016
Marianne and I left Ireland for Brisbane, bags packed, dogs with Mammy and ready for an adventure. The travel was going to be hard but I was well prepared. I had lots of fluid and high carbohydrate snacks to keep me going. I also used a vicks nasal spray to prevent any sickness that might result from the dry recirculating air over the first 7.5hr and then 15hr flights. We booked a hotel in Brisbane for two nights to let the jet lag settle a bit before we headed north in a campervan to Mooloolaba, where Ironman 70.3 World Championships 2016 were going to be held. I had some simple instructions from my coach (Martin Kirwan, Focus on Fitness) heading over to Australia for the early stages of the week, basically; test how the body was feeling after the travel and make sure I recovered for the race. We arrived in Mooloolaba on Wednesday and Ironman had already taken over. The place was buzzing; it was alive with everything Ironman. I was immediately in awe and the race wasn’t until Sunday. We settled into a lovely campsite 500m from swim start that I had booked months previous by chance and it was the best money I spent. Perfection. I built my KUOTA KT05 up from the disassembled bubble wrap, taped up mess that it was from travelling over thanks to handy tips from Spokes cycles Waterford on what is a complicated but aero front end. I won’t lie, anyone who asked (even Marianne) was told “I feel great, the travel didn’t take much out of me at all” but in reality I was struggling to push any power on the bike or run at any pace the only thing I could do was swim.
On Friday I went for an 8km run and 4km in I had to stop, my body was in a mess. I was hurting and cramping all over, stiffness from the plane journey I reckon. I sat on the ground thinking this was too much after all, 24 hours travel and 9 hours’ time difference just 7 days before the biggest race on the Ironman 70.3 circuit. I stretched on the footpath for about half an hour thinking what will I do next; I needed to get this doubt out of my head. I got up and ran back to camper as fast as I could, trying to blow off the cobwebs, I didn’t look at the watch I just ran. Marianne asked how it went and I gave my usual response “great”. We met up with some of the Irish gang at the parade of nations and the welcome banquet. Mooloolaba for those 5 days was the most intimidating place I have ever been, every single person looked like a pro. If you weren’t head to toe in sponsors or dressed in your national tracksuit, you must be no one. Meeting with the Irish gang really quenched that intimidation for me, for the first time since we arrived we weren’t alone (me and Marianne). We had great craic and as small as we were in number we made a lot of noise.
Race morning arrived and I can’t say I was nervous, I was anxious. I wanted to know how the day would pan out for me, what was to happen next in this story, hoping it would have a happy ending. My biggest fear was a mechanical or puncture on the bike I’d hate not to finished. I slept soundly and woke just 30 minutes before my alarm would go off at 5am. I lay in bed reviewing some of my training sessions on training peaks, reading over some of the instructions from Martin and browsing Facebook liking all the well wishes people had sent me. I rose before the alarm and couldn’t wait to eat. I had a bowl of porridge and honey mixed with a banana, drank my daily vitamin drink, got into my custom Castelli Tri suit from ROCA Sports and headed to transition, it was beautiful. I listen to some music at this stage and also have a few motivational speeches playing in the background that get me thinking and set for the race. The sun was just rising over Mooloolaba as I was getting ready. I pumped my wheels, put on my saddle bag and loaded up all my nutrition. When I got back to the camper Marianne was awake, out of bed, even dressed ready to go. The shock of this rare occurrence on race morning was a bit much too handle but without a word spoken I knew she understood the importance of being on time this once. We headed to the beach where the Pro’s were just starting there warm up, the crowd was electric. Once the Pro’s had completed a warm up they were sent back up the beach for their individual introduction to the crowd and a short run down a man-made tunnel to the water.
I got on my new Blueseventy Helix from The Edge Sports Cork, a good luck kiss and hug from Marianne and made my way to the holding pen. As soon as we got called I made my way to the front of the line. We had a 5 minute wait on the beach before we could make our way out 100m to the deep water swim start. I stood on the beach thinking this is it, it’s here, do you want to be anywhere else? Do you want to do anything else today? The answer was a resounding no! I was happy to be there and complete the distance in a race against the best in the world. The race to the swim start was manic everyone wanted to be at the front. I picked my point at the far off buoy. I stuck to that position holding the buoy so nobody could get on my inside and I’d have clear water to my left at least. The klaxon went off and it was a washing machine. I went out hard for 200m and I had clear water ahead. I pulled up slightly waited to be passed and got on the first set of toes that passed. The plan was to draft the swim and reserve energy. The toes were fast and kept a high pace. I did a bit of sightseeing and noticed this guy was going way right. There was another group to my left so I pulled over to them. Bad move. The guy must have known something the rest of us didn’t; he pulled further and further way and rounded the first buoy with a clear lead. Turns out he was a local Aussie. As we turned the first buoy we collided with some of the earlier waves and it got messy. The group broke up; I pulled right to get some clear water but with the mass of people around it was very hard to tell where I was going and what point in the swim I was at. I stuck to my stroke and held my rhythm, I turned the last buoy 250m from shore and picked up my kick to get the blood flowing and make the transition to the bike a little easier. I exited the water with no idea of time but happy enough I was in the top end of the field. 24min.
Transition was incredibly long. The Pro’s had to exit the water go right and run 700m up a carpet to T1. The age groupers had to go left around bag collection, into a changing area and then off to collect the bike. It went smooth for me but was so long and congested, the small gains you work so hard for in each individual discipline (swim, bike, run) are not reflected overall when you add in a long T1 and T2. Marianne was waiting at my bike and gave me a cheer. From this point on nobody knows where Marianne went but she wasn’t seen until I crossed the finish line narrowly missing me several times (apparently). All the shops along the esplanade were quite during the race, I have my suspicions haha J.
The bike started with a kicker of about a 1km climb out of transition that we would later run up 4 times. For some reason my Garmin wouldn’t pick up my power meter of HR monitor. It worked in transition that morning when I tested it but nothing; I even tried turning it off and on. I didn’t panic because at this stage I know it all by feel and could cycle my power and cadence blind folded. After the hill we turned onto a motorway with the wind for roughly 20km out and into a slight headwind for 20km back. I went through 40km in 56min. My last session with Martin was a 40km TT in and out the Cork road with Martin on the scooter radioing instructions to me. I went 56min here also and was cycling within myself so I knew I was going well and on target. From there we turned into the “hinterland”. This is where it got hard, rolling hills for the next 10km and then an 18% climb. Anyone in the wrong gear at the foot of the climb had to turn back down, chains were broken and people literally fell off their bike slipping out of the pedals. The rest of the 40km went only moderate for me; it was rolling drags and hairy descents. My average speed was dropping I was just aiming to hold pace for the rest of the spin. Unfortunately I’m not long enough at the sport to be strong through the full bike. My back gets sore and I get increasingly uncomfortable but it’s not the position, it’s a weakness in my core that once corrected should make me both stronger on the bike and comfortable for the run. Rolling into T2 I was happy with a PB of 2:20.
This time around we had the 700m the Pro’s had but rather than having everything just next to our bike we had to trek into another bag collection area and then down the steps and into a changing area. I moved through the process well and got everything together with no issues. I exited transition with good legs and ready to run into a decent time overall. I felt like if everything went to plan I would run 1:18 and if it didn’t 1:24. My total time for T1&2 was over 8min.
I had great confidence in my run from Dublin 70.3 and the new heart rate zone training I had done with Martin. In Dublin I ran low zone 3 for almost the entire run and produced a 1:20 half marathon of the bike without burying myself. Today I was going to bury myself but it wouldn’t be until 16km. From there on I was leaving everything on the course. The run was made up of 2 x 10.5km laps with 4 hard long climbs in and out of Mooloolaba. I really controlled the first climb and enjoyed the mass of people and atmosphere and just settled into it. I felt I was running fast as I was passing lots of people but my heart rate was solid in zone 3, I even passed a pro or two that were out on their second lap, I was moving well. The kilometres ticked off and through 5km in 18min comfortable. I passed the 16km marker and said to myself next time I see you I’m turning on the after burners. That was my rule, wait until 16km and remain in control. I had trained enough to run a good time in zone 3. I would make more time in the last 5km if I had something left. Thankfully I stuck to my rule because after heading back to Mooloolaba and cresting the climb twice in short succession I was slowly heating up and when I passed the 16km marker the next time (actually after completing 16km) I could barely see it. The heat took over. I was increasingly uncomfortable and my heart rate was starting to shoot, I was fighting to hold pace. I did as I said I would and even while suffering I tried to push on when I hit 16km. I wasn’t actually pushing on pace wise but if I mentally didn’t make the move I would have gone nowhere fast. At 18km I had the last of my 6 gels with a glass of flat(ish) coke and water and prepared for the final climb. I dropped my hands, shortened my stride and thought of the hill repeats on witches lane with the Focus On Fitness gang and got to the top. I let me legs run loose and ran all the way to the line to finish in a time of 4hrs 14minutes with a 1:21 run.
When I crossed the line Marianne appeared like a mirage. A medal was put around my neck and I was given a towel, all the time being slowly pushed down the finish shoot, Marianne walking at the same pace on the opposite side of the fence. I went deep and I was suffering. I looked at Marianne and she said “well done, you did great” but she knew I wasn’t 100% happy. Yes I was content but not happy. I slowly made my way out of all the Ironman recovery and post-race stuff without stopping and made it face to face with Marianne. I wanted to know where I finished as I had no idea throughout the race. I finished 16th (40th amateur of 3000 competitors overall), my response was “that’s ok”. We didn’t speak much on the way back to the camper; I was in pain and tired. I lay down for a couple of minutes, I then got up and went to the shower and just stayed under the water. I remember this time vividly more so then any part of the race because it’s where the next two years of my life were planned. I got back to the camper and said to Marianne “I’m going to stand on the podium in two years’ time and finish in the top 10 in Tennessee next year”. I didn’t dance or celebrate down the finish line like I had done in my head during training many times for some reason and that was why it. I have so much more improvement yet to make. That was only my 4th time completing the distance, I feel like I’m only scratching the surface. Breaking 4 hours is a possibility for me.
I have a lot of people to thank but I would firstly like to start with my Marianne. It’s not an easy game to be involved in and especially when Marianne thinks I should be happy but I’m not and I decide to commit more and make more sacrifices that inevitably affect us both. Thank you. Next, coach Martin Kirwan for the huge sacrifices you make with your time and the excellent personalised training I get. A lot of people lean on you and somehow you’re still standing and producing some fantastic results across a number of spectrums with a great approach to training. The companies that helped me out this year: ROCA SPORTS, The Edge Sports Cork, Spokes Cycles Waterford, Kuota UK, Waterford Triathlon Club, SUIR Engineering and Kingfisher Waterford my base for training and Swim Fast Coaching. All of your help is extremely valuable to me in helping achieve my goals. Thank you and I hope we can continue to work together for both the 2017 & 2018 season to step on a world podium…. After that who knows. Last but not least thank you to everyone who took the time to read this report and everyone who sent me great messages of support over the last couple of weeks, it is much appreciated and genuinely helps me to produce more from myself.