I arrived in Frankfurt on Friday evening the 5th of July with my wife Gill and my daughter Sophie after driving from Cork. My plan was to register on Friday evening have a look around the Expo for a while, leaving Saturday to go for a small spin in the morning before heading to transition early and being back in my hotel to relax for the afternoon and evening. What is it they say about the best laid plans? Well I missed registration Friday evening, the expo was closed and Sophie did not want to be hanging around! Slight change of plan, register on Saturday morning, have a quick look at the expo and drive to transition all in time to be in the hotel by mid afternoon.
Saturday 6th July 2012 (day before the race)
Registration completed and off to the Expo, temperature was in or around 30˚C and sunny! Had a wander around and managed to spend €15 on a pair of sock for the race that ‘massage your feet as you run’ (they didn’t!), pictures with some pro’s and x-pros such as Faris Al-Sultan, the 2005 Ironman World Champion, and Norman Stadler, 2004 Ironman World Champion.
Then off we (my college friend, Peter Murtagh, was also racing and returned a super 10:05 with a back wheel falling off on the bike!) went to transition and it seemed to get hotter the closer we got and peaked at 35˚C! I was convinced that it would be a non-wetsuit swim and I would then melt on the bike! Transition was an experience and made me feel like a pro, somebody took my bike and escorted me to my bike rack and assisted me with all my set-up and gave some great advice to deflate my wheels as the heat could make them pop.
Once the bike was racked and all my bits were set up Peter and I had a wander around and I almost ended up on a nudist beach, that’s a different story for a different day. We headed back to the hotel to chill out for the evening before the longest day of my life!
Sunday 7th July (Race day)
4am my alarm went off, not that I needed an alarm as sleep was very hard to come by with the mixture of nerves and excitement. I headed down stairs with my quick oats (thanks to Gill for remembering) for a hearty breakfast of porridge and any other carbs that I could stomach. After breakfast I went back to my room to get the best wishes from Gill and Sophie (Sophie was just 1 so it was not an option to bring her to the swim start as it was much too early).
We arrived at transition and the buzz was fantastic, weather looked good, not as sunny as the past 2 days but not too bad. I went to my bike and made all the final checks and pumped up my tyres, although the track pump I used was not great and I didn’t manage to get the pressure as high as I wanted (more on this later!). With the race start fast approaching and my nerves/excitement/emotions coming closer to the surface it was time to hand over my transition bag and head to the water. The support from all the marshals and early morning crowd was super but difficult to appreciate knowing what lay ahead.
In the water and the warm up is finished, the announcement that we are 30 secs from the start, I’m feeling nervous but confident as I know I’ve put the work in and taken the advice of my coach (Steve Davis www.fluidfit.ie). I had positioned myself where I wanted in the swim to try and avoid as much of the ‘washing machine’ as possible, to the side and near the back half. However, when I looked over my shoulder to the shoreline I noticed I had made a bit of a mistake! I was actually positioned at the side but closer to the front! Too late to change now just get on with it! The hooter went and so did I, the swim was a 2 lap course with a small beach run between laps. The first section of the first lap was extremely difficult and I have to admit I swam with my fist’s clinched and times to get some clear water (if you can’t beat them join them). After lap 1 of the swim I really thought that I was after a slower than expected time due to the crowds but I was pleasantly surprised to see my watch reading 40mins. So it was confidence up and into lap 2 and kick on! I finished the swim in 1:16! Thanks in no small part to super swim coach Francais Buckley!
Into T1 and get the head focused on the bike. That’s when I noticed that it had started to rain! Decision time, I had included a jersey and a pair of arm warmers in my T1 bag just in case the weather was cold. Forget the jersey and arm warmers it’s only light rain and the last few days have been in the thirty’s I won’t need them. Wetsuit off, bike in hand helmet on sunglasses and off we went for 180km. Coming out of T1 I got a feel for what the support was going to be like with shouts of support from the entire crowd, especially the Irish supporting. Just as I reached the first fast straight section of road the heavens opened and I wished I had put on my jersey and arm warmers, too late now!
The bike course was 2 laps on a rolling course. The rain was relentless for the first lap and there were lots of crashes, mainly due to tyre pressure being too high for the conditions (I was thankful that mine were not as high as I wanted or could also be on my ass). My focus on the bike was to keep my cadence and heart rate as steady as possible when I wasn’t going up hill. There are 8 climbs in total on the course and this is where most of the support was, even in the rain the course was lined. One of the climbs is up cobbles and is nicknamed ‘the nut cracker’ (I’ll leave you decide why, I have my own opinion). Climbing on wet cobbles is no fun as traction is very difficult and sometimes it feels like you’re not moving. As the second lap approached the sun started to break through and things started to look up. The second lap was tougher than the first because when the rain went away the wind arrived! The final 25-30km of the bike was into the wind and also had the toughest climb of the course. The support on the climb was amazing, it was like the tour de France. People 3 or 4 deep cheering you on and the gap of people to ride through got smaller the closer you got to the top and the shouts of ‘allez, allez’ and ‘up, up, up’ got louder! Having made it to the top of the climb it was decision time, push on for my target of sub 6 hours on the bike or ease off a little and save some for the run? That’s when I though of some advice from my training partner Paul Walshe (Paul had raced IM Austria the week prior to me) ‘do what you should, not what you could’ – great advice Paul. So I ended up finishing up the bike in 6:06, still close enough to my target.
Into T2 and feeling like a pro continues as a marshal takes my bike at the entrance to transition. Found my run bag and into the tent to change my shoes (and put on my €15 socks). My German helper didn’t get my joke either – when she’s asked if I had everything I asked if she had seen my legs, to which she replied ‘no, but I’ll go look’ think it must be the language barrier. So it’s marathon time, 4 laps of a 10km and a bit course. The plan this time as discussed with coach Steve is, if you feel good push because you won’t feel good too often! The first push started as soon as I left T2 and yet again the crowds were fantastic, the run route was lined 4 deep with spectators for the majority of the course. Lap 1 went to plan, and so did the start of lap 2 and then my stomach started to grumble….all the gels and drinks seemed to be taking their toll on my stomach and a trip to the loo was called for. I had used all my nutrition as part of my training so I didn’t expect this to happen. Laps 3 and 4 I had the same problems and I had to break the golden rule of not trying anything new on race day, so instead of gels and iso drinks it was bits of banana and flat coke (this did the trick). Onto the last lap and I was struggling, the demons in my ear telling me I wouldn’t finish, telling me I couldn’t finish. That’s when the crowd came into play especially the group of lads from Nass tri club that saw me struggling (walking) and really got behind me to get that extra bit of energy to push on to the finish and hopefully make it under 12hours. As I crossed the final bridge for the final time it looked like I was going to make my target of sub 12hours (baring disaster). At this point I could relax a bit more but not too much and start to enjoy the experience again. As I passed through the marshals handing out the wrist bands for the last time it felt like I could keep going for another lap! Finally I was going to run up the finish chute that I had passed at the start of every lap and finally get to see Gill and Sophie. When I started onto the finish chute I was greeted with cheers from Gill and waves from Sophie, I stopped for a kiss and to run up the finish chute with Sophie in my arms. Unfortunately, a race referee told me because Sophie could not walk she could not come with me. So after 11hours 55mins and 18 secs I was finally an IRONMAN!!!! Now the decision, to get a tattoo or not?
Finally, I am the Ironman but it would not have been possible without the help and support of the following people; coach Steve – when I met Steve it was taking me almost 11 hours to complete a sprint triathlon! I’m proof that his programs work, check him out at www.fluidfit.ie Francis Buckley swim coach – all those seemingly crazy drills have paid off, I was a very poor swimmer and between Steve and Francis I have, and continue, to improve. My training partners, Paul, John, and Aengus – it was always a pleasure to head east on the long rides, and Paul heading to Dungarvan at stupid o’ clock and making me ride 6km further than you! To all my friends and family for your ongoing support and understanding. Finally and most importantly to Gill and Sophie thank you for giving me the support and strength to achieve my goal of becoming an Ironman. When I went to the dark places during the marathon it was thinking of you waiting at the finish line that got me there! I love you both so much and can’t wait to cheer Gill across the line if she ever chooses to complete a marathon!