No, I’m not mad actually, I was remarkably calm in the weeks leading up to Ironman 70.3 Dublin, unusually so. I’m normally uptight for even the smallest or most insignificant of races so this was far from normal.
A 70.3 race is one of the ‘big ones’ despite being commonly known as a middle distance race, there really is only one step up and thats a full Ironman – or full distance to be precise, given the fact that Ironman is actually a brand, a trade mark and close to being a billion dollar company. I had completed a couple of Olympic triathlons to date, the next logical step was to move up to the next level.
70.3 refers to the distance – 1.2mile (1.9km) swim; 56mile (90km) bike ride; 13.1mile (21.1km) run. Each individual distance is not a massive step on its own for anyone who exercises on a reasonably regular basis, but the unknown is when you string them together and how your body reacts to the efforts. Strength, nutrition and mental ability are all tested and how you handle these is then reflected in your success or lack of it.
When Ironman rolls into town, you can’t help but notice it. The race pretty much comes from mainland Europe on the back of two branded 40ft trucks, with support vehicles following behind. Retail, communications, branding, equipment, inflatables and staff all shipped in as the IM juggernaut sets up.
Friday – 48hrs to race day
70.3 Dublin was a split race, meaning the transition from swim to bike (T1) and the transition from bike to run (T2) were in different sites. We were swimming in Dun Laoghaire, hopping on the bike to pedal through Dublin on to Meath & Kildare and back to drop the bikes in the Phoenix Park before pulling on the runners for a half marathon through Europe’s largest city park.
From an athletes perspective, other than the obvious training, our race preparation starts a couple of days before the start. I had to register, get my numbers, attend the race briefing and drop my run gear in a particular red bag for collection after I managed to safely negotiate the bike course. Given that Ironman is a large US corporation, there was an inevitable exit through the gift shop for tshirts and trinkets bearing the famous ‘M dot’ logo emblazoned on anything a triathlete could be interested in.
So I had my number – 911 – apt given my boy band like good looks or apt given thats the number someone could call to summon an ambulance for me if they fund me in a hedge somewhere on the bike course! But off I toddled to the race briefing. Here we were given the most pertinent of race information. Most briefings are the same, if you’re a weak swimmer, stay to the back. This is the bike course and here are the dangers. The run course takes X amount of laps, don’t forget to smile as you cross the finish line, that kind of stuff. But you could feel the tension was building, a show of hands for Ironmen first timers revealed a sizeable majority of the attendees were novices, that was reassuring.
Given the ‘split transition’ set up for the race, now was the time to switch on the mind to race day activities. Each competitor was given 3 different colour plastic transition bags – the red bag was for T2 – Bike to Run. I had to prepare what I would need for the run; 2 days in advance; without a clue what was ahead of me…
Start from the bottom & work your way up Killian. Runners, socks, I’d have socks on from the bike, but what if it was raining? OK, pack spare socks. Energy bars, energy gels, water? No, there’ll be water on the course. Shorts, I’ll be wearing shorts already. Jersey, run in my bike jersey, but what if its cold? OK, pack long sleeves too. Hat, glasses, sweat towel, spare contact lenses, just in case.
A little nervous, I knew it was all there, but once I hang it up, its gone. I can’t get back at it. I saw others taking photos of their bags and the contents. “Surely no one will steal anything will they? No, it’s to reassure the mind apparently. Take a photo and when you start panicking later you can look at it to reassure yourself that it I s all there” Job done. Photo taken, bag hung on hook 911. We’re up & running.
Into the gift shop to see if I want anything. I want everything, “but its so expensive. Doesn’t matter, you may only do one of these races, buy what you want” Bags, t-shirts, jerseys, cowbells for the kids, hoodie, Christmas decoration – I am the exact sucker they want in the shop!
Home, collect kids, feed kids, start to get the mind into place. There are a lot of ‘last times’ creeping up – last time I can buy stuff for the bike, last time I can try on my wetsuit, last time I can check my runners – damn, the runners are already gone. Things are getting very real now. Two tyre change practise runs – it takes me about 5mins. I try the gas canisters that I had bought in France – they replace the need to carry a pump. Wow, they go freezing cold right in your hand & I dropped it – thats why I did the practise, I can’t make that mistake on the road.
Bed early, tonights the night to sleep because I’ll get nothing the night before the race. Plan worked. 9 straight hours. Saturday dawns.
Saturday – 24hrs to race day.
I’d arranged to meet some friends (and fellow competitors) for a practise swim on the course, put the bikes into transition and go for a coffee to relax the nerves.
Drive to Dun Laoghaire, plenty of parking because I’m early as usual. I don’t mind, I like to walk around and take in the atmosphere, look at other (presumably more experienced) athletes and just get into the ‘zone’. I find my spot in transition, the lads in Wheelworks give the bike a once over to tighten cables, clean & oil and pump the tyres – 20 quid well spent. (Rob from Wheelworx later tweeted that there were trollies in the canal in better shape than some of the bikes he saw, I wonder was he thinking of my trusty steed?)
The same panic happens over my blue T1 bike bag – “Bike shoes, helmet, warm top (if required) glasses, sweat towel, socks, gels, bars & spare contact lenses. There, all done, photo taken, hang it on the rack and leave it alone. You’ve checked it a million times, stop getting so worked up”.
I see some people from Belpark Triathlon Club – my club. I recognise the tops but not the faces, I want to go say hello but they don’t know who I am and I begin to feel as if I probably don’t belong there. But I quickly snap out of it. I trained, late nights and early mornings, social outings curtailed and family time missed. I deserve to be there as much as anyone else. You’re going to do fine.
Home, time to stop flaffing about and just get on with things, the more I mope around the more nervous I would get. But I still wasn’t nervous, it was a very strange feeling. I think the lack of nerves was down to two factors. Firstly, I had zero pressure or expectations. In previous races I had set ambitious targets and struggled to achieve them. For Ironman 70.3, I just wanted to finish – I had targets for each of the individual disciplines in my mind (and on this blog!) but the only thing I had to do was finish.
Secondly, I had trained and I had trained well. Earlier in the year I had made contact with Danny Roe from Performance Science Ireland. He had come recommended as a decent guy who took a very methodical and intricate method to training. I liked that, I knew what I had to do, when I had to do it and how I should feel afterwards. Within the 1st month with Danny, I had a 5k PB. Thats good enough for me. I had earned the right to be on the Ironman start line, there was no reason to be nervous – it wasn’t all about the day, it was about the whole 7month journey.
Race day – 4am – 3hrs to the start.
Surprisingly, I slept well. No frequent waking, I felt good. I ate the same breakfast as I always do. Porridge, half a bagel, OJ, double espresso. It worked so far, why break a routine that isn’t broken. I had decided to drive to Dun laoghaire as I didn’t want to rely on a taxi. I don’t care how many there are nowadays, it would be my luck that there would be none available. Into Maureen’s car that was first in the driveway and off I go. Stop, back to the house. One last trip to the toilet, OK, maybe I’m getting nervous now.
5:30am – 90mins to the start.
Get changed, off with the day clothes and into the tri suit & wetsuit. stuff the clothes into the white bag and bring it to the truck for transportation to the finish. Shite, everyone has their timing chip on, wheres mine? Its in the car, my car, which is at home. Shit, Shit, Shit. This is not what I wanted. Find a Triathlon Ireland official, he looks at me with a stare that immediately says I’m an idiot, “I know, I’m very sorry, but lets forget that right now and get me another timing chip”
Into the tent, there’s a line of other idiots just like me. I immediately feel better. Excellent German Timex efficiency sorts me out within 5 minutes. Panic over, but Killian, you’re still an idiot.
6:20am – 45mins to the start.
Off we file, many of us looking like wetsuit clad prisoners making their way to the gallows. Some people are having a laugh with friends and family – “stick close to them, better to be surrounded with laughter than be a bag of nerves staring at my feet”
6:50am – Pro men into the water
Too late to turn back, 20 minutes until my turn. I meet Karl Henry, the Operation Transformation fitness expert, its good to see a friendly smile and a genuine ‘Good Luck‘, its also comforting to see that he looks nervous too.
7:08 – Nearly our turn to swim
The group ahead of us are in & away, it looks like the current is pulling them right, OK. “Stay back, stay to the side, remember to take it slowly and be calm. Stay out of trouble”
7:10 – We’re off
Everyone looks like they’re walking to the gallows now – the support from the crowd is fantastic, cheering clapping & calling names. There is Olwyn Dunne – Race Director for Cabinteely Parkrun, she is a regular poster on boards and a pacer in my first marathon. Olwyn is full of infectious enthusiasm, clapping, waving & calling names. I get a big hug on my way down the slipway into the water and it’s the best thing ever & calms me down a bit. The people outside the barriers really want us to do well.
Target for the swim – 45minutes.
Into the washing machine and I immediately feel the breath knocked out of me with the cold. I’m finding it hard to breathe and I begin to panic a little. I try to concentrate on my stroke but I’m getting hit & kicked by other swimmers all around me. “It wasn’t meant to be this tough”. 300meters in and things calm down but I’m still having difficulty breathing. I stop. While treading water I notice there are lots around me doing the same, thats reassuring. I see the first orange buoy, thats at 1000m and is the first turn. “Keep going, slow down, concentrate on the stroke”
The waves come in from the right & I’m swallowing water. I begin to feel sick and remember a blog where the writer puked and immediately gave up. There was a rescue canoe just to my right, I could stop now, call rescue and it would all be over.
But there were still loads of green hats around me so I wasn’t alone or even last. “Stop being an idiot, get to the turn and see how you feel”. I change my stroke from breathing every 3 to every 2 strokes, no more swallowing water. Check the watch, things are going OK actually. “Come on Killian, you’ve done this loads of times before, its only 1900 meters and you’ve done nearly half of that”
Around the turn, feeling ok actually. I have 70mins to do this so I’ll definitely finish. No question – who cares about targets, lets go swimming. I’m beginning to pass some people out. Sorry lads, but its a great feeling. I’m stronger that you and I’m getting closer to the ramp. Still on time and actually pretty much on target too. I get to the ramp & I’m immediately hauled out by some strong volunteers, thanks folks, you are literally lifesavers.
Up the steps & work on getting the wetsuit off. Theres Maureen & the kids, I make some joke about being late home and immediately regret it, just get on with things and stop messing. It was great to see them though and an immediate pick up. I know now that I’m going to finish, no question about it. The biggest unknown with the most opportunity to go wrong is over. There’s my Mum, I didn’t expect to see her. Other people are calling my name out too – this is great, the support is great.
Swim done in 47minutes
Transition 1 – Standard stuff. Take your time dry off, socks, bike shoes, number, helmet and the rest. No need for long sleeves. I’ll dry off. Run around, grab the bike and off we go. Remember to press the watch. Try to keep on target. Theres Maureen & the kids again, they had run across the green and to the side of the road. High fives and we’re off with cheers ringing in my ears.
Bike – target 3hrs. Avg speed required 30kmph
Ah man, there’s a headwind, I hadn’t planned on that. Bike feels good, its a mad scramble at the start and the roads in Dun Laoghaire aren’t the best. “Keep peddling, how fast was I going when I was training, try to stick to that”. The average is low though, through Blackrock and down to Merrion and I’m only averaging 27kmph. My ‘I may be late‘ joke to Maureen earlier might just come true.
Through Ringsend, cycle the wrong way up the North Quays and the wind is still straight in my face. The average is up though, 28.5kmph. Just keep things rolling along, always aiming for 30 or above on the clock.
Up beside the Phoenix Park and there was a hill! – I thought there was no hills untill 88km? “Maybe I should have cycled the course before the race. Next time maybe”. I keep trucking along and now its beginning to rain. Things will get slippy, maybe I should slow up. No way, If I fall, I fall, a couple of people had already gone overand I could see grazed knees and shoulders passing me by. “Why are they passing me? I thought I was going fast but some of these guys looked like they were out for a Sunday easy spin. Forget them, I need to do 30, thats my target”. Avg getting better at 28.9kmph
The bike course is beginning to get a bit boring. If I take time to look around and take in whats passing me by, I slow down. If I keep the head down and concentrate on the speedo I might miss something on the road. I need to get the head right and figure out whats going on.
The first ‘aid station’ coming up. Powerade, bananas, bars, water all available here. You need to eat, half the difficulty in this race is working on not running out of energy and avoid hitting the wall. I’ve hit the wall in the marathon and its not fun. I’m not doing it here. I grab two Powerade bottles and stow them away, I dump my empty. No littering. Instant disqualification if I drop rubbish outside of designated areas. I think I’m ok though.
The mind is starting to wander again and the wind is still in my face. “The road is dry, wasn’t it wet a minute ago? What will I have to eat after the race? I’m looking forward to going to Beeftro, its a favourite restaurant. Nice bike mate, maybe if I had one of those I’d be passing me too”. 24kmph, shit, stop wandering and concentrate. The average is still creeping up though, hitting 29kmph.
Through Maynooth University, “I went to college here for a while, not long enough to get a degree anyway. I wonder if I could do the leaving again & go to college? Probably.” Theres an ambulance attending to a fallen cyclist, thats not good, I don’t like that. I have never fallen off my bike at speed and I can’t imagine what its like. I hope they’re OK.
50, 60, 70 kilometres pass and I’m nearly on track, averaging just over 29.5 and I’m happy to have caught up to there. At least the kids won’t have to hang around too much longer than I had promised.
Into the Strawberry Beds. Speed ramps, lots and lots of speed ramps. Finally, the wind seems to be either gone or moved to my back and the bike is trucking along at about 32kmph. “Here we are, The Anglers Rest pub. Here is the hill everyone is talking about. I really should have cycled the course beforehand. Next time.”
Some people are walking and I see one lad carrying his bike over his shoulder and his shoes in his hand – “whats that all about? Broken chain, he’s going to run the last bit with his bike on his back. Fair play”. Straight into first gear, the beer garden in the pub is full and the patrons raise their glass to us, the smell of beer & BBQ is lovely. Thanks folks. Unfortunately I’m not having as much fun as you are.
Thighs burning, legs moving so slowly I fear I may actually topple over. When teaching the kids to cycle I always said to keep the legs moving and you won’t fall over. Time to take my own advice. “Keep going to the lights, the hill ends there” someone shouts. ‘OK, Thanks”. The support is great. Theres a team of lads in green cycling jerseys at the top of the hill, shouting encouragement. “Thanks” I call, “You’re Welcome” he calls back. The banter has been like that all day. I tried to remember wherever possible to say Thank You to the volunteers. They’re giving up their day so I can race. I hope that saying thanks at least shows I am very greatful. Keep going, past the lights & into the park. The bike is nearly over. Legs burning, need to slow down.
Lots of people around, massive encouragement, I start to get a bit emotional, everyone is calling out to support us. Can I see Maureen & the Kids? No, they’re probably still at the Zoo. “Why did I say that I’d be late? Idiot”.
Into transition 2, the crowds are 3 and 4 deep on the way in and it reminds me of the 2014 Dublin Marathon. Dublin & Ireland do these kind of events really well both on the management side of things and the support. The noise from the crowd is really great. Kids shouting for Mums, Dads, Brothers & Sisters. Flags, drawings and loads of hand made signs of encouragement. Everyone supporting everyone else. I’ve been out for just over 4 hours now and I’m very aware that the leaders are just finishing. I can see streams of people out on the run ahead of me and transition is about half full, it’s comforting to see that there are vast swathes of space waiting for bikes to arrive though. I might be slow, I might have a long way to go but I’m not last. That’s very encouraging. I begin to get a sense of how big a task I’ve taken on – I’m wrecked now, my thighs are burning, screaming in pain from the last few km’s. I can feel the salt forming on my brow from dried sweat and I still have to run a half marathon!
Bike finished in 3:05, Avg 29kmph
I sit down in transition and take my time. I know I’ve about 4hrs 30 before the course closes and I could crawl the 21k and still finish. I relax a lot, this is the time to start enjoying things. the Phoenix Park is a great place to run, the Dublin Race Series is held here as are many other races. It was the place I ran my first ever 5k just 3 years ago. Today we had 3 x 7k loops to complete. I like that, it makes things easy to count down and it is easy to track your progress when the mind is getting a bit confused.
A quick bathroom break before I head out and I know that’s a good thing, I can’t be dehydrated if I’m going for a pee. Still no sign of of Maureen & the kids. Wait, there they are about 100meters outside of transition. there’s Dee too, an old work colleague. Dee is a mountain runner, ski instructor, ultra athlete and all round super fit person. It’s great to see everyone and it gives me another lift, I had a spare energy bar in my tri suit and all I can think about at that moment is that it is going to get very squished if I hold on to it so I throw it on the ground, then I realise that the kids are going to eat it. They’ll be bouncing off the walls for the next few hours and Maureen has to mind them, sorry!
Legs still burning but the first couple of km’s tick off quite well but I know I can’t keep this pace up. The plan was to run slow at 6:15min/km. I missed a couple of weeks running with a slight hamstring tear and I just didn’t get the miles into the legs. I decide to work on a walk/run strategy to ensure I keep trying my best. Run for a couple of hundred meters, walk, wait till the average pace gets close to 6:45min/km and then pick up the pace again. Always walk through the aid stations and take on 2 cups of water at a time.
“Keep moving forward, that’s the main thing. Never give up. I don’t want the kids to see me not finish after all this work. One foot in front of the other”. I see runners all around me, some walking, some stopped & stretching and some sprinting past like they’ve only just started. With a three lap run we need to collect little coloured bands to show that we completed the laps as required. I started playing a game with myself by trying to judge how I felt and looked compared to other athletes around me. Anything to keep the mind off the task in hand! He’s got two wristbands, look at his head bobbing around, I’m catching him, that’s good, I’m strong.
Where is Maureen? It was a great distraction looking at the crowds trying to spot people I knew. I couldn’t be walking when I met someone people, so that was a big incentive to keep moving. “Keep moving forward, you’re sure to finish if you just keep moving forward”. At about 6k there was an ‘out and back’ run of about 300m, sharp turn around a cone in the road and then you double back. Thick with people, this was something to look forward to. We have our names printed on our race numbers so people left and right were shouting encouragement, calling me by name and urging me to keep going. You couldn’t stop to walk here, the crowd just wouldn’t let you.
There was Maureen, behind the barrier at the end of this runners gauntlet. Damn, she had the camera. “Try to look reasonably comfortable. Shoulders back, tummy in, lift the legs. Look strong”. I stopped briefly, a quick kiss, words of encouragement and off on lap 2 . I knew what was ahead now, I looked forward to getting my second lap band. Just 14k left, sure that’s only a training run. “Legs so so tired”.
I’m thirsty and I can feel the sweat crusting on my forehead. I need to drink more. “Take some cola at the next aid station, caffeine and sugar in one hit, that’ll sort things out. Instant energy”. I look better than that guy in the red top though, he’s got one band so we’re about the same time. That’s good. Two cups of cola and I feel sick within 20meters. Too much too quick. There’s the corner, after that I collect another band and just 7k left.
Down to the gauntlet again and I can’t walk here, too many people shouting my name, I can’t let them or me down. Do they know me or are they reading it off my number. I adjust my race belt just in case some people can’t read it. I try to look the crowd directly in the eye to get encouragement and they return it in spades. ‘Come on Killian, you can do it’, ‘You’re looking strong, keep going’, ‘You’re nearly there”, “No I’m not” I respond, That gets a few laughs, good, I’m still coherent.
I was nearly there, over 100 kilometres of racing done and just one lap to go. There’s Maureen, “I’ll be back in an hour” I say as I head off again. But I wasn’t thinking straight, I was calculating in miles not kilometres, I had less than 50 minutes if I kept up the pace, “Good stuff”. Just 3 more aid stations to go Just one more lap band and I wouldn’t be turning back, I’d be heading straight through to the finish. 5k left, 4k left , 3k, there’s the last aid station. Collect the red band and it’s nearly all over. I hope Maureen has moved over the road, I’m not going to pass by that place again.
There she was, good stuff, right at the corner and saving the biggest shout for last, everyone joins in and I feel as if I’m the only athlete on the course. Turn the corner, there’s the finish about 500m away. Running the gauntlet one last time, shouts, cheers signs and flags. I feel like I’m in a bubble. Nearly there. There are two volunteers at the cone making sure runners turn safely. “Not me ladies, look, I’ve got three lap bands, red, green and blue. I’ll go straight on here if you don’t mind.”
There it was in front of me, the famous Ironman red carpet. No pain, not on the outside anyway, it all goes away as you enter the last few meters. There is Paul Kayman, the Ironman announcer with a microphone calling our names as we finish. Remember to smile, don’t look down to stop the watch, remember the photograph, I can’t mess that one up. Not thinking in kilometres any more, just meters. 20, 15, 10 meters to go. 6hrs 29minutes.
Arms up, big smile, through the finish. I’ve done it. I’m an Ironman.
Garmin race data HERE