Ironman – A Year in the making!
I started running in 2009 with the intention of getting fit, faster and maybe
completing a Marathon or two in the future. Honestly at that stage I had no idea that by 2017 I would complete 8 individual marathons, start doing Triathlon’s and complete an Ironman distance event.
My Ironman journey started in 2016 when my Wife entered me into the Half Ironman in Dublin. For those that do not know, the half Ironman is a 1.9K swim, 90K bike and a 21K run. I remember having sleepless nights even in January worrying about the swim distance. I knew I would be fine on dry land but I had only learned to swim in 2015 when I took up Triathlon. Every swim at that point filled me with dread. Even training swims worried me. I worked hard at it and lined up with everyone else in Dublin August 2016 to complete my very first Ironman 70.3. Instantly I fell in love with the concept of Ironman. These guys really know how to put on an event. I completed the event 15 minutes.
I had entered the full distance event for Barcelona 2017. The full distance is exactly double the IM 70.3. It’s a 3.8K swim, 180K bike and a full marathon at the end. There was a bunch of us entered from Cork, some from my own club South Coast Triathlon Club, a number from Midleton CTC and a number of friends in Cork Tri Club. Some of the guys were completing their second or third Ironman. We started training immediately in October 2016.
I read all round about Ironman race plans and came up with a plan that would involve three runs, three bikes and three swims every week. The runs would be intervals, tempo and a long run at the weekend. The bike would involve some turbo sessions during the week with a long bike at the weekend. The swims followed Don Finks plan. Training would start with about 8 hours and build up to about 20 hours a week over the year. Some of my friends thought it was a good plan, others were less optimistic about it feeling I was doing too much too soon. In order to fit training around an extremely busy job and family life, I would swim early in the mornings, run during lunch hours, bike to work (I live 36KM from work), and do the long stuff as early as possible on weekends to free up the rest of the day for everything else.
By April I was biking up to 145KM, running 28Km and swimming 3KM in the pool. I was way ahead of targets but felt that I would need the buffer in case I got injured. It was around that time that I came across a review about IM Barcelona and about a coach in Waterford called Martin Kirwin. I liked what I read. How the entire race was about the way you ran the marathon at the end. This coach was training his athletes to work to power and heart rate on the bike, maximizing their potential while leaving them enough in the tank to run well off the bike. He is a serious athlete with incredible marathon times and lots of sub 10 hour Ironman races. I contacted Martin and arranged a meeting.
Martin looked at my plan and what I was doing and felt I was doing way too much. He suggested I complete the double Olympic race in Athy and we would look at the numbers after that. He also felt that my expectations of a 12 hour Ironman were a little low. His view was a 10 and half hour was very possible but to work towards 11 hours for my first attempt at the distance.
For the next 4 months I trained under Martins plan. Every week the plan would go up on line and he would mark my homework afterwards telling me to put more or less effort in on each discipline. Martin introduced me to the concept of power on the bike and with a power meter we were able to come up with zones that I could maintain over various distances. I still had 9 workouts a week (three per discipline) but every one had a purpose now. There were no junk miles.
Three weeks out from the event I developed a pain in the arch of my foot after a speed running session. I thought initially it was just a phantom pain, but the next day I could hardly walk. Physio was called for and I was advised that it was an overload strain to the Planter ligament, to not run on it, keep it strapped up and there was every chance it would be fine on the day. Martin immediately changed all the workouts for me to accommodate this.
The week before:
A week before the event I dropped my bike to Ship My Tri Bike for transport to Spain. I cannot recommend this service enough, as they take your bike fully assembled and transport it to and from your race. The stress of disassembling and reassembling your tri bike is taken out of things and you can concentrate on getting ready without any distractions. We travelled out four days before the race to acclimatize and I could not recommend this enough.
Martin called and could not make the race. He had raced the previous month at the world championships 70.3 in preparation for the full IM Chattanooga where he came 4th in his category and qualified for the world championships in Hawaii 2018. His Ryan air flight had been cancelled like so many others. We had a long discussion around pacing and power numbers and agreed to pull back the run pace by 15 seconds due to my injury. I have to say I felt ready and really well prepared.
Race day arrived a . A quick bowl of porridge and two coffees and I was on my way to transition to make final preparations on my bike setup. The race started at 8 but due to the rolling start I did not enter the water until . Martin had suggested going out with the 1 hour 20 swimmers. I had never swum faster than but followed the advice. The swim was tough, lots of pulling and dragging, which I did not expect. Goggles and hats were flying to the bottom of the sea. On top of this there was a strong current flowing against us, which made the first part of the swim feel like forever. On the way back though, it was heaven. We were flying back to the finish.
Swim Completed: . Expected swim time 1:30 – 1:40. I was ecstatic.
The 180K bike is over 2 ½ loops out toward Barcelona and back to Calella. The first 15K is rolling hills followed by 40K flat. There was a strong headwind coming from Barcelona on the way out but I stuck to my numbers and didn’t worry about the speed. The pace really picked up on the way back to Calella with the wind behind me. The second loop led to an unusual incident where I rolled over some sticky paper which lodged in my brake. Took a few minutes to get it out but the glue residue got all over the brakes and wheel rim and caused my brakes to lock on when I used them next. I needed help from a mechanic at the next water stop to help free them using a can of wd40. In total I was stopped for 9 minutes with this incident but still managed to close out the bike leg in . It could have been worse like a crash or a puncture. Over 180K anything can and will go wrong, its how you deal with it on the day that counts. Now just a matter of a marathon to run!
Bike: . Expected bike time: .
The run, we had agreed should start out with pace per KM for at least 22K. I could not slow down. I was running per KM and ended up stopping at the 8K mark to get my heart rate down and restart running at the agreed pace. The support was just amazing. Far better than any marathon I had ever done with the exception of NY in 2013. I walked through the water stations to pour water over myself and take on fluids. The run was a three-loop course of 13K plus a bit at the start and end. The first and second loop went by quickly. The final loop I decided to push a little to try to get under the 11 hour mark. I upped the pace and ran through a couple of the water stations. The final 5K went by very quickly and before I knew it I was crossing the red carpet to the finish. It was touch and go to get under 11 hours so I didn’t do the typical crowd-pleasing stuff but sprinted for the line. I stopped my watch at dead and turned to look at the clock, which registered my name and . I could just hear the announcer saying the immortal words “Don Ryan You are an Ironman!”
What an experience. I will definitely do one again and I really believe is in me by getting the bike right and upping the pace a little on the run. After that it will get a lot tougher to get the times down.