Training began once registered for IM Barcelona in October 2016, nothing intense but everything from there on was geared towards IM. I was lucky to have John Darcy in my camp guiding, mentoring and coaching me all the way. The initial training wasn't too demanding on me or time however as time marched on this was to change, it’s demanding and in truth other aspects of my life had to give. Sometimes it was family, sometimes work, sometimes friends and sometimes all three. I was lucky I have an understanding and supportive wife in Sinead and two slightly older children who put up with working much of their world around mine.
Travelling to my first Ironman in the company of such a great group of people made for not just a fantastic few days but a great year leading up to it. There was a wealth of support and experience I could tap into whenever required which proved invaluable and in particular on the long training days. It also meant when we got to Calella all I had to do was follow; I didn't have to work things out for myself.
Swim - normal pace which depending on conditions can vary from 2.00 – 2.10 min per 100 m
Bike - No more than 80% HR and looking for an average pace of 27 / 28, visualising the bike as 4 x 45k
Run - looking for an average pace of 6k, walking through aid stations, visualising the run as 4 x 10k
As expected didn’t sleep much the night before but having not slept before running my first marathon it didn’t bother me as much but definitely thought to myself ‘this isn’t fair’. I was awake before my alarm, down to breakfast where I had my usual large portion of Readybreak (works for me) juice and coffee. Back to my room and into my race gear (Compres Tri Shorts / Wicklow Tri Top), grab my ‘street clothes bag’ and off nervously in the dark to T1 for a few last minute additions to my transition bags, nutrition and iso drinks onto my bike (High 5 Caramel Bars x 7, Powerbar Chews, Powerbar Hydro Caffeine gel x 2, Powerbar Hydro Gel x 1and Salt tabs x 6).
I took my time getting my wetsuit right and then it was off to the swim start with Brian and Tony who like me were ‘newbies’. The swim start was incredible in every sense of the word, dawn had come and gone with the Sun rising over the horizon, 2,500 athletes looking more like penguins than Ironmen and the wonderful feeling of having got to the start of my first IM.
I felt surprisingly relaxed before the swim and decided to go at the back of the 120’s. In hindsight this is the only thing I would do different, the back of the 115’s or possibly 110’s would have been less congested with more clear water. The swim itself was as good as it gets, crystal clear water so much so you could see the seabed at all times and brightly coloured fish the likes of which you’d never see in Irish waters, we were lucky to have a relatively flat sea and plenty of large marks that even with my sight I had no problem picking out. The swim was a right hand rectangle and it didn’t take long to settle into a comfortable rhythm and pace. At different points it got a bit crowded and in particular on the return leg there appeared to be swimmers everywhere and at times I had to swim off course to make progress. Having swam 3,781m I exited the water and over the timing mat in 1.17 felt good and hadn’t exerted too much effort. Walked my way to T1 and thankfully had an easy to find spot in the tent. I didn’t rush T1 and took just under 9 minutes to get changed, have a banana / gel, grabbed my bike (Giant Propel Aero Road Bike / Clip On Tri Bars) and exited T1.
The bike course was as good as flat with a total of 811m of climbing over 179.01k. The course consisted of 2.5 laps along the coast towards Barcelona, good surface apart from the first and last 3k where no passing was allowed. The route was nothing to write home about with very little to occupy the mind. As mentioned I had a race plan and my plan was challenged early on when Tony passed me. My inclination was to go with him but thought better of it, a short time later Brian passed me and again the temptation was stronger and for a while I stuck with him or kept Brian in my sights, I looked at my speed and reverted back to ‘my plan for my race’. Thankfully John had drummed into me to memorise my race plan and stick with it, although it was difficult to let the lads go and in particular as we had done some of our long training days together it paid dividends later on the run as I could tell myself I was on plan and on course.
Very early on I received a warning (not a card / penalty) for being too close to the bike in front but what the official failed to see was the group who had just passed me (yes a group) and then eased off or maybe I picked it up, either way I have to put my hands up as the rules clearly state the onus was on me to back off if necessary. The first lap seemed to go on and on however on the second lap we had a strong enough wind against heading out combined with temps in the mid 20’s and very dry air. On the plus side once I turned to head back it was like someone took the breaks off. My nutrition plan was 750ml ISO and a caramel bar every hour but with the heat Im sure I drank more which meant I had more pit stops (3). I also took 3 salt tabs over the course of the 6 hours 8 min on the bike though my plan was for 6. Thankfully the bike went without incident having passed more than a few at the side of the road. That said on the second half of the bike my stomach wasn’t great and I should have taken meds I had with me.
However what did catch me by surprise was two very intense but positive waves of emotion while on the bike but once I got my act together I felt like punching the air and shouting with joy. Ironman for me and like many others wasn’t just about an endurance triathlon it was also about dealing with as my kids say ‘stuff’, drawing a line etc. and to that end it works!
Delighted to have racked my bike, it was time to change socks, runners on, new race belt pre loaded with 8 gels (4 regular, 4 Caffeine), cap and shades on and off I went for my 3 lap run out to the ‘boonies’ as Conor calls it and back. My pre race plan was to aim for a 6 min /k average and in my mind I was running 4 x10k’s and a bit but very early on it was a case of plan B a steady pace and low HR.
In advance of IM I was concerned about my running and on more than one occasion whinged to anyone who would listen (Conor and John) but I was also determined this would not be self-prophesising. Leaving T2 the air temp was high, how high I don’t know but it was warm and I suffer in the heat. Within 1.5k my heart rate was at 145 and climbing and I was sweating like there was no tomorrow, I also had what felt like cramp on the outside of my right foot. I knew the high HR was unsustainable but I also knew from training my HR can be high to begin and tends to settle after three to four km. This was different, I took a pit stop in the first portaloo and could feel the heat radiating off my face. Setting off again my eight gels on my race belt were annoying me and I off loaded half of them to Rob as I passed. I also figured the first aid station couldn’t be too far where I grabbed a bottle of water and poured it into my cap and a second over my head, cap on and the sense of relief was huge. I knew if I repeated the process at each aid station Id be fine. I also grabbed an ISO at each station.
The water in cap worked and I could feel my temp lowering and as it was so was my HR which averaged out at 133 having spiked briefly at 157. Nature also played a helping hand with a brief rain shower which also took the sting out of the heat assisted by nightfall.
One thing I learnt from the IM run is that the ability to think clearly diminishes as the hours pass, very early near the first turn around I saw Conor running towards me on the opposite side of the course and in my mind I thought he’s flying it he must have nailed the bike and how fresh he looked, the same thing happened a good time later and I figured he was a complete lap ahead of me. The reality was he was just ahead of me at the time, the other man I saw ahead of me on numerous occasions was Dave and it took me forever to catch up even though he was walk / running and yet again I was convinced he was also a lap ahead where as in fact it was the other way around. The big positive out of this though was I wasn’t bothered by my thought process or lack of but thought I should have pushed harder on the bike when I had the chance, in hindsight Im very glad I didn’t. Dave was super when I eventually caught up with him, I had done a deal with myself that I could walk when I got to him and although Dave entertained me for a few minutes he essentially and I'm paraphrasing told me ‘you go on you’ve had your rest and chat go run’. Without Dave's encouragement I could have happily taken my foot off the gas!
Apart from the first few km the middle lap was the toughest and probably more mental than physical. At points during the lap I had to dig deep to keep running and started counting repetitively to 100 with the reward in my head being an option to walk or start counting once more to 100. I hadn’t done this before but figured in swimming I sometimes count 1,2,3, 1,2,3 and so on helping me get into a rhythm and clear my head so why not try something similar in running. It worked but probably because I was tired and it had the effect of keeping any other thoughts out of my head and just like swimming the repetitive nature of the process helped me relax. The stomach problem I had on the bike wasn’t going away and was becoming more of an issue and potential problem, it got to the stage where I was afraid to fart and only then I remembered I had meds with me for such issues the only problem was I couldn’t open the foil packaging and eventually asked one of the volunteers at an aid station to help which no doubt is against the rules but needs must. Although the Imodium was labelled ‘instants’ it took at least 30 mins for it to kick in. In reality I should have taken them on the bike as the result was relief all round and probably as much for me as for those running anywhere near me.
Once I started the third lap of the run it felt like I was on the home straight, it was still difficult at times but did my counting to 100 to get through. The sense of achievement kicked in for the last 10k I could visualise it (home to Ashford and back) and I knew I only had an hour or so to go.
Met Damo or should say he met me with about 1.5k to go, at this stage it was dark and I wasn't wearing glasses, we had a quick chat and like the experienced pro he told me to go on. He must have finished just behind me but knew the last km was not for sharing. The experience of running the last km on my own with amazing support from the crowd and in particular from Pulse Tri Club who seemed to be omni present was along with the swim start the high point of the race so much so I wish I could bottle the sensation and take a sip every morning. From there it was on to the red carpet which for me was nothing compared to the run in but I thought to myself I've done it and even though the commentator didn’t say the immortal words ‘Mick you are an Ironman’ it didn’t matter I had achieved what I had set out to do 12 months previous. Something that two years ago was beyond me and not even part of my imagination.
IM Barcelona was the most amazing journey of self discovery scattered with highs and lows along the way. To have shared it with such a great group of people some of whom where friends starting out others who are without doubt now friends was an added bonus. On the basis I had done my training I was lucky on the day, my mind set was positive, the sea was flat, no mechanicals on the bike, weather was hot without being excessive and a shower of rain early on in the run was like winning the lotto all of which contributed to a day in a lifetime!
However and there is one small however, from booking IM in October 2016 it was 12 months away and as time marched on it was 6 months, then a month, a week, a day and then the day arrived. The day itself as I've already said was amazing and I'd do it all again at the drop of a hat but here's where the ‘however’ comes in. Within 24 hours it was over, the day I had thought about and trained for was in the past, the adrenaline stopped and was replaced with what I know to be a ‘low’ and by the following weekend you would swear I received some awful news. Thankfully it was short lived but it wasn’t nice and was quite real at the time. I suspect the mood swing doesn’t affect everyone in fact I know it doesn’t but it's something to bear in mind should you the reader take on an IM in the future, Don’t get me wrong, outside all the important things in life this is up there with some of the best things I have ever done or achieved.
In conclusion I can't recommend taking part in an Ironman highly enough, if it's on your radar just do it!
The following user(s) said Thank You: DaveMcD, Darren_S, fiRed, steve_mc, michaelp, Caitriona, RobS