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TOPIC: Ironman Wales Race Report

Ironman Wales Race Report 12 Sep 2013 16:01 #2232

  • niall l
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MAN IN THE MIRROR – RETURN OF AN IRONMAN

Dedicated to everyone who said I couldn’t do it. To everyone who said I shouldn’t. To everyone who said I didn’t have it in me............................. I’ll see you at the finish line!

Why?

All Ironman race reports should start with Why? I’m like the Irish Times here – “The story of why”. My story of why begins back in the autumn of 2012 and my good “friend” Andy Hayes suggests the idea of a 2013 Ironman. Sounds like a great idea I tell him. But with a holiday planned for February, it will have to be later in 2013. Wales and Barcelona in September are mooted as options. For logistical reasons, Wales is the one we settle on.

Base Training

Through the winter months base training goes well. My plan was a six month training schedule the same as I did for Ironman Switzerland in 2008. With this due to start on March 1st, I was trying to be cautious so not to overdo things as after all, September is a long time away.
In early January on a 75km cycle, I ran out of gas at about 40km. This shouldn’t have happened. A coffee stop in Laragh and copious amounts of food made me get home. Just about! The following week Andy had his first bad one. Suffering badly from the cold, we stop again in Laragh. When he hits the nice warm shop, he nearly passes out. Again, we survive and make it home.
February involves a three week family holiday to Australia that I am selling as a warm weather training camp that doesn’t involve any training. I do go for a couple of runs to keep my toe in and pop, there goes my Achilles for the umpteenth time. This is just ridiculous. Every year since 2009. I really am considering amputation at this stage and getting a blade.
On my return home Andy hooks me up with physio Alex Gleeson in Kilcoole. Alex says Plan A is to try to fix the problem once and for all. If that doesn’t work Plan B is patchwork for the race. But there is no running on the cards for 10 weeks. Alex also sends me to Darren Kelly at DK Orthodics. A new pair of orthodics later and a few goes on his painful zapper machine and I am done. Now to play the waiting game.
Back in 2008 I completed Ironman Switzerland in 11:07:57. At the time, I was at my fittest and healthiest, weighing 11 stone 5 pounds and in great shape. The following couple of years were not so kind and at my heaviest, another two stone was on top of that. Now, I look at the man in the mirror and I see an athlete I don’t recognise. Four years of Achilles trouble and nothing to really get my teeth into have taken their toll. But now, the challenge is on. I need to feel like an athlete again.
What have I signed up to? That’s my reaction when Andy sends me some of the videos of Wales. The course is a monster. Why didn’t we sign up for Challenge Barcelona? But here we are and I am committed to the tune of the €500 entry fee.

March / April

Right so, game face on. Holidays are over and the six month training plan starts here. Seeing as I can’t run, I am overdosing on swimming and cycling. The next “episode” came in early March at the end of an 85km cycle heading over Ballinastoe and down towards Djouce when I bonk spectacularly. So much so that I am dizzy and have to get off the bike because I am afraid I will fall off it. But it is my own fault as I didn’t get my calorie intake right and I am way too experienced for such a simple mistake. But the lesson is learned and I move on.
In April on the same stretch of road, coming down from Djouce I misjudge a turn and am faced with an oncoming car while I am travelling at 50kph. The decision is the bonnet or the bush. I pick the latter and smash into it. I use one of my nine lives by getting out without a scratch and thanking my lucky stars.

Narcissus is back

During the build up to Switzerland in 2008, I started to turn into the Greek god Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection. As I started to get fitter and healthier, I started looking at myself and thinking that this is the shape everybody should be in. Brushing my teeth at night and looking in the mirror, I was afraid I might turn into a flower. This time around, Narcissus is not part of the plan but at the end of April I tip the scales under 12 stone for the first time since Switzerland and I think I catch sight of him in the mirror. The wife won’t be happy with this!

May / June

Into May and Alex has me back running very short distances. In fact, it’s a not til June that I first do a 5km and it feels good. I also enter the Wicklow 200 at the start of June and that goes really well. Things are starting to look up. The hard part at this stage of the game is finding time to fit everything in. With a small child and a wife demanding my retirement from Ironman once this one is out of the way, it’s a 6am – 10pm gig trying to balance all my training and family commitments. But it’s going well. My swimming is better than ever and I am clocking up good mileage in the pool and on the bike.

July / August

In early July myself and Andy go to Tenby on a course recce. Five minutes into the cycle and I ask Andy why we didn’t do Barcelona. This is a monster. Up and down and up and down all day long. There are no Sally Gaps but it is just a non-stop, unforgiving course with no flat parts. The run is no better. On the brighter side, the water in Carmarthen Bay is beautiful. Can this be the same Irish Sea that we swim in Greystones on a Thursday night?
The Shadowman half Ironman in Athlone in early August is my main prep race and it goes very well. I finish 17th in 4:40, well ahead of my 5 hour target but in fairness, it is a fast course. More importantly the run goes well and the Achilles is behaving. In fact, I clock the 6th fastest run of the day. Andy clocks the fastest run to come home in second place. A great result for us both. Two 20 mile runs without any issues also fills me with confidence. And in mid August I tip the scales at 11 stone 5 pound – the same weight as I was 5 years ago. Narcissus is definitely back now. I find the taper very difficult mentally but I get through it. I just want to get to the start line at this stage.

Road Triiiipppppp

Friday morning and we’re off early to Rosslare to get the boat to Pembroke. Once we get to Tenby we go to registration. A marshal is asking people if they are here to register for the race but what I hear in my head is the scene from Life of Brian – “Crucifixion ?“ “Yes.” “Good, line on the left, one cross each”. Then it’s my turn. “Crucifixion? “ “No, freedom. They said I done nothing wrong. Only joking, you can be sure I am going to get crucified.” After picking up my stuff I leave the expo before the Ironman merchandising machine sucks any more money from me. We check in our bikes on Saturday and just take it easy for the rest of the time. We do drive part of the course. The girls are worried when we have to take some of the hills in second gear in the car!

If

Race day and it’s a 4am start. Have breakfast and try to settle the nerves. We head to transition for our last few checks before being marched to the start at 6:15am. My thought for the day is “If”. I think of Padraig Harrington’s ten two letter words he told himself before his first major win – If it is to be, it is up to me. But I keep going over and over the poem If by Rudyard Kipling. I would recite it another 500 times on the course. We get down to the beach, meeting the support crew at the top of the hill, one last good luck message and kiss and we are on our own. Standing on the beach, I give Andy a man hug – let’s do it buddy. Then, it’s ShowTime!
The siren sounds and we are on our way. It’s a cavalry charge of about 700 metres to the first boy, like the dash for the first fence in the Grand National. And it’s manic. I take a beat down in this section. But I am doing ok. At the end of the first lap of the swim I get a kick in the chest and I thought for a second that I broke something, but I am alright. Onto the second lap and I am swimming well. I keep a good line, a little wide at times but I am happy enough. I exit the water at 1:08:34 right on my target time of 65-70 minutes.
Transition 1 is the possibly the longest in world triathlon with a 1km run from the water to the bike. It’s fairly uneventful and I get off onto the bike for the dreaded cycle. The rain has also fallen while we were in the water and the roads are wet. I take it easy for the first hour and still manage 31km. The second hour is another 31km but that was the easy part done with. The route is two laps, one of 110km and one of 70km. The 40km that I have just finished is the fastest part of the course and only done once. Now for the hills. There are some ups and downs, a lot of them on country roads that twist and turn a lot so it is quite technical, especially after the rain. The showers are on and off too so that isn’t helping. There is a drag of about 8km from Carew to Templeton and then a couple of nasty climbs. I get through them and am heading back to Tenby for the end of the first lap. Then with 10km to go we hit the two biggest climbs of the day starting with a 17% climb out of Wisemans Bridge of about 600 metres. A few supporters are there, one runs with me while ringing a cow bell. That helps. I’m just over that and we hit Saundersfoot and the second climb. This starts with a really steep 400 metres where the crowds are in force – Tour de France style and that is amazing. It’s a further drag of 1200 metres to the top. This will come again at about 173km – surely a sick joke by the race organisers. I get over it and back through Tenby and onto the second lap. Not long into the second lap and Andy passes me. We chat for a second – both thinking it’s a tough day. Not long after and I really start to struggle. The course is trying to break me. I can’t stomach food or gels, my neck is sore and I am struggling on the tri bars. Rudyard Kipling comes into my thoughts again, “If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew, to serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you, except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’” I try to do a deal with myself – give me two more hours, give me 90 minutes etc. The hills the second time round are really tough. I get through them ok until I reach Wisemans Bridge again. It’s now like No Man’s Land, the supporters have deserted us for the run. If it hurt me on the first lap, it is tearing me in half this time. Saundersfoot is tough but manageable and I am thinking of the run now. I get to the top and then all downhill to Tenby. The target was 6:20. I reach transition in 6:15:14. Two down, one to go.
I do a full change in T2 and its onto the run. The plan is to go out on 5 minutes per km and hang on for as long as possible. Rudyard Kipling is back in my thoughts, “If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds worth of distance run.” Only, it’s about 240 very unforgiving minutes. I start off fine but the course is a beast – it’s 4km up a big hill out of town and then back in, taking a couple of detours on the way and doing about a kilometre in the town itself. The first lap goes ok and I am just off 5 minute pace. Half way through the second lap and the quads turn to stone. I just can’t seem to lift my legs. I had prepared to crash and burn but it is not panning out that way. I am very comfortable and my heart rate is dropping to 120 but the legs just won’t move. This is the second time the course tries to break me. “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors just the same.” Sorry Rudyard, but disaster is not part of the plan today. I just keep plugging on. At the end of the second lap, I meet the wife and I tell her I am in hell. She tells me later that she thought I said I need a gel but Andy’s wife Eavan had to tell her that was not what I said! Onto the third lap and again I try to do a deal with myself – get up to the top of the hill and you can free roll down. This works for the third lap and then I am on the last lap and can smell the finish. One last push to the top of the hill I tell myself. Half way up I see Andy on the way home, big happy head on him. We high five, then I am back into the hill. Get to the top, get the red armband and am on my way back to Tenby, counting down the last few kilometres. This is it. Inside the last few metres and onto the shoot and time to soak it up. This is what the last six months have come down to. The marathon target was 3:45 to 4:00 and I cross the line in 3:57:16 for a finish time of 11:38:52.

Afterwards, in the tent we are given pizza but I still can’t stomach food. We go back to the house we rented and Wendy gets an Indian from the restaurant next door. That does me – no chewing involved. We go out to celebrate a job well done over a few beers. We leave at about 11:40pm to see the last finishers coming in. It’s pouring rain and there are beaten bodies coming in but they deserve their big cheer too. They too are Ironmen. The last guy is full of beans – high fives for everyone. I feel a bit better for cheering them home.

Although this Ironman was 30 minutes off my Zurich time, it is a better race. In my little geeky world of scoring races, I give myself a percentage of the winners time. This one scores a very respectable 78.58 compared with 74.27 in Zurich. But when the winner can’t break 9 hours, it goes to show how tough it was out there. Although the course was a beast, the volunteers were amazing all the way round. They really did Wales proud. The supporters were also amazing, especially the people cheering me on – Dave, Sandra and Phelim from Kilcoole who were everywhere on the course, Matt and Niall from Piranha and Wendy, Eavan and Andy’s family. They were all great. I read in other race reports that it helps thinking of the people at home following you on the tracker. I always thought that you should just be focussing on yourself but it really did help knowing that friends, workmates and club mates were following you. It’s kind of an instinct that you don’t want to let people down.

Thank Yous

Although an individual sport, there was definitely a team involved with me and I thank everyone who helped me in the past six months. These ranged from training partners to babysitters. I especially want to thank my physio Alex Gleeson for (hopefully) fixing me once and for all, just when I thought I might have been finished, my training partner Andy Hayes for keeping me company on the voyage through all the good and bad times. And finally my wife Wendy for giving me six months off my fatherly duties to pursue this (even if she is making me retire). Amy will have a daddy again now!!

In the lead in to this I just wanted to feel like an athlete again. I can safely say now that when I go to bed tonight, the man in the mirror will be the athlete I remember. This time there was no need to feel like Narcissus. This time I am just Niall Larkin – Version 1. Double Ironman. I will leave the last word to my best friend on the day, Rudyard Kipling and If. If you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds' worth of distance run, Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, and--which is more--you'll be an (Iron) Man, my son!
The following user(s) said Thank You: michaelp

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Re: Ironman Wales Race Report 12 Sep 2013 16:36 #2234

  • MikeF
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Great read Niall. Well done again....

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One life - Live it!

Re: Ironman Wales Race Report 12 Sep 2013 20:48 #2239

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Great report and race Niall. You put in all the effort and plan seemed to work out. Tough going juggling family life so well done.

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Getting back into it.....

Re: Ironman Wales Race Report 13 Sep 2013 14:49 #2244

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Well done Niall, great result on a tough course! Really enjoyed your race report!

Deirdre

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Re: Ironman Wales Race Report 13 Sep 2013 20:52 #2252

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Fantastic report Niall shows the level of effort involved and the support required from family and friends in getting to the start line.


Dave

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Re: Ironman Wales Race Report 14 Sep 2013 20:39 #2255

  • Deborah
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Well done Niall, great race report.

Enjoy the break

Debs

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