Ever since joining WTC club about 3 years ago, I knew I wanted to do an Ironman. I had such admiration for people in the club who had completed them and found in difficult to comprehend how they could cover such distances in one day. At that time, a long cycle for me was 25k and I was rather proud of some of the 5k road races I completed without having to walk.
Over the next couple of years, I moved through the distances and by the end of the season in 2013, I completed my first half distance in Kenmare and the Dublin City marathon. In 2014, I completed two more half distances and also did the Dublin marathon again all with a view to stepping up to the full distance in 2015.
Early in the summer of 2014, Conor Fitz organised a very informative meeting for anyone who was planning on doing an Ironman the following year and it was pretty clear afterwards that there would be a crew travelling to Austria in 2015. Approval was sought at home and granted. The credit card was cleared in advance, and 5 minutes after registration opened, I was officially entered and filled with the nervous excitement and anticipation of the challenge ahead.
In the end, there was nine of us from the club signed up. There was Conor, Kevin and Dave (who completed Austria in 2013) and then the ironman virgins of Ronan, Ciara, Corinna, Rodolfo, Mark and Myself. There were also two other friends of the club Kathleen and Kim. A WhatsApp group was set up and this was the main communication we used to share information and organise training etc. I should add that 90% of the time the WhatsApp was used only for banter and slagging. It was not unusual to come back to your phone after half an hour and have 50 unread messages. It was a real benefit for the newbies to have the experienced lads coming along. They told us what hotels to book, where to fly to, organised group discounts with Ship my tri bike etc. It was great for me. I just did what I was told and didn’t have to research anything for myself.
One of the great things about being part of a club is that you can learn from others. The Saturday morning bike rides is where I learned and continue to learn so much. There are so many experienced people in the club only too happy to share their knowledge and I found this invaluable in structuring my training plan. I did hours and hours of online research too and had access to loads of training plans and methods so set about putting a structure to my training. I had to evaluate my weaknesses and figure out how to address them. As with almost everyone else, I have time constraints. I could allocate 10 -15 hour per week to training and by early November I was ready to start winter training.
The basic principle of my plan was a polarised training model. This meant 85%+ of my training would be done very easy and less than 15% would be done very hard. I did very little at threshold. During winter the only time my heart rate or effort went up was at Tilleys run sessions or at the group swim sessions. It would also go up occasionally on the Saturday spin but this would only be for a Burkes sprint or being childish chasing somebody up a hill.
Running was where my biggest gains could be made. In my plan I had lots of running planned from Nov – Feb and then a shift in training to the bike in March. One of the main reasons for this was that I don’t like the turbo and like to cycle outdoors. So for winter I was running 6-8 hours, cycling about 4 and swimming 1-2 hours per week. I targeted a spring half marathon where my goal was to break 90 minutes and achieved this in early march and was chuffed. Training then moved to the bike where I was planning 10 hours+ per week, running reduced to 4-5 hours and swimming remained at 1-2 sessions per week. All training on the bike was done easy for March and April and only in May did I introduce intervals on the bike. I had one test on the bike which was the Club TT to Kilmac on a Wednesday night about a month before the ironman. I averaged 40k+ for the TT so knew at that stage my biking was in reasonable shape.
Overall, I was happy with my training, I had done six long bikes of 150k+ and lots of 2 hour + runs. I did suffer a planter fasciitis injury which caused me discomfort but once it was managed, I could still run. I would have liked to run more in the final two months but was still positive. Based on how my training had gone, I planned to race to about 11 hours. I expected to swim about 65 mins, bike 5.30, run about 4.00 and then transitions and buffer.
We had a nice little support crew travel to Austria too. There was my wife Lydia, Ronan’s wife Gillian, Kevin’s family and Andy Cromien who was brilliant with his vocal support in numerous locations all around the course.
We arrived in Klagenfurt late Thursday afternoon and quickly realised that as a race location this was absolutely stunning. I had assumed that there would be loads of lazing around and it would take forever for race day to arrive. The time absolutely flew by and I just didn’t realise the amount of things to be done. There is collecting your bike, race registration, race briefings, expos, swims in the lake, short bike rides to be done, making sure everything is working, dropping bikes off, making sure that the correct stuff is in the correct bags. Then there is obviously eating, hydrating and napping.
We tended to have all our meals as a group and the atmosphere amongst us was just brilliant. Everybody was really relaxed and chilled. There were no obvious pre-race nerves and spirits were high. I think Rodolfo was key to this. He had us cracking up laughing all the time. There was nobody immune to his slagging and no topics not discussed. He was brilliant fun and really relaxed the group.
On the Saturday evening before the race we had dinner in the usual place. I had a couple of beers and went to bed and slept soundly for 7 hours until the alarm went off a 4.00. Up for breakfast, final drops at transition and then off to watch the staggered wave start. My wave was the third last to go off
There was a great buzz at the swim start. Competitors and supporters were bunched tightly at the edge of the lake. Swim warm up was on the left hand side of the jetty and the race waves starting on the right hand side. Participants were called based on you hat colour and I was due to start at 7.10. A little after 7.00 I was making my way to the race start and noticed the wave before me went at about 7.02. No problem, we were next so I queued up to get to the starting pen. The queue wasn’t moving though. There were hundreds of pink hats for the 7.15 wave in the way. Myself and lots of other red hats started to get a bit panicky. Lots of “excuse me’s” trying to make my way up to the start and the announcer says we will be starting in 30 seconds. Loads of us still were not in the starting area. We had to jump barrier and just as I made it over the barrier the hooter went. I missed the start by about 20 seconds.
I swam hard for the first couple of hundred metres and was quickly making my through the field. After about 500m there were two obvious groups. I moved to the group on the left as I figured they were taking the best line. I found some good feet. They were moving at a nice comfortable pace and stayed on them till the first buoy. All the time we were moving well and passing the earlier age groups. Took the left at the first buoy and went around it tight and nobody near me. I had been expecting a scrum. Found more good feet and stayed on them to the second left turn. All very relaxed. At turn 3 we turned into the morning sun and I was completely blinded. I couldn’t see a thing. I had previously picked a hotel as my sight line for the canal but couldn’t see anything. There were intermediate buoys along the course but never seen them either. There were two groups in front of me. One was heading very far to the right and the other to the left. I didn’t know which one to follow so decided to take my own isolated route down the middle. I swam the next kilometre pretty much alone. I stopped half a dozen times, took my goggles off and tried to sight but with no avail. Eventually got sight of the hotel and the groups on the left and right began to merge in front of me. I had been told that once you enter the canal you get towed along. I didn’t get to experience that. I came up against all the back markers from the earlier waves. I stayed relaxed and swam up the right side of the canal. There was less traffic there. About 200m from the end of the swim I did get a big kick in the mouth. It hurt and the inside of my mouth was bleeding but nothing serious. I exited the swim feeling nice and relaxed. I hadn’t used up too much energy. Looked at the watch, was happy with my time, big shout from Andy and made my way to transition.
The bike course in Austria is recognised to be fast. There is about 1,700m climbing in total. There are two laps and on each lap there are two short steep climbs with nice descents. There is very little flat and lots of rises and falls but with good road surfaces and usually very little wind.
My nutrition plan, which I had practiced, was ham and cheese rolls and bananas in the first half of the cycle and then moving to fig rolls and gels in the second half of the cycle. I had four bottles of High 5. Two on the bike starting off and two in the special needs bag at the half way mark. I could take additional stuff at the aid stations every 20km or so if needed.
As soon as I got on the bike I felt great. I was passing loads and in the first 5k I got my first roll into me. I was taking on lots of drink too, conscious that I wanted to replace what I’d lost during the swim.
About 10k in, I had my first incident of the day. We were passing a restaurant where we had lunch the previous day. I was passing loads on was close to the centre of the road. Just in front of me there we two lads side by side. There was a small pedestrian cobble lock road crossing with a dip in the road. As the guy on the right went into the dip he lost control and swerved left forcing the other guy left also. They both jammed on. I was behind them so had to go onto the verge (completely on the wrong side of the road) to pass. As I bunny hopped onto the verge my tools and drink ejected from the rear seat carrier. I looked behind and bikes were flying through so decided not to go back for the tools. If I punctured it was race over, thankfully that didn’t happen.
The next 50 or so km were uneventful really. I settled into a nice rhythm and was really enjoying the spin. On the uphill’s I’d pass loads and then on the descents I’d lose a bit of ground. I’m usually a reasonable descender on my road bike but don’t think I did enough of it on the TT bike in training. With the heat increasing on the bike also didn’t want solid food either so started earlier than planned on the gels.
After about 65k we hit the highest point on the course. I came up the main climb and was feeling good. I sat up for a moment to take a drink and a bit to eat before coming to the descent. There was a group of about four about 50 metres in front of me and two lads passed me really attacking the descent tucked in TT position. They caught up with the lads in front fairly quickly and both went to the left side of the road. One of them hit a shore or something and lost complete control taking the other out. This is the most horrific crash I have ever witnesses. The screams from them echoed across the mountain. They tumbled and skidded straight down the road for about 40 metres. The screeching of the bikes alone sent a shiver down my spine but the smell is what got me. It was a combination of the bikes against the road and the smell of burning skin. I missed them by inches and was super lucky not to go down too. There were a bunch of spectators in a house close by who ran back up the hill to them.
I felt physically sick at this stage. My hands were shaking on the handlebars and legs were trembling. I could taste the adrenaline in my mouth. I’m not usually overly sensitive or have a weak stomach but considered just riding back to transition and bailing after the first lap. Then after a few minutes, I gave myself a good talking to and decided bike crashes happen all the time, it’s a consequence of racing, put it to the back of your mind and carry on.
I felt better after by the end of the first lap. I got a nice shout from Lydia at the half way point, stopped at the aid station and changed bottles and proceeded onto lap 2. I definitely enjoyed the second lap a lot more. There was a lot less congestion on course. The accident was still in the back of my minds so I was extra cautious on the descents. My only issue was that I was taking my gels earlier than anticipated and after about 140k I reached for the pocket and had none left. I had to force bananas and fig rolls into me. I took on more liquid than I anticipated, mainly just getting the calories in. I did pee three times on the bike so I knew I was well hydrated.
I did come across one last crash after about 165k. Two lads on were on the deck with motorbike officials around them. I cruised back into transitions happy to be still in one piece. Bike was completed in less than five and a half hours so still on target.
The marathon course in like a figure of 8. The first loop brings you out by the lake and the second loop brings you into the old town by the canal. You cover this twice. There is a bit of shelter in towards the old town but on the lake side it’s very exposed when the sun is shining. There are aid stations about every two kms.
I didn’t really have a plan for the marathon. I had no idea how my legs would hold up and honestly was probably more concerned with how my stomach would hold. I hoped I could run / shuffle the whole thing and was determined not to walk with the exception of the aid stations. I had no real strategy for the aid stations. I knew what was at them and decided to just take what I felt like at the time.
As soon as I left transition, Andy was there shouting encouragement as usual. I felt good. My legs felt good and I settled into a nice rhythm. I’m not sure what the temperature was on the run. It was hot but not unbearable. At the first aid station I took some of the sponges and squeezed them down my front and back. It was really refreshing. I took some water and a cup of coke. Stopped for a moment to drink them and proceeded to the next aid station. This was my process for the next 40k. Going from aid station to aid station. Cup of water, cup of coke and maybe a couple of segments of orange at some of them.
The atmosphere on the run course is brilliant. Crowds shouting encouragement in every language imaginable. Locals were out with hoses and water guns spraying us to cool us down. Lydia was close to the hotel, so I knew where she would be every 10k or so. I probably increased the pace and relaxed a bit when passing her. I didn’t want here to think I was suffering. It was also great meeting club mates along the course. A big high 5 or shout of encouragement always makes it a little easier.
My heel injury which was causing me problems in training seemed to disappear on the flight over to Austria. In training it usually started to rear after about 2 hours but after 30k still nothing. I was delighted. I felt relatively good until about 36k. My paces were slowing and I was fatiguing but I was still moving forward and was happy with that. I knew my times and knew I would get my goal time as long as I just kept jogging. I just counted one kilometre at a time at this stage. I knew I was almost there. Then as you approach the park you can hear the music on the load speaker and the shouts of “xxxxxxx you are an ironman”
It is such a nice feeling as you turn down the finishing chute. Your pace magically increases. The crowds are deep on both sides and then you make the final left turn into the stands. High 5s all round and the shout of “Darren you are an Ironman”. It’s absolutely brilliant. You cross the line fatigued but buzzing. I finished in 10.47 and was chuffed. I met Lydia outside the recovery area and was greeted with lots hugs and kisses.
I went to the recovery tent for food which I couldn’t eat but got lots of fluids into me. Collect my T-shirt and then went back to meet Lydia to cheer all the others on the course and across the line.
Its brilliantly exciting being there knowing approximately where everyone is on the course and waiting anxiously for them to finish. Everybody is cheering, everybody is smiling and just to see the satisfaction and reward on everyone’s face as they cross the line is an experience not to be missed.
As a group, I think everyone was delighted with their achievements. After the race, we managed a few beers to celebrate and the following day we celebrate with a swim in the lake followed by pizza and beer. Another super day in Austria
Lydia reckoned that once I did this ironman, that would be it out of my system and I’d never need to another one. She has provisionally granted permission for another on 2017. I’d like to do a sub 10 hour ironman someday. I might have been bitten by the ironman bug.
The following user(s) said Thank You: michaelp, grykyo, JohnOC, audreyp
Brilliant stuff, Darren! You make it all sound so manageable but I know a serious amount of work went into it! I had full faith that you'd produce a brilliant race - you should be delighted with that time! Inspirational!
Jees Darren, reading that is like watching Rocky the Movie. That is very positive and uplifting stuff from start to finish, dangerously so I think! Massive respect for your race and preparation which going by your splits would suggest a very thorough training programme and somebody who knows their form very well. Actually on the subject of your condition I have to admit being thrown when I met you first by your giddy self deprecating quips about being an ordinary cyclist and modest triathlete. You outed your true ability on one or two cycles I shared with you while you did a lot of waiting around and I did plenty suffering and great pain, and then there was the JD Classic on a road bike!
Congratulations on your finish and your time which is truly amazing. I believe I would find it typically "triathlon talk" for an other modest triathlete to casually aspire "to do a sub 10 hour Ironman". I think I will probably end up referring to this post in an other forum message some time soon enough!