Ironman Dublin 70.3
Wonderful reports from some WTC IM experiences recently have been great to read. I was conscious of them as I set out for Dun Laoghaire, optimistic, with a spring in my step and a belly full of porridge. Having completed Ironman Austria last year I had nothing to prove to myself, only to go out and enjoy the day. I set a realistic time and even added a generous parameter, no disappointments today. I know Dun Laoghaire well and swam (poorly and never improved) in Sandycove as a kid, I am on first name terms with the seals, but I still don’t trust them. I had completed most of the cycle route a couple of times and I liked it. The Phoenix Park is one of my favourite places to run, I consider it Dublin city’s breathing space, a wonderful place. The morning before the race I had dropped off my bag at the tented village within a golden savannah of rolling park land decorated with majestic deep green, laden trees. The Dublin mountains in the background provided a silhouette against the dazzling blue skies. Occasional white puffy clouds hung purely for decoration. The tall yellow grasses were being swayed by the ticking breeze. The good humour of the IM staff in the early morning was infectious. Tomorrow was going to be great.
Sunday morning, bright and early and the sea was just about as good as an optimist would wish for, the seals were there but they appeared more amused than bothered. Besides, if they were going for anyone it would be Bressie, he had given them some bad press. The team photo of the ‘baby blue’ brigade. Cheers of delight, grown up kids remembering how to play. ‘Best of luck’ ‘enjoy it’. Contagious, good for the spirit, pass it on.
Got decked out, mentally going through the day, get the swim over and enjoy the cycle, its flat, this is my town, on the run, empty the tank, this is my park. The dark clouds even broke up over Sandycove. A marching army of rubber clad warriors who choose to confront their limitations, their doubts and even their fears, alone in their own heads. Nagging doubts. I, personally, had not trained very well. I lost momentum after the IM last year. I am ageing, I hate swimming. Excuses, excuses. Relax, enjoy it, this is fun. Into the pen with the older, actually the oldest athletes. And the odd sprinkling of youth for good measure. The pink capped ladies streaming ahead towards the east pier with the grace of a pod of dolphins. 3, 2, 1….. no don’t go! Just wade in slowly, trepidation… breathe deep… relax. Get it over. Every journey… a single step… face down, cold, breathe every stoke, get used to the water, embrace it. This is not bad. Settle down, let the masses proceed. Banish negative thoughts. Head down and begin my mantra ‘the- In-credible-Mr- Kav-an-agh’. Breathe. Head up, pull up. Sight. Back down. ‘The- In-credible-Mr- Kav-an-agh’. Breathe. In time I become a straggler, only occasionally accompanied. Fine, this is me. I will catch them later, if I don’t get them on the bike, I will on the run. Nagging doubts. 50 to 55 minutes of this is too long. Focus, mantra, mantra. Sighting all over the place, choppier than expected. Why is there nobody around me? Swim, swim, getting there. Bleep-bleep. 1 km and my Garmin declares 27 mins. Do the maths. That will do nicely. Slow and steady. On the way home. This is grand.
I then felt a cramp in my left calf, no worries I regularly cramp in the water, I stretch my calf by pointing my toes up and maintain my stoke. It doesn't ease up. Soon my other calf muscle has joined in. I turn onto my back and try to stretch out. No panic, I am getting there, Dun Laoghaire baths are ahead. My left quad cramps in response to my efforts to ease the calf cramp. I have to stop and a kayaker checks in on me. ‘It’s only cramp, thanks’. I continue but have to pull up frequently. Then both my hamstrings cramp and I have no choice but to hang on to the kayak. At the suggestion of the kayaker I raise a leg out of the water and he pushes back my toes while I pull on his paddle for the strain, it relives my hamstring but appears to trigger my quad. I resume swimming but last only seconds before the multiple spasms resume. A rescue boat offers to take me out and would do so again. I decline the offer. The cramps are debilitating and very painful. This doesn't make sense, I swam 3km a month ago from Straw Island to Innis Mór, while the ultra violet beautiful jellyfish danced around us like the forest scene from the movie Avatar. This isn't even an ocean, I dig deep. The kayaker has become my guardian angel and escorts me while encouraging me. ‘Mind over matter. You are getting there’. I am dragging my legs behind me unable to manage even a gentle flutter of my legs. I have to stop regularly and I am aware that I am getting cold. The rescue boat is shadowing me, that is bad but it might be handy. ‘200 metres to go, you are doing great, keep it going’. My back begins to resent dragging the lower half of my body, there will be pay back on the bike from L5 S1. I briefly consider getting into the rescue boat I am stopping so regularly, there is no let up and I am getting colder. I persevere as would ‘The Incredible Mr Kavanagh’. The spasms are relentless. This is my battle today. I finally see the yellow exit and hear the encouragement of the dwindling supporters, the faithful. The kayaker brings me along metre by metre. Not kicking has me exhausted. As I near the ramp the only thing I want to do is thank the kayaker. I am hauled from the water onto the ramp and the kayaker is gone from my vision. I didn't get to say thanks but I will pass on the bestowed generosity and patience to another in time. The good cycle will continue, WTC is fuelled by it, JD leads the orchestra. I get out to kind applause and the sight of my supportive wife and son. High fives and I run and my legs ease up. Great relief, here we go, the day has brightened.
In the tent I went for my bike bag and it was taken off the rack by a helper who clutched it and told me timidly that I had missed the cut off time and could not continue to the bike. ‘What?’ I was devastated. I am not used to failure. It had not even crossed my mind that I was outside the time. The hollow tent became cavernous. A few injured warriors were being tended to, huddled in a corner wrapped in blankets. I sought clarification from the staff who knew nothing and didn't make the rules. They directed me to each other in turn. I wandered around in a daze. I found a race official and asked to see my time, he couldn't tell me, he was too busy telling the remaining athletes to stop and go no further. ‘Ye, no problem, that’s grand’, said one athlete, perhaps relieved. The next athlete was visibly gutted, but for no longer being a young boy he would have cried, he may have yet. The big man went to his wife, who duly consoled him. I waited around to get my time while the official avoided me. I gave up and went out to break the news to my wife and son. I collected my bike and walked out, not a word, no eye contact, no hard luck. I walked up the empty lonely road in silence. Finishing that swim was physically one of the hardest things I have ever done. I missed the cut off by a minute and a half. I was at home having breakfast by 9.30am.
It was a cruel lesson and I am not even sure what the lesson was. So congratulations to those who succeeded and the greatest of respect to those who try but fail it’s a damn sight harsher.
Kevin, when I saw you in the Park and you explained what had happened I was so gutted for you! Absolutely sick hearing that...
So sorry it ended like that but onwards and upwards - you're an ironman and had nothing to prove, just had a bad day by the sound of it! Might I suggest you sign up for at least 1 more race this year so that this isn't your lasting experience for the year, then focus on next year.
Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I think its incredibly brave of you to write your story despite your obvious disappointment. Your were really unlucky with the cramping and also the fact that the course was long and tides were not in your favour.
I'm sure you will overcome this and return more motivated and focused for your next event
Despite the lack of a happy ending, i think you have give a brilliant account of your day and i enjoyed reading
K, meant to say also I had a shocker three weeks before IM70.3, barely finished the day. Was very glad to not have finished the season in Athlone even if I second guessed whether to do Dublin so I +1 what Michael says - nothing worse then finishing on a disappointing race. BTW, my race report - kinda - here:
70.3 - no puking, finally.
which focuses on how Athlone went totally pear shaped and then I recovered for Dublin.