‘Anything is Possible’ – is the Ironman slogan, and two weeks after my first Ironman, I now know what those words truly stand for.
Little did I know when I innocently joined Nenagh Triathlon Club in October 2011, that it would be the start of my journey to Ironman, Kalmar. Before I joined the club I had completed 3 marathons but not one of them was sub 5 hours. I could just about swim a length of Nenagh pool without drowning and as for cycling, the last time I believe I was on a bike, was during my last week in secondary school.
So in October 2011 I decided to take on a new challenge, and complete a sprint triathlon. Tick that box with pride, to say I did a triathlon. However three years on after completing numerous Sprints, Olympics, a Half Ironman and an Ironman, I have no intentions or desire to hang up my bike or throw my runners under the bed.
Looking back to the early days of training with the club I can still remember my first swimming session, when after 75 metres (yes a mere 3 lengths!), I was hanging on to the wall at the deep end of the pool when Brian O’Neill had to come down to make sure I was okay. I was jacked. My first club cycle was from Nenagh, up Portroe Hill (torture), Ballina, over to Silvermines, where we stopped. Here Shane said the encouraging words ‘ye did great on yer first cycle, ye can now turn off here and go back to Nenagh while the rest of us….’ I cycled 30 miles that day…and thought I was brilliant. And finally running…these were the run sessions with Joe Cantwell one evening of the week from Tescos. I use to dread these runs for hours beforehand knowing I was going to be slow, hold others back, be puffing and panting for the whole 3 miles. However, it was the patience and encouragement of other club members in particular Cliodhna McGrath and Sean Gleeson, that got me through these runs and in time I was doing 6 mile runs. I was so proud of myself.
3 lengths of the pool, 30 mile cycles and 6 mile runs, unbelievable but sure why stop there!
Fast forward 2 years… I’m signing up for an Ironman! But this was a whole new level of commitment, getting to the Ironman fitness level I needed, consisted of long hours of training, persistence and self-discipline. From 10 hours per week back in October to 22 hours per week in July. And that was only the physical training. As a lot of you already know I went through a very dark training period, where I only trained because I had to without getting any enjoyment from it in fact it was getting me down. After confiding in one of my fellow club members/friend Geraldine, and having a two hour ‘firm’, ‘non-flowery’, ‘say it as you see it’ words from Shane, I realised that all the training on my own just didn’t suit me. So I decided to do some training sessions with the club. It was a late, but beneficial decision…I was enjoying my training again. And back on the road to Kalmar.
From Nenagh to Kalmar, via Copenhagen…what a trip! Nine of us travelled to Copenhagen. After spending one night in Copenhagen, we continued our journey to Kalmar by train, early next morning. This journey took over 3.5 hours which went in a flash with beautiful scenery, chatting, laughter and joking the entire journey. After the obligatory photos at Kalmar Station, it was off to collect our bikes and bags. We sent our supporters to the hotel in a taxi with all the bags while we cycled to the hotel. By the time we got to the hotel we were ravenous. Buffet at five, race briefing at six just a short stroll from our hotel. After the race briefing, some singing, a short video show there was a pre-race party…more food and alcohol free beer. A few of us walked into Kalmar town, while others went back to the hotel. It was the most important night to get a good sleep before Saturdays race…hence it was an early night for all of us.
Sinnead, Anthony, Ger and myself met up on Friday morning at 7am for a swim. There was a short swim organised around Kalmar harbour area. The water was warm, slightly salty with plenty of tiny jelly fish (arrrgh!). After the swim, it was back to the hotel, meet up with others at breakfast, and then go for a short spin on our bikes. We decided after the cycle, to get our blue (bike) and red (run) bags ready and take them down to transition along with our bikes in preparation for the following day. Into transition area, we were handed a large bike cover each and went to find our places. The transition area was so big…seriously you could well justify taking a long transition time here. A number of us headed into the expo tent and purchased some vital Ironman memorabilia. We spent the afternoon resting and relaxing in our rooms.
At this stage I wasn’t giving much thought to the race, I was relaxing and bringing my diary up to date. After our evening meal, it was back to the hotel room. I must have been in bed by 9, and asleep by 10. When I woke up, I felt great, thinking that was a brilliant night’s sleep. I looked at my watch, it was only 11.30! And so it began, an endless night of broken sleep.
When the alarm went and I got up I knew as soon as I did that I wasn’t great. I was now starting to get nervous. I put on my swim gear, prepared my drinks for the bike, finished packing my post-race bag and headed over to the breakfast hall. I sat at the table with Andy, Keith, Shane and Sinnead. All I can remember here was that Shane was surprisingly cheery and then nearly biting the head off Keith for saying something to me. I was getting more nervous and anxious as the minutes ticked by. It wasn’t even 5 am. I had over 2 hours to go before the Ironman race began.
We got a taxi down to the transition area. I went straight to my bike, picking up a pump along the way. The pump was totally different to any pump I had ever used so I had to ask for the assistance of a marshal. Trust me to find the only marshal who had never used a bike pump before! he barely knew where the nozzle was. Eventually sorted, I spent an hour in transition nervously checking and re-checking bags, setting up the bike and visiting the toilet.
I eventually made my way down to swim start area. At this stage I was on my own as the rest of our group seemed to have had already gone on ahead. There were over 2,500 other tri-athletes around me, and I could feel tears starting to well up. I had never felt so nervous before a race. I waited with the other swimmers in my group and started talking to God. I prayed, that there wouldn’t be too many pit stops, that I wouldn’t get a puncture, that I would get a colour but not sun burnt, and that everyone would finish this race and finish safely.
I looked around to see if I could see Anthony and Sean, they had said they would be starting in the same wave as me. I soon spotted them walking towards me, thank God. I now couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Anthony noticed, I don’t know what his exact words were, but I know he was encouraging me and telling me not to worry and at the same time he was conversing with Sean, who was oblivious to me crying. It was a slow walk to the water’s edge. You could hear the roars every 5 minutes and knew another group had just started their Ironman Race. Down the blue carpet, quick photo with Sean and Anthony, down the cattle ramp and into the water…..
I got straight into the swim, no mad rush or swimming over people, it was just complete the swim in one piece and be comfortable. There were so many swimmers around me, but yet I managed to find my own space to swim. I remember seeing Sean to my left at one stage, I found the swim pleasant enough, my injured right arm/shoulder held up well. Water was calm, perfect conditions. However about an hour into the swim, I didn’t feel good. I wanted to get sick, but knew this was not the place so I just took deep breaths and continued swimming. When I exited the water, it was grab my blue bag and into the tent to change. I still wasn’t feeling myself, so after changing into cycling gear it was straight to a toilet. I just wanted to get sick, but nothing wanted to come up…not yet.
Fifteen minutes later, onto bike and start my 112 miles cycle. It was a fabulous morning, blue sky, a little chilly, slight wind but oh so gorgeous. Settling into the cycle meant turning Garmin on, making sure my heart rate was on track and taking sips of my drink. Sticking to my training routine/eating plan, it was 20 minutes banana, 45 minutes chocolate bar and then jellies in between and of course a drink within each hour. I struggled to get the first banana into me. When it came to the chocolate, I thought this’ll be grand I have never had problems eating chocolate in fact I was looking forward to it. Again, just like banana, it didn’t want to go down. I prayed, cursed and questioned why this was happening. Fabulous roads, beautiful morning, tail wind, great supporters shouting ‘Heja Heja’ and I already felt crap. My heart rate was only 133 and I was pedalling well, but with a slight headache, sweaty forehead, and sick stomach I knew it was going to be a long, testing cycle. Soon after passing Sean on the side of the road where he was calmly changing his puncture, I stopped, got off my bike and went up side lane of someone’s house. I puked up everything I had just eaten.
Thinking that should help I got back onto bike and after a while tried another banana, bar, jellies, drink but it only resulted in another stop and more puking. Nothing wanted to stay down. I had two bottles of energy drinks on my bike and couldn’t even keep these down After cycling around Oland, back over bridge against a tough head wind…it was complete cycle of 35 miles on mainland. I was only few minutes into cycle here and heard a roar from other side of road…it was Sinnead, she was on her way back to Kalmar, and she was doing brilliant. By now I was only drinking water, and about 15 miles into last section of bike, I stopped and puked for the last time. Surprisingly some strength was coming back, I didn’t feel 100 percent, but at least I could push a little harder, and didn’t feel like getting sick. 6 hrs 43 mins later..bike finished, now the run….or walk.
Yet again, a slow transition time…but who cared. While on bike, I befriended an English lady who I met up with in changing tent and started a wee chat. She gave me a rennie tablet to help settle my stomach. It’s amazing what people pack in their gear bags…I was grateful to her. Starting into the run, I thought of Eoin Sheehan, and remembered his race report from Ironman, Copenhagen when he referred to his run and stomach problems. Was I going to have similar problems? I started the run, very slowly, which went in around centre of Kalmar, before heading out of town. The town was buzzing and all you could hear was ‘heja heja’ again, guessing it either meant ‘go on’ or ‘well done’ whatever, I will never forget it. Anytime I started to run my stomach churned so I had to walk. Heading out of the town, I could see Shane sitting on edge of road and I thought, OMG he is finished already what a race for him. I soon learnt he had gotten a puncture and had to pull out. Fair play he came back to cheer the rest of us on. Keith passed me somewhere on run, on what was his last lap. Anthony passed me also and tried to encourage me to run with him but I wasn’t going to chance it. I also met Andy and Ger, Andy said hello, Ger had forgotten my name, think he called me Mrs…they looked jacked, but were still going.
I walked the majority of the first loop. It wasn’t until the battery went on my Garmin watch, and I had nothing to pace myself off, I decided to at least shuffle and that’s what I did for remainder of run. I shuffled along and encouraged others to shuffle with me. I took in only water and coke at food/drink stops. They agreed with me, gave some strength and helped me get through it. The three loop run never once bothered me, (I did my long runs at home on a 7 mile loop). On the second loop into town I spotted the Irish flag from a short distance. I knew it had to be Emer and Ali, it was such a fab feeling to see them cheering excitedly. I fell in love with the Irish flag that day.
On the third and final loop of run, I stopped on the road going out of town for one brief moment. I looked back towards the town, I could see the top of some historic building, there were flags flying, dusk was coming in and I knew next time I would see that building I would be only kilometres from being an Ironman. I was nearly there. On the last 5 miles of run, I thought of the girls at home, and I visualised our Monday morning 6.15am runs. I looked at my second watch…and started calculating in my head. Based on time I entered water, present time and distance left to run, I reckoned I could finish Ironman under 14 hours. I was gone way past my 12.5/13hrs dream Ironman finish time, but maybe 14 hours. I could see and hear, both Mark and Shane at the corner of the transition area on the last few kilometres. They were cheering me on…Shane shouting, ‘sprint finish’.
It was dark but the streets were still packed with supporters. Irish flag had disappeared…Ger, Sean…others had finished. I was on my way to the finish line, I picked up the pace, and started passing out other runners ahead of me. Typical, my legs never bothered me during whole marathon distance if I could’ve just ripped out my stomach. I made up my mind, when I turned that corner, and saw the finish line ahead I would sprint from there. And so I did. I was conscious of cobble ground and other runners ahead of me, and bottle of water in my right hand. I ran hard and fast, overtook 3 others ahead of me and onto that blue carpet….never looked at time, I didn’t care…I was over the finish line. ‘I am an Ironman’. Mick Deegan came in just behind me, it was great to have someone I knew finish with me, I gave him such a hug…I was so unbelievably happy.
I got my medal and had photos taken. , Shane and Mark were there to congratulate us. We could have ice baths, showers, rubs, food, drink anything you wanted. I wanted a rub as it meant I could lie down, and relax. I did try to eat pizza but my stomach wasn’t having any of it, all I could do was just let crisps dissolve in my mouth. I was tired but way up there on cloud nine. I thought of the others, where were they, how were they feeling, what stories were we going to have…..that night Sinnead and myself chatted until 2 am.
Going over the finish line at Kalmar, I recognised a similar buzz I got when I first crossed the finish line of the ‘North Tipp Sprint’. I was hooked and would definitely do another Ironman
If you are still reading this report…thank you. Huge thanks also goes to the following. Firstly, Nenagh Triathlon Club for all their support, advice, slagging and well wishes, one brilliant club to be a member of. I would like to thank Mark Dempsey for coaching and guiding me on the road to Kalmar. I will always remember his words ‘you have to learn to go slow to go fast’. Limerick Triathlon Club for the early morning swim sessions. To John Foote and Sandra Molloy for the rubs. To Cian McDonnell, the miracle man….no injury was debilitating. To those I borrowed from: Sinead Kennedy, Margaret Hogan, Mary McDonnell, Gill Mounsey, Martin Mitchell and Vincent Mulcahy. And to my Dad, my Daughter, family and friends. I have neglected you all over the last 10 months, there will be a lot of catching up to do.
To Ali, Emer, Breda, Eva, Evan and Sandra, ye were such great supporters.
And finally, but by no means last, to Andy, Anthony, Ger, Keith, Mark, Mick, Sean, Shane and Sinnead…for being part of my memorable journey to Ironman, Kalmar. I will always remember my first Ironman experience and having you all there to share it with me. Thank You.
Total distance I covered in each discipline from 30th September 2013 to 15th August 2014
- Swim: 261km/163.25mls
- Turbo: 51 hours
- Bike: 5882.08km/3676.3mls