Challenge Venice – The Ramon Report!

We guarantee that you will not get a better read anywhere today than this intriguing insight into the travails of the latest club IronMan Ramon……..!!!!

*Challenge Venice – Race report and a few bits more*

About 5 years ago my wife gave me the book ‘Born to Run’ which someone had recommended to her as a good and inspirational read. On finishing the last chapter of the book I decided to quit cigarettes and to try to lose weight. A friend of mine then suggested to mix some swimming and cycling with the running to make it a bit easier for the legs so I started to go to the pool in Nenagh. After couple of weeks, I met Keith and Mike and both encouraged me to swim with the Tri club.  Then I started a completely new chapter and had no idea where it was going to take me.

I joined the Nenagh Tri Club….. first a try a try, then a Sprint followed by an Olympic….until I hit ‘The Hell of the West’ – feck I was hooked on this stuff.  The years passed by and I was off cigarettes and I had lost 25kg. I had already  a couple of HIM under the belt, and I had seen other people doing Ironman races, I swam with them, I have ridden with them but despite finding it inspirational I never had the balls to make the decision to do one.  I thought it involved too much time and dedication, but after I finished The Lost Sheep 2016, I thought it was the time.

I talked with the boss at home and I got permission to proceed, the only condition was to do it as early as possible so I’d not spend all summer training. After few considerations Challenge Venice was the race, it was flat, first weekend in June (then it was move to the second weekend), max temperature 26C and the most attractive feature, you had to swim from the island Venice to mainland Italy!!!

I started in October/November to train after the September break, I had a nice base so it was just an easy enough Base training, months went by and except for a couple of horrendous 4-4.5hrs turbo all went ok, spring sprung and with few battery powered lights, early morning rides were a nice experience and I was able to log 4-5hrs ride followed by a run and I was done by mid-day. So far everyone was happy.  April and May were the hardest two months where 16-18hrs per week started to take their toll, but as the days were getting longer I was able to be up by 4:30 am and fit all within the family routine, including very early swims in the lake which I really love.

Except few loops around the lake, all long rides were mainly on the Dublin road chatting with Anthony Sherlock on the bike and getting priceless advice from an experienced IM.  All was going perfect until the weekend of the metric Ironman (2/3 of each discipline on the same day), the day after the metric just 3 weeks to go and I got a chest infection… panic…..run into the doctor and after I cried for a miracle super drug, the doc prescribed me just strong antibiotics and resting, he promised me I’ll be fine. As a good triathlete your brain says: ‘go and train, go and train’ but for once I didn’t.  After one week of doing nothing I was back training, very light stuff but I was tapering anyway so I thought I could make it. The week of the race arrived and I was very anxious up to the point I went to the doc again to confirm I could race, as I still had some pressure on my check and some cough.

*The Trip*

I arrived in Venice on the Thursday prior the race, it was warm but pleasant, the race was on Sunday so I could acclimatise and get around for a spin, by then I knew it will be very hot on the day with the forecast pointing 29-30 degrees. I was staying on a AirBnB house with an Italian couple in Mestre, 10mins from Venice and 15mins by tram from the transition area, both guys were fantastic with me and showed me around Venice and give me a lift to the race brief on Saturday morning. In the brief I meet Ian and Darragh Moore from the Limerick Triathlon club, we hadn’t met before but we had exchanged a few emails. They were as cool as a cucumber, they already had done Challenge Galway so they knew what to expect.  After a few words of advice we agreed to meet in transition later on.  Somehow my chest
was fine, no coughing, no pressure, all gone… that was fantastic, my mood changed drastically, it was obvious my head had been playing games.

I decided to ride to transition with all the gear, all my coloured bags were super organised, I got everything in order except the bike food pouch which I forgot at home but I was riding with cycling gear so I didn’t care, all the food would go on the back of my jersey.  It was just 6km from home so I could do it early and have an easy evening. When I arrived in transition it was hot, no trees, no wind but I didn’t care as I was in race mood.  I dismounted so they could check the bike and they asked me to fasten my helmet better.  At that point (don’t ask me how) I dropped the bike and the chainring teeth got stuck into my shin, it felt like a stab and whatever it cut it pierced some nerve or something but I couldn’t move
my toes!!!!!  Feck, feck, feck panic again, now what do I do?… I left transition limping and very worried.  Ian and Darragh tried to cheer me up saying, that will be the least of your worries, everything thing will hurt tomorrow, so you will have forgotten about it by the time you reach the finishing line. With the hope that that was true and that my head was playing games I went to bed at 10pm.

The alarm was set for 3:30am but I was awake at 2:30am, the taxi was punctual at 4:00am and left me in transition with plenty of time to get the water bottles for the bike and a quick check to the right foot. It was tender but I managed a couple of runs without a major discomfort, the adrenaline was pumping.

*The Race*

A bus picked us up at 5am and brought us from transition to Venice where we walked for 10-15mins through deserted (except few drunken guys) streets/canals to the start line.  It was a surreally beautiful and amazing place, even better that I had imagined.  Quick change to the wetsuit, the water was at 22C and calm, I was on the first wave and hoping to do somewhere around 65min and with a bit of luck I might hit the 60mins. It was a straight line for 3.8 km and we had to follow the poles stuck in the
middle of the lagoon……. and…….. the party started. I got the right pace quick enough, a few elbows and kicks but nothing compared to HOTW.  The first 5 mins passed and  I was in a group of five or six guys and the pace was according to plan. I decided to keep going and then re-adjust if necessary after 20-30mins.  The water wasn’t the most appealing crystal clear water but not as bad as it looked. I kept thinking of my friend Fabio and laughing at his advice (under no circumstances drink that water and if
you find a dead body, just keep swimming) so far everything was going well.


After 15min or so suddenly I felt I big whack in my face, when I looked up…there it was, one of the post I was supposed to follow, not to fecking hit it!!!.  I could see a bunch of mussels attached to the post, probably they were as shocked as I was , then I felt a big ooze on my left eyebrow, I could see the blood covering the left eye,  shite!!!  Yes, that was the first thing I thought, the same thought that the kayaker beside me probably had too, he didn’t want to let me go once he saw the blood. I swore by the life of Jesus, Joseph and Mary and the donkey, that it was nothing, I was fine… please let me go!!!! and when he started to doubt me I took off.  The rest of the swim was a mix of feelings, trying to concentrate on the race, bad humour and hating whoever put the pole in the middle of the lagoon.  I tried to get a proper pace without using much energy and dealing with an oozing cut and Fabio saying: “ Don’t drink that water!!!.” (he never mentioned the f**** mussels tho). The last 500m were hard as the current was pulling-in us back, the water turned out dark and with a pretty disgusting taste. On my arrival to T1 the
doctor looked at me and he would not let me go until the blood stopped. After a good while the blood eased and with a big patch in the forehead eventually I took off on my bike……

The bike started well, I was relieved that I was allowed to keep going. The temperature was very pleasant early 20’s, really nice roads, small bit of head wind but I was actually doing faster speed that my target and the HR was in the right place.  Maeve Ryan had replaced Fabio and she kept coming into my head saying: Ramon drink, drink, drink!!!- that was the best advice,. The bike route was 30km out, 3 loops of 40km and then 30km back. The first loop went well, beautiful countryside with a mix of vineyards, old monasteries, farms, corn fields, zigzagging roads following rivers, idyllic and small villages with lots of supporters shouting (C’mon PopEye -I was wearing my PopEye jersey). The heat started to rise but I was enjoying the race, the nutrition was in order and the only thing that came to my mind every so often was Maeve—- drink, drink drink!!!

At the beginning of the last lap, Ian Moore passed me, he got two punctures early in the race and he had to wait for the mechanic (that’s bad luck I thought).  We had a small talk for a couple of mins and we agreed to meet in the marathon loops.  Soon I arrived to the first aid station of the last loop, a bit of refreshment and when I was just leaving… bang…. on the ground…. what was that!!!! I tried to stand up but my right leg shin was missing a good patch of skin and my feet and lower leg which I was almost
forgot about it it was numb. the left side was sore, but no major cuts.  I was about to go but some official had different idea, asked me to seat down and then a paramedic checked I was ok, mainly because I already had hit my head and it was very hot. After a few mins I assured them I was fine so I went.  At that stage my right leg hurt, my feet were very swollen due the heat and my positivity was gone, I touched bottom, the worst 20km I’ve ever done on a bike, despite that it was flat as a cake, I had no energy, it was too hot, the doubts started to kick, all the bad luck I had escaped in the year, everything had to happened to me on the race.

After one bend, there it was, a young italian boy, probably 10 years old, he had been all morning with some music and his Italian flag cheering everyone and he said to me:  ‘Forza barccio di ferro’ (Go on PopEye) and for some reason, that kid brought me back. I thought in all the hours out my house, the effort my wife and my kids they have done for me, the hours on the turbo, the wind, the rain, the long runs, Anthony saying: you’ll be fine you have done the work, the 4.30 am rides, the times Kenneth and Mike had to push me on the bike cos I was too slow, the times my legs were hurting and the lads were waiting for me on top of the hill.  I remembered the time I bonked with Majella and Geraldine and they looked after me, when I swore to Geraldine that I would never to do a HIM again and also I thought of how other people were seated on the side of the road, broken, due the heat and of the the guys who could not finish due nutrition problems, or others with punctures or those that fainted on the runs…. so feck this shite, man, either you hit me with a meteorite or I’m getting that medal to take home to my kids…. so somehow I got through the last 30km back at 30C+ and I made it back to T2 in 7+ hours.

And the doctor saw me… again!!!….he probably thought, this Spaniard is going to died here. He checked that I was ok, that I knew who I was and that I was as insane as the other 450 insane people and wanted to be doing a marathon in the heat – yes I do – smile, smile.  He got me some antiseptic for the cuts in the eye and in the legs, I added some paracetamol, my shiny yellow runners and I was ready to start my first ever marathon. It was around 14:00 pm and full heat 30C-32C.  I knew a marathon on an Ironman always start ugly so I started very easy as planned so I could control the HR which with no effort it was reaching 85-87% max . I was slower than I wanted but  I had no choice if I wanted to finish. The first two laps (of  total of 5 in a huge park) passed by slowly but very content, the heat was sucking the energy but the legs were not too bad. The third lap was tough.  I thought of Martin Farrell and the heat on his IM,
Ger Kirby’s run in Barcelona, I saw some runners had fainted and others lying on the benches in the hope that they’d recover.  I started to pass few walkers bit by bit, it was very encouraging, considering I had probably finished in the last 10 out of the bike.  I got the pink elastic band on my forearm, so far all was going well, nutrition worked well, but I was tired of eating so I kept my eating just to fruit, the odd gel and water/coke/redbull. I knew it was a matter of time, so with some walking during water stations (drink, drink, drink!!!) I keep ticking the miles. Darragh Moore, was on the finishing line on every lap (he just did the swim on a relay team) shouting: G’won Ramon, almost there!!!, it was great to have someone shouting for you.

The last lap was probably the most challenging physically, everything hurt, but interestingly it was the easiest, the heat was easing, I kept passing people and every time I passed a timing mat I could feel my kids screaming in front of the PC…. and eventually there it was a big clock saying: 14:37:57……..Ramon Rodriguez you are a finisher!!!!

Ian, Darragh, Ludo and Cinzia (the two italians from the AirBnB) were waiting for me – thank you guys you rock. Almost 2hrs after my estimated time, it was all over….that was it, I survived.


*The day after*

The following morning I woke up thinking….no training today, or tomorrow, actually none for the whole week. After a quick check I was a bit stiff, but nothing more than the usual, the few cuts and bruises were probably the worst of it.   It was time to enjoy Venice, so the following two days I spent seated in a vaporetto enjoying the incredible views of the city and stuffing myself with fantastic Italian food, wine and of course lots of gelato.


I’m still coming into terms with my achievement, I think I’m taller than before and probably  my hair has grown back too because of it but there is still something inside of me which thinks I should have done better. I didn’t intend to challenge ’The King Butler’ IM time, neither I was thinking to hold the record for the slowest IM time in the club either, but I’m aware it was the most accident prone race I had in the last 5 years.  I always try to learn and hoping I would do better next time.  The best lesson I learnt was to never fight with italian mussels they are tough to crack ….and of course don’t forget to drink drink, drink 😉

Definitely, I’d not have got as far without the support of my family, my friends, my neighbours, who all think I’m nuts but kept cheering me, the people who text me, the ones who gave me advice, the ones that called me (even during the race) to wish me the best, the ones that congratulated me, the ones that helped me on the bike, the ones that once lead me on a windy day, or the ones that let me drag on the pool, and of course to those who help me to push myself harder.

To all of you, thank you!!


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