Note – Photos to follow – I had no time to integrate them…
Ironman 70.3 Galway, Ireland
Where to start
Well I wanted this season to be a little different – in 2009 I did my first 70.3 and in 2010 I did IRONMAN Switzerland, so I decided to do three 70.3 races during the season – The Marshman, IRONMAN 70.3 UK and IRONMAN 70.3 Ireland. The toughest of the year was always going to be the UK race, with its infamous hills on the bike and run course, but Marshman had its challenges too, being early in the season. So what about Ireland? Well when I entered I had no idea of course, location (apart from it starting in Galway), etc. When the route was announced as being fast and flat it looked promising, then they changed the route taking out one late hill and putting in another early on in the bike – it looked even better – only 400m climbing on the bike and the run was stated as being flat (no map at that point) – Game On!!
Well everything looked fantastic until we got out to Ireland….
The pre race training went really well, after my various illnesses and injuries following the UK 70.3 I managed to put in a solid four weeks of training and oneweek of taper. Mike and I had discussed taper length etc and decided that training hard up to the race and having a short taper was the best idea. I managed most of the long rides (2.5hrs being the longest) and runs including one 13km run – longest in ages. When I got to Ireland I was in the best physical condition I have been in ages – not as light as last year (I was 85kg last year at my last race – this year 89kg) but much lower Body Fat % around 15% – and I was carrying few injuries.
Lizzie, the kids and I toured around the Emerald Isle for a week before the race taking in: Slane Castle, the Barony of Slane (on of Lizzie’s Ancestral piles), The Battle of the Boyne, Trim Castle (worth going to), Blarney Castle (not worth going to), Connemara, the only fjord in Ireland and other places to numerous to mention. We also caught up with Fiona, Frank and Grainne at al (one of Anja’s classmates (who recently moved with her family back to Cork)).
We finally rocked up into Galway on Thursday afternoon. We had decided (based on Zurich last year) to stay in an apartment. We managed to find one in the Radisson Blu hotel complex which is near the city centre – the race was in Salthill so it meant a car drive to make it to the venue – about 3.5km away. The apartment was fairly good – more of a split level maisonnete but comfortable and well spec’d(although not cheap at €800 for 4 nights – all the hotels put their prices up and were full!).
On Friday I went for a quick ride down to the Salthill area to check the bike over. My first impression was wow the local community had really got the IRONMAN bug – there were banners and signs everywhere welcoming the Ironmen (and women!). the second thing I noticed was my rear gears were all over the place – a trip to the Bike Doctor before the race would be needed. Later in the day I registered and drove the bike route. It is an out-and-back flatish course with very little technical elements – the biggest challenge was the road surface, in bit brilliant in others awful. After that we went to the Pasta Party – I am not sure I would do this again unless I was on my own – it is a bit odd for families….
On Saturday we decided that I would rack my bike, sort out my transition bags and then we would head out for lunch north of Galway before the race briefing. This turned into the usual BCTTTesque cluster (“in joke” in the club) – I turned up to the bike doctor to have him look at my bike before racking and was immediately struck by the fact there was only one mechanic…for 2400 competitors..hmmmm…he was Russian (I think) and didn’t speak very good English but was amazing with bikes…he carefully played with the front gears resetting the perfectly and then dismantled the rear derailleur, at this point he mutter something about fishing wire and tried to explain I needed new cables…not good…he asked me to leave my bike with him and come back at 3pm…also not good – transition closed at 3.30pm and the queue to have bikes looked at was getting longer. Against my better judgement I left my bike with him and headed back to the hotel – you could not rack the bags until after the bike. We headed out towards Cong (north of Galway) realised it was an error (there is nothing, and I mean nothing out there) and headed back. We lunched in Lohans on the seafront at Salthill – quite nice and I went to collect my bike. Except the mechanic had done nothing with it, shrugged his shoulders and kept dealing with the minor issues other people were having. The time ticked on and 3pm came and went, by 3.20 I was getting concerned as the queue to enter transition had gone and the referees were looking like they were going to close the gates. Eventually I gave up checked the bike was roadworthy and took it into transition. I racked my bike in the middle of the longest racking I have ever seen (transition is 850m long – and you run it twice!) and hooked my bags up (well the blue one, my red bag just got dumped in a big pile). After racking we went home, put the girls to bed and I ate my new pre-race food of bean and bacon risotto – yummy!
Well. I woke up on race morning around 4.45 and looked out the window – not good, strong winds. The weather forecast has been mixed and undecided for the week and so it was very much a “see how it is on the day” race. Regardless I had put the 60mm SRAM S60 spoked front wheel on the bike rather than the HED trispoke – good choice.
After waking up and getting dressed we headed down to the race start – note no breakfast, this is my new nutrition ploy, and it seems to work – no food until needed. Getting to Salthill was challenging due to all the road closures for the race, eventually Lizzie dropped me off and left to find some parking with the girls. I headed in, said hello to my very wet (despite the IM plastic cover) bike, pumped up the tyres, re oiled the chain, filled the speedfil and set the Garmin. After that there was little to do apart from let the nerves build and head to the swim start.
The swim start was on Ladies Beach in front of the Galway Hotel. As the sun started to rise we could see the sea. I am happy to say that I normally have no fear of the swim, it is my favourite part of the race, today was not a normal day. The sea looked nasty, the official swell was 2.1m – it felt worse when we were in it there was a strong onshore wind too which was blowing a lot of spray. After lots of standing around – saying hello to Rachel Joyce (a UK pro) and worrying, they announced that the swim was to be cut. At the time I was gutted – they said they would cut it to 750m – as it was it was officially 1000m – when I got out I could see why. Lizzie and the girls met up with me and they shared my nerves for a while until my wave was called. I went forward and ended up in the second group of my wave (they cut the waves in half as a safety precaution too). The swim course was now a simple out-across-back route, the current was flowing left to right but the wind was straight in, I put myself on the right side at the front, away from the main group. When the horn started I ran into the water, the water was quite warm (16 or so degrees) and I porpoise’d out until I could swim freely. As I cleared the wall alongside Ladies Beach the full swell hit me – it was massive, I normally swim pretty straight and never do breaststroke to sight, as I swam out I simply could not see anything but sea., no buoys – time for breaststroke!! I alternated about 30 front crawl strokes with four or five breaststroke and somehow I managed to keep a fairly good pace up, although breathing was fun as the waves didn’t have a nice rhythm as the wind was having an effect. Eventually I made it to the first buoy and turned left into the wind and against the current – it got harder, luckily this was only for about 100m until I did another left and headed for the shore. On the way in it was a bit easier although the swell seemed worse and I got swamped a few times whilst trying to breath – I drank most of the Atlantic I think…. I eventually swam in jumped up and ran up the beach access slope after 00:20:05 in 180th place. It was a really hard swim – one of the hardest I have ever done and more physically challenging than the full 3.8km at IMCH.
Once off the beach I started the looooong transition – about a 350m barefoot run to transition (no carpet…) then grab the blue bag – put on every item of clothing I had (including fighting with arm warmers!) – then run to the bike, then run another 500m to the mount line. I am not joking transition was nearly 1km long!
Once on the bike I started to really enjoy things – everything just worked. I saw Lizzie and the girls on the way out of Salthill, gave them a smile and a wave and put the foot down. Now normally every race I come out of the swim and spend the next few hours going backwards – not today!! I was on fire, everything just purred – even the hills were easy on the way out. I finished the first 10km without really getting the HR about 150, and I was overtaking people! Once over the hill at Barna the route opens up into a long out and back to Maam Cross, this is where the benefit of an aero bike really comes in. Head down I pushed the gear to 54-12 for most of the out leg, averaging around 40-45kph – it felt amazing, I should have realised this was wind assisted!! All through the countryside there were groups of supporters cheering us all on – they were amazing – especially the people of Moycullen – big banners, vuvuzelas, the whole works – fab! The nutrition plan for the race was based on the bike. Before the swim I had one ZipVit gel and then nothing until 30mins into the bike. All the time on the bike I had nuun (water+rehydration tablet) and from 30mins, every 30mins I had one ZV gel mixed with 50ml of water mixed in a bottle – it worked fabulously.
The weather started to worsen from just rain to truly soul destroying hammering horizontal rain at about 30km where I saw the first ambulance and casualty . When the pros came past (on their way back) around 40km they were looking fast, and the hail started (I was wondering what the pinging sound on my helmet was – then my arms hurt), I was so glad I had taken the time to put on all my clothing – it helped. The turn at Maam Cross left a lot to be desired though. It was signed from about 200m and it was just a couple of blokes and a van in the middle of the narrowest bit of road I have seen in ages with a cone in front of it. We all had to try and do a 180 round this (I only just managed it) and then push for home. At this point things took a turn for the worse, the tailwind I had became a head wind and even in 54-12 with a cadence of around 80-85 I was only managing 28-30kph – really tough going. The rain continued and the road side support kept my spirits up and I carried on passing people. Eventually after lots of water, ambulances and passing people I made it into Galway. About 3km from the end the route did a dogleg through the University to avoid closing all of the N6 and this is where my day changed completely.
I guess I just lost concentration but turning left off the uni campus back onto the main road I stacked it. I probably went into the corner too fast (there was no marshal there) and as I went round I lost the back wheel that locked and I went down hard. I hit the ground with my shoulder, elbow and hip and the bike impacted on the handlebars, pedal and bottle holder on the back, somehow I also manged to sand down the top of my helmet! I saw it all in slow motion and as I write this I can see it again. Once I had stopped sliding (at the other side of the road – about 20ft) I got up and was amazed that I had not broken anything. The young marshal who should have been at the corner ran over and checked if I was okay, he asked if I wanted to stop – at which point I might have been a little rude and got on my bike and carried on.
The bike didn’t sound happy as I finished the last 3km, the handlebars were sanded down, the bar tape gone, the brakes rubbing all not good – I had blood running down my arm from the cuts and from under one of my fingernails where I pulled it off, my hip was on fire with pain and I just made it into transition – loads of people cheering. I had finished the bike leg in 2:50:11 in 371st place – a pb (I pb’d the first 40km by 10mins) and great fun – right up to the crash!
As I made my way into transition the bike didn’t want to behave, the wind caught it lots which made pushing it 400m down to my racking slot hard. I racked it and ran/hobbled down to the red bag tent (450m away…). Once there I asked for med help but there was none there, they suggested asking at the aid station. I changed painfully into my run kit grabbed a couple of ibuprofen and ran off to join the run route.
The first 5km of the run was absolute purgatory, I took the ibuprofen at 1km (the first aid station) after finding out they had no med aid either, these kicked in around 30min. the run route was basically a big out and back with some loops thrown in, all on the edge of the coast so the wind played a big role. Up to 5km I felt dreadful but then my legs gradually came back, and I was running well for about 10km. The pace varied from 6:15/km to 7:30/km into the wind – it was hard going. At around 13km I saw Lizzie and the kids and that gave me a huge boost – I saw them again at 14km they were shocked I was on my last lap!
I then started the last lap and that is where the wheels came off the run – I just ran out of energy. The nutrition strategy for the run was water/coke and it seemed to work, I had no GI problems but I just ran out of energy…when I turned the corner at the Spanish Arch to head for home I was reduced to a walk – I walk/ran to the aid station about a km away and took my time to get a gel on board and some fluids. After about 5mins I was running again and I kicked my heels for home – as I came up to the 1.9km turn to the finish line I welt amazing – I was running fast (well 6:15 at this point was fast!) and overtaking people again. I came up the green carpet into the finish cute where there must have been one to two thousand spectators, as I ran down the cute loads of kid put their hands out for “high fives” – who was I to say no so I ran down the cute high fiving everyone. I probably should have gone just a little faster though as my finish time was 6:01:23, my run had take 2:30:30, the last lap around an hour and I came in 1303th for that section. As I came over the line Lizzie and the kids were there – it was a great day.
Well, it was a tough day at the office – a really challenging race, but finally a race on a course that suited me and with nutrition that worked. All in all, a fantastic experience. Would I do it again? Yes. I think there are areas for improvement but the weather is a little out of their control – if it was easy it wouldn’t be IRONMAN 70.3!