Over Christmas, Whilst having a beer I seen on FB a post about some race in Donegal.. 555km.. My initial thoughts were “Jesus that would be a test” how so right that proved to be.. more about that later!
My main reason for entering this race was to test myself mentally, and physically with the hope that it would provide me with the mental resolve to race hard in Kona..
Planning my year is a pretty simple affair, for me all roads lead to Kona in October, and anything else would just have to fit in round training for that.. The start of the year was just getting back fit, and then being in some sort of shape for Barcelona 70.3 in May. That came and past pretty quickly, and the realisation that I had a 555km bike Race to do 4 weeks later hit home. I had planned on getting up to Donegal and riding the route in stages, with recovery from 70.3 and just general stuff I did not get up. That was mistake number one! My actual training for the race consisted of a 7hr bike and a 10hr bike.. covering 300km for the 10hrs.. I kept my swimming and running volume up and fitness was good.. Alas I did not know the beast that lay ahead in the hills of Donegal!
I assembled a trusty crew of Alan Gray and Peter Tomany and my wife Ashling.. Alan, Peter and myself headed to Letterkenny on the Thursday for registration in The Mount Errigal Hotel. The guys done a great job check in was smooth and fast.. Once I picked up my bag the butterflies started.. “Jesus what have I entered” I was thinking, and then at the race briefing with a room of ~400 people I am thinking ” I might have bit of a bit more than I can chew here” This was brand new territory for me.. It is very rare I get nerves pre IM racing anymore.. even in Kona! I know exactly what is ahead and have my routine down to a fine art.. Here I had no idea of what lay ahead.. I had practiced food/fluids on the 10hr bike.. but I knew i would have at least double of that to do come race day. The navigational side of things was freaking me out..The use of two way radios to communicate between rider and car.. none of us had any experience of this type of stuff. Total fear of the unknown was gripping me. I like to be in control! But again the challenge of this was why I signed up.. In Kona it never ever goes to plan, you need to be able to adapt to the changing situations and just get on with it. Well.. I certainly was going to get a lesson in adapting to changing situations very very soon.
Off to bed for a bad nights sleep.. Just tossing and turning, sleeping for what felt an eternity, only to look at the watch and see 1hr had passed.. The alarm went off and I actually felt rested, but nervous.. I took my HR/HRV test and my resting HR was 12 beats above normal.. That freaked me out a little, I didnt feel that bloody nervous! I was just hoping I was not getting sick.. I hit myself a slap and said its just nerves.. “Get on with it” My only goal for today was to finish, I was under zero pressure and I just had to get that into my thick head. Breakfast with the lads, which went down no problem. Ashling drove down that morning with enough food to feed an army.. My plan was whole foods, no processed crap.. Mostly fats/proteins.. It works for me year round, so why change now.. I wanted to stay away from the sugars for as long as possible.
Suited up with my new RH1 gear from Base2Race all wired up with my radio and ear piece and off to the start ramp, there was a great buzz about the place TDF stuff!
I was starting on my TT bike which I am most comfortable on. I did not know how long I would be on it for, and I was hoping Peter/Alan would make the right call as when to switch.. Light rain starting, but it was warm(ish) and a tailwind.. HR was high for the effort I was putting in, I was concerned! Cruising along 23/26mph.. Ah Jasus sure this is great I was thinking.. Ah Mama Mia that all came to an abrupt end 60(ish) K out when I got the call to change bikes in Moville. Changed bikes quick chat, everyone in good mood.. I do not know any of the village names I was going through, all I knew was I was going up.. up.. and up.. hill after hill! Just steady climbing though and under no pressure.. We did take a few wrong turns throughout the race, Something I was not getting to stressed about.. “Sure whats a few extra kms over 555km:)” In the race briefing I did listen and was aware at some stage I would have a very quick decent.. sharp left hand turn.. We were warned to be in the wee ring making that turn. I took the turn, all pleased with myself for remembering to be in the wee ring.. I turned and F**K Me was my thoughts.. do i have to go up that! It was steep.. Very steep and with the rain my back wheel was slipping and I was all over the shop.. any man with a video of that will make good money.. Side to side.. even done a few track stands.. HR through the roof.. so much for have X as a power cap.. It was only a km long or so and I was pleased to get to the top without falling off.. Thank god for that i said.. looking a few K up the road to see another team car doing what looked like a hand stand going up another hill.. Holy Moly! After I get up that the car pulled up to give me a bottle.. Ash winds down the window and is shouting out * Honey.. I cant believe they made you go up that* I did not know weather to laugh or cry, because these hills on the route map were just bumps.. There would be a lot more climbing ahead and a lot more tests! Everything was going well.. I felt good the weather was ok and the kms ticked off nicely.. Up past Malin head strong winds.. but all manageable stuff.. Of course it was manageable.. I had not biked 5hrs yet!
I was getting a bit anxious though as I knew I had not gone up any of the major climbs, And then I seen the sign.. “Mamore Gap” I was excited because I know the lads climbed it a few weeks earlier during the Ras.. The only word for it is Savage.. never have I seen or being on such a climb.. I kid you not for those who dont know.. Its just a wall.. HR and all types of power records being broke.. I simply could not believe something like this was in Ireland.. There was fantastic support, with people cheering you on.. thank you to all.. sorry I couldnt reply. I seen the green flags ahead and thought surly that must be the top.. It was.. Crested to my relief only to be greeted with what looked like a 3/4k straight vertical drop.. It reminded me of a black ski run.. Just straight down.. I dont know what speed I was doing.. I was just holding on for dear life! The thyme continued.. Climb after climb.. Until we got back onto the carriageway I had being on earlier in the day with the lovely tailwind.. Block headwind the whole was back to Letterkkenny to start the second loop.. It really was a slog.. ~200k done at this stage.. Going up Mamore I felt a little twinge on my inside right knee.. was not sore but enough to notice.. Driving into this headwind seemed to be really irritating it now I was getting worried.. I stopped at the Hotel were we started to eat.. I forgot about the knee, but almost straight away once I started to pedal there was pain.. proper pain.. The car had gone on out the road ahead of me, and even though I had a tailwind I was really struggling to use my right leg.. my power split confirmed 70/30.. I could not even get over a small bump in the road.. I was biking ~5/10mph at most.. My race was over i thought.. completely gutted to think I was not going to finish the race.. The car had stopped to wait for me out the road.. I pulled up and said my race was over.. Options were take pain killers etc, but in my mind was Kona.. I might get another 1 or 2 hrs out of a painkiller and end up really busting my knee.. but I really really did not want to quit.. In my mind I was questioning myself.. ” Am I just taking the easy way out” ” Sure i dont need this race” ” Think of Kona” I honestly knew though I did have a valid reason to stop.. Alan said it was rolling for another 20k or so to another big climb.. Rathmullen.. He said if I couldnt get up that I had no chance for the steeper longer climbs that lay after that.. So I made my mind up, to bike that 20k, more so to ease my conscience. Because I knew i would be quitting at the bottom of it.. More pain, severe at times.. but I made the 20k that I did not even think i would.. At the bottom I did not stop I knew if I did I would not get back on the bike.. Painful.. but a glorious climb.. and a fantastic decent.. I was in dont let your mind think mode.. just keep peddling.. Still all the while I was moving forward.. The mind battle had truly commenced!
Onwards I went.. A lot of feeling sorry for myself all the negative thoughts of the day.. All the reasons in the world to quit.. but only one to keep going.. I kept reminding myself this was the exact reason why I signed on.. Mental strength.. fortitude.. I need to have these… and they can not be bought in a shop! From hour 10 onwards I decided to dedicate an hour to a family member/friend and I could not let those people down..
It was getting dark now and my task just seemed to be getting harder and harder.. The car had stopped in a village to put my night lights on, I pulled up and said to Alan/Peter ” I am done” I do not know if these two have studied reverse psychology, but there answer was ” Ok.. If you feel its not good to continue make the call” I believe if they had to have said, No keep going dont give up, I actually would have got off! This for me was the turning point, because I knew I was quitting not because of my knee.. but because I was wet, cold, tired.. I knew there was big climbs ahead.. and potentially another 8/9hrs of riding, mostly in the dark.. I so badly wanted to stop.. but so badly wanted to continue.. Thankfully the mood was lifted when i looked over at a chip shop only to see my wife head of the cue.. We just all busted out laughing and the demon spell was broken.. leg over bike and off I went.. Still wet, cold blah blah blah.. but I had won another battle.
We got to the only place on course were I had to sign on myself, this is a great idea and gives the race directors a chance to assess the rider, to see if they are fit to continue.. Warm food and coffee was a god send.. I got to stretch out my knee/hips etc.. spent more time than needed there, but I was not racing anyone.. Only me! From the nice warm hall onto the bike it was baltic… Almost dark.. Peter said ” A loop of Hook Head now” Another steep climb which warmed me up.. Only to be treated by views that would raise a dead mans soul.. I done the loop and it was now dark.. For some strange reason I felt at ease.. Never rode in the dark before, but i had a weird sense of calm.. And for some reason once it got dark i fully knew in my mind I had won the battle… I would pedal with one leg to the finish line if needed..
One thing was looming in my mind though.. This ” Glengesh Pass” everyone warned me about.. I was thinking ” Maybe they cut it out” All the irrational thoughts off the day.. It started to rain quite heavy but spirits were high.
Alan was out on the road, and his words were ” Owen just climb it steady, it kicks up at the end” Here goes I thought.. I looked up to my left and it was like a scene you see when you see snow ploughs grooming slopes at night.. you can not see the mountain, but judging how small them lights are its a long way up.. lights zig zagging all the way.. Thankfully it was pitch black and I couldnt see were I was going.. I just rode looking at my front wheel, passing some of the other 2 or 4 man teams made me feel better, as I was not the only nut case suffering up a mountain in the dark and pouring rain..Out loud I was saying “Dont give up’just dont give up’ Over and over again.. The climb I had feared all day was over in a flash.. Either that or I fell asleep for most of it! I had a great sense of accomplishment.. Going down was hairy.. Ya know the saying.. “close your eyes and hope for the best” More climbs came and went.. I looked at my watch.. 3am.. I looked to my left and thought I seen the sun rise.. ” How out of it was I” Still raining and having to dodge some sheep and foxes on decents. Dawn was breaking.. Surly I am nearly done! nope still 100k or so to go:(.. At this stage I could see my eyes were starting to get real real heavy.. apart from the knee.. legs were great.. I had a few close calls with road furniture etc as real and proper tiredness kicked in.. I just felt like was drunk out of my mind.. Thats the only way to describe it.. Nothing was making sense, and I was getting confused as to how much I had done, and how much more I had to go.. I know I could have asked the lads.. But I told them at the start.. “dont tell me distance or time” Either way I just had to keep peddling.. Through Killybegs at early dawn was surreal.. It was wide road now and I was thinking, great only 20 or so K to go.. Seen the sign! LetterKenny 49km… ” Deflated” But no other choice to keep moving.. Drunk Drunk Drunk.. Eyes swelled to the point of closing.. Just keep peddling.. Broad daylight now and the sun was out.. Exhausted beyond belief.. People along the road cheering raising your spirits. This helped and I am sure took a smile to all athletes faces.. Just tip on home now owen I was saying.. Until Alan called over the radio and told me the guy who was one position ahead of me was 3k ahead.. I had to catch him, and put 2 min into him as he started behind me.. FFS!!!! why did you tell me that.. ~10/14k to go.. and it was ” Hold onto your ass Fred, Snowman is about to put the hammer down” caught and passed and put 1.58sec into him.. Ah jesus! Still I was happy to have that power with over 540km in my legs.. The Mount Errigal was a sight for very heavy, puffed and sore eyes.. not to mention legs. I was done! I did not quit…. I WON! Not the race..but the battle with myself.. I achieved exactly what i set out to.. I knew that this race would be a serious challenge.. I faced demons that I did not know existed.. I feel an immense sense of accomplimshment and pride in sticking it out..
Congratulations to all finishers.. From solos to teams.. You conquered a beast!
What is the lesson that stands out most for me in this race.. ” When I think i am done.. Finished! I have another 12hrs in the tank of mental strength”
Yes I biked it.. But no way could i have done it without my team.. Peter/Alan/Ashling were absolute stars.. The 4 of us stood at the finish line.. All 4 equally exhausted.. Thank you so so much!
Base2Race Dublin for all my gear, and Peter in the Shop for having my bikes running 100%.. Ray at The Bike Station for helping out also.. Thank you to all those people who stood out at there homes in the middle of the night just to cheer us on… The people of Donegal take a bow! To the race organisers take a bow on an outstanding race.. I simply cannot believe we have this scenery in this lovely country.. Words cannot describe properly the beauty of this course.. Anyone reading this from far away.. put this on your bucket list.. Anyone considering to do the race next year as a solo.. Prepare properly.. not like me!
Thank you for having the patience of reading.. Until the next time:)
Owen… Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra finisher:)
Well thats 2016 done and dusted… No more crazy early starts, but more importantly time to give this body a rest!
After Kona I was pretty keen to get back training. I actually was back on the bike the Monday after just spinning my legs. I was very excited about going back to Arizona, I like this race. I love the location and the course really suits me. My first task was get my Kona slot.. Second was to shoot for a really good time ( conditions permitting) I felt this year I recovered a lot quicker post Kona. My HRV numbers ( Heart Rate Variability) looked better than last year and in general I just felt better. My plan in the weeks leading into the race was to go and race hard, and be willing to hit the F I switch ( Fuck it).
Everything then changed when 2 days before flying one of my very good friends passed away.. I owed so much to Gerry. He entered and paid for my very first triathlon. This man swung my life round in a very positive direction. We both done our very first IM together and continued for years after that to flog each other on the race course. Just an absolute legend!! My first thought was not to race, as I was simply heart broken. Then I thought “What would Gerry do” I thought it would be a complete disservice to his memory not to go. As for all of you who knew him knows he would be the first man on the plane.. So with a very heavy heart of I went to AZ. RIP MY FRIEND..
I was very thankful to have Peter and Adrian for company on the plane, all doing the best for each other to keep our minds as positive as can be given the situation.
The weather was a whole lot better than at home and we set about getting our last min prep done.. As this was my 4th time racing here knowing the roads was good. I was telling the lads about 2 crazy dogs that chased me on previous years at a certain house.. We made it past it a few times and no sign. That was until one day spinning back having a friendly chat and all of a sudden out they came.. I’d forgotten how bloody big they were. HR 180 for us all.. new 1000w 1 min power record.. If anyone had have seen us they would have thought we were track sprinters doing a standing start practice! That was the only drama in the lead in, everything went great and I just think we all wanted to get it started and get on with the job.
As mentioned earlier my plan was to give this a really good go.. But my confidence was as low as I have ever being I was struggling to stay positive. Race morning could not come quick enough.. The night before the race I slept very well.. 6 hrs straight. It was great having raced here before as I almost felt robotic in my morning prep.. No problem getting breakfast down and down to race start. Everything went smooth and in no time Mike Reilly was calling us to line up. I knew it would be crowded and I wanted to be up with the very first to enter the water.. The clock hit 6.50 and it was time to shine!
The cannon went and thankfully they learned from last year and done a great job at making a funnel into the water where really only 4 athletes could only go through at once.. I was maybe 20th/30th into the water and got off to a good start.. A small bit of bumping but in general smooth enough.. I was swimming in a fairly straight line as I was hitting each buoy bang on. Maybe 400/500m in a dude grabbed my shoulder and pulled.. then again he done it.. I have learned not to strike out in situations like this.. As the guy/girl is just probably struggling.. And I believe its very bad karma to lash out if it is not totally necessary. Also I think you actually stand a big chance of hurting yourself by kicking out. The only thing I did notice was I was starting to get cold, could not figure out why.. I felt good swimming and believed I was swimming at a good pace. As always I was happy to be getting out of the water, then I found out why I was so cold.. The guy had pulled my suit zip down and only the velcro was holding it closed.. The good thing was it was full of water and really easy to get off:)
T1… I am sure people in T1 were wondering what the hell I was at… I had my 2 bike Biestmilch in my bag.. I had the packets cut nice and neat and folded lovely.. trouble was now they were stuck in my bike shoes. How many fecking places can there be in a bike shoe for something to get stuck?? I am sure John Littlewood who happened to sit down beside me was wondering why the hell I was banging the shit out of my shoes!! It took what seemed forever to get going! But going I got.
I like the bike course.. You can get up to speed pretty quick and so I did.. Doing the usual passing, until a guy passed me who I recognised ( He won OA AG in the end) I went with him knowing that I would be as much benefit to him as he would me. Shortly after that John Littlewood came by.. Another super strong guy to work with. My watts were higher than intended but I knew eventually this would settle. My only concern was how tight my chest was feeling.. I was getting it hard to breathe.. Just felt like someone was gripping my chest and I was breathing in short sharp bursts rather than long controlled ones. I opened my speed suit.. did not make a difference.. I felt good and although I was in a minor panic as to what was wrong..I just kept to plan. Heading up the climb there was quite a stiff headwind.. This suited me as everyone I passed looked quite defeated, and we were only on the first lap.. I made an effort to pull away from the two guys before the top as I needed to pee. I wanted time to do this and not loose pace with the speedy guys.. Unfortunately it was a loooooonng pee.. and the 2 guys came round me and the effort I would have had to make it back to them would have being to much.. So solo riding for rest of the time. At 2hrs I took one Biestmilch and straight away my chest opened up full.. ( see I told you it was worth the shoe banging) I felt good and the fact it was windy was great! Last time up the hill my power was still above were I wanted it to be.. I eased up a lot on the decent as my mind was now focusing on the run.. Also just like last year the wind done a flip.. what had being a direct tailwind all day back to town, was now a headwind.. Still I eased off quite a bit spinning my legs trying to get the avg power down.. no point having a great bike split and a crap run I was thinking! I knew when getting of the bike things must not have being going too bad because it was only me in the tent. Again the volunteers in AZ are great the guys in the changing tent were friendly and loads of positive encouragement.
Started the run, legs felt good I felt good and pace was good. HR was bang on were I wanted it to be and it was just a matter of being patient and ticking of the miles and being strong at the end.. Getting my gel in every 20min taking fluids from every aid station. There does not be many athletes on course on the first lap and your mind can drift.. I did start to think of Gerry.. physically I was in a good place but mentally I did not want to be there. Thankfully I caught and passed Leanda Cave, she re passed me and that was the company I wanted (needed) Although not speaking I think she was as glad of the company as I was, it just took my mind off things and gave me something else to focus on. I knew I was running very slightly slower than I wanted, but at that stage I did not care. After a while I did pull away. Shortly after that I was starting my 2nd lap and there was loads on course by that stage. It was really nice to receive a message from Leanda after the race with some nice words. Any day a world champ txts you is a good day:) No other problems and I was on plan.. until around mile 20 were that very slight twinge in my hamstring started… My only thought was if this gets as bad as Kona there will be no slot for me today.. So I pulled back the pace and everything was ok.. I knew my goal of a 2.55 run was out, but at least I was moving forward. Around mile 23 or 24 there is a sharp downhill section were you can get quite a pace up. This bit of extra pace just must have being to much for the groin that caused me all the problems in Kona.. It just locked up again. I had to stop and stretch and thankfully unlike in Kona I was able to continue, even though I was now running slower, I was still moving forward.. I hit the 25mi sign and man was I happy. That was until 0.5mile to go.. I was just around the bloody corner from the finish line and the groin just went bang. I just could not move forward.. Thankfully John Littlewood was the only guy to pass me and his words of encouragement were great.. If you can imagine the broadest of welsh accents shouting at you ” Just fucking run Owen” And I did.. The pain was beyond painful but I knew I just could not afford to wait until it went away. Crossed the line.. number 20 done back to Kona for the 8th time in a row.. Something I am extremely proud of.. Myself and John finished seconds apart and I walked( hobbled) over to him.. And again imagine the thick Welsh accent ” What the fuck happened you man! I thought A fucking sniper took you out” Even though I was in pain… this made me laugh my ass of! Congrats to him for getting back to the Big Island once again, I look forward to the battle.. Also a big congrats to my fellow countryman Ivan.. Also having a great race and getting himself back to that magical place.
For me now I am enjoying what I believe is well earned down time.. I am very very aware the toll an IM takes on the body, and although I feel good from a physical point. Mentally I know to just step back. Time to gather my thoughts, re focus and then all roads lead to Kona in 17. I really cannot wait to get back there and achieve what I set out to do this year.. Top 5 is there for me and I will succeed. Thanks for reading
Well thats number 7 done and dusted.. And although it is not the result I was hoping for, I am still taking a lot more positives out of this than negative!
The build up to this race really could not have went any better, and I arrived on the Big Island feeling great, while not over confident.. I knew I was in great shape to achieve my main goal for the year.. A top 5 in Kona
I arrived on the island 2 weeks pre race as last year it worked really well. I really love the relaxed atmosphere for the first week. No Rambos running around with there chests sticking out. Training went smooth, and I settled into the time zone very quick. One thing that stood out to me straight away was that, although it was hot.. not the blistering heat of last year.. The sea seemed pretty calm and the winds were pretty normal when out on the bike. I am thinking this is to good to be true.. No way will this last until race day!
Time seems to go very slow on the island. I think this is down to the pretty laid back way of life here.. But race day was coming along, and for me could not come quick enough.
I was very pleased when I was registering that I was selected for drugs testing.. On the way up to give the blood the lady said to me ” You must be good” This made me happy:) Fairly straight forward procedure and I was happy to see the amount of athletes being tested.. some co operating, some not! I think now IM is stepping in the right direction of testing AG athletes, I think now any top/elite AG athletes that will race Kona stand a pretty good chance of getting tested now.. So all good there!
The day before the race I had some very minor bike problems, I got them sorted and racked bike. Back to the condo pretty early to rest up and enjoy a lovely cooked meal. Normally i struggle to get food down even the day before.. Tonight was different.. salmon and coconut rice went down a treat.. Slight nerves… but in general in a very positive mindset.. bed at 8pm an watched some comedy on tv ( Trump/Clinton debate) I fell asleep and slept to 2am, back to sleep and woke by the alarm.. again relaxed and could not wait to get to the start!
The atmosphere on the pier race morning is quite electric, with all the different emotions of the world going on.. you get the sense that someone is winding up a big generator, getting ready to release all that energy in one big bang! Usually I get quite nervous.. And this morning was no different, but instead of it being a negative nervousness it was a positive one.. I was full of excitement! Then them bloody helicopter’s circle increasing the tension.. I can tell you.. If you could just bottle all the emotions of the athletes it would be powerful stuff.
I made my way to the water shortly after the F pros started.. but this time i was moving forward with confidence.. Why you may ask.. maybe i am mad.. but it all came down to a swim i had done 3 or 4 days earlier.. I was swimming on my own quite a bit out from the pier, I stopped to turn, cleared my goggles only to see I was being swam around a 20/30 dolphins.. This for some reason filled me with positive power, I felt blessed to be in such a special place.. I just got the feeling these guys were there to protect me. Walking toward the water race morning all I could think of was those dolphins. Normally I am quite apprehensive about the race start.. I believed the water would open up for me, my buddies would let no harm come to me.
I lined up far left as normal, but by the time the gun went I was dead centre.. BOOM the cannon went, and that raw explosion of every athletes fear/excitement is realised in a second! enough energy to power a bloody city! A bit of boxing but not much.. fairly soon I found some feet and decided to settle in.. Normally during these races people try and push you off feet.. I usually give in, just to have a safe swim, nope not today.. I have to admit I administered a few elbows and the odd hip flick.. It just seemed every bunch of swimmers we came to.. this guy just went straight through them, with me on his feet.. like I said earlier, the water just seemed to open up.. Half way back to shore though i sensed my buddy was beginning to tire.. and in hindsight I stayed behind him for to long as when i did put my nose out i swam away from him.. maybe a couple of min lost there, but for the most I had a fight free swim. I was quite happy on exit to see 1.04 on my watch. This made what is normally a bigger boxing match than the swim ( T1 tent) a very relaxed affair.
Onto the bike… Running out of T1 with bike in hand, again soaking up the very special atmosphere really looking forward to my second strongest discipline. This year my biking improved and the biggest task for me would be to hold back! Going back again 3/4 days on a training ride on the Queen K, I never cut a session short. But this day I did.. Simply because I knew I was on it! Power was coming very easy and I just knew I was prepared!
The first 5 or so mile in round town is always a bit mental, and for me its just a matter of stay safe and stay upright. Let the Tony Martins do there stuff in front of the crowds and then watch them blow up at mile 15.. Normally once onto the QK the packs do break up past the airport, the roads just seemed very crowded. This suited me as i was the one doing the passing.. I was just assuming that with being out of the water 3-4min quicker that this was normal. It was fairly fast until Waikoloa when the really strong head wind kicked in.. this did thin things out a lot and I just was focusing on steady power. I was quite relaxed and enjoying things, mostly riding on my own. Riding into a headwind a pretty weird thing happened.. I felt a warm rush of air from behind.. I was quickly swallowed up by a huge peloton!! All chatting having a great time of it… I was really shocked at the size of the group! I eased of assuming they would just pull away from me.. I am thinking after making up 3-4 min on the swim, the last thing I want is a time penalty! My power dropped well below 200w and I just seemed to be moving slower, so I gave a dig(and a few dirty looks) pushing well above my cap, but did pull clear. Settled back to race pace only to be swallowed right back up again. It really was quite shameful what this bunch was doing… It just reminded me of my Thursday night club race at home.. On my second or third dig ( again with big power) to escape I actually crossed the centre line on the road.. This is an instant DQ!! I rode away right onto the tail end of another group of similar size. I was embarrassed to be in the company of this guys.. I rode in the shoulder knowing it was pointless to try and ride away.. There was only a couple of mile until the decent before the climb to Hawi.. My guess was that once the road went up, the true character of these clowns would become evident. And my guess was right. You can draft all you like.. but if you are a shit cyclist, and depend on others to pull you round a course, you will be found out eventually. After that I didnt really see any big bunches.
I enjoyed the climb up to Hawi and was looking forward to picking up my special needs bag.. Toasted bagel with turkey and jam… Mama Mia that went down a treat! The test for me would come to see if I paced things proper when I got back to the turn for the QK.. This is were in the past I started to struggle, you only have ~35 mile to go at that stage, but if you pace it wrong.. your day is done! I felt strong, gaining in confidence. Time seemed to go pretty quick, because in no time I was back at the airport. Again this is normally were I want to throw the bike in the ditch, walk down and jump on a plane to anywhere cool. Not today…. Life is good!
Back into town, and to one of my favourite bits of the race.. Not the fact I am getting of the bike, but the sight of the IM World Champs in full swing is like someone plugging you into an electric socket.. Here you are on a small island in the middle of nowhere.. and you are the man!!! Blessed:)
Thankfully the T2 tent is a lot less crowded.. again the helpers are amazing! To the guy who put that ice cold wet towel around my shoulders Thank you!!
Out onto the run, my strongest discipline and the true test if I biked to plan! I am very aware its so easy to go out to hard here, the atmosphere is magic. I had a plan and was sticking to it. Guys passed me and it took a lot of will power just to hold back, get the first 10mile done around town and save it for the QK. Those few guys that passed me early on had started to walk by mile 6-7 and i was happy that my patience was paying of. The run up Palani is quite special lots of loud music and crowd support.. But you know once you hit the top of that hill.. Its the death march for a lot of people, the road is straight and support out there is quite thin.. I could feel the top of my right hamstring getting tight..not sore though.. I had to stop and give it a quick stretch and on I went.. running pretty strong and feeling good.. but again it cramped.. I stretched! This was annoying me, but not really costing me much time, that was until i stretched and my left groin muscle went into a quite undescribable pain. It just stopped me dead in my tracks.. It was just like the worst cramp pain ever.. I walked a bit when I could and it did go away.. Still at this point I still had not lost to much time.. I knew the Hot Shot tent was up ahead and i would take a shot.. an problem would be solved.. I took the shot.. Did not work as i was having all over body cramp at this stage.. Another mile or so passed and all was good.. I was at the energy lab and feeling quite good.. In and out feeling great, out onto the QK.. 6 mile back to town.. I did not know were I was in my AG but was running with 2 other guys @ 7min/m pace.. The clouds had rolled in and the head wind back was a blessing.. At 4 mile to go the cramp was starting to come back.. and with 3 mile the groin just locked up.. My only focus then was to just finish the race, every single part of my body just seized up.. It was a long walk/jog back to town.. Feeling pretty gutted that I now knew my main goal was not possible. I had to walk the whole way down Palani as my legs just could not hold my body weight.. I thought when I made that final turn with half a mile to go, the special atmosphere of the finish line would dull the pain.. It didnt! The run up the carpet was just a suffer fest.. So much that I couldnt straighten up to even see what time i had done.
Well that was number 7.. And I feel honoured to have shared the battle with all the other athletes.. Especially the Irish crew out there. I am taking away zero negative thoughts, as a lot was learned. Disappointed not to make that top step.. But now I know one thing for sure.. Its in my grasp to make it happen. And I believe if you give up on your dream just because it did not happen first or second time round, well it was not really your dream to start of with. So the long and lonely continues:)
Today I had a conversation with a friend.. I am going to call my friend Bob!
Bob recently was trying to achieve a goal which was important to him, today when we spoke he was feeling pretty down. I tried to reassure him that everything mostly happens for a reason.. and that this was only a minor setback on the grand scheme of things.. His reply was.. ” Thats ok you saying that.. you are a success and achieve everything you want.. how do you do that?”
My answer is as follows..
I said number 1… I don’t always succeed in my goals, may they be big or small! But what does drive me on, time after time is my will to win… but more importantly I am not afraid to fail!
I said.. Every time I go to a TT line and fall just short of a small but important goal..I don’t never come back.. I just keep trying!
I mentioned the 6 times I have being to Kona.. In my mind I have only ever had one half decent race there… what do I do.. Not go back! Nope I keep on trying to achieve that goal..
I set myself mini goals each day, even though small, they are just as important
as the big ones I have..a lot of the time I fail… but I still get up the next morning and try again… And I will keep getting up and trying until I do eventually succeed!
I told him everyone only ever see’s the wins..The success ! Nobody realises that I have failed a lot more times than I can count.. And the only reason people see my success is I don’t except failure as the final destination!
The conversation ended.. by me saying ” Were are you going?” Reply was ” You’re right.. as he swung his leg over his bike..with a positive smile on his face..
I know at the minute there are lots of people out there, all with different goals.. Some want to finish a 5k… Some want to go as mad as an Ironman.. Some are not even sports related at all….. The best advice I can give is.. Do not be afraid to fail… Because when that great reward does come.. You to will have that smile on your face!
So after posting my last musing I received loads of messages on FB etc regarding a wide and varied range of topics… Mostly “How do I get to Kona” “What training do I need to do” “Whats your nutrition plan” All very good questions, and at some stage I may lets some secrets out. But for now I will answer this one ” How do you keep so motivated year round”
The short answer is I love…absolutely love my sport!
Sometimes though motivation goes low… So lets rewind to this time last year, I had already got my Kona slot in AZ with a great result.. I was happy with that.. real happy! But something was bothering me.. Actually had me quite deflated! rewind to Kona 14 and the result was not what I had wanted.. A combination of a bike smash and in general some real bad luck was bad enough.. But what was bugging me was fact I got of the bike knowing I could not achieve what I set out to do.. ( Podium) And just gave in… Threw my toys out of the cot! I ran the run grumping and not appreciating where I actually was! So spring forward to Dec 14.. I really did not see where I was going to get the motivation to get myself up for the challenge of Kona15… Until!
One night at one of Emma’s shows in my local GAA hall, when the show was over I was standing at the bar when a guy who coached me from the age of 10 until I stopped playing football came over to me.. Conversation went something like this..
So you still doing that Ironman stuff??
Yeah just back from a race in Arizona!
How’d you do
I won my age group and done really well..
You know in all my days I have only ever seen two people at this club with the natural gift you have… I always was amazed at how every time you walked on that field how bad you wanted to win.. And the effort you put into winning!
This made me feel very proud.. I do not know if it was the beer I was having, but such a flood of memories came back to me.. I honestly could smell the changing room again.. I could remember sitting in the changing room looking at my team mates, thinking how I would out play..out run them all… How when we stepped out on the field for the warmup and if there was 6 balls in the air.. I wanted to catch them all.. I did not want my own team mate’s to catch them… Just how at every kick off there was no doubt what so ever in my mind we would not win… Just great great memories!
So that night I got all the motivation I needed to get me motivated for Kona 15… Every long day’s training this year… Every start line I lined up at! In my mind I was not training in the rain.. I was not racing against the best athletes in the country.. And in the case of Kona some of the best in the world… I was simply a 12 to 17 year old boy stepping out onto the field for a game of football!
I think every single person out there… Some may have Kona ambition.. Some may be training for there very first Triathlon.. Has something hidden inside, that something is worth looking for… Because when you find it…. Sky’s the limit!
And so the never ending journey continued… After Kona I took my planned week of, Ideally I believe I should not completely stop all exercise but those who race Kona will know above all other races it takes a big toll on your body. I didnt go mad, just a few beers and some nice treats… after all I’d being in full training from early January!
It didnt take to long until the dreaded 5am alarm went of and it was time to hit the pool and do it all over again.. I am a very motivated guy but I can tell you racing another IM 5 weeks apart is tough! Not so much physically, but mentally. But if you want something bad enough you have to do everything in your power to get it… In short my main goal was to get my Kona slot for 2016. AZ can be a fast course so the bonus of a fast time would be nice, but not a priority! Training went well, most of my bike rides were indoors because of this great Irish weather we have.. 4hr turbo sessions in November is not easy! But I pride myself on doing stuff that others simply will not do… or give up whilst doing it.. I get asked quite often” How do you do it” “how do you keep going” The answer is short… I want it bad enough! If I have a 5hr bike to do.. I will most of the time ride longer.. Why?? Because the guys I race against will stop at 5… maybe even 4! Nothing in this sport of IM comes easy… You can wish/dream all you like but when race day comes around I stand at the start line confident very very few have done more… And I fully believe you will get what you deserve.
Got to AZ whilst not at Kona levels of fitness but in good shape.. The only difference this year was I was sort of nervous.. My first year in AZ went well.. Got Kona and raced better than expected.. I had zero pressure on my shoulders.. 2nd year I thought the first was a fluke and expected nothing.. raced even better than the 1st.. Winning my AG in the process! And now this was my 3rd time here, I knew I could race well and had put a lot of self pressure on myself.. I was full of doubt! Thank god I had Alan to point out obvious facts. I was fitter/stronger than any other time in AZ..
As mentioned the weather at home was crap! It was so nice to be out on the bike training in nice weather.. The week passed pretty quick, Traveling with Endurance Sports Travel is super..always great people for company and I seldom come away without making good friends.. plus the added bonus Bryan was racing also.. So nice to have a familiar face to have a group worry with.. Team Asea would be well represented!
The night before the race is probably the worst time for all IM athletes.. I was in bed at 7.. and turned lights of at 8.. Slept great for 5hrs straight.. This pleased me a lot and when I got up at 3 I really was well rested! Not nervous and I felt good! Short ride from hotel to T1.. As always there does be quite a chill in the air early morning..I learned from previous years and was well wrapped up.. Again having Bryan to chat to was great.. And time passed quickly.. I just wanted to get going.. This year would be a rolling start, and I was curious to see how that worked, as the only other time I done the rolling start was 70.3 BCN.. And that was a disaster!
Everyone who knows me well, knows I am pretty meticulous in my preparation.. So for this race I spoke to the guys at Roka and got goggles that would be ideal for this swim start.. every other year I was swimming into a blinding sun, just rising as the gun went.. So I got a pair of dark mirrored lens.I used Roka for the first time in Kona and highly recommend them.. Problem being this morning the race started 10 mins earlier.. it was not dark.. but not far of it.. plus the fact the sky was full of big black clouds! Here is another example of how IM racing always throws curve balls.. The gun went and it was mayhem… A very narrow ramp into the water, I jumped in and with the water being black.. the sky being black I could not see a bloody thing.. I swam in what I thought was the right direction only to be told 4 times to get back on course by the canoes.. I was doing bloody circles.. Getting a bit annoyed but not getting stressed.. once at the turn round the sun peaked out and swimming back I could see something and swam fairly straight.. A bit of boxing but nothing bad.. Exited at 1.04.. 3min slower than last year.. but fairly confident my day was not over… The wetsuit strippers in AZ are great.. there I was running along to tent.. within 10sec I was on the ground suit of and back on my feet.. efficient or what!!
Out on the bike and I could notice that extra 3min did make a difference.. Last year pretty quickly I was on my own, now I was having to ride through big packs of people.. Not to worry all was good though! Similar to Kona I had a power plan.. and just made my way up the field.. Not one person passed me until the start of 2nd lap.. A guy who I remembered from last year.. A strong biker! Great I thought… company! 2nd time up the hill was a steady head wind.. so even though early in the race I was already thinking of the run.. Sitting behind (legally) was saving me energy.. HR dropped, but so did power.. I was fine with that but my speed was slower.. I made the decision he was riding to slow and went round him, hoping he would comes with me.. He couldnt so a good call on my behalf.. Had I sat there I no doubt would have lost time… Another example of how race plans/strategy change’s during IM racing.
Only 5 week ago I had being racing in 102F heat.. today the weather was great..maybe 60f and cloudy.. Starting the final lap it started to rain.. Class I thought… With about 15 mile to go I started to ease of a bit.. The road was quite slippery, coupled with the fact everyone was getting really twitchy with the wet condition.. The last thing I wanted to do was get taken out.. Coming into T2 I was surprised at how quickly time went by..
Into the T2 tent and again the helpers were great.. 2 people with towels drying me.. and very efficient at getting my run gear on.. Coming to AZ I was a bit doubtful of my running, my confidence took a knock in Kona.. Although my slower than expected run there was not down to anything I could have done anything about, I just had that seed of doubt in my mind.. So out onto the run and I could not believe how damm hard it was raining.. This made me smile!!! A big cheesy smile!! Why you ask?? Well it all comes down to key training sessions, done weeks and weeks before Kona.. but still very fresh in my mind… 2 in particular.. Both in the most horrible wet/cold conditions.. both of those runs I ran close to 28 mile.. And I wanted to stop so bad.. The easy option was to cut it short, or finish the runs on treadmill… Like I said at the start.. I kept going when others would stop… And now on this wet wet day in AZ I had the mental strength to completely block out the rain… Rain harder I wished for!! Right from the off HR and pace were exactly were I wanted.. I had no idea were I was in AG but knew I just had to stick to plan.. Everyone who I was passing was Pro.. Until the unthinkable happened… I got passed at mile 7 or 8 I think.. The guy had 42 on his calf which meant he was in my AG.. Shite I thought.. I was on plan to run my planned 3hr run.. running at 7.00m/mile He passed me quite quick.. I think the less experience athlete would have went with him.. to early in the race for that>>> I’ll get you later I thought.. But still wondering how many more were ahead of me.. I just had to have faith in myself and trust in my plan that when ever I got to 16mile I would increase pace.. I done this and felt very good.. Could I have went faster.. Yes.. would I have blew up.. I do not know! But in my mind not very many at all would run 3hrs.. And if I did my mission would be a success.. I just kept running, getting stronger, watching everyone slowing up.. at mile 19-20 I re-passed the guy.. How easy a mans sole can be destroyed.. When I passed him I gave him “THE LOOK” he broke and started to walk:)
Shortly after that I passed the guy who I know now was in 1st… I didnt then and kept running as if my life depended on it..In the distance I heard Mike Reily and not knowing what the result would be, I was happy I raced to plan! Crossed the line and it was fingers crossed! 1st in AG MISSION COMPLETE!!
KONA 2016 now is my focus.. Looking back on 15 I had a damm good year..
Sportsmans Duathlon 1st
Ballybay long distance Duathlon 2nd
BCN 70.3 Mechanical on bike.. crap race
Tri Limits 70.3 1st
Top of Mournes Olympic 1st
Newry 70.3 2nd
Lost sheep 70.3 2nd
Kona 17th 40-44 (not bad)
AZ 1st 40-44
From joining Team Asea which I owe a great deal of thanks to for there support.. To Alan my coach.. Always the voice of reason and a person who shows great faith in my ability.. Of course my wife Ash without her none of this would be done xx
Looking forward now to a bit of well earned rest.. maybe add a notch or to to my belt:)..
Thank you for reading
NOVEMBER 23, 2015 ~ 2 COMMENTS
IM Logo 15
So my favourite time of year came round again!! Time to pack up and head to the Big Island again, After last year and with a lot of data analysis both Alan and I agreed getting out there early would be of great help. Those who have raced there know about the heat/humidity, and when you add the time it takes to get there, your body (or mine does) takes a while to get back to normal when you arrive.
My build leading into Kona really could not of went any better, I was able to put down a really big training load.. Surprising both me and Alan at how I coped with and recovered from what was tough going at times. This filled me with confidence and I went believing that my main goal could be achieved! Podium was the target, and numbers suggested this was not a crazy idea!.. I can tell you if someone had told me years ago I would have a possible chance of making the top steps in Kona, I would have checked what they were drinking!
Flying into Kona is really special for me.. You get a great view of the island on approach to land, and this year was no different, I felt proud and happy to be once again racing in the the biggest stage of them all. For a change all flights went to plan, bike arrived with me.. and in general everything was going great! And then the plane door opens and BOOM.. The heat just hits you.. This was my 6th time arriving here,and still I be amazed at how hot/humid is does be.. I didnt care I was on the Big Island!
With arriving that bit earlier I was happy that things in general were pretty quiet.. As race day gets closer and the Island fills up with all the athletes, it can get pretty intimidating. so it was head down and focus on the final bits of training… It felt great to be back on the QK! The first few days out on the bike was damm windy.. Travelling outbound @ 15-16mph and back spinning out @ 35:)
After the fierce winds during race day last year I honestly didnt care what conditions would be like.. This was the most relaxed I had ever being. And with Martin arriving at the same time as me, and both of us on similar plan I had company for most rides, which was great! Also Ivan had being on the Island for a while.. So it was an Irish pain train most days on QK..
Most years the closer race days comes, the more quiet (nervous) I get.. Completely normal, this year was different… I think the fact I was not stressing about weather.. And any other outside factor I could not control was making a difference.. Or maybe I was just confident that not very many AG athletes on the Island had my fitness in the bank.. couldnt wait for race day.. And it came, and came quickly!
Its really hard to describe T1 in Kona race day… All the best athletes in the world gathered in one spot.. Everyone nervous! You really can feel the electric tension in the air.. If you could bottle this feeling it would be a best seller! For the most everyone just wants to get started… I was no different.. And then that sound came… the one that means its show time! In the distance you hear the TV choppers coming… flying low and hard.. this is always when for me I can literally feel the adrenal flowing into my veins! both being scared shitless yet feeling like a greyhound behind the traps! Let me at it my body was shouting! And BOOM the canon goes and the pros are off.. And then I think, maybe I will just do it tomorrow:)… You are then funnelled toward swim start, all like men/women walking toward the firing squad! Last year I positioned myself far left, and for the most had a clean swim.. This year it was also my plan, unfortunately everyone else seemed to have the same idea.. So slowly I was getting pushed toward dead centre.. This is were I did not want to be! Luckily as I was swimming into a clearing the cannon fired this gave me the jump on people who were vertical in the water… I got away with just a bit of boxing… A couple of times groups would get to me, I would do 20 fast strokes and swim out of danger… No drama to the turn round, and like I did last year I swam really wide of the boat.. Thus avoiding the MMA fighting than takes place there.. It always amazes me how people want to get in a boxing match instead of fecking swimming! Any way all was good and for the remainder I had a smooth swim… I popped up and a 1.09 swim it was… No more do I get stressed about swim time in Kona… I was happy with that and exited with a smile on my face! Roll on the fun bit!!
A bit of MMA in the T1 tent.. Jesus that place does just be mental… I be amazed at some guys in there, blasting though! Going to win the entire race with being aggressive, pushing and shoving in the tent.. only to huff and puff for the first 5 mile of the bike!… I was really pleased when out on course, I seen some guys who are normally quite a bit further up the road in the early stages, this filled me with confidence! But I had a power plan and was sticking to it.. All was going to plan. I was (as usual) doing all the passing.. The wind seemed to be below average, but it was early and I did expect it to pick up.
One of my race SIMs earlier in the week I couldnt get over how hot it was, and for a 4hr ride I got really dehydrated to combat me not drinking enough I put temperature reading on my Garmin, so I could see how hot it was.. When moving at speed its difficult to really get a gauge on the heat… At the bottom of the climb up to Hawi it was reading 102f Holy Moly I thought.. Still I was feeling really good, and fluid was going in at a big rate.. Legs felt good! About 3-4 mile from the town of Hawi, you would have swore someone drew and line in the road.. dark clouds and the closer I got to the turn round the heavier it rained.. I was thinking all my dreams had come true!.. Really amazing how the air cooled.. Jesus I was praying that it would stay like this until the finish… I didnt get my wish, because when I crossed that imaginary line on the way back.. The heat was just fierce!
As the bike progresses the less and less people there is to pass… About 20 or so mile to go and a re caught one of the Free Speed guys the head wind was beginning to pick up, I decided to ease back a little and work with Stuart, who was riding at a very similar pace to me.. We took our turns (legally) and both I assume had already started to think of the run.. It was hot.. damm hot! I went through roughly 20 bottles.. Some I used to pour over myself to try an cool down.. I was really amazed that every time I poured water over my shoulders I had to check if I was missing… I couldnt feel the water cooling me…
I didnt suffer on the bike, because I mostly rode to plan… wattage was good.. legs were good! I thought back at times to the 6 and 7 hr rides I had done during the year, and was very very confident of not tiring.. If I got fluid/calorie intake correct..The closer you get to T2 you can hear Mike Riley on the PA… More excitement.. Happy to be getting of the bike and looking forward to what I believe is my main strength… Running fast of the bike!
Now normally on the run in Kona the first mile is pretty fast despite a little stinger at the start… Out of T2 and my exact thoughts were ” Holy Jesus Christ its hot” To me it felt hotter than normal.. but I was feeling OK/normal… I thought once I get to the 1st aid station I will pour plenty of water over me, and ice down my back… I did this! But every mile that passed, although legs feeling good my head/face/shoulders just felt like there was heat radiating from them.. HR was slightly higher than should have being.. I was not really concerned as Kona is just a tough race.. stuck to plan and kept running. My plan before the race was to possibly to walk the aid station going up Palani.. Its fairly steep and to be honest the difference in speed would not be much between running and fast walking up it.. This would give me a chance to get in extra calories, for my final push.. My plan was to run steady until mile 10 and then increase pace for final 16mile..Things were changing rapidly as I approached Palani though… Even though I felt unbelievably hot, my body was starting to shiver on the inside… I knew this was not a good sign, and did recognise the symptoms.. Heat Stroke for sure! I knew this because years ago on a holiday the very same thing happened to me… Not finishing the race was certainly not a option.. And despite knowing I was in trouble I remained positive… My only fear was of passing out, thus being taken of course and DNF… Unthinkable! I made the call the to slow.. walk the aid stations and even though I was feeling the shivering inside my body I continued the stuff ice front and back in my suit… After 2 or 3 more mile I was back to just feeling hot… The ice done the trick! I have to admit I did get a bit deflated at that point, I knew earlier in the race if I just ran any where near my potential, I was on the Podium! The chance of that now was very slim indeed… But I was happy in the knowledge that my experience racing IM probably saved my race… By realizing what was happening and slowing down, I now am the proud owner of the 6th Kona Medal… And that my friends aint to shabby!!
I can tell you that for the last 10 mile I was swearing to myself that was me done on the Big Island… I always laugh after the race, how for 9hr+ you spend your time wishing the race was over.. not wanting to do it!! and then spend 11 months trying to get back to do it all over again… Crazy or what!
Overall I was pleased… Pleased in the knowledge that I didnt achieve my main goal only because of something I could not control.. I know now ( not that I didnt before) what It takes in terms of training to get were I want to be.. And with a bit of luck I can achieve this! My plan remains the same TOP STEP IN KONA!
Hope you enjoyed reading.. until the next time!