Even putting down such a predicable title for my review sounds strange but sounds good. I’m 48 years old and have just completed my first Ironman in Barcelona finishing in 12:09:58 (Swim 1:36:01, Bike 5:35:47 and Run 4:37:44).
I have had a bit of a background in Endurance cycling over the last 5 years, having completed as part of 4 men teams in both Race Across America (RAAM) in 2013 and Race Around Ireland in 2015. I only did my fist 5km run in July 2013 and my first open water swim in June 2015. I’m nothing if not blindly ambitious in deciding in 2015 that I would like to do an Ironman 70.3 event. I therefore entered Dublin 70.3 before I had actually completed my first Open Water swim. Indeed, in my first TRI event, which was a sprint distance in Schull in June 2015 I never actually put my head under the water. Brest stroke all the way and on first name terms with the guys in the Kayaks. Undeterred by my complete lack of swimming ability I stuck to the task and completed Dublin in August 2015 in a time of 06:25 taking a full 59 mins for the swim. Not one to rest on my laurels I entered Barcelona as soon as registration opened in Oct ’15 and figured somehow I would pull together a plan. I figured there must be a book out there designed for crammers like me!!
Luckily I found better than a book with which to map out my strategy. A friend of mine Niamh Fleming recommended a training camp in Lanzarote run by Primed Coaching’s Oliver Harkin. I signed up comfortable in the knowledge that all was in hand. March came around quickly and I had wintered well in terms of being kind to myself and so I landed into Oliver’s camp expecting a nice easy start to my training programme. In fairness nowhere in Oliver’s pre-camp notes did he highlight the need the go on pre-training camp, training-camp. I found myself quickly and naturally in the slow lane of the pool being mentored by the great and patient, Paddy Mc Laughlin.
I just about hung on to the fast bike group but got my ass handed to me on all hills by everyone else and this was supposed to me my reliable discipline. For the most part longer run session over 5km were optional so as you can gather by now I did exactly that, I opted out. I couldn’t fault Oliver’s camp in any way and indeed I was fortunate to meet a great group of Triathletes, many with abilities I could only marvel at.
However, I did return home knowing full well that I needed to pull my finger out and that a bloody book was not going to rescue me.
I placed a call to Oliver to try and convince him to take me on as a “going concern” understanding full well that given he had observed me for a week in camp, he had to have his doubts. I couldn’t have gotten a more professional and direct response from Oliver. If I was willing to commit to his programme and to do what he would ask, then he would delivery me ready to the start line in Barcelona. Now any of you who have used Primed Coaching are well aware of Oliver’s complete approach in everything he does both personally as a Kona bound triathlete and on behalf of his many clients. He often refers however to his “Carrot and Stick” method of training. I am at this stage very familiar with the latter but I would ask, has anyone actually seen the Carrot??
As anyone training for their first Ironman, there is always a benefit in dialling in as many around you to help both physically and mentally. I am fortunate in that I got more than my fair share of support from those close to me. I dialled my buddy Bill Kelleher into the Great Plan from early on. Bill and I had completed RAAM together in 2013 as well as Dublin 70.3 in August 2015. His willingness to sign up for Barcelona was a major mental and motivational boost for me. Bill was a great companion in our open water sessions and the longer TT sessions. He has shared all the twist and turns of the mad adventure and we have a had a great laugh along the way. I have a great swim coach in Marc Sanquest who has literally taken me from my first 10 meter swim right through to training off 4km. His technical knowledge and knowhow has never been undermined by my inability to execute most of the requirements to be a good swimmer. We have made great progress and we still have a lot to do. To Marc’s wife Kadi who has been my strength and conditioning coach for the last 2 years, great thanks is due in getting me to accept that without a strong core I’m going nowhere. Her work has meant that I can comfortably stay down on the TT bars for 5 hours plus and without the need for any pain relief afterwards. My power and strength improvement on the bike is hugely due to the sessions done with my good friend Jerry O ‘Dwyer over the last 18 months. Jerry is a real life encyclopaedia in all matters relating mechanical aspects of both bike and body. As a practitioner he is outstanding and as a friend he is as good as it gets. So to be fair I wasn’t short on coaching support but even more important was the emotional and home support given throughout by my wife Denise and my kids. Committing to IM training programme means many domestic compromises have to be made that impact significantly on all the family. In truth I could only commit to the programme because I knew I had Denise’s full support and willingness to fill the many home life gaps I left.
Oliver’s programme from the start demanded a focus and a level of precision that I haven’t had to apply to any previous sporting project. There were many questions early on as I sought to understand all aspects of the regime. Each week built on the previous and I quickly grew in confidence that if I kept to the plan I could succeed. This confidence generated a level of enthusiasm for training that I never had before and I can honestly say I never sought the easy option or to bluff any session. Hard to believe but I have to admit I enjoyed the ever increasing training volumes. The only real injury difficulty I had was in developing Right Shin Splints half way through the programme. Adjusting my orthotic, Rock tape, off-road running and physio was the solution and I was delighted that this troublesome niggle didn’t feature on the big day.
Training done and off to Barcelona. There is no doubting the IM franchise quality and fanfare. It certainly makes for an exciting race build up. I did the requisite Swim, Bike and Run warm up sessions on Fri and the only thing of note was quite a strong sea breeze that certainly played on my mind as it made conditions challenging. Other than that, race build up went to plan in terms of nutrition and rest.
It was great to hear from Oliver that he would be traveling out the evening before the race to offer some real support to a total of 9 competitors that he was coaching. On Race morning I was surprised at just how calm I was. I keep telling myself just treat today as a long training session. A few welcome words from Oliver before swim start and even more welcome was the fact the wind had all but disappeared.
The rolling swim start suited me well. No frenzied start and I was able to place myself in the 1:30 group and thankfully it all just went like a training session. I kept concentrating on form and maintaining my pace without difficulty. Exiting the water in 1:34 meant that the day was going to plan and I was happy to get into T1 passing Denise and Oliver roaring support on the way. I had decided to do a full change of gear for my first IM and I regret that now as it just added too much to transition times so I don’t plan to do this in the future.
Out on the bike course I was quickly in the grove watching my power output to ensure I wasn’t digging a hole. I knew this was going to be my strong session and I quickly found I was making good progress. The course itself (New for 2016) has a total of 1600m of climbing so in truth not very demanding if you like climbing.
I was comfortably averaging 35km/hr and all seemed just too perfect until 45km from the finish I had a major front wheel blowout which brought my gallop to a halt. The initial puncture repair went ok until my CO2 failed and I was left trying to inflate using a 5 inch pump so not ideal but I had to make do. I lost 8 or 9 minutes but I was glad to be making progress again. Finished the bike course in 5:35 so I was happy with that having set an ideal target of 5:30.
T2 was slow again and I have to sharpen up in future but I was happy to be out on the run course and delighted to see Denise.
The run course being 3 laps out and back on a narrow course means it’s great for spectators and give the runners a great sense of crowd support which is crucial as the effort becomes more laboured. I had never run past 25km in training so I knew this was going to be a journey of exploration. The first lap came and went without event except for a tightening stomach that was clearly given signals that it would rather I didn’t try and eat anything more. I therefore had to survive for much longer than planned on liquids but I was left with little choice. Mentally once I passed 25km I was more aware of my laboured progress and my lap time for lap 3 shows this clearly. However the last lap only remained between me and finishing my first IM so I wasn’t going to worry too much about my slowing speed. I tried to enjoy the last few km's before getting on the red carpet, excited about the prospect of seeing Denise and finishing out my IM after 6 months of hard training. I enjoyed a quick high 5 from Oliver and there I was posing for my finishing picture. What a rush! The pictures tell it all, pure exhilaration. Job done.
So what have I learned. Well, firstly I can do IM distance and I can enjoy it. Loads to improve on and I want to improve as opposed to simply ticking a box and moving on to something different. So now for a bit of rest, some coffee and cake, some family and friend time, some fun. But already my mind is drawn to next year and making a plan. Better give Oliver a call!!!