Ironman Exploits

By | October 17, 2018

On Sunday the 7th of October three more members of the Blackwater Triathlon Club joined the elite ranks of people who have completed an Ironman distance Triathlon. Niamh Fleming, Marie MacAree and Michael Mulcahy all travelled to Spain to take part in Ironman Barcelona. Along with over 3,000 other athletes, they took on the 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42 km run in cold, wet and windy conditions. Niamh’s partner, Julian Boeg, accompanied her on the trip and both of them have written a brief account of their respective experiences on the day.

Niamh: I was a small bit worried at how chilled  and relaxed I was the week leading up to the Ironman. The nerves had actually set in about 3 weeks earlier when I started to doubt everything I was doing. Had I done enough training? Was it the right type of training? I still hadn’t locked in what gear I was going to be wearing, and I was still trying out different types of nutrition for race day. I also needed a new chain and cassette for my bike and Noel Linane, my bike mechanic had noticed a weakness in the rim of my front wheel, meaning it was unsafe to cycle on. I only had one more weekend to bed in the new chain and cassette and see how my new wheel felt on the road before it went off with Ship My TriBike to Barcelona. This was hardly ideal preparation but it didn’t bother me as much as it should have. On arriving in Spain, I took the advice from those who’d gone before, to enjoy the atmosphere in Calella in the few days leading up to the big day and, more importantly, enjoy the actual event (I don’t like calling it a race, because for most of us mere mortals, it’s not a race but rather, a major life event). It was pretty amazing from start to finish. Calella is such a small compact little town that on Ironman week every second person is either a participant or a supporter (crew). 3400 people plus their associated entourages, all like minded people with the same goal in mind, milling around everywhere you turn for the entire week. It’s like everyone knows everyone else, a nodding knowing glance is a whole conversation in any language. Amazingly, I slept right through the thunder and lightning storm the night before the big event and woke up buzzing, more mentally ready than ever before. This was my fourth time entering a full Ironman event; I pulled out very early on the first time and with 8 weeks to go the second time due to injury. On my third attempt, I made it to the start line but not the finish line. (Temperatures in excess of thirty degrees in Germany meant that a lot of people failed to finish that one). I couldn’t wait to get started. Even the torrential downpour while putting the bottles and nutrition on the bike in transition didn’t dampen my spirits. The music whilst waiting in the holding pen for the swim start had me on a high. Game on, into the waves crashing onto the beach, I don’t remember it much but I got in without a stumble, a few accidental elbows to the nose, neck and ribs didn’t phase me. The swell didn’t bother me, I just kept thinking about my stroke and obviously sighted well enough to get a personal best. I surfed a wave in and beached nicely for a smooth exit (pure dumb luck). I was delighted to see, with a glance at my watch that I’d gone quicker than expected. I took my time and did a full change in transition and out onto the bike. I was glad I’d put on my short sleeved cycle jersey, gillet and arm warmers. It was cold and it rained. At some stage on the outward journey of the second loop, the sun came out to play. I had a quick sandwich while I stopped to take off my gillet and arm warmers, might as well make the stop worth while! Heading towards the end of the cycle, I just kept thinking, great, nearly finished the bike. Others were saying “just a marathon to do now”, but I refused to think about that till I was actually on the run course. It had clouded over and I knew it would be dark before I finished so I left my jersey on instead of changing into my tri top. I had my running legs pretty much straight away, and just jogged along from aid station to aid station keeping an eye on the watch, trying to vaguely stay at the same pace, knowing that people were tracking me and would worry if I slowed dramatically. It was the incentive I needed. I kept reminding myself that the faster I went and fewer stops I made, the quicker it would be over and all the discomfort and pain was only temporary. Loads of people passed me on the first two laps, but on the last lap, this reversed and the closer I got to that finish line, the stronger I felt. I laughed/cried (no tears) out loud for that last kilometre and didn’t care how mad I looked. I crossed that line literally jumping in the air. That feeling of absolute elation is why you put yourself through all that blood sweat and tears, one hip operation later, months, years of training, early nights and early mornings etc. It’s absolutely magic. I can’t believe, I am finally, an IronMan.

And here is Julian’s view from the gallery.

Getting out to Creville for the Barca Ironman 3 days early was a good choice . Athletes had a chance to familiarise themselves with the hotel, assemble and check the bikes, have several test swims in the mornings, drive the cycle course and walk the run route.  All important elements to help get the head straight for the event itself. There was also a chance to see the ironman Expo and check out all the latest triathlon gear. Up at 6 on race day the 3 musketeers were in a good place. A little nervous but raring to go. The weather had changed and conditions were cold and damp in the pens at 8 am waiting for the swim start, but despite this there was a great atmosphere among the competitors and the support crews. There was a steep run into the sea and good drop off into deep water . It was a very technical entry where swimmers had to get their timing right or you got dumped back out. Sea conditions were good with a good rolling sea, not confused or choppy.  It really suited the Blackwater athletes who are used to swimming in Youghal or Myrtleville. Except this time the water was 21 degrees! The swim was at 30 deg to the waves from turn one to turn 2. Turn 3 surf in to 4 followed by a short leg back to the last buoy. At this stage the swimmers had to work harder in a rising sea to try to get a good surf in and careful exit . Get it right and its up the beach. If not, egg beater and sucked back out. All 3 times of the BTC swimmers showed the level of preparation they had all put in. The weather was drying up a little now but there was still quite a cold wind. At least 10 swimmers gave up inside 50 m of the swim . There was a constantly active jet ski bringing people ashore. People had  been banking on a flat calm swim and many were unprepared for the conditions on the day. There was great support for all 3400 athletes.  Good fun to watch the bikes come into the turnaround . Elite athletes and faster boys and girls making short work of the hills. Not exactly a flat course except for the back 20 km, the cycle course consisted of   two 90 km loops of good road . The weather improved as the day went on, meanwhile some of the crew completed the irongirl run complete with baby buggies baby and baggage! Big yeehawww to Bridget and Eileen! Connor and I were watching beautiful machinery and cheering the people. All 3  BTC members made it safely through the cycle, in to T2 and running with style and a smile ! They needed arm warmers and gillet on the run as the weather changed yet again, getting cold and wet. Typical Irish conditions. The crowds were cheering and bands were playing. Guerrilla tactics were required from the support crews so that the athletes didn’t know where to expect support and encouragement. None of them needed a stern word to get them through. Spirits were high and all that training was paying off! It was raining hard now and night was falling. Road conditions made for lsloppy, slippy running but there were still thumbs up and smiles from our athletes as they completed the biggest challenges of their triathlon careers. First Mick, then Niamh and then Marie came down the finishing chute on to the red carpet, accompanied by the cheers of the supporters, to get their much deserved Ironman medal. It was a truly awesome and emotional day for all of us, athletes and supporters alike. Awesome is an overused expression but in this case it was entirely appropriate. Three outstanding athletes who were brilliantly prepared both mentally and physically. Months, and indeed years, of hard work finally paid off. Barcelona is supposed to be a lovely sunny race and relatively easy in Ironman terms, but the Irish brought all four seasons with them in the one day and there was nothing easy about the race that Sunday. Over 1000 competitors failed to finish on the day. Athletes and support crew were tired but absolutely elated as the day drew to a close.

An incredible experience for everyone involved and especially the Blackwater Three, Niamh, Marie and Mick.