Going Home (to race and play)
|Sister and Husband after one of the many great meals|
before the race at the Grand Canal
Good thing I did, 700+ NA athletes, with relationships to Ireland ranging from simply loving the place, those with Irish ancestors and those like myself. Almost 2000 more piled on and the race probably sold out faster than any other IM last year.
The Inaugural IronMan Ireland was, according to the Voice of IronMan Mike Riley conducted in the worst weather conditions he has ever seen. Even the tough Irish Athletes said they had never raced in such conditions. Winds were so strong that we could not swim in the Atlantic off the coast of Youghal. But as Allister Brownlee put so well, we got a combined bike and swim for 180k so the first timers (500 strong) need not worry that their friends might think they really did not do an IM.
So how could this be the most memorable holiday and race I can remember in over 150 Triathlons and 26 IronMan races. Simple answer, the people of Youghal and Ireland, volunteers and spectators, my fellow racers (especial those brave souls 70+, all 7 of us), my very special sister and her wonderful fun family, and old friends. And, of course Ireland when she had the sun was out, which happens many days at least for a few minutes, except race day.
Challenge Roth last year the spectators and race organizers were simply amazing. It outranked Kona IMO in that regard. Youghal was every bit the same adjusting for a much smaller population size. Yes, there were some problems typical of a first-time event and a first time in Ireland but that was more than made up for from the above. Mike Riley was clearly impressed by the event. And Mike, I have found your protégée who should be in your succession planning, Joanne Murphy, was awesome. An Irish voice on the finish line in Hawaii would be a natural. The Irish and Hawaiians have an awful lot in common in their history and their sense of Ohana (Part of Hawaiian culture, Ohana means family in an extended sense of the term).
A lot of us who toed the line on June 23 did not finish. In my book they are every bit an IM for just being willing to give it a go. Mike called out the oldest woman to almost finish, I think 65, at the award ceremony, she missed the cut off by 6 minutes. She got a standing ovation, well earned. Those of you with Irish blood in you, and not, don’t be put off by the story of this year’s first IronMan, even in the worst conditions it was magic, in the race when you got a big cheer, and more so after the day.
And I hope, “Youghal” come back someday (yes you Southern Americans you do pronounce the name of the city your way). On to race day.
The build Up
I knew I was home. Breakfast followed.
Two fun days in Dublin followed with Daniel, Abby and his fun, very active and beautiful 3 children, Harry took the IronMan on for a sprint, I lost, it’s a family gene. The long Irish June days ended with late nights and early rising.
Then two days with my sister and a bit of biking and running with more late nights and great chat continued. Then down to Tramore, the real home, to meet old friends, more swimming and biking, and again late nights chatting.
Tramore waters were about 2F warmer and the swim was a bit longer. Amazing to look at my home town from about 800m out from the harbor where I learned to swim, and almost drowned at age 7 or 8.
Tuesday a day in Youghal. A 45 min swim felt warn after Dublin and Tramore and confidence built with new friend Niall and Michelle. That was valuable as the forecast was not great for Sunday. But I knew Ireland, even 5 days out it could be Sunny, as forecast or terrible. The latter was not being contemplated.
|Niall and Michele two|
first timers with finishing 5th
Back up to my sisters, and husbands, farm for one night and back to Youghal, next day (more driving than I ever done in the week before a race, that worried me more than the lack of sleep). Three days to go continued with much socializing with my friends from Lafayette (where I now live) and who shared a cottage with me. One more swim and a little Brick and I was ready. Saturday was a beautiful sunny day. Water was a bit choppy but more than manageable. Water Temps now felt balmy. I was Habituated.
A long time ocean swimmer who lives and swims near Tramore who has a blog (Lone Swimmer) about his extreme swimming adventures explains you can’t really defy nature and your body, you can die swimming in cold water but you can get used to it, habituate, I think I had reached that point.
Forecasting in the weather for the NW of Europe is one of the most difficult in the world. The forecast from Met Erin at 3:30 was for intermittent light rain for most of the day with some stronger showers over lunch time and moderate winds, not too bad really for Ireland. On the 40 min drive to Youghal (we were staying in one of the most picturesque parts to Ireland on the Blackwater river (which flows through Youghal and passes Lismore Castle, well worth visiting) I noticed the trees moving in the early morning twilight, that was not a moderate breeze.
A bad forecast was confirmed on arrival at Transition, the breeze was strong and the waves building. It already looked like the swim might be shortened.
We had been warned that the swim might be shortened on Saturday because of low air temps
6:10 we got the word, no swim and a time trial start of the bike. That would start around 7, another hour or more in the rain. John Higgins, one of the few over 70, found that if you huddled close a generator you could warm up. Never mind carbon monoxide poising. Colm Kelly, who I thought would challenge me when we got to running, took a rain check
Pros got going closer to 8 than 7. It quickly became apparent that the old geezers would leave transition very late, they started the fast youngsters first, I crossed the line just after 9.
I am sure that we, the last few 100 starters, were all on the edge of hypothermia when we pushed across the start line and hopped on. Well perhaps not the Irish, who I assumed were all the men and women in bike shorts and short sleeve shirts. Caution was certainly a buzz word that circulated all our brains as we headed up to the Old Main Cork Road that I had traveled on many times. We then had a mile or so on smooth roads with the wind at our backs. I pushed hard the first 30 min holding 190np watts to warm up. It was raining quite hard.
There will be a lot of chatter, an appropriate word in this context, about the road surface for a large part of the course. The local roads used were not smooth, but I saw worse in the Escape from Alcatraz last year and other US races. The difference was there was more of the rough stuff and more importantly it was a technical course with many turns and a lot of them blind because of the hedgerows. It did not deter me much the first 10-15 miles, I was focused on staying as warm as possible and was taking a risk that it would catch up with me later, we all had no choice.
I had a mental picture of Garryvoe Beach in the Sun at mile 24, good positive thinking but the rain was pelting down on us. Shanagarry flashed by (mile 26) The road was quite good along this stretch, average speed was still going up while I had dialed back the power to about 180.
Shanagarry is home to two of my HS mates, Stephen and Simon Pierce. Stephen took over his fathers’ pottery business turning into an international success. Younger brother Simon took up glass blowing also gaining international recognition. Stephens business is shown on the race course map. Simon’s has a directional sign on the interstate in New Hampshire, indications of success I would think.
Simon and Simon almost wrecked our mothers’ cars racing in a field near his home at 14, parents did not find out for many years.
A sign just up the road directs you to an internationally famous Cooking School, boutique hotel and restaurant, started by the parents of other HS mates, I hope some of the athletes found this place, the food is the best.
Stephen sorry for not stopping by, I was in a rush (and seem to be so all my time in Ireland).
The ride so far was rolling and there were some short steep climbs but nothing that would challenge anyone. It stayed that way up to Midleton where we got some reprieve from the rough roads. I wonder if anyone stopped into Jamesons for some "Uisce Beatha" whiskey to you uninformed. The good roads continued up the northern end of the course at Leahy Open Farm. But the trend was constantly up, and speed dropped, the rain had not. Power was now into a range I thought I could handle for the duration, 175.
The cold and rain was starting to become a familiar almost comfortable feeling, it did not take much of an increase in apparent wind speed to remind me that we were racing on the edge.
The most challenging part of the bike course was just ahead about 40 miles in, fast downhills if you could handle the corners, and increasing long climbs with varying grades. I had ridden down this section once and driven twice, it was not enough to memorize things fully, braking was constant. Also, I had discovered almost the hard way early on how ineffective the brakes were in the wet coming within an inch of a collision, next bike will have disc brakes. The brakes when applied were almost useless for what seemed like an eternity. I assumed that the friction was warming them up and at eventually they became almost dry and functional. FYI rain is almost a nonevent in Colorado if you are retired and can avoid the few rain days.
A left in Mount Uniacke took us up the first steeper hill of significance and on to the narrowest roads, no room for two cars to pass and stay on the pavement. Two days earlier I had had a wonderful conversation with the 3rd generation owner of the Powers Pub. Even short chats like that one is what made this so special, longer ones were even better.
Hard right in Inch at the bottom of a hill and much pulling on the brakes hammered home the message be careful. Some more climbs were ahead before the descent back into Youghal. Windmill hill loomed in the mind. Power was back up to 180 over this section but with a much higher variability.
The worst of the hill is about 200m with I believe 23% grade, that happens just after a 90deg turn, no run at the hill. Then it gets just a bit easier for another 200 before seeming to level out. I was determined to ride up the first time, a decision to do it twice depended on the feel of the first.
My peak power on the hill was just under 500 watts for 2 sec and 400 for 5. I have not climbed out of the saddle as hard as that since 2012 and that was only 19 watts more, the legs screamed. The next mile was downhill.
I was not done with Windmill, as I came down the hill my left abductor started to tell me, too much. Minutes later it decided I had not got the message and went into a cramp the likes of which I have never experienced. I had to stop for a minute. Then the right one decided to pile on and for the next 3-4 miles I wondered if this was the end of the race. I was lucky I must have pushed them right to the edge but not over, I was slowly recovering. Any ideas of a repeat of that stunt in a few hours vanished. Power for the next 45 min and indeed the rest of the ride dropped a lot, too much. The effort to get warm and Windmill had taken a toll.
Loop two was much the same but slower, 30 min slower. I had thought on the first loop that the amazing support we were getting from spectators would diminish. No such thing, heavy rain was still coming in in heavy bands from the SE soaking them, and us. I recognized many from the first loop. One lady was still sitting in a low chair under a huge umbrella at her front gate protected from the wind by the stone wall on either side. Some of the umbrellas looked like they had taken a beating. When the rain eased for a while I hoped that it meant that a reprieve was coming, no such luck.
I should have known better. On a ride at age 15 to the west of Ireland from Tramore a school mate and I stayed with an Uncle of his in Shanagarry. We headed up the same roads as Sunday. By noon time it was lightly raining getting heaver thru the afternoon, we pitched tent in a field early and huddled. Next morning water was flowing thru the tent. We gave up and took the train home. Quitting was not an option the this time.
I rode a bit more confidently back down the hills on the way to Youghal and walked up Windmill. Even that effort was hard.
Transitions where I am sure the slowest on record for everyone. I lost my data for this but it was 15 min or more. But that was good considering the complete change of clothes onto a damp sticky body. Now the big question, what had Windmill and the rest of the almost 6,000ft of climbing done to my running legs.
A Running Tours of Youghal - 4 times
As I left T2 good news, no sign of my competition when I looked over my shoulder exiting the tent. After a short planned walk the legs surprised me, they felt much better than expected. The first K or so of the run east were exposed to the SE wind as we ran along the boardwalk, manageable. I settled into my run routine, 1 min run 30 sec walk. On the first hill, three on each round trip, there were hints of muscle fatigue. Troubling news but I had been there before and felt it was the adjustment to running after a hard ride, wishful thinking but staying positive was important.
The first time thru Youghal was reasonably fast, holding what I thought would be my pace for much of the run, a bit over 7min/K. Passed the location where the Pequod was docked for loading in the 1956 film version of Moby Dick with a smile. A National Irish Newspaper was a bit snarky when they said that the IM was going to be the biggest thing in Youghal since Moby Dick. It certainly was one of the big things in the last 50+ years.
After the first turnaround I thought I spotted a race number I knew was one of my competitors. Bad news, he must have had a much faster transition, he was no more than a mile back. That added a spring to my step for a while. It also had my brain churning over. His bike was not on our rack and there had been no sign of him before the start. Could he have snuck in somewhere else, had he started with the earliest starters (I would have been almost an hour ahead if so).
There was a great gang of Lads clearly fans of some Football or Irish Sports Club in the middle of the town screaming out their chant for their team. Thanx guys, I was hoping you would be there for every loop, what a boost. I was not disappointed, you are awesome.
A detour back into the changing tent after the first loop got me a new timing chip. By very good luck I had looked at my ankle after seeing my competition and found the original missing. It felt like an eternity but was only about 3 min (an eternity if anyone was close to me). I knew I had left it in T2.
The second time at the north end of the course I saw the same face ahead of me, that rattled me so more but there was nothing I could do except hope he could not keep the pace up. My brain was now fatigued, and I did not think that he probably started earlier. My job now was to run my race. I did not see him again, but it led to me not knowing how I did until Monday just before the awards.
My legs were starting to feel like they did in similar conditions in my first Marathon in Dublin in 2000 and my first IM in Lake Placid, they were seizing up with rust. Starting running after a walk was getting more painful but after a few steps reached a level that was tolerable but mentally daunting. I tried a longer run, bad idea. Words of “advice” from my Dad at 16 came back, “you don’t know anything about pain” (see side bar)
All the people of Youghal were still out on the streets or so it seemed on loop three (they were still there on the last). Some sheltering in the doorway of their homes, pub or a shop, others under big umbrellas. I started to look forward to seeing familiar faces, but where was my sister, I wondered what had happened to her.
Finally, my sister finds me on the last out and back. She thought I had dropped out because I had lost my timing chip. The first part of that last leg was very hard. Then the voices of Mike and Joanne came drifting under the 14thcentury clock tower, the big landmark in Youghal, adrenaline started its magic.
The hard part like Kona is you pass the finish line at about mile 24 and run away from it. It’s the same thing in Youghal, you also have to run down the boardwalk again into the wind and up one more hill that has grown in stature.
I don’t think I was ever quite so happy finishing an IronMan. At the same time I was never so happy to be done with it. It had been ugly at times, going up Windmill, and immensely satisfying, cresting Windmill. It was slow, I do like fast, and would have set a PW (Personal Worst) had there been a swim. My goal was to finish fair weather or foul and Sunday foul settled in for the day. I knew finishing could be the secret to winning. Sadly, for my friends and competitors, that was the case. The hug from my sister at the finish was awesome, the offer of a pint from a new friend Sean O’Leary in the hotel most appreciated, I had to decline for my heath, it would have killed me for sure. I made up for that on Monday with my nephew..
Two of my competitors dropped out because of flats, Colm Kelly (Colm stood beside me on the podium in Kona in 2016) and John Higgins a tough looking man from the West (of Ireland). I know that could have been me and would also have ended my race. The secret to surviving was creating body heat, rather hard when changing a flat. I’m not sure what happened to Trey Evans but of all of us Trey was training/living in the wrong place to be used to the conditions, Texas. I look forward to racing with you Colm you in Kona when we age up in 2021
It was a small room for the awards lunch with the sun shining brightly outside on Monday. was packed with group of very enthusiastic athletes. It had a wonderful feel of the earlier days of racing. Having Mike and Joanne in our face rather than miles away and on a jumbo screen added to an atmosphere of racing fans.
I only found out that I was the only finisher in my AG as we walked in, the second oldest finisher. That made for a reception when I got on the Podium that was new for me and amazing. At 75 Gennaro Maagliulo was the oldest and he got a roar that must have woken up anyone sleeping in the hotel.
One last great meal in the Hotel that ejected me at age 7 (did not like the food) ended our stay in Youghal. I want to come back someday and I will because as Mike or Joanne said the weather can only be better and you will set a new PR for the course.
|Nephew Daniel and Great Niece's and Nephew|
|Ingrid and my three fellow travelers in Ireland from Lafayette (John and Chanc)|
and Boulder. You can just see Katie's arm is in a sling. Crashed 20 min into
bike, pulled herself out o the Hedgerow and finished. Fractured Collar bone.