The dream of completing my first Ironman 70.3 race was born out of inspiration from a very late night’s viewing of the Ironman World Championships from Kona in October 2018, at which club-members Annemarie Power and Sean Finn were competing. Completely buzzing and unable to sleep I decided that I needed a new goal for 2019. Having completed my first half distance race at Lough Cutra in May 2018 I decided that the 70.3 distance was one that potentially suited me as I seemed to really enjoy the endurance and didn’t seem to be any slower at the longer distance! At Halloween I set off on a training plan over 6 months aiming for a race abroad in May. On New Year’s Eve I registered for Ironman 70.3 and there was no turning back. The choice of race was based on First Communion dates and direct flights from Cork! As always clubmates were an enormous source of information along the way as many had competed at the same event in previous years. I found the wealth of experience in the club invaluable and I found the reassurance from Brendan O’Neill as the months went by to be great in terms of confidence building.
To be very honest I trained 6-7 times per week over 6 days for a 6-month period. The consistency was key for me. I had no injuries and managed to avoid illness, but I didn’t sweat it if I missed a day for life reasons, just got straight back on the horse. I remember someone in the club mentioned to me in early January that they saw on Strava that I had trained every day between Christmas and New Year and I hadn’t really noticed, training just became part of what I did every week. One thing I did change was that I tried to participate in more group sessions, and this brought me on in leaps and bounds. I also got group swim coaching with Eilis Burns and really enjoyed the learning experience, even if I was terrified of her at first! Two pals of mine based in Dublin also agreed to register and the WhatsApp group was a constant source of motivation. My wife, Suzanne, was very supportive and our kids got used to life with Daddy half-heartedly parenting from the treadmill or the turbo trainer.
In terms of logistics I shipped my bike with TriBike Transport, and I couldn’t recommend the experience highly enough. I booked a hotel within walking distance to transition which also meant there were no taxis/buses/transfers required. As I wasn’t sure if I would be doing another event in the future, I wanted to make the most of every minute, so we flew out on Wednesday before race day on Saturday. The razzmatazz around the event was great fun but the eye remained firmly on the ball. On arrival we put on the runners and ran the 7km run loop mainly along a beach promenade and meandering through the town and suburbs of Alcudia. Verdict: dead flat, but we could fry in hot temperatures. On Thursday morning we donned the wetsuits and took to the water in Alcudia harbour. Delighted with the calm conditions, minimal current and Ballygowan-like clear water I was optimistic of a swim PB, especially with rolling starts now standard at all IM events, so no melee at swim start. One of the great fears regarding the event was the 850m climb on the bike that starts after 20km and is consistently upward for 13km, with two very short respites. So, Thursday afternoon we hired a Fiat Panda and took off in search of this famous climb. The bike course is flat for 10k then 1% gradient for the next 10km. With a beautiful road surface it was going to be hard not to power to 20km. Our excitement gave way to increasing silence as our trusty Panda expended considerable juice climbing and climbing and climbing to the summit at Lluc. What follows is a very technical descent involving 22 switch backs over a 10km stretch. None of the bends have signs on them and there is real potential to leave the road as not all bends have barriers. At the bottom of the descent we realised that there was still half the cycle left to complete. This couple of hours in our Panda was time well spent. With all thoughts of a fast bike time put to bed I realised a new race plan was required and my new bike plan consisted of steady first 20km, not to attack the hill, keeping Watts at 200 on the climb and if feeling well after the descent power home on the flat in the second half.
Friday was filled with prepping all the equipment, nutrition, bike checks, racking the bikes etc and that sense of pre-exam nerves was certainly there. Luckily, I don’t suffer much with nerves round races and I think for those who do, a several day run-in to event might by a bit long. I found all the messages of support from home really encouraging.
Race day: alarm set for 6am the hotel kindly laid on an early breakfast for the triathletes, although I stuck with my trusty Flahavans porridge. Layers of suncream didn’t prevent my neck from getting scorched, however. Next was to drop off the nutrition and stick the Garmin Edge onto the bike. Into the wetsuit and it was time for the practice swim. Athletes chose their own starting group depending on their expected swim time: <5-hour finishers, 30-35 minutes, 35-40 and so on. Confidently myself and one of my pals chose the 30-35 minute group. I remember ACDC booming out over the PA as we took to the water and I promised myself 2 things, to enjoy it and to leave nothing out there with consistent application of effort.
The swim was beautiful with the water a balmy 18 degrees. No traffic issues and as I swam I repeated Eilis’s phrases like ‘slide and glide’ ‘activate your engine’ i.e. your core and ‘you swim best when relaxed’. Quick look at the watch on exiting the water, 30 minutes dead, delighted with the PB, time to park that and concentrate on T1. Majorca 70.3 is the largest in the world with 3,800 triathletes and transition is a 500m long stretch of road, situated 150m from the water’s edge. All your transition gear is stored in blue (bike) and red (run) bags which are racked at the entrance to transition which in my case was >400m from my bike, so concentration is required. I was lucky that my bike was situated close to the mount line which meant I had a very short distance to run with my bike. Average T1 transition times in Majorca are between 5 and 8 minutes so I was happy enough with 6 minutes.
We were lucky with the weather. Temperatures at the time of the run reached 24 degrees, and the first hour of the race was mercifully overcast. There was a light breeze which increased in strength through the day which aided in keeping the bodies cool. The first 20km eases you into the cycle and there is a temptation to take advantage. Temptation resisted it was time to climb. Accepting the large numbers of cyclists filing by me on the climb I stuck rigidly to my 200Watt limit. I tried to distract myself with the spectacular scenery and if someone passed me with an Irish race number I reckoned it was good karma to shout something encouraging to them. The petrol station at Lluc marks the top of the climb and it was time to concentrate on the demanding descent. Important to have some awareness of others on this part as ‘race-brain’ does crazy things to sane people. Other cyclists are as much a risk as the hairpin bends themselves. At the bottom of the descent there was a mixture of relief and optimism as the legs felt very fresh. It was time to make up some ground. The second half of the cycle is flat and calls to 3 towns, one of which, Campanet, has some uneven road for a couple of kilometres. Drafting was rife and I wasn’t too upset when Daniele from Germany was done with a time penalty after resting on my saddle for almost an hour! The climb and descent were the only areas where policing was ignored from what I could see. Tom Mulqueen’s phrase ‘you are only fooling yourself if you are just lollipop-ing along’ was ringing in my ears and I used his system’s check repeatedly to ensure relaxed and efficient posture. The only drama was that at 70k my saddle-mounted bottle-holder fell off. I didn’t panic but I did turn around to retrieve the cannister I use to hold my puncture kit and this lost me a minute or two. I was thrilled with the last 40km of the bike which I completed in 65 minutes.
As I approached T2 I spun out the legs and was impressed that the legs felt good. I am always relieved in races to be finished the bike as I have zero background in cycling and rarely train on the roads outside of races, mainly for life reasons. My run has improved a lot lately but as a veteran of only 2 half-marathons ever, I knew this would be a challenge in the heat. Against my race plan I took off too quickly with a 4.17 first km. I settled back after this and was encouraged by how many people I was passing. In my head I was hoping they were the same folks who eased passed me on the earlier climb! Frequent aid stations facilitated frequent hydration and a gel after each loop was my plan. I don’t know who it was who told me regarding hydration that ‘if you are thirsty it’s too late’, but I took it as my motto and drank small quantities at very frequent intervals throughout the bike and run. At no point did I want to stop and thankfully cramp which has been an issue for me never made an appearance. This year, as in last year’s race, I concentrated on contextualising the effort or ‘suffering.’ I found my mind drawn to patients of mine and people I know who have suffered and what a privilege it was for me to be here in this moment with every advantage possible in life. And with those thoughts in my mind I was ecstatic to cross the finish line in 5 hours and 13 minutes.
This was written in the hope that it may be of benefit to others in the club who are considering stepping up to longer races or indeed taking on the Majorca 70.3 in future years. Quite honestly the only person holding yourself back is you. The very best of luck.
My top 10 tips for someone moving from sprints to an Ironman event are:
- Don’t try it alone. Build-in some group training sessions with the club. This will keep you disciplined, adds to the motivation factor and you will gain a whole host of free advice while making new friends
- Find a buddy. Having someone else who is aiming at the same race is great for mutual support. This doesn’t have to be your best friend and doesn’t need to be someone with the exact same goals. While triathlon races are about personal goals, it is a sport best enjoyed as a shared experience
- You don’t need a paid coach to succeed. Coached sessions, club members and online resources can provide you with the support you require. If in doubt, ask advice
- Make your training part of your routine schedule. Having fixed sessions during your week gives you discipline and makes them less of a choice
- Race your way to success. There is no better way to develop yourself as a triathlete than to build experience at racing. Each race will teach you lessons and builds up experience of different race conditions, transitions and mechanical issues that can be difficult to simulate in training. Races give you feedback as to what is going well and not so well.
- Set a goal. You can keep it a secret if you wish, but without a target training can be aimless and measures of progress are more unlcear
- Be realistic. Moving from sprint to 70.3 or Olympic to full IM in one season is not optimal. Gradual evolution is probably best for your body and mind. Unrealistic goals can lead to setbacks that can damage confidence
- Keep your mind open to learning. Just because you feel one discipline is your forte doesn’t mean you can’t learn and improve
- Identify your weakness. Identifying and working at your weaker element frequently yields substantial results. It can also have a positive impact on your performance at the other disciplines. We often have a tendency to train more at the discipline we enjoy most
- Make it fun. Enjoyment, friendship and camaraderie will sustain you. A good laugh will ease the pain. Benefit from other people’s positivity and encouragement. All data and no fun makes for a very boring triathlete!
Paul Kelly, May 2019