Ironman Youghal, June 2019

by John O’Driscoll

Just a quick history of how I ended up signing up for IM Youghal. I started work in MSD Brinny in April 2016, I hadn’t trained properly for a good many years and in my 20’s I played squash and did a nice bit of running but never with a club. I was overweight and out of shape. There were a few CTC members working here but they were at a serious level. About a year after I started there a few new staff started who were enthusiastic, energetic and they quickly made an impact. (Both female, Kate Crowley a CTC member on a year out in Australia and Máire Fox who transferred from Dublin to Cork. She was a 3D member for 10 years and transferred to CTC when she arrived down.) They organised 7 team entries into the Cork City Marathon that year and it was a huge success.

Within a few months of their arrival they had weekly cycles from work in the evening, they organised weekly swims to Sandycove and we were starting to run a few BHAA races. Nothing crazy but getting out and about. Máire suggested doing the Crosshaven Triathlon, it was a super sprint and you didn’t need to be affiliated to triathlon Ireland so again big entry from work in the relay section, but I signed up for the full thing, Of course Kate felt we needed to practise a race first, so we entered Blackwater Try a Tri in Fermoy.

There was 5 of us from work that day, 4 of that 5 are now CTC members. I meet Neil Creedon at the race, he gave me a few last-minute tips. Michelle Manning also from work was there too but she was injured from a fall off the bike, but she took loads of photos of the day and cheered us on. The swim was 150metres and it took me less than 4 mins, I was second out of the water. T1 took 5 minutes and 20 seconds. I was pulled twice in transition for nudity (no shirt on) I didn’t have a tri suit. It was a fantastic race, I smiled the whole way around. Crosshaven the following week was even better. I was hooked. I was waiting patiently to join Triathlon Ireland and CTC that October when It opened for the following year, it was taking forever to happen, I met Neil in work one day and he said to come along with him to the Wednesday training run, I went, and he introduced me to everyone. From the very first day everyone was so nice and friendly.

The support, comradery and encouragement that exists within the club is second to none, I can’t stress that enough, it was so easy for me to sign up to classes and turn up to the weekly runs and cycles, talks about fitness and weekends away. Summer Aquathon, TT on Tuesday and the 2 club races. This is all made easy because of the huge amount of work being done behind the scenes by club members for all our benefit, they give their time for the good of the club and its members. This structure, support and fitness strength behind me made it so easy for me to target an Ironman after 2 years. Huge thanks for that guys.

I remember my first weekend away training camp I was rooming with Noel O’Reagan and he was totally focused on his performance and who was doing well in his age category. He told me It will happen to me as well, I laughed it off at the time, but I absolutely dissect the results afterwards now, checking out if I shave a few minutes of here and there, if I work on my running and go a bit quicker how much can my position increase within my age category. Noel and I are in the same age category not that he’s worried about my performances…..not right now anyway. I didn’t race that much this year focused on the Ironman, but I have a few races still to come.

Prior to IM Youghal the Lost Sheep was my longest event and I had a horrendous day in Kenmare last year. I got everything wrong, all rookie mistakes. I had done the route a few weeks previous and it was cold going over Healy and Caha. On race day I had my club winter jacket in the T1 bag. I could see the top of the mountain and it was cloudy. Did a good swim, out of the water after 35 mins and onto the bike. Within 20 minutes the sun was out and 24 degrees, if it was a cheap jacket I would have thrown it away, but it was a good club winter one. Didn’t eat enough on the bike and my fluids were energy drinks nothing with salts or electrolytes. Sweated buckets and sapped all my energy on the bike. Everyone passed me. When I arrived in T2 I cramped immediately. I was like someone with a wooden leg I had my runner on but couldn’t bend down to tie my lace. The futherest I got between my legs cramping up was about a kilometre. I would have to stop massage my muscle before I could even get back to walking and then eventually a light jog. I finished in a horrendous condition even though looking back at the photos you wouldn’t think it. Hopefully I’ll be able to do it right this year. Apart from the race it was a great weekend my wife came with me she did marshalling, she loved it.

After the Lost Sheep, I had it in my head to do the full distance, I was looking at going to Austria when they announced the very first Ironman Ireland which would be held in Youghal. It was an easy decision. I was coming into it from a good training base so all the advice I was getting was to follow a program, I bought Joe Friels book but was struggling with the program. I then got a program from a friend that I used for maybe 3 weeks before I eventually settled with Don Finks book. This was by far the best and easiest to follow. He had 3 programs, Advanced, Intermediate and Just Finish. Initially I followed the Advanced, but the volume of training was too much with work and family commitments I ended up missing sessions. Sean Finn asked me how my training was going, and I told him about my issues, he advised me to drop back to a program I could follow completely because I could end up dropping key sessions on the advanced program. Looking back this was one of the best bits of advice I got, that and the nutritional advice from Máire and her husband Kevin (2-time Kona qualifier) on my food intake coming up to the event and the food and drink I would be consuming on the day of the event.

Neil Creedon had said to me at the very start that staying injury free would be my hardest test. With the volume of training I was doing this proved too much and I suffered with shin splints on my left leg around March, this is where having a good Physio really pays off. Big thanks to Karen for sorting all my issues prior to the event. After sorting my shin, I ended up with Achilles issues on my right heal, this gave me trouble throughout training and on race day I was running with a heal raise. Only now am I starting to run without it.

For the weeks running up to the event there was talk of the swim being under pressure because the water temperature was only 10 degrees. The fact that it was annoying me that there would be no swim gave me a positive boost. I felt I must be ready if I wanted it to be the full distance. There was a nice crew from the club doing the event and I was lucky enough to have gone on a training week with them in March to Fuerteventura. The advice and help I got that week from everyone was priceless, Beautiful weather but very windy. I was the rookie of the group in all 3 disciplines. Most days on the cycle I ended up doing my own thing, the pace was too quick for me. But it gave me the opportunity to tackle conditions in the heat and cycling with a strong wind against me. Test out my fluid intake and nutrition in hot weather. It was a fantastic week and great craic. Once back home my training was starting to ramp up, 3 swims all in the pool every week, 3 cycles one of which had to be long and 3 runs. I could feel myself getting stronger as the weeks were going by, but I was constantly tired. The effect of all my training had a big impact on family time I was either training or resting didn’t have much time for anything else, so just a piece of advice to anyone considering an Ironman make sure you have good, supportive and understanding family. My wife Karen was great. It wouldn’t have been possible without her support. This is where club members and friends were fantastic. I was swimming with Máire and Steven McSweeney, myself and Steve did the cycle route together a few times and Máire was making sure I stayed on track and up to speed with my running. On the day of the race you’re on your own with no one to talk too but during training I was glad of the company and encouragement.

The week of the event was good for me, I had entered the RNLI Myrtleville to Church bay 2km swim on the Thursday evening which was great. Lots of Club members and friends from work there, it was great craic and a real social event, a year earlier I had done it, but I only knew a hand full of people, now through training and swimming lessons I knew loads of people, fantastic night. Nice and relaxing, exactly what was need before Sunday’s race. The next day myself and Karen went down to Youghal early to register, I was grand going down but when I got there I was a bit nervous, I registered and bought some merchandise and we left around 1. I was back down the next day to rack the bike and drop off my gear, I met a few of the gang below and was staying relaxed and chatting, there was talks that the swim was going to be shortened because the forecast was bad for Sunday. I went for coffee with friends, the atmosphere was electric around the place.

Race Day!

I went to bed early Saturday evening not expecting to sleep but I slept well and headed off at 4am in the rain. I got to the turn off to Youghal about 5 km’s from O’Farrells pub and it was a traffic jam, complete stop. I took a back road in only to be told by a Garda that the athletes car par was full, park anywhere which turned out to be a blessing in disguise as they were pulling cars out of the field for 4 hours afterwards. I arrived into transition at 5:10 to be told they were waiting to make a decision on the swim. I took one look at the water it was a serious swell but there were no markers in the water. I knew then there was going to be no swim. I had my wetsuit half on over my trisuit, 2 t-shirts and a jacket (not waterproof). We weren’t allowed into the tent, so we spent all our time outside in the wind and rain with no shelter. If I had to criticise anything about the event, then that would be it. People were practically hypothermic before it ever started.

At 6:30 the swim was officially cancelled but the roads weren’t closed until 7:30 so more waiting around in the rain. I was disappointed the swim was cancelled but it was out of my control and as I stood in transition looking out at the sea I was thinking how far I had come in 2 years and it gave me some consolation. There was priority given to the 3 clubs with most entrants and CTC was second behind South Coast. I had put Cork Tri Club on my entry, but it never showed, and the club sent out a reminder email to make sure people had CTC as their club. I never checked it because I knew I had already done it. I ended up with a high number because of my age 1982 it didn’t bother me at all until things unfolded the way they did on race day. They started low numbers first and worked their way back. I was one of the last to leave transition.

My race didn’t start until 8:45. 4 hours in transition in the wind and rain with only a 15-minute break to change into cycling gear. I ended up putting the wetsuit on fully and the swim hat and I was walking up and down transition to stay warm. I met Shane Bergin in transition he had the same problem with the high number. We were on the training camp together so even though he was disappointed as well he was giving me plenty of positive points. He mentioned how far I had progressed in the last 10 months, from when I first signed up for IM Youghal to my level of fitness now. On a miserable day it was uplifting to have that support.

After eventually getting to the start, I had a plan for the cycle. Go at a pace where there was no burn on the legs. It worked out perfect for me. Kept a steady pace of 26km per hour with no effort on the legs except for the hills. The rain was coming down heavy at this stage but there was loads of people out in front of their houses singing and dancing and encouraging everyone. My parents were in Midleton to cheer me along and I got a bit emotional when I saw them. At the Distillery Máire and Kevin had a big poster up for me, I was past them before I could read it properly, but it still brought a smile to my face.

I had been testing drinks for the previous few months and went with Tailwind. A mixture of Salt, Carbohydrates and Electrolytes. My food for the day consisted of fig rolls, Turkish delight bars. Banana’s and the energy biscuits I got on route from the aid stations. I had an Aids bag at 90Km with a 2-litre bottle of Tailwind pre-mixed and I just topped everything up with that. I also had more bars and a sandwich. It was 30Km between aid stations and my plan was to eat a banana, 2 fig rolls and a Turkish delight, with a full 750ml of water between stations. I was eating when I wasn’t hungry and drinking when I wasn’t thirsty, but it worked perfect because I had loads of energy and stayed warm throughout.

The big talk around the bike route was Windmill hill, I had done it in training but was using both sides of the road, weaving over and back to get up and I knew that wouldn’t be possible on race day, so I went with the attitude I would clip out if needed. The first time around the hill was lined with people and in all the confusion and noise I ended up being over the really steep part without realising it. There was great support around. Because I had started at the back of the field I kept an eye on the numbers as I was passing people, it was a way of judging progress when you’re out there on your own.

Just when I was about 10 Km from Youghal for the second time, there was a really heavy shower and I got cold quickly after it. I had it in my head at that point I would walk up Windmill hill this time around. When I turned right onto windmill for the second time the hill was completely clear, all the cyclists had clipped out and were walking up on the left-hand side. In my head I picked the spot where I would clip out. Máire and Kevin were at the bottom of the hill and as I moved up Kevin started running next to me through the crowd dodging people as he went. He kept shouting and screaming encouragement at me. He used my name so much that all the crowd joined in and were calling me by name, they were all screaming for me to keep going. He fell at one stage and I couldn’t look to see if he was ok because I would have fallen as well. Teeth gritted and looking at nothing only the front tyre I made it to the top without clipping out. Kevin’s still owed a few drinks for that one. It was a great sense of achievement to make it up windmill the second time, I was well chuffed with myself. I had set a limit that when tested was surpassed with effort and determination and huge support. The feeling of bursting past my own limitations and reaching the top was one of my best memories of the race. It takes 3 minutes to cycle and 4 minutes to walk, not a big hurdle by any means but with encouragement and a bit of grit I had pushed myself past were a year previous I would have most definitely pulled up.

When I arrived into T2 I got my bag and was going to sit down on the bench when another competitor who I never met before came up to me and called me by name and praised me for getting up windmill hill. He had walked up and had seen everything unfold. That brought a big smile to my face before the run. While in transition a guy sat next to me, his hands were shaking with the cold and he could barely string a sentence together. One of the girls had to take his shoes off, wrap him in a foil blanket and get him something warm to drink. The elements tested everyone that day, I was lucky to have had a good nutritional plan and adequate clothing. Not everyone was as lucky and prepared. Headed out on the run after a T2 time of 12:07

The feeling of bursting past my own limitations and reaching the top was one of my best memories of the race.

The run was fantastic, and this is where the support really helped. I started at a steady pace and was running with Alan O’Connor for a small while he was 2 full laps ahead of me. I remember the first club supporters that I came across was Donal and Jane McGrath, it was great and gave me a great boost. They were in the same spot throughout the race, so it was a point that gave me a boost every lap. Next up was Máire and Kevin. A quick thanks to Kevin for windmill as I passed, my family were next, and they had posters ready it was great. My wife and kids were screaming throughout, and they kept jumping between both streets. My sisters and cousins were also there and a few of my friends. It was brilliant. Because it was a loop you were passing club competitors going in the opposite direction always with a word of encouragement.

On third loop as I was getting close to the clock tower, Michelle Manning came running up to me to take my photo and give me some encouragement, I smiled and gave her the thumbs up. When I turned to face forward again all the CTC supporters gave a big cheer. I actually got a fright it was so loud, I think a few of them were ready to give me a high 5 but by the time I had gathered myself together again after the initial shock I had passed them all. I was smiling for a least 5 minutes afterwards, it was great. On the final lap Karen and the kids had a big sign waiting for me in a spot where I would see it from way off. It read “My Dad’s an Ironman” it was a great feeling, they even ran next to me for a while, which helped as I was suffering with my right knee at this stage.

When the camber of the road falls to the right my MCL gives me pain. It hadn’t bothered me in 2 years but the roads around Youghal caught me out. As I was going up the hill by transition for the last time Brid and Áine from CTC were marshalling and had been brilliant throughout with the support. One final shout of support to me before I turned to face the lighthouse for the last time.

As I entered the finishing area and on to the red carpet I was immediately looking for family and friends. Quick kiss to Karen and headed for the line. Looking back, I was very quiet crossing the line didn’t even hear him call out my name. A quick arm pump and I was finished. 11hours and 54 minutes. I feel I have unfinished business with Ironman as there was no swim so who knows might have to target another one in the not too distant future, loads of time to work on my finish line celebrations.

Huge thanks to Family, Friends, Cork Tri Club and my Coach for all the encouragement and support.