Tri an Mhi - Irish National Middle Distance Championships 2013

Born To Tri......My Journey to Ironman Wales 2013

hayesandrew7by hayesandrew7Sep 19th 2013
It is Friday, September 6th and here I am standing on the deck of the Ferry as we navigate along the Pembrokeshire Coast on route to Tenby ┬- a wave of optimism and excitement permeates the air ┬- this is it, the culmination of 6 months of hard training and preparation and the fulfilment of a lifetime dream and ambition.
My ironman Journey had seen me cover an awful lot of ground and water in the preceding 6 months and I had plenty of memories and accomplished plenty of milestones along the way.
Σ Swimming 235km
Σ Cycling 5,825km
Σ Running 1,440km
Σ Total 7,500km

Having seen the rawness of Ironman Wales on Ironman TV in 2011 and 2012, where the weather caused absolute havoc with the race and competitors described it as the hardest Ironman on the planet, something stuck in my head that this was the race for me ┬- I like tough, and anything less is not enough. In early January, once the New Year festivities were done and dusted, I signed up. Bring on the Monster!
It was great to find a sidekick in Niall to accompany me on the journey ┬- we were very compatible training partners ┬- he was Butch Cassidy full of sense and I was the Sundance Kid full of youthful exuberance - one of his favourite sayings was ┬'there is a fine line between bravery and stupidity┬' uttered often during our long Saturday bikes where it was my turn to choose the route and I had pencilled in one too many hills for his liking.
Easter Weekend saw me to travel to visit the Inlaws in Oranmore and then disappear at the crack of dawn Easter Sunday for Lahinch and the Stephen Roche Atlantic Challenge, a 100k sportive along the atlantic seaboard. It was a decent event - a good turn out given the wintery conditions and got to cycle part of the way in Roche┬'s group before he took a swift turnoff 20k out to head for his Sunday roast ┬- obviously a ┬Ç3k appearance fee doesn┬'t warrant full completion of the course 
Mid May saw me travel to Collinstown in County Westmeath for the National Middle Distance Championships (1900m swim, 90k bike, half marathon) hosted by Tri an Mhi. This was my first race of the season and was an opportunity to take a break from the training regime and just race hard, enjoy it and see where I was at. Miserable Baltic conditions greeted us on the lake shore and thus race clothing and equipment choices were key. A solid bike and super run saw me earn a top 20 finish in my age group ┬- The biggest benefit I believe I gained that day was mentally as I had to battle some awful conditions on the day and produced a satisfying result.
Early June saw Niall and I take on the Wicklow 200km Cycling Sportive - a fantastic day with over 2500m of climbing in just under 7 hours - the aim was to race hard and I felt strong throughout and another box ticked.
Wednesday mornings saw us drag ourselves out of bed at 6am for the Glenalbyn Masters Swim Sets. I never missed a session in over 30 weeks of training and is one of the sessions I attribute most to my swimming improvements . These sessions are made up predominantly of hard core open water swimmers and at times they can be a grumpy auld lot. One particular Wednesday, Niall and I were getting changed after and one of the aforementioned oldies who swam in our lane overheard us talking about Wales and said to Niall ┬- did you say you guys were doing Ironman? Niall, thinking he was an interested bystander, piped up proudly -┬'yes, Ironman Wales in September┬' to which the reply was ┬' ahhhh triathIetes┬....i should have known given your technique┬' ┬- Not everyone is going to appreciate that what we do is a thing of beauty !
June brought us a welcome visit to Tenby for a Recce Weekend of the Ironman Course ┬- slap bang in the middle of a UK heatwave, we were seeing it at its best and something told us it would be very different come race day so enjoy it while we could. It was renowned as a seriously tough course. The bike is hilly and the run is hilly and even the swim has a slight slope ┬- yes it was a monster but our training had us in a good place. Tenby really struck a chord with me. The rugged beauty of the area and the friendliness of its inhabitants and I left there excited about my return 9 weeks later.
In early August, our final tune up race took place at the Shadowman Half ironman in Athlone. I went into this race with an aggravating leg injury brought about by an unfortunate fall on a wet floor in the bathroom earlier that week. I had agreed with my coach that I would do the swim and the bike and try 1k of the run and make a call from then.
As usual, the competitive spirit kicked in, the adrenaline was pumping and sure the leg didn┬'t feel as bad so hitting my rhythm immediately in the run off the bike, achieving the fastest run split of the day, to finish in 2nd place overall ┬- I was shocked when I crossed the line as this was my first podium in triathlon and just the confidence boost I needed to take to Wales.
Saturday 7th September
Friday was spent relaxing, hitting the expo, heading to the race briefing in Carew Airfields and having a nice auld meal with Wendy and Niall. Seeing over 1000 athletes squeezed into a room for the first race briefing really brought it all home for me but it was exciting to be part of ┬- bring it on!
Saturday morning saw Niall and me up early to do our mini warm-up tri ┬- 30 mins bike with some quick repeats, 20 mins run and 15 mins non wetsuit swim. The place was heaving with athletes and nervous anticipation as we all went about our last bits of training and it was a joy to be part of.
Breakfast with Eve then home to carry out the military operation of packing my transition bags (Swim, Bike, run, special needs, afters bag) ┬- despite copious rehearsals during the week, it still took me 2 hours to complete the task as I went over and over my transition requirements to the point that Eve was nearly fit to put me in the bag myself if I proposed another run through.
Finishing just as my folks and my bro arrived into Tenby off the ferry, we all headed for transition. While I set up the bike, they all checked out the expo ┬- a new experience for my folks but it was a pleasure having them all there and I felt like I was on the brink of something special.
Bags and bike dropped, it was time for a good feed and to stroll the town with my bro, me having a blackcurrant and water while he savoured the local brew in a beer garden ┬- I felt very relaxed ┬- so many races in the past I have suffered with niggles and concerns on the eve of the race ┬- today was different. I had committed myself to enjoying every waking minute of this weekend and I was doing just that.
Joining our support crew of 12 at the local Italian for a very enjoyable group dinner, it was then off to bed for 10.30pm ┬- I knew very well I wouldn┬'t sleep much but better to be horizontal then vertical!
Sunday 8th September ┬- Race Day
4am start and I was up like a light ┬-it was D-Day. Breakfast eaten as I had trained all season -Porridge, Toast, Banana, Halva, Sunwarrior Barley and Glucose. It was then out with Tilly, my dog (Not named in honour of Eamonn Tilley my coach much as everyone seems to think ) for a 15 minute jog ┬- pitch black at this ungodly hour but I felt good kharma in the chilly seaside air.
En route, I passed a lovely church (Baptist I think) with an illuminated giant cross over the door ┬- stunning against the blackness outside and I took a time out for a few prayers ┬- faith is important to me and even more so at times like these. Prayers to the Gods of Safety and Speed and high lactic thresholds taken care of, it was off to transition for the final checks.
Into transition and as I prepped my bike, a German athlete racking up beside me saw me putting my inappropriately named ┬'riding cream┬' (anti- chafing) on my neck and asked could he have some and then summed up the prevailing mood with typical German dryness ┬- ┬'Everybody in triathlon is so nice and friendly and helpful and then in an hour┬'s time they will be thumping the head off me in the sea┬' ┬- yep, my thoughts and fears exactly!
Final checks completed and copious time spent in the company of a nearby cramped portaloo, it was time to join the aptly named ┬'Penguin March┬' of wetsuit clad competitors from transition along the 1k route through the town of Tenby to North Beach. Even at 630 in the morning the streets were full of spectators and great excitement as we were funnelled down the steep ramps to swim start. Seeing all my family there made it quite an emotional experience for me but definitely took my mind off the smashfest that was about to kick off in the choppy Atlantic seas.
The Swim (3.8k - 1 hour 13 mins)
Standing on the shore amid this mass of bodies, while the Welsh national anthem billowed out of the loud speakers, surprisingly I didn┬'t feel uber nervous ┬- I had addressed any fears in my head ┬- fear is ok as long as you don┬'t let it overcome you or defeat you ┬- I was ready to seize this opportunity that had been given to me ┬- I chose to be here ┬- I told myself ┬'Be Content, Be Confident, Be a Winner┬'┬...a good luck man hug with Niallo┬... and then we were go┬...┬...┬...┬...┬...
I started the swim in a fairly aggressive position heading directly for the first buoy ┬- Eamonn had instilled in me that I was a contender, not just a participant and contenders need to take chances. Bar a few belts on the head from overzealous swimmers, I held my line, was relaxed and hit the Australian exit at 1900m in 35 mins back in line with my target. The run along the beach and back into the water allowed me to savour the brilliant crowds and was a welcome intermission to the next swim leg which passed without incident bar the last 300m where my mind started to wander towards my Transition 1 strategy ┬- remember what we agreed in the moment, segment by segment, phase by phase. Out of the water and up the steep zig zags to collect my runners , put the wetsuit in the bag and take off for transition ┬- It is a 1.2km run up the hill to transition ┬- the run is completely lined by crowds and though it looks horrendously steep from the beach, during the race I really enjoyed it.
The Bike (180.2k ┬- 6 Hours 4 Mins)
As I arrived in T1, Niall was exiting on his bike and we gave each other an encouraging whoop and then it was time for me to focus, grab my Bike Bag and execute my transition strategy ┬- the tent was chocabloc with athletes, some having hot cups of tea to warm up, others screaming and panicking that they couldn┬'t find their bags ┬- just block it out, get your gear on and get going Andy. Job done and I was away on my bike, Eve and Wendy cheering me out of town.
The roads were slick from the overnight rain and the weather didn┬'t look too promising but I had seen this all before in my training so I used positive reinforcement and told myself I was going to enjoy every minute of the bike course like it was my last cycle on earth and it worked ┬- I felt strong and focused.
The bike course comprises two laps ┬- the first (110k) incorporating both a western loop out to Angle on the West Coast via Pembroke and a northern loop to beautiful but hilly Narberth and Saundersfoot, and the second (70k) repeating only the northern , more challenging loop.
With circa 2500m of climbing, predominantly in the Northern loop that we repeat twice, this is a real challenge and with rain falling heavily for 2 hours of the ride, it made the descents and technical turns in particular more difficult. The undulating terrain and constantly changing gradient makes pacing difficult, each hill draws you out of that comfortable Ironman steady-state pace I had worked on so much in training and tempts you to push harder. This is where common sense and a level of conservatism is key as push hard too many times over 112 miles and you may well pay the price come the run so I made sure I kept working on the downhill┬'s and didn┬'t surge too much on the uphill┬'s.
Some of the highlights (if you can call them that!) of the Northern loop are a steady drag of about 8km from Carew to Templeton and then a couple of nasty climbs up to Templeton Village and into Narberth where a Father and Daughter pair ring cow bells enthusiastically and scream loudly, encouraging us all up the steep descent to their village. Then, just before our arrival back into Tenby at the end of the first loop, we hit the two biggest climbs of the day ┬- a 17% climb out of Wisemans Bridge lasting about 4-5 minutes. The road is enclosed by heavy forestry and as you hit the bottom of the climb you can hear a single male voice bellowing encouragement halfway up the hill but you can┬'t see him until the worst is almost over. This guy was still there when we returned nearly 2.5 hours later ┬- these people are mad and I loved it, despite the energy sapping terrain.
A tight and technical descent later and we arrive in Saundersfoot for another monster climb, broken up into 3 tranches, starting with a steep 400 metres up past the Spa Hotel where the crowds are 6 or 7 deep, venturing onto the road Tour de France style to scream and shout us up and it was unreal and actually quite emotional to be part of. The next 2 tranches last about 1 mile and then we are up and over and heading for Tenby.
Arriving back into Tenby at the end of the first loop to unbelievable crowds at the main roundabout, off we set on Loop 2. I pass Niall at about 110km, we have a brief chinwag and both agree it is a tough day so far and then we separate and I am alone with my thoughts again. The next 20k was probably my weakest point as I felt my legs were a bit heavy and sluggish and I couldn┬'t stop thinking of how challenging this loop would be second time round. I focused on eating my peanut butter and strawberry jam roll and it seemed to do the trick as the taste buds got to experience some real food and not just sugary energy bars and gels. I kicked on from here, breaking the remainder of the bike into 6 key climbs and ticking them off one by one. I won┬'t deny that this was a hard slog but I had dealt with this mentally and if I got in off the bike unscathed in circa 6 hours that would be a good day┬'s work.
The Run (42.2k ┬- 3 Hours 35 mins)
Arriving back in Tenby in just over 6 hours, I felt decent hopping off the bike and had a very quick transition and hit the ground running. My aim was to get into a rhythm as soon as possible and see where I was at the first 10k turnaround.
It┬'s one hell of a tough run course, all either up or downhill with probably only 100m of flat on every loop. In previous years the run has been over 2km short but I realised after the first lap that it wasn┬'t going to be a 24.5 miler this year and we would be doing a proper marathon distance.
Towards the end of Loop 2, it was slowly dawning on me that these hills were not aiding my ambitious marathon target of circa 3.15-3.20 set months before and my pace was well off what I had envisaged as the terrain took its toll. I still knew I was running well in comparison to those around me and was one of the better runners out there but I wanted and expected more of myself but my body wasn┬'t able to give it.
I had set myself ambitious targets for each discipline from very early on in my training ┬-Ambition is a double edged sword, making you work harder and harder throughout the process but also requiring the ability to reassess and re-evaluate intra-race when things are not going your way and panning out as you envisaged. This was my big challenge as I completed the 2nd loop of the run ┬- get your head in order Andy, refocus, believe in yourself. Taking a timeout at the next aid station to have some coke and a Ritz cracker, I had stern words with myself, decided on what my new target race pace would be and set off again to see the job through. At that moment, I fought the Gods of self-doubt and self-criticism in my head and I won out. This I will take with me to my next sporting venture, whatever it may be and I will be a better athlete for it.
There were so many people shouting my name and cheering as I ran ┬- Dave, Sandra and Phelim up in New Hedges at the furthest point of the course, bro and Dad conducting a mini pub crawl while managing to provide brilliant support on Tenby main street, I never thought I would see Dad as excited , waving his handkerchief in the sky on every loop like a Spanish matador, Eve, Mum , Kerrie, Martin, Eleni-Grace and Wendy further up main street hill ┬- I wish I could have smiled more as Team Andy wanted to know how I was feeling but I was just trying to stay in the zone and concentrate on a rhythm. Running a hilly marathon takes huge concentration but when Tilly my Cocker Spaniel scaled the spectator barrier and almost joined me on lap 3, I had a right little giggle to myself. That dog had come to know and love participating in my brick sessions in training ┬- a true Irondog!
I have never had to dig as deep as I did on this marathon ┬- as a standalone it would be regarded as animal but as Leg 3 of an Ironman it was downright evil but once I reassessed my pace expectations and found a happy medium I was comfortable and before long I was turning left for the finishing Shute ┬- what a feeling!
The Finish (11 Hours 8 mins)
High fiving all the spectators as I made my way up, I spot Eve in the crowd and planted a celebratory sweaty smacker on her lips and took off along the famous magic red carpet where ┬'pain turns to pleasure┬' and those words you have spent all day waiting to hear.... Andrew are an ironman! I don┬'t remember a whole lot about the finish to be honest ┬- there was definitely happiness and relief to be done but being out there for 11 hours, you lose a sense of perspective in terms of how you are performing, all you have our your original goals and they count for nothing at this stage. I needed to be able to quantify my performance in terms of how I had done overall and my fellow age groupers in order to judge the day a success or failure ┬- quite stark I know but this course had really tested me and taken me to the edge but I wanted to know that it hadn┬'t broken me so my position was very important to me at this point - probably too much so but that is the competitor in side of me!
My family came running over - proud as punch and teary ┬-eyed and it really hit home then what it meant to all of them and we enjoyed a warm celebratory embrace. I asked Ger how I had done to which he replied ┬'you killed it┬' and he provided the stats below:
- Finishing time 11 Hours 8 mins
- 99th overall of 1700
- 19th in the 30-34 Age Group
- 5th Irishman home
Concluding thoughts of a new ┬'Ironman┬'
Taking on such a task requires not only personal commitment but also the support and love of those around you. These people drive me on to achieve the best of myself so a special thanks to:
- My wife Eavan for being a constant support to me and top notch nutritionist and motivator. She lived every moment of this journey with me and was amazing to me.
- my family ┬- it meant so much to have my folks there and my bro to fly in from NYC
- My friends - those who travelled over and those who followed us online on the day. It is amazing how good that support makes you feel.
- my Coach Eamonn Tilley - a pleasure to work with and I am most certainly a dedicated follower of his ┬'Happy Days┬' mantra
- My Physio Alex Gleeson ┬- there is nothing this man can┬'t fix!
- Niall Larkin for joining me on this Tour De Force and providing plenty of entertainment and support along the way.
- The people of Tenby who welcomed us all with open arms. I have never seen a location buy into a sporting event quite like this town did and it was truly magical to be a part of.
When I stood nervously on the start line of the Balbriggan Summerfest Sprint Triathlon in May 2011, my first foray into the world of triathlon, having just learnt to swim in the preceding winter months, Ironman was nothing but a pipedream for me, but with clear goals, 100% commitment and the will and ambition to succeed, I can now call myself an Ironman and that feels just as good as it sound.
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