A podium finish and 1st in his age group. Hats off to a fantastic achievement. In short, Chris Bigley is Hardman 2016
Ok here we go again. Almost a year since I signed up (first person to sign up according to the organiser) it’s time to face my second long distance tri.
Last time I did IM UK the big money, big razzmatazz event, this time it’s about as different as you can get. Hardman has the feel of an event run off the back of an envelope, which in sure it isn’t! This isn’t a criticism. Merely pointing out that this is an old man bar feel to it compared to an Ibiza nite club of IM events.
As most people do in the taper week I spent a bit of free time looking at the weather and it wasn’t looking pretty. Wind and rain was forecast and the words gale and force were mentioned.
I got to Killarney on the Thursday and settled into a B&B and got an excellent night’s sleep.
The dark clouds greeted me on Friday and the rain began mid morning, I and my friend John headed over to the lake with the thoughts of taking a dip. When we got there we found the race organiser Alan setting up the bike racks. His first words were “it’s not going to be cancelled” said more in hope that we would assure him. The lake was not inviting looking with the wind whipping it into angry swells and little white horses dancing on the surface we got back in the car and abandoned the dip in favour of the hotel pool.
We registered that evening and with all the instructions received we filed away back to our hotel with the wind whipping the trees and the rain falling steadily.
My alarm went at 4.30am and I was up and ready within about 5 minutes. We had breakfast and got ourselves over to transition at 5.30- it was still dark but within a few minutes the dark clouds started to go a deep blue as the sun rose to start what was going to be a long day.
As I had been the first person to register nearly a year previously I was given race number 2, last year’s winner was number 1 and seemed nervous to me as he fiddled with his bike and last minute prep. A dj fired up the music and started his announcements – the race was being delayed by 15 mins as a squall was coming through, this seemed odd to me as the weather seemed the same as it had been since 4.30 high wind and rain (turns out the real reason was the safety boats had not arrived and they had to hastily arrange another boat). So we all stood around in our wetsuits talking nervous gibberish listening to Britney Spears toxic being blasted out.
Eventually we were called into the water and with little fanfare in we plopped. This is a small race so it didn’t take long to get us all in and I was surprised by the warmth of the water. There was a shout of go from the shore and a feeble air horn blast stolen by the high wind and off we went. The course was 3 laps and it was brutal – the waves were nonstop and it was tough and slow going. Swimming is my weakest of the 3 disciplines and in ironman UK I had completed the swim in 1.25 so I was hoping to beat that and get around 1.15 but after the first lap I knew this was more about survival then pb. 3 laps done I was glad to get out in 1.44 not great but the number of bikes in transition meant I wasn’t the only one having a bad day.
66 starters – I get out in 33rd place. 9 people were pulled out of the water and called it a day.
So now the decision of what to wear on the bike- I had a tri suit on but added arms warmers (very hard to put on a wet arm in the rain) and a bike jersey for warmth and weather protection. Socks and bike shoes on too and off I trot.
What followed was just brutal – the course is up and down all day and having cycled the ring a few times I was ready for it, but the weather was something else. Massive headwind for about 120k with gusts so strong on the descents from molls gap and comacista that I was braking and doing little more than 25-30kph holding on for dear life – the rain lashed down and never let up. Also with open roads there was a never ending amount of traffic passing which, when coupled with the gusting wind made for mentally tiring cycling. Also it was all solo, I passed 19 cyclists on the route and finished it in just over 6 hours (6.07) – I had hoped for sub six but given the conditions I was delighted with the time and was emotional getting off the bike as I was drained. For parts of the bike I was happy to call it quits once I got to T2, but the thought of a DNF and having to explain it to people when they ask how I got on drove me mad so I resolved to get off the bike and at least try the run.
So into T2 and off the bike – they had bike catchers which I really like as I just left the bike with the marshals and grabbed my bag and ran into get changed. Quick shoe and sock change and off I go.
And it was weird, my legs felt good. I set off on the first 14k lap and found I was able to hold a solid enough pace. So with my watch showing 8 hour total I felt that maybe a sub 12 was possible and spent the first lap doing the maths of pace needed. The run course was fantastic if a little lacking in signage clarity and I had to slow/stop twice on the course to ensure I was going the correct way (I was luckily). The wind and rain persisted but when running it doesn’t really bother me as much and I was about as wet as you can get anyway so I just ran on. First 14k lap done in 1.10 second lap 1.11 third lap began and within the first few hundred metres I passed a guy who was walking, when I passed him he started to run just off my shoulder for about a k then slowed to a walk again and dropped off. I was slowing myself but never walked and while the little climbs felt a bit harder I was very happy that I was going to get my sub 12 goal.
I ran down the final couple of k and into the transition area for the final time. I ran through the finish got my medal and that was it. No ironman rest tent or pizza, no finish line photos, no problem, I was all done in 11.36 well under my sub 12 goal and with a beer in hand I walked the 200 metre to my accommodation and got changed.
It was only hour’s later when fellow belparker Rob Yeomans text saying I had gotten 3rd overall and first in my age group that I found out how well I had done. I was shocked.
Nobody at the finish had said anything – and I had never considered that I might have moved up the field like that. Turns out the guy who I passed that tried to run with me was in third place when I passed him – I had no idea.
So, 3rd place finish, 1st in my age group, Hilarious. Me.
Out of 105 paid entrants 85 registered on the Friday 66 started and 47 finished (55 including relay) – this was one hugely attritional race. I am delighted I was able to finish and shocked to finish on the podium.
So would I recommend it? Do it again?
Yes! This is a great event, yes it’s rough around the edges and they could improve on some of the aspects of the race organisation and communications but the issues are minor and once the gun goes they are mostly irrelevant anyway.
The swim is great if the weather is calm- the lake is nice and warm and felt clean and fresh.
The bike is a tough route with 2 decent climbs and rarely a flat part all day. If the weather is bad it makes it doubly hard and you will be alone for pretty much the entire course so talking to yourself and a certain amount of HTFU is a must.
The run course is really great – nice interesting laps with constantly changing scenery and surfaces to keep your mind occupied again it’s lonely with only some marshals and the odd tourist.
This was a tough event in very tough conditions but as the organiser said to us just before we got in the water, it’s not called softman.