Keith Holmes Reports on IM Barcelona

In News, Race Reports by Joe Johnson9 Comments

This is a guy who clearly does the ‘glamping’ equivalent of triathlons. Ham and cheese baguettes during the race? And I counted at least 4 mentions of potatoes..! I hope you enjoy this entertaining and mouth-watering account from Keith. Well done on a great race and bon appetit!

When does a race report start?

Is it when the “starter’s gun” goes off? Or when in a pub, a few pints into the evening, persuading your mates that ‘doing an Ironman next year would be a great idea’? Or hobbling off the Half Ironman in Dublin two months ago exhausted thinking “Twice that…. we’re ****ed”? Or when a few years ago in a moment of madness you tried a Sprint distance triathlon? Or…..?

Hint: Long read.

I am not much of an athlete. On a good day my running resembles a slow walk. Overweight and overage but somehow I enjoy doing the triathlons. Enjoyment not so much actually doing them, shortly after finishing them really. It’s a great buzz to have completed one. Over the last few years, along with some friends, we have done 3 or 4 a year, building through the distances, with a Half Ironman in each of the last few years. So this is dedicated to the many people who will never win a race, never make their ideal weight, never find their true potential but just fancy a challenge…..and have come to terms with the fact that dressing in rubber wetsuits or incredibly tight lycra is never going to do much for your image. Ironman sounds like a great buzz.

September, end of season. I sat in the pub, feasting on peanuts and crisps, the food of champions, beer in hand, discussing next season…trying desperately to persuade the other two that we should sign up for Ironman Barcelona next year. A first full Ironman. Yep, all agreed that the serious overweight issues would have to be addressed (this is an annual agreement we make, always over beer, peanuts and crisps and never achieved). One was arguing that the medical assessment that “he should never run again and was at severe risk of a future knee replacement” would stop him entering, despite my logical counter arguments “if it doesn’t kill ya, it’ll make ya stronger”, he stuck with the medical viewpoint. I was arguing that my medical assessment which hinted at hip replacement and no running for a long time was “a mere flesh wound” easily handled through will-power alone. Eventually I got myself, with dodgy hip, and David to agree to sign up, and the three musketeers would have to be two for this adventure.….a lot better than a lonely musketeer heading off to Spain on my tod….Score!

Why Barcelona? A year away, time to train. At the end of the summer…train during daylight not dark winter mornings….ideal time after Ironman Dublin (half distance)….nice location, easy access, family friendly and apparently quite a flat course….ideal for the heavier athlete.

October. No running – hip. Online sign up, from a mobile phone, in a taxi in Bucharest. The taxi driver thought he was in a F1 race and trying to kill me. Luckily, imminent death took my mind off the amount of money I was giving to Ironman for something I was extremely unlikely to be able to do. I was pleased to get it done in the taxi between meetings, but the enormity of it didn’t sink in straight away….then I started to feel sick….I hope it was the roller-coaster taxi journey.

Because of ‘no running’ plan to do more cycling over the winter. Some scumbag stole my road bike, but I used the insurance for a fancy new tri-bike. Perfect to make me go out and play with my new toy and get some miles in the saddle. TT bikes are scary in traffic the first few times.

November. No running – hip. Hip specialist relents on the hip replacement and leans towards surgery, more MRI’s and other tests. Hope.

Jan 1st. (15 stone 10lbs, Bridget Jones fans). No Chance of running –hip.

February. Still no running – hip. Weigh myself at Gym, fancier machine than at home, includes weight, BMI, fat percentage etc., informs me I am 25Kg over weight for my height/age and officially obese. Must have seen me in lycra. Might be a while before that machine gets to make another opinion.

March. No running – hip. Trying to regularly attend Belpark swim sessions at UCD, ET Turbo sessions, and shortly to try some bike hill sessions.

April. Break-through, Hip specialist says “if you can live with the pain, knock yourself out”….game on! Having told him “I am a triathlete” in previous session, bit morto to find out he is an ex Triathlon Welsh Champion and international junior runner. Feel like I just proudly told Ronaldo “I play five-a-side”. Will start running again for the first time in close to six months, know it will be painful. First week, trip to Cairo, 2k run from hotel across the Nile on a bridge, trip up on the awful pavement, lots of pain in heavily bruised toe, toe swells, doctors assume broken, x-rays back in Ireland eventually say just severe bruising. No –running for a few weeks – toe.

May-September: triathlon season, gradually getting back to some runs, some longer cycles. The sun (occasionally) appears, swimming in the sea in the early morning or cycling in the sunshine make it all seem fun again.

Do a one day Chi-Running course with the brilliant Catherina McKiernan, supposed to help reduce running injury…if I can just get a few months without injury, hopefully I can get enough miles in to survive a marathon. In the video analysis section, a freeze frame of me is used as a classic ‘what not to do’ pose for several minutes to the class. Lucky I wasn’t in lycra. Judging by the heel-strike, also lucky I still have a hip.

Tri-Athy, Olympic, delighted to break 3 hours. Dublin, Half-Ironman, delighted to break 6 hours. Completely exhausted from both. Learned a few lessons again… chafing hurts (a lot) all those bits of you that you would be embarrassed to be seen rubbing Vaseline on….not using a lube can be very painful! Mustn’t forget that for the much larger event.

September. How did we get here with a month to go to the big one? Panic. Done a few long cycles. Have never done 180k. Never swam over 3k in one go, don’t mind nearly 4. Did a marathon, once a few years ago…with a lot more running practice…. Have barely done a slow run to half marathon length this year. Nowhere near my weight target. Guess everyone panics at this stage.



Taper. Time to tell myself all the training is done, stop worrying whether it’s enough…..look forward to the adventure. All very positive. A week to go…send my bike (shoes, wetsuit, bottles, tools, race gear, nutrition, etc.) via ShipMyTriBike…this is getting very real and exciting.

3 days to go. Final Weigh in. 13 stone 13lbs. Used the Gym machine again. I am no longer officially obese!, First time I have seen 13 at the start of my weight in more than a quarter of a century. Definitely a huge boost for the weekend. Lycra bulging slightly less than usual.

Race Weekend.

Arrive Friday. Registration is quicker and easier than the usual small triathlons I do. The merchandising is great, buy the obligatory top with competitors names printed into the Ironman symbol. Perhaps I will wear it to some important meeting and a person with a magnifying glass and little else to do will spot my name and be enthralled by my adventure….ummm. Perhaps it will sit in the wardrobe with last year’s brand new Dublin 70.3 one.

Town -Calella is touristy, but nice. Fantastic for an event like this. Beach lovely for a swim. Wander up to collect bike and stuff from ShipMyTriBike. Start making the various piles of kit and nutrition for the white blue and red bags for race day. Apartment looks like a tri-shop. Busy is good, nothing to do makes a few nerves appear.



Saturday. Belpark club have a few entrants and a shared whatsapp group allows us meet for an early dip in the sea. The others all looking at 10 hour (ish) targets, are in a different league to us (14 hour target), only one other first timer, but they can answer a few questions and help with our confidence. My biggest worry is nutrition. The most intriguing answer as to what they used for the bike was ‘potatoes’. Said with a straight face and a Cork accent, was he joking? Checked again later, yep, he did say potatoes, he cooked them in Ireland, salted them, and brought them with him, (despite Father Ted’s ‘exporting potatoes abroad’). Potatoes! My coach had recommended “cheese and ham baguettes”. Both of these seemed mad to me, with my loads of shop bought nutrition products, designed to get me that guaranteed extra few percent. These guys had done Ironman before…..they knew a lot more than I did. Nutrition bites back.

Delivering the bikes and the bike and run bags to transition is fantastic, you don’t have to worry about that stuff anymore. Pasta dinner. Off to bed.

I am the world’s worst sleeper, mostly 4 hours a night and even worse when nervous before a race. This will be an awful night.

Slept like a baby. WTF?

Race Day

No nerves. None. WTF? Again. Where is the traditional 10 visits to the loo and gurgling stomach when u want it?

Love the IM race experience, the crowds of athletes and supporters, the dawn arriving, the buzz, the noise. It’s so well organised.



Head for the swim, fight through the hordes to enter my self-selected start area (with the anticipated 1:15 swimmers). The music, the intros, the stretching and warming up (I admire rather than partake in these) all help time pass quickly. All too soon…we’re off…starting gates allowing six start together every few seconds. Out to the first buoy and turn right, not as crowded as a normal first buoy. Quickly I discover, I was conservative, most weren’t. I have to swim around hundreds of people in big packs who are trying desperately to keep a pace they aren’t able to. Sea is glorious and clear and calm, easy to swim around them, and finish in 1:10. Should have swam with a faster group to get a tow. Only got one punch in the face and one person try to mount me…those rubber suits make some people amorous. Water so clear I could see some Jellyfish…neither big nor close…good.

Usual slow T1. Happy to take it easy. Messed up with my bike sunglasses, lucky had a spare pair in my run bag. Stupid mistake. Hours of packing and still make a mess of it.

Out on the bike. Fantastic course, coast road, few rolling hills at the beginning, then flat, then a sort of long climb inland and back to the coast, flat to the turn point and back to the start (ish) for a second loop. No wind, roads smoother than the proverbial baby’s bum…means great pace for the effort. Difficult to not get carried away and burn the matches early, never turn the dial to eleven. A lot of sunshine, so drank a lot. You could really post a great bike split if you wanted. Stick with my plan, keep roughly to a heart rate (148-ish).

This is where experience counted. Oh my god, I LOVED those cheese and ham baguettes. Looked forward to them, rationed them to four small pieces – one every 40k. What a great break from the now awful energy bars. Real food. Might have fancied a potato.

Finished the bike. Sub six hours 5:50. Easy through T2. Exit to run, with gels and energy sweets crammed into the pocket.

Check watch. 7:20 so far. Yep, I am slow through transition. I am way ahead of target and feel absolutely great. Should I worry? You are not supposed to feel great, it’s an Ironman.

Go with my plan: do whatever shuffle gets you to 5k and try and get the muscles to relax, don’t push it, don’t monitor the watch and pace. If and when the legs start to work continue easily but always walk every aid station from 20 yards out with a gel and drink in them and pour water over self, it’s very warm and sunny at this point.

The run is ridiculous. I feel great. I am easily able to run, I have no shuffle or burning quads from cycle. Half the people are walking already. Half of the 300 Irish competitors have brought support and they do an amazing job of screaming encouragement and reading your name to personalise the cheering. One guy yells ‘Go BelCAMP’ on each of the 3 laps, tempted to stop and allow him read ‘BelPARK’ properly! The support is so uplifting it makes you feel amazing. Go me. Should I worry?

The Belpark top makes it easy to spot and be spotted by clubmates too and get encouraging nods, grimaces, hand gestures, grunts and the like from the swim comrades…. Liam, Andy and Declan…Ed goes incognito and tries to hide in some alternate jersey. Don’t see David all day. All finished. All with their own stories, incidents, emotions, highs, lows and times. Adds to the buzz.

Don’t look at watch until 10k. I am heading for a sub 4:40 marathon, way better than anticipated off the bike in this event. Feel even better than earlier. Should I worry?

Keep the pattern until 20k. Still on for 4:40. The significance in a sub 4:40 is a sub 12 hour Ironman…and I am targeting 14 hours. Two hours ahead. I feel great, even better than earlier. Should I worry?

Hundreds are walking, I pass loads of them. I never pass anyone on a run. The training, the easy bike leg, the brick runs in training, I am an athletic god!! Should I worry?

Nearing 30k. Pace is still OK, perhaps a couple of mins outside 4:40. But I am nearly 30k into an Ironman marathon and could walk the last 10k if I want and still beat my target by miles. I am fantastic! I am absolutely loving today, every minute of it. Should I worry?

Yep, I should worry. You knew that. Scrambled race brain meant I didn’t. Not sure if I did anything would be different. Nutrition bites back.

GI distress is the sort of technical term for related stomach issues in endurance races. I have my first experience. Big time. Skip the next section if you don’t like hearing about this this subject. All those bars, gels, sweets etc. have to go somewhere.

The first two laps of the 3 lap marathon, the supporter with the “Never trust a fart in Ironman” was very funny. Lap three: I have lost my sense of humour on the subject! Now follows an hour or more of one of the most uncomfortable times of my life, a constant dash between the aid stations (approx. 2.25 k apart) to try and make the next port-a-loo. I know I don’t have time to walk, so despite stopping at every loo, my run pace between them doesn’t drop!. I am too scared to stop, to slow down, to drink, to eat, to think and even to walk-off cos there is nowhere to hide from the crowds. It is truly miserable. It gets tougher and tougher to leave the loo and start again. I worry now about ending up a bit Paula Radcliffe!

One great life skill, at least for endurance races, I have in spades: stubbornness. I need it.

Another great life skill I develop en route: I will have a new career teaching Bear Grylls some real life survival skills: hunting toilet paper in critical circumstances: every ten minutes in an event where thousands of others have shared the same path.

Somehow I get to the finish. I did not enjoy the last hour and a bit at all.

The tummy troubles and their related issue of no ability to drink mean that 10 minutes after I cross the line, I know I am in trouble and head to the med tent. Quickly diagnosed as severely dehydrated and put on a drip after difficult search for a vein. Feeling a bit miserable.

Race Over

Despite the medical stuff, I am elated about finishing. I did 12.5 hours, way inside my target. I am an Ironman, I heard the announcer say it!

Too tired and sick to celebrate I barely make it to bed after the walk back to the apartment. A half-hearted attempt to look at a beer on walk home made me ill.


Wake up and stomach quickly returns to normal. Able to walk, eat breakfast, hit the sea for a swim and the beach for a massage and some sunshine. A few afternoon pints, leading to a few evening pints, leading to a few early hours of morning pints. Damn, I have to drive to the airport in 4 hours, time for bed. Should have stayed another day, enjoying the celebrations.

What a great day. What a great day yesterday, one bad hour in a fantastic day. What a great achievement. What a great feeling. There are no negatives.

If you ever get the chance to do an event like this, reach out and grab it. It’s not just for the fantastic athletes. It was a brilliant experience both the event and the training. A bad hour is a tiny speck on the broader view. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

Going again. Don’t know where, don’t know when.

Lessons learnt

  • It’s a fantastic opportunity, enjoying the day is crucial.
  • Don’t mess with chafing. Lube everything. More lube.
  • Nutrition is very serious at this distance. It’s not a choice of flavours.
  • Munching a favourite bar on a long cycle is not practicing nutrition.
  • Keeping the bike to the output intended allows you partake in the run. Loads don’t.
  • Not being able to stay in the aero position is a big disadvantage.
  • Wish I owned a power-meter
  • A coach (Eamon Tilley) and a training plan are needed. Happy days.
  • Doing the event with a friend and training with friends makes it a better experience
  • A race plan is mandatory, even if very simple.
  • There comes a point where finishing matters more than time or exhaustion, the training gets you to that point.
  • If u have a good day, you run by loads of people who look far better/younger/fitter/thinner. What price that?
  • Everyone thinks they can do better next time, finishing the first one is fantastic.


October, end of season. I sat in the pub, feasting on peanuts and crisps, the food of champions, beer in hand, IM Barcelona top on!, discussing next season……perhaps some different races…Rob mentions one of the Belpark race reports about a particular race… before I forgot…if the race reports help us….I should write (this) one on the Barcelona adventure. Also see clubmate Tamara post a race report with a stunning time and placement in agegroup: 4th. Fantastic, different league again. Perhaps I should lobby for weight categories in Ironman.

It’s a solo sport, but a team effort, wife, coach, training partners, swim coaches, physio, doctor and many supporters. Huge thanks to them all.



  1. Great race report Keith! I also really enjoyed the read, settled in with a cup of tea after the early warning of it being a long one! Glad you enjoyed it so much aside from a very minor blip near the end which you’ve defo put in perspective 🙂
    Well done!

  2. Frank Magee

    Congratulations Ironman, good read. It almost inspired me to do it until I read about the last hour.

    Well done, Frank

    PS I fully support your proposal at the end. Would

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