John O’Callaghan – IM Hamburg

In News, Race Reports by Joe Johnson4 Comments

John O’Callaghan is an Ironman. He rose to the challenge and finished in style.  For John, it was all about finishing, and as you finish reading this report you may ask the same question he asked – was it worth it? Hell yeah! Enjoy..

IM Hamburg – My First Ironman

I wasn’t planning to do an Ironman. I started by reading about the new SRAM etap system and decided to put it on my road bike to which I had added aerobars. I would then have the perfect combo road and tt bike with gear change on the bars. Anyway – did a bit or ringing around and headed out to Wheelworx to talk to Rob Cummins who I was told knows a lot. Long story short I was suddenly the owner of a Trek speed concept with di2 including on the hoods – my bike couldn’t be adapted !!!   Albeit after I had signed up for the bike (yep I’m impulsive), I did do a bit of online research with that horrible dread that you’ve been had. Anyway the research came good – the advice was right and I was happy out. Rob and Ais were heading off to do IM in Brazil so I was to wait a month or so for the new bike. Tick tock.

I had 2 fittings for the bike and as I was about to take it home Rob said ‘what are you going to do with it’. Truth be told, in my mind I knew well – show off on my fancy bike and try not to look like too much of a tool – tough ask I agree ! But what can I say to this fit skinny bast*rd, I can’t admit that. So logically I say – well I’m planning an Ironman, and before I know it we’re on the web and I’m committed to Hamburg – brand new race, relatively flat and finish bang in the middle of the city – which I know from a couple of visits. Sh*t – if only I could have got out quick. Also, absolutely no consultation at home at this stage – 3 kids , one doing the leaving – F**k, how am I going to get out of this one ?

Went out for a few spins on the bike, loving it. I briefly mentioned IM Hamburg at home mumbling something about it being sort of like the 2 years of 70.3 I had done in Dublin. No real outcry so I went and signed up. I wasn’t really lying – I didn’t know what a difference there is between 70.3 and the full monty. I did a bit of reading and came to the conclusion that I knew f’all and should either write off the entry fee or go all in. Yep, impulsive, of course I went all in. I slithered back to Rob, admitted I was a tool (which he had somehow already worked out) and signed up for the year for coaching.

What a great move. They tried me out for a few weeks – got the weekly schedule on a Sunday, report back next Saturday with details on each session and get next weeks schedule. Went for a few runs with them as well. And so it went building up to the dreaded 6 hr bike followed by 1 hr run (divorce papers being drafted at this stage). As an aside I met a couple of Pulse guys on the flight to the race who cheerfully advised (in front of my cheer squad family) that if you’re not in trouble at home you’re not training hard enough. Hmmmm…

Liam O’Brien started the Belpark Ironman whatsapp group in March which grew quickly to about 10 of us, great for tips and bullsh*t.

Anyway, to the race. I had a few points built up so stayed in the Marriott which was about a 10 minute walk from transition. Arrived on the Friday and it was pouring rain. Registered and did the expo thing – no point in doing Ironman if you don’t have the clothes to tell everybody !! No one bothered to pick up bikes from Ship my Tri Bike as too wet to go for a spin. Race briefing was outside so wet and cold. Still, the forecast was for Sunday to be fine. Still pouring on Saturday, picked up bike, top up charge on di2 and that afternoon get gear ready. Problem was that transition bags would not be under cover so had to have bags within bags. All done, pasta load and off to bed at 8:15 – alarm for 4:30. Loads of good luck messages from the whatsapp group.

Up and at it on race day, high GI breakfast and headed off. Got chatting to a guy on the way out of the hotel who was also heading down. Asked him if he had done one before – he said a couple. Turns out he was Luis Alvarez and this was his 143rd Ironman – Lucky I wasn’t offering him any tips !!

Race day was bright and sunny as forecast – fantastic !

I thought I’d be more nervous but I was ready. Ripped the neck of my wetsuit putting it on (bloody HUUB) – don’t stress – and put myself in the 1:15 to 1:25 group. It’s a lake swim in Hamburg with an Aussie exit. Standing about to go – remember the swim is only the warm up and the first 400m are the warm up of the warm up (Robs words to me). Off I went, felt good. Cruised through comfortably except forgot to kick hard before Aussie exit so was stumbling around the place – remembered to kick hard for final swim exit. All done – no drama – 1:24.

Now I had a simple plan for the day First Ironman – only 1 objective, FINISH. T1 was 11 mins – full change of clothes bar shorts – could have put the kettle on with that time. Grabbed the bike and off I went – Robs voice in my ear – ‘don’t go out too fast, easy for first 50K, then go how you feel as you do 130k every week’. I was too scared not to follow the plan though I was enjoying myself. The crowds at swim exit were huge and also on the bike course. Roads were so smooth and big crowds in the towns as you went through. 2 90k laps, lovely bike course. The marshals were strict, handing out a lot (too many) drafting penalties but not to me thankfully. Got to keep the nutrition going, wish I had listened to my wife and put a cheese roll in a special needs bag.

Paranoid for last 20k as I could see people with mechanical trouble – one guy with only 1 pedal – sh*t, don’t want a DNF this close. Made it back to transition 6:20ish – all according to plan.

16 mins in T2 doing another change of clothes – yeah no excuse – and off I go on the run. 4 laps. Plan is to take it easy for first 10k – 6 to 6.5 mins per K. Feeling good and have to keep slowing down. Lap 1 – 1:04 – bang on. Lap 2 1:08 – looking good.

As we all know – this is where wheels can fall off – 1k into lap 3 both calves spasm and feel like they have been stabbed – a situation I am familiar with – either slow down or tear them. So I’m now at 7 to 7.5 mins per k and the accumulation of gels etc makes my stomach feel like a washing machine. Yikes, I’ve read the Barcelona race report (thankfully) and have brought chewable Gaviscon. Grab one and things settle down. One loo break but thankfully just the one.

I’m suffering at this stage though, legs are seriously sore, it’s now 25 degrees + and it’s not fun any more. I think this is where training takes over, and stubbornness. If I have to f**king crawl, I’m going to finish !! It’s amazing how many people are walking on the course at this stage. I’m not having that – I may be slow but I’m not walking. I allowed myself to walk within aid stations while drinking but that was it.

It’s bloody cruel running past the finish chute at the end to lap 3, feeling crap with 10k + to go. Still, I ticked off landmarks as I went, last time I’ll pass that pub etc. Crowd were great, shouting your name – and they love the Irish.

As I was getting towards the end I remembered the debate with the kids over the past day or two – ‘what will your celebration be ?’. We had decided on the airplane – I really wasn’t in the mood. Then 400m before the finisher chute there they were – bugger – better do it. So I start this airplane move (nearly taking out some dude looking to pass me), pull both calves and nearly end up in a heap on the ground. The kids are hysterical with laughter, even Caroline is trying to hide a grin and I head to the chute with middle sons comment of ‘tool’ following me.

The chute is worth it. It was still bright but there were lights, music, cheer leaders and a huge crowd. The announcer shouts ‘John O’Callaghan, You are an Ironman’ !!. You know, it doesn’t sound like much – BUT IT IS !! 13:08. My plan was 13 to 13.5 hours, but you know – it doesn’t matter. It really is about finishing.

Over 100 comments and messages on the whatsapp group so gave a quick report there and then. I can hardly walk at this stage so get the bike back to ship my tri bike and head back to the hotel. I have a shower and follow the guys out for a pizza – there’s Luis coming back (Trek speed concept I might add). He’s done no. 143 – and has 9 races this season.

Will I do another one ? – Hell yeah. Not in 2018 but would love to do Roth in 2019 – if I can get a slot.


  1. Laura T. Flynn

    Another inspiring and really entertaining read. Even better the 3 kids and one doing the leaving scenario which is just like my own and one of my recurring excuses….all I need now is an understanding wife!
    Well done John on a great achievement.

  2. I knew my birth town would not let down ;o)) , great Report John and well done , have fun planning the next one , just remember Roth is Really HOT

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