My 2019 Ironman Journey
70.3 Mallorca May 2019, Ironman Tallinn August 2019, 70.3 Dun Laoghaire August 2019
It’s a long one….
I never had any intentions of doing a full Ironman so I’m not really sure when my Ironman journey started. I think it was when Ariane signed up to Cork. When I heard her talking about it I figured sure if she was going to do it, I might as well give it a go too.
Right so now that decision was made it was time to find a coach. Someone Dave knew through work had a coach (Mark McCabe from Sports Med Ireland) and thought he was great so we decided we’d give him a shout and see if he was free. Not only was he the Irish Sailing team physio and S&C coach, he was also an Ironman athlete and had been to both the 70.3 World Championships and Kona a number of times. I knew if he took us on we’d be in good hands. After a 7am Wednesday meeting we were in! Mark asked us if we were sure we wanted to do Cork, he suggested an abroad Ironman would be much more of a sense of occasion but we said no Cork would be so handy with family being able to come down so easily to support, etc.
I don’t think it was even a month later that I was in the jacuzzi in UCD when Dee came in and said IF she were to do another Ironman it would be Tallinn. She also said that Frank wanted to do one, but would go where the most craic was. The seed was planted. Tallinn was now on my mind. After some gentle persuasion, I had convinced Dave too. A few days later we were signed up. It didn’t take long for the others to follow. Dee, Frank and Ciaran were the next signed up. Followed shortly by David Chandler and Keith Holmes (who I actually hadn’t met until July, in fact at Athy apparently Keith thought Jo Doran was me!!) We became the Secret 7. It was in Lanzarote that Keith Hegarty had mentioned he was tempted by Tallinn but given he had a baby due 6 weeks later we were cautious about hassling him TOO much. However his incredibly sound wife Freda told him to do it and with that he was in. The Secret 7 became the “Secret 7 plus Keith”. (we were fairly unimaginative and couldn’t think of a better name)
I was relatively new to the sport of triathlon. I had only even done 2 sprint triathlons and the Dublin 70.3 (Dave did the bike as part of a relay the year before and when he got off the bike he said I’m doing the full 70.3 next year, so once he was doing it there was no way I wasn’t!). I was relatively inexperienced, I had never owned a heart rate monitor, didn’t even know what heart rate training was when I started with Mark. I learnt quickly. I often got a bollicking for pushing too hard, especially on my commute. My commute consisted of me pushing as hard as I possibly could on an old 10 year old rusted bike in runners for 6km each way, thinking this would be an extra 40mins of great training. I was wrong. As what I thought was a punishment, Mark told me I had to cycle to work in Z1. Now I could barely walk in Z1, never mind cycle.
Training kept going well, I was doing on average 15 hours a week and loving it. I was lucky that I worked beside a gym so I did 30mins strength and conditioning most days at lunch. We commuted most days (slowly!) and then most of our training was done in the evenings – we weren’t great at getting out of bed at 5am so instead we were training after work and getting to bed for 11pm/12am and then up at 7am.
Our warm up race was a 70.3 in Mallorca. I LOVED this. My plan for this was to try draft in the swim for the first time and go for a time of 31/32mins, then for the bike there was a massive 20km long climb, which was 15km in to the bike so I was told strictly to stick to mid Z3 going up the hill and then low Z3 for the rest. The weather was nice, there was a great buzz around and I honestly enjoyed every second of it (until the run). I felt like I was swimming incredibly slowly, I couldn’t get anyone to draft off but when I got out and saw the watch at 30mins I said feck it I’m going all out here. The bike was great, I felt so strong, I was bombing along at 40km/hour and then I reached the bottom of the climb. For some reason I thought the 2ndwater bottle with my Tailwind would weigh me down and I threw it away. Big mistake. I was going up the hill, noticed I was creeping into Z4 and then I was full on mid/top Z4 for the entire climb. My ego got the better of me (something that Dave and Mark always slagged me about). Still, I came in off the bike in sub 3hours so I was chuffed with that time for that course. I knew I was doing well and if I could stick to my planned run I could place pretty good. So the plan was first 5km no faster than 5min/km and then speed it up per km after that. Pretty much as soon I got off the bike I knew I wasn’t in good shape. I realised that I hadn’t actually eaten anything as I was pushing too hard and I was downing bottles of Enervit (I had been warned not to take the Enervit but after I threw my bottle of Tailwind away I had no other choice). I felt nauseous and had been sick once about 2km in when Dave ran past me, dammit I thought I had him but he was breezing past looking way too comfortable. (Dave always looks way too good running) I felt awful. I was sick a number of times more but was determined to run the whole 21km, no matter how slowly. I ended up doing it at a pace of 6mins/km, so a good bit slower than planned. As soon as we finished I got a message from Mark saying “Jill a bit hot on the bike?” Lesson learnt, listen to Mark.
About ten weeks out from the full in Estonia, I started cycling the odd Thursday morning with Mark and the sailors. This was a big learning curve for me, I was definitely towards the weaker end of the bunch but I loved it. Coming into work by lunch time with 100km under your belt is a pretty good feeling. About 3 weeks before the race Dave came out too so Mark was going to do a lactate test on him. I was driving Mark mad asking if I could do the bike on power instead of heart rate (he kept telling me no but I kept asking) so after about 20km in he said “right Jill, you’re on my wheel now for 20minutes for a power test then, the rest of you, keep it handy”. Now as I mentioned above, Mark has been to Kona and biking is definitely his strongest of the three. I thought I was about to pass out but I managed to stick with him for the 20 minutes…for absolutely no benefit as my power meter didn’t even work that day! So after all that, Tallinn bike was going to be on heart rate.
It was at one of the coffee stops on the Thursday morning cycles that Mark casually said would I consider doing DunL 70.3 – there were extra spaces for Women in Tri and he figured if I got in the top 10 of my AG I could get a space in the 70.3 Worlds in New Zealand. BUT I had to listen to him for the few weeks after Tallinn to make sure I recovered well enough. I knew I was never going to make it to Kona, but I knew I could make the 70.3 Worlds with a good race. That night, I was entered. Dave wasn’t as quick to enter as we had a wedding on the Friday and Saturday (race was on the Sunday) and he was best man but he knew since I was doing it he’d be raging on race day if he wasn’t. Anyway, back to Tallinn.
We flew out to Tallinn the Wed before the race. Frank, Dave and I were on the same flight. The water temperature had been fluctuating a lot. It was 20 degrees the Sunday before and then dropped to 11 degrees on the Tuesday. The sea temperature moves in line with the wind so we knew by the wind direction that it was highly likely the swim would be shortened or cancelled. Dave and I were in the airport looking at the Ironman calendar wondering how long it would take us to recover from the bike and run and which other Ironman we could do later this year to get a full distance race in. We settled on Florida. It was only as we were walking onto the 2nd flight in Helsinki that Frank told us the news that he had heard from Tanja that yes the sea swim was definitely cancelled, HOWEVER, there would be a lake swim instead. Brilliant, no need to go to Florida after all!
The next morning we got up relatively early, registered and bought anything with our names on it. In fact we bought one of most things at the expo. In my head I was only doing 1 Ironman so I figured I might as well buy everything now. We met the rest of the Secret 7 and Keith (and Susan, Ciaran’s wife) for lunch and then we drove the course. It was on the drive when everyone was saying how it was going to be flat and fast and it was definitely a TT course. Now I don’t have a TT bike and I never had any intentions of getting one, I’m all for comfort on the bike, but it was during this drive I wondered if I had made a big mistake. Anyway nothing I could do about it now. We had Frank’s playlist and Keith driving the course with superb navigation from Dave, Dave Reddy that is, Dave Chandler and his suggestions of U turns mid highway were questionable. The race briefing was at 5pm that day. We all went and then to the pasta party for a plate of spag bol. We all went back to bed relatively early Thursday evening.
Friday morning was a late lie in, followed by a cycle to bike racking and bag drop and a quick dip in the lake. Keith Holmes took our bags in the Mystery Van (the van the guys had rented and branded as the Belpark team car for the weekend!) while the rest of us cycled out. I had a 5pm appointment to get my hair braided (half the battle is looking good) so we dropped bikes, dumped bags, got in the lake for 500m and then we were gone. Poor Dave didn’t know what he had left on the bike etc. as I rushed him off but I was purely focusing on getting back for 5pm. No fear, I made it just in time only to later find out that both Susan (Ciaran’s wife) and Keith Holmes could have done it for me….next time!
Most of us met for dinner in an Italian that evening (night before the race) and all ordered bruschetta and spaghetti bolognese. I thought I’d be up the wall nervous but everyone was so chilled which made the whole thing so enjoyable and relaxed. We unfortunately didn’t get much sleep the night before, there was some private function in a bar below the hotel and our room was right above it. At 1am I rang the hotel reception to ask for ear plugs so I think we fell asleep around 2am and had the alarm set for 430am. Everyone says you don’t sleep much the night before anyway so I figured it wouldn’t make too much of a difference.
We had porridge in the room and double checked we had everything we needed and went downstairs for our pre ordered taxi at 5am. Unfortunately it didn’t turn up. At 5.10am we ordered another one through the taxi app there and Dave turned around and said to me sure everyone says something goes wrong on race day – this is our thing that’s gone wrong. Dave is definitely a glass half full guy, which was exactly what I needed that morning!
We got down to transition around 5.30am. The pros were kicking off at 6.30am so we had plenty of time. We put our food on the bike, pumped up the tyres (well Dave did) and then joined the queue for the bathroom. By the time all of this was done it was 6.15am. People had started to line up for the swim so we went in to find a place. I was hoping I would do a 1hr03min swim so I went to the back of the 1 hour group – the next group was 1hr 15min. Music was pumping and everyone was buzzing. At 6.30am the gun went and the pros were off. I was still surprisingly calm. I think I just figured at this stage sure I might as well try enjoy it. The next few minutes flew by and next thing I knew I was next in the queue to go into the water. I said goodbye to Dave and Keith Holmes and Frank who were just behind me and I was off.
It was weird swimming in the lake, you literally couldn’t see your hands in front of you. There were a lot of swimmers in front of me who should NOT have been in the sub 1 hour group and it took me longer than I wanted to get to the first buoy as I had to look up a lot to swim around them. The rest of the swim was fairly uneventful. I just kept swimming, I had no idea what my time was as you couldn’t see your watch in the water. It felt long but I felt great getting out – checked the watch 1.06 – a little disappointed but I kept going. I heard a shout from Dave’s mum, I had no idea where she was but it was so nice to hear someone cheering for you. I ran to get my bag and into the women’s tent. I started taking off my wetsuit and some lovely volunteer asked if I wanted help (I was the only person in the tent). I always struggle to get my wetsuit off so I said, yes absolutely!! I ran and got my bike and heard Mark (Dee’s now fiancé) shouting and ran to the mount line. Johnny (Dave’s mum’s husband) was there and cheered me on as I got on the bike and even got some great photos J
I had no idea if anyone was ahead of me from the club when I started the bike, I was about 20km in when I heard a roar behind me from Keith Holmes. He pulled up beside me for a chat and I had to tell him to keep going, he was flying it!! Next to pass me was Frank the Tank. I was hoping Dave would pass me soon as I know the swim was his worry and it wasn’t long until he did. I was delighted. He had swam 3.8km and he wasn’t super slow! I shouted at him to keep going and he was gone!! Didn’t have to tell him twice!! Then Keith Hegarty flew past saying “Great swim Jill”’. Keith had no idea how I swam but he is just so nice and always so encouraging! When I hit 60km on the bike I struggled mentally with the fact that I had 120km still to go. But I had to remind myself that I chose to do this and I was lucky to be in a position that I was able to do it. That was my mantra many times when I didn’t feel like training. It hit me one day when I was out cycling past the National Rehab Hospital in foul form and I saw 2 young guys in wheelchairs and it made me realise how lucky I was that I could do this. The rest of the bike went past pretty uneventfully. I saw Dee and Ciaran at every turnaround point, we were within a couple of km of each other. I also saw David C who was closing the gap as we got closer to the end.
I got into T2 feeling great, I saw the bike catchers, gave them my bike and ran the wrong way! They had to pull me back and the volunteers saw my number and got my bag for me, but once they gave it to me I realised that I needed the bathroom so I dumped the bag on the ground and ran into the toilet. When I came out my bag was gone and they told me someone had brought it into the changing tent. I ran in and some lovely woman had laid everything out on the bench for me (I was again the only person in the tent – the benefit of being a female in a full Ironman!). I had painkillers, hayfever tablets, extra food, etc. so she was asking me what I wanted so I just said runners and visor. She told me to go, she’d pack my bag up for me and I was off. I only realised the day next just how quick my transitions were, but I obviously had an advantage to the others who didn’t get the personal help that I did!
My plan for the run was to start at 6min/km for the first 10km and see if I could push up after that. The first 10km went relatively to plan. I started slowing into the 2nd10km, my stomach just didn’t feel right. I had thought I had stuck to my planned HR on the bike so I didn’t know what was wrong. I just kept going but I couldn’t stomach any gels after the 2ndone. Looking back, part of the problem was that I didn’t eat enough on the bike, I only had 2/3rdof my nutrition, I’m not even sure why, I had planned on 1/8thof a bar every 15mins which would give me 40g of carbs an hour (which is what I needed for my weight) so I was seriously undernourished on the run. I could only stomach the coke and again, looking back, I should have stopped at an aid station and had a 2 litre bottle of coke instead of having a cup at each station. Anyway I got through the run, absolutely not in the time I wanted but I finished.
Dave’s mum and Johnny were the best supporters, they had split up on the course to make sure we got support as much as possible. I remember Laura shouting “You’re looking so strong”, absolutely knowing she was lying but still it was a lift I really needed. If we didn’t have the support of them and the others there it would have been a much more difficult race.
The last 5km were torture but when I got to about 300m to go, I heard the announcer saying “Come on Jill from Ireland, your husband has been waiting for you”. I couldn’t believe it, firstly that I was finally close to the finish line and secondly that they were waiting for me. I had the best welcome to the red carpet, I heard the famous words “Jill, you are an Ironman”. I did it. Dave ran to the end to meet me and I felt awesome.
When I got my phone back there must have been about 500 messages on it, mainly from the Belparkers who were tracking us all day and from my parents and brothers. (they were all away in different places). I don’t think my family really understood what an Ironman was and what I was training for until the day of the race, but I could see from the messages they had been sending all day that they got it and were so supportive and proud of us both for finishing it (especially Dave who they kept saying, even still now, ran the whole marathon so consistently!!)
Dave and I both woke up the next morning at the crack of dawn absolutely starving!! We raided the mini fridge for anything and had granola and yoghurt at 6am in the room waiting for breakfast to open. We went up to the pool and we were a bit sore but our legs were in surprisingly good shape. We met the others for beer and pizza and that’s pretty much how the day went. We avoided walking by travelling around the city on scooters. My day started with me saying I’m not doing another Ironman but by about 10pm I think Dave Chandler (and maybe the many glasses of wine) had convinced me since he was thinking of having another go next year maybe I would too! I’m still not sure whether I will or not but it’s definitely not off the table.
70.3 Dun Laoghaire
So we had 3 weeks until Dun Laoghaire, I had been downplaying it to everyone that I was just doing it as it was on our doorstep and I figured why not, but I was hoping for a spot in the Worlds in New Zealand. We caught up with Mark for a debrief the Saturday we were home, and as usual, Dave had a perfect race and I pushed too hard on the bike – which I was surprised since my average HR was within the figures he gave me, but because I spent 10minutes in Z5, and whatever in Z4, the effect that had on my body outdid the time I spent in Z1. I figured though I had seriously improved on Mallorca so it’ll be 3rdtime lucky right?!
We didn’t really train the few weeks in between, it was more just to keep moving with a 3 hour bike the week before the race so we did 60km of the 70.3 route. It was horrendous. I had no idea how I was going to manage to come in under 4 hours on the bike keeping my HR where it was meant to be at, but I said I’d do exactly what I’m meant to and if I’m really slow sure I’ll just do another race!
Now as I said we had a wedding on the Friday, the Day 2 on Saturday and the race on Sunday so it was all a bit mad, since Dave was best man. I went down on Friday to register and got my bags etc. then went down to the wedding. I ended up driving back to Dublin at 530am on the Saturday morning (due to an after party in our house at the wedding!) so I went back down with Dave later that morning to register. We went for a quick 20mins cycle, then home to change into our clothes for Day 2 of the wedding then down to rack the bikes. We were told we were the best dressed athletes in transition!! We didn’t stay late at the Day 2 and got home around 9pm, had a bite to eat and went to bed.
So for Dun Laoghaire my plan was to swim as usual, keep the bike easy, max Z3 going up the hills, no matter how slow and if I did that I could do a 1hr 45/50 run. So all I had to do was actually do what Mark said and I could get top 10 AG and then very likely a Women for Tri slot for NZ.
The alarm went off at 5am, it was race day!! Weather was super which always helps! We had some porridge and drove down to Sandycove. We did the usual prep. i.e. Dave checking my bike and pumping up my tyres (I’m totally screwed if I race without Dave some day!) and saw a few of the Belpark guys down there. By that stage I was pretty relaxed. We walked down to the beach and I started pretty high up in the swim based on my Mallorca time. I saw Mark on the way down and he shouted at me to “stick to the plan” numerous time. I promised him I would! I knew that if I wanted a NZ slot I would have to trust him.
The swim was hard, I couldn’t see anything due to the mist, I couldn’t see the buoys at all so I just followed the people in front of me hoping they were going the right way. I had to stop and breast stroke a few times to try see where I was so knew I’d be slow. I was at the 2ndlast bouy when I felt it…..a sharp shooting pain in my arm, I looked down and saw a MASSIVE tentacle….a lion’s mane had got me!! I had proudly never seen a jelly fish before and now of all jelly fish to see, it was a lion’s mane. My wrist was stinging but I knew I just had to get on with it. I got out, checked my watch and saw a disappointing 35 minutes, oh well I thought, it’s only a few minutes, I can make it up on the bike.
Into T1 and I was slower than usual but out I went on the bike. The plan was to stick to top Z2/bottom Z3 heart rate for the entire race and max top Z3 for the hills. I started off and my HR was pretty high, although this always happens at the start of a race for me. It settled down and I was sticking to the plan pretty well. Dave passed me on the Ballycorus Road, which was sooner than I expected, either I was going a lot slower than usual or Dave had a better swim than expected! Freda, Keith and Niall were at the top of the Ballycorus Road and I got a huge cheer from them, with Niall telling me to hurry up! I got to Enniskerry and turned right, my god that climb was awful but I kept it slow and let everyone pass me. I saw a few girls in my AG fly up past me but I somehow resisted the temptation to chase them. I was delighted when I passed 2 of them walking their bikes up to Lough Tay later on!
So I came into Powerscourt, it was a lovely cycling down the main road of it and then we turned right into the private grounds. The road quality here wasn’t great, as Niall Magee had warned us. So I took it pretty handy but as I came around a downhill corner I felt the bike falling from under me, I screamed “I’M GONNA CRASH”, not quite sure what I was expecting anyone to do, but as I knew I was going down I veered to the left and flipped over the bike into the ditch. I must have fallen on my left side as my knee was in bits and the left side of my body hurt. I got up, took a couple of mins to check I was actually ok and the adrenaline wasn’t masking any injuries and I picked up my bike. Kev Leavy, the gentleman that he is, came past me then and checked I was ok. Told him I was, hoping this was true. I put the chain back on the bike and got on, only realising then that my tri bar had completely twisted out of shape and was completely sticking up. I think I was about 20km in at this point so I had another 70km to go with no tri bars. My knee was also killing me so I thought my race was over as I didn’t think I’d be able to run. Anyway I kept going, sticking to the plan as much as I could but I was so nervous on every descent, especially with the fog up at Sally Gap so I knew my bike was going to be slow. When I was coming down after Lough Tay a Wicklow TC supporter shouted at me to keep going and that my club mates weren’t too far away waiting for me. Dave Power was up ahead first lying on the ground on photo duty! Seeing Ariane, Aoife, Lucy and Jo at Sally Gap cross roads was great! They looked absolutely freezing but I really appreciated that the hung on at the crossroads until I had passed. I had been hoping for 3.40/3.45mins so as expected, I was slower at 3hr 53mins.
Into T2, and a quick change into runners and visor, quick bathroom stop and I was out on the run. I was hoping before the race to come in under an average pace of 5.30min/km so that’s what I started out with and planned to push it up every 5km. My knee was a bit sore from the fall but it didn’t hold me back. For the first time in a race on the run I felt good. I was pacing between 5.15 and 5.25 per km and felt comfortable. I saw Dave’s family as soon as I started the run and got an almighty cheer from his 2 sisters, it was awesome! I knew the Belpark contingent were down by the garage so I was looking forward to seeing them. I can’t even describe the cheers I got from them, it was insane!! In the words of our Secretary Freda, it was a superstar treatment! The woman beside me turned around and say what club are you guys! I’m joining next year!! This happened on almost every lap!
I passed Dave on every lap (yes we high fived!!), as per usual he was looking like he was cruising. I knew he was having a good race and was pacing at sub 5min/km comfortably. I was so proud. My family were all out of the country (again!) for the race but Dave’s family were dotted around the course and it was just a great lift every time I passed them. The support overall was amazing, I saw the guys from B2R there cheering too as was my friend Caroline and some of the girls from Tritanium TC. I kept expecting to blow up (in usual Jill fashion) but I was still pacing well at 10km, 12km, 14km and then once I got to 16km I knew I was going to finish well. Coming past Belpark that last time was brilliant, I knew then I had less than 3km to go and I was going to finish a race well, for once. I was coming down by the Ferry Port when I saw Dave and his sisters cheering me on, I was so happy running up that last hill to the red carpet, I had done it.
Even though I saw my first jelly fish, got stung by a lion’s mane, crashed off the bike, messed up my knee and broke a tri bar it was by far my favourite race, all thanks to the support on the run.
I checked the results and I came 4thin my AG in the “long swim” (the swim had been shortened half way through) so I thought I’d go to the Awards Ceremony as there was a good chance I’d get a slot with the extra Women for Tri slots. Unfortunately due to the 2 different swim distances they said they wouldn’t issue the slots tonight, but if you wanted a slot you had to put your name down on a list and they’d let us know by phone. It took Ironman about a week to do the slot allocation and initially I didn’t get one of the Women for Tri slots. I missed by a couple of minutes. I was of course disappointed as it looked like I would have been within the top 10 in my AG if we had all swam the same distance so I contacted Ironman to ask them how they did the slot allocation. They pretty much just halved the swim distance (plus 30 seconds) for those of us that did the long swim (obviously I would have been quicker only swimming half the distance) so when they went back and reviewed all the results they said that I should have got a slot and gave me one. I’m absolutely delighted, if anything it’s an excuse to go to New Zealand and visit Ella in Australia J
- It’s always better having someone to train with. I know how lucky I am that I had Dave. We didn’t have the same training plan but generally had bikes and runs on the same day so if I was suffering in the middle of winter doing hills reps, it helped that I knew Dave was suffering too!
- If you’re doing an Ironman, do it with a group if possible, it makes it so much more fun
- Practice your nutrition – something I am still learning
- Get a coach – and listen to them. You do NOT know best
- Ironman is expensive – but worth it!
- You will have to eat A LOT
- If you’re on the fence, do it, running down the red carpet is a high I can’t put into words
- Things don’t always go to plan – in fact they rarely do, so you just have to learn how to make the best of how the day pans out
Most importantly, enjoy it and all the training in the lead up to it – being able to race a 70.3 or an Ironman is a privilege that not everyone is physically able to do.