Let’s just clear up some issues first.

I don’t like cold water.

I’m not a big fan of open water swimming in general.

I’m nervous descending on my bike.

I don’t like being cold.

I love my bed.

So how exactly did I get here?

Over the years, I really couldn’t picture myself doing an Ironman. I envisaged it as six months of anti-social behaviour followed by exactly one day of suffering. A summer of trail running dragged me temptingly sideways, away from the narrow, road bound, neat confines of triathlon. I knew I was coming back from the trail-filled US to (ironically) cement-bound Galway, and was lured into signing up for Ironman Frankfurt in July 2010 for the following year on the spurious basis that I would have the company of five or six other Galway Triathlon club mates. I was still dithering the night before registration opened and got all riled up by Pam (5 time IM finisher and double Kona qualifier) and Susan (5 time IM finisher with an 11:10 PB) to sign up, over sushi and white wine, because it would be the Best Thing I Ever Did. Moral of the story: don’t go drinking with super-enthusiastic ultra-athletes.

Everything is easy when it’s a year away and the only commitment is flexing your credit card (little did I know that flexing your credit card is the sixth discipline of triathlon, after transition and eating). Things looked different back in grey Galway in December when I started easy base training. But I’ve only just done the New York marathon! I whined. Can I not rest up till January? No.

January was miserable and icy and I completed a lot of my long bike rides on the turbo trainer or on the spin bikes in Ocean Fitness. I moaned on the phone (crashed out on week three of a twenty-something week program) while friends told me patiently that I was doing great and I might regret quitting.

I survived “Ironman Camp” in Lanzarote in March despite a massive fright factor on day one at the level of speed, experience, expensive bikes and general showboating. I retired to lane 1 of the pool (which included a genteel Swiss chap called Paul, about 60, who could mostly only breaststroke). I also stuck to Group 4 on the bike rides (which I liked to call the ‘Titanic lifeboat’ group as it took in the less hardcore women, the elderly, the young and the generally incapacitated). I learned some hardy lessons about working out your carbohydrate loading as I put my stomach out of commission for an entire evening with an overdose of Science in Sport powdered drink mix on our long bike ride. Miriam helped by eating my portion of paella.

The next few months blurred into weeks of trying to cram in training-and-working-and-eating-and-stretching-updaterunningclubwebsite-and-laundry-and-packingforworkout-and-sleepingnotquiteenough-and-getting-up-again. Finding sufficiently uncrumpled clothes to wear to work. Making giant pots of food on Monday that I ate for days. I cycled on Saturdays, sticking regimentally to a low heart rate training plan. I fell off the back of the rides a lot to stay in Zone 2. You might not believe it but it takes as much steel to allow yourself to be dropped as it does to hang on to a back wheel. There were several unceremoniously teeth-gritted lone returns to base at 135bpm; occasionally singing show tunes to myself for entertainment. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s cheesier Big Numbers were a great favourite and if you listened carefully, you might have heard the refrains from Chess or Phantom drifting plaintively across Lough Corrib around lunchtime on a Saturday (Saaaaaaaaaaaaaaay you’ll share with me one love! One lifetime! Saaaaaaaaaaaay the word and I will follow you!) I started to improve on the bike, slowly.

On the May bank holiday weekend I headed down to Glengarriff to do the Bay half marathon. I cut a scheduled Saturday 7 hour solo training ride to 5 hours (which I used to cycle to visit my in-laws on the Beara peninsula, stopping at Mary O’Neill’s’ in Eyeries for IM-training-illicit cheese sandwiches and tea). Such ventures had never been seen in Eyeries; they eyed me with a mixture of wonder and suspicion and offered to drive me back to Glengarriff. I wobbled back in a gale force headwind, shedding a few tears around Castletownbere for want of a couch and the long road ahead back to the rental house in Glengarriff. The O’Neills’ wonder was compounded on Sunday when I ran the half marathon; while I did no great time, I knocked out a reasonable tempo run and irritated the hell out of my brother -in -law by beating his half marathon time by a minute.

May and June were marked by epic Tuesday runs and Saturday rides or bricks. I ran endless loops of Dangan, accompanied by long suffering friends pacing me at (sometimes zone-one-for-them) nine minute miles. I laid down three century or hundred mile bike rides in a row over three weekends, including the low-budget but entertaining Tour de Mayo (one woman trailing after forty guys. Helloooo, young man!). At one stage on my last century ride, the Tour de Burren, I was sheltering from the 30kph headwind heading into Liscannor behind a cyclist with one leg. One real leg, anyway. I didn’t feel this bode well under any guise. Yet I was fresh and strong arriving back into Ballyvaughan after 165km, knowing that I felt good and I had all those miles under my belt. Nearly ready.

I did a long brick session every second week, leading up to the final long workout of a ‘metric Ironman’ – 2.4km swim, 112km bike and 26km run. Just back from a work trip to the US, I was jetlagged doing this, and made the mistake of starting with a giant bowl of porridge far too close to my choppy sea swim. I survived the bike (thanks, Miriam!) and the long hot run on a sunny day about 7degC hotter than IM day itself, after which I went home, ate a whippy 99 ice-cream as recovery, and then threw up (sign of things to come?)

Make no mistake, Ironman is designed for the middle class alpha male (or female). It’s no surprise that the sport is dominated by middle aged white guys. It takes money to get there – lots of it – and unless you’re Macca or Chrissie Wellington, it’s not a sure fire way to make a living. Massages and bikes and carbohydrate drinks and compression wear and tubes and tyres and bike transport to race and expensive high dose fish oils cost, and right here’s where you start paying – in cash. I became good friends with Susan in the Health Shop in Briarhill who supplied me with protein bars, omega 3 and a plethora of last-minute Barry-advised ergogenic supplements a week before Ironman (never try anything new, right?)

By the time came to go to the race, I was tired of thinking about it and ready to race. My brain was full of Ironman. Waking up every day, thinking: How am I training today? Off I went to Frankfurt on July 20th, along with half of Team GTC (Aidan H and Aidan C), four days out from the race, allowing ample time for registration, taper, carb loading and working ourselves into a pre-race rookie frenzy. Yes, we were ready.

Part two (race report) to follow....

Marie O'Connor

12 years 10 months ago

Thanks for sharing part one.... waiting patiently for part two!!