IRONMAN Cascias 70.3 – Grant Jacobs

So, here goes my first race report for Pulse.

And I’ve got no one to blame but myself!

Here be told a lesson of how ignorance can truly be bliss as I had mentally signed up to do Cascais 70.3 before I’d even completed any sort of triathlon.

I hadn’t even done a sprint race until six months ago and here I was contemplating a 70.3!

In fact my first “Sprint” resulted in me getting cold water shock, suffering an asthma attack and walking most of the swim (My first unofficial Duathlon!)

Did I also mentioned I didn’t train at all for four over weeks as I was driving a Fiat Panda from London to Mongolia? One might say I may have gone into this event a little under done, if not raw.

Now you know the context, here is my experience of the day I lost my Ironman 70.3 virginity….

The race was in Portugal at a scenic seaside resort called Cascais, just thirty minutes from Lisbon. But it’s a Half Ironman.  So it may just be Death in Paradise

For those unfamiliar with the Cascais 70.3, it’s a 1.9km open water sea swim followed by a 90km bike ride that includes an F1 Grand Prix track and some mountains… and then they threw in a half marathon at the end in 26c weather, just to make sure there were no survivors!


You were warned…

I woke up to the sound of someone sobbing in fear and muttering incoherent swear words. It took several minutes to realise it was me!



We left the house at 5.30am in the nine-seater Venga Bus to head to the bike transition area. This was for a final check on our bikes and add any last minute nutrition… I really hoped that family bucket of KFC would be ok in the sun.

Good friends don’t let friends to do stupid things alone…and that’s how I found myself standing in near darkness on a beach in a scenic seaside resort in Portugal.

With three of the most amazing, awe inspiring as well as mentally and physically strong people I know. Except all three of these women were now looking at me like I just ran over their dogs and took a dump in their favourite handbags!

Yes, it possibly may have been my idea to do the Cascais 70.3 but I didn’t force them to be here….But I am so glad they signed up. Thank God for peer pressure and alcohol! Debbs, Marion and Clare have pushed me harder than anyone else and imparted advice, training tips and support that has been unvaluable. And abuse. Lots and lots of abuse.

There were also those Pulsers who helped to be us here with long rides, long runs and long swims.  Thanks for the abusive but hilarious Whatsapp messages and threats of shame and ridicule to motivate us. They were all back in Ireland now tracking our every move (or lack there of) on the Ironman app! Who says pressure is just for bouncy castles?

But here we all stood in the starting pens at the pre-dawn start to the swim leg. The grey of night gave way to a pink glow on the horizon and the sun eventually cut a golden sliver across the sea.
Bringing with it the dazzling shimmer of the first rays of morning light to along with the mountain breeze and the scent of warmth and memories lazy summer days long gone.

The lying bastard sunrise also hid the fact I was about to put my under-developed muscles, old creaking body and tiny little anxiety frazzled mind through more than seven hours of self-induced torture. I really need to look at my life choices.

They say the smell of fear is a mix of metallic and sour odours.

Wrong! It is the smell of sweat drenched neoprene, sickly sweet energy gels and rotting seaweed. I heard prayers being muttered around me in at least eleven different languages and nine different religions.

The swim was a rolling start. This turned out to be triathlon talk for Fight Club Pool Party. Each age group starts and enters the water one after the other at timed intervals. An old ships bell rung out across the beach every 5 seconds to release a fresh batch of victims into the water. This scene was set to the back drop of a cheering crowd, a thumping AC/DC sound track and a pristine sun rise…the sand must have been getting up because I had tears in my eyes. These things can be very emotional.

As the swimmers hit the sea, it was churned into a fighting, boiling cauldron of flailing limbs, flying goggles and screams of “that’s my spot!”….it was like watching the carnage of wildebeest crossing a Serengeti river, while the weaker herd members were being picked off by the hunting crocodiles.

The survivors slowly made it out into clear open water and settled in to a steady pace. There is a strangely calming effect of swimming next to a fellow triathlete and seeing them in as much pain and mixed euphoria as yourself.

Having just swam by the first buoy with the M-Dot logo, I caught myself smiling underwater. I can’t explain how or why, but here I am…doing a Half Ironman!!….what an idiot!!

The swim course was a series of right hand turns every few hundred meters and eventually lead us back to harbour,  up a ramp  and a 800m road to run to the bike transition area. Seriously? I hope this run counts towards the 21km run!!

Running 800m after a 2km sea swim while trying to strip off a soaking wetsuit is like an octopus trying to get out of a straight jacket. Hard to do but must have been bloody funny to watch.

We took in some carefully managed and balanced mid-race nutrition.  Someone must have swiped my KFC as I ended up having can of Coke and a Snickers bar… I’m a real diva when I’m hungry.

We hopped on our bikes and headed back through the town and out towards Lisbon.
This race took a winding coastal route along rugged cliffs with  crashing waves and mixed with rolling dunes and hidden coves of serene bays and inlets. It’s very hard to stay on the road when you are trying to watch an epic five foot glassy off-shore break!

We headed into the tourist metropolis of Lisbon following a very “unflat” course, passing crowds of cheering, clapping supporters before making a u turn and heading back the way we came…..into a massive head wind.  This was like strapping a mattress to the front of your bike while dragging a small dead horse behind you. No matter how much we pedalled, we were going  no where fast.

Eventually, after what felt like days, we returned once again to the seaside resort of Cascais. After sharp right turn away from the mad wind of the coast, we were into calm leafy avenues and majestic rows of ornate period homes before heading into the gentle rolling hills and quiet rural villages.

Once again, the sublime beauty of Cascais hid the horrible truth.

The rolling hills grew steadily steeper as we left the coast behind us. Up and up we climbed. And then the hills grew steeper still. Even Sir Edmund Hillary And Tenzing Norgay would have had trouble breathing up here.

And then just to mess with our oxygen starved legs and minds, they made us do a lap of honour of an F1 race track dedicated to Ayrton Senna….and just like him, many a dream died on that track because this was only the start of the “real” hills.

Because surprise surprise, we turned left out of the race track and…more climbing! They say what goes up must come down. Obviously the laws of physics, nature and gravity do not apply in the Ironman world became there was NO BLOODY DOWN!! 

Eventually we reached the turn-around point on the top of the 115th hill and the view was truly specatcular. The Vista took in the legendary Giunco beach with its rolling dunes, Atlantic surf and old castles. It really was breath taking. Or it could just have been the altitude.  We were so high up,  I am sure I could see the curvature of the Earth! But the lack of oxygen forced us to move on.

And so downhill we went. Gravity made up for what it lacked on the up hills and Einstein’s theory of bike descending kicked in… E=MeFNScared!

I swore I heard the sound of a dive-bombing German WW2 fighter plane overhead but it turned out to be the passing by of a very large man in bright yellow and brown lycra screaming his lungs out. Not sure where he went because the road took a very sharp left…he didn’t.

The smell of burning rubber and the acrid smoke meant my brakes where as close to giving up as my sphincter when the road eventually flattened out and we hit the return road to the Cascais town and the run transition area.

As we turned away from the imposing mountains and on to the majestic coastal road, the tail wind kicked in. It was like being lifted by the wings of Angels while being lovingly slapped on the ass by the Speed Fairy. This was cycling Nirvana. This was like catching a barrel in Hawaii, skiing powder in Aspen or a free all-you-can eat Buffet at a Steak and Lobster restaurant.

And the view of massive Atlantic surf crashing on to sheer cliffs and empty beaches made the dizzying climbs and  white knuckle descent worth every oxygen starved, lactic inducing, chamois spoiling kilometre.

We made it into the bike-to-run transition. I racked the bike and that was when I must have been drugged because when I came to I still had legs but they definitively weren’t mine. No matter how I tried to use them they just would not do what I asked. I was somewhere between a new born giraffe and a cross-dressing drunk who just got a new pair of stilettos. I eventually stumbled my way to my bags and changed into the running gear.

And that’s when things went pear shaped!

This was the run from hell! 26 degrees and more bloody hills. No one mentioned these small mountains (Richie Barber- we know where you live!!)  And it was TWO loops of this! The person whose legs I now had attached to me obviously never ran a day in their lives because I could not even jog.  This was going to be longer day than Christmas at the In Laws and I had no one to blame but myself.  And Richie.

I had over cooked my legs on the ride and had under cooked my body in the training. My ego had written a cheque my body wasn’t gonna cash!

I eventually found a rythm in my running. Shame it was an improv jazz riff being beaten out by a monkey high on crack! This was a nightmare and all I could do was grind through it. The run-jog turned into jog-walk and soon became a swear-cry.

I eventually met a few running buddies who I jogged beside and offered encouragement, one even poured ice cold water over my head. Where was a beer when you needed one?  The spirit of the Ironman shun through as supporters and fellow competitors willed us on to keep to going.

But as with all pack animals leaving the slower weaker ones behind, they could see I was soon-to-be wolf poo and ran off into the distance. I soon found a little bit of pace and got into a slow jog/fast stumble and as fellow Pulsers and other Irish runners yelled at me,  my spirits lifted.

The last turn around and a slow but steady 5km got me to the left turn into Cascais and I swore I heard the Rocky theme song! That last 1km was something I have never experienced before and wont forget. The crowd support was out of this world. Clapping, cheering high fives. It was mental!  I couldn’t understand how they all knew my name. Until i looked down at my race bib. Oh.

The last turn had a sign that splits runners into MORE LAPS to the left of FINISH to the right. I was so happy to see that sign it may as well have had an arrow pointing to the Playboy Mansion, Gracelands and Free Puppies.

Running up The Ironman red carpet was such a high that even Snoop Dog would have been envious. I was smiling, pumped my hands in the air and was throwing high fives to whoever had their hands out….or didn’t. (They said that kid had a good chance of his sight returning)

Under the big black arch and BAM!! IRONMAN 70.3 done and dusted. I turned around to take it all in one last time and look at that sweet red carpet one last time. Medal around my neck I walked into the food tent and took a seat. I was too tired and hot to eat but the cold Coke was nectar from the Gods!

A few other stragglers came in looking like extras m  Saving Private Ryan, shaking  trembling sweaty hands with fellow survivors and exchanging gasped congratulations. It must have been sandy in there as well because those damn tears were back.

Did I just do that? Leaving the tent and seeing Debbs and Marion with their medal said they did as well and we cheered and screamed as Clare ran by up the red carpet! 4 for 4! A bloody great day out if you ask me!

It may take a few weeks and surgery to get the smile off my face  but if there are any newbies or seasoned triathletes thinking of doing their first 70.3, I suggest Cascais be a good place to start.

Ironman Cascais turned on a show that will be hard to top…the location, the buzz, the crowds, that beach  and those views from those monster hills will stay with me for a very long time. As for that run? They can keep that…for now anyway. 

Do it for the Craic! But most of all, find a group of people that you can laugh with and shed the odd tear! Debbs, Marion and Clare were the real reason I got across that line. Training (or lack there of) got me to the start line but the friendship and support of these Amazons made sure I finished it. 

As for our Support Crew of Gordon and Ciaran. What a selfless act of coming to this Portugal resort and being there to load bikes, cook food, make coffees and yell support at a every chance. I think they did more miles than us that day. They definitely did more beers!

But here I am. Basking in the post Ironman 70.3 glow of a shiny new medal, an idiot grin, a severe case of DOMS and a heavily diminished bank account.

So, ladies, what about DL 70.3? …just asking for a friend.

Pulse Triathlon Club: swimming, cycling, running and socialising since 2003

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