IRONMAN ITALY 2019 – Kevin Derrig
I’ve thought to myself for a while that too many feckin eejits in Pulse do mad races like Ironman, and I decided that 2019 would be the year that I became one of them.
First, why Italy? There are a lot of options out there but I knew that with my wife studying part time up until May that I had to go for a race late in the season, September/October, so that I’d be able to train during the summer and make use of the long days and some open water swims. I also wanted somewhere that would offer the chance for a family holiday afterwards, so it was a choice between Barcelona or Italy. As we got married in Italy in 2010 and we hadn’t been back since I thought that would get me some brownie points. This was my first important lesson in training for an Ironman, earn as many brownie points at home as possible!
I used a coach for the first time this year. I went with Paddy McLaughlin of podiumfit.ie. This was so I could get a specific plan and ease the pressure of planning training myself. I also knew that if I tried to go the self coached route I’d end up spending 80% of my training time on the bike.
I don’t come from a swimming background and this isn’t my strong point. Ideally I would have liked to do a good set of Pulse coached swims. I started 2019 signed up for the Thursday morning sessions in Westpark but was finding it too difficult to make it to these. I decided instead to join Westmanstown gym which was close to me and use the pool there for my swimming. We got family membership which was great for the kids. More brownie points!!
But if I was to do it all again (still under discussions with the home office) I would try harder to incorporate the club coached swims into my training. The value of having someone poolside telling you exactly what you need to work on is great. I’m fairly sure my technique is as bad as it was when I started training in January, just slightly faster (or maybe the correct term is less slow).
I was cycling in and out of work most days, so about a 32km round trip 4 days a week. I also have a pain cave set up at home (essentially a press just big enough to fit a bike in) with a permanently set up turbo which meant that it was easy enough for me to get in a turbo session one or two nights a week and until we got into the summer, I did most of my long sets on the turbo at the weekend as well. It’s a great way to do race specific workouts or get a good honest 1 hour session in. A sick and twisted part of me loves a turbo session.
I had done the Dublin Marathon in 2018 so I was happy enough with my running fitness coming off the back of that. I was regularly getting maybe 2 good lunch time sessions in each week mixing intervals and fartlek, with a brick run off the bike on a Saturday and a long run each Sunday.
Shaved my legs on Sunday September 8th. I was now race ready.
The race was on Saturday 21st September and I flew over with the family on the Thursday beforehand. As luck would have it the other two Pulsers racing, Kim Hickey and Vinny Galvin, were on the same flight and happened to be seated in the row in front of us for the flight to Bologna. Golden chance to get some last minute pearls of wisdom from some Ironman oracles!! It also gave me a chance to continue what I’d been doing for the previous few months, leaving all responsibility to look after the kids to my wife while I spent my time on all things triathlon.
My main take aways were not to focus on time and concentrate on managing your own effort. I reminded myself of something I had read in a race report from Miriam Staunton a while back also, race day is just a victory lap for your training.
I had written out a race plan starting on the Friday morning. So as per my timetable I registered, spent too much money in the merchandise shop, collected my bike from the Tri Bike Transport guys (I would highly recommend this to save hassle) and then set up my bike in transition.
Once I had the bike set up I went down to bring my 6 year old to the Ironkids race on the beach. Despite him talking about it daily for the previous 2 months, he now decided that he didn’t want to do it. Only to change his mind once it was all over. In fairness the guys who organised it were very nice, let him run across the finish line, cheered him on and then gave him his medal and let him stand on the podium. So that was 1 medal in the family this weekend, he delivered and now the pressure was on me.
After this I donned my wetsuit and went for a practice swim. It was quite windy and there were some decent sized waves so I knocked that idea on the head after about 5 minutes of fighting the swell. That night I messaged Vinny about the choppy water, he reassured me that there’d be an offshore breeze in the morning and it’d be fairly flat. He might as well have been sitting on the side of my bed, handing me a hot chocolate and reading me a bed time story it settled me that much. I was asleep by 9 thanks to the words of the “Ironman Whisperer”.
Race morning came and the conditions were as Vinny had predicted. The water was fairly calm, as good as you could hope for a sea swim. I filled my water bottles on the bike, one last check that everything was set up ok and off I went to the beach.
I bumped into Vinny again in the holding pen before the swim start, always good to have someone to chat to for a bit before a race to distract you and settle the nerves. We got into the starting chute and off we went.
The swim went fairly smooth. The mass starts in a normal Tri Ireland race have a lot more barging and shoving in them. This was a single clockwise loop and I was happy with how it went. Around the 2 km mark I thought I felt what was a jellyfish sting on my lower calf, a few seconds later I heard an unmerciful scream coming from a swimmer a few metres behind me which confirmed it. I was lucky to get off fairly lightly as I could see the marhsalls making their way over to the swimmer behind. A few seconds after that I could feel the top of a couple of jellyfish on the tips of my fingers as I went through a stroke, if anything it was encouragement to get out quickly. I was out of the water in 1hr 8.
I didn’t rush through T1 as I wanted to make sure that I had everything I needed for the bike and applied some sun cream before going to my bike in the longest transition area I’ve ever been in.
Onto the bike and I had my power target to aim for. This went fine for the first half but it was really hard to avoid large groups. I tried a few times to lift my pace and get ahead of them but eventually a swarm of cyclists would engulf me again. The first lap was essentially this pattern repeating itself.
I had set my lap counter for every 5 km to remind me to eat and drink. I had a mixture of an energy gel, banana or a Cliff bar to eat and would rotate drinking a High 5 electrolyte drink or water. I knew I wouldn’t be able to rely on energy gels only and from speaking to Vincent Brady who had done this race two years previous he recommended mixing nutrition as looking at the same gel isn’t that appealing after 5 hours.
The route itself is very flat except for a short but very steep hill about 60km into the first lap. This is roughly 2 km long and the last km before the peak averages around 14%. The feeling of relief when you get to the top though and the crowds shouting support up there were great.
The first half on the bike went well, I even had time to pose for some very flattering photos.
Then something really strange happened. I got a tune stuck in my head. It was Pat Shortt’s jumbo breakfast roll song. I have absolutely no idea why I sang this in my head on repeat for half an hour, but I did. Strange things happen in your head during an Ironman.
I had a few wobbles in the second half of the bike. First around the 90k mark the bottle cage on my saddle started getting loose. I knew I needed to pick up a bottle of water in the 2nd half of the bike so I decided to stop and try to fix it. A screw had come loose and so I had to rearrange the Velcro strap holding my spare tube to attach the cage to my saddle. Job done after a quick stop, not perfect, but it would get me to T2.
I grabbed a bottle of water but was starting to overheat by then. I dropped my watts a bit and tried to conserve my energy climbing the hill the second time. Once I got to the top I freewheeled down most of the way so that the dropped effort and breeze would cool me down, this worked a treat and although not at 100% I was still able to put in a good effort to get back to T2.
Again in T2 I didn’t want to rush through it in case I forgot anything. So I took my time and made sure I was comfortable before starting off on the run. As I got out I was feeling good. I knew I was going to finish it. I knew that I was going to finish my first Ironman. I was buzzing. The run route would bring me past our hotel 8 times in total and it was going to be great seeing Vicky and the kids each time.
What a great feeling. “Whats my pace?” I wondered. Oh, 4.45 mins per km. Paddy told me not to go any faster than 5 min per km for the first 10k. I tried to slow but each time my pace would creep up as the excitement got to me. For that first 10k I kept going too fast. He’s going to kill me, I thought. In my call with Paddy later that week he confirmed that indeed as he was watching the Ironman tracker and saw my times at the start of the run he was screaming at his phone “I’ll kill the f**ker”.
Then the inevitable happened, I had burned out. Between 10k and 20k I was essentially run/walking. My stomach was in knots, I was taking Cliff shot bloks for the first 10k of the run and my second pack had fallen out of my race belt, so I was out of them but I couldn’t stomach the idea of taking a gel. I stopped at every aid station and took on a bit of water each time, eventually around the 20k mark I started to feel ok again and was able to get back into a running pace. At that stage I decided my best tactic was to run between each aid station and then at the aid stations take some water, douse it over my head to cool down, drink some coke and wash it down with some water. This did the job and I could feel the energy coming back.
Around the 30k mark I could feel a knot in my left thigh but I took this as a good thing, it was the same feeling I had in the marathon the previous year and I was able to run with it then so I’d do the same now. I kept this in mind and it didn’t trouble me. From this point on I was able to lift my pace a bit and started to enjoy the run properly knowing I was getting closer to the finish.
When I got onto the finishing chute I was delighted and nearly knocked one guy over as I was going past him I was so focused on the finish line. I didn’t even know my time when I crossed the line but I knew I was happy with how the day went for me. I can’t fully describe the feeling that came over me when I was finished, a mixture of large doses of relief and delight.
What was weird afterwards for the rest of the family holiday was that I kept referring to this as my first Ironman race, while Vicky described it as my only Ironman. Need to work on that. With that in mind, if you’re reading this over a glass of wine, beer or just a cup of coffee, please raise your glass in appreciation for all the Tri widows/widowers out there who support us just so we can follow the dreams of a feckin eejit.
p.s. Final lesson for me, after finishing my first Ironman, one beer was not enough.