Hardman Triathlon 2021 – Ciat Joyce

Racking my bike in transition at 5:30am on August 28th, I spot a lad with a Hardman hoodie from last year. “What’s this race like”, I ask.  “It’s not as bad as Lanza”, he replies.  “Lucky for me I’ve completed that twice”, I say.  Rewind 2 years and a few months to May 2019 when I finished Ironman Lanzarote for the second time in just under 12 hours.  I was the first Pulser and second Irishman man overall to cross the line so I was delighted with my effort but I was still looking to better myself.  I had hoped to return in 2020 and had begun training in earnest in the winter while trying to recover from a knee injury brought on by training too hard and too soon after Lanzarote for the Dublin City Marathon in October of 2019.  I had signed up in the hope of breaking 3 hours.  The only way that happened for me that year was selling my entry to Dáire Nulty who duly obliged at running it in 2 hours 58 mins.  I’ll have to go have another crack at it myself, so the time is justified beside my name. After being coached for 2019, I had decided to start coaching myself and the knee was responding positively to treatment and rehab exercises before I experienced a new issue in my foot.  I decided after the training weekend in Youghal that there wasn’t enough time to get ready for a marathon at the end of an Ironman and although I could get through it, I didn’t want to struggle through that experience, the race is hard enough without being 100 percent fit.  Listen to your body, it tells you a lot and I told myself that as my own coach, I’d be saying the same thing to anybody if I was training them.

Fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2020 (Best if we skip the bag of shite we experienced from March to December of 2020).  I was sitting with Linda, my wife enjoying a glass or two of Prosecco as we looked to see the back of 2020.  I got the itch to sign up for Ironman Lanzarote again but really expecting that it would get cancelled or postponed and that I would really be signing up to do it in 2022.  I started filling in all the details and took out my credit card but something didn’t feel right about training for something that may not happen and for it all to go to waste.  I put the credit card away and the prosecco got my full attention instead.  Let’s see what 2021 brings instead.

After giving myself some virtual events to train for in 2020, I needed an actual event to get excited about for 2021.  One morning in January while training with some Club members on Zwift, the topic of Hardman Killarney came up.  Several of them had participated in August of 2020 and complimented the race. It was one of the few events that went ahead during all the restrictions of Covid.  I figured the chances were good that the same would happen this year too. A few days later my good pal Matt Bird messaged to say he had signed up for it. He was the reason I had ventured into Ironman Racing in the first place.  No more encouragement needed, I had a training partner for the long bike rides in winter, if the weather allowed us to get outdoors.  Thankfully most weekends it did.

I already had some fitness built from training through the early part of the winter so I put together a training plan that would work on getting me to peak for August.  My week usually consisted of 4 bike sessions, 4 Strength & Conditioning sessions (to substitute for the lack of swimming) and 3 runs.  Most of my bike training was done with the help of my turbo trainer, the Zwift App or the Zoom Turbo sessions being put on by the club.  My goal was to get comfortable on the bike in Low Zones whilst also seeing an increase in speed and power with the spike in effort.  This was also replicated in my running and eventually my swimming.

By the time May came around I was getting into the sea in Killiney to build a swim fitness base.  I’ve never felt so cold in my life as I shivered for quite a while after getting out of the water.  I luckily had some company on midweek mornings in the form of Gary Smith who made it easier to get out of the bed to train by 6:30am.  I also got in a few times with Matt Bird on a Saturday afternoon after some of our bike rides. The idea was to acclimatise to the open water and get used to my new wetsuit. My S&C meant I had no problem with fatigue in the arms and shoulders but the cold meant I couldn’t last too long in the water.  I managed 35 minutes on one occasion before having to exit and shiver all the way back to the car.  News of Westpark Fitness re-opening in early June was music to my ears so I renewed my membership in order to be able to cover greater distance in the pool without the need for the Coast Guard to drag my frozen body from the Irish Sea.

Some training highlights from the summer included the return of the Bike TT’s in Mondello and Viewpoint where I was seeing that the training was paying off despite taking it easier on the bike.  Long Bike rides included a trip from Galway to Dublin with Stephen Rowan, Rahul Roy & Flavius Marcoi and a solo ride from Dublin to Loughrea to help Chris Watts in his first sprint Triathlon for nearly 2 years. My body-clock has gotten used to stupid o’clock training this year but that morning rising at 4am brought a whole new meaning to stupid.  Funnily enough I think it was the cycle I enjoyed the most because of the quiet roads, most of which I had never cycled and the time I got to spend in my own head was good practice for the upcoming race in Killarney.

Race week was finally upon me, and I took a family holiday in West Cork where I finished off my taper and got to spend some time on the beach soaking up some of the best weather we had all summer.  The weather was looking good for the race which I was delighted about because me and cold weather don’t mix.  I put new tyres on my wheels as a precaution and test-rode the bike on my last few outings around the roads around Mizen.  I was feeling rested & recovered and finally looking forward to getting a race under my belt.

I arrived in Killarney on Friday morning with Linda and we checked out our hotel before we met up with Matt & Dervla for some lunch.  We organised a post-lunch swim in the race venue and I was amazed at how pleasant the lake was although the walk into the lake wasn’t the kindest to my feet.  I knew I’d enjoy the swim in the morning.  Back to the hotel for a nap and Matt & Dervla kindly offered to make a pre-race dinner for us before we had to rack our bikes and collect our race packs that evening.  Job done and it was time to prepare my transition box for the race.  This took considerably more time than I had imagined and although I got into bed at 9:30, it was 11:30 before I finally conked out. The usual pre-race thoughts and double checking you’ve prepared everything right for the next day always makes it difficult to fall asleep.

My alarm woke me at 4am.   I hit the shower to liven and freshen up before heading to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  2 Bowls of porridge with banana & honey and a couple of slices of toast and I was ready to go.  My hotel was next door to the swim start so a very short car journey was all it took in the darkness of morning.  Finally bumped into Brian Power & Joe Lynch who had been down at the event last year.  Brian had supported due to injury and Joe was back to improve upon his position of 14th.  Turns out they had very different races which I’m sure they’d love to tell you about.

The morning was overcast which was a blessing regarding swim sighting and it was to remain cool until the afternoon so there was no chance of overheating too early in the day.  We roughly had an hour in transition to ready ourselves before they counted us into the lake in pairs.  Lots of nervous wees and feeling like a bold school child with TI reminding you about your use of a face mask in transition.  We were told to ready ourselves by our race numbers on lining up in pairs for the swim start.  4,3,2,1 and in I go.  It took a good minute or more to walk in deep enough to be able to swim without touching the lake floor with my hands but off I headed to the first buoy.  The swim course had 4 main buoys in yellow with some smaller orange ones on the long stretches in between.  These weren’t the easiest to spot when all of us were wearing orange hats, so I prayed I was sighting the right object in the distance at times, especially on the occasions when it felt like there were no swimmers near me.  The swim was uneventful and with 2 loops of the lake complete I walked gingerly to transition via the rocky shallow water.  I had chosen not to wear a watch so asked Linda roughly how long I had taken.  About 1hr 15mins was the response. I’ve yet to improve on that in my long swims outside of a pool.  Not to worry, it’s going to be a long day but I made it longer by changing into my cycling gear and using the toilet.  On reaching the Mount Line I had to ask the marshal if I mounted before or after the line it had been that kind of year from lack of practice.  “You’re on the line, so that’s good enough for me” was his response.

Our Cycle route was around the Ring of Kerry and it was a lovely scenic route despite the grey start to the day.  We climbed out of Kerry after 20km via Moll’s Gap before a nice descent into the outskirts of Kenmare before we headed for Sneem.  I was aware that the 2 harder climbs of the route were in the first half of the route so I kept my effort steady and never allowed myself to surge after anybody either going up or down the hills.  Let them come to me was my motto all day.  If they have it in them they’ll stay away, if they don’t I will pass them and they won’t come back at me.  The latter turned out to be mostly true but the uber bikers were already gone for the day and they would never be in my sight.  The bike flattened out until we got out to the coast where we were greeted with the Sun trying its best to break through.  Had it been later in the day, I’m sure it would have been more spectacular to witness the Skellig Islands off the coast with the sun beaming down.  Luckily it stayed cool while I climbed the Caherdaniel which felt a bit more gradual than other hills I’ve climbed in Kerry so it was never a case of my legs feeling zapped. This is where I made most of my gains on other competitors as they struggled with their climbing legs. Linda and Dervla passed me going up in the car so at least I knew I would have my special needs bag at hand on the other side of the mountain in Waterville.

I took a pitstop of about eight minutes to top up my nutrition into my back pocket and change my water bottles and then ate a Triple Chicken & Stuffing Sandwich to keep the belly from being hungry and off I went to tackle the second half of the bike.  This was meant to be an easier half of the bike but mentally I found it harder from a couple of perspectives.  The first thing that entered my head after about 110km was that I wasn’t seeing any other cyclists from the race so it was hard to gauge how I was going even though I was happy with my numbers although the speed wasn’t as fast as I was expecting because the drag from the slight head wind and the road surface wasn’t helping matters.  The route also started to feel the same as the scenery wasn’t as mentally stimulating as before but I managed to reassure myself that I was going okay if other cyclists weren’t passing me.  Eventually as I started to encounter some more climbs, I was seeing more cyclists so I knew that they were slowing and I was still going steady.  Let them come I reminded myself.

I was grateful to leave Cahersiveen and Glenbeigh behind and grabbed a fresh water bottle from Linda in Killorglin just before having to slow for a parade for one of our Olympians going through the town.  Luckily it didn’t cost me too much time as I went through the roundabout behind the open top car and then overtook a garda jeep on the inside to get passed the line of traffic leaving the town.  I met another athlete at this stage on a TT bike and wished I had one myself for the remainder of the bike as the wind wasn’t helping me aerodynamically on the road bike.  His bike legs were giving up so he sat on my wheel for at least 2km before giving up on me getting him home with free speed for the last 20km and off he went.  “Just save your legs for the run Ciat, no point in hurting yourself now with a marathon coming up”, I reminded myself.  This was also when I asked myself if I was arsed doing a marathon as the boredom of the second half of the bike started to affect my state of mind.  “Shut up you dope”, I thought, “you’ve spent all year training to get through Covid sane and get a race under your belt for good measure”.

I knew the bike was going to be short of the traditional 180km cycle of an Ironman so it clocked at just over 173km as I dismounted at the side of the road.  The marshals were stopping traffic for us and guiding us into Killarney National Park where they had set up our second transition.  Siobhan Quain greeted me with a cheer so I knew the Run section would be livened up with her.  I knew where to head for my transition box based on where I had been positioned for transition one and went about changing.  Quainers roared “you’re taking your time!”, to which I replied, “I’m on my holidays”.  Trust Quainers to bring a bit of fun to a race!  The Sun had finally come out and was going to make the run somewhat interesting with temperatures hitting 25 degrees on some sections.

I popped my special needs bag on the Aid Station tables and then used the toilet before grabbing a gel and bottle of water for the first lap.  We were to do 10 laps of 4.2km and it wasn’t long into the first lap when I knew I didn’t feel right.  My stomach was tight and wasn’t responding well to the gels.  I tried to shake this over the next couple of laps but when I wasn’t feeling it ease as quickly as I would have liked, I knew it was time to change my nutrition strategy.  Linda & Dervla greeted me at the needs table on every lap and were great support in offering me what I needed.  I decided to stop taking the gels and switch to drinking coke and a carb based drink I had made up in a couple of small bottles.  I felt much more comfortable after a lap doing this.  I’d normally fear trying something new but I had read in a book to listen to your body and what it’s telling you regarding the intake of food.  The change worked and I no longer felt the stomach cramps.

Most people would probably hate having to do 10 laps of the same loop but I had mentally and physically prepared myself for it and as more and more people walked the hill on the loop, I was able to push through and steadily jog up it every time.  I looked forward to seeing the same spectators and have a bit of craic with them.  Believe me, it helped knowing where they where on the course to get that little bit of banter and motivation and support.  At least we had a downhill section back into the finishing straight at the end of each lap which made me feel like I was flying and it probably looked that way.  Soon I was lapping people that had passed me on the bike or started the run with me.  This gave me the confidence to know I had adapted the right race strategy.  By lap 10 my hips were starting to feel tight and I was glad that I only had to tackle that hill one more time.  I thanked lots of people for all their support and by the time I came down the other side of that hill I was smiling knowing it was home time.  I came into the finishing straight with my arms wide mimicking an aeroplane who was ready to land.  It finished off an enjoyable run in the sunshine and I was quickly greeted by Linda who gave me a couple of minutes to compose myself before herself and Siobhan Quain bundled my bike and transition box into the car so Linda could return to West Cork for her uncle’s 70th birthday.

Initially looking back at Hardman I was disappointed that I had finished with a little more in the locker than I would have expected. I thought that maybe I should have tested my racing legs a bit more but it makes sense that due to controlling my efforts and emotions throughout that it made the day so much easier than what I had experienced in Lanzarote and to be honest it made the day more enjoyable on the run where I could look at people and know I wasn’t in pain like many of them who had maybe pushed that little too much on the bike.  I have learned that by training easier than I’ve done in previous years, I can still hit some decent speeds and power numbers on the bike and have enough in me for a consistent marathon run.  Next time I’ll have to look outside my comfort zone to see what my body can handle over the distance and deal with that little bit of uncomfortable.  Oh, and transitions, I’ll have to stop treating them like I’m on my holidays.



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