IRONMAN Cork – a race for the ages

What a day. What a race. When it was first mooted that a full IRONMAN would be coming to Ireland, the rumours were that they wanted to make it hard. They wanted another Wales. They wanted Youghal to embrace the race in the way Tenby had. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that the race they got would go down in history as one of the most brutal.

The race that was devised was already going to be challenging with a cold water Atlantic sea swim and a bike course with nearly 2000m of elevation including one of the worst climbs on a bike course ever with a 21% gradient.

When the weather turned on the Saturday night, competitors woke up to the news that the swim would be cancelled. Always a difficult decision for organisers to make, but an even harder pill for athletes to swallow. Many would question, does it count as an Ironman if I don’t do the swim? Countless hours chasing the black line in the pool for nothing. For strong swimmers, their advantage over their competitors was now gone. It would be a day for strong bike runners.

A time trial start was announced as the way the race would proceed. This resulted in competitors standing in the lashing rain for over 2 hours before getting a chance to start. Those who had heeded the weather warnings were to be seen, wrapped up as best they could against the elements. There were many who seemed to not check the weather. The large DNS rate spoke volumes as to the pre-race conditions.

As the competitors streamed out of transition, the ingenuity of some was on show. More than once I seen people head out on their bikes with their swim goggles on. Female Pro and race winner Emma Bilham had marigold gloves on. More had shower caps from their hotels over their helmets. Some chose bin liners, creating an unhelpful parachute for themselves but it wasn’t going to be a day for speed. All carefully crafted race plans now out the window with the objective simply being to get to T2 in one piece.

As the Pulse support crew waved off our Pulsers to their fate, it was off to Windmill Hill for us to take up position to roar them up the hill.

Windmill Hill is what made this race, for athletes and supporters alike and is a marketing dream for Ironman Cork. Both sides of the road packed with supporters made it feel like a Tour de France day or Solar Hill at Challenge Roth. That hill will be the reason people will want to do this race. It’s hard to describe the gradient of this thing. Walking towards it, it looks like a wall, not a road. Even walking down, it is hard. At a guestimate, I would say over 50% of the field walked the hill, with many of them making more progress than some who chose to ride it. I suspect even more so walked it on the second loop. But what an atmosphere. Despite the lashing rain, and a river practically running down it, one by one, athletes battled and grinded their way up it. Cheered on by friends and strangers alike, all completely astounded by the show of strength and willpower. There were many, many falls. But all got up, dusted themselves off and carried on. A manhole cover proving to be the undoing of many before a crafty spectator put a cone over it. Some of the sights also included a guy who’s chain broke half-way up. Another who was walking with his derailleur in his hand. The best however was the guy who took the walking break as an opportunity to get some vaping in!

Coffee runs, lunch runs and as the day progressed and the rain continued, the support crew began moving towards the run, as one by one, Pulsers stated arriving into T2. Word had spread that Joanna Butler had come out of T2 in 1st place in her AG. A combination of frenzied excitement mixed with a sense of needing to stay calm and roar her home took over. As more and more Pulsers arrived onto the run, fresh supporters arrived too. Like supersubs…….arriving to take over with some fresh lungs for roaring. Flavius showing us how it’s done 😊 Word also reached us of some Pulsers who didn’t make the run with the brutality of the conditions ending their day prematurely.

The lack of mobile coverage made supporting very frustrating with the trackers cutting out and getting messages from Pulsers in Dublin who knew more about what was going on that us on the ground.

The day continued and our Pulsers ran their hearts out. As every lap passed the roars got louder. The buzz was building as it seemed that Joanna was going to hold off her US competitor and make it to the line first. Some of us chose to make our way to the finish line to see her over. It’s not a lie to say we were all a bit emotional! First in her AG and her ticket to Kona punched! More and more Pulsers came over the line. All having battled to get there. Over 23% of the field did not finish this race. Pulse claimed 2nd place in the Ironman Triclub program thanks to the hard graft of our members.

There is nothing like the emotions of an Ironman finish line. Witnessing people’s dreams come true and having to battle external and internal demons to get there can only be good for your soul.

The town of Youghal embraced this race fantastically with support in every corner. For many I’m sure this was their first experience of our sport. They must think we’re mad! I hope, for the town’s sake, this race continues to be a sell out and the sun shines for next year. They deserve it.

Numerous people have said over the last few days how last Sunday week showed them how strong they really were, both physically and mentally and how they have learned new things about themselves.

I guess this is why we do it. Put our lives on hold for six months all for one day where the chance of failure is real. We learn how strong we really are. Where our boundaries really lie. How much our bodies can really take. It’s not easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. It’s the hard that makes it great.

To everyone who took on Ironman Cork…..congratulations…..you are an IRONMAN

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

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