Be prepared for a loooonnngg post
I’ve spent the better part of a year visualizing what it would feel like to have Mike Rielly call me in with those words. Well now I know how it feels, and it feels awesome!
I finished my very first Ironman in 12 hours 56 minutes and 21 seconds and I’m totally stoked to have made it home in under 13 hours. I had serious doubts about whether or not that would happen with 10k’s to go in the run, and was desperately doing the maths in my head and coming up a few minutes short every time, but more on that later.
Ironman day started at 4.20am for me, my crew chief Clint and my wife Helen, although I was already awake when the alarm finally went off, in fact I hardly slept at all, and didn’t have a great sleep the night before. My mind was far to busy going through what I was about to put my body through. The rest of my support crew (being my two kids, Sam and Eve, my sister-in-law, Liz and her husband David) were up a bit later to say a prayer, which I think sustained me through some of the dark patches, and to see me off as we left to head down to the start. Steve from Alpegear.com had provided supporters tee shirts to promote the book. These were bright red and I would keep on seeing them on my guys as well as on the other Alpe Athletes supporters throughout the day.
We got down to check in at around 5.30am and the process of getting body marked and checking the bike was a great way of settling things down. Checking the bike was interesting. My bike was fine, everything still worked, the drinks were topped up and the gels attached, but most importantly the tyres were inflated. That was a lot better than some other people. There were plenty of poor folk ripping off tyres which had popped and doing a quick change. I also heard at least one tyre explode as I was walking down the line to my bike. It happens in bike races to and never ceases to amaze me how people who should know better still try and squeeze a few more PSI (pounds per square inch) of pressure into their tyres and end up exploding them right before the race start, certainly not the way I’d like to start race day.
After checking the bike it was down to the swim start. Again we were there in plenty of time, so I had a chance to relax, take a second nervous pee, and soak in the atmosphere. The forecast for the day was rain with some heavy showers and strong northerly winds, however as it turned out the morning was almost perfect. No wind and only light clouds (although you could see the big black ones coming), the result being that the lake as smooth as glass.
Eventually I got changed and checked in my bag for the finish before kissing my wife good bye and heading for the start. In Ironman New Zealand there’s a Maori Haka done before the race (for those of you outside of New Zealand a Haka is like a war dance, it’s a challenge laid down by those performing it). Its awesome and intense, a Waka (war canoe) comes out of the mist with 20 or 30 warriors on board and lands on the beach next to the swim start, at which point the disembark and lay down the challenge. The right thing to do is to stand and face the Haka and accept the challenge, which is what I did before getting into the water. One way or the other I was going to be accepting the challenge of the day emerge from it in glory (even if only in my mind). What a way to start the day.
The swim went pretty much as expected. I managed to stay out of trouble for the first part and found a few feet to swim on as we headed down the first leg of the swim. Things got a bit congested as I rounded the first mark and I took a fairly solid knock to the eye, luckily I didn’t loose my goggles and managed to keep going without breaking stride. By the end of the first leg (its out and back) my time was 41 minutes, which was right on track. The way back was uneventful, this was actually reasonably noteworthy as for the first time in an open water swim I had actually managed to swim straight (I normally veer off to my right, which cost me a load of time in my last couple of swims, but had been working on this over the last couple of months). I came out of the water in 1:25:49 which I was plenty happy with (my goal time was between 1 hour 20 and 1 hour 30). It was then onto the long 400 meter run to T1.
The run to T1 goes along a marina road before heading up a bunch a steps in an embankment. It was at the bottom of these steps that my support made their first appearance with my kids waving signs and yelling support. That gave me a real boost and I flew up those stairs.
It was then into T1 to get my wetsuit stripped and into my bike gear. I took my time and had a much smoother transition than I did in my first (and only other) triathlon. Sure does pay to practice and visualise. By the time I got out to the bikes there weren’t a whole lot left, looking at the results I was well down at the back of the pack by the end of the swim. That wasn’t a surprise and was what I expected, the swim is easily my weakest as anyone who has been following this blog will know this time last year I couldn’t really swim.
After getting onto the bike it was time to get into my work. The bike was always going to be the place where I’d make up time and placings. The bike course consists of two 90k loops out to a little town called Reporoa with only a couple of hills along the way. I’m fairly strong on hills and would have been happy if there were more. The first one is only a couple of k’s from the start of the bike course and I figured that it would set the tone for the day, if I rode that strongly then I’d probably ride the whole course strong.
I passed a lot of people on that hill and I kept on passing people all day. The forecast wind showed up early on in the bike meaning there was a very stiff headwind all the way out to Reporoa. Whilst I don’t particularly like headwinds, it still suited me fine. Its very slightly downhill on the way out to Reporoa, and conversely slightly uphill on the way back, so a headwind there and a tail wind back is probably the best result if it has to be windy.
On the first lap my average speed was a relatively slow (for me) 27kph. But on the way back it was much quicker and I spent a lot of time sitting around 44kph. By the time I was heading back the rain had started. I hate riding in the rain, and in fact the day got quite miserable with the wind really driving the rain, and yet there were still thousands of people lining the course a various points, including one local farmer trying to tempt the athletes with a nice cold beer as they wizzed past. My support crew was doing a brilliant job, popping up a various parts of the course to cheer me on. I really can’t overstate the value of this kind of support. At one point I was going through a bit of a dark patch and they right there, at the right place at the right time to lift me up out of it.
By the second lap the wind had picked up some more and shifted a little as well (meaning it wasn’t quite a tailwind on the way back). At one point I was down to 17kph on a flat bit of road, that lap was hard work. I managed to stay aero for probably 95% of the ride, which was really good, especially on a windy day. Unfortunately by the second lap my water proof bike computer was starting to fill up with water and it was getting hard to read, so I didn’t know what my averages were. I also started getting some stomach issues by the second lap, nothing too bad and not enough to throw out my nutrition plan thankfully, but it didn’t bode well for the run.
Coming back from Reporoa for the last time I really buttoned off on the pace to get some recovery in, as I really wanted to give myself the best chance possible of doing a good run (or at least actually running the marathon and not walking it). The end result for the ride was an average speed of 28.3kph and a time of 6:22:04 (I think that includes the transition time though). This was a bit slower than my prediction of 30kph, but given the wind I was happy enough with the effort. What was really good was that I absolutely ripped the field apart and made up close to 350 places on the bike, I was only past by 3 or 4 people all day. I also finally got to meet Sub6 as he yelled at me when I was coming back into town for the last time, I'd see him again and actually exchange some words (although I can't recall what they were) later on the run course, he's a bit of a celebrity so that was real cool.
The run is what really makes an Ironman in my humble opinion. It’s during the run that things start to hurt, and where you can no longer hide. By the end of the bike I was pretty wet and my feet were soaked thanks to the rain. Fortunately I’d thrown some spare socks into my run bag, they weren’t my best pair (being an optimist I was wearing those on the bike and not planning to change) and I normally wouldn’t have picked them for use in a marathon, but given the situation they were a God send.
Coming off the bike I had a very tight muscle on the outside of my right foot and I was quite worried about this as I started the run. Happily that particular pain eased away and eventually disappeared altogether. The first lap went alright, although I was having stomach issues and couldn’t tolerate anymore gels, in fact pretty much whenever I put anything other than water into my stomach it repeated on me. So I stuck to water, coke and a little bit of Replace from my nutrition pack. I also managed to force down a little bit of banana and some pretzels. The one thing that I had no problem with was some soft lollies I had ducked away in my nutrition pack and some hard lollies I picked up at a couple of the aid stations.
The first lap of the run went alright and I maintained a steady pace, it certainly wasn’t a pace that would get me a marathon PB (personal best) but it was good enough. Leading into the race I’d been a little worried about how the run would go as I hadn’t done a lot of running or brick workouts due to a tight ITB, so I was very pleased to see the legs turning over. On the way back in to town from the first lap (it’s a two lap course) I was beginning to enter into the outskirts of Hurtsville, and it was a huge lift to see my family waiting for me on the course. My son, Sam is still in a wheel chair due to his broken leg so my sister-in-law, Liz, ran next to me pushing Sam along for a short spell. Again this was exactly what I needed, exactly when I needed it, and lifted me from a big slump which I was going through.
The second lap saw me go deep into Hurtsville and had me starting to answer some big questions, like how hard could I actually push. At this point of the race the crowd support was phenomenal, I can comfortably say that there is no way that I could do an unsupported Ironman. Without the volunteers at the aid stations and the crowd support along the way I would have just stopped. I kept on thinking how easy it would have been to stop ad sit down. Instead I kept on running. My goal for the marathon was to actually run it (only walking the aid stations), and I kept on thinking about the challenge I had accepted at the start of the day, and how I wasn’t going to give in to weakness. And I didn’t. I ran the whole course and met that goal.
A mentioned above coming back from the last lap I had doubts that I would get back in under 13 hours. I still had doubts until 2k’s to go where some guy, standing by himself went crazy. He was looking at his watch and screaming at me that I could do it if I just kept up the steady pace I was on, and that I was looking really “solid” (I didn’t feel very solid). With that screamed encouragement from a complete stranger ringing in my ears I somehow managed to pick up the pace. Half an hour ago I didn’t think I could go any faster, but it’s amazing what you can do when motivated. Somehow I was tapping into reserves that I didn’t know I had. The last 2k’s from the 40k mark hurt more than anything else I can remember, but somehow it also felt really good, that must have been the endorphins.
Coming around the outside of the domain and going into the last 200 meters is a bit of a blur, I remember seeing my wife and crew chief, as well as Steve from Alpegear.com and his camera man, and then I was coming down the finishing shoot.
At that point it stopped hurting. I could see that I was going to make it in under 13 hours and as I was catching the person in front of me I eased up a bit after making sure there was no one close behind me. I wanted to really enjoy the moment and I didn’t want anyone ruining my finish photo. I went down the finishing shoot pumping my fists and grinning like an idiot. Crossing the finish line I grapped the tape and held my arms up in glory! This was the moment that a whole year had been building up to and it was awesome, one of the best moments of my life, just behind my marriage and the birth of my children.
Hearing Mike Rielly saying “here comes Kieran, a 32 year old father of 2. Kieran, you’re an IRONMAN!” is unforgettable.
Was it worth it? Definitely.
I’ll do another post race blog in a couple of days, but for now I’m still enjoying the moment.