by Oisin Quinn
It happens exactly at the first water station on the run. I see him. Maybe 100m ahead. The distinctive T3 tri suit with the ‘Big’ logo covering the padded seat zone. It’s Gary. He is a lap ahead of me. But something is wrong. I’m catching him. As I draw level we exchange words of encouragement. Quickly the conversation gets more serious. “Have you seen Chuck?” he asks in hushed tones. The run course has two double-back sections, so you have a good chance of seeing a clubmate. Or a rival. But neither of us has seen Chuck.
Gary is on his second lap. Certainly heading for a sub 5:30, but he’s slowing. “He’s out there. Somewhere” he says tensely. I start to pull away. Suddenly Gary is on my shoulder breathing heavily. “Why don’t you pace me? You’re running well …” Why not, I think. Gary speeds up to stay with me and my size 5 tri-suit and 6 hour-70.3-body shape creates some soft wind for my T3 teammate. Soon however I get an uneasy feeling. This is reminiscent of the infamous 1992 10,000m Olympic final when a Moroccan teammate of Khalid Skah slowed down to allow himself to be almost lapped before picking up speed to essentially pacemake for his fellow countryman, leading him out to gold. Skah was roundly booed at the medal ceremony. Cynical. But legal. We press on. Two runners in T3 trisuits pushing through the field. Getting cheers from the many supporters (and clubmates who have already finished!).
However, the real story of this amazing day began many months before.
From the moment Ironman Dublin became our club race for 2015 (due respect to the elite bunch building for Ironman Barcelona) all timelines counted down to Sunday 9 August. Nights out were gauged by WBD (Weeks Before Dublin). For many of us it was our first long distance race. We took some comfort from gauging the general cut of those members who had previously done 70.3s. However this was somewhat illusory. As the weeks counted down, members like Mark, John, Rob Ryan & Ed Crotty (ostensibly regular blokes, in that, when fully dressed, going about their business, they appear normal) suddenly seemed, on closer examination, to be quite finely tuned athletes. I omit Eddie O’Reilly from this; he remained … well, as he appeared at cursory examination. In fairness he was setting up his new dental business. I also omit Piaras and Dave H, who appeared finely tuned athletes from all angles.
As the date drew near a curious calm descended at training. Experienced members explained this as ‘tapering’. Even Peter wistfully refrained from pushing us. Myself and Tom Mousley jogged our way through a run session. We refrained from speeding up for the customary last fast 5. I glanced over at Peter, and he gave a knowing nod. We had earned the right to taper.
However the final week brought a new threat. Fueled by Rob’s emails and the ominous arrival of big, silent Ironman trucks, an edginess descended. Emails from T3ers began to get feverish. At training, Mark explained that only 3 yanks had made it over from California. In their private jet. It was agreed they should be supplied with the worst bikes we can muster. Fiona and Anna volunteered to explain the bike route.
They say when you’re pregnant you start noticing other pregnant women everywhere. The same thing seemed to be happening in the run up to the weekend. It was all about triathlon. Ryan’s black BMW goes by at training, a flash of black rim wheels and I could swear he’s got Reynolds wheels. On his car!?
Some arrive at our Thursday run session already registered. Kevin Tempany looked like he had just come from a Glamping Rock Festival. The next morning, I’m out at the Park at 9am. More Ironman trucks and inflatable archways loom as I approach the Papal Cross. At the Expo I meet the tanned Johnny at the Power Bar stand. He stresses various things, all of which make me nervous and lead to compulsive buying of various gels, bars, tabs and powders. He then says its no problem doing a 90K cycle provided you don’t go into the anaerobic zone. Great. What does that mean. Something about a high heart rate.
I stop off at Craig Molloys’s cool Ceepo bike stand. I’d mentioned to Paul Cullen that I was thinking of getting a Ceepo bike. Paul, being new to Triathlon and working for the Irish Times and being into Current Affairs, thinks I’m talking about a SIPO bike (a Standards in Public Office bike – where else?).
Craig explains what a Q ring is. He tells me Gary has bought one on the basis of the promise of 4 seconds faster per kilometer. 4 seconds ffs. However, Craig explains that this news is embargoed until after the race, as Chuck still rides with a round ring.
By this stage my own heart rate has now pushed me into the anaerobic zone, and I’m still in the Expo and yet to register.
I head back to the retail zone and load up with some mugs, a large M-dot beer glass and a T-shirt with everyone’s name on it. This works. Clearly pre-registration retail therapy is the equivalent of an on-course feed station.
I now head for the briefing. It’s packed. Athletes from 44 different countries. Dublin is being described as an area of remarkable beauty. Time to be proud. There’s lots of good advice about preparation. If you can stand or sit – sit. If you can sit or lie down – lie down. Lie down or sleep, then sleep. I drift off to thinking of Dublin Ironman 2050 … if you can sleep or cryo-freeze, then … you get the idea. I then imagine being at some futuristic T3 training session – Peter has embraced cyberbotics (no obvious change), Laura, Ruth, Imogen and Anna look even younger and Ben has been woken from cryo-hibernation.
I chat with Race Director John Walnut and Kevin Stewart of Ironman. All is going well and set to be one of Ironman’s best events. ‘Happy days’, Eamon Tilley cheerily pronounces.
Race day arrives. Oddly (and it possibly merits an entire separate blog) I have ended up sleeping in a bathroom the night before the race. Nonetheless I couldn’t be more excited. There are friendly faces all around Dun Laoghaire. Everyone is really buzzing. We get together for a great team photo. Whatever happens there’s a sense this was worth it. Dublin bay looks glorious. We check our bikes, lube-up, zip-up and head for the swim start. I exchange fist pumps with Tom. We may not have elite physiques but we’ve both grown cool hipster beards. I spot the pro Fraser Cartmill before the swim start getting ready. ‘He was 2nd in Athlone’, I tell Jenny. “God, you’re an anorak” she replies. I see Fraser later on during the run. Another story.
I’m off at 7:30am. The swim is good but it turns out to have been longer than 1.9k – maybe 2.1k. The first pod of pink caps (off at 7:40am) pass me about halfway through. I’m not too worried. For two reasons. I’m already aware how fast elite women swimmers are, and secondly, by this stage I myself am passing red caps (who were off at 7:20am). Then I come across a guy in a yellow cap. This guy is thrashing wildly and making little headway. What time was he off at … 5am? I then start seeing white caps and green caps. I start finding it hard to sight the relevant buoy and begin to feel a bit woozy. I’m glad to get out, being helped up by what appear to be competitors in wetsuits. Should I stay to help others and relieve them? What’s the etiquette here? I just push through and plough on towards T1 guiltily thinking I might be someone who’d adopt an every-man-for-himself approach in a migrant boat crisis. In ease of myself I’m behind my schedule (not realising the 2.1k swim thing) and I assume others who are on schedule can do the stopping and helping. We later learn that Fiona doesn’t make it, but it was a tough and extra long swim so the cut-off was harsh. She’ll have her day.
I feel great heading out on the bike. I’m going to eat and drink a lot (having bought wholesale into Mr. Power Bar’s advice). Some family members have promised to be out at Sandymount and in the Park. I’ve given them my estimated times for being at various stages of the course. And Jenny’s. As the import of these times sinks in, I get asked “Is there an equivalent of a ladies tee in Triathlon? Or does Jenny just completely kick your ass?” comes the question from one of my sisters, who knows nothing about Triathlon. Welcome to my world.
By the second feed station on the bike I’m back on schedule for my sub-6 hour target. However I’ve now consumed almost 1.5 litres of Power Bar’s electrolyte drink. Combined with the fact that I’m not used to the TT position (having borrowed Craig’s Cervelo only 3 days before the race) I’m feeling ‘pressure’ in the mid-section. In fact, from the L5 vertebrae down to the upper thigh I’m frankly numb. I could get ‘chicked’ by Jessica Alba in the TT position and feel nothing. I bump into Declan who’s chatting like he’s out for a Sunday ride and then Mark passes me (having started 20mins later) and he’s totally at ease. I decide I’ll stop for a comfort break. By golly the difference. I’m flying again. I’m like one of those F1 drivers who pit-stops early to change to ‘slicks’ predicting the track is suddenly getting dry. I can suddenly hear Murray Walker’s voice with a classic old Formula 1 commentary “That’s Rene Arnaud in the Ligier and he’s faster. I say faster because he’s lapping faster …”.
We pass through Maynooth. The equivalent of a wet, slick Hockenhiem track. Race leader Cartmill and later, the veteran Hoey, will crash out here. 70.3s are not for the fainthearted. I’m now passed by John O’Leary. Classic TT position, he just bombs past with a nice word of encouragement. I decide to “pit” again. I don’t fancy those ramps into the Strawberry beds on a full bladder.
Next the run. I see Derek in T2. I decide not to stop and chat, conscious of his reputation for extended transitions.
I spot Doug with what appears to be a backpack connected to his mouth by a plastic tube, jogging resolutely like an ultra distance runner. What race is he doing I think. Maybe this is going to be worse than I thought. Then I see our Tri-suit sponsor Marc O’Dwyer running smoothly like he’s just jogging to pick something up. I relax a bit. I pass the Sports Med stand. Brendan Byron is relaxing, already post race, on a deck chair being served a burger and beer. Helena and Gena make sure he’s comfortable. Everyone appears to be smiling almost moving in a happy slow motion. I then develop a paranoid anger at relay runners. All flowing dry hair, loose bespoke running gear and easy rangy strides. Try that after an ocean swim and a 90k bike ride of dangerous hairpins I silently mutter. Then MT passes me for what seems like the 3rd time. I need to fix my gaze on someone running at my pace, I search vainly for Jim, even Liam Boggan will do, but spot only Dave McGrath with his deceptive terminator gait.
Finally I make my Faustian pact with Gary. I gamely consume some extra power gels, become his domestique at the food stations and break wind for him for almost 2 laps. On his last lap, he perks up. “Only 2k to go for me Quinner according to my Garmin, so I’m off. Thanks. Good luck with your last lap.” With that he’s gone. I feel like Hincapie to his Armstrong. But where is Chuck ‘Jan Ulrich’ Walker? In fact he finishes very well, with a very nice sub 5:30 finish. Gary storms home with (a partially wind assisted) 5:14, just beating Ed’s superb 5:15. Superb given his spare tube trouble that required a pit stop.
My spirits are lifted though when I see Imogen putting in an amazing run on her first long distance event. Jenny high-5s me as well. Peter K and some stalwarts from the Lord Mayor’s office are on hand to provide some vital cheers. I pass the Sports Med BBQ for the final time. “I’ll be back” I shout cheerily. Total silence. Total fail. “Does he do Sports Med, Mark?” I overhear a voice ask somewhat incredulously as I’ve passed by. I’m too stiff in the neck to look back and check who the swine was.
Finally I get that coveted red wristband. A last surge down the finishing straight and I’m home. 5:53. I’m delighted. Jenny gives me a great shout out. What a day. Dublin looked fantastic. The bay, the coast road in, the North Quays, the great crowds in the villages along the bike route, the beauty of the Park, the buzz of the crowd along the finish. All the volunteers and Team Leaders and those involved in the event have done a great job. There is a great buzz at the prizegiving. I feel really proud of how Dublin has done and delighted Dublin City Council has backed this event. It’s great to see Jenny and MT up there with their Ironman trophies standing beside the pro winners.
T3 has had a great day. Kevin Gilmore has a classy 5:01. MT wins her class, Jenny is 3rd in hers. Plenty of newbies finish with big smiles. The experienced ones put in some big times. Newbies have plenty to aim for. Roll on next year.