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The Ironman Journey

📁 club kit 🕔27.July 2015
The Ironman Journey

‘The Ironman Journey’

They say ‘the journey of 140.6 miles begins with the decision to Tri’ –

Ironman_Picture

 

Sunday 5th July 2015 saw 5 Olympians lined up on a beach with a few thousand other folk ready to take on the challenge of the Ironman Frankfurt European Championships.

For some in particular Anne & Christen both having had surgery in 2014 to be standing on that beach waiting for the horn to blow was an achievement in itself.

So who can do an Ironman?

Speak to those who have went there before. It is not a case of anybody can do Ironman; it is more a case of “any mind” can do Ironman. They say the mental battle is far harder than the physical one. That mental battle starts as soon as you think about taking on the challenge and for most of us that was approximately one year prior!
To be exact Christen was lying in hospital post-surgery licking her wounds trying to salvage the Ironman dream! With a unexpected withdrawal from iM Mallorca Christen was now a stat – one of those that don’t make it to the start line. Still under the influence of pain killers it was decided iM Frankfurt would be the new goal…..only issue was she was to be married 11 days prior to race day!! There’s no ‘perfect time’ to race ironman and with many telling her she was crazy Christen settled into IM training and wedding prepping.

For Anne Hannon 2015 was to be a big year. Turning 50 called for bigger and better goals. Signing up to several events, which included the Belfast marathon, warm weather training in Mallorca and cycling Malin to Mizen. Anne demonstrates a physical and mental determination that some 20 year olds wouldn’t even have! Anne also had a bone to pick with the long distance triathlon course after crashing out of Challenge Roth a few years back. No challenge to daunting for Hanno!
Mark Hanna – a loyal supporter of the Marie Curie Charity & celebrating 18 Years married decided completing an Ironman race would be a suitable anniversary present for himself and his wife Denise, I’m not so sure Denise would agree! Haha!! At the same time Mark was keen to raise much needed funds for Marie Curie as they celebrated 50 years in operation.

The final 2 Olympians Andrew McCormick and Heather Bamford signed up just for the craic! ;0)

Heather is a well experienced endurance athlete. Having already completed 3 full ironman races, the “Himalayan 100 Mile 5 day Stage Race, the Escape from Alcatraz triathlon and the 24 HR Race in Donegal, Heather loves a good endurance event!

Andrew on the other hand just loves a new challenge & torture! And I suspect we will see him on the Ironman circuit again very soon!

From the very second you start to think, “I wonder if I could” ….’from the moment you press ‘confirm’ on your computer & then realise oh flip I’ve just entered ironman’ the fears, the doubts, the realism of what lies ahead all come flooding in!
So how does one train for Ironman?

Consistency is key. Avoiding injury, staying focused and staying healthy also help! Yes you do have to put other aspects of your life on hold for a little while but a good family and good friends hopefully understand the importance of your new challenge and with time begin to appreciate just how big a physical and mental challenge training and racing an ironman actually is.

Whatever your level or physical talent the self-doubt will be right there trying to take you down at any point. As we train we never really know if we can do it but the most important thing is that we decided that we want to do it, we want to challenge ourselves, we want to see how far we can push ourselves as we take on the beast of Ironman.
At times it can be difficult to have faith and to trust your training plan because no matter how much training you do or how many ‘big training days’ you clock nothing compares to race day! Every person approaches IM from a slightly different angle and that can play havoc with some, what if I’m doing it all wrong!

So over the year for most training went well. A few hiccups for Mark and Christen meant their run training maybe wasn’t quite up to scratch but with successful management and lots of physio all 5 Olympians made it across to Germany.

Anne decided to take the ‘driving’ route to Frankfurt. Unfortunately Calais ferry terminal was experiencing some unrest at time of travel which resulted in the M20 motorway in England being turned into a car park as the Eurotunnel couldn’t run. Onto the train – off the train – onto the train!

At this time The UK and Europe were experiencing exceptionally good weather – the Gulf Stream was keeping us all toasty. The negative impact of that as Anne witnessed – lorry drivers sitting in the traffic jam stripping off and sitting in their pants!!! Nice!!

We couldn’t help notice this excessive heat. This filled us with concern as we all knew Frankfurt would be warm for us from NI even without a heat wave!

Landing in Frankfurt we were one step closer! Walking out of the train station and being hit by the wall of heat, which at first I could hardly catch a breath in we all knew that unless the rains came crossing the finish line on Sunday 5th July was going to be even tougher!!

Going to Ironman can be very daunting. From the moment you land in the airport you will notice other racers – how do you know they are a triathlete? Usually they travel in trainers – bright ones!! Ha!!

Or if they have successfully completed previous iM or Challenge events they will be kitted out in their ‘Finishers t-shirt with their Ironman bag, flip flops, cap, hoodie etc etc etc and will have compression gear on from their head to their toes even if it’s 40 degrees!! And that’s before you even get to see what tattoos they have!

Then you have those who have raced but are much more subtle!

All a bit intimidating for first timers I can tell you!

Traveling abroad to a race can be a logistic nightmare – Irish company Ship my Tri Bike helped eliminate such hassle. Yes you will pay a little more compared to booking your bike onto the plane but using them means no dismantling of your bike or it getting chucked about by baggage handlers!! We would all recommend them and will use them in the future.
Christen sourced the hotel last year as she lay up post-surgery -‘Townhouse Frankfurt’

On walking to it we soon realised we were not in the posh end of town! On arrival we were greeted with Madam Manual from Faulty tower who quickly demonstrated she is not a fan of early arrivals and departing guests! #stressed&sweaty even with the air con!

In fairness once she stopped the flustering we were checked in & the hotel although not in the fancy end of town was perfect for what we needed.

You have to be careful the few days prior to racing Ironman – landing in a new city and the buzz of the Expo can suck people right in – Mark Hanna in particular ;0) I don’t think Denise let him buy the Team Sky Pinarello at a cool €16,000
Registration is a slick process, race pack and numbers collected, last minute items purchased and it was back to the hotel to the air con and to prime the bikes for check in.

At race briefing are worst fears were confirmed. As expected with water temps of nearly 26 degrees it was a non wet suit swim! For those non triathletes reading this for most racers a wet suit makes you more efficient. Swim better = less fatigue! We want all the help we can get but it wasn’t to be!

We were reassured that given such high temperatures that Ironman had increased medical support….with a ratio of 1:7 – so basically if you collapsed ideally be that 7th person as you would get better attention! Ha!

All efforts appeared to be made by Ironman to ensure a safe race and it was made quite clear that Sunday 5th July was not to be a day of herotics or PB’s but instead it was a case of ‘finish the race and finish it healthy!’

Briefing completed and back to the hotel for the final round of ‘what am I wearing’….how much food do I carry’….’how many spare tubes’….’pitstop’….’gas’….’spanner’…..’salts/gels/bagels’……and the kitchen sink! Final decisions were made and off we went on the shuttle bus out to the lake to rack the bikes in T1.

Unfortunately the entire city of Frankfurt felt that since the weather was so fabulous they to would make their way to the lake with their BBQs Bikinis and Beers!

This journey I have to say was not pleasant….with temperatures and humidity soaring, and the crowds of people all I wanted to do was drink their beer! ;0) Getting back to the hotel, having a good meal and an early night was the plan!

RACE DAY!

It’s finally arrived!! 4am alarm call up outta bed, 2nd layer of P20 Factor 50 applied – this better work I’m thinking!! Breakfast was a fairly quiet affair. Sleepy faces, anxious faces with people lost in their own thoughts! Mulling over everything that lay ahead!

Shuttled out to T1 along with spectators you could sense the nervous atmosphere amongst us all. Nervous conversations and words of good luck could be heard in various languages.

Tires pumped up, quick warm up to try settle the nerves, last minute pees and poo’s and with the final hugs and kisses shared the racers were penned into the race start area.

This was it! This was the moment! The horn went, we scrambled into the water which to be fair was a lovely temp!

The swim is all about keeping you head above water, not losing your goggles or timing chip and not getting knocked out!

Find clear water if you can or find a set of feet that are moving just that wee bit faster than you so you can get a draft. Easier said that done!

Watching the drone footage from above confirms just how crazy the iM swim is. In the moment you are  obviously aware of the people that are immediately around you….but as the drone shows, you forget about the other several thousand racers ahead or behind you! How the mass crowd spreads out over the lake like a shoal of piranha fish!  All Olympians made it out with all limbs intact!

T1 – a male and a female tent! The men got the bad end of the deal. Given that females only made up 11% of race entries are tent was a little on the large side! Andrew didn’t fancy the coziness of the male T1 tent so he made a swift movement up the outside of the tent, was changed and away chasing Christen and Heather down on the bike.

Out of the 3 sports Anne, Mark and Andrew would all say the swim was their biggest fear and challenge. All 3 successfully took the bull by the horns and blasted though the iM swim.

The bike course consisted of a 12km stretch back into the city of Frankfurt from which we completed approximately 2 90km laps!

For me Christen, I decided to break the race down into 5 stages –

Swim / T1/ Bike / T2 / Run

2 ticked off and we were all successfully now onto the bike course.

Goals – don’t draft, don’t litter, don’t puncture, don’t have a mechanical, keep drinking & eating and ultimately don’t overcook it!! Save some for the marathon!

I personally really enjoyed the bike course. 4 hills on each lap with long fast nontechnical descents – this can only mean ‘fast greasy speed!’ I certainly took advantage of the descents pulling back some time lost on the ascents. Clocking over 75kmph also helps cool you down in 42degrees of heat!

Unfortunately Mark had to deal with some technical issues during his bike leg- it is times like these that you either go into panic mode or you step back, assess and deal with the problem as best you can. The key is to keep going! With some technical support Mark thankfully got himself back on the bike and into T2.

So talking of the heat – it was now that you became truly aware of it! I remember thinking my face was on fire, like someone was holding a hairdryer in my face on the warmest setting! I couldn’t get enough water into or over my body quick enough!! The sight of another aid station was a delight! And a big thank you all the local people who stood out with a hose pipe – all you see was a stream of bikers aiming for the spray of water for some short term relief from the heat!

I also recall the pain in my feet, due to the extreme heat my feel were swelling! My toes felt like they were burning up/ bursting out of my shoes. Post-race we realised a few of us had this similar issues. Mentally you switch in and out of being aware of it but all I could think was how on earth am I going to run a marathon!

Andrew ‘The Missile’ McCormick went past me like a torpedo with about 40km to go…..those 4 bagels and gels were working a treat! He was in lightening form and I knew he was well on track for a blistering ironman race!

Mentally the last 40km were the hardest…..Heartbreak hill on lap 1 was well supported with crowds of people shouting and cheering like the Tour de France. By lap 2 – not so well supported! :0( With temps peeking even the locals had taken to hiding away!!

As you clocked the miles you assess how your own racing is going but as you go around you can’t help but notice the people not having such a good race. The penalty boxes were well used, punctures and mechanicals were evident and unfortunately a few serious crashes occurred. It’s at that point you realise Ironman is also all about ‘pure luck.’ All that training, time and money invested good be all over in a flash!

Luckily the last few KM’s are all downhill on the bike :0) seeing the skyline of Frankfurt city and whizzing down towards T2 trying to spin the legs out in prep for the marathon!

Into T2, nice to see some familiar faces again and cheers of ‘well done keep er lit’ you can feel you mood lift and it gives you a kick up the behind! Full costume change…..female & males all in together & bare bits on show – to the non-triathlete this sounds bizarre believe me no one is even paying any attention and if they are staring they aren’t racing hard enough and are time wasting! Haha!

Full costume change…..female & males all in together & bare bits on show – to the non-triathlete this sounds bizarre believe me no one is even paying any attention and if they are staring they aren’t racing hard enough and are time wasting! Haha!

Dry clothes on, dry socks on (delightful even if it was short lived) trainers, GO!

As you run out of T2 you meet the cheering crowds again. As you try to assess the state of your legs and feet you can’t help but think ‘yes I’ve made it off the bike in one piece, yes I’ve made it to the run!’……then you think ‘crap I have to run a marathon now…..oh and it’s 40 degrees!’

The run course is split into 4 laps of approximately 10km. On completion of each lap your receive a coloured arm band.

4 bands = a successful ironman!

On the run in particular you have the main Ironman designation ‘fan spots’ which you try to pass through like your handling it all ‘like a boss!’ You also have your own little hot spots of inspiration – family members, husbands, wives, friends, people you have met on the plane and even random people calling your name. These spots give you a significant bounce in your step, these are the also the people that know you best, they can see your hurting, they know your getting more vulnerable with each lap yet they can do very little to help you!

We ran along the river bank with one side in the shade the other in the blistering sun! I can remember hearing the rumble of thunder and a few clouds as I started lap 2 – they had forecast some rain, could it happen?! The Irish would come alive in the rain!!! A slight drop in the temp could be felt and I felt a spring in my step – it was short lived…..the rains never came and the spring in my step was long gone!

For me lap 3 was brutal….my darkest point in the day! Due to such temperatures tactics were adjusted and I planned to walk each aid station in order to drink and drench my body in water in an attempt to keep my core temperature down!

Along the route there were temporary showers set up and marshals standing with hose pipes – at one point here was a queue to get under it!

The down side of all this water running down over your body is wet socks and wet trainers! Which can only mean the dreaded BLISTERS!!! With each lap the blisters grew and the pain got worse! At this point it’s a case of ‘survival’. Get to the finish line.

As you clock your laps you realise everyone is in their own little world of pain and drama. Whether it’s blisters, cramp, dehydration, sunburn, sore legs, vomiting, diarrhoea (I know some have particularly bad portaloo stories!) but whatever it is everyone is suffering and everyone is fighting their own physical and mental battle.

You can’t help but notice how many coloured bands people have & compare it to yourself. You see people gallop past you (Andrew) with great form and speed and you wish you could do the same! But then you notice the people struggling even with walking and they don’t even have their first band! Those are the moments I personally looked at my own arm and said come on your so much further ahead in this process and you still running, keep going! (Dave Graham would probably call it a shuffle but I wasn’t walking!) As the saying goes….’where the mind goes the body follows.’

A down side to Frankfurt is that its always the European Championships with lots of slots going for KONA. Unfortunately that means a 15 hour cut off time – most other IM events give you 16 hrs some even 17 hours to complete the race. This puts significant pressure on some racers to finish especially with temperatures hitting 42 degrees!

No names need to be mentioned but 1 OTC member had to make a very difficult decision whether to continue or not and with such a tight cut off time it was felt it was safer to stop the race.

I would like to reinforce that there is no such thing as failing Ironman, as long as you have tried and tried hard! To even consider completing an ironman and to make that start line is an achievement in itself.

For those that continue, picking up your 4th armband and knowing your on the road home is a sense of relief and excitement. To see that right turn for the finish shoot, to see the crowds lined along it shouting and kids looking high fives, to see the Ironman carpet and that huge Ironman archway that’s when you know your home!

As you run, walk, shuffle, crawl up that carpet in your head your thinking ‘I need to look strong, exhilarated with arms out stretched!’ In reality – hopefully you have remembered to take all the sponges out of your tri suit, rub the sweat and snot out of your face and at least look half happy, oh and no ugly crying! I have to admit I cried a little and so did my dad! It’s an emotional experience!

But the truly best moment is hearing those famous words…’Christen McMaster from Olympian Triathlon club YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!’

All five OTC made it home and walked away in one piece but unfortunately 30 year old Iain O’May from Scotland was not so lucky.

Iain suffered from Hyponatremia – low sodium concentrations in the blood.

It’s stories like this that make you realise how important correct training, pacing, nutrition and fluid plans are. Frankfurt was unusually hot this year. No PB’s are worth it.

Thoughts go out to his family and friends.

Reflecting on it all now….I know it was difficult, the hardest thing I have ever done. But like they say with childbirth (personally I don’t know) with time you forget the finer details, you forget just how bad the pain really was hence why I think so many endurance athletes keep going back for more! Haha!

We would all like to say a massive thank you to all those who have understood, supported, advised and guided us along our Ironman journey. To the coaches Cormac McCann, Ed Smyth, Dave Graham, the family members, the physio’s, the nutritionalists, Marie Curie and Powerhouse Sport for our great kit (very comfortable) Joe and Sean at Velo Cafe-Magasin and to the training buddies – those that we chase and those that we try to outrun without you we would not progress forward!

Would I do another one?…..Yes!

Ironman is about limits, pushing them, reaching them and exceeding them and maybe even realising there are no limits!

Ironman is a test of grit, determination and strength. A lesson in perservance and as Chris McCormick says ’embracing the suck’

On July 5th 2015 we embraced it and pushed through those self imposed limits!

Christen successfully married Neville O’Neill and she is now considering becoming a pure Roadie on the bike!

Mark and Andrew are now chasing PBs at Dublin Marathon in an attempt to qualify for London marathon 2016. I even heard rumours of Ironman Copenhagen 2016 – anyone interested?! If so contact the boys!

Anne will be cycling Nigara to New York with Marie Curie in September and Heather is taking a short break before hitting the hills of Mallorca in October.

 

So can you embrace the suck?’ ‘Anything is possible’

Now go set some goals, chase those dreams, the sky is the limit!

 

Team Ironman Frankfurt

Christen (McMaster) O’Neill

(AKA ‘Just Married’)

Mark Hanna

Andrew McCormick

Anne Hannan

Heather Bamford

 

(Off to get the stamp of success & set some more goals!)

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