Friday, July 12, 2019

Ah, Sure It'll Be Grand - Ironman Ireland 2019

When Ironman Ireland was announced in 2018 I had no hesitations about registering.  Years prior, I had said if there were ever a full in Ireland, I would do it.  Amazingly a few DC friends also registered and we were all in for the inaugural Ironman Ireland 2019.  I think registration open more than a year in advance of the race day - course maps weren't yet available.  What we did know is that it would be a "rolling" 2 loop bike course with a steep climb on each loop, a cold Irish Sea Swim and a "flat" run.

Fast forward to the start of 2019 and thanks to my KQ at Ironman Chattanooga 2018 I knew Ireland could be a pressure free chance to gain more experience racing the distance.  2 of the 4 friends from our DC crew at the transfer or defer their registration so Heather and I started planning our trip.  We were both lucky enough to bring our super sherpa mom's along for the adventure.  My training cycle and build were pretty decent going in to the race.  I had gotten a good confidence boost from my back to back 70.3 success in May, but I also knew that overall volume wise this IM training cycle was on the lower end and I had missed almost an entire high volume week due to illness.

I had quite a bit of travel leading into race week - drive DC -> Michigan, fly Detroit -> Toronto -> Dublin, drive from Dublin to Youghal in Cork County, Ireland.  Thankfully the big drive to Michigan went very smoothly and I had quite a few days to relax and get organized before heading to Ireland.   Once in Dublin, on Wednesday morning, we picked up our SUV rental car - which was definitely a mini van and tackled to task of driving on the left side of the road and driving from the right side of the car.  That first trip to Youghal was just a tad stressful.  On the motorway, just cruising, it was fine.  When we stopped for lunch in a small town the roads were very narrow, people were parked any and every which way and some of the intersections were mind boggling with everything appearing "backwards.  Mom and I made it to our BnB (Glen House BnB) mid afternoon.  I was feeling good and energized so I headed out for a run while mom napped before dinner.  The mid 50 degrees and cloudy weather was perfect running weather and I felt awesome checking out bits of our race course.

On Thursday we had a classic Irish breakfast before heading out to check out the swim course.  Oh my goodness, that water was cold.  I was in a full sleeve TYR Hurricane Cat 1 Wetsuit, neoprene cap

and neoprene booties.  The sun was out and there were plenty of other swimmers testing out the water.  We were lucky enough to have 3 buoys out and some lifeguards on paddle boards along the course.  The first few minutes were tough, I knew one I got my face in that it would take a few minutes to get my breathing under control in the cold water.  Once I was feeling good I swam out to one of the buoys and back for a total of 15 minutes of swimming.  By the time I was getting out, I was pretty used to the water and confident if it was the current temp (54F) or any warmer I would be ok.   Some of the women getting out weren't ok, people were uncontrollably shivering, soaked and unable to use their fingers.   After leaving the beach we were able to go check into our AirBnb on the upper strand, which we would be staying in for the remainder of our time in Youghal.  Our hosts were amazing and made sure we knew where everything was and helped us out with things like outlet adapters and tips for groceries, restaurants, etc in town.  I got my bike built and headed out on a little cruise while we anxiously waiter for Heather and her mom to arrive before going to race check in.  I had fun exploring the first 20k or so of the bike course.  I got a little lost on my way back, but everyone in Ireland was so nice.  An older gentleman could tell I was trying to figure out where to go and he pointed me in the right direction.  While I was building my bike I got to meet our neighbor, Norma and her son John.  They were absolutely amazing and we saw them a lot throughout race weekend.  Everyone in Youghal was excited about the race and you could feel the energy building.  The local residents were spending some of their time (if not most of their time) volunteering with race stuff and they were all excited to meet an athlete. Once back from my ride it was time to head to race check in!  Our house was almost smack dab in the middle of Swim Start and the Finish Line (Athlete Village) so we set out on a nice walk to check in.  We made it at the end of check in hours so it was not busy at all. We breezed through the check in process and picked up some Ironman Ireland swag in the store before heading back towards the house.

Heather and I with our neighbor, and biggest fan, John.

Friday was another swim, this time with Heather, and the water felt even colder.  Once back from the swim we had planned on riding easy for a bit, but it took us almost 2 hours to get our feet to warm up before we could head out on our bikes.  Aside from the water temperature the sea was lovely.  Relatively little chop (less than many lakes I've swam in), somewhat clear water and jellies floating by, but nothing that seemed to sting.  Once on our bikes I took Heather through town to have a go at Windmill Hill. Her decision to go with an 11-32 cassette for the year paid off as she cruised up the hill.  We did a short out and back on the first section of the course after the descent from Windmill Hill - which took us right by our AirBnB.  Once home, we headed into town to meet with the Mom's for lunch and do some more swag shopping, then hit the grocery store to get the necessary items for pre race dinner and big breakfast on Saturday.

Comfortable and cute IM gear, well done.

Saturday was your usual pre race shenanigans. We had pancakes, eggs, and sausage for breakfast and then set out on foot to rack our bikes and drop our gear bags off.  We decided to drive the bike course (thank you Heather for driving) and oh my.  What we found were not what we would consider roads. Maybe cowpaths, driveways, multiuse path, etc would be a better name for some of what we would be riding on.  There were roads that were no wider than Mt. Vernon trail and crazy rough, but they were all gorgeous.  There were descents into hard turns, into climbs.  There were steep climbs and less steep but longer climbs.  There were towns almost every 10k that were excited and ready to cheer for us on the day.  Signs hung, bikes painted, flag strung across mainstreet, I've never seen anything like it for Ironman.  At one point we were so lost on what looked like it definitly wasn't part of the course a policeman came by, rolled down his window and said "Ironman? Follow me!"  So we ended up with a police escort for about 20k, which made the route finding much less stressful!  Once home, it was time for rest, relaxation, hydration, and topping off the energy stores.

Super Sherpa Mom's!

RACE DAY 6/23/2019
We were up early (3:45am) to get in our pre race breakfast and make our way to transition for a 6:35am start time.  It was pouring rain, it had been pouring rain for about 3 hours.  The much anticipated storm was indeed blowing across the Irish Sea right into Youghal, on race day, nonetheless.  Four meter swells were anticipated, and they didn't disappoint.  Ironman had notified us the night before that the swim would be shortened/altered due to the cold water temperature and a final decision would be made by 6am race morning.  Well 6am came and went and absolutely nothing had been said about the swim.  Looking out at the sea you could sea the buoys that the swim course buoys were not even in place and the waves coming in were making it difficult for the water safety team to even get out onto the course.  I took one look and told the man beside me, "if we were in the states there is no way they'd put people in that water".  He replied with, "well this is Ireland and an inaugural event, there's no way they can cancel the swim".  I headed into the open loo and enjoyed the few moments of being dry and out of the wind.  Heather and I went back and forth, going into transition, sitting outside transition on the curbs with our Mom's, then trying to figure out if anyone was making any sort of announcement.  Eventually, around 6:30am, word started getting around that the swim was cancelled and we all needed to be standing by our bikes by 7:20am to get into the change tent and prepare for a TT bike start.  I'm no stranger to this methodology - 3rd times a charm or so they say.  My 10th Iron distance race and 3rd with no swim.  To say I was relieved that I didn't have to swim 2.4 miles in the angry Irish Sea is putting it lightly.

The Bike - 180km - 6:25:22
I was cold standing in line to start the bike, but as soon as I crossed that timing mat the shivers disappeared and I was so happy to be racing.  I dialed in the my effort and power as I knew heart rate might be funky with the cold and windy conditions.  The first portion of the course was pretty fast and I was passing many of the 300 or so people that had started in front of me.  The roads were completely closed to traffic, thank goodness considering how narrow some of them were.  There were rough patches, that seemed to get a little rougher when covered in water, but it was gorgeous and it was an adventure riding on the left and passing on the right.  After overbiking the crap out of the first

56 miles at IM Choo last fall my main goal was to hold back on the bike and nail my marathon.  I was feeling great, eating, drinking and not cold at all.  I had chosen to wear my Rudy Project Wing57 aero helmet with visor.  This thing was awesome at Kinetic Half in May, I could barely tell I had anything on my head.  It was awesome for a bit in Ireland until it just started to fog, and fog more and more and more, until I was peering out of a thin slit of unfogged visor at the very top.  The rain and technicality of the bike course were difficult enough so I ripped the visor off, and not wanting to lose it, shoved it between my jersey and my sports bra.    Shortly after this one woman flew by me, I was shocked and pretty much knew she was likely over biking so I let her go - noticing she was in my age group as she passed.  I was confident I'd see her again.  I made the hard right hand turn at Dungourney and was leap frogging with an Irish man who clearly didn't like being passed by a woman.  I would pass him every downhill/flat section and he would come up absolutely mashing his pedals while standing on the uphills to pass me.  As we made our way through Inch and toward one of the final descents before hitting Murphy's Hill I had moved right to pass him.  As I completed my pass the dreaded sound happened - BOOM! - I knew instantly it wasn't his tire or the man behind him, it was mine.  I was able to safely make my way to the left side of the road, into a pile of sandy dirt surrounded by waist to head height weeds.  I calmed myself, reminded myself this would only take 5 minutes max, removed my front wheel and removed the tire and tube.  I got the new tube in and as I was having trouble seating the tire back into the rim an official came by and offered help.  He got the tire back on and I inflated with my CO2.  Air was going in and everything was awesome, until, BOOM! Nooo, my spare tube just blew** (see note at end for further details).  The official didn't have any spare tubes, so he was radio-ing in for a bike mechanic to come to the descent just after inch, as another guy came down and hit the same sharp object I hit, blowing his front tire as well.  He only had one spare tube.  As athletes wizzed by that I had passed miles and miles before hand I thought about throwing in the towel.  A few athletes came by asking if I was ok, but with the descent they didn't stick around long enough to actually hear that I needed a tube.  I knew Heather would be coming by as well and when I saw the DC Tri Club Elite Team Red, White, Blue and Yellow I raised my arms in joy.  She promptly stopped and gave me her spare tube.  I told Heather she should go, that this was her race too, and she insisted she stay and make sure I was ok.  I was covered in dirt by this point, she looked down and saw the shredded tube and exclaimed how shocked she was by the appearance of the tube.  We got the tube started and I then gave it to the official who was nice enough to finish the job and pump it with his hand pump that he had in the rear gear box of his motorcycle.  Getting into his rear gear box was another adventure, since he was on a downhill, he couldn't get off his bike so Heather and I had to get into the box, which in the process we unlocked the entire thing from the bike.  Thankfully Heather figured out how to reattach it before all was said and done.  She noticed when she gave me her spare tube that she had lost the top to her QR speed box, and CO2 and likely whatever else was in there on top of the tube.  27 minutes, YES 27 minutes later, I was back on the road.  I was on the road but my Garmin 500 bike computer was donezo.  Turns out laying sideways in a downpour doesn't do good things for the screen.  The computer would beep as if it were turning on, but nothing on the screen.  Ok, no big deal, ride by feel and start you watch up so have a timer to help with fueling.  I thought maybe I'd just ride with Heather for the rest of the 62 or so miles.  As I made my way up the much under valued Murphy's Hill (not as steep as Windmill, but much longer) and back into town and up to Windmill Hill I started to think gosh I owe it to Heather and myself to actually keep racing - if she flats she's pretty much done - No tube, no CO2 and if I flat again, I'm likely done ( I did have another CO2 but wasn't confident in it seeing what happened the first time around).

Windmill Hill was bloody amazing.  I've never seen anything like it in a triathlon.  We approach windmill hill from a small residential road the runs perpendicular to the hill.  We made a blind right turn and then wham, you were climbing, there were spectators 3-4 deep lining the entire 1/4 mile climb, an announcer, a drum line and beautiful arches at the top to signal the end of the climb (the steep part of it that is).  The only thing that let you know you were approaching Windmill Hill was the increasing roar of the crowd as you made your way along the narrow residential street on approach.  At times the crowd would come in so close I was slightly praying for a little push.  I saw a couple athletes walking and a few in front of me also rode up.  The chants from the crowd were amazing and with less then 20% of the race females they were ecstatic to see the women that were racing.  They cheered for everyone like you were winning the whole thing!  As I made the left hand turn at the true top of the climb I began the descent that would bring us right past our house for the long weekend.  I was confident I would see the mom's there and try to relay the information that I had a flat and some back luck.  The mom's indeed were there, problem is they were cheering so loudly I couldn't get a word in edge wise!

A quick stop at special needs as I was just about to start my 2nd loop.  I grabbed one more bottle of osmo, restocked my Honey Stinger Waffle Supply, and lapped my watch so I'd have decent data for the 2nd loop, and took off, knowing I had work to do.  I also took a moment to move my visor down around my hip - and it fit like a glove (so well I almost forgot to ditch it in T2).  I passed a good amount of people that I had lost time to during my flat in the first 20k or so.  The roads seemed to open up a bit and at times I felt as though I were riding alone.  The crowds in each small town were just as awesome on the 2nd loop.  People getting soaked to the bone, others staying dry in the tailgate of their SUVs or minivans, while others were hanging out doors/windows of shops or homes.  At times the rain came down so hard it hurt my face.  I was nervous about the descent after Inch where I had flatted during the 1st loop.  I spent a good 15k or so before Inch thinking about my plan for the descent - stay left, as far left as possible.  Heather rode the left edge of the road and was fine.  Myself and the other man who flatted right after me were both riding right to make a pass.  Thankfully when I got to the descent I was pretty much alone and there was plenty of space for me to stay left without having to slow down.  Some fun curvy back roads led us to Murphy's Hill - still hard and seemed even longer the 2nd time around (maybe because I hadn't had a 27 minute break before going into it this time).  My favorite sign on the bike course was on Murphy's Hill - Humpty Dumpty Had Wall Issues Too, as well as one of my favorite spectators.  A man in a yellow poncho, sitting in a camping chair at the end of his driveway enjoying an Irish beverage.  He was there just cheering, giving us energy and entertaining everyone that came by.  After Murhpy's Hill I knew there was one test left - get up Windmill Hill one more time and then it's downhill for a couple miles into T2. 

Windmill Hill was even more amazing the 2nd time around.  Thanks to the crowd the path up had narrowed even more.  There were 3 men in front of me and as the spectators saw a female coming up they started with their cheers of "Go Girl Go" and "Put the Men to Shame".  One by one each man in front of me dismounted his bike and walked up - thankfully they were far enough ahead when they dismounted that it didn't cause me any issues.  Sorry dudes, just had to chick you on that climb.  The energy of the crowd definitely helped lift me up through the climb.  It wasn't easy, the road was soaked, traction when standing was low and my legs were just a bit tired from the 110 miles I had already ridden (with approximately 6900 ft of climbing).  The 22% grade is no joke, it was intimidating to look up at just standing at the bottom of the hill in the days leading up to the race.  I can only thank my dear DC friends for going to ride SkyMass with me multiple times in the lead up to this race.  34r - though not as steep is much longer and probably the best training we could have gotten in/around DC to prepare for Windmill Hill.

T2 - 5:28
One of my slower T2 times for Ironman, but relatively quick for T2 times at this race.  Many people spent upwards of 20-30 minutes in T2 trying to warm up.  I stripped off my latex gloves and arm warmers after racking my bike.  Changed my socks and shoes, grabbed my nutrition and headed on out.

THE RUN - 42.2km - 3:51:28
I came out of T2 with a small group of athletes - one other female and a few men.  Our first stretch of boardwalk wasn't too unpleasant - light rain, some sand, and light wind but I held what felt like an easy pace and had to reign myself in a bit as I was actually running way too fast.  As we made our way off the boardwalk and up lighthouse hill for the first time our group started splintering.  I saw my mom on the right hand side and finally had a chance to run over and tell her that I had gotten a flat - apparently Andrew had already figured out that I likely flatted due to my bike splits that came through and the pictures he had seen of my kit still being in one piece. 

As I made my way done lighthouse hill and past the finish line the crowds thickened and it was then that I realized I had a shadow.  The other female I had run out of T2 with was on my shoulder like glue, and she was a local tri club member so it seemed like everyone knew her and cheered their faces off for her as she ran by.  I soaked in the energy and enjoyed the company as I knew we weren't in the same age group.  We made our way down to the turn around and back through town to run back up lighthouse hill (I got to see Alistair making his way down the red carpet to his first Ironman victory and Kona qualification as I was running) and along the back entrance to transition to claim our colored wrist band for each lap.  I was feeling strong, fueling consistently and not bothered a bit by the weather.  It was perfect running weather in my opinion.

Loop 2 was more of the same.  I still had a shadow, the crowds erupted for her, and I was nailing my fueling plan like a champ.  I surprised a volunteer when I got a cup of cold water and threw it on my face.  It felt great!  As we made our way towards the run turn around Mary, my shadow, started showing signs of tiring.  We had passed a few of her friends and they were telling her she was 2nd in her age group and to just stick with me.  She responded with something along the lines of I'm trying but my legs are getting very tired.  Been there, done that, tired around mile 9/10 of an Ironman marathon makes for a tough 16 more miles.  As we made our way back up lighthouse hill (mind you, you will run up this hill 9 times - so the course is not flat - like Maryland flat - it's mostly flat.  It just has one hill...that you run up 9 times!) Mary fell off my shoulder.  I was somewhat relieved to just be on my own for a bit.  As I came around for the start of loop 3 the wind had picked up a ton along the board walk.  It was a tough head wind exaggerated by the sand blowing in your face.  Back up lighthouse hill and then down and out to the run turn around. Still feeling strong, kicking along and loving the growing crowds along the entirety of the run course.  The most barren place was the boardwalk, but the energy of starting a new lap and people coming out of T2 helped liven up that stretch.  As I was finishing loop 3 I started having that feeling that I needed to go to the bathroom.  It would come and go, and had I been racing for a place or a slot at this point I probably could have held it.  Knowing there were at least 5 amateur women ahead of me I made the choice to stop by a porta potty at mile 19.  It was the best 75 seconds of my day.  Dry, stomach felt better and I was looking forward to running again.  Sorry to whomever when in there after me, as I blew that thing up, but it was well worth it.

I claimed my 3rd wrist band and headed out for the 4th and final complete loop.  My legs were tired, I was hitting the caffeine hard and I knew I would be ok - legs just seemed to not want to bend quite as much and my glutes were tired.  I started feeling some small rubbing on my left heel but didn't think much of it.  All to be expected I suppose.  One last time through the run turn around and I knew I was on my way home.  Dry clothes and warm food would be waiting for me.   Lighthouse hill was feeling pretty big that last 2 times up it - yup that 4+ loops includes one more trip up lighthouse hill after completing the 4th loop.  It make for a wonderful downhill finish.  I was running near 2 other man as we crested the hill for the last time - one man sped up so I let him go, the other just kept near me so I sped up in order to each have our own 15 seconds of glory on the red carpet.  There's nothing quite like an Ironman Finish line with Mike Reilly on the mic, especially an inaugural Ironman backed by the entire local town.  It was an amazing experience so I took a moment to take it all in and enjoy my finish.

I made my way to the indoor food tent and it was great.  The volunteers were amazing, upon entering I was asked if I'd like a massage, I responded yes and was led to a table.  I was wrapped in a mylar blanket, given hot tea, pizza and a dry t-shirt (my race shirt) all while I was on the massage table.  The massage therapist had me flip on my stomach and promptly said "Oh, no.  I'll clean that up for
you and then you'll need to go to medical".  I had no idea what she was talking about, but ok.  The message was great, the pizza was delicious and the warm tea was superb.  After finishing the massage I took a look at my left heel and oh my dear god, my shoe looked like a murder scene.  Let's just say I'm glad I didn't feel that.

Finish and Post Race Thoughts - 10:22:18
This is not a fast course, not a PR course unless the only other races you've done are maybe Lanzarote and Wales.  The feedback I've heard from people who have done both Wales and Ireland is that Ireland is a tougher course, so take that as you will.  I used to dislike "tough" courses - I just wanted to go fast and PR every race.  This was the first time I can honestly say I truly enjoyed the challenges the difficult course and the day threw at me.  It was everything I've trained for - physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.  More than 1000 athletes did not start on race morning that were registered, a whopping 37% of women that started the race did not finish.  Those are crazy statistics.  It speaks volumes to all those who persevered through that day.  I went into this race with a somewhat silent goal of going top 3 amateur.  I knew the fitness was there and that if I controlled what I could I would be in the race for a top 3 spot.  I ended up 7th amateur overall, and 4th AG (30-34 ladies killin' it at Ireland!) just 25:18 behind 3rd amateur female (remember those 27 minutes I spent on the side of the road - doh).  I was bummed for a bit about my flat fixing failure** that kept me sidelined for so long, more importantly I was so freakin' thankful to have an amazing best friend and teammate that stopped her own race without hesitation to help me get back on the road.  I'll let you all check out @ironvet's blog post when she writes it, she had a great day despite freezing on the bike. 

I would hands down do this race again.  The people of Youghal were nothing short of Amazing.  The course is challenging - it will be a cold sea swim, the bike will not be fast - you have to be smart, strong, and willing to adapt and the run course is 42.2km with 9 hills and lots of flats.  The course rewards those who are smart and patient.  It's unlikely that Youghal will have another weather day as poor as on race day 2019 but there's always a chance.  That being said the days on each side of race day were picture perfect this year.  Personally for me I perform well in the cold/rain so I wouldn't mind similar conditions, though they make for one heck of a clean up job post race!  I realized after this race that the success and joy is in the challenge and the journey, and this race was challenging.  Sure every Ironman is challenging, but some are more predictable than others, and Ireland was not predictable one bit. 

Dinner with our neighbors (John and his parents)

Post race with neighbor, John.

**I know you're all wondering what those asterik's were about.  Well let me tell you I was the luckiest girl on the Emerald Isle that day.  In my haste to change my tired (and the torrential down pour) I failed to notice, as did the official who change the 2nd tube, that I had actually blown my sidewall of my tired.  It looked as though someone had scored my tire with a razor blade and then boom at one point the sidewall had a whole in it.  I'm not sure what I hit, I know it was likely the same thing the man who came down shortly after me hit, and I surely hope someone swept the rode and that it didn't claim anyone else's front tire.  Had I known my sidewall was blown I would have attempted to support it with a gel wrapper and been a nervous wreck riding another loop on those roads.  Probably best I didn't know, but a DAMN MIRACLE that tube held through another loop.  I discovered the blown out sidewall once I returned to the states and put my bike on the trainer - my bike was sitting on the trainer - I touched the handle bar and the front tube blew again.  It was then that I knew something was up and sure enough I found it.  So I'm not quite as bummed about my CO2 failure - just that much more thankful for Heather and the official that helped save my day. 

A VERY special thank you to friend and teammate, Heather Prochnow.  There's not a lot of people in this world or sport that would have done what you did.  The sport is lucky to have you, DC Tri Elite team is lucky to have you and I'm blessed to call you one of my best friends (now get to Hawaii to visit already!).  I am so proud of the day you put together despite all your challenges, you'll get to Kona - it's coming for you.  And another very special thank you to both my mom and Heather's mom for being super Sherpa's all week long.  Thankfully they had an awesomely located home base on race day to dry clothes and what not, but they didn't miss a beat when we were coming through town on the bike or run.  And they were up with us in the downpour at transition all morning.  Best travel partners and race sherpa's ever!

Thank you to DC Tri Elite Team - for pushing me, challenging me, and changing me.  Thank you to our sponsors - Osmo Hydration, Gu Energy Labs, Louis Garneau, Rudy Project, and DC Triathlon Club.  Thank you to my sponsors AltRed and Honey Stinger Nutrition.  Huge thanks to my coach Kim!  And a big big thanks to my love Andrew! I am currently writing this blog from our new home in Hawaii - quite different than Ireland! Now this truly is the Road2Kona and I have the biggest and best supporter I could ever ask for.