I’ve stopped riding the storm…..I’ve become the storm

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September 17, 2018
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Well it has been quite the weekend. This weekend, of course, was the first of my big goals on the journey to becoming an Ironman. Dublin 70.3, a half Ironman, in my (second) home country and it was held just up the road really.

The first thing I’ll tell you about taking part in an Ironman event is it is very well organised, this is a godsend for someone who is as disorganised as me! I am brilliant at organising everyone else’s lives for them, logistics comes with my nature but myself……I’m a last minute/I probably forgot something kind of girl! If you are thinking of becoming a triathlete……this in NOT a quality that should be flaunted…..triathletes are like military personnel only with wetsuits, bikes and runners!

Registration was pretty straightforward but then there is the bag issue….the day before the event you must get your bike checked and racked, and with that bring your gear bags with all the items you need for the transitions between swim and bike, (helmet, bike shoes, race number) and between bike and run (runners). For someone that only packs her bag for each race five minutes before I jump in the car, the bag packing was stressful……I practically had every item I could pack in there bar the kitchen sink…….you know that meme ‘I only needed to pack four outfits so I packed twenty four just in case’? That was me! Strangely enough the bike got no special attention….I think I pumped up the tyres at a push!

On Saturday I rocked up in Dun Laoghaire about half an hour before they closed the bike check and racked my bike. I had a little walk around the area and chatted to a few of my fellow athletes. (I’m calling myself that for now although I’ve just inhaled a bag of Revels which is not very athlete behaviour) I also chatted to a lovely elderly couple who asked me all about the race, as I explained it to them showing them all the maps on the board they expressed how exhausting it sounded……see, these are my people, I think everything sounds exhausting! I think I might be lazy!

Saturday night…..I’d love to say that I got organised for the morning but sure we all know I’d be lying if I said I did…on Saturday night I chatted with one of my oldest friends Gill in The States, spoke with my sister Judith on the phone for a good bit (mostly laughing at how ridiculous the idea of Sunday was!) and then I did what I think made my race day go so well……I went up to the yard and sat in my horse’s feed pot for about an hour. He was just hanging out, doing his thing and I was just relaxing and thinking. Everything that has happened in my life in the last few years has been made possible by him. He is the most selfish, demanding animal ever to grace the earth and I owe him everything. On my worst of days when I quite literally couldn’t face  the world he was the only one I couldn’t let down, I had to go out and see him everyday. If there is life there is hope and then everything else follows……you’re probably thinking he has no idea how special he is that he saved a life…..don’t kid yourself, he knows……seriously he thinks the world was created just to revolve around him!

I had a very sound sleep that night, I only woke a few times due to the pins and needles I’ve been getting in my limbs since I hurt my back last week, I hate them but they don’t last long!

On race day I woke up , inhaled a bowl of Just Right cereal (since becoming a triathlete I no longer eat my food, I’m not even sure I chew….I just inhale! I’m also heavier than I’ve ever been during fitness!) put on my tri suit and rash guard, after lathering myself in riding cream (which makes me giggle like a child every time I use it, despite the fact I’ve heard every riding joke going given my previous career……if only I had a Euro for everyone of them!), packed my bag, buttered and jammed some toast to take with me and headed up to the yard to feed the horse and put him out. I wasn’t that nervous at that stage to be honest and while I was dealing with him I thought about something my dear friend Amy Byrne has said to me all through this experience. Now I know we are joking but there is a huge element of truth in it….you see I have known Amy for years, I’ve ridden breeze up yearlings for her dad, Michael, for a long time, we have many memories of some of the toe-rags (I really want to call them mental little feckers but I’m afraid some might think that’s mean!) during this time. She always says if I survived that for so long then I can handle anything! It’s true, a Monday morning in Kockgraffon stables during breeze up season requires a serious pair of balls…….I got in my car and drove to Dun Laoghaire to do my half Ironman.

When we lined up to enter the water I wasn’t one bit nervous. I jumped into the queue at the start of the 45min swim marker, I felt I was maybe being ambitious but i was going to wing it anyway. I met two lovely lads from the north, we chatted a bit and ended up dancing to Tina Turner’s Simply the Best, it was great and I was mad for a bit of swim action. Two guys from Wicklow tri that I’d met on a cycle were there too so it felt great to be among friendly faces.

Its a rolling start, they let four swimmers in at a time every six seconds. I was dying to get in, just as I left the holding lanes I heard a shout and looked up to see Colm Flood, who has painfully endured my sea swimming with me (the guy needs a knighthood for patience!), I gave him the thumbs up and off I went into the water. I just walked in, partly because I wanted to get used to the water so the cold wouldn’t catch my breath but mostly because we all know by now that if I had ran into the water like a bay watch rescuer I would have fallen flat on my face and ended up beaching myself in shallow water…..no one needs that at the start of a 1.9km swim. I’d say about 50 meters into the swim I knew I had it in the bag! I loved it. I swallowed water twice, once when seaweed got attached to my head…I couldn’t help laughing at what a freak I must have looked. Laughing and swimming don’t go, I laughed even more when the sea water I took on came flying down my nose!! The second time I got squeezed up and choked a little as there was no room for a breath! I didn’t panic once and I loved the whole swim……who’d have thought I’d ever say that! When I exited the swim I had the biggest grin on my face, it was amazing to have just done the one thing I was terrified of doing all year…..enjoying doing it was the icing on the cake!

Transition went smoothly but I took ages, not really sure why, I’m guessing I was still doing my celebratory dance from the swim! I threw a banana in my tri suit (a tip from Fiona MacBride the day before that I was reluctant to take on board) and I grabbed my bike and got out onto the road. It was time for another small victory…..was I going to clip in like a pro or was I going to fall over in front of a crowd of strangers like a novice?? My cleats were playing ball and I nailed it! Off I went towards the city grinning like an idiot that I hadn’t fallen off my bike!!

For such a long event you need to eat on the bike. I ate my banana first……I was extremely grateful for Fiona’s advice on this as I was pretty hungry (I’m developing a theme….tri is all about eating!) but sadly she hadn’t given me opening instructions, it took me about a km to get the damn thing open without flaking myself off the bike!

I found the 90 km cycle grand really. There is a lot of empty thinking time on the bike, I recommend you have plenty of stored up issues that need resolving in your head to pass the time as you can’t use earphones for triathlon. I’ve had more than my fair share lately so I didn’t really notice the time passing and they had been put to bed before I reached transition two in Phoenix Park.

I knew my bike time was going to be slow, I’m not terrible on a bike but I don’t set the streets on fire either. I ride an entry level €500 road bike I bought in Halfords. I feel everyone has a fancier and lighter bike than me but if you are starting out, and are skint like me, my bike if fine. If people tell you different don’t buy into it, stick to your budget, I managed a half Ironman on mine and you will too! Also it’s ok to dream…..I check out other bikes all the time!! The two main reasons I was slow on the bike……ok…so I stopped to pee….I had to….my belly was aching from such a full bladder. A couple of the Wicklow Tri girls explained…in detail…how to pee in my tri suit on the bike if I ever needed to…..I just couldn’t….not because I didn’t consider it, I got all stage frighty and nothing came out (just so you know I have a hole in my seat, while it’s gross it’s not completely gross….apparently guys do it all the time!) I had to stop at a food station to pee! The most exhausting part of my whole day was getting out and back into a wet tri suit, have you ever tried to do that? Nightmare, I nearly pulled a muscle! Then later on in the cycle a fella flaked himself off the curb and gave himself a right slap off the bike. I stopped with another guy to help him get off the bike and up on his feet. He was called Patrick and it sounded painful enough, I hope he managed to finish the race. I took a little bit to get back into my stride after that but once I got going it was plain sailing home!

My run transition was slow, I went for a pee when I got off the bike (what??!! Come on……two full bottles I drank on the bike….it needs to come out!) and I forgot to add the queuing time. I’m not sure if I’ve over shot the transition time, I don’t know if they’ve a rule for it or not.

I got my trainers on and prepared for the run. Now I have never ran a half marathon in my life and I was about to face into one, I was actually laughing coming out of transition at how good I felt and I knew I was definitely going to complete the race. Off I headed up the path and on to the first of three loops. I was nearing the first corner when I spotted a man with an iPad pointed at me…..mostly I was thinking how odd….surely this is not cinematic material (have you seen me run??). Then it dawned on me I knew him, and a quick glance to his right confirmed that I did! My mother was standing right there beside him. I threw my hands to my face as I didn’t want to let people see me cry. My mother and her friend Bill had flown over from Scotland that morning to watch my race….I hadn’t a clue, what a surprise! I didn’t want to get knocked out of rhythm so I just gushed as I past them and fought back the tears of…..I don’t know, happiness….being overwhelmed? I’m not sure, it was so unexpected!! They shouted me on and stood out in the rain for my three loops. I’m not going to lie, I nailed that run. I did it in under 2 hours and 7 minutes. I hate running but I loved it yesterday, at no point did I hit a wall or even for a second think that it was awful….and sure if your mother puts in the effort to come from Scotland to stand in the pouring rain to watch you…you are not going to walk!!! Everyone shouts you on, your race number has your name on it, and it’s lovely to hear people talking directly to you, and yes…it’s great to hear women encourage you for being a women in sport!

As I was coming out on to the avenue for the final time I spotted David Senior and Grainne Brady, it gave me the boost I needed to get more action in my legs and speed up to the line (David is one of my greatest friends, we were together for a long time and since breaking up have supported each other throughout the last seven years….and he was there to witness why I had gone through all the blood, sweat and tears for the last eight months). Running up through the finish and knowing that when I got to the other side, that I had done exactly what I said I was going to do, was about to happen was pretty awesome. I had just trained myself to complete a half Ironman and loved every second of it!

None of this would have been possible without all the support I’ve had along the way, thank you to everyone who has helped me out. To those who have kept me sane and made me laugh at the most inappropriate of times, Iain Coates, Maria O’Donovan, Lynda Burns, Cliff and Veronica Wilkinson, David Senior, Sophie Redmond, Erica Archer, Rachel Jones, Mary O’Leary, Karl Clancy, Carole Wrixon….

To George Coffey who has counselled me on our running sessions and got me to the point I could nail my run….

To Mark Loughran who helped me with my bike, borrowed me his time and equipment and has encouraged me every step of the way…..

To Sheryl Firth who back in 2004 told me about her Ironman experience and has advised me along the way…..Sheryl expect me to pester you for the big event!!

To the tri-fat-letes who let me be a member of their gang, especially Adele who has shreaked with me in excitement over all the small and large victories……..

To the members of Wicklow Tri club who have made it possible to wear a wetsuit!! All the members I have met have gone out of their way to help me out and borrow me equipment, Liam Sweeney and Colm Flood especially for their patience with me every time I freaked out in the sea (I can now swim better than them both….just kidding!!) Gabby Dillon who not only lent me her old wetsuit but has given it to me to keep and Lisa Howley who is wearing in my own one! To the lovely ladies I’ve asked the embarrassing questions to or have sorted my gear for me at events like Nicola Crean, Ciara O’Neill, Christine Gleeson, Fiona McBride…..

To Greystones Sea Swimmers for letting me paddle about behind them every week….

To Cahir Meet and Train, I feel the support from afar…

To Richard Kennedy for his nutrition advice, we seem to have had it down to a T!

To Joe King who said this was a good idea in the first place (he really comes up with them……..it’s looking like a bash at Lanza next year)

To Corinna Nolan who after all my moaning, choking, spitting, cursing and general giving out eventually taught me how to swim and since has taught me some other valuable lessons too, without Corinna this wouldn’t have happened…..

To my family for putting up with every excited text when I managed to survive a swim and to my mother for turning up on the day, what a wonderful surprise!

To every single one of the people who have been involved with me through out this, if it was in a good way it gave me the energy I needed and if it was in a bad way you gave me the courage to continue despite the crap that was thrown at me, thank you!

Everyone talks about this journey I’ll embark on to Ironman and everyone will view my experience differently. This is about your state of mind, it’s about your surroundings, for me the challenge was to see if my body would hold up to it but due to circumstance my mind had to too. I was a work rider, we punish out body’s for years and don’t give it a second thought so no….this is not the hardest physical thing I have ever done to my body but it was hard on my mind to keep the confidence up when instilled in the wrong things.

My life turned around two weeks ago and everything with my training fell into place……do you know why? I’d been trying for so long to ride the storm…..do you know what made me nail my Olympic distance triathlon and my half Ironman within a week of each other??

I’ve stopped riding the storm…..I’ve become the storm!

Simple really……now lets hope Ironman is the most physical and mentally challenging thing I’ll ever do in my life! Bring it on…..thanks for all the support!

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