[Race Report by John Dempsey]
After dinner on Friday evening Ruairi, Peter and I took a walk down to the transition area and swim start to scout out for the following morning. The Cork tri lads & ladies were well on the way to having everything set up so it was easy to get our bearings and figure out what was going on. After having a look through transition we gingerly made our way to the end of the pier for a look out at the swim area.
The water was dead calm and seemed to be at or around high tide. Looking out to sea Peter confidently announced that the two orange buoys would be the markers for the next day, “looks about 1900m” he says. It looked an awful lot further than that to me but i kept schtum!!
Off up for registration and we hung around for the briefing – far too detailed and went on a little long but no harm done. Back to the house about 10pm, Peter Ruairi and I were all staying together. Bill had the right idea and had gone straight from the meal to register early and then straight home without the briefing, he was surely back at his place by 8pm.
Now started the great ritual of getting ready for the big race. There were gels and bars and more gels and secret potions and even more gels and … you get the idea. All carefully laid out in front of bikes which by now had the perfect psi in the tyres, with wetsuits beside and water bottles filled and saddle bags adjusted. Runners and bike shoes laid out just so. Spare clothes for after the race, food to refuel. In short – nothing left to chance.
Didn’t sleep too well that night but not worried as had got a great sleep the night before. The 5am alarm came nice and early, breakfast, double check all the gear for the 21st time and we were off out the door and cycling down to the race start. Ruairi and Bill had both done a Half Ironman race before, and sure Peter has done 3 full Ironman’s along with several Half Ironman’s, so the lads knew what they were getting in for. This was my first time racing this distance and despite plenty of banter and dodgy predictions going on between the lot of us the past several days, I wasn’t sure how I would react to 5.5 / 6 hours of racing. All of this playing through my mind as we freewheel down into town, and arrive at transition about 6:45 and it not yet dawn. I let the two lads head in along as I took the chance to cycle a little way out the course for a warm up, but I couldn’t go very far outside the town lights as it was still too dark!!
Back in and got the bike racked beside the lads. Something I see going on in a lot of tri’s now is that they allocate people from the same club adjoining space in transition. Makes for a friendlier atmosphere and also allows you to keep tabs on the most important part of any race – clubmates, are they ahead or behind 🙂 Anyway got set up and head off for a run warmup this time, before getting into the wetsuit to stay warm!! My stomach was a little dodgy so I took a motilium from Peter and hoped it was just the butterfly’s. The great shuffle starts now towards the swim and it turns out Peter was right – we did have to swim that far. Looked like a fierce long way for a poor swimmer like me but sure i came to do it so no turning back now. A quick round of good lucks and handshakes between the four of us and in we go for the swim. Water wasn’t too cold but it takes a while for 300+ bodies to make their way down a small jetty. I got the goggles set right and took a few minutes to swim around a bit before settling in near the back of the crowd and away from the rough and tumble at the start.
The race director started his countdown from 10, 9, 8 – and half teh crowd started swimming 🙂 – 7, 6 – everyone else was swimming now too so off I went. I’d be pretty sure there was a hooter or something but none of the competitors heard it with their heads underwater anyway.
The swim course was triangular with 700m out from the pier to the first buoy, 400m across to the second buoy, and 800m back to the start. I took my time heading out along and intentionally avoided anyone who looked like they might be about to swim into me. Can’t avoid everyone though and about 5 minutes in I get a kick in the face which knocks my goggles loose, easy breaths, no panic, tread water, fix them up and get going again. Got to the first buoy really happy with my swimming so far. I had gotten a few tugs on the ankle which at least meant that there was someone still behind me. A quick look back under my arm showed an awful lot more people there than I could have expected – I was delighted and went round the first buoy thinking this swim will be no bother.
The 400m across had us swim across some very cold currents that sent a shock or two through the system after all the relatively warm water up till then. Also the tide was now fast sweeping out of the bay and was pushing us out sideways. I ended up going quite a bit wide at this point and lost a little bit of ground but was happy to make it to the final turn and face into 800m for home and completing my first HIM swim. The final leg was headfirst into the tide and despite being fairly comfortable i was again getting pushed wide and was adding lots of extra distance to the race for myself. I normally tend to swim fairly straight but struggled a bit with this tide. Also it didn’t help that my mind began to wander a little bit and I started thinking about the bike leg and lost focus on my swimming.
About halfway back I began to tire a bit and switched breathing sides every few minutes for a bit of a change. From looking around like this i could see that most of the people that had been behind me weren’t there anymore and this just confirmed that i was loosing ground. I had to increase the effort here and managed to increase pace fairly well covering the second half into the tide quicker than the first half – lessons learned for the next day.
Up the ramp and I was disappointed but not surprised to see only 7 bikes left in transition. I had been hoping for about 45 minutes from the swim but ended up with 52 minutes on the clock for the 1900m.
I was expecting to be last of our club out of the water and I wasn’t disappointed. Peter had swam a great 32 mins (before stopping and making a cup of tea for himself in transition 😉 ) Bill swam a very impressive 35 mins, and Ruairi had a very solid 45 minute swim. I swam 52.
I was expecting to be slowest of the lads out of the water, but I was also expecting to be fastest on the bike. I reckoned that Peter would swim in and around 32 minutes, so figured that I now had over 20 minutes to try and make up on the bike. I didn’t think i could catch him but put the head down and was determined to bury myself trying. The very best thing about being a weak swimmer and a strong biker is that you get to pass out loads and loads of people. It took a little while to start catching them, and they were only in dribs and drabs to begin with but pretty soon they were coming thick and fast, particularly on the uphills. It was the usual mix of hybrids and dodgy road bikes to begin with but then started getting into the nice road bike and even into the fancy TT bikes.
My plan for the nutrition on the bike was nice and easy, I had three little bottles of gels and an energy bar with me. I planned to take a bottle during each hour and half the energy bar during the second hour. I was expecting to be on the bike for 2:45 – 3:00 hours. I also had two 750ml bottles of water that I planned to drink fully. Things started ok and the first gel was going down alright. Going up the first climb of the day though my stomach did a somersault and I had my first puke of the day. It didn’t slow me down too much but the stomach kept flipping for the rest of the bike course and I kept puking. I had been concerned abut a slight tummy bug earlier in the week and it seemed that it was determined to strike hard now on race day!! All this puking meant that my nutrition strategy wouldn’t be near as effective but i stuck at it anyway and drank the full of the three gel bottles and half the energy bar. I only managed to get a third of the way through the second bottle of water though – my stomach just couldn’t take it.
Anyway back to the bike, over the first hill and a nice sweeping descent into Lauragh before we turned left and up the first big climb of the day across Healy’s pass. About a third of the way up this climb, and 51 minutes into my bike I caught and passed Ruairi. When I saw the red and gold jersey up ahead it really lifted my spirits as I was just pure determined to do my best to catch any of the three lads that I could. “Hiya Ruairi, keep her up” says I or something similar. “Good man Dempsey, I was getting worried you were lost!!” replied smart-ass Ruairi.
Up the rest of the climb and the final pinch at the end saw most people out of the saddle. Across the top and welcome to Cork. The next stretch of road is fantastic for bombing down as fast as you can on a bike. Apart from a small bit of loose chippings at the start the surface is generally very good and there are hairpins and switchbacks with lovely open views of the road ahead that allow you to just sweep down and around the mountainside at top speed. Right to the bottom and then left through Adrigole heading towards Glengarriff.
The next stretch of road is fairly draggy without having any serious climbs. I was disappointed to come across a fair bit of drafting here from other competitors and people happy enough to cycle along side by side. I had seen two motorbike draft marshals on either side of the mountain (where there would be no drafting gong on) and then didn’t see a single one for this long stretch of road and lads blatantly helping each other cheat.
There was one nice sharp downhill on this part of the course which saw speeds of about 75km/h before the road rose up again for another short climb. Shortly enough I was winding my way in towards Glengarriff when I see another Racing 795 Jersey ahead – who was it this time? As they went around a bend I could see the flash of blue on the bike and knew it was Peter. There’s always only one way to pass a lad like that and it’s at full speed so I knocked her up a few gears and started churning “Howya Peter” as I flew by with 1 hr 46 mins on my bike time. Through Glengarriff and no thank you to the nice people offering water and Powerade.
Now the second serious climb of the day was staring up the Caha pass. Bill had done this race last year and had warned me that this road just keeps going on and on, and never stops climbing. He said you’d think you must be near the top several times but until you can see the tunnel, you’re not there. He was right.
With my stomach still doing flip / flops I wasn’t really looking forward to this but was still managing to pass people out so kept going. I was getting worried about two things now, I had been pushing really hard the whole way on the bike so far and wasn’t sure how much if any i’d have left for the run, and also I knew that with all the puking going on my energy stores would be pretty low about now.
All this was going through my head as I sat up to take some more gel and water when I got a bit of a fright to realise that someone was actually passing me out!! This was the first time all day so i was a bit surprised – surely i must have passed this person out already for them to be behind me? As I was trying to get the water bottle back into the cage I noticed that they were wearing a pink jacket and had nice shapely hairy legs!! No one in a pink jacket and hairy legs was going to pass me out so i put the head down and repassed them almost immediately. All thoughts of taking it easy up the mountain to save a bit of energy for the run were long gone, replaced with only one thought “No way hairy pink coat is getting past me again”. They were a fairly strong biker though to be fair and stuck with me nearly all the way to the top, managing to drive me on and making me work like a dog.
Turns out Bill was right, I thought that I’d never each the top of this mountain. It didn’t help that we were now on an exposed mountain side with no trees to shelter us and riding into a very strong wind. Thankfully there hadn’t been to much rain till that point and the roads were fairly dry, but the rain started now. On and on up this cursed mountain when finally i can see it – the tunnel at the top. If you’ve been up here before you know what its like, if not then it is literally just a 250m stretch of road that has been cut directly through the top of the mountain, and the main Glengarriff – Kenmare road (which is a national route) passes straight through it. This is no fancy Port Tunnel jobbie though, there are no lights inside, and there is only one smooth surface – the road, everything else is just jagged and lumpy rock.
Anyway through here and out the other side, welcome back to Kerry. Immediately the road starts to point almost straight down and we’re away. a quick look over my shoulder at the first bend shows me that the hairy legged pink jacket wearing mountain goat has fallen a good way back and doesn’t worry me anymore. Zooming down the hill now as fast as i can possible go. I can feel the strong side winds pushing me sideways and figure that Bill can’t be having it easy with his fancy deep rim wheels so this is my chance to catch him. Lo and behold a few minutes later i catch a flash of what looks like a 795 jersey down the road ahead of me. Sure enough it’s Bill so I go into my best Tour de France style tuck with my eyeball just peeping over the handle bars and go past him as fast as i possibly can “Well Bill” 2 hours 18 minutes on my bike clock.
I have to say I was grinning like a big ass Cheshire cat with all the cream in Kerry, the most delighted smuggest big head on me as I flew down the rest of the mountain. Before the race I had hoped that I would be able to catch the lads before the end of the bike because I figured we would be all fairly similar to each other on the run and it would be hard to make up time then. After my fairly poor swim though I was resigned to the fact that Bill at least was going to get out on the run ahead of me and maybe beat me overall. Now I knew that I had given myself the best possible chance that I could have done, and lets be honest – it’s all about beating the lads that you know 😀
Right as I went past Bill the wind picked up and the hailstones started blowing sideways. I knew that this was better for me than Bill and I had to push as hard as possible in this weather to open up the gap on him. We had been told that from the bottom of the mountain it was a straight time trial back into Kenmare and I knew that Bill would be much stronger with his TT specific bike on the flat road than he was coming down the exposed mountain. I buried myself for the rest of the bike dong everything to stay ahead of him, only coming out of a tight tuck on the aero bars to take a small sip of water, or to spit out another bit of puke – stomach still heaving.
Into transition and i was delighted to see that i had come in at the limit of my best expectations – 2:45 total time on the bike. I knew that was a good time and was really pleased as I flew in towards the dismount line. Now the rule is that you must get off your bike before the dismount line. Some people come to a complete stop and unclip feet from pedals before getting off the bike and pushing it across the line. What a lot of other people do (me included) is to take their feet out of the shoes (placing them back on top of teh shoes) and ride as fast as possible up to within 150m of the line before swinging the right leg over the saddle whilst standing on the left pedal and then right at the line pushing off the left pedal to run across the dismount line without loosing any time at all. It sounds complicated but with a little practice and a lot of faith is handy enough to do. Except if you’ve just pushed yourself harder and longer than you’ve ever gone before. As I started to swing my right leg back around and over the saddle i got cramp in both quads and caught the saddle. The whole bike lurched left and then right and my leg stuck on the saddle. Thankfully I managed to avoid a complete (and very embarrassing) disaster and somehow got the right leg down on the ground bang on the dismount line. It was a very hairy moment and there were a handful of marshals who surely aged several years as they witnessed me out of control and heading for them at top speed!!
I racked the bike and pulled on my runners, just as i was picking up my run bottle sand getting ready to start off “Oh I’m bursting for a piss”, it’s Bill, he’s into transition and not very far behind me. “Jaysus Bill, good luck with the run” says I as I head off a little shocked and worried, I thought he might be further back.
Racing 795 bike times were; John 2:45, Bill 3:02, Ruairi 3:10, and Peter 3:11
I set off on the run with a few gels and the rest of the half eaten energy bar tucked into my trisuit, with a bottle of water with a gel mixed into it in one hand, and my secret weapon of a flat Red Bull & Coke mix in the other. My stomach was still doing somersaults and I was really not looking forward to having to try any of them.
Out across the bridge and I met Peter finishing his bike – he seemed a bit closer that I thought he would be too. I knew now that the chase was on, with Peter probably set to have the best run of us all, and Bill fairly similar to me but probably not suffering the stomach issues. This is what it had come down to between the clubmates now. After about 1k in I found myself on a quiet stretch of road and stopped for a wee. I tried to be as quick as I could conscious that Bill would have the bit between his teeth, as I got going again I took one quick look behind me and saw a flash of red. I don’t know if it was Bill or not but I told myself it was and didn’t look backwards again for the next 4k.
I really struggled to get going on the run until at about 2.5k a guy caught up with me going not that much faster than me so I tried to stick with him. It crowned me and I was able to run at his pace until about 6k when he took an energy gel and shot off up the road. Thanks Daithi from Mayo living in Cork, you helped keep Bill off my back for that stretch anyway.
I had been carrying the water with gel and the Red Bull / Coke mix all along but couldn’t face the gel and was afraid of what the Red Bull would do to me. There was a water station at 5k so I left my water & gel mixture here and slowed to a walk to make sure I drank a good half or three quarters cup of water. I did this at all of the water stations on the run. My stomach was in knots at this stage and I didn’t know what to do with the Red Bull and Coke. After struggling to stomach the water I knew that there was no way I could take a gel, and I needed to get some energy into me if i was going to finish the run, so I chanced a little sip of the Red Bull Coke and it was grand 🙂
There was a turnaround point at 7.5k where i could see how far back any of the lads were, Bill was fairly close at this stage only about 1 or 2 minutes back, but Peter was at least 5/6 and maybe more. I wasn’t worried about Peter anymore but I was concerned about Bill. Another few sips, another few stomach flips, and another few minutes up the road I met Ruairi coming towards me. “Ruairi tell Bill I’m 10 minutes up the road will you?” “Yeah sure” answered Ruairi. I figured that if Bill thought I was too far gone he might give up the chase – all is fair in love and war 😉 Talking to Ruairi going home the next day he says he did say it to Bill, I haven’t got a chance yet to ask Bill what did he make of it, or did it affect his chase?
Anyway I was dawdling a little again on the run and people going past me that i could not hold onto. Then I hear these footsteps closing up behind and I look over to see this girl, again not travelling that much faster than me. “I’ll try stick with you for a while” I said and off we went. Turns out her name is Annemarie and she was a member of Cork tri club so had loads of support the whole way that we ran together. She crowned my race and running beside her I had the strongest part of my run from about 9k through to 17k. I even shared a bit of my red bull coke with her which may have been a mistake though cos once we got to the big hill at 17k she just went up it like she had wings. i couldn’t stick with her and struggled on, the road really starting to kick up now and I was getting fairly tired at this stage.
The “knock” came at about 17.5k. The road got fierce steep for the last 250m of the hill and i had to walk it. After the road leveled out I just couldn’t get going again – I had completely ran out of energy and could not muster any sort of speed at all. There was a water stop at 18k, and just 3k of downhill running after this – I had no more speed. People i had passed over the last 20/30 minutes started passing me out again and I could do little or nothing about it. With about 1.5k to go I thought that there was no way Bill would get past me so despite the rumble in my tummy i took one of the energy gels and downed what was left of the Red Bull & Coke but still couldn’t get any speed. Thankfully I had no further stomach troubles though and ran slowly down the final kilometer, looking over my shoulder every 30 seconds.
A guy from Cork tri club caught up with me about and urged me to pick it up with him that we were nearly finished, I took another look over my shoulder and told him I was grand once I couldn’t see the lads and to run it in himself 🙂
As I rounded the corner to the finish line on the square in the middle of Kenmare I could feel the crowd tensing up and that only means one thing – sprinter behind! Whatever happened anyway i managed to muster up enough to sprint as fast as I could the final 100m to try not let this stranger past me – we finished in a dead heat. 5 hours 30 minutes on the clock.
I was delighted and a little spaced out, I had just finished my first Half Ironman, and 5:30 had been my target time from the start, and most importantly of all I had somehow managed to beat the lads, which I hadn’t really expected. i just stood there for a little while soaking it up before i got something to eat and turned back to cheer the lads home. Bill finished strong in 5:35, Peter just a little back in 5:38, and Ruairi rounded out a day full of Racing 795 PB’s with a 6:01 finish time. everyone was happy with their times, we all agreed that it was a super tough course, and we will probably try to get back to do it again at some point in the future.
The run splits for the four of us were; Peter 1:44, John 1:46, Bill 1:51, and Ruairi 2:00
Poor Bill was left to freeze at the end though when his finish line bag with warm clothes in it had not been transferred to the finish line for him, so he had to rush off back to transition to stay warm.
Performance of the day though probably has to go the Alma Barry, Bills wife. Despite wind, rain, hailstones, and almost 6 hours of boredom, she managed to have herself and their two little girls out on the road to cheer us all the way around the course, nothing easy about that!
Fair play to Cork tri club, this race has a big reputation and after doing it it’s easy to see why. This is probably the toughest and the most beautiful course in the country, and everyone of the marshals were full of good cheer and encouragement. This is a race I would recommend to anyone and I will definitely be doing it again.