How I Spent My Weekend – IM Dun Laoghaire 70.3 Race Report – Eoin O’Reilly

Some background. This is my 6th year doing triathlon and I have been lucky enough to tick all the boxes – tri-a-try all the way up to full Iron Man distance. I have also been in 3 triathlon clubs. I started in Fingal Triathlon club in 2013. I was there for 2 years and thinking of changing to a club closer to home when the coach told me my swimming was beyond help.

Based on my pool swimming I would agree, but the majority of triathlons aren’t swum in pools! My mind was made up and I moved to AMS. The funny thing was in my first season with AMS I completed two IM events the 70.3 and Full distance in Mallorca, swims were respectable too – 45mins for the half and 1hr26 for the Full. I am happiest when I have a pull buoy or a wet-suit. The piece of advice Rich gave me on the eve of the 70.3 has always stuck with me “Swim like a boat” your arms are your oars and will do the majority of the work, the wet-suit will keep you in more or less the right position (while preventing you from sinking – bonus!) so concentrate on arms and don’t worry so much about kicking (swim coaches everywhere going to hate me).This year saw me move to TriTanium. I completed IronMan Barcelona last year so this was my year off. Which brings me to Dun Laoghaire 70.3.

Why Dun Laoghaire? I have done all 3 IM Dublin events and I work in Dun Laoghaire so it seemed like a good idea. This year saw big changes – a single transition and a new (and improved they said) bike route sold as scenic and challenging (more on that later). Working in Dun Laoghaire meant I could practice the run.

The build-up to the event wasn’t ideal. Smashed toes and broken toenails from those sneaky rocks in High Rock disrupted my running for a few weeks. A tear in the wet-suit was annoying but easier fixed thanks to Brian in dry suit tailors ( My swimming was mostly pool based solo efforts with pull buoy and paddles. Bike was some turbo with weekly club spins. I knew I was getting distance but not enough hills. My last spin was supposed to be between 4-5 hours, it then dropped to 2hrs and ended up being just under 40Km arising from 2 punctures. Better to get them out of the way now than in the race. Off to Wheelworx for new tubes, tyres and CO2 canisters. Changing the tyres destroyed my hands (combination of hard rubber (bomb proof tyres) and desk-based job – soft hands) I knew if I got a puncture in the race I was screwed, no way I could change those tyres again. Hopefully, they would do what is said on the box…

Collected my race pack at lunchtime on Friday, very cool new bag but no race program. That was a pity because I like to keep them as souvenirs. Saturday was bag drop and bike rack. No issues there. Good landmarks for finding the bike so feeling good. Ice cream with the family and it was home for carb loading and an early night.

The alarm was set for 04:30 so, of course, I woke up at 04:00. Not much chance of going back to sleep so might as well get up. Breakfast and drinks prep – one for pre-race and one for the bike. There had been a Snickers placed in the fridge for a pre-race snack but it had mysteriously disappeared – damned pixies up to no good again. Run through checklist one more time. Wetsuit, check. Goggles, check. Nose plug, check. Race belt and number, check. Garmin, check (IM do an excellent job timing but if it’s not on Strava it doesn’t count!). Post-race clothes and towel, check. OK, good to go.

Very little traffic on the road. I had decided to play safe and go with the official IM car-park option. It seems the Harbour Police missed the memo so the gates to the old ferry terminal parking were still locked when I got there at 05:10. They were supposed to be open at 04:30. Directed to wait while efforts were made to source a spare set of keys. 15mins pass and no movement in front with a good many cars now behind and more than a few nervous athletes pacing around. Another 5 mins and the queue starts to move. I get up to the gate and notice sparks. I roll down the window, “Did you just cut the locks off the gates?” I ask the marshal – “Yeah, fuck ‘em.” Was the reply. That gave me a laugh. Park up, grab the gear and head down to transition. Spot a small pod of port-a-loos on the way down. No queue either, too good to be true? Sort of, they were all facing inward so no access. Resigned to have to queue in transition when someone starts moving them, just enough to get access. Result. One less thing to worry about. Bumped into a few familiar faces on the walk down. AMS out in force. Few Fingal guys as well, one has a similar story of gatorskin tyre changing so I don’t feel like such a twat. Get to bike and air still in tyres, big relief there. Put on the bottle and check speed/cadence sensors – al good. Ok where’s the white bag drop? I miss the sign so end up doing a lap of transition – out one side and back in the other. Into the wet-suit without any issues, drop the bag and head down to swim start. It’s all quiet with a hum of nervous excitement. A lot of talk about the bike course and the weather, feck off rain being the common thread.

Conditions look idea for swimming. Water reported to be 16 degrees which is good. I wander down to the start to say hello to a buddy who’s helping with the swim start and check out the pros – they use their legs while swimming. I also wanted to check the line to the first turn buoy. The course has a long straight out to the first buoy, turning left and a short straight to the next buoy, turn left again for a slightly longer straight to the final turning buoy then turn right a swim for the pontoon. There are smaller yellow buoys between the larger orange ones but they look to have you swimming in an arc/dog-leg to the first buoy. I decide to use the lighthouse as a sighting point as that’s a straight line, Decision made it’s back down to my pen. 40mins, not today. 45mins, maybe a little optimistic, settle on 50mins. Ok, let’s get a move on before this oasis of calm I’m feeling disappears…

It’s not as cold or crowded as last year and that’s a good start in my book. I’m feeling relaxed and sighting every six strokes – so far al going to plan so keep swimming like a boat. There are a few swimmers going across my line but no real issues. Yellow buoys to the left, rescue boats to the right, lighthouse straight ahead. Water is beginning to get choppier now. Not breaking waves but certainly lumpier than the start. Few attempts needed spot the lighthouse, it’s still straight ahead which is good. The turning buoy seems to be moving though, at the very least it’s not getting any closer! Take a few more strokes and not a lot has changed, ok stop for a bit ad take a good look. I’m still where I was aiming but the buoy seems further away. I hear a few choice words from the swimmers around me so I’m not alone in my frustration. No point getting worked up, head down and pull hard. I even throw in some kicking (Every little helps). I fall into a rhythm – breathing every three, pulling harder than I usually would (paddle workouts paying off) and exhaling hard in the water. To me it sounds like a bass drum but it seems to be working, finally I reach the buoy. Crowded as usual but still no major issues. Turn, sight and head for the 2nd buoy. Progress still slower than I hoped. I estimate I’m about going to be 5mins and 200mtrs above target. Still plugging away though and soon it’s time to turn again. This should be the easier bit if the tide has indeed changed. Forward movement is better but sighting still tricky so I resort to staying between the groups of swimmers. I know I’m moving in the right direction based on the shoreline (house colours are changing). I catch the occasional glimpse of the final turn buoy so just keep doing what I’m doing. Final buoy is the most crowded and the final straight to swim exit is the most physical. Few mouthfuls of water and that dreaded rotten seaweed smell and soon I’m between the triangular IM buoys indicating swim exit. Kick hard to pontoon, grab an arm and get my feet under me. Legs still work, always a relief. Quick check of watch confirms my estimate 2.1Km swam in 56:31. Oh well, another missed target but swim done. Time to hit the hills.

Transition chats confirm the swim was hard (not just me, that’s a relief). Grab the bike bag and take a seat on the bench. These are great until the person at the other stands up – cue one man see-saw impression. Wet-suit on, quick dry of the feet, pull on socks- dammit I’ve ripped one. Above the ankle so no panic. Race belt is tricky, should have used Joey’s trick (next time I swear). Helmet on, rack bag and off to the bike.

Thankfully both tyres still have air in them. Unrack bike and run (yes I ran!) to the mount line. Set Garmin to bike, mount bike, wave/shout to Dave B. and Ivan and we’re off. Mentally I had the bike course broken in 3 stages –

  • Transition up to Roundwood – warm-up, ease into the challenge to come. Good roads, shelter from the elements and not the worst of the climbs
  • Roundwood to 65Km – main set, here be suffering and pain. Roads are narrower, surface questionable at times, no shelter and climbs
  • 65Km to transition – cool down. Fastest section as most of it is downhill. Chance to claw back so time if brave enough or focus on recovery for the run

The goal was to get to 65Km in one piece, time be damned. Make it there and I’m as good as finished, there wasn’t (in my mind anyway) any need to be a hero on this course. Exit out of Dun Laoghaire brought us past the People’s Park. It’s Sunday so there’s a market with a food fair. Wonderful smells and I’m heading up the mountains with isotonic drinks, Powerbar cola shots and Clif bars for company. Why do I do this again? Drafting rules appear forgotten as flat sections few and far between. This makes for a lot of little chats. All pretty consistent – hard swim and the bike is going to be a brute. Settling in now, trying to keep the HR low (under 160) and make sure the bike is working. Worryingly the gears are making a funny noise at the low end. Typical, never the big ring gears causing trouble on hilly routes. I’m going to need all my granny gears to-day so hopefully it’s nothing serious. Just keep going. People walking on the first hill out of Enniskerry is a bit of a surprise – long day ahead for them. I’m able to stay seated which is good. Made it to the 1st aid station, grab an iso bottle. There are red and smaller than the Powerbar ones we’ve seen on previous IM events. Drink is tastier than Powerbar equivalent though so it balances out. First descent negotiated with no issue – brakes and gears working, so far at least. Weather is kind as wind our way up to Roundwood – the highest village in Ireland (see scenic). Coming out of Roundwood the fun begins. The roads narrow, the surface is not as good as up seems the default direction. We pass a sign saying 1Km to Sally Gap but go the other way, the next one I see says 8Km. As the climbs begin the shelter starts to thin and the mist can be seen ahead. Roads getting steeper and the wind makes it’s first appearance, cross and head varieties of course – IM is no place for tail winds, at least not today. The cross winds mean you really have to concentrate on the descents – bike is twitchy even with standard road rims. Huge respect to those on deep rims in these conditions. According to the blurb this is the jewel in the crown – climbing surrounded by stunning scenery. I’m sure it’s there, I’ve seen it before but today it’s hiding shrouded by mist and obscured by rain. All I see is grey sky and black tarmac. Finally made it to the top of Sally Gap (again no walking and seated the whole time). This is supposed to be easier but I don’t seem to be moving any quicker. I’m feeling down – not enjoying this at all. I’m cold, wet, windblown, miserable and over 50Km from home. On the plus side the bike is working and the body behaving. I take 2 more cola shots and just keep peddling. There are people worse off than me judging by the amount of times a medical vehicle passes me. Attrition rate seems higher than usual. Time for another climb. What road the mist allows me to see only goes upwards. Still have full range of gears to choose from. I’m not exactly powering up the hills but I am making progress, slow progress but still progress. Average speed now down around 18Kph and heading into the toughest climb of the day up around Lough Dan. It’s a split climb so you have the introduction which is tough enough, you get to the top thinking glad that’s over only to turn right and see the main event – no idea of the gradient but steeper than my stairs at home and a bit longer unfortunately. Wicklow Tri club are at the base shouting encouragement so I pop 2 more cola chews and concentrate on moving forward and not falling off the bike. Adding to the challenge is having to avoid the walking or weaving cyclists. No such thing as spinning this is pure grind all the way. It’s probably mental but it seems to be getting steeper – you can see the top the whole time which makes it even crueller. The view to my left is stunning even in these conditions but I’m only concentrating on the top which is slower getting closer. When I finally get there the reward is a very scary descent. My arms ache from clutching the breaks. Keep it on the hard stuff, keep calm, don’t panic and no sudden changes of direction which isn’t that easy with the crosswinds, bike twitching every now and then. Certainly keeps you focused. Seeing a good few people stopped now – either by choice or misfortune. Rob Cummins of Wheelworx fame is being kept busy on bike support. I pass him stopped loading another bike (or parts of at least) into the back of his jeep. He passes me further down the road. Ais rolls down the window – I ask for a lift, she smiles and says I’m doing well. I laugh and say doing at least and then they’re stopping again to help another stricken cyclist. Then I’m back arguing with my inner voices again, why does it feel like I’m going backwards . Think positive – only 10Km left then it’s downhill to home, bike and body still working as they should, I’m slower than hoped but not by a massive amount given the conditions. Overall no real cause for alarm. I have some more food and get back to just pedaling. The fact I know the family has come out to watch also provides a shot of motivation. I safely negotiate the last hill-top descent and the hairpin bends (warming signs to slow down ignored at your peril to-day) and I’m on the last bit of climbing up to the 65Km point. I should be able to see the top but my visor has fogged up. I laugh, seems like I really am hot-headed! Then I pass the posts marking the top of the climb and I’m onto the last part of the course – downhill to home. The speeds starts to climb and again I have Rich’s advice to thank – this time it’s how best to corner at speed, I’m watching my lines while being aware of the other riders. It’s working as I find myself gaining on riders. I have to back off a few times but like I said earlier this is not a course for heroes, far more important to finish. Easy to see some people are better bike riders so I err on the side of caution. Have come too far to crash now. Staying within myself and even apologise to a Guard for breaking a red light, she laughs and tells me to get a move on. Back onto main roads now which means roundabouts and speedbumps. Then I see it – the dismount line, it’s a try-colour which is pretty cool. I hear familiar voices shouting and I manage to dismount while waving and not falling over – not too shabby if I say so myself.  In short, it was 4hours19mins52secs of suffering. 20mins slower than I hoped but again it was more important to finish. I was inside the cut-off so it was time to rack the bike, grab the runners and go for a bit of a run.

The last 3 70.3 runs in Dublin had not been pleasant for me. I haven’t figured out why. My approach this year was to do no running after the Rock ‘n Roll ½ Marathon (where I actually paced correctly this year). Even still I needed to stop running when I reached the pier. This was even after the pleasant surprise of real coke at the aid station, no cola just coke makes me happy. Just before the pier I saw Danny and gave a high 5, I was feeling good. 200 mtrs later my mojo has disappeared. Ok, I’m walking for a bit. A lot earlier than usual, just getting it out of the way early this year was my mindset. I did another status check – any cramps? No. Pins & needles in feet? No. Sick stomach? No. Excessively high HR? No. All in my head so, I allowed myself to walk to the end of the pier with the promise that would be eh only extended walk of the run leg. It’s a long pier with not much to see, support is sparse so they have a DJ on the bandstand which breaks it up. People passing ask if I’m ok (you have to love triathletes – no matter how bad they might be feeling always asking others if they’re ok) say yes, just rewarding myself for surviving the bike. I reach the turnaround at the end of the pier and start running again. I had hoped to hold 5min40 pace but that’s not realistic so settle in around 6min20. It’s already feeling like a long day so trying to make it a little easier. If you know Dun Laoghaire (or are using Google maps) the course goes along the pier and back, then turns left heading up the town past the Purdy Kitchen. You turn around at the park/green space there and run back down the town to transition, there you turnaround again and repeat. 3 laps. Essentially 40% uphill, 40% downhill with 20% flat being the pier. Think Chesterfield Avenue in the Phoenix Park but not as straight. There are 3 full aid stations and one independent republic of Red Bull aid station. The 3rd aid station has Cole and Pepsi which is unusual. My approach is one cup water and one cup of Coke at each, I walk to allow me to drink and not spill. I see a few familiar tri-suits/faces from the bike and greet/give encouragement as appropriate. For me I tend to stick with – just keep moving, it doesn’t matter how you finish as long as you finish! I never tell anyone who’s not running to start running – no way of knowing what or how they are feeling. Soon enough I’m back at transition and starting lap 2. I’ve managed to stick to my internal agreement (only walking aid stations). My pace has slowed but I’m still on target for a sub 2hr30 run which would be a 70.3 PB (also look for a positive!) The majority of people seem to be a lap ahead (or finished) so I’m just concentrating on how I’m feeling – better than when I started running so that’s good. Chatting to a few people and again encouraged that the stories are the same – horrible swim and brutal bike, not liking the run much either. Just keep moving. Coming back down the town on my second lap I spot a cool IM tattoo. I can’t make out the race so I ask the owner. It’s for Lazarote – he’s done 5 of them (they give special prizes if you do 5 or 10 – the only race that does that). That itself is impressive, what shocks me is he says he has never felt worse in any of those 5 races than he did today on the bike. Lanza is famous for being one of the toughest races on the circuit, it’s on a volcanic island with legendary climbs, brutal winds and soul-destroying heat – and he suffered more here! We chat for a while 9as you probably gathered). I ask will he do Cork next year. Has paid the fee but is going to ask for a refund based on today. I said I swore something similar after Barca last year so we reach an agreement that he’d wait two weeks and then decide. I’m moving a little quicker so part with me saying I’ll see him in Youghal. Past Teddy’s again and I’m now on my last lap. Once more down the pier and a small reward of an extended walk after 2nd aid station based on the promise that there is no stopping now until the Red Carpet! There are a lot of very tired bodies on the course but the support is amazing, it really gives you a lift. One last turn at the top of the town and now it really is the home straight. Spot the family just before the turn-off and stop for a brief chat. I’ll see you at home, high 5’s and they’re gone. Round the corner, up the ramp, turn right and it’s red carpet time. Relief, the feeling never gets old. Big smile (not just for the cameras but because it’s over), high 5 for the MC and my race is done – 8hrs55seconds – shouldn’t have stopped for the family chat! My run split was 2hrs29mins53 so just under the 2hr30. Good way to end.

Overall I’m happy with the race. Swim was confirmed to be tough but I kept going, I didn’t panic or feel like I couldn’t go on. Based on post-race conversations I think it was my strongest IM swim, well short of my quickest but all things considered positive for me.

The bike was as tough as expected, maybe more so because of the conditions. I was a little underprepared but more on the mental side. Conditioning will make the hills easier but only slog like today will help the mind and the mind is a HUGE part of long distance racing.

The run still needs a bit of work but it’s moving in the right direction. No adverse effects on the body so that was a big plus. My triathlon focus is now on Mallorca 70.3 and IM Cork next year. Will do some running races to finish out the year and get back into the club swims. The bike will probably be turbo based. The plan is to tick over until January and then ramp up from there.

As a reward for surviving the race, I bought one of the spot your name tee-shirts. This race was definitely a tick the box race. I also bought myself a large 99 from Teddys. AS I walked back to collect my bike and bags I saw quite a few finishers tee-shirt were athletes enjoying a 99 so I wasn’t alone.

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