Barcelona Ironman 2023: Race report

Some guys, when they turn 40, buy a Porsche for their mid-life crisis. Others go to Turkey for a hair transplant. I bought a wet suit and a triathlon bike.  

I’d completed two half Ironman events, in Cork in 2022 and Mallorca earlier in 2023. Do two halves make a whole? I wanted to find out. One Tuesday night, I entered the Barcelona Ironman, my first full-distance event, on a whim after hearing Richie and Steve talk about it in the NAC. 

“Sure it’s a year away, I don’t have to worry about it.”

A year has a habit of passing by quickly. Too quickly.

And so, after hours stuck on the turbo trainer, cycling down the N3, running the backroads of Maynooth, figuring out the mechanics of bilateral breathing in the NAC, and living on a diet of Maurten, I found myself at the start of IM Barca and wondering “What have I signed up for?” 

I got bashed around at the start of the swim as I took the first buoy too closely. That threw me off a bit so I kept away from the other buoys, eased into it, and drafted off two other swimmers on and off. 

The swim took longer than expected based on my training paces in the pool and at an Ironman distance swim in Glendalough last August. The Ironman organizers changing the buoy colors at the last minute also threw me off. But I figured I’d done the distance three times beforehand The current towards the end helped. 

I was on a high getting onto my Tri Bike. So delighted that I forgot my race belt. I had to re-rack the bike and head back to T1 to get it. Finally, on the road, I was about to push on but more than one person warned me not to overcook the bike.

I kept my heart rate in zone 2 throughout with my pace averaging 29-30 km/h without huge effort. All went well til the 45 KM mark, I cycled over some stones at the roundabout. My bike’s water tank fell off and smashed onto the road.  I contemplated turning around and picking it up, but that would have meant going backward in an Ironman!


The rest of the cycle went much faster than any training ride on the N3 or in Wicklow. Races are funny like that. My back, hands, and shoulders tightened up during the final few miles of the cycle. but I figured it was an Ironman and I was supposed to be hard. Suck it up.

I was energised getting off the bike and into my running shoes with no leg issues or forgotten race belts. In Mallorca, during the 70.3 a stitch slowed me down. So this time I ate some salty crackers which helped. 

As the miles passed (did I mention I run in miles? There are fewer miles than kilometres in an Ironman), the 26-28 degrees kicked in. Marathons are hard, but I still love a good one. Marathons are also long. So, I slowed down and tried to keep my heart rate under 135 BPM. 

Now, I can fuel myself with Maurten and gels for a regular marathon but living off gels for a 13-hour event is entirely different. Or as Richie put it, “They couldn’t give those Maurten gels away.”

Halfway through the second loop, my stomach closed up shop. Fighting a rising sense of nausea and dwindling energy reserves, I tried coke, mushed-up bananas, and the juice cut-up oranges. I didn’t drink coke in training, but desperate times and low-carb reserves equal desperate measures.

Along the train tracks as the sun set,  I passed one clubmate. He asked me hopefully, “Final loop Bryan?” 

“No… I’ve one more.”

I jogged along the sand and by a large concrete block where someone had helpfully spray-painted in bright blue and pink letters: “Arse”.

That nicely summed up how I felt.

I pulled over to vomit on my fancy running shoes. A medic asked if I was ok. I was worried she would take me out with only an hour to go. It took me two years and 12 hours to get this far. 

”Get it together Bryan!”

I walked/jogged away from the medic and through the last few km. Knowing supporters from the club were a few KM up cheering us on with cowbells helped too.

Eventually, the cramps passed. I got a nice burst of energy for the final KM and sprinted towards the finish line. I paused to ring the bell for first-timers and again for the photo. Later, I was surprised to find I’d snuck in two minutes under 13 hours. The trek back to my hotel with the Tri bike and bags was an event in itself.  

My swimming form needs work, I haven’t logged as many hours on the bike as other competitors at the race and I’m a mid-pack runner. But consistency in training for Ironman more than compensates for a weakness in any one discipline. That, and the support of a good club. 

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