Ironman 70.3 Cork – Caroline O’Mahony

It has been a few weeks since the excitement of Cork 70.3 and hard to believe it is all over. Summer 2022 was my triathlon summer with Mallorca in May and finishing at home in Cork in August. I absolutely loved Mallorca and once all the hype settled down, I had one question for Coach Joe – how do we improve on that race.

Easy answer… train hard and push it harder on the day (that nugget was also shared with me by a few of the more honest club members!!)

Training went so well between Mallorca and Cork. I was consistent, showed up for all the sessions and tipped my way through the weeks and months. The nerves started to build in the last few weeks as always, but I dealt with it by being my organised self. I wrote out the plan, I checked, double and triple checked the athlete guide, the race day plan, the logistics.

These were probably the toughest part. Cork is quite big, so I was still going to have 50 minute drive on race morning and I had the added responsibilities of spectators this time round. Not only were Mum and Dad going to be there, but my little brother and his girlfriend were finally home from Australia after 3 years.

I wasn’t too sure how my dad would survive the day. I did a 1km swim a few weeks earlier in Youghal and he got bored waiting for me. I found him in the car afterwards reading his magazine and we were nearly home before I cracked and asked if he was going to ask me how the race went!! He also doesn’t deal very well with the heat, and it was going to be a scorcher! My biggest fear was they would all have had enough by the time I got over the finish line and would want to go straight home. I had no intention of leaving straight away so two cars it was and an exit plan for the folks!

Luckily Steve was around on Friday at registration (he was going to collect my bike on race day so I wouldn’t have to go back up Windmill to get it. Superstar brother!). He got the lay of the land and agreed to mind the folks. One thing off the list!

The Friday was a long day. I found the whole set up so spread out. Parking was way down in Claycastle, up to the centre of town, then back to T1 to rack the bike and then up Windmill Hill to rack the run bag and then back to Claycastle. I had about 20km done before 4pm, oops.

The atmosphere was great though. Plenty of TTC and Crosshaven club mates around. I registered with the Crosser crew to make sure there were people I would know around me in T1. Not sure I really thought that through, they are all very strong swimmers, so I didn’t see a soul in T1!!

The last worry that Friday evening was setting my alarm and seeing that I had 4 hours of sleep before it went off. Hopefully I had banked all the zzz’s the few days before.

Race morning was a little odd. I snuck into the kitchen for breccie, didn’t want to wake the support crew, drove to Claycastle and was delighted to see Emma, Olivia and Bryan parked just near me.

I had had a little incident with my tyre on the Thursday which resulted in a quick dash into The Edge and a few panicked texts to Joe but luckily Wheelworkx were in transition, and I got them to do one last pump and check for me.  Time to get to the swim start and I was feeling weirdly calm at this stage.

Met a load of people on the way up the hill. Being in two clubs is the right job, plenty of familiar faces and distractions. I had a chuckle when Graham Dillon told me his aim was to be home for breakfast at 10.30am. I had no doubt in my mind that he wouldn’t be bang on target. Little did I know it would be with his Age Group win and 2nd overall.

I felt so relaxed heading to the swim start. Possibly too relaxed, only just did the last loo stop, got the suit on fully, met Ellen and congratulated her on her full and lined up when they started the national anthem and then we were suddenly off!

Having read the athlete guide I went with the advice and wore my tinted goggles as they said we “would have the rising sun in our eyes”. Not a great move by me. We did have the sun in our eyes but only for the last few hundred metres. Up until then I was essentially swimming in the dark and couldn’t really make out the buoys. I decided to do what you are never meant to do and follow people, but I did sight way more regularly and luckily it paid off. The tinted goggles didn’t even work when it came to the last stretch with the sun coming up on our right shoulder. I tried to breathe to my left but that was exhausting so I once again followed people and I could see the exit arch up ahead so couldn’t go too far wrong. Well, I went a little too far left and a kayak had to block the path and put a load of us back on track and between the two yellow buoys. Overall, I felt I wasn’t making progress and was convinced myself I was adding huge amount of extra distance so I was ecstatic when I came out of the water and looked at the watch… 27 minutes*, wow! I did 41 in Mallorca so this was phenomenal. I felt like I sprinted in to T1, changed in a flash and was off out on the bike, ahead of time so I thought.

*clearly I did not do a 27 minute swim. Not sure what happened the watch but after the race it showed as a 275m swim and 39 minutes (my actual time!). Numbers wouldn’t be my strong point!

Who cares though. I thought I was ahead of schedule, and I was buzzing. Had a quick hello to Emma at Bike Out and then had to focus, get around the guy who fell in front of me and tore up the hill to the cheers of the crowd.  I felt I was flying it!!!

That feeling stayed with me all through the bike. I had done two route recces and really disliked the course. On race day though I felt really good. I was ready for the hills and sections that I had dreaded since the recce. I pushed on when I could, knowing that there was a bit of a hill or incline coming up and I would have to back off. Joe and I had a solid nutrition plan in place, so I grazed my way around Cork. He had also given me heart rate zones for the bike and run which I didn’t use in Mallorca. The heat was going to affect heart rate but I figured it wouldn’t be really hot until the last bit of the bike and the run, so I tried to make the most of the early half of the route.

The first aid station caught me off guard. I thought it would be further down near Garryvoe. Not at the top of that kicker of an incline. Two people stopped in front of me on the left-hand bend so I had to swerve a bit and power down so was completely out of breath at the top and just about managed to grab a Gatorade bottle. I had no breath in me to drink from it though so tossed it away fairly quickly. No bother. We had our plan, and I was self-sufficient!

I did a double take when I saw I was approaching 30km at around the hour mark. Again, I got a feeling of being ahead of myself (and obviously I had the imaginary minutes gained from the swim). I tried to do some mental arithmetic (which passed a solid few km for me!) and figured I could do this bike in about 3hrs 30. Onwards we go.

I knew the section from Midleton up to Leahys farm was going to be the tough bit. A long drag that seemed to go on forever. I decided to listen to Joe and pace this section by HR. I knew the farm was around the 70km mark, so I switched the watch down to the HR screen and pedalled on. I seemed to tick-tack with a guy from Mallow Tri Club, catching him on a bit of a hill and him zooming past on a downhill. We had a few words every time we passed each other. The support out on the bike was great. Signs and flags all over the place and people at their gates cheering us on. I particularly loved seeing the few older couples around the place who seemed to be making a day of it (starting at about 7.30am) with a table, flask and a quiet clap when you went past or no reaction at all. As if it was totally normal for them to be sitting in their driveway having breakfast that early in the morning!

The section after Youghal was a bit nervy. A few downhills and tight turns. I had freaked myself out on these in the recces and was a bit worried on the day. Luckily, I seemed to be spinning along on my own for most of that section so my fear of having a busy road and trying to downhill and turn wasn’t an issue. The last aid station at Inch was suddenly upon us and I decided to shake it up and get a bottle and a bar at this one. Took me a second to realise the marshals just after the aid station were shouting and waving at people to slow down and stay right but never actually said why. So, with my hands full and a bunch of us coming off the aid station and heading around the slight bend we suddenly saw the open door of an ambulance and a small gap to the right-hand side for us to funnel through. There seemed to be a few panics, especially from the guards and marshals who were now roaring at everyone to slow down. A bit of a hairy moment on a section that already freaked me out, so I wobbled down there, heart rate through the roof!

The rest of the cycle was uneventful but as we closed in on Youghal there was a bit more chatter around and an air of anticipation. We were approaching Windmill Hill. I knew the approach would be a little different to the recce route we did so I was surprised to be cycling down the main street and past the runners but a little right and left and we were on the approach road. Lovely to see Michelle Gillick there at that point but not sure what I said as all I could think about was unclipping before I hit the deck in a few minutes!

I knew I would never be able to cycle up the hill, so the plan was to keep left, come around the bend, over to the side, dismount and walk up on the left hand side (no way was I going to be that fecker who walked up the middle of the road and blocked the real cyclists!).  I decided to ignore my brothers more aggressive plan of keeping right and tight on the approach and feck anyone behind me! I was a little buoyed by his reaction to the hill the day before. It wasn’t just me that thought the hill was nasty. Steve did to. And he is far tougher than me!

The approach was hilarious. Everyone was asking if we were close, what gear were people in, you could hear the roar but for a few metres you couldn’t see it. suddenly it was there. Oh sh*t. I don’t really remember much. The crowd got me up a good bit further than I thought I would. I thought I got to the arch but looking at the pictures there seems to have been two arches. I unclipped before I lost control and started my walk. The crowd was mental, the noise was intense, and some lad was roaring that he believed in me. Don’t worry man, I believed in myself as well, I was going to get to the top! I looked over to my right and there was Steve cheering me on. I was only too delighted to point out my two orange bottles (I refused to buy the ones in the tent for €20 so I had another strategy that I didn’t tell Joe about to swap out my bottles and finish the race with two IM ones!). I think he laughed and told me to get back on my bike. Not a chance, it was still too steep. On another bit and some guy offered to give me a push but I wasn’t ready yet. Once again Steve was there on the other side of the road and told me to get on the bike. I don’t always do everything my little brother tells me, but I did this time and some guardian angel gave me a push up the hill to get me started. I think I shouted out my love to him. No way would I have been able to get going without the little push. I got up the last crest of Windmill Hill with shaking legs, sore lungs and possibly a few tears as the crowd cheered me on (I told myself they thought I had cycled it all and took in all the praise!!).

I was a bit wobbly heading in to T2 but racked the bike quickly and found my bag. I had bought a new spray suncream to top up. It was officially declared a heat wave that day and I heard mention of 31 degrees so I knew my trusty P20 would need a top up. My sincere apologies to the athletes near me on the bench. The spray suncream was bloody toxic and I ended up giving myself and who know how many others a bit of a coughing fit. It went in my eyes and everything. The tears came out then, but I think that was more necessity!

Another little watch mishap and I managed to stop and (luckily) save the race so I had to set it up for a run and off I went. Still had no idea what time I was at. The run down the hill was surprisingly nice. I took it easy, got a gel in to me and passed a few fit looking people.  A good start to my least favourite leg.

Just coming over the hill by the lighthouse I spotted a familiar couple on the footpath, Sue (my brother’s girlfriend) and Doreen (her Mum) were walking in towards town. I gave the poor guy beside me a bit of a fright when I shouted out to her. Her scream gave us all a fright!! It was so nice to see her, and we had a bit of a conversation and trot together. Again, not sure what we said but I was buzzing.  Another quick hug from Sue and on I went. Spotted Eimear and the TTC flag at the end of that section and the first aid station was in sight.

The heat was definitely building so I poured a few cups of water carefully over my head and grabbed the Gatorade and gels. Live off the course, the plan for the next 2 and a half hours. I can’t remember where I got this bit of info, but I tried to avoid wetting my shoes and socks to avoid blisters. So, I avoided the first hose and said no to the kids at the aid station with the water guns. This did not last too long. At the next station, every single one after that and every single house on the entire route if someone had a hose, I was running under it!

The support out on the course was phenomenal. The town was packed and the long drag out beyond Lidl and the housing estate was busy with locals cheering us on and hosing us down! The people with the bucket of ice were a welcome site and the residents of the little housing estate was great craic. Even if I did hate that little loop!

It was great having my family out on the course, they popped up in a few places and wherever they were, my dad was across the road from them in the shade! I got a few shouts from Brendan in Kilkenny Tri Club as well, including one to stop fixing my hair!! My battlebraids were falling out and annoying me, men don’t understand the struggle!

Monitoring the HR worked a treat and I plodded on, ticking off the kilomerres. I clearly had no concept of the loops and anytime I saw a clubmate coming against me I thought they were finished. I think I congratulated Steve for heading to the finish line when in hindsight, he was heading out on his second loop!

Finally, it was me heading back to the finish. Passing the big RedBull station I got a burst of emotion and energy and realised I was on the homestretch. Me being me, I still reined that in a bit but I was running taller and striding a bit longer. That run in was something else. The crowds started building long before the red carpet. My dad was standing under a tree (in the shade) just before the athlete village and gave me a cheer that pushed me on again. Next thing I was on the carpet. I heard a roar from Graham and got a bit of delight in telling him I pushed on this time and raced (he was one of those who, rightly, told me I went too leisurely in Mallorca!!). Chatting to him though I missed my mum, Sue and Doreen on the other side of the carpet. Watching the video after I am not sure how I didn’t hear them shouting! Over the line and I felt amazing. Only then did I turn around and see the time, 6hr35mins. WTF.  No way, I even asked the person giving me the medal if that clock was right? I was an hour faster than Mallorca. Again, in hindsight, that is more testament to the leisurely trot around Mallorca than anything, but I was delighted with that. It was an emotional chat through the wire with the family as they showed me the tracker times. The clock wasn’t wrong, and I did not do a 27-minute swim. Won’t lie, I was a bit disappointed!

Inside for an ice-cream and to see how everyone else did. It was an entirely different experience to Mallorca. Having friends and club mates in the tent afterwards made it much more enjoyable, there was no sitting and having a little solo cry like Mallorca! Everyone did great and after a club photo on the beach it was back to the finish line to a pint and my family.

There was no need to worry that they would want to go home. They were firmly bitten by the IM bug, and we stayed around cheering on everyone else and soaking in the atmosphere.

We headed off to Kerry the following day for a family holiday and to celebrate the return of the prodigal son from Australia. Getting to the beach for a game of frisbee and a few swims was the best antidote to the race and other than the appetite and the IM wristband you wouldn’t know I had done anything the day before.

The post-race blues did hit a little bit. It was such a big build up, between Mallorca and Cork and the added excitement of having my family there. Luckily my little nephews distracted me for the few days and I was happy out eating and being running around with them rather than running around the park!

Triathlon is a hobby, something I do to occupy my time, keep me fit and to meet new people. For a little while earlier in the year, it took over and became something much bigger and all consuming. After Mallorca I managed to remind myself that it was a hobby, something I choose to do, something I am privileged to be able to do. I decided to let it be a part of my life, a big (oftentimes exhausting!) part, but only a part.

As we played on the sand dunes in Rossbeigh my little 4-year-old nephew asked if we could play Ironman and proceeded to pretend to be me, run up the dunes and over an imaginary finish line with his hands in the air. He made us all shout and cheer him on. So, us 5 adults and my other nephew stood on a dune roaring “Come on Caroline”, “you can do this”, “hup hup hup” at my little nephew as he barreled up the dunes and downed imaginary gels!

This was my favourite memory of my first IM 70.3 season. You never know who is following your journey or watching what you are doing, so do what makes you happy, do it with a smile and enjoy it!

Oh, and get a coach and club who support you, will tell you the honest truths and be there for cake and a debrief after.

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