IronMan Cork 2022 Race Report – Eoin O’Reilly

IM Cork in 2019 was my first (and so far only) DNF. The swim had been cancelled and we spent 2.5 hrs standing beside our bikes in transition as a staggered bike start was arranged. I was cold and very wet. I managed to get 120kms into the bike leg before sense prevailed – I was wet and starting to get cold with little chance of either changing I decided to abandon the race. I still believe it was the worst best decision I ever made.

The following day was glorious and when the e-mail arrived offering a reduced entry fee for next year (2020) I decided to jump back in. My plan was to defer a year and then go again. Then of course Covid arrived and everything shut down so deferral of one year turned to 2 years. Then the news broke that the 2022 event would feature a 70.3 on the Saturday with the full on the Sunday, this was going to be special…once we got the accommodation sorted (never a straight line to races for me it seems) I was pointed in the direction of a Facebook page and to cut a long story a bit shorter accommodation was sorted
and we can fast forward to race weekend.

I travelled down with Gary G. who was doing his first 70.3 on the Sat. Journey down was uneventful and we made it to Youghal in good time. Registration was straightforward and all required bags etc. were collected and with the obligatory merchandising purchased it was time to pack the transition bags and get Gary racked – they had split transitions so I was racking the bike until after the 70.3 swim was completed. The atmosphere was amazing already, lot of nervous energy. Met up with some other TTC’ers for some food
and then it was time to meet or host family and get an early night.

Sat was spent spectating and supporting the 70.3 crew and learning that my back wheel was unfit for the bike course (as I said never a straight line to the start line for me) so after some frantic discussions with the Wheelworx crew and several bike shops I manged to source a wheel. I just needed Gary to finish the 70.3 as planned (which he did – all the TTC crew had an amazing race, race reports will be great reads) and then it was off to Dungarvan to get a new wheel – back to transition to get the bike repaired (they would
rack the bike for me post repair) and then it was time for food! Post food it was again back to the house for an early night.

Race morning was the usual combination or nerves and sheer terror. No issues with eating or getting to T1. Bike was there in one piece. Loaded up the drinks bottles and it was time to walk down to swim start. The waiting around is the worst part for me. Met a few familiar faces and had a few chats and then it was into the pens. There was some additional pomp with this based on what happened in 2019 so we had some Irish Dancers and a recorded speech from Mike Riley (the voice of IronMan) prior to the start. I was getting
emotional so resorted to the staring out to sea and a few deep breaths. Then it was time to go…

The water was warm (very unusual for Ireland) with not a great deal of chop. It also seemed a lot less physical than some of my other IM swims. I was only sawm over twice and very few kicks. The novelty for me of passing swimmers continued – I wasn’t going to break records but I was moving steadily. Sighting was a little tricky but manged to stay on course. The initial 1.5 km was going to be the section swimming against any current.

I just kept plugging away with the watch beeping every 500mtrs which gave me an idea of progress. Approaching the first turn everybody bunched up again – safely navigated the turn and then onto the next one. Current was a little more noticeable here so little more effort required and a few close body encounters. Nothing major so kept on going. Around the second turn and now it was all downhill from here (according to the chatter). It did seem easier at times but still felt I wasn’t moving as easily as the 70.3 crew promised.

I was swimming back towards the sun rise with a lovely view of the lighthouse to my left so I wasn’t complaining to much. I even put in a good stretch of kicking, we had done a lot of kick drills during the club sessions so seemed like a good idea to use the legs for propulsion rather than defence for a change. The finish was in sight but not approaching as quickly as I hoped so put in a bit more effort. Through the final bouys and waded the last bit to the ramp. Swim done in 1:29:37 – I was hoping to be closer to 1:20 than 1:30 but as always just happy that the swim was over!

Up the ramp to a wall of noise. Into T1 and again managed to get the wetsuit off without falling over (another area of improvement for me) out the other side of the tent – grab the bike and out onto the road.

It started to get tricky here again. Bit of an issue clipping into the pedals and then I discovered the wonderful weather meant my Powerbar cola chews and nicely chopped up Clif bar and fused into one big blob! This might make fuelling a little tricky…Settle into it and just focus on not crashing. Watching the HR and speed so as not to get caught up in the excitement and pay for it later. They had made some changes to the route from 2019 but the most obvious change was the fact it was dry and hot.

It was on the bike course you got the first taste of the support too, every junction, every village and almost every house had supporters clapping and cheering with flags, banners and of course cow bells! I was moving nicely and averaging over 30kph and managing to keep the HR under 150, I knew the first half of the course would be the fastest but wasn’t going to get carried away.

So far so good and then the first curve ball hit, or rather I hit a bump and my nutrition flew out of the bag. That’s not good, this could be an even longer day than planned. I still have ISO drink and a full Clif bar, the stations will have bananas but I’ve not tried the provided bars/gels (226ers). No point in panicking – just motor on and we’re see what happens. The road surface was best described as inconsistent and with a few sharp corners on descents it wasn’t going to be a relaxing long spin. Was managing to pass more people than being passed myself so I was happy enough.

The first aid station was ideally placed at the top of a short, shar climb. Grabbed some Gatorade, bananas and some bars. They were tasty enough and no issues but not chopped up so I was eating them whole – was sticking to every 40mins but now eating more than just a chunk of Clif bar and a PowerBar chew – I did wonder if that would impact on the run but that was still about 6 hours away…

The new section of the bike route took us along the coast to East Ferry. Lovely new winding road, more or less flat along tree lined roads with some beautiful scenery. No sign of the dolphin pod that was watching the 70.3 people the day before though. It was then onto Midleton and from there the long drag started – again this was familiar but very different in the dry! Had to stop for a minor mechanical (bottle cage was dropping and needed tightening. Note to self – always test with full bottles) but otherwise was still happy. Pace had dropped but that was to be expected – I was 55km into a 180km ride and this was the lumpy bit. The climbing ended at around 70km just after Leahy’s farm where this time around they were cooling athletes down rather than trying to them up. After that it was onto some winding roads with some serious descents.

I was thinking Gary must have loved this but you had to keep your wits about you as there was always someone around who was not very comfortable and liable to weave or brake suddenly. Another change from 2019 was the removal of the drag into Youghal ( Millers Hill I think) which was a section with about 5 false summits, not fun. This time you had a nice easy ride into Youghal and along part of the run leg before turning left to a short climb which served as a warm up for the main course that was Windmill Hill.

As before you drop down to a tight right turn which throws you straight onto the main hill. I had decided I was going to hit it in the lowest gear and pedal like fcuk (imagining Richie screaming at me the whole time), the noise and support was amazing and I was still moving until a guy stalled in front of me – that was me done. Off the bike and walk/run the rest of the way, maybe next time around…After the excitement of the Hill you have a pretty hairy descent down to start your 2 nd lap. A small chance to lower the HR but you can’t relax
until you are back on the flat. The 1st lap was done. Timing was more of less on target, despite losing my own nutrition I was still fuelled and not feeling any worse for wear (from a fuelling standpoint at least).

I was struggling a little to maintain the speed from the 1st lap but still moving reasonably well so head down and keep going. The 2nd lap was a drag to be honest – a few words were had with myself. I was getting emotional and while the body was behaving the mind was playing tricks. I did smile to myself when I passed the 120km point where I had stopped in 2019 which lifted me for a spell. Again, the section along East Ferry was enjoyable but the section from Midleton to Leahy’s Farm seemed a lot longer this time.

Finally, I knew the worst of the climbing was done and only Windmill Hill remained – I had decided that riding up it was not an option (getting some warming signs that all might not be well with my legs) so the plan was stop at the corner, shoes off and run in the socks up the hill. This was definitely one of my better ideas. The road was like a mini foam roller for my feet and the crowd was amazing. Gary was running beside me roaring in my ear and the who I thought was some random woman screaming my name turned out to be Olivia. Made for a great video and certainly helped me.

Top of the hill and back on the bike. Down the tricky descent and this time a U-turn to head back towards transition – despite all the signs and warnings a guy fell in front of me and skidded across the road. I still had my sensible head on so managed to avoid him as he fell and slowly picked himself up off the ground. The little drag to the lighthouse was a lot tougher this time but soon it was downhill to the dismount line – rack the bike – remove
the helmet and stick on the comfy socks and runners for the small matter of a marathon. Bike was done in a slower than planned 6hrs55mins18secs but I wasn’t too upset.

After Mallorca the run was the discipline that worried me the most – I had managed about 10 steps in Mallorca before the body told me in no uncertain terms that running for 21.1km was not an option. I started the run here and felt a lot better than Mallorca. Only 500mtrs to the 1st aid station, another bonus. Just watch the pace and see what happens. The plan was to walk the aid stations – the Gatorade on the run was a different flavour and not as nice so that was ditched. Water and not Coke (Pepsi) was the plan. I had my own gels so wasn’t risking another deviation. First aid station done and you’re onto the main street.

There’s Gary again shouting encouragement. It’s a funny lap where you run up one side loop around come back halfway on your self then run up the other side of the town through an estate (only incline on the course) and then an out and back into the town and repeat. 4 laps, 4 wristbands 42.2km. Aside from the amazing support the highlight was the ice-packs – grab one and stick at the top of the tri-suit and it’s almost like your own air-con system!

The locals were out in force with hoses too, so we were kept very cool which was much appreciated. I was just plugging away, clicking of the kms. I felt much better than I had in Mallorca and was pretty much sticking to my plan of walking the aid stations but I allowed myself some extended walks every 5km or so. I was picking up the wrist bands and before I knew it I had done 3 laps. This was the last time I’d do a full lap so I made sure to enjoy it as much as possible. I was thanking every volunteer, encouraging every athlete I passed or who passed me and giving high fives to beat the band. It was the best I had ever felt on a marathon. I might even break the 5hr mark but to be honest if I didn’t I wasn’t that
bothered – I was going to soak everything up on this last lap.

Collecting the last wristband (yellow was everyone’s favourite colour that day) the emotions started again. As I said at the start 2019 was my first DNF and I had been in Cork earlier in the week at an Aunt’s funeral so I was a bit of mess to be honest. As the finish line approached, I decided I was going to do my best Pope John Paul 2 impression on crossing
the line. It might get be DQ’d but I didn’t care at that point. The red carpet was nearing and I think that was the only time all day I roared louder than Gary – it was pure release I crossed the line got on my knees to kiss the ground and got up to those famous words – “You are an IronMan!”. I had just missed the 5hr mark (5hrs44secs) but not one fcuk was given. It was 13hrs42mins11secs of my life that meant a lot more than I had realised it would when I signed up back in 2019!

So I had done it. I had finished my 3 rd IM race. It was tough but more so from the mental side – the training (thanks coach Rich) had seen to the physical side. The mental side is covered by the support, the camaraderie, the slagging and the abuse giving and the fact you know you’ve done it before. It’s a funny sport triathlon – it really is a complete mix.

A buddy of mine had to walk the majority of the marathon as he has no cartilage in his knee but he wanted to do just 1 IM and now he has. You see people than couldn’t swim a length a year ago and now they have a medal saying they swam 3.8km and followed it up with a
180km cycle rounded off with a 42.2m run. We are mad – and we keep coming back for more. I will be doing this for as long as possible – maybe one day I’ll do one with my daughters. The people make this sport and the fact we have the coolest kit out there and we all love cake makes it even better.

No that I have the monkey of 2019 off my back the next race is Barcelona

One Reply to “IronMan Cork 2022 Race Report – Eoin O’Reilly”

  1. Brilliant Eoin it was an absolute pleasure to team up for the weekend. Truly inspirational performances by all over the weekend.

    The Sunday was a completely different experience supporting the bucks on the road, shouting and roaring hopefully making the next few strides easier.

    Your story is fantastic and a motivator to get back into training even if only for a sprint !

    Best o luck in Barca

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