The announcer boomed out “Enda Moran, you are an Ironman!” as I bounced down the finishing straight on my own. Boy, that felt good! After 12 h 22 min of scooting around this beautiful Whistler course in brilliant weather competing in my first Ironman, I was ready for the finish. To be honest, for the last 5 km (3 miles), I was in pure survival mode. It wasn’t like I was crippled with cramps or strains or anything like that at the end. I just felt a whole-body weariness and wanted so badly to stop. First realization: the half-ironman distance can be ‘attacked’ and raced but the the full distance needs a measured, patient approach (at least at my level) or else there’s a huge price to pay in the latter stages of the race. Second realization: there is no way I could have done this without Dave (Sek) teaching me how to train properly and race this distance in an intelligent way. I crossed the line, hands in air milking the moment, then turned to my No. 1 supporters who took some pictures and an iPhone video that showed up on Facebook within a few hours. I collected my medal and other bits, and within a few minutes I went from lucid and straight to dizzy and bent. An hour in the medical tent followed! More on that saga later …….
I rose at 4.30 on race day and had a bagel and banana for breakfast. From then to the race start I sipped on a bottle of electrolyte drink (Nuun). Since paying more careful attention to my electrolyte intake, I’ve gotten rid of those cramps that plagued me in the pool and open water over the last year. So one less thing to stress about. I felt hunger pangs on the second loop of the swim though, so maybe some solids closer to the race start is advisable. We had 1909 athletes starting in Alta Lake in an in-water mass start. Water temp was 65F and the water quality and conditions (flat) were as glorious as Mirror Lake in LP. There seemed to be 3 groups of athletes at the swim start. The faster swimmers at the start line, a bunch including me treading water a safe distance directly behind the faster bunch, then hundreds of swimmers starting off to the side from the beach or a standing position just off the beach (adding greater distance to their race). The swim was incredible! Loved it. Now to put things in perspective, I never swam when I was young, and two years ago I was learning to freestyle breathe and was having panic attacks in open water. Sure I was getting bumped and slapped in there but it opened out after the first 800 yards, and I was mentally relaxed throughout. On both loops, the length across the top of the course looked directly into the sun so I had to search harder for the turning buoy, and now and again I had to check my course when I found myself veering too wide. I exited at 1 h 29 and was absolutely thrilled with that. Sure, not a Dave Sek or Pete Jacobs finish time, but for me, a breakthrough, and it will be better next year.
My strategy for T1 was very deliberate. I was prepared to take the extra minutes to be comfortable for the bike. I was only wearing Speedos under my wetsuit, so it was down to bare skin and then build it back up. Threw on my padded Assos bike shorts, jersey, cool sleeves and so on. A quick visit to the porta (1 min) and I was out of there. T1 time: 9 min.
The bike course ran fast for the first 12 miles to the base of Callaghan. Up to the start of this climb, I was only pushing approx. 160 W but my HR was far too high at 152 bpm. Ordinarily, I’d be in the 125-130 bpm range at this output on a fresh ride. I suppose the adrenaline rush, the heat and the 2.4 mile swim were factors here. Callaghan climbs for 7 miles up to the Winter Olympics arena and with gradients of 7-10% here, it needed control and respect. I used it to settle down and during the climb my HR relaxed into the 140s at 170W. Better. The course is basically hills and fast descents at the start, a fast flat section in the middle from miles 54 to 92, and uphill for the last 20 miles. The road surfaces were good, and the course passes beautiful countryside, mountains, forests and farms. I stayed in control in the flat section putting out a steady 160-170W, and made it to the last 20 mile section with an overall average speed to that point that would have given me a finish time around 6 h ………. IF those last 20 miles were relatively flat! Uphill though, all the way. 10% gradients in here too, and it was the hottest part of the day (86F). On some uphill sections in this last 20 miles my speed dropped to 6 mph, but I was determined to stay in target range of 150-160W and not overcook it for the run to come. Nutrition-wise, I stuck to the plan. Full calorie quotient from Infinit GoFar concentrate, topped up with two bottles of Perform, 1 Nuun electrolyte drink, and I lost count of the volume of water that I consumed on top. Some other stats: climbed 2109 m (6920 ft), average speed of 27.1 kmh (16.8 mph) and a max speed of 73.1 kmh (45.4 mph). I rolled into T2 recording a 6 h 32 m bike leg. Good enough.
For the last 20 miles of the bike, I was deliberating on stopping for a pee but didn’t want to concede the time there. By the time I got into T2 I was desperate, so rushed through the change into my BPC 2-piece, and stopped in the porta for what seemed like ages! I’m taking this as a good sign that I was well hydrated at this point. The full gear change at T2 was also deliberate: conceding a little time in transition for comfort on the run. T2 time: 5 min.
Now, I’ve never run a marathon before (longest run was a single 20 miler in training), and obviously not after a 112 mile bike. So I was uncertain how this was going to play out. One thing I was sure of: no walking allowed! Aim was to stick to a goal pace of 8 20/mile (5 10/km) and this went well for the first 7 miles (12 km). Then the IM grinding down process slowly kicked in: you think you’re holding pace, look at the watch and see a pace of 8 50/mile! I made the executive decision to allow my pace to drop in stepwise fashion. You see, not having been in this spot before, I had no idea how far I could push it without something bad happening like a strain, cramp or a full-on energy bonk. Between miles 16 and 23, I held pace at 9 40/mile (6 /km) and for the last 3 miles to the finish I did a steady 10/mile. Overall, the run was terrific. Fantastic course with asphalt and non-paved sections snaking around the town, through the forests and around the lakes. I stopped at aid stations (probably 12-13 total) and went through a pre-planned regime of dousing with water to cool, and consuming either water, coke or Perform in rotation. I worked through 5 Powerbar gels in the first 3 h of the run washed down with water, but got careless in the last hour and didn’t touch any nutrition or water at all in the last 30 min. which I’m certain I paid the price for at the finish. A marathon time of 4 h 5 min was more than acceptable, I think, for my first effort here.
To the finish, then. After my legs started to wobble, I was helped by two volunteers to the medical tent, and laid out on a bed. Then the worst cramps I’ve ever experienced set in: I think you could hear my screams at the finish line! Severe dehydration according to the doctor. Three painful stabs to find a vein, but eventually, 500 mL of saline from the drip sorted the cramp problem out. There’s a lesson in here obviously, but I’m not sure where I caused the problem. I think I had things under control hydration-wise on and after the bike, so maybe it was that last hour of the run where I let things slip. Anyway, we’ll try not to let that happen again. Because I’m coming back, and will be looking to go harder next time!