By Måns Höiom
After last year’s race season, me and my wife set up the goals for this year racing. We decided to attempt a joint goal to go sub 20 hours combined race time on the full Ironman distance. From our best races we both need to shave off around 15 minutes each to go sub 20 hours. That way we will push ourselves but also each other to do the work needed.
Obviously, we both have our personal goals as well.
For me the biggest personal goal is obviously qualification to Kona again! My last attempt at racing in Kona 2018 ended with an injured back and I finished World Championship Ironman in Kona Hawaii just participating. So Ironman Cork was chosen to be my qualification attempt this year.
IM Cork was Irelands first full distance IM and I knew it was hilly and very slow as a race. It suited us well being in 23:d of June so we had plenty of time to train. And I would finally get to the island I have wanted to visit for so long!
The day before the race during the pre-race meeting the organization announced there will be a change in the swim and possibly a delayed start!
I assumed the reason was the cold weather and the forecast of more wind and rain for raceday. Having tested the swim course earlier I was not surprised but hearing this my mind raced with different thoughts.
“I had done the training, I was there and I had prepared myself for the goal of qualifying – do not change anything! I need it to be the way I have planned!”. These was some of my reactions initially until I remembered my preparations. From November 2018 until raceweek in June 2019 I have managed to average almost 13 hours training per week. That is a massive amount of training to lean against and I felt extremely calm again. And ready!
05:30 on raceday they announced the cancellation of the swim due to the weather and safety of the participants. That was one hour before start and many was already dressed in wetsuites. The start time was also announced to be delayed until 07:20 for the pro field. It was cold and the wind was blowing hard.
I felt calm.
I was extremely surprised to see so many spectators at these conditions.
Mentally I adjusted to the new scenario.
All agegroup athletes was told to change into bike gear row by row and line up for a timetrail start. We were to be released 2 bikes every few seconds from 07:40 until everyone was out on the bike course. I was very cold by now, so I rushed to get to the starting position as early as possible. I think I was among the first 30 agegroupers to start.
The loudness from the spectators was loud as I started my first lap of two 90 km loops! I felt a chill down my spine and it was not the coldness this time. I was finally on my way to try to qualify to Kona again!
How I have longed to this moment!
I was very soon alone with very few bikes around me which suited me very well! No fear of drafting and I could be in my own zone. The rain poured down and I was cold, my hands and feet numb and I could barely see through the raindrops on the visor of my helmet. The road surface was terribly rough and potholes in many places.
I pushed hard being confident of my form and the past training.
The kilometers passed by and I was out in the rolling hills between the very small villages. The wattages were high and the speed decent. There was long stretches without seeing any peoples along the road. But suddenly there could be a group of people sheltered by an umbrella, or raincoats in the middle of nowhere clapping their hands and shouting “Well done!”!
I came to the section where the hills started, and the locals have place lots of signs with different messages saying things of encouragement. The uphills where long but not so steep. I kept pushing and smiled as the spectators kept urging us on. The endurance of them was remarkable in that grueling weather!
At the last stretch of the first lap the infamous climb Windmill Hill was packed by people on both sides! The sound was deafening as it echoed inside my helmet! I geared down to my easiest gear and stood up for the most part of the hill!
22% during around 400 meters was hurting my legs, but I could not help smile (and grin)!
Afterwards I noticed in my TrainingPeak log that I produced All-Time high wattage during 1 minute in that hill!
Continuing out on the second lap I felt dizzy and weak after that hill, but I managed to recover pretty fast. I knew that I had to bike harder than usual as my bike legs are weaker than my competitors and I am preferring flatter courses. So as soon as possible I went back to pushing my previous watts.
As my second lap went on, I started to notice that the spectators from my first lap was still out there along the road! Still shouting “Well done!” to me in their raincoats! What an amazing people!
When the hills started the second lap I felt the first signs of cramp in my thighs. I added water from the aid stations to prevent further cramp.
My energy plan had been to bring 5 hours’ worth of energy with me in Maurtens sportsdrink and 3 Maurten gels as backup/complement.
Fortunately the downhill made me recover enough to actually get me riding the Windmill Hill a second time without cramping! And the roar from the spectators were equally load this time!
But the smile failed to show this time having biked nearly 180 km with those hills with nothing but those chickenlegs of mine!
When racking the bike I immediately felt the run was going to be painful. I am usually very comfortable with my running capacity, but this time they felt worse than ever!
I could not remove my rainjacket as my fingers were completely powerless. So I decided to run with it!
I stumbled out of the tent and started my run in the heavy headwind! Spikes of rain in my eyes and I had to run with my right eye closed as the rain was pounding from the ocean. I could see some spectators along the shore sheering us on and I wondered why they were still out!
I ran into the town of Youghal (I think it is pronounced Yo’all) where the streets where filled with people sheering us on. I saw my brother after about 3 km and he gave me information that I was leading by 15 minutes after the bike. Since the start was spread over almost 2 hours, I mentioned to him to look for late starters.
Already after the first few km of running my cramp started to appear again. I had to stop running and walk as few steps as possible and I used my first gels sooner than planned. I also drank both water and energy from the aid stations. I even took a banana once!
It was the longest IM marathon I have experienced, and I am not happy with the average speed. I just could not run faster!
The calm feeling, I felt from start, went away. I started to become worried my 15 minutes lead was eaten up already.
I started to check my running speed on my watch and when running I actually had decent speed. I just needed to keep running! After 38 km I saw my brother again and he told me to just keep going, the IM tracker app gave him strange figures most of the time and he could not rely on its accuracy. Now that is nothing you want to hear when it is only a few more km to go.
Pushing the last few km to finish the race and it was a great feeling to finally be able to stop running! Mike Reilly said to me:
“You are an Ironman”!
I walked away into the tent to collect my street wear gear and change. I noticed the pizzabakers in the rain, I noticed the cheering in the streets and all the time they said “Well Done!”. It took me forever to change and I ate a pizzaslize. I got to ask a fellow athlete if I could check my agegroup standing. I was leading with 30 minutes. It felt great. I was in a good mode. My bike performance I was very satisfied with, my running not so.
I came to race for a slot to WC Ironman Kona! I had spent almost 13 hours average weekly training since November!
Can I lose it to a late starter in my agegroup?
As I walked to the hotel I noticed the loudness of the people of Youghal cheering the runners on. I came into my hotel, where I was greated by the owners, the regular customers and everyone else in the restaurant/pub. They bought me Irish Coffee, they bought me Guinness and they bought me wine. They cheered when my wife came in and they cheered when hearing I probably won my agegroup. “Well Done!”
I had the best feeling in the world as I deemed it unlikely that more than 3 agegroupers would start late and pass me during the hours that had passed. But something felt strange. I had reached the goal of my race, I had done what I came for but that was not what I was glad for.
It was something else, I could not pinpoint what it was. I should be ecstatic and happy of my result and performance as I won my agegroup with around 30 minutes!
It was not until after the prize ceremony I realized what it was that seemed so strange.
It wasn’t a bad feeling for not performing on the run, or that the swim had been cancelled. It was not either a bad feeling at all. It was a feeling that I just hadn’t expected to feel – I was more ecstatic over the performance of Youghal and the community of Cork!
They were beating my performance by far!
The people, the volunteers, the organization, everyone I came across dealt with the conditions in a truly professional way! They smiled despite the harsh conditions, they cheered us on throughout the day in groups or all by themselves. They did it out in the middle of nowhere or together in masses at Windmill Hill. They were drinking bears outside the pubs and still urging us on throughout the day.
I have since read so many stories on the different groups on Facebook of families along the route offering their homes for freezing athletes, people standing in the rain during longest and wettest of days with nothing but good spirit to share to us that passed them by, competing for a slot in Kona or just to survive!
They were the ones outperforming me!
I am extremely happy with me winning my agegroup and qualifying for Kona – don’t get me wrong on that part – it is just that the people not competing that won IM Cork 2019!!!
“Well Done, Youghal!”