The week leading up to the race mainly involved refreshing the Met Office app, BBC weather and the Irish Met Office website on a continuous loop. Unfortunately every time I hit refresh the weather forecast seemed to worsen!
David and I were both racing and Helen and Roger (David’s parents) came with us to support. We caught the ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare Friday afternoon in the glorious sunshine before driving the two hours to Youghal. It was a very easy journey. We had booked to stay in the Old Imperial Hotel and received the warmest of welcomes. The place was buzzing and we immediately spotted our race numbers in the window. In fact the whole town had an excited air about it.
On Saturday we headed to the race briefing and greeted with the news that due to the air and water temperature the swim would be shortened. We had predicted this in the week (thanks mainly to my weather app obsession) so we were not surprised. The question was how much shorter?
That afternoon a group of us from our club, West Coast Tri drove the bike route. It consists of two 56 mile loops. The first 20 miles or so seemed very technical along country roads, there was then a steady climb of about 10 miles with a descent in the middle before more technical back roads back to Youghal and Windmill hill. Personally I didn’t think it was as bad as the Ironman Wales course but the boys were concerned and predicted that because of the road conditions, weather forecast and the technical elements it would be just as hard as the Welsh course. I was not looking forward to it especially with the forecast.
When we arrived in Transition on race morning and looked out at the sea it was clear there would be no swim. The waves were crashing onto the shore and there were no buoys in the sea or swim start/exit signs on the beach. We still, however, had to change into our wetsuits (for the swim we knew would never happen) and wait in the wind and rain for a few hours before the decision to cancel the swim was finally announced. We were all by now very frustrated and very cold!
At 8am – after three hours of standing in the wind and rain I started the race. The roads were flooded – in places you couldn’t see what you were cycling through and the water streamed down the descents like rivers. My main priority was to get around safely without taking any risks.
Despite this, I quite enjoyed the bike, even in the most isolated of areas spectators cheered us on, absolutely soaked to the bone. As I cycled through Middleton the cheer from the crowd was so incredible I felt like I was winning the race!
My concentration face!
Windmill hill. Wow. I’ve never cycled anything like it. For those of you who have done Ironman Wales I can only compare it to if you stuck St Brides hill on the top of Wiseman’s hill with no break but made Wiseman’s hill even steeper. Apparently an ambulance stopped on the hill and it was so steep it couldn’t start again without a push from the spectators!
I completed the bike in 7 hours. Half an hour faster than my time in Ironman Wales in much worse conditions. I was really pleased with that as this was my target regardless of the weather. I was looking forward to the marathon. I was convinced I would run faster here than I did in Wales. I’d even told David that morning – we can’t swim, the bike will be slow due to the conditions but one thing we can do is run well! Oh the optimism!
When I arrived in the tent I helped the girl next to me remove her helmet before she did mine, our fingers not really working properly. I didn’t change my clothing, I took my cycling shorts and jersey off leaving my trisuit and arm warmers on. I did change my socks and it was nice to have dry feet.. for a minute! I don’t know if I should have put more layers on in hindsight. Maybe a dry running coat. Although it wouldn’t have been dry for long.
I started the run shivering and my teeth chattering. The first mile was particularly brutal along the unforgiving beach boardwalk with the rain and wind howling in my face but I soon warmed up and although my first mile was slower than planned I was on track from mile 2 onwards hitting consistent miles of 9.30-9.50 minute/miles for the first three of the four loops, about 17-18 of the 26.2 miles.
I was feeling good. Not only was I on for a Ironman marathon PB but a standalone marathon PB and I had no doubt that even with my pace starting to slow I would achieve this. It helped that Roger told me I was 6th in my age group. I convinced myself I was catching 5th. As I neared the end of the 3rd lap I saw David who had finished his race and high fived him. My spirits high. But oh, how quickly things change.
Before collecting band 3 ( you collect a band at the end of each loop) I stopped for the toilet. In this time, whilst on stop, I just got so cold, so so quickly. Putting my wet tri suit back on was absolutely horrible. I was shivering again. At the next feed station I saw they were handing out foil blankets and grabbed one. I had completely seized up. My hip flexor in particular was so painful, my right leg wouldn’t move forward.
I saw my friend and training partner, Bryanie, who was spectating and I broke down telling her that I couldn’t do it. Bryanie started to jog beside my shuffle. I could tell that she could have been walking and still able to keep up with me but she was “jogging” to try to make me feel better about my pace. Soon I was walking, in so much pain. I remembered I had painkillers in my pouch but I had to ask Bryanie to open the zip for me and get the capsules out of the packet as my fingers were numb. I watched my marathon PB slip away and I did not care one bit. Finishing would be a mission in itself.
Just after the turn around point I noticed an athlete next to me unzipping his coat – “take it” he said, “you need it more than me.” I gratefully took it. I have since learnt his name is JD Flynn of Kilkenny Tri Club. What a gentleman. He didn’t think I was going to finish, convinced I was heading for the first aid tent.
Back to town and Roger explained David’s chaffing was so bad he couldn’t walk and he’d gone back to the hotel. I knew he must have been bad to leave without seeing me finish. I asked Roger whether he’d removed his bike out of transition?! I wondered how I was going to convince Ironman to let me remove two bikes out of transition and how I was going to get all of the bikes and bags back to the hotel! You know you’ve been completely brainwashed by this triathlon malarky when my first thought wasn’t of David, but for his bike!
Back for my last band and along that horrible boardwalk for the fifth and final time. Bryanie left me at the top of the finish line. I couldn’t even run and slowly walked down to the red carpet wrapped in foil, looking down at the floor.
Next thing, who did I spot – David was behind the barrier shouting encouragement. “Des ti nôl!” (you came back!) I exclaimed as I hugged him and cried. “Go on you have to run” he said and I ran (shuffled) down the remainder of the red carpet waving my foil blanket behind me in a size large yellow raincoat that was almost down to my knees! Looking good for the camera was the last thing on my mind.
“Nia Davies you are an Ironman.” What a relief.
I finished Ironman Ireland in 12hours and 35minutes. A bike PB of 7hours 3minutes. My slowest ever marathon 5hours 22minutes. If I add my Ironman Wales swim and t1 time to my Ironman Ireland time this would have been a PB over Ironman distance of comfortably sub-14 hours. Despite walking the last lap I still finished 10th in my age category. Of the 2500 registered for the race only 1400 finished. Over 1000 people either decided not to start or failed to finish. 37% of the females who started the race did not finish. So I am really proud of my achievement that day despite walking the last lap. I remember watching Ironman Wales in 2017 (which had rain and strong winds on the bike) and knowing I would never be able to cycle in those conditions. Fast forward two years and it never crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to do it.
Helen and Roger were absolute troopers spectating, supporting and encouraging us all day in those conditions as were the rest of the WCT family of spectators. By the time we finished Roger’s lips were blue from the cold and they were both soaked to the bone.
I also have to thank Bryanie for keeping me going on that last lap. She missed seeing her dad, James and her partner, Rhys finish to stay with me and I am so grateful!
Also, David for coming back out to watch me finish (and help me get the bikes and bags from transition 😉) David finished 21st in the race, including the professionals, which is unbelievably impressive, despite the fact his run didn’t go to plan. He ran so well in training and put himself through so much in the weeks before I’m so disappointed for him that he wasn’t able to show us what he’s capable of but I know one day his Ironman is going to come together and I can’t wait to be at that finish line supporting him when that day comes.
I would recommend this Ironman to anyone who fancies a tough course. The bike is challenging, but not quite as much as Wales. The run is flat-ish(!) On a good day it’s a great place for an Ironman.
By far the best thing about this race has to be the people of Youghal. The support was absolutely incredible. I hope the weather is better next year, the people of Youghal definitely deserve this race to become a success!