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IM North Carolina – A redemption Race

America, the States, the land of the free, the good ‘ol US of A, always love travelling there. Not sure if it is the variety in the type of holidays available, the people or the food, as in, supersize me on everything….

This trip to North Carolina was all about redemption. After my disappointment of crashing out in Ironman Maastricht, I wanted another race to satisfy the Ironman itch. The date for this race gave me an 8/9 week training block as it took 4 weeks to return to full training after IM Maastricht and many thanks to Darren Kelly, 

I wasn’t expected to get back to the shape I was in but if I could get close I would have been happy. 3 of us made the journey, Paul, Donal and myself. Donal was an IM virgin but has completed plenty of adventure races and also Zell-am-Zee 70.3, twice. We arrived Tuesday the 18th, to race the following Saturday. We had a connecting flight in Boston and it was here we got some bad news via Facebook about the race….. due to Hurricane Mathew, the course distance was to be adjusted, just the bike section from 180km to ‘approx 80km’. We were gutted. Hours, days and months of training and now the bike was only approx 80km…. we really felt short changed and couldn’t understand why we could not do 2 of the loops instead of one… there is always a way. The communication from the Ironman committee of North Carolina was pretty poor. They led us to believe, just days before the race, that all was going to be ok with the roads etc. They lied. We fully appreciated the effect on the locals but considering the good roads we were on everyone felt a second full or partial loop could be added to increase the bike section of the race. Donal, undeterred had a plan up his sleeve and put it out on FB and twitter, and in conjunction with Jeremy, the Texan, they hatched a plan to do an additional 90km cycle post race to make up distance. The thoughts of it…. didn’t fill me with gusto but I thought I might do it too. It would all depend on how the race went.

The event was staged in Wilmington, an affluent costal area, in North Carolina, and it was stunning. Temps in the days leading up to the race were 28-30 deg with humidity in the high 80’s…. us Irish were melting…. and reviewing the weather hourly, hoping, no praying, for it to cool down.

We did the usual pre-race routine of training, scoped out the route, tested the swim, small cycle, little run etc. After an early night, the alarm sounded at 4.15am. Had a nervous breakfast and got a taxi to T1. Checked the bike, nutrition, fluids etc and then got the bus to the swim start. The transitions were a little disjointed with T1 and T2 being 10km away from each other. The swim took place on an inlet of the sea, water temp approx 23 deg, wetsuit legal. In fact, the water was warmer than the sand on the beach that morning….

We let Donal get some headspace so we all went our separate ways before the start. The swim was meant to be a self seeding swim. However, once the cannon went everyone just legged it into the sea…… oh well, it was going to be a washing machine start, great! Wasn’t too bad, after the first 2 buoys, we made a right turn and swam straight for approx 2km before a few more left/right turns. I swam comfortably hard but not as hard as I could, as I really wanted to push the bike a little harder due to it being only 90km (final day adjustment by the IM committee and some receding flood waters added a bit more distance). No drama in the swim, one kick to the face, that’s all. I exited in just over 54mins so was thrilled. It was a 2min run to T1 so stripped the wetsuit off and legged it. Got my bag and changed in the tent. I had to use the port a loo prior to the bike so lost a bit of time here. I pee a lot….. The bike course was not at all what was presented to us so we really had no idea of the length of sections, turns, road surface, elevation, etc. It ended up being about 60km with a side or headwind of approx 30km/hr and the remainder with a tailwind. I realised I would have to watch the watts carefully as pushing into the headwind was going to skew the numbers, well Oliver my coach from drilled it into me. After 20km I realised I was a little too high on my numbers so pulled back a bit. The bike was tough, that headwind was strong. We had one straight section of 25km right into it….. This is where I concentrated the most. I was religious in keeping to the numbers. When we turned, we had about 30km with a tailwind and it was on this leg I saw Paul going into the wind, and it was a great boost. He was motoring and close, so he must of had a good swim, (he did 1.02hr). I went as hard as I could here to maximise the tailwind and before I knew it I was in T2, bike time 2.31hr. We had bike-runners take our bikes….. and another long transition to the T2 tent. I had to go to the loo again. I had held it for 50km so I lost a good 2mins here. I just couldn’t stop peeing. On the flip side, I was hydrated.

I was looking forward to the run and wanted to run a 3.30hr marathon. I had trained for this so was realistic that this was possible. Just out of T2, we had a meandering run for 500m on boardwalk, and footpath before it went up a slight hill and then onto a long straight before heading into a park for an out and back loop, then repeat. I started running with a Colombian guy, Sebastian, Think skinny Pablo Escobar and you have his image.  After 6km, his pace was a little hot for me and I knew I needed to be patient, so let him go. I wanted to hold, 4.50-4.55km, he was at 4.40km.  The park was somewhat shaded which was nice and there were so many aid stations and huge encouragement along the way. The 70.3 was also on the same day but they started an hour after us. So for the first loop I was on running with those doing the IM distance only. Loop 2 was a little busier. I completed loop one in 1.42hr, slightly ahead of schedule but I felt good… I had another pee just at the start of the second loop, more lost time……. I was cursing my bladder at this stage!

As most IM distance athletes know, the second half of the marathon is where you discover the pain, & who & what you are made of…… for me this happened at approx 27km, my quads started to scream at me…. I was running in Brooks ST 5’s, on my fifth pair, love them, but they are minimal in the cushioning department. In training I had gone to 37km in these during the Wings for Life run in May so I already knew I was going to hurt in them over a marathon. My pace slowed a bit, yet I felt I was still running at the same pace as the first loop, but the watch does not lie. I have one rule in Ironman, if you need to walk, you can only do it through the aid stations. So I used the these pit stops to get in nutrition and let the legs rest a little. Just after the turnaround, I spotted my Colombian friend again and caught up with him. He was just as pleased to see me. We got into a rhythm and worked hard together, taking turns to lead, passing plenty along the way. We managed to get our pace back to the 5-5.05min km pace. We were both suffering but we knew we were going to dig this one out. Out of the park, you have a 3km drag before a twisting section on path and boardwalk. We agreed to run in together and worked hard all the way to the line. It was an amazing feeling finishing, one I have missed. We hugged like he was an old friend and thanked each other profusely… it really was a great experience to run so long with someone when hurting so much. I had passed Paul and Donal twice going the opposite direction and both were doing their thing, hurting in their own ways but enjoying the experience in a weird way. Run time was 3.31hr, overall time 7.09hrs. I got my medal, t-shirt, funky pj’s, yes, pj’s and headed off to the medical tent. I was really dizzy and also dry retching a bit. Some chicken broth and Gatorade later, all was good. It was here I met the female winner, Amy Farrell, who had her phone and told me of my position…… 5th in AG and 37th overall…… I had no idea as to where I was during the race. She said I was on the podium…. I was like huh???, apparently they give IM plaques down to 5th. Wahoo for me…..

I headed back to the finish after a while and within mins heard Mike Reilly call out Paul’s name….We were only chatting for about a minute when Donal romped home. Job completed, all in safely. Except, one of us wasn’t finished. After food and a massage, we collected the bikes and piled into the car to drive Donal back to the start where he proceeded to knock out another 90km. The Texan, Jeremy, joined him on lap 1 of 8 along Wrightsville beach and away the went…… nuts I tell you, nuts, but Donal and Jeremy seem to have a stubborn gene. They said they were going to do it and they did. Paul and myself just didn’t have any more energy in us for another 90km, so we went and had a well deserved shower, pizza and beer and then back out to collect Donal, who was in surprisingly good shape. After another hour we headed out for well deserved pints.

It’s weird, if I hadn’t finished 5th, I wouldn’t have questioned the race but within hours I was looking at my splits for lost time etc. I knew I wouldn’t get a Kona slot as there was only 2 for my AG. It actually did go to a roll down for the second spot ( 3rd guy took it), but the guy who came 4th was also there looking for one too. The top 5 in my AG finished within 19mins and I ended up 6mins away from that roll down spot. C’est la vie… I have no regrets, well, except one, I wish I had a bigger bladder, I did my absolute best on the day and left everything on the course and am chuffed with my time in all disciplines, except transitions which were shocking!!


Swim: 54.20

T1: 6.56

Bike (90km): 2.30.42

T2: 6.04

Run: 3.31.42


Total Time: 7.09:44

Place in AG 5th

Place overall: 37th




Wetsuit: ZeroD Neptune

Goggles: TYR Polarized Special Ops 2.0


Argon 18 E-119 Tri

Wheels: Front Zipp 808, Rear Zipp Disc Sub 9

Hydration System: Speedfill A2

Pedals: Powertap P1

Trisuit: ZeroD isuit – two piece

Garmin 520


Trainers: Brooks ST5

Trisuit: ZeroD isuit – two piece

Ironman Visor

Oakley Radar shades

Garmin 920XT