Halfway There (The Ireman Race Report)

Whoa, we’re half way there
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand and we’ll make it, I swear
Whoa, livin’ on a prayer

‘Livin’ on a Prayer’
Bon Jovi

So. That was tough.

The Ireman Triathlon took place yesterday (Sunday 27th September, 2015) up in Groomsport on the Ards Peninsula near Bangor, Co. Down.

Getting ready. Nothing like a big, empty table and a list for keeping on top of things.
Getting ready. Nothing like a big, empty table and a list for keeping on top of things.

I had registered for this event ages ago. The plan was always to do the half ironman towards the end of this year, and build up to the full ironman next year, so we’re halfway there, hence the appalling song choice at the outset. Unless, of course, you’re a big Bon Jovi fan, in which case…well, each to their own.

Preparations by way of training had gone well. Where we had come unstuck was with accommodation. My initial attempts to find a B&B had been unsuccessful, but one of the contacts had come back to us with a fantastic offer we simply couldn’t refuse: come and stay at my house, free of charge. It’s the sort of gesture that restores your faith in humanity.

We headed off from Leixlip around midday on Saturday, stopping off at a service station near Castlebellingham. It’s an impressive piece of work, and I wasn’t sure whether to buy petrol or go and wait in the departure lounge. We spotted a tri-bike on the back of a car outside, and it wasn’t hard to spot the owner inside. The gent was perusing the sandwich display when I started babbling about triathlons, and was he heading up north, to Groomsport, to do the Ireman. He looked a tad confused and for a brief second, I thought we were heading for one of those awkward moments. But it turned out he had just done a sprint tri that morning in Clogherhead and was heading home, back up north. His name was William, and we had a good chat about all things triathlon before we set out on our way for Belfast, Bangor and Groomsport. I guess the Ireman isn’t the only game in town this weekend!

“Registration time, McMurphy!”. The sailing clubhouse was the location for sign in.

The weather was looking good on the Saturday, so all we could do was register, find the house we were staying at, and hope for more of the same the next day.

Registration was quick and simple, but not before I had to run back to the car to get my photo ID. Ever since I stopped carrying a wallet around (the cards now sit in with the mobile phone), I never have any form of identification with me. Which is never usually a problem, until you have to register for a triathlon. I’m not a Triathlon Ireland member, so for me, it’s a matter of buying a one-day licence to race, for twenty quid. Membership is, I believe, 70 Euro a year, so if I did four events, it would be worth it. But I don’t, and it’s unlikely to happen.

Yes, that's me outside, just before registration.
Yes, that’s me outside, just before registration.

They were very kind at registration once they heard we had travelled up from Kildare, and in addition to the really tasty hoodie, they threw in a T shirt as well.

We took a wander around outside, and viewed the empty bike racks, transition area and beach were the swim was to take place.

It’s odd. I have been checking out the Ireman website for so many months, plus a few of the pictures from previous events, but it’s always a slightly strange feeling to be suddenly there, and taking in these vistas with your own eyes.

And of course, transition always looks rather odd, devoid of bikes, gear and people. The various signs for in and out make little sense until you see them on race day.

We took a few photos and rambled around, soaking up the sights and sounds. It was very much a case of the calm before the storm.

80 men, good and true...
80 men, good and true…

‘Some eighty men’ fished this area in the 19th Century, it said on an information sign near the beach. I wonder what they would have made of the 78 folk registered for the half-ironman? No doubt fishing half-deckers in the North Channel in those days was a tough business. A lot tougher than spinning along the coast on a carbon-frame bike worth a couple of thousand Euro, no doubt. The times, they are a changin’.

We found the house where we were staying and our host Avril was as charming as you could have hoped for. It was a risk to open up your home to two complete strangers, and she had made the offer to me over the phone after an email and one telephone conversation. I hope I can repay the favour one day.

I have never done a half ironman before, so I don’t have any traditional pre-race routines or odd foibles that must be attended to. Other than a mild panic en route to any event borne out of a belief that you have forgotten something critical and should stop the car RIGHT NOW and take everything out and check it all again. In this, I suspect I am not alone. And I had done my list several times, so had everything I really needed, plus more besides, and in many cases, two of everything, such as goggles, glasses, tri-suits, etc. But I did have a glass of red wine with our host that evening. Just to settle the nerves, you understand. Tomorrow promised to be a long day. And I had also promised myself a pint of Guinness if I made it ’round in one piece. But I wasn’t visualising that too much. Let’s not hex things before we’ve even started…

We took in the England v Wales game, and it was a cracker. Not for England, who managed to cough up the game in the last ten minutes or so. I blame the coach. It sets up the Australia game nicely in what was always going to be the Pool of Death. But I had other thoughts once the final whistle went, not least fretting over gear, and trying to get some sleep.

The hoodie top and T shirt are great.
The hoodie top and T shirt are great.

The hoodie top received at registration was cosy, and was worn down to the transition area the next morning, after a quick brekkie of porridge, toast and tea. A 500ml bottle of High5 energy drink was made up and sipped ’til it was all gone. The bike was racked up and the kit laid out.

It was hard not to notice the number of IronMan tattoos on display, and stickers on the sides of very fancy bikes from recent IM events. Whilst this was a smallish field, it was clearly populated with some serious talent.

I spotted one other steel frame bike, and at about the same time, the owner spotted mine. Perhaps there is a mild magnetic attraction at play? In any case, it was good see another old-stager out there. We chatted about how great steel is for a bit. I didn’t bump into him out on the course; I hope he finished okay.

Saoirse got chatting to a few people, and Ireland being such a tiny place, it turned out the lady’s name was Ruth and her husband Eamonn was doing the half as well, and they are living in Athy, and were part of the tri club there, so of course, had done numerous TriAthy events (my first triathlon was in Athy). And he knew several people from the fire service in the town as well, through the club.

Myself and Eamon.
Myself and Eamonn.

Once the bikes were all racked up and towels draped, it was into the tri-suit, after lots of Eurobutter in the nethers, and loads of Glide all over, then the wetsuit and a quick jog down to the beach. We were allowed a short warm-up in the sea before the off.

The swim was unusual. The course was straightforward and typical for a sea swim off the beach; a triangular route marked with two large yellow buoys. The water was quite cool but clear, and as you can see from the pictures, very calm. But in this instance, we had to leave the water and run around a marker on the beach before completing the second lap.

Leaving the water at the end of the first lap. My attempts to splash the onlookers were rather feeble...
Leaving the water at the end of the first lap. My attempts to splash the onlookers were rather feeble…

I couldn’t tell you if this was a relief or not. I certainly get the head staggers on a longish swim in open water, so perhaps this staved off the worst of it. It didn’t help with my sighting, though here I have to take the rap. I seemed to veer off course on the second leg; more so than the first. It will have added a few seconds but nonetheless I was surprised in T1 to find, when I put on my watch, that I was ahead of schedule, having allowed 40 minutes for the swim.

Leaving the water for the second time.
Leaving the water for the second time.

In any case, once done, it was onto the bike and off down south along the coast. I passed a gent with a puncture and asked if he was okay. All good was the reply, and I was so thankful not have a dreaded ‘mechanical’ on the bike that I dropped my 750ml bottle of energy drink onto the road. A quick double-back to retrieve it, and on my way again.

T1; getting out of wetsuit and into bike gear. Seemed to take an age!
T1; getting out of wetsuit and into bike gear. Seemed to take an age!

The route is really quite beautiful but alas, it was not a day for admiring scenery. We passed through Donaghadee then Millisle, Ballyhalbert and Portavogie, all the time time hugging the coastline. This meant a lovely fresh and cooling breeze, but also a headwind which meant average speeds were down. If memory serves, we turned inland at Cloughey on to the Portaferry Road. I hadn’t studied the map very well, nor the route, so this section seemed longer than expected. Plus, Portaferry was on the other side of the peninsula, so again, it was disconcerting to have the sea suddenly appear on the right hand-side having had it on the left for so long. But it makes sense of course, as this is where you would pick up the ferry to Strangford at the mouth of the Lough. (The mouth is narrow and it comes as no surprise to learn that there is a tidal power station operating here.)

Heading out of T1.
Heading out of T1.

The route then did a loop on a scenic trail around the southern end of the Ards Peninsula and at some remote gateway I stopped for a comfort break, which is a polite way of saying I had to piss, given the quantities of energy drink in the system. A quick whizz and an energy bar and bike into the saddle.

Somewhere along here, I caught the now familiar sound of a tri-bike ‘whoop-whooping’ along behind, just prior to being overtaken.

The rider seemed to be checking out my bike. All I caught as he passed was “…hmm… Mercian…” and then he was gone. I’ll take that as some mark of respect for Dear Old Bessie.

Once back off this loop, we were homeward bound at last. Now we had something of a tailwind, and it was most welcome. The average speeds picked up, and though in the main more cyclists had passed me than the other way around, I did catch one or two as we approached Groomsport and T2.

I was not feeling the love for the bike by that stage, and I recall making a rather rash statement (in my head) that I was looking forward to getting off the bike and on to the road at last. Careful what you wish for!

Back into transition and a rather smarter turnaround for the run, due partly to my current regime of wearing my runners on the bike with toe straps; something I plan to do away with shortly when I upgrade to clipless pedals.

I met Eamonn as we changed so we headed out together which turned out to be something of a lifesaver for me. The run route had promised to be quite scenic, but it was also quite a challenge. The first of these challenges came about not due to terrain but rather some unusual (and perhaps inadequate) signage. As we headed back out on the coast road along narrow paths with runners sharing this one small route, we reached a sign advising us of the turnaround point in 100 metres. Expecting marshals and maybe a water stop, we were somewhat bemused as we passed a traffic cone in the middle of the pavement, and we continued on. In the distance ahead was a lady who was going at a good clip. She too had missed the turn. I quick conflab, and we decided that this was indeed the turning point. There was nothing up ahead for some distance, and by any estimate, the cone was indeed about 100 metres from the sign.

We made our way back to Groomsport, and our pace was reasonable. Eamonn reckoned, by his watch, that we were doing a modest-enough pace for about a two and a quarter hours half marathon. He suggested I push on, but I’m glad I didn’t. I had ditched my pouch of gels in transition (partly because I just wanted rid of all that excess baggage from the ride, plus I was expecting plenty of water stops with enough goodies to keep me going). Without Eamonn’s stash of gels and drink, I may not have made it; certainly not in reasonable shape.

We were taken off the roads and pavements and through a caravan park near the sea, and onto fairly tricky coastal paths back to the transition area before yet even more challenging terrain towards Bangor (think ‘flat fell running’, as opposed to ‘falling flat running’, though there was a real possibility of the latter), including a few stretches on the beaches. The pain was starting to kick in here, and I was definitely flagging. With about 3kms to go, we hit our last water stop outside Bangor, and Eamonn pushed on ahead while I soaked my head and took on some more water.


I could tell by my own watch that I wasn’t going to break the six hour barrier but it was going to be close. In the end, I crossed the line in 6.01:27, though I didn’t realise it at the time. Not that it mattered hugely. It felt good just to run hard for the last hundred, and then get a serious physio rub down in the nearby tents.

The gear was gathered up and the bike wheeled back to the car, as we still had some serious business to attend to: Ireland v Romania in the Rugby World Cup. Getting back in time for the second-half was always an incentive!

Plus there was the small matter of a pint of Guinness.

For the record, the lady who missed the turn-around on the run also missed a turn on the bike, so she ended up doing a lot of extra miles. She also passed us near Bangor, and broke the six hour mark regardless. By all accounts she was quite sanguine about it.

Ireland did the job as required, so that bodes well for the Italy game, and possibly the big showdown against France. It promises to be a cracker.

The stats show the swim was 31.58
T1 was 04.43
The bike was 3.14:29
T2 was 01.33
The run was 2.08:45

No messing about with the medals... cross the line, get your medal!
No messing about with the medals… cross the line, get your medal!

I was the 51st finisher out of 61. Not sure where the other 17 entrants went; some possibly didn’t start; others may have dropped out. Eamonn came in 47th and dipped under the six hour mark by 15 seconds!

I gather, from rumours overheard in the pub afterwards, that the swim route was not the full 1.9kms, and I can well believe it, as I was expecting the swim time to be more like 40 minutes. But that’s okay; I did a wee bit extra on the bike myself, having missed a turn on the outward leg, causing me to double-back and lose a minute or so, plus the run route caused us some head scratching!

Overall though, very minor gripes in what was a great day out, with great local support in a very welcoming town. And a very special shout out to Avril, Ethan and Cristian. Catch you guys again sometime!

Not to mention Eamonn and Ruth. Eamonn, your generosity got me over the line.

And Hardman entries are being accepted in a couple of days.

We’re halfway there!

Well-earned; both medal and pint.
Well-earned; both medal and pint.
Saoirse and I before the off.
Saoirse and I before the off.
Don't stare at the sun!
Don’t stare at the sun!

2 thoughts on “Halfway There (The Ireman Race Report)

  1. Excellent race report Declan. Brings back fond memories of a brilliant weekend. I really like the blog, I will defo be following your adventure towards legendary IRONMAN status in The Kingdom this summer. Keep up the good work (blog & training wise!!). We’ll catch up soon (in a ragged T2 somewhere) no doubt.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cheers Eamonn Without your support up north I fear I would still be up there, wandering around on a beach somewhere… best of luck with your endeavours this year. Send news!


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