If, by coincidence, you were to pass by you’d think this is the apocalypse of Ireland: thousands of people running around desperately with their heads down, hands in gloves, winter caps on their heads and having numerous futile attempts to keep their flapping ponchos down. Many athletes drop out.
If you happen to be Dutch you’d associate the spectacle with just a typical early January semi marathon. Known for its brutal storms and icy conditions, but that is just what we do in winter.
I’m still warm and feeling fine. The parachute jacket is starting to pay off. This is may be my day.
After 2km the first of eight 3-level climbs is to be taken. Somehow it helps to loosen my sore hips. At the top there is a cyclist of the organization joining me. It is always great to run with a race leaders cyclist alongside. It gives a little extra mental support. People scream: ‘Best of! Best of!’ and: ‘Well done! Well done!’. The first comment reminds me of music albums and the second makes me want to reply: ‘Done? Done? I’m sorry guys but I’m FAR from done yet!’, but it is very supportive anyway.
Compared to this morning’s roller-coaster ride where we needed to be a rally driver, -navigator and race motor all in one, the marathon is pretty simple:
1) Focus on execution. With my new coach we’ve worked on changing my technique to improve efficiency. I set the display of my Garmin at cadence.
2) The 2k game. Each 2 kilometer my watch will give a notification with the past split: I shall only compare my current 2km split with the previous one and try to optimize it (i.e. slow down if you’re overshooting, speed up if you’re going too slow). As an ex-rower I still measure all distances in rowing course lengths (2k), so this works perfectly for me.
3) Nutrition. Each lap take 2 Sanas gels from my own bag at special needs; consume one at each far end of the run course, drink 2 cups of water or coke every aid station.
So far the plan on paper. Now the implementation.
1) I wish I had such marathon mindset before. It is super relaxed to only think of your movement pattern. Unfortunately, my cadence and technique are totally off and in the reflection of the shop windows I notice I’m running electric boogie style again. This brutal bike course has some after effects. I don’t care; I’m continuously trying to improve my technique and keep running efficiently. Time flies.
2) The splits aren’t even close to what I had in mind. Luckily I’m flexible and realize that with these insane conditions this race isn’t about the fastest splits. It is about reaching the finish asap. Give what you have, and be satisfied, it is what it is.
3) The special needs department is like a well oiled machine*. During my first lap I make friends with the volunteers and each subsequent lap they recognize me, know exactly what I need and hand me my stuff. So it doesn’t cost me extra time to stop and search for my bag.
Although I’m much focused at myself, I feel a lot of love and energy from the spectators. I believe that if you’re good to people, people will be good to you. Especially during such race. So whenever suitable I give a smile to the people alongside the course. They give an applause and support in return. Especially Dorothy and Giacomo give me goose bumps. I start to feel great!
Then I see my sister who flew over from Singapore. The water from the rain puddles has soaked up from the bottom of her trousers all the way up to her underpants. She is wearing two rain coats but looks like a drowned cat anyway. “I do NOT understand how you like SUCH conditions!”
She screams. I smile. With each droplet pouring down on us I feel extra the support of Zeus and other gods helping me towards my first Ironman podium as a pro.
Some people mistake me for male and scream ‘You’re doing great, lad!”. Personally I don’t care, but the woman on the bike gets irritated by this and as a precaution she starts screaming: “Third woman! Third woman!’ to everyone.
“One of the leaders is in trouble! She is exhausted and started walking!”, someone screams at me. I’ve gotten into troubles myself during Ironmans multiple times and always found a way to get myself together. So I don’t assume I’ll move a place up. Just stick to the plan. First we’ll see who will reach the finish line, and then in which order.
But then it turns out I actually am at second position. Nice!
Every 5 kilometer the cyclist asks me how I’m doing. “Yup fine!” I say. At some points I feel horrible but I learned to never express your feelings of discomfort (edited by Gerard and my physio: during a race). It will only pull yourself further into the pain zone. From kilometer 7 to 17 I cannot feel my feet and ankles. They’re tingling and I cannot sense how I place my feet. It is tempting to tell my sister and mom about it, but I keep it for myself. They will see it anyway.
At the back and forth part, I see number three. She is approaching steadily. I time our difference: 80 seconds. She started 60 seconds later than me. So I’m only on a 20 seconds lead. Crap.
A little devil climbs onto my shoulder and says: “Hey Plowny. What about slowing down a bit? Wouldn’t that be relaxed? Number four is far behind, number three is a faster runner than you. So why don’t you let her take over. Third is also podium!”.
Luckily, a miniature me climbs onto the other shoulder. She has little wings and an aureole. She has trained an afwul lot and has a unrelenting facial expression: “How often did you commit social suicide the past year as you needed to train? How much sacrifices did you give? Didn’t you fly over here to explore the course? The weather cannot be more perfect for you! You’re already in pain, get a reward for it.”
The angel is way more convincing than the devil and so the last 12 kilometer I shift a gear up and run away from number three. My sister is positioned at 36km: “It is getting REALLY close Pleuni! If you keep this pace you will lose 2 minutes on her.” (The support office at home informed her about the stats). As I already came to that conclusion myself I scream back: “I KNOW, I’m already accelerating!”.
Now a motor with a cameraman for the live stream starts riding next to me. This means that Emma must have finished. Wow. She is fast! Amazingly great job from her! But FFS… Will 20.000 people see me running at the very last bit of my capacity? I’m in pain and there are three more hills to climb. Whatever, keep focusing on technique. And look at the bright side: how many times in your life will you experience this?
I decide not to look around anymore. If number three sees my suffer face and knows I’m worried about her, this will give her extra energy. Just run your socks off now!
39km. My quads are cramping. Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. Just get to that bloody finish. Not before kilometer 41 I actually believe I might get my first pro Ironman podium. Is this truly happening?!
As I nearly reach the finish I skip the hand claps and cheering. I consider making a belly slide finish but there is no time for jokes now. As I pass the line I first look back. Where is number three? Can someone tell me where she is? The interviewer starts talking to me, but I first need to know whether I’m second or third.
It feels like forever until I get an answer. But then: 2nd it is! Yay! I have to suppress some tears as I’m about to cry.
The microphone man asks me about the race. All I can think of is that I really wish the Irish will have a some positive exposure as the chances of such bad conditions again are about zero, and they did such a great job organizing this event. The audience and race setup has been amazing and they really deserve a place in the Ironman calendar the coming years. But above all: I’m so happy!
I have trained harder and sacrificed more than ever and this makes the reward for making it to the podium beyond what I expected. However, I also get very emotional thinking about previous events. Albeit a bit less, also then I gave all I had. But I unfortunately suffered a lot from heatstrokes. The bitterness after those events truly sucks. Not only do you really get a lot of negative responses from others, but you also need to cope with a huge disappointment for yourself. It is fantastic to finally get a reward for your hard work.
Most exciting for me is to finally hug my mum and of course my sister, who also had a heck of a day: “Today we explored the borders of how much fun it is to support you. This was the absolute minimum.” She is exhausted. She is fantastic. I am so blessed with her.
When number three finishes, 9 minutes later, we may mount the podium. There is no way I can climb 30 centimeters without using my arms. Let alone manage to get off the podium again. I also need to work on my champagne spray skills. But so far that was least of my worries.
I get my first doping test. It makes me feel like a genuine pro but it also ruins the second best moment of the day.
For those who made it to the final line of this way too long story: Does anyone know whether my course-explore buddies Keith and Ian have made it? I don’t know their surnames and it is impossible to find these names in the results page.
*Excuse me for my Dunglish.