By Mark Deely
I am now a Hardman.
Never thought I’d get to say that. Well I hoped I would but 10 days on it is a very satisfying thing to say. I found myself slipping it into conversation the whole time. In a funny way. My family are well used to me, I drop it into conversation much like the way I drop in my Masters and my recent reading of Ulysses.
Being grounded then comes easily.
I am 49 years old, in reasonably good shape, maintain a decent level of fitness and find it hard to sit still. I have always taken part in a variety of sports and would be fairly handy at most of them. Injury in the form of a torn ACL 12 years ago interrupted my soccer career which in all likelihood would be still my main sport. A few knees operations later and I had to come to the realisation that I better hang up my boots (update to follow!)
I started doing a bit of cycling to build up my muscles around my dodgy knee and realised I liked it. At the same time I took part in the inaugural Port Tunnel 10km Run in 2006/7. My hydration policy involved 10 gorgeous pints of Guinness the night before. My campadre that night and for many events was Brian “The Hud” Hudner.
As the years wore on we were to take part in many different events together and we were to continue our noble attitude to pre event hydration. In truth it gave us the perfect excuse not to take ourselves too seriously.
A tri club started in Tralee in 2009 and since that first meeting I have been a member.
Since then I have taken part in numerous Sprint, Olympic and Half Iron distance triathlons, a variety of Duathlons and 5km, 10km and Half Marathon distances and also a variety of cycling events including the Ring of Kerry 5 times and the Wicklow 200 twice.
Last year I took time off as my wife Dorothy was studying and we had the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert in the house and I felt I had a few niggles too.
Once the Summer was over I felt a desire to do something big and did a bit of research and decide that the Hardman covered all.
Rang Brian. Put it to him and straight away he said Yes. I am very lucky to have a best friend like Brian. He had completed an Ironman distance in the past but now had 3 young children. I knew it would be a great shared adventure.
I had 11 months to go and I was going to train properly and really do myself proud. How wrong was I?
I ticked along for the first few months having bought Don Fink’s book. He was all about long easy activity in Zone 2.
Life got in the way. Nothing major just ordinary life, weather, work, drink, travelling and sometimes a general lack of interest. It is a long lean in time so that was understandable.
I signed up for the weekly S&C classes in Nisus and really pushed myself in this. They came to a halt in early May and I promised I would do my own as I have should know myself at this stage. I didn’t continue in that vein but did a certain amount.
Early Friday morning swims with John Edwards were horrible as I hate pool swimming but I still did it. John was like a smiling killer because he is such a nice guy. He said I continually dropped my leading arm when breathing thus becoming less efficient in the water. He had in swim with a near catch-up stroke to counter that. I became more efficient but slower. For a while I went to the pool with my young daughter Siun and my wife Dorothy for an extra session. I would wear my flippers and swim long.
I maintained a decent amount of running all winter but struggled to get on the bike.
Most of my training was done solo as I knew the event itself would see me on my own so I needed to build up the experience of solo training.
Bought a watch and used it. The watch packed up in the Summer time and it was annoying so Dorothy very quickly organised another one online
Springtime saw the evenings get longer and it was easier to get out. At this stage I should have been out for long runs and cycles each weekend but….. It didn’t really happen in the way I wanted. I ran a few times a week and did some cycling.
Summer was a little the same.
The pool finished in May and I got out for a few open water swims.
I was starting to get really worried by this stage but life gets in the way.
A certain amount of my training involved intervals and I did a bit.
Holidays came and I thought I could kind of catch up but that never happened. It can be a very difficult time because you feel guilty if you are not around your family and vice versa.
So in total my training by the end had included;
Swim; I think I did 5 open swims from 350 metres up to 2km
Bike; I love cycling so I did a fair amount of hilly cycling. This for me is the best type of training. Longest cycles were 104km and 105 km. Both hilly.
Run; I maintained the long runs up to 18km and was doing some intervals.
Liam my Physical Therapist and friend gave me a few excruciating massages and after one I couldn’t train for a week.
They say to taper before an event. I took it to a ridiculous level.
My last swim was 5 weeks before the event. Splashing in a pool on holidays doesn’t count.
My last run was 5 weeks before the event. I didn’t run on holidays.
I did a lot of cycling on holidays and believed it would stand to me. It did.
Between travelling up and down France on holidays and getting the ferry and helping organise the yearly Golf Tournament on my parent’s Par 3 golf course in Wexford I did nothing for a week. Then I arrived back in Kerry 5 days before the event and did a 20km bike and 2 km run. Next day I did a 10 km run on the course in Killarney.
Except for the last 2 nights before the event I had been drinking every night for the previous 5 weeks. Not a huge amount but at least a half bottle of wine and sometimes some beer or more wine. Not sure if any coach would applaud this. My general nutrition was quite good. Sleep was always a problem and I was never a good sleeper. I had stopped reading Fink’s book.
As the event got nearer I was starting to panic and I was nearly delighted not to hear from Brian because that meant maybe he wasn’t training. To me it was like a game of chicken. Who would blink first and cancel. We spoke 5 days pre event and I kind of opened the door to cancelling. Thankfully Brian said that we would be fine. We would not be chasing times but we would finish. I had a lot of questions and he had a lot of answers. I came away nervous but reassured. I was doing it.
All year I had been coaching myself in my mental strength. I told myself that I was doing it. I loved reading about challenges and in the few days before it I watched lots of videos. The best were those from the Crossfit games. The athletes pushed themselves beyond pain. That was what I needed. I remember current Kerry GAA Head of Athletic Development Joe O’Connor saying during the S&C classes that we had to comfortable in our discomfort. I took that lesson on board.
The final build-up
Those last few days were both good and bad. I had plenty of rest as I was off work but I was also getting more nervous.
Brian dropped over to my house and we set off in the camper to Killarney. Once the real aspect of the adventure began then the nerves went. We were among the first to drop by for the race briefing. Most people were in their thirties and forties and generally lean.
Alan, the Hardman organiser himself was very relaxed and had a lovely way about him. In the campsite we had pasta courtesy of Brian’s wife Rosie, listened to 80’s electronic music and laughed a lot.
The whole system of bags, transitions and nutrition was complicated but whoever said life was easy.
We got a certain amount of sleep and woke up at 5.15 to espresso and porridge. They say humour breaks tension. Brian decided to put on chamois cream on his nether regions. Soon he was howling at a burning sensation. I couldn’t stop laughing and decided I would use my own cream.
Cycled down to the start and met my oldest son Aran who was there with his friend Will, whose sister was taking part in the swim as part of a relay team. It was lovely to meet him and he was a really positive influence that morning.
The lake was really calm or so it seemed.
We were to do 2 laps and each lap was 1.9km.
Myself and Brian wished each other the best of luck and we started.
I began and liked the fresh water. It was much better than salt water but not as buoyant.
In the build up to the swim I had been panicked at the idea of being disallowed from continuing at 2 hours 10 minutes. My swimming times had continually gotten slower as I used John’s stroke.
So I had it in my head that I needed to break an hour for the first lap.
I knew I was not swimming very fast as I was aware that few swimmers were around me.
As we moved through the lap it was good to be able to sight the buoys even though there were currents and some waves.
A safety kayak often told me to alter my course and he apologised for being so close. He freaked me out a little as I thought I might be in last place and I would not have been happy with that.
At the finish of the first lap I glanced at my watch and it said 1 hour 2 minutes. That meant I was slow and as I was going into unchartered territory with the distance and I hoped that I would not tire.
They say in open water swimming you should not kick as you don’t need to and you need to save your legs as you definitely NEED them later on.
However I did kick more.
The second lap was nicer to swim as I had a handle on the distances between the buoys.
At one stage I was swimming towards the sun which had just risen above the surrounding mountains. My outstretched fingers were reaching towards golden water. I was following the light. It was the nearest thing to spiritualism I encountered that day.
I had a look at my watch and realised that I was maintaining my consistency so I would be ok. I relaxed a little. The water had time had the viscosity of silk and it was beautiful. When you are sighting and turning to breathe the surrounding mountains are a joy to behold.
My second lap took the same time. I was very happy to finish as it was by far my longest swim.
Throughout the swim I concentrated on the swim itself but I was looking forward to the cycle. I love cycling and figured I could be quite well on it.
Hands reached down to help me out of the water. I was less dizzy than I thought and walked to the transition area. On sprint distances it is all about quick transitions. Here I was determined to take my time.
Aran met me and asked how I was. I told him that the swim was hard but that I was ok.
Off with the wetsuit, my tri suit was completely wet and I had to dry my feet in order to put on my socks. I made sure I put on the helmet, loaded myself with food and gels and my pump.
Bike 180 km
Onto the bike and the adventure began. As I started I had to put on the bracelet that Siun and Dorothy had bought me on holiday. I didn’t tell them I would wear it but I had it in my head that they would accompany me. I was trying to cycle and trying to tie that at the same time. Lucky not to crash.
Onto the main road and the Ring of Kerry anti clockwise. There are 3 major climbs and we were to get them out of the way earlier so that was good.
There was to be a cut-off point which was to be 10 hours 20. So I had it in my head that I had just over 8 hours on the bike. That would mean about 24 kph. I was to spend the whole day doing maths in my head.
I felt great starting off and was spinning very well and was ahead of schedule. However I was very aware that it was to be a very long day.
At times I began to think about the run. It was a marathon. I spent time talking to myself, telling myself not to think about it but instead to concentrate on spinning on the bike.
There’s isn’t much to say about the cycling except to say that it was tough. Uphill was hard and downhill was easy. The flat was ok but sometimes it felt like uphill. It is a challenging course because there are seldom long flat parts. You accept the hills and can cycle accordingly.
We had organised that some of our own food would be left for us in Waterville which was halfway at 90km.
My pain had kicked in before that. My hamstrings were sore, my back too and one knee was sore. I was paranoid about drinking enough and eating enough. Proper planning would mean adhering to a very strict timetable in both. I did my best and was happy that I was managing that quite well. Dorothy had made some food for me and I spaced it out for myself.
When I arrived in Waterville my bag was not there. I wasn’t happy. It is amazing how small things can annoy. I still had some food on me so I had to accept it and move on. I went for my first toilet stop of the day. It can be a barometer of how your body is so I was a bit concerned that I had waited so long.
Back onto the bike and I was ahead of schedule. However I was moving onto a longer distance than I had done about 4 years. Plus I had a marathon to do. Again I had to keep myself concentrating on the bike and leave the run.
I had painkillers with me but decided to leave them until the run.
During the bike I was aware that the serious people were way ahead. At the same time I passed a number of people early on. I made it my business to check in with them and ask how they were doing. After all we were all on an adventure and we all wanted to finish. I knew that most would not make the cut off times but often there is more learning in failure so each and every one to their own.
As I progressed I felt every ridge on the road as my tyres were pumped very hard. I was getting very sore. I could have pushed harder on the bike but then I might have struggled on the run.
Instead I pushed on at a consistent pace.
I continued to eat as I knew that it would be harder to eat big on the run.
As I neared transition I began to let panic in. The sheer scale of the run and the fact that I had never gone beyond half marathon distance meant that I was really going to have to push myself way beyond anything I had ever done.
This was a different place to the previous transition so arriving I struggled to get a grip on where everything was.
Went into a tent and organised my change into runners etc.
I had to run a marathon, yes a marathon. I have been in the park many times and I thought it was flat. That would be a huge help.
So I started the run, 3 laps of 8.7 miles. There were to be mile markers. I prefer to use km but what the hell.
I started the run course and realised that there were hills. The first half mile was uphill and my quads were very sore. There was nothing to do except grind it out, run through the pain and just focus on the mile markers and break the course into 3 laps.
I had it in my head that I would walk if I had to. There would be no failure in that. Many great people do it and many were to do it that day.
It helped that I had run earlier in the week on the course itself. Where I had run was flat so I was a little surprised to see hills. When tired a speed bump would count as a hill.
Before starting the run I knew I would need water and food stops but couldn’t get a grip on where they would be. In fact there were 2 stops which both doubled up so that there were to be plenty of stops.
First stop I had water and I threw water over my head in order to bring down core temperature.
I moved on through the lap stopping at each stop drinking water and coke and eating pieces of food. When you run through pain there is a certain state of consciousness that you are in. Stopping breaks that. I took long stops. Starting again brought a higher level of pain but this dissipated soon and normal pain resumed.
I just ran and ran. I learned how to focus on the mile markers and the lap and to forget about the overall distance. I wasn’t running a marathon but a lap which was broken down.
Halfway through the lap I met Brian coming against me in his unorthodox running style. He was half a lap ahead of me and we shared stories. It was great to meet him. Obviously we were both concerned for each other because there is always a risk of injury, sickness and being taken off the course. Neither wanted this for the other. We were in this together. We both moved on.
Back to transition for the end of lap 1. There was a lot of cheering and encouragement which really gives you a pep in your step.
Dorothy was there and came over to me as I had food and drink. I told her I was ok but was sore. Earlier I had taken a tablet.
She told me afterwards that I looked terrible at that stage. That’s the nature of the sport itself. Pain, looking deep into yourself and using mental strength to get through.
For this lap I knew where each mile marker was so it was a help. Again I used each stop for food and drink.
In the run up to the whole event I was really terrified that I would blow up (like Johnny Brownlee had recently and he was a pro) and have to be taken off the course. I did not want that to happen to me. I had invested a lot in taking part and would have been really disappointed in myself. So in a sense I had to manage myself and I made sure I took on lots of food and drink. The downside is potential stomach cramp, nausea and diarrhoea. It is all a balancing act.
I continued with the same routine.
Run, pain, mile marker, food and drink stop, extra pain starting again, continuing on.
I was at a food stop half way through. At this stage the people manning the stations are like personal friends as you talk to them. A young Japanese boy came up to them looking for some coke. I joined in on the crack and fun. Dorothy was on her bike and was passing by at the same time. When she saw I was laughing and having fun that I was ok.
She said that she met Brian and that he was walking. I hoped he was ok.
I ran on and Dorothy cycled beside me for about 2 miles. I was chatting but eventually decided I shouldn’t be so I stopped talking.
By this stage I was near the end of Lap 2. I had run a half marathon plus a bit more. How was I doing this? I began to question myself but still kept running.
Throughout the run I was looking at my watch doing the maths etc. There was to be a 16hours 30 mins cut-off point on the course and it would be dark too at that stage. I knew I would finish within the time even if I walked slowly. However I had a time in my head and I was determined to get in or around it. Dorothy told me what time it was and based on that I would have to run consistently, cut down on my stops and keep running. Coming into the end of lap 2 I figured I wouldn’t make that time. However…….
I came into transition for food and saw the race clock which gave me extra time. We hadn’t started on time. That was a little bit of a break.
Ok, I am one lap away from finishing which involves something like 8.7 miles still to go. That in itself is a long run, taken in isolation. I had done a massive amount already and was tired and sore but I was beginning to think ahead to the finish. I told myself to stop and resume my previous pattern.
On that lap I saw less and less people. That was hard but I had done a lot of running during the winter by myself on boring routes and that was done deliberately. I used this muscle memory and mental strength.
It was starting to get a little darker going through the forested part of the park. I had brought a very good head torch but didn’t bring it for the 3rd lap. Mistake. However when you know the terrain you can be quite sure about the surface on the ground.
I was getting through this.
Very sore and very tired.
I couldn’t really see my watch so I wasn’t sure how I was doing in terms of my finishing time. No matter how my running was I never walked and I was delighted with that.
3 miles to go and the mile markers seemed to be further apart. Despite this I was making my way through them.
1 and a half miles from the finish I saw a woman with the torch on her phone on. Dorothy.
She shone her torch and ran.
It was a huge help.
We spoke a bit but then just ran.
I told her to go on as I would be ok and I wanted to pick up the speed for what I believed would be a sprint finish and I wanted Dorothy to be there.
My idea of picking it up was a bit delusional or else Dorothy has really improved as a runner.
Joking aside we both picked it up.
We entered the finishing area. I heard the shout of “Runner”. I responded with “Finisher”. That felt good.
I picked up the speed, glanced at the clock which was showing 14 hours, 58 minutes. I was thrilled. I sped on round 2 bends through the line at 14:58:55 (later amended to 14:59:10 or so).
I let out a roar and was met by Alan. I told that it was hard. My little joke. I got my medal, moved on and accepted congratulations from Dorothy and Brian).
I was sore and tired but I was lucid and could have continued, or so I like to think.
It was extremely thrilling to have broken 15 hours.
In the 11 months leading up to it I sometimes allowed myself to think about a time. That was my time. I clearly didn’t do the proper training but still made it albeit by a whisker.
I had races reasonably conservatively in order to finish. And I did below my target time.
Dorothy got me food and drink. I put on clothes and we hung around for a while. My quads were sore but myself and Brian had to cycle back to the camper in the campsite. Dorothy dropped our stuff back.
We had more food and then opened the Czech lager I had in the fridge.
More 80’s music, more laughter, more tales of pain and another shared adventure.
That night steps became difficult and it was to remain so for a few days.
I am a Hardman
I have ferocious mental strength.
I can accomplish feats than most people cannot.
When I was training in Athletics I felt 400 metres was long and in soccer I hated jogging
Learn to manage my race nutrition in training
Don’t use cheap runners like I did.
Learn to swim better. Spend time in the pool.
Continue S&C by myself
Cut down on alcohol
Drink more water
Never do the Ironman distance again………….scratch that.
I want to do another.
If I do the Hardman I will train to finish between 13 hours and 13 30.
If I do an ironman on a flat course I will finish under 13 hours.
Having done one in my time with an unsuitable level of training I believe I can go on but next time I will use the services of Milocz as a coach.
I wrote this for myself in order to return to and learn from.
Delighted to have written this but I seemed quite negative in the build-up.
It sounds like I didn’t do much training. In fact I did. I trained for 11 months. Not always according to the plan but I was quite consistent.
It is obvious that I am now very fit and have great mental strength. The mind gives up before the body so if I minded the mind then I knew I would be ok.
I was very sore for a few days and felt the need to resume activities. I went cycling for fun which was lovely but I also started playing soccer again and I loved it.
Until the next challenge….
Mark Deely 2017