Everything about the Big Island of Hawai’i is dramatic. You step off the longest plane journey you’re ever likely to take into sweltering heat and humidity that is so strong it almost pushes you back into the plane.
To your right you can see the Pacific Ocean, which stretches for 5,000 miles before reaching land, while to your left the world’s largest freestanding mountain rises into the clouds. Behind you the Queen K Highway sears a path through the lava fields descending from Hualalai, an active volcano. Arriving in Hawai’i is a true assault on the senses.
The excitement around the event is immediately palpable. This is the only race in the world where volunteers meet athletes arriving at the airport, so you’re not left in any uncertainty that you’ve landed for ‘The Big Dance’. Driving through Kailua town, Ironman logos adorn every building and paraphernalia is on sale everywhere. It is inescapable: this is crunch time.
What is unusual about the Ironman World Championship is that professionals and age groupers (amateurs – at least supposedly!) alike race the same course at the same time. There aren’t many pinnacle events in mass participation sport where this is the case. This very much adds to the cauldron atmosphere in Kona as amateurs genuinely feel as though they are part of an actual Championship as opposed to an afterthought.
As an athlete on the island, it is hard not to get carried away by your surrounds. It’s not only amateurs, you see pros making rookie mistakes as well. This year, though, travelling with kids and family, I was blissfully distracted by other obligations. Having other things to take your mind off the race is very helpful as even the most self-assured of people can’t help but be affected by thousands of unbelievably toned triathletes preening on Digme Beach in the tightest fitting lycra available.
My race build-up was curtailed somewhat by a niggle I’d been carrying for several weeks. I’d managed to nurse myself through to the race, but my left leg had been giving me some trouble for a while. In a sense, this might have helped me keep a lid on my energy expenditure in the taper even though it was frustrating for me.
As a result of the injury and less than optimal preparation for the race, I was nervous how I was going to hold up. It’s almost impossible to put your feet up when you’re training for Ironman, have two young children and a new business. I was super excited to race, but I was anxious that my body wouldn't deliver what my mind wanted to achieve.
When the cannon goes on race morning though, all you can do in the moment is try to control the controllables. You are where you are physically, but the mental game in Ironman is just as important.
Aside from a puncture and the subsequent loss of six minutes and the physical limitations I had due to my injury, my race went really well. I’d avoided any real digestive issues all day, I’d paced myself well throughout the bike and run, I’d listened to my body when I was over-cooking it for small periods and backed off. I was three minutes from a PB despite the puncture and in harder conditions than my PB was set in at Kona 2010 (much windier bike this time). If you’d like to read more of the detail about my race, have a read of my full race report here.
I was very emotional towards the end of the marathon when I realised I’d be able to go under 10 hours. Although not quite a PB, this was my best ever Ironman performance after the toughest period of my adult life. I know I’m physically capable of more, but on the day with the preparation I’d had, that was the most I could give and that’s all I could reasonably hope for and expect.
I was so thankful as I’m really not sure how I’d have felt if I’d sacrificed as much as I did and the race had gone poorly. I’m truly indebted to my poor wife Caoimhe who made it happen – you’re my rock. I also owe a big thank-you to everyone else who helped me along the journey.
Special thanks to the family who travelled out to support, Martin Muldoon for being an amazing dude, Alan Couzens for getting an untalented unfit injured dog over the line and the Digme team for holding the company together whilst we were gallivanting. A deep apology to my friends for whom I’ve been invisible or absent over the past few months. Please don’t hate me.