Siobhan Kennedy Race Report Ironman Barcelona 2016

When Martin asked me to write a race report, I sighed a deep sigh, I am really not a race report type of person but, could I refuse?  Ironman Barcelona 2016?

What can I say, a great race, a great location, great company, a great support crew and great results.

My training for Ironman Barcelona had gone well, thanks to the coaching of Martin Kirwan, Focus on Fitness. I had suffered a couple of running injuries earlier in the year but once I got through the Paris marathon in April I had no major problems after that as my training plan ensured I incorporated functional movement, flexibility and stretching to keep injuries at bay along with trips to Robbie Lodge (Stoneyford) for dry needling and frequent trips to John Windle (WIT) for great massages.   I highly recommend both Robbie and John.

We arrived in Calella on Thursday evening Sept. 29th.  The Hotel and its location were perfect being just 400 m from transition. A lot of the Focus on Fitness gang stayed in the same hotel and the others weren’t too far away.  We met up with Norma, had a quick bite to eat and then back to bed for a much needed sleep after the traveling.  On Friday morning a group of us met at the beach swim start to test out the clear blue Mediterranean seas.   For those of you who know me, you will know swimming is not one of my strengths (I generously passed on that gift to Eoin!).

There was a significant swell and current in the water and I kept drifting way out of the direction I should have been swimming – not good and after the swim my anxiety levels started to rise and all I could think of was “how long am I going to be in the water on race day”!  Martin kept telling me to relax it would not be that bad on race morning (I was thinking “has he a crystal ball”) and when talking to Eoin on the phone I said “I don’t know what I’m going to do about the swim”, his response was “you just get in and swim”!

Later that afternoon Brian, Katie, Sandra, John, JP, Norma and I headed out for a quick spin to test the bikes and spin out the legs.  When we got back to the hotel, the lovely reception area was like a bike mechanics workshop, multi tools, w-d40, oil cloths etc. scattered around the floor and Martin in full bike mechanic mode making small adjustments to bits and pieces on our bikes but overall there were no major issues, Martin had serviced the bikes well in advance. Later that evening we all attended the pasta party.  There was a big gang of us plus all the supporters and there was great banter and craic which helped settle the nerves.

I did not sleep at all on Friday night and on Saturday morning I felt absolutely exhausted and wondering how I was ever going to do an Ironman the next day!  After breakfast (which Sandra Rellis kindly cooked for me) we all walked up to the race briefing. It was probably one of the best and most informative race briefings I have ever attended.  One key take away from the briefing was that they would make a decision on wetsuit/no wetsuit swim one hour before the race!!!  After lunch the girls all gathered in our hotel bedroom and Martin gave us a quick puncture repair demo (the lads are obviously well adept at fixing punctures), you might laugh but I actually write down the instructions and keep them in my saddle bag so at least I have a ‘manual’ to refer to if need be, but thankfully on the day no one had to put their puncture repair skills into action.   Martin and I then drove out to see some of the bike course.  I should have been keenly/eagerly looking out the window observing the course but I was so tired from lack of sleep the night before I could not keep my eyes open in the car.  Back to the hotel, collect the bike and bags, meet the rest of the gang and head to transition.

Reality starts to kick in then, this is it, this is Ironman Barcelona.   Transition was all very smooth and very well organised.  By the time that was all done it was time for food.  Martin & I and all the Jacob gang dined in a lovely little Italian restaurant where Brian, Katie and I filled up on the carbs.  Back to the hotel and hopefully some sleep.  Ann Hennebry dropped by our room to say goodnight. I was lying in bed and Ann sat on the bed while we both chatted about the next day (what else).

I fell asleep at about 10.30 pm.  When I woke I looked at the clock it was 11.22 pm, Oh God it was going to be a long night and so I tossed and turned and tossed and turned while I was….swimming….running and cycling until the alarm went off at 6.15 am.  It is amazing how the mind works when the adrenaline kicks in; I had no time to think about being tired on Sunday morning, this was race day.  Breakfast was my usual porridge and banana and I packed some bread & jam to have while hanging around before the swim.  I met the rest of the gang in reception.  The walk down to transition was fairly quiet, pre-race nerves were setting in.  It was very dark and easy to understand why the race doesn’t start until after 8 am.  As we entered transition there was an announcement, “it will be a non-wetsuit swim (long pause) for the Pro’s”, you could hear the sharp intake of breath from everyone quickly followed by a sigh of relief.  I packed my food, checked my bags and Brian Jacob (being the gentleman that he is) very kindly pumped the tyres and made sure my bike was ok.  Brian, being Brian got Ger Nolan to do a double check.

Time was moving on, the sun was starting to come up and the atmosphere was incredible, the music was blaring.  Martin was reassuring me about the sea and how calm it was and how the current was not as strong.  I wasn’t 100% convinced but the sea did look a hell of a lot better than on Friday. I was trying to get my head in tune with swimming and make mental notes / sightings of the buoys etc.  Eventually, I got the wetsuit on, last goodbyes, hugs, kisses, good luck wishes and with a slight tear in my eye off I went (Martin probably said “thank God she’s gone”) to stand in the 1.15 pen and look for Katie.

I was very anxious but Katie was probably worse (this was Katie’s first Ironman distance race). We both stood in a mixture of silence, tears, smiles, short sentences, words of reassurance, vows to never do this again and pure anxious faces & stomachs as we waited, waited and waited.  There was a power cut just as the Pro’s were starting and a 10 min delay!   Eventually it was our turn.  Katie and I hugged one last time and off we went.  The swim start was one of the best I have ever been involved in at Ironman with 6 swimmers being allowed into the water every 4 seconds.  My sighting was much better but I did still manage to go off course a little but other than that it was an enjoyable swim (imagine me calling an Ironman 3.8km swim enjoyable!).  As I exited the water I could see 1 hour 50 mins on the clock.  I didn’t wear my garmin for the swim and I had no clue as to how long after the Pro’s I had started so I didn’t know my swim time.  I got through transition, albeit slowly, I generally have great difficulty getting my wetsuit off and before I knew it I was out on to the bike.

The first 3 km (and last 3 km) were through narrow streets where you had to manoeuvre sharp turns and tri bars are not allowed.   The bike course is two laps and it is a fast course.  There were challenging sections (well I thought!), lots of roundabouts to manoeuvre and this year a new out and back section ‘Argentona’ was added in order to break up the 3,000 cyclists on the road and eliminate the possibility of drafting.  The Argentona section was a bit deceiving, there was a strong head wind and it was hard to know whether you were going uphill, downhill or on a straight section of the road.  I thought I was struggling and was convinced my breaks pads were rubbing but when I looked ahead of me, everyone seemed to be moving at a much slower pace and no one was down on the tri bars. Once you turned you had a tail wind again for about 10 miles.  The last 20 miles of the first lap there was a strong head wind and I thought “God if this wind gets stronger it will be a hard last 20 miles on the bike for the second lap” but I am not sure did the wind change ever so slightly or did I just not feel the last 20 miles as bad as I originally thought.  At the turnaround the atmosphere was electric, there were hundreds of people on either side of the road and it was a huge inspiration to see familiar faces.  I could the shouts of encouragement from everyone.  I could see Martin, Mick, Jennifer and Aisling frantically waving the Irish flag. It gave me great heart as I started out on lap two. I felt reasonably good on the bike (as good as you can be on a 180km cycle) and I kept strictly to the ‘numbers’ Martin had given me.  Lap two went as smoothly as lap one plus I was a little faster on lap two.  Finally I got back to transition and a huge sense of relief, I stayed upright!  I stopped my garmin and was very happy with my time of 5 hours 25 mins.  Through transition smoothly and out on to the run.

I started to run and after about 200m I thought (for some reason) “am I going the right direction” so I turned around and ran back to transition where I met a guy running towards me, I asked him “is this the start of the run course”, he looked at me as if I had two heads and almost shouted “yes turn around and keep running”, I promptly did just that!   The run course was 3 laps + a mile, just a marathon but more importantly it is really a 26.1 mile psychological battle as the mind really starts to take control of you and the race and it is all about you steering your mind in a positive direction, joyfully  counting down the miles, counting down the laps and knowing each step is bringing you closer to the red carpet.  This psychological battle really is Ironman.  Once you left transition you ran a mile and then started 3 full laps of a flat run course.  I had some stomach problems on the first lap and a few mandatory stops slowed me down.   Martin had warned me to keep the first 3 miles nice and steady and then settle into a pace.  The first 3 miles were a little fast and I kept telling myself to slow down but I wasn’t long about settling down into a slower pace (at that stage of the game settling into a slower pace, believe me, is not by choice).  The first two laps of the run were a very hot 25 deg. with very little shelter from the sun.  The mile stretch from transition to the turnaround was thronged with supporters and the Waterford gang were out in force and in full voice, it was brilliant.   On each lap you knew exactly where people were standing and you were just waiting to see and hear them, it was better than the gels I was taking!  Thank you so much to you all; Brian Jacob’s Mam, Dad, Susan and little Abbie, Rhona Hayden, her Mam, Dad and sister, Mark & John Devine, Jim & Valerie O’Brien, Grace O’Brien,  Ann Goggin, Katie’s Mam & Aunt, Mick, Jennifer & Aisling Hennebry, Dave McConnell & Stephen Butler’s crew,  Kate Nolan, Tarah, Pippa and Breen Williamson and last but by no means least the man and coach himself, Martin.  Seeing ye’re faces and hearing the shouts of encouragement was a massive support.  Apart from the few stops on the first lap the run went reasonably good for me, albeit I found it difficult to stick to the assigned numbers!  My heart rate was low but at that stage of the day tiredness is starting to kick in and as I said it is more a battle of the mind.  I was telling myself not to push the run any harder for fear of blowing up on the last lap, so I kept running at a reasonably comfortable pace (for me).  I had no clue of what finish time I was on for, I had no idea of my swim time, I knew the bike time and had some idea of my run but I had stopped and started the watch a few times (don’t ask :-)) and towards the end of the run doing the mental maths wasn’t on my agenda or within my brain power at that stage of the day but I did say to myself in the last mile if I get over the line in 11 and a half hours I will be well pleased.

Hitting the red carpet and hearing “You are an Ironman” is a pleasure and relief beyond words. When I crossed the finish line I turned to look up at the clock.   I could see my name and time and it had registered as 10 hours 53 mins and I thought “well that’s wrong” so I stood and waited to see my name flash again and 10.53.55 flashing opposite, I was thrilled. I made my way back to where I knew Martin was standing with Mick, Aisling & Jennifer, more hugs and kisses and congrats.  Martin told me I was second in my age group and I asked “what was my swim time”, I was delighted with 1.26 (a PB for me!!).  I was on the ‘I’m finished high’ and delighted to be able to encourage some of the other Focus on Fitness gang to the finish line.   Eventually we made our way to the finishing chute where the music was thumping and the atmosphere was electric.  We danced, sang and clapped all the finishers’ home right up to the last competitor who just narrowly missed the cut off time, such is the euphoria only Ironman can bring.  It was after midnight when we started to walk a now weary one mile back to transition, collect bike and bags, back to the hotel, shower and a short snooze.

The next morning at breakfast we met in drips and drabs, spirits were high.  Athletes were on a high, support crew were still buzzing from what was deemed a great day.   Martin was absolutely thrilled and enjoying a huge sense of relieve, all his athletes had crossed the line safely, 15 out of 15, 7 first time IM finishers in great times, 2 sub-10 hours and 1 podium place, a great achievement for any coach.  Ann Hennebry took control (as teachers do) and arranged for everyone to go to the awards ceremony plus we wanted to get a group photo.  It was great to meet up with everyone.   The awards ceremony was held in the same marquee as the pasta party and it was filled to capacity. I have to say it was a proud moment to hear them announce “representing Ireland Siobhan Kennedy” and hear the roars of the strong Waterford gang.  All that was left was the roll down for the Kona spot.  I wasn’t nervous,  I wasn’t anxious, to be honest I didn’t really know if I did or didn’t want the spot (I kept thinking of the fact it is a non-wetsuit swim).   We (Martin & I and strong words of encouragement/instruction from Eoin) agreed if I was offered the spot I would take it, but it wasn’t meant to be.  For a brief (very brief) moment I was slightly disappointed but I have to look at the positive, this time two years ago I was only 6 weeks after a significant bike accident which I suffered in Ironman Nice. The road to recovery was long, slow, extremely frustrating and a difficult time.  I couldn’t walk around the block on my own and didn’t work or drive for six months. A podium place in a time of 10hours 53mins plus a podium place in Ironman 70.3 Dublin is a lot to be thankful for and here’s to 2017 where I have the unique and very special opportunity to take part in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Tennessee with my son Eoin, a rare occasion for any mother and son!

I may be accused of being biased! but getting me back to a level of fitness where I could compete and this year win two podium places is all down to one person, Martin Kirwan – Focus on Fitness.   Yes, I had to do the hard work but I know I would have achieved none of it without the excellent coaching, guidance, support and above all patience of Martin.  “Thank you”


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Brian Jacob

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