Barry Hughes Race report - Abu Dhabi done.

 Barry in Abu Dhabi

I came up with the notion of doing this race when my brother Richard was home from Dubai over Christmas . Ricky was going to sort out flights and logistics , I just had to turn up and race....no problem, 100km in the desert?? , easy, sure it's pan flat, I read about it on t'internet. I said before that I like the look of the tristar 111 race format , all bike and and a sharp 10k at the end which would'nt be as bad when the legs get messy, oh and a bit of a swim before it. 
Any way as things worked , out a foot injury in early January put the brakes on my run training and I wasn't sure if I would be able to get back running in time for Abu Dhabi so I just let it go . Luckily enough a handful of physio sessions with Sean Keenan got me back on my feet by the end of February. Ricky called me soon after, " well, are ya comin or not?" . 
"Dunno Ricky , I 've no running done for 7 weeks, ". " well it's not like your gonna beat Alastair brown lee or anything, just get on the 'effin plane" . 

 

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Grace Kelly - Ironman Austria 2012

Photo: Grace Kelly - Ironman Austria 2012

July 1st 2012 – a day I will never forget as long as I live; my first Ironman distance event!
Lots of training, sacrifice and a ridiculous amount of money has gone into this day and the build up was nerve wracking, but I was feeling confident. I’ve done all the work, all I need now is for things to go right on the day and I can live off the glory of being an Ironman for ever more! 
In the week before we left for Klagenfurt, Austria, I was enjoying the taper and was all “bring it on”!! This did change slightly as we stepped off the plane in Klagenfurt on Thursday and I was wondering where the hot air was being blown from, only to discover this was the actual heat. Austria was experiencing a freak heat wave this week with temperatures average 37degrees…Ok, we have a few days to acclimatise…it’ll be fine!
Taking the bikes apart for the flight was quite a scary and daunting task, but thanks to Kevin and all his organising, DHL drove them over so we didn’t have the worry of Ryanair baggage handlers fecking them into the plane. We put them back together and there were no major hassles (a slightly buckled back wheel on my bike, but the bike mechanic kinda fixed it and said it would be fine for the race). 
A little spin in/out of town on Friday and I figured if I cycle fast enough during the race, I can generate a slight breeze! A very short run on Saturday to make sure my foot insoles were sitting right in my runners and to see what it was like to run in the heat. I had borrowed Andy’s sister’s Garmin watch (my 405 has crap battery that I knew would only last the cycle, so Alwyn has the same watch and I was planning on putting that on for the run). As I was running I realised there wasn’t a breath of air and looked down at the pace and thought, Alwyn must run with ‘mile pace’ which I thought I had already changed to ‘km pace’ – oh,… no, I’m just running that slow…hmm. Fingers crossed the weather might break tmrw…!

Race Briefing:
The announcer went through the usual blurb and threw in some very inspiring words to welcome all the “ironman virgins” to the family, -lots of whooping and hollering (I did have a tear in my eye..!). He also said that after the Austrians and UK entrants, Ireland had the biggest number of race entrants! Amazing for such a small country!
Then came the news we were all eager to hear, -there had been vicious rumours in the lead up that wetsuits might not be allowed due to the heat, so the guy (in bad taste in hindsight!) started off with:
“We drove our boat to the middle of the lake, we put an anchor on the thermometer and sent it several 100feet under the surface of the water to get a temperature reading…”, everyone was laughing, cheering and clapping thinking “ah, we’re safe!”, then he hands the mike to a second guy; “the official Ironman guidelines state that water temperature must be no higher than 24.5 degrees……we measured the temperature this morning and …”, he hands the mike to a third guy to drag it out, “the temperature of the water…is….(waiting for a drum roll that didn’t happen), …24.8” – gunk!
A small group of Americans started cheering, only to cop that everyone else was gasping!
Ok, we’ve trained all year in a pool with no wetsuits, a 3.8km lake swim can’t be much different! Bring it on…!

The rest of the day was spent putting in transition bags and bikes – thanks to the people who gave us the tip of putting some tape on the bag, made it much easier to see on the day! Had our dinner nice and early at 4pm; a delicious bowl of dry spaghetti and a breast of chicken – the waiter is looking at us yet!
Andy’s parents arrived and we spent the evening with themselves, Stephen Byrne and his girlfriend Lorraine and sorted our food out for the bike bag in the morning, cleverly leaving it in the hotel fridge overnight so the powerbars wouldn’t be complete mush on the day. Lashed on a layer of P20 suncream before bed at 9ish. Slept ok considering…!

Race Day:
Up at 4am and down for breakfast, a bowl of porridge (your only man!) with some honey in it, and half a bread roll.
Headed over to transition (about a 20min walk) with all in tow, -until we got there and realised we’d left the bloody powerbars and other bike food in the fridge!! I jogged back to the hotel – a nice warm up run…!
With transition set up, we met Andy’s folks, all decked out in their Irish finery (the Euro soccer tat got a second wearing!) and headed to the swim start. 
I’d had to buy a tri top to wear in the swim the day before and had barely tried it on as I was so sweaty in the shop, never mind swam in it yet, -nothing new on race day!?
There were 2600 people standing on the beach looking nervous – amazing sight!! Music was blaring, atmosphere was great! The lake itself was beautiful, crystal clear and calm and the 3rd buoy where we would turn left was far off in the distance.

The Swim
Andy headed off with Kevin to get themselves in a good spot. I was planning on going middle of the pack initially (thanks for the vote of confidence Jack!) and follow Mark Waters’ advice to go hard for the first 200m to get in a good position before settling in. But with the no wetsuit thing, I just decided that the day was going to be long enough and to take it easy and get used to it first, so Stephen and myself stayed to the very right of everyone and quite calmly entered the water chatting about how amazing this whole thing was and lapping up the atmosphere; “Are you right Stephen?”, “Ah yeah, sure lets give it a lash!”
It did take a bit of getting used to as during our practice swims the 2 previous days, I was used to my legs floating in the wetsuit but without, it took an extra bit of effort to keep them up! I also realised about 100m in that I had no buoyancy at all and there was no pool wall/rope to cling onto if I did need a break. I had a bit of a panic attack at this point, couldn’t breathe properly, but after about 2 minutes of gasping and trying to breathe, it was a case of “grace, this is going to be a damn long swim if this is going to be the carry on!”, so I thought “what would mark waters do in this situation? He would just swim” so I calmed down and did just that!
Once I got into it, the swim was really enjoyable, I looked to my left and saw stephen’s white top beside me for a while which was cool. Where we were was quite sparse in terms of people, so I drafted off a few bodies on the way out and then popped up a few times to see if they were going the right way or if there was anyone else I could draft off instead. My swim hat kept popping off my head and while I thought I had my hair tied tightly, it was soon annoyingly flapping around my face!
After the first turn, I had no real idea where we were supposed to be going, I had overheard Kevin and Andy talking about sighting off a house with a pointy roof or something, but I obviously hadn’t been listening properly…so just followed the feet ahead, then we turned for the last buoy in the lake and were heading for the canal. The sun was in our eyes at this point and it was amazing to see all the hats and arms ahead in the sun! Again, I had no idea where we were aiming for, it was way too sunny and blinding to keep your head up for any length of time and the canal mouth was tiny, so just follow the feet in front!
The canal was quite narrow and shallow, and a bit grubby (someone later told us that a swimmer stood up at one point, toddled over to the side and pulled down his jocks to go to the loo in the water, nice!), but it wasn’t as packed as I thought it would be and was delighted we were nearing the end of the swim!
There were volunteers helping us out of the water and as I ran along the carpet to transition I heard Alan’s Sinead shouting after me and gave her a big wave – delighted with myself!
T1 went without a hitch, found my bag (with race number 143, it was nicely on the first rack), realised I was still covered in canal grime and towelled down, got the rest of my stuff on (in hindsight, might have been good to have a checklist stuck on transition bag to make sure I’d done all I planned as I did find myself staring vaguely into the bag for a minute thinking “now, what else do I need?”)

The Cycle:
Gave my bag to a volunteer while leaving the tent and found my bike, and away with me out of T1. We turned right onto the main road to cycle about approx 300m up to a turnaround where the crowd were standing and cheering and a guy with a microphone was sounding very excited; “Here come this year’s Ironmen from their swim, supa!! Hop! Hop! Ho-..oooooh, we have a lady down, she has fallen from the bike!”.
At this point, I realised it was me he was talking about and heard the “oooooooooh” from the crowd.
I don’t know what I was doing, foostering with my Garmin or staring blankly ahead of me, but the corner was there before I knew it, I was on the inside of a bunch of cyclists and my crap bike handling skills together with my dislike of being in close proximity to other cyclists probably just lead me to keeling over! I got up, took a bow (it seemed like the most appropriate thing to do at the time..!) and got back on the bike, - morto.
I pedalled on and realised my left brake was knocked inward, and thought, “right if that’s all that goes wrong today, I’l take it! …but what’s going on with my front wheel? Oh no, please don’t let the front wheel be buckled!!”. Slight panic of ‘race over’, until I slowed up and copped it was just a puncture! I had got out of sight of microphone man and most of the crowd, so pulled in to the side and thought back to Nicola and I changing her puncture in Kenmare during tour tailteann in March…and trying to get Youtube on our phones to give us a clue where to start! ;) I have never punctured in a race or during a training spin before, but today was going to be a day of firsts! A crowd had gathered around me at this point (no pressure!) and I have to say, I was working pretty quickly through it (bit of an outer body experience here…weird!). A lovely Italian man offered me the track pump he was carrying, I did have 2 gas canisters with me, but given my luck 500m into a 180km cycle, I thought I’d better hold onto the canisters and get outside assistance! 
Ok, puncture fixed and gave the Italian man a hug before I left. His wife wanted to clean the blood from my left knee with her tissues, but I thought it made me look a little more hardcore, she didn’t get a hug for her time wasting! 
Cycling again, all feeling fine, pulled the brake round the right way and suddenly realised I was cycling on the left side of the road among a load of cyclists while there were loads of other cyclists coming against me on the right side of the road, -all I could think was “shit!!! Isn’t it the opposite to home?! I’m supposed to be on the right side of the road!! In my eagerness to get back on the bike, I’ve gone into the wrong lane and now I’m in the middle of the leaders coming back or ..some other group –what the fup is going on here!?” until I saw that we were cycling up to another turnaround…!
It’s amazing how your mind starts doubting what you’re doing, obviously the course of an “Ironman” is going to be well laid out and you can’t accidentally end up doing something daft, unless you do it in Wexford…! (that and the leaders were about 2 hours away from any turnaround!). 
That panic over and I made it around the turnaround upright, things were looking up. I started getting it together and thought, “right, 90rpm cadence, heart rate in low zone 2”, had a look at the bike computer and noticed it wasn’t picking up anything, sensor must have been knocked out during my earlier calamity, so I stopped again and tried to fix it…no joy. Ok, I’m just going to have to wing this 180km cycle…!
Phil Collins’ “Jesus he knows me” is (sadly) my 90+rpm song so Phil accompanied me for most of the cycle to keep the legs going to the beat! (it’s a pity I never really listened to the words though, it was a long cycle with me humming and mumbling through the verses!)
The cycle was amazing! Such a lovely spin and my eyes did well up a few times (thank God for the sunglasses!), people cheering you on and looking for high 5’s (I stopped doing this after a big man nearly knocked me off the bike..), going up the hills to the music and the people shouting “hop hop hop, supa, bravo” was class!!
Note to anyone doing this race next year, Kevin swore it was [quote] “flat as a pancake” . He lied. It was nicely rolling, but because the road surface was so amazing, you didn’t really feel it! There were 3 “big climbs” but they weren’t big in comparison to Irish climbs. The worst one was the last one as it has 3 short efforts with a fairly flat bit after each, so the only thing that makes it the “worst climb”, is that you think you have it done til you realise you’ve 2 more bits to do. I enjoyed it the first time, the second lap, I cramped (strangely in the inside of my thigh - ?adductor muscle?) but I think this was definitely due to heat as opposed to the climb!
Nutrition was going well, I was getting food and drink into me. I had planned to take on a bottle of isomax every 2-3 aid stations, but with the heat, I had a bottle finished every 20km, and was gasping for the next one. The aid stations were well stocked for the most part (no isomax at one of them on the second lap, but I had a container of it in my back pocket and some electrolyte tablets, so just took the water there). Each aid station had 5 tables well spread out, 1st was water, then banana, then powerbar, 4th was powerbar isomax drink and finally more water. My bars were sitting fine in my tummy and while they were slowly turning to mush, I was still able to lick them off the greaseproof paper I had stuck them to the night before. I had some fig rolls and wine gums for a bit of variety too. 
When I cramped going up the 3rd climb on the 2nd lap, I was trying to think what the best course of action was, I had an emergency vile of magnesium in my race belt, or I could throw an extra electrolyte tablet into my drink and hope this helps. My innate hoard-y nature was telling me to “save the magnesium” for when I properly cramped, but the sensible part of my brain was saying “you still have a marathon to do and it is hitting 40 degrees”, so I took the magnesium and the electrolyte tablet and hoped there would be something around later for when the cramps properly started coming thick and fast!
I had been practising my descents and cornering a bit and feeling a lot more confident (who knew that when people were telling me to “lean into the corner”, they didn’t actually mean lean into the corner, but lean your bike into the corner and lean your bodyweight the other way to keep you balanced! No wonder I always felt like I was going to collapse taking a turn!) but after the fall, I was being quite cautious on the descents and the windy roads, and there were a good few bends along the way!
Karen Robinson had passed me on the “big climb” 65km into the 1st lap with an “Alright chick!! This is f*cking class isn’t it!!” and it was great to see her! After a few words, she went off up the hill with some speed and was soon out of sight!
During the 2nd lap, I heard another shout of my name from the side of the road as we were going up one of the hills, it was Sinead and Nicola who had driven out and looked to be enjoying the sun! “Cycle a bit faster Grace!!” was the instruction, so I tried to while giving them a wave! Poor Nicola, I found out later, was in bits and hadn’t slept since the previous Wednesday with her cough, the doctor said she had some virus, but fair play, she was still shouting and cheering at us for the entire day!
I had been trying to “be conservative” on the 1st lap, and then push a little more on the 2nd lap, but to be honest, without the bike computer, I hadn’t really a clue what I was doing! So I got the shock of my life when at about 140km, I passed 2 people pulled up on the side of the road fixing a mechanical and it was only when I passed, I realised one of them was Karen. First thought was “what the hell am I doing anywhere near Karen Robinson on the cycle!?!”, second thought was “shit, I hope she’s ok!”, so I stopped and went back to see what the problem was and there was Karen, up to her elbows in bike oil helping a German Ironman virgin named Paul to fix his chain which had snapped. He had been standing on the side of the road when she passed and asked if he was ok, and he told her his tale, so she promptly hopped off the bike, rolled out her immense tool kit and started into the job. Paul got the low-down on an Irish superstar Ironman named Neil O’Brien and how he had thought a bunch of us women how to fix a chain in Kerry, (obviously Karen had been paying more attention than I….I helped by holding a bike…!). Karen’s army training obviously stood to her as everything was communicated clearly and calmly as herself and Paul got to a crucial “make or break” moment when they had one chance to fix the link or his chain was properly goosed: “Paul, I am going to hold here, you need to put that there and then after we push that, we will pull this, - are you ready?”. Meanwhile I stood there like a spare providing light entertainment and waving to the cyclists passing…only to see Stephen Byrne pedalling in our direction. First thought: “Stephen Byrne!? -Jesus Christ!, what the hell is Stephen Byrne doing behind me in the cycle!?, -I’ve guessed this all wrong and pushed too hard, I’ll be completely shattered for the run!!”, second thought, as Stephen cycled passed us and let out a strangely delirious “alright lads?”, was “..actually, in fairness to Stephen Byrne, I think Paul’s chain is in a better condition at the moment…”.
Several minutes later and the chain was fixed! Paul was almost on his knees to propose to Karen at this point, I have never seen a man so happy in his life! Karen replied with “don’t ever say us f*cking women don’t know a thing about bikes!!” as she wiped 2 big hand prints of bike oil into the arse of her bright red cycling shorts. What a legend! I nodded sheepishly in agreement, not having had a clue what they had been doing for the previous 10minutes with tools…but both myself and Paul vowed to learn how to fix a chain, and every other part of a bike first thing Monday morning…maybe Tuesday morning actually!
We all headed off together and after a few km of chatting, I remembered that I really should slow down and have something left in the legs for the run. Tearing along with Karen, while it was lovely to have the company, wasn’t going to do me any favours, so away with her and Paul! (I later saw Paul on the run with the biggest smile on his face!)
The last 30km was a lovely flat/downhill stretch, where I decided to go all out and devour the last of my isomax, electrolyte tablets and gels to give me some bit of energy and hydration for the run!
Into T2, and went into the changing tent, trying to decide whether it’d be worth using the extra bit of energy to walk the extra distance (about 20m) up to the women’s changing area for a bit of privacy, when I saw Stephen sitting on a bench, so I decided to join him. To say Stephen was in bits was a slight understatement, the Irish colouring was really doing him no favours in this heat and he was completely deliriously dehydrated. “Alright Grace! What’s the craic!”. He had this intermittent bemused look on his face and promptly started asking me if I had pissed during the cycle at all cos he hadn’t and this was worrying him a lot. As we had spent the previous few days discussing the consistency and colouring of all bodily outputs, this wasn’t out of the norm. It was just the fact that he repeated the question a few times gave me another clue that things weren’t quite right here. I lied and said I’d only pee’d once (to make him feel better?), but I had stopped at least twice. He initially had that horrible “I don’t know if I can do this” air about him. I was trying to decide what the best course of action was, -give him my dioralyte? get some first aid assistance? Run out and get some salt sticks?, when I was pooching in my transition bag at the same time and realised that the Garmin I had planned to use for the run was on “low battery” with 3% left. Andy’s sister has obviously got a lot more use running with her watch than I had with mine (I suppose she would being a Kinane!) but I’ve tried it and charged it since and her 405 battery seems to last no time compared to mine! My watch on the bike had only about 5% battery left too, so it was a case of now having to wing the marathon as well with no guidance about heart rate or pace! Stephen suddenly perked up and wanted to run out to his bike to give me his Garmin for the run, but I declined his offer thinking he had better conserve his energy!
After a few minutes of chatting, I had changed my clothes and suncream was on and I was ready to head off. Stephen was in his running gear too, had found a sachet of dioralyte in his own transition bag and was making himself comfortable. I was toying with the idea of trying the cruel to be kind technique; “On your feet soldier!!” as I thought if he made it to the first aid station, he could get more water, salt, gels etc into him, but Stephen was listening to his body which was screaming “Stay out of the heat!!” and was happy for me to leave him there for another bit to get his head together and get some fluids into him. This obviously worked a treat as I was so glad to see him later on the run course looking much stronger, much less delirious and with a big smile on his face!

The Run:
Out on the run, legs feeling ok initially, so with no watch I just toddled along at a nice easy pace and was planning on walking all the aid stations to get as much hydration on board as I could, as it was still ridiculously hot! Kevin passed me at lightning speed in the opposite direction and he was gone past by the time I copped who it was, I think he must have had 10km to go at this stage! I heard Nicola and Sinead cheering my name and they said Andy should be coming my way soon too, but soon after I saw them, the path divided so you couldn’t really see the runners coming the opposite way so I missed him. I did see his folks and gave them a big hug and told them to text my poor parents to let them know I was still ok! I was soon running stride for stride with an American lady beside me and we got chatting. This was her 5th ironman and she said she’d never done anything as hard in terms of the heat – strangely reassuring. The locals were spraying us down with hoses which was lovely while it lasted. And there were sponges of water being handed out, nice and cool too! At the aid stations, they had watermelon, apparently oranges which were well gone by the time I was going around, powerbar gels, bowls of salty party mix (pretzels and the like!) and then little sachets of salt that you could put in your coke/water/isomax drink. I was a little dubious about this at first remembering years ago, Dad giving me some strange salty concoction to gargle my throat with, I accidentally swallowed it and then vomited everywhere, so I was hoping I wouldn’t repeat this, but the salt went down ok! I had a stopwatch on so was trying to time how long each km was taking me, but this wasn’t proving too easy as I don’t think they had a marker at every km, and I was also trying to take a gel every 20mins, so I was just getting all confused with times etc and chatting with the American lady was a distraction too. We got separated at an aid station so I tottered on, legs feeling tired, but ok.
I was running through the park and was really enjoying the atmosphere. The amount of Irish support was great, and once they saw the “IRL” under the name, the Irish flags were waving and your name was being cheered the whole time. 
It was about 10-12km into the run, when I was obviously enjoying the atmosphere a little too much, waving at people and not looking where I was going that I managed to fall off the path. Yet again, I was down before I knew it – Jaysus!! I had been running on the left side of the path, had stood on the edge where the path meets the grass, but hadn’t noticed the drop between the grass and path until it was too late and I went over on my ankle. In my head, it was a spectacular flying tumble where I went head first and flipped onto my back as somehow the back of my t-shirt got absolutely destroyed. In reality, I probably just jelly legged into a heap on the ground. Yet again, I heard the crowd along the path go “oooooooooh” and I lay there thinking “ah for F*ck’s sake, not again!!”.
Two men picked me up and the crowd started cheering my name (I didn’t like the fact I was wearing my name on my race number at this point..!), so I went to hobble off in shame and realised that my right leg had completely froze into some sort of half bent/half straight position and I could not for the life of me move it! First thought: “Race over.”, second thought was “this feels kind of like a cramp that just needs to be stretched out”, at which point a lovely Irish girl came over to offer me a drink of coke and confirmed my second thought; “you need to walk that out or it will properly seize up on you!”. I tried to steal her bottle of coke, but she was obviously standing there with it for someone who was due to pass by and she gave me her water instead! I walked to the next aid station and noticed that my right knee was now gashed as well as the left one from earlier! At least I’m coming home with some war wounds! People were cheering as they saw me coming, but once I passed I heard an “oooooh” and realised my lovely white t-shirt was completely covered in grit and muck from the fall, so a man at the aid station washed down my back…! 
My left ankle was starting to swell and throb at this stage, so I decided “all bets are off here, I just have to make it to the finish alive and with all my limbs still attached, so I’m going to enjoy this last stretch… of 30km!”. I started ‘power walking’ and was giving it loads with the elbows when who did I see powering towards me but Alan Fitz, - “Alright Gracie!!” This guy should sell whatever formula he’s using, he did a 5 week training plan involving beer and pizza for Groomsport half ironman 2 years ago and then, with an additional 2 weeks of training, managed to pull off a brilliant ironman in 41 degree heat last Sunday! A 7 week Zero to Hero training plan involving Westlife and a 2 week taper – what a legend!! (Speaking of which, please look up his finisher’s photo on www.marathon-photos.com – priceless!!). He was looking strong and trotted past effortlessly! I was going between ‘power walking’ and a jog of sorts until my right hamstring started cramping (I think I was overusing the right leg to compensate for the left ankle, and it was very hot!), so I’d walk again til I felt a bit better and then jog for a while until the cramp came back. I got to the square of Klagenfurt and knew the turnaround had to be coming soon and saw another Irish supporter sitting waving 2 Irish flags and calling everyone’s name who went passed. I shouted something stupid at him -“Wahoo the Irish!!” or the like and he gave the flags a big wave in my direction.
On the way back off the first lap, I ended up meeting a girl who was beside me in transition, Alechia, who was now having serious stomach problems so it was again nice to have some company to distract from the swollen ankle and cramping hamstring! Back around the loop again and in the distance you could hear the announcer shouting “You Are an….” And the crowd shouting “ironman!!” and I couldn’t wait for it to be my turn! Andy had well finished his race at this stage, 38th fastest marathon of the day – I’m so proud of him!! In that heat! (my add-on to every sentence in the past week!) and with about 12km to go, I saw his Mam waving furiously and telling himself and the few others that I was coming. She gestured that I make an attempt to run, and to be honest, I didn’t even try! I stopped there for a few minutes to make sure Andy was compos mentis, and Andy’s mam noticed my knees so I filled them in on why it might take me a little longer to get to the finish than originally planned! On I went for the final ~10km, see ye in an hour…or two?!
I met Karen on the way out, she was looking fit, but her knee which she’d injured just before Tri an Mhi had packed in and her feet were full of blisters, so she was trying the walk/run approach too, but she had 3km to go and was in great form! Alan Fitz had passed me at this stage, so saw him on his way back and he was going strong!
I got to the square again, and saw the Irish supporter with his 2 flags still sitting there waving and cheering with great gusto! I had stopped to see what I’d have at the aid station buffet when he came over and says “right, I’m waiting for you, -you set the pace and I’l follow with the flags!”. I didn’t know what he meant, -waiting for me to chug my coke and salt mixture? “no, no, I’m fine, really!”, but he was having none of it and said he was leading me out on the run! With that, he took off and I followed (him in a shirt, jeans and non-running runners!) and waving the 2 Irish flags like a maniac! What could I do, but run along behind him and wave, like some celebrity getting an escort around the course! I thought he was bringing me to the turnaround and then going to sit back down when we got to where I’d met him first, but he kept running and I caught up and asked “eh, how far are you planning on going?” and he said he was going to finish the race with me! Turns out he had been sitting there all day cheering runners on (anybody I’ve mentioned him to since remembers the maniac in the square with the 2 flags!), he’d had 13 pints and was supposed to open his pub, the Claddagh bar which was just around the corner from the square about 3 hours prior to this! His name was Julian and he was living in Klagenfurt, had done this race 5 years previously, then promptly taken up drinking and smoking and not done a tap of exercise since then, so this evening was his first 5km run/jog in years! I later found out that he had proposed to his Austrian girlfriend (now wife) at the finish line of the race! I found out even later (the next day), that he had wanted to propose to the girlfriend in a suit, had told her he wanted to finish the race in a suit and got her to meet him with 500m to give him the suit (with Velcro seamed trousers cos he knew he wouldn’t be able to bend down to get his legs into them!). They ran the final 500m together down the finishers chute and at the end, he dropped to 1 knee and proposed! Not only that, but he was later in the “iron dome” having a few drinks and celebrating when he heard that there was a lady from Denmark on the course who had been told she wouldn’t make the cut off time of 16 hours 59 and would not finish the race. This lady was determined to finish, and told the race staff she’d be fine, she just really wanted to get to the end, whether it was before or after the cut off was irrelevant at this stage! At midnight, everything cleared out, the crowd left, the announcer finished, the clock was switched off but Julian went down, with his own Ironman finishers medal, in his suit, and pretended to be a race official there to present the lady with her medal! To this day, she still doesn’t know any the wiser, - what an angel!! And to make him even more special, he was the only person who would sell me cider the whole week we were there!! (Why do European’s only drink wine and beer!)
Anyway, back to the last stretch of the run, Julian wouldn’t let me speak, nor slow down, so he got me to the finish feeling like I had at least ‘run’ some of the marathon course! It was getting dark now, and we had met Stephen Byrne on his last stretch too who was now running and looking much stronger than in the T2 tent! He gave me a big sweaty hug and we both knew we were ironmen at this stage – happy out!
We only had about a km to go when we ran past Andy and his family sitting in the dark of the park cheering me on, I’m sure they were thinking “Thank God for that! She’s here eventually!” so they made a bee-line for the finish line as I had to jog around the perimeter of the park. Julian left me at the powerbar arch, handed me his 2 Irish flags and just said “milk this last 500m as much as you can, you’l never experience anything like it in your life again!”. I gave him the biggest hug and headed off for the finish line. I was waving the flags like a lunatic and hadn’t come to the corner yet when I heard the announcer shouting something like “have we any Irish here tonight!?” and the crowd roared. I came around the corner with a big ecstatic head on me and waved the flags like they’d never been waved before (Again, this was in my head. In reality, I probably had them held out by my sides pitifully!). He said something witty about my name (haven’t heard that joke before…!) and then as I approached the finish line said “Grace Kelly, I have something to tell you….” First thought: “Don’t tell me I’ve another bloody lap to do?”, then in a thick German accent he says “You…Are…An...Ironman!!!!” as I got to the finish line!
BEST FEELING EVER!!!! 
I kinda started crying then my leg cramped up and I nearly fell over, but managed not to fall this time! After getting my medal, I heard Andy shouting my name and could see a little hand poking through the railing behind a big banner. I met him at the end of the railing and gave him the hugest hug and felt like I was on top of the world! His parents soon found us and I got to ring home to talk briefly to my folks starting by screaming “I…Am…An…Ironman!!!”.
Stephen finished only a few minutes later and had also milked the finishers chute (again, great photos on www.marathon-photos.com).

Without a doubt the single best event I’ve ever done! Anyone thinking they might like to give Ironman a go should go for it, 100%! It is very different from any sprint, olympic or even half ironman event as the aim is to finish. People knew they had 17 hours to get this done and took advantage of that, there were guys flat out snoozing under trees on the bike and run and hats off to them for making this decision, rather than pushing on through, collapsing and not being able to finish.
Obviously you need to train with times and pace, and it’s good to have goals for what time you’d like to do the race in, -that helps to keep motivation up but I think, as triathletes, we fixate a bit too much on times and pace (of course I would say that when it took me over 14 hours to finish the thing!) and sometimes miss out on the race itself. 

I could look back on my first Ironman race and say it was a complete disaster from T1 onwards, but to be honest, apart from the 2 actual falls, I loved every minute of the day!! 

Huge congratulations to the 3D contingent who travelled over to Klagenfurt, Kevin and Andy played an absolute blinder – in that heat!! Did I mention that my ironman husband ran the 38th fastest marathon out of the1900 people who finished?! 

We have decided that Kevin is actually half Greek/Spanish as the heat took nothing out of him at all! Sub 10hours, in that heat, phenomenal!

Alan, how much are you charging for the 6 week couch-to-ironman training plan, I might need it for next year if I sign up again?! What a man!

Karen Robinson wins the race for me this year. Her attitude the whole way through was “get the ironman first timers to the finish line come hell or high water”, (me included) and if that meant stopping every 20minutes to help a damsel in distress or shout words of encouragement, she did it. Legend.

Stephen, what can I say! Cool, calm and collected in the whole lead up to the day and great company for the event itself! Cool, calm and collected was most certainly not how you physically looked in T2, however after talking to you for a few minutes, I knew there was no need to drag you to an aid station, you were going to finish and going to finish strong! 

Thanks Lorraine, Nicola, Sinead, Andy’s parents, Julian (my guardian angel), Louise (a random woman who just kept screaming my name all weekend, even in the pub on Monday night!) and all the other supporters along the way!
Thanks to my parents who have kept their mouths shut for the most part, even though they think we are actually insane! Their support has been fantastic!

Biggest thanks of course goes to Andy for putting up with me for the year with my moaning and whining about not being able to run early on in the year, not wanting to get up early for stupid cycles, worrying about niggles and what if’s! “What if I get a puncture?!”, “What if I don’t eat enough?!”, “What if my calf is fecked and I can’t run properly?!”…I never thought for a second “What if I fall?! …twice!”, but these things happen!

Best of luck to all those doing Ironman for the remainder of the season! Kiwana text me before the event to wish us luck and to say “enjoy the race!” and then followed it up wondering how this could be possible, but hey ‘everything is possible’!! :)

 

July 1st 2012 – a day I will never forget as long as I live; my first Ironman distance event!
Lots of training, sacrifice and a ridiculous amount of money has gone into this day and the build up was nerve wracking, but I was feeling confident. I’ve done all the work, all I need now is for things to go right on the day and I can live off the glory of being an Ironman for ever more! 

Read more: Grace Kelly - Ironman Austria 2012

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