Marcus XXXXXXXX – bib number XX1X – wasn’t very happy with me. His high-pitched and utterly blood-curdling scream frightened the daylights out of me as I zoomed down the other side of Lluc at 50kph. I went back through all the German insults in my old Victor and Warlord comics, as well as the angry words of an ex, and still couldn’t make out what he was saying.
I’ve a keen appreciation of Krautrock, and would have gladly shared it with him – even at the speed we were going, but Marcus wasn’t screeching platitudes about the last Kraftwerk album, and you can be sure that he understood every syllable that I fired back at him. I got the Lance Armstrong glare, and the verbal thunderbolts continued for another corner or so before Marcus packed up and sped off. Did I cost him 30 seconds or so of his finishing time? Maybe… maybe not. I was pumped, loving it and I veered out to overtake someone when one of Marcus’s compatriots gave me another gob full.
Two hours earlier I was standing on the starting line in Alcudia Bay with a couple of minutes to go before the starting gun of the Mallorca Ironman 70.3. The sun moved higher and higher into a cloudless sky and I was impervious to the crowd who had just finished singing “Happy Birthday” to someone called Simon. I was dreading it. In the middle of about 500 starters I stared ahead and focused on the first twenty strokes. The jostling for position went on for maybe the first ten minutes and the expected cuff across the cheekbone came after about five of them. It was easy to sight, with a large orange buoy every two hundred metres or so, as well as the strategically placed Sailfish caps below on the seabed. I exited the water on 35 minutes and jogged up the blue carpet into T1. I took my time, would have “smoked ‘em if I had ‘em,” used the loo, and finally hit out on the bike.
In the weeks leading up to the race I lost sleep worrying about the climb up Lluc. The profile looked dreadful, yet no one really spoke of it. I began to think that this was a form of omerta, designed not to scare the newbies away. I needn’t have worried; the gradient was no more than 7% in spots and averaged out at about 5.5%. The hill repeats on Howth, and the evenings around Naul worked a treat. The climb was stunning and, handbags at 50kph aside, coming down was even more fun. I’d have done it all again in a heartbeat.
The sun was blazing and my pasty paddy skin began to get a little redder. There was no more drama until about 55k when my chain dropped and what would usually take no more than 30 seconds to fix took 3 minutes. It didn’t hit my mood as I figured that it was a fortuitous breather that would pay off further on down the track. As I drew closer to 80k I began to feel weak and kilometre by kilometre it became apparent that my nutrition strategy, designed to avoid using gels on the bike was woefully inadequate.
I munched away on a banana and left T2 in a daze. I just about summoned up the energy to high five Joanne Murphy of Galway Tri Club before the first aid station. Four years ago during the 2010 Dublin Marathon, I hit the wall at around 17 miles but still managed to struggle home in 3:41- beating my previous time by over a minute. 13 miles out from the end of Mallorca 70.3 I felt even worse in the near 30 degree heat. I padded along thinking about people I knew who were, at that moment, less fortunate than I was, but it made no difference. I didn’t know how I was going to get home. I looked in envy at those wearing two armbands – signifying that they’d completed two of the 7k circuits – and wondered if I’d even get to wear one.
I thought of my earlier encounter with Marcus, and as I struggled away the motto of Kurt Hahn, the German educator and innovator came to mind. “Plus est en vous,” French for “There is more in you than you think” began to bounce around in my head and I started to repeat it. Words of course rarely make a difference but the mantra did help me struggle through to the aid station on 7k where, in my wisdom and sheer desperation, I finally decided to pop one of the three caffeine gels in my back packet. I washed it down with some coke, and set off again. Lo and behold I perked up as I moved down the blue beach-side path and finally began to feel that there was a ghost of chance that I could make it home. I kept on truckin’ in first gear – second and third were off the menu – and as I passed each landmark I told myself that I would only see them once more en route to the end.
I’ve never been happier to wear a pink bracelet in my life, and once the pretty volunteer in red slipped it on to my left arm I smiled. I hung a left on to the beach, smashed the bell, and heard Paul Kaye, the excellent South African MC, greet me by saying that “the whole of Ireland was going to go wild” when I crossed the line. He was of course being generous. I came home in 6:16:27 and didn’t really know how to feel about it. Will I do one again? Sure I will.
When you’re suffering in the middle of a race you realise very quickly that you’re on your own, and nobody else is going to carry you across the line. There were though many people who helped me in the previous months, and special mention goes to Piranhas John Wallnutt, Stephen Eustace and Leo Hughes. Your advice and encouragement is greatly appreciated lads and I hope you get what you deserve in Roth!