As 2016 drew to a close I think it was only natural to think about and reflect on the highs and lows of the year. For me 2016 was a pretty big year and sitting here now I find it hard to believe all that I achieved.
To understand why 2016 was such a big year for me I need to roll it back a small bit to June 2015 when after nearly two years of illness and inconsistent training I arrived back to Martin (Kirwan), my personal trainer, to start training again properly. After talking with Martin we decided the first goal was to get back training consistently and work on building up my strength and fitness. Over the course of the summer we focused on body conditioning and running. It was enjoyable getting back into training and seeing my body respond to the exercise. As always Martin completely tailored my programme to my needs and helped me stay focused and on track by setting short term goals and regularly reviewing my progress.
As the end of summer approached I was delighted with the progress I was making. I was feeling optimistic about my improvements and that optimism combined with some “gentle” encouragement at an end of season barbecue resulted in me signing up for the Paris Marathon in April 2016. I had never run longer than 13.1 miles so a full marathon was going to be an interesting challenge.
Any triathletes reading this will be familiar with the whispered conversations that start at the end of the season about next year’s Ironman plans. Normally I stay well out of these discussions and would only get involved to give Brian (Jacob) the go ahead for whatever race he was considering. This year though something was different, a quick thought of ‘I wonder’ turned into a ‘well maybe I could’ and eventually developed into a ‘sure why not’. The thoughts stayed with me and suddenly it was all I could think of. Eventually I found myself standing in Martin’s unit muttering and bumbling about maybe considering doing Ironman Barcelona and wondering what he would think. As anyone that trains with Martin knows, he will never say anything is impossible. He smiled and smirked and said quite simply that if I wanted it I would need to work hard for it but that there would be no reason why I couldn’t do it if that’s what I wanted. So home I went, pulled out the computer and credit card and wham five minutes later my bank account was significantly less well off and I was on the start list for Ironman Barcelona.
My goals for 2016 were now the Paris Marathon in April and Ironman Barcelona in October. As part of training for Barcelona I knew it would be good to do a 70.3 race. I’d never done a half Ironman before so I figured it’d be good to do at least one before I stood on the start line for Barcelona. So I continued on the spending spree and signed up for Ironman Dublin 70.3 in August.
So as 2016 began I had three major goals for the year: 1. finish the Paris marathon 2. finish Ironman 70.3 Dublin and 3. finish Ironman Barcelona. For the girl who had never swam more than 2 km, cycled more than 40 miles or run more than 13.1 miles, 2016 was shaping up to be a pretty big year. Every so often the gravity of what was ahead of me would hit me and I’d panic but I just had to remember what Martin said, take it one training session at a time and one event at a time.
So the weeks and months ticked by, training for Paris was going well and I was pleasantly surprised at how my body was holding up. I was really enjoying training and it was so satisfying seeing the miles build up week on week. I loved those crispy cold mornings running around the countryside before the rest of the world woke up. With each week of training completed I was feeling more and more comfortable and confident about Paris. It was hard to believe but I was actually looking forward to it. Soon enough it was the 3rd April and I was standing on the start line with nearly 50,000 other runners.
Paris Marathon 2016
It is hard to describe what it feels like standing on the start line, the atmosphere is truly electric. It is like you can sense all the energy and adrenaline just rearing to go. As the starting gun went off and we started down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées I can safely say it is a moment I will never forget.
The scenery, the crowds, the challenge that lay ahead it was just phenomenal. I knew that it was going to be a tough day but I was sure I was going to enjoy it as much as possible. It was an interesting day with some highs and lows. Running a marathon was never going to be easy but I did honestly enjoy it from start to finish. Rounding that last corner and seeing the Arc de Triomphe was an amazing sight. I will never forget that feeling of crossing the line and realising I had completed a marathon. Goal one – ticked.
Now that Paris was done it was time to focus on the next goal, Ironman Dublin 70.3. I had a lot of work to do on the bike and in the pool. There’s no point in saying anything else, building up distance on the bike and pool is not easy. There’s no magic trick or secret session that will prepare you. It is just slogging away week after week, spending a little longer in the saddle and pool every week. It is funny how starting out you are thinking how am I going to spend 2 hours in the saddle and then all of a sudden you are saying to yourself today isn’t too bad it is only 3 hours.
Dublin Half Ironman 2016
In the weeks leading up to Dublin it was great to see the training come together. Each week would build on the next and all of sudden I was up on the distances and feeling relaxed and comfortable. Before Dublin I was talking to Martin about the race and he reiterated how this race was a training session for Barcelona, an opportunity to put the three disciplines together and to gain race experience. The atmosphere up in Dublin was fantastic and terrifying at the same time. Race morning on the shuttle bus to Sandycove was a mix of emotions. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh, cry or vomit. The starting line is never an easy place for me, I don’t know why but I always get so nervous and begin to question every decision that led me to this place. But then the starting gun goes I’m in the water and I forget all those nerves and doubts. The swim in Dublin was lovely, I had a nice tall chimney stack to sight off of which for once meant I swam in a relatively straight line. I was really happy with how the swim went, I felt completely relaxed the whole time and was still feeling fresh getting out of the water. The bike in Dublin was advertised as a fast flat course, I’m not sure who came up with that description but I definitely don’t agree.
The bike for me seemed never ending and I was thrilled to reach the gates of Phoenix Park after what seemed like an eternity in the saddle. So two disciplines down and one to go, on to the run. The run was three loops around Phoenix Park. It wasn’t anything eventful just a nice flat loop. As this was primarily a training race the main aim was to get through it feeling strong and comfortable all the way to the finish and that’s what I did. I wasn’t fast but I did stay strong and steady all the way to the finish line. At the end of the third lap you are running knowing this time you can turn up the finishing chute. As I was coming in that last mile I almost needed to pinch myself to check it was real, I was about to finish my first half Ironman and I was feeling good and strong. Apologies to John for nearly taking his eye out as I threw my water belt to him but I wanted to get the good finish line photo ha ha! And then I was there, the finishing chute! It is very hard to describe how you feel going up that chute as there is such a mix of emotions from exhaustion, disbelief to sheer exhilaration. I couldn’t believe that I had just swum 1.9 km, cycled 90 km and run 21 km. Goal two – ticked.
Okay so now it was two down and one to go, just so happens that the one to go was Ironman Barcelona so it was a pretty big one left. One of the great things about doing Ironman 70.3 Dublin was that it was my focus all the way up to August 14th. I hadn’t really thought or worried about Ironman Barcelona. So waking up on August 15th was tough, first of all I felt like I’d been hit by a bus after the race the day before and second I realised that Barcelona was next.
Training for Dublin wasn’t a walk in the park but it had been okay and nothing too crazy distance or time wise. Taking the step up to Barcelona was bringing things to the next level. Sessions were steadily creeping up in hours and distance. Having Martin training me meant it took the worrying and puzzling out of training. I simply followed Martin’s sessions on Training Peaks; he had every day of the week planned out with every session individually tailored to my needs and abilities.
Anyone who has trained for a long distance event knows that having the right training partners make it all the easier. Thankfully there was a good group of athletes doing Barcelona in October. This meant there were plenty of people to share the training highs and lows with. I was lucky enough that Sandra and I were close enough matched that we could do a good bit of our training together. The stories, the laughs, the tears and singing ensured we both made it through those long days. I can honestly say that without a shadow of a doubt I would not have made it through some of those days without the people around me.
Those last few weeks before Barcelona passed in a blur. It is hard to put a positive spin on 7 hour bike sessions and that exhausting feeling when you start a 22 mile run the day after the 7 hour bike. There’s no point in saying those sessions are easy or enjoyable because they are not. But what was enjoyable was seeing how each week I was completing sessions that I would have never thought I’d be able for.
Ironman Barcelona 2016
It was like time was on fast forward and somehow before I knew it we were in Barcelona and registering, racking bikes and sorting transition bags. It was very surreal to go beyond the wire fence this year, normally I got coffee and waited outside the fence while the lads sorted their bikes and gear, but this year I was one of the athletes.
On Sunday October 2nd I woke up knowing I was facing into the biggest challenge of my life. To say I was nervous is an understatement, if I’m honest I was an emotional wreck. As I was standing on the beach with 2,500 people I couldn’t believe what I was about to attempt. All these doubts and fears were flying through my head, how could I have thought I’d be able for an Ironman. I was looking around at all the other athletes and all I could think was I really don’t belong here. A few deep breaths and some reassurance from Brian and I was feeling a bit better.
As Brian went off to his own starting pen I found Siobhán in my starting pen.
We stood together and she comforted me as the tears rolled down my face. I was trying to hold it together but I was struggling. The Gladiator theme tune in the background really wasn’t helping. Eventually after what seemed like a life time we were ready to go. The starting gun went and we were walking to the water. A last hug and words of support from Siobhán and we were off. I honestly enjoyed the swim. I knew I had done the training and just needed to stay relaxed and comfortable and get through the distance. The swim conditions were ideal. Sighting around the last buoy was surreal, you could hear the crowd cheering. I knew I was nearly there. The legs were wobbly getting out but quickly sorted themselves out as I trotted into transition.
Next up was the 180 km bike. Sandra and I had driven the lads around the bend discussing bike cut offs. We had worked out numerous different calculations of paces and times but the resounding message in my head was that I didn’t have time to hang around. I needed to get the head down and stay moving for the whole 180 km. I didn’t have time to waste so I got on the bike and off I went. The two loop bike course couldn’t have been nicer. I don’t like climbing or hills of any kind so the flatter profile suited me. It was great passing people on the bike route and seeing the friendly faces kept me going. It was great coming in on lap one as we got to soak up the energy and enthusiasm from the supporters and family members. Looking at the clock it seemed like things were going well, if everything stayed on track I wouldn’t have to worry about the bike cut off.
Coming in off the bike I was buzzing, I had made the cut off. I know Brian was blue in the face from telling me I’d be fine and I didn’t have to worry about the cut off but I was worried. I knew I needed everything to go right on the day and I couldn’t afford any delays or bad patches. So it was two down and just the run to go. The run was a three loop course with sections around the sea front in Calella and a large section along a lonely country road. The run wasn’t pretty and I definitely wasn’t fast but I enjoyed it. I knew based on the times that I was going to make it, I was on my own two feet and no matter how slowly I went once I kept putting one foot in front of the other I would make that finish line.
So 14 hours and 45 minutes after I started I crossed the finish line. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how I felt when I turned that final corner onto the finishing chute. For years I had watched and cheered the lads on as they came up the chute, I was the spectator and supporter but never the one on the carpet. I had wished and hoped that some day it would be me but I didn’t think it would ever be.
As I rounded that final corner I tried to take in what I was just about to achieve. During the long training sessions I had visualised this moment a thousand times, I had wondered what I would be thinking and how I would be feeling about completing the Ironman. If I’m completely honest none of that went through my head, I wasn’t reflecting on my journey or appreciating the enormity of the achievement, instead I was focused on the finish line and the fact that once I reached that line I could eventually stop and take off my shoe and find that stupid stone that had been bothering me for two hours. Goal three – ticked.
Reflecting back on it now it definitely took me a few days to come to terms with the whole event and to take it in. As I sit here now it seems like a life time ago. I can safely say that 2016 is year that I will never forget. I learned a lot of different lessons throughout the year but I can safely say the most important thing I take from this year is anything is possible if you want it enough.
There is no way I would have achieved any of my goals this year without Martin’s support or guidance. He was with me every step of the way. Martin’s two favourite sayings are “If you want it, work for it” and “Through dedication success will come”. These two phrases perfectly capture his attitude and approach to training. From working with Martin I’ve learned that absolutely anything is possible once you want it and work for it. He has shown me that there are no secret potions or secret workouts, the key to success is just consistency day in day out. Since training with Martin I have literally transformed my life, I’ve lost nearly five stone, halved by body fat, become a triathlete, a marathon runner and an Ironman. I will be forever indebted to him for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself and for showing me that anything is possible if you just work for it.
So as I sit here now with the end of 2016 only a few days away I am truly thankful for the year I’ve had and for the people who have been part of the journey. I learned this year that I can do whatever I put my mind to and that there are no limits to what I can achieve. Roll on 2017!
What an achievement Katie, well done from all here at sportswomen.ie. We hope 2017 is another great one for Katie !