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Neil Cameron - Ironman!!

A special guest report from our chief coach on his Ironman experience, another superhuman walks among us!

What’s an Ironman you say? A 2.4 mile swim, a 112mile bike ride and a marathon. So you know at the start it’s going to be a long day and your preparation had better have been spot on.

Ironman Cork in Youghal in Ireland is a fairly new event. I booked a couple of years ago and it got cancelled, Covid came along, and I took the opportunity to put on a stone in weight, believing I suppose that I’d never end up actually doing it.

Anyway here’s the story. Firstly though I must thanks the incredible Irwins, Caroline and Patrick who as luck would have it, have a place in Cobh, just down the road from Youghal, and were kind enough to let me stay there with them over the race weekend. I wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for them.

It’s a tale of hills, jam sandwiches, a rollercoaster of emotion, and hosepipes.

Registration, bike racking and transition preparation are all completed on the Saturday. A great big car park in a field about 3K away with coaches running back and forth all weekend from the main site meant there was plenty of time and space to get your bearings. I got lost in town obviously, looking for registration, but made a fast walking friend who helped me out with that. It was a little odd sitting on a coach full of bikes, but hey, it seemed to work ok. Perhaps it’s the future of travel. I’m not quite sure how we would have got off in a hurry though.

A 3:30 alarm for a 6:10 am..ish start saw me grumpy and in a wetsuit watching some Irish dancers on stage to keep my mind occupied. It must have been odd for those girls, having the best part of a couple of thousand bemused athletes watching them at 6 in the morning.

Now I love a swim, and this was a good one for me. Frankly I smashed it. A single lap in the sea, flat conditions, except the last few hundred yards, and once the punching and kicking was over, a fairly clear run in. Out of the water and into the transition tent. So far so good. Wetsuit off, bike shoes and gloves on, sunglasses and helmet on and off we go out of the bike exit. Slick Neil, very slick. Only three or four other proper athletes overtook me in the first 100 yards, didn’t crash immediately, here we go baby!

5K in and my feeling of smugness evaporated like rain on lava. I’d forgotten my chamois cream. If you’re not a cyclist, this is a cream that you rub onto your fun bits, providing them with some lubrication and preventing chafing from the saddle. If you are a cyclist, you’ll know how I felt facing the next 110 miles wearing a lightly padded, salt water soaked tri-suit.

The first lap of two was fine, a nice aero position, overtook a few people, a bit hilly and hot on the second half, but ok really. Feeling positive, until I rounded the final corner and faced Windmill Hill for the first time. I mean FFS! Imagine the steepest hill you’ve ever seen. That’s the one. Huge crowds lining it either side. It’s not too long actually so if you have legs like tree trunks it is actually possible to ride up it in one go. I’m quite weak though, so I made it half way up. This pleased the crowd, who brilliantly didn’t care where you made it to as long as you had a go. So I pushed my bike most of the rest of the way and then hopped back on for the final bit. If I hadn’t stopped my heart would have exploded so I made the right choice I think.

On to the second lap then. My genitals were on fire by the way at this point, although I had cleverly sluiced out most of the salt at the aid stations. It says a lot about IM events that the sight of a man dousing his balls with cold water doesn’t even raise an eyebrow.

The second lap is where I got emotional and actually where I started to doubt if I could finish. Proper cyclists started to go past me in numbers. Then some rubbish ones too. I got overtaken at one point up a hill by a beautiful lady which didn’t bother me too much until I realised she was riding one handed eating a jam sandwich. Lovely smile, but oh how I hated her. I still do.

The bit where I manned up and accepted my fate of a slower more painful second half came as I looked up and saw Caroline taking photos of me as I rode past. I sobbed for a bit at that point. Somebody came to see me! I didn’t see Patrick, he was in the pub I think. Rightly so. A mile or so of blurry vision and I decided that actually I would finish, mentally screaming ‘F*** Y** World helped a little, although less than I thought it would... So I just ground it out.

Windmill Hill the second time? Only about a third of the way up.

Into Transition for the second time then. Thank god, it’s the perfect time to sort some cream for the Netherlands. I didn’t though. Dumb ass just changed shoes and ran back out again. I don’t know if there’s a cure for this kind of stupidity. Death maybe?

Anyway, most IMs have four lap marathons looping though the town centre. This can be great or awful depending on your state of mind. Every lap you complete you get a different coloured wristband. Getting the next wristband becomes an all consuming goal in life. It’s all that matters. Except... maybe visiting the Red Bull feed station which was also a very pleasant interlude.

It was hot and my marathon was shuffle slow. The support from the locals was amazing. Every other house had a hose out and I think we all had our favourite hose people. Mine was a guy next to the lady on TV from Supernanny who just didn’t mess around. If you tipped him a nod, you got soaked.

The start of the second lap was another low point. Fast guys were finishing now and you could see them running down the blue carpet before you turned right to start a whole other half marathon. The start of lap four though? Only 6 miles to go. Running through town was like sipping nectar from a flower, a glorious buzz, because how could I fail to finish now? Sure enough, I got to 1K out, did some some sums my head and realised that I might go sub 14 hours if I just went for it. That’s a completely arbitrary time, it means nothing, but me and my bleeding soft bits needed, and wanted, to do it.

So, I sprinted. Not an actual sprint obviously. I just increased my speed ever so slightly and stopped talking to other people.

20 yards out I hear the announcer say, ‘Here comes our last finisher under 14 hours...Neil Cameron, you are an Ironman!’ Oh my god I’d done it. Er no actually, 11 seconds over. Twat.

Never mind, I’d finished and so spent some well deserved time in the recovery tent drinking tea and eating pizza. Was my ordeal over? No, not really. We had an electrical storm of biblical proportions which soaked me to the skin not once but twice, although nothing could prevent me from getting back in time for what they hilariously call ‘last orders’ in Ireland. A few beers in the Rotting Donkey with Caroline and Pat made the end to a perfect day.

Thanks must go to my training partners over the last year. If you take on an event like this you’ll need them, as well as understanding other halves. Kirsty of course who’s done a ton of running, cycling and bickering with me. Also, my Colombian friend Malky who forced me out of bed for early morning swims and confusing anecdotes about drug deals gone wrong.

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