Race reports

Ironman Portugal 70.3 – 21 Oct 23

A race report by Steven Daly 

My plan to do a half iron distance triathlon began 4 years ago when I entered Ironman Cork in 2019. I completed Dun Laoghaire in 2016 and at that stage got the bug to do another one. The Cork race was subsequently postponed for 2 years due to COVID and then in 2022 I was all trained up and then contracted COVID the week of the race! Huge disappointment given I had trained all summer and planned to go with a few people in the club. So I got a deferral to 2023.

Off I journeyed the long road to Youghal in August 2023. I didn’t have as much training done but felt I had enough in the tank to get it done. Lots of nerves in the build-up and the night before due to the storm that settled over the South coast. It settled a lot the morning of the race but as I took the bus from the Park and Ride at 5:10am in the morning, we all got the email that the race was postponed by one day to the Sunday! This was pretty deflating after all the build up, prep and tension. I didn’t have accommodation booked for the Saturday night and although Cork TC members were working tirelessly to help people find accommodation, I didn’t feel like doing it all over again the next day. I didn’t like the look of the sea or the thoughts of so many extra bikes on the course with the full and the half running the same day. So I decided to pull out and initially thought I’d come back again in 2024.

Ironman offered me a deferral or I could go to any other race in Europe in 2023. So I came home and after speaking to a few members who went to Cascais in 2022, I was convinced to take my deferral for Cascais in October.I was delighted with my decision as the race had been hanging over me for a few years and I needed closure! I really increased my training load in the 7 weeks leading up to the race. Swim 3 times a week consistently, increased running distances and long bike at the weekend. If I couldn’t do a long cycle I did a shorter one with more hills like the Glen road! I also did some runs off the long bikes too.

Pre Race

I shipped my bike about 10 days before the race with a company called Team Truck. They picked it up at 8am from Sligo retail park. The guy told me he was bringing 58 bikes from Ireland so a large Irish contingent were going! The service from TeamTruck was excellent and I would highly recommend them.

When the time came, I felt in good condition and prepared for the race. Cascais is about 30 minutes from Lisbon and really lovely place. My wife Úna came to Portugal with me, and another member of STC-Ken Foley who I am friendly with was also doing the half distance race.

The day before the race was all about the prep. Registration, a small bit of merch purchase, and a swim in Cascais bay with Ken. The water was a nice temp and my swimming was good so no concerns. I got all my bags ready for transition and tried to relax. As you can imagine I had some nerves and some self doubt the night before. However, when I went to Youghal I saw a sign on the street that said “Smile-you’ve paid for this”! That was a good reminder to me to relax and enjoy something I had paid to do! Myself and Úna went for dinner around 7. I ate lots of Pasta as I do always before a triathlon and made sure to hydrate lots that day also. When we went back to the hotel we got chatting to 3 other race goers from Gibraltar (Nicky, Phil and James). They were having a brandy to settle themselves (as was their tradition) but I declined on that option! I went to bed early but didn’t have to be up too early (approx. 5am) as the race was not starting until 8:15am. The hotel laid on a full breakfast service from 5:30am which was greatly appreciated. I took an Uber to transition with my Gibraltarian friends which was nice as it settled us all (this was only about a 2K distance). I checked my transition bags and was ready to make my way to the beach. The nerves and excitement were building!

Swim – 1.9Km

Myself and Ken both decided to go into the 35 min swim time category. The sun rose on Cascais bay and the setting was truly beautiful. Then with about 10-15 min before the race started the Ironman MC started the buildup. We essentially did a mindfulness exercise where he asked us all to close our eyes and think about how we got to that moment-thinking about the sacrifices we made, the people that helped us get there, the training days, the doubt, the nerves and the privileged position we were in to do a half iron triathlon. He even mentioned that if more people swapped guns for neoprene suits the world would be a better place! To be fair it was a special moment and was good way to focus before the race. He finished it with the final question………”ARE YOU READY?!” followed by AC/DC music Thunderstruck. If you weren’t psyched now you would never be. There was no point in being nervous now. All that was between me at the start was a simple race beep. Myself and Ken wished each other luck and see you at the finish! I jumped into the water and started swimming thinking of all the tips from Ross over the years, settling into it gradually and not going full blast at the beginning etc. It worked and I found a nice pace early on. Equally, all those rough sea days on Rosses Point beach, and Metalman races gave me the confidence and knowledge to navigate the swim with ease. There were so many in the water it was easy to sight and follow the crowd ahead. The water seemed a bit choppy but really it was from all the people in the water. As I went round each buoy I increased my pace a little but just focussed on the moment and getting through it. I was delighted coming out of the swim exit and as I went up the ramp someone shouted “C’mon Sligo Tri” which really motivated me (picture below). I completed the swim in 32:41

T1

The run to T1 was a few hundred meters all on a red IM carpet. I paced myself and had rehearsed in my head where my bags were to avoid confusion on the day. I took my first gel of the day (Maurten), a quick drink, and off I went (everything packed into the bag etc. as instructed by IM).

Cycle – 90Km

The first 5K of the cycle was just about getting the heart rate level and warming up the legs. Some small gradual hills, nothing too challenging. My Gibraltarian friends had warned me about the first major downhill on the cycle after about 7K where you see the sea ahead but a sharp right at the bottom of the hill. Thankfully they did as otherwise it could have been a dangerous shock! Then we proceeded to the first major climb. This was approx. 10-12K and I would akin it to the hungry rock or drag out of Dromahair on the Hazelwood route. Very achievable but a nice test all the same. As we went up the hill and approached a roundabout I saw lots of cyclists descending and figured the turn point was soon! However, I was wrong-we had about another 5K of climbing to go. The countryside was dry a few small switchbacks on the climb-It made me imagine I was cycling on a stage of the Vuelta!

The first 30K of the bike course is hilly, after that it flattens nicely. The next big highlight was entering the Estoril F1 race track. For me this was exciting. The road surface was amazing and some sharp bends. Again it made me think about the G-force on the F1 drivers taking these bends. We cycled past the pit lanes which were quite ordinary-just sheds! I started eating a snickers bar around Estoril but sadly dropped it-maybe Lewis Hamilton will pick it up sometime! I had some other bars so not to worry. Regarding nutrition I was taking a Maurten Gel every hour as well as Salt Stick tablets every 40 min or so. I also ate a Maurten carb bar (after I dropped the Snickers!). The course flattens all the way to Lisbon so I stayed on my Tribars and was surprising myself with my average speed! We turn just under the Abril Bridge in Lisbon (small fact-the same company built the Abril Bridge as the Golden Gate in SF-hence the resemblance). The wind was low and temperature about 18-19 degrees so perfect conditions for cycling and staying on the bars. As I approached Cascais I began to think about “What if I got a puncture now?”. Luckily I didn’t and proceeded to T2. I completed the bike in 3:01:34.

T2

No issues in T2. Got the runners on, some fluids and my 5th and final gel of the day- off I went.

Run-21.1Km

I have always found that I do my best running off the bike and Cascais was no different. I tried to slow down as much as possible but to no avail and was running approx. 5:20/km. I knew this wouldn’t last 21.1K but I just stayed going. Getting to 5K, I felt good. Then at around 8.5K I got feeling in my stomach and thought is this when myself and Maurten were going to fall out! I went for a Portaloo but when I got to it, it was being used. I said I’d stay going and go to it on the return loop as I was in the marina at this stage. However, when I returned to the same place the loo was still being used so I stayed going. Luckily my stomach settled but that stage I decided not to take any more gels. I also stopped taking the salt tablets after the cycle. As I hit the half way point of the run, right beside the finish red carpet I dared not even look up at it for fear of tempting fate. I stayed going. I completed the first 10K in approx. 52min, so I was hopeful of a sub 2hr half marathon. However, as you can imagine my pace slowed on the second half. Overall, I was feeling comfortable and walked to a few aid stations for some Gatorade. This really helped me. I was relaxed as I knew I had a good swim and bike time, and even the first half of the run. I took the focus off the sub 2 hr marathon. When I got to 15K, it is a good feeling to know you only have 6k left. That is always achievable in the head!

When I got to the red carpet, I was delighted, I came in at 2hr and 26 seconds for the half marathon so I was very happy with that. I was blown away with my overall time of 5h 49 min 56 sec. I never really set a time before the race but never thought I would be sub 6hrs. Its all about recovery and catching your breath immediately after the race. Once I did, I met Ken and picked up my medal and T-shirt and went for food. He convinced me I should engrave my medal with the time I achieved, which I duly did. After some Pizza and Pepsi I felt a lot better. I got my post race gear bag and met up with Úna. We went for coffee and pastries with Ken and his wife Linda and recounted the race. I then picked up my bike and dropped it back to Team Truck. They got it back to me in Sligo the following Friday (8am meet up in the retail park).

Conclusion

I was delighted to have it complete and closure on this half Iron journey. As I completed the race on the day I never focussed on the finish, I just focussed on the task at hand. I did this as anything can happen in these races and it could all end before you even start. I took this approach out of caution if nothing else but it really helped me enjoy the day. Yes its tough and physically demanding. There were times when I was tired and struggled but not looking too far ahead really helped. Sometime when you think about all three disciplines at once it can be a little overwhelming-that’s why I tried to break it down into little pieces. Cascais was amazing. I would recommend it as a place to do a half Ironman but also as a holiday destination-it is really nice as are the Portuguese people. What’s next for me? I don’t know, right now I’m just savouring the moment and happy to have it complete. I don’t think Ill ever to a full but at some stage I might do another half. Anyway hope you enjoyed this and got some insight to my half iron journey.

Gear and nutrition

  • Orca Wetsuit
  • Bottechia T1 endurance road bike with Luas wheels and tri-bars
  • Asics Nimbus neutral running shoe
  • Maurten Gel 100 and 160’s (I consumed 5 on the day)
  • Maurten Solid 225 bars
  • Saltstick fastchews
  • Hi5 drink mix (2 x 750ml on bike and a third in T2 for sipping)

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