What does it take to be an Ironman 70.3 competitor?

Newstalk.com speaks to Aileen Flynn, top Irish female finisher of the race, about the preparation for the event and what it takes to finish the course

BY Cian Roche 16:47 Tuesday 23 August 2016, 16:47 23 Aug 2016

Image Courtesy of Aileen Flynn

This month, Dublin welcomed Ironman 70.3 to its shores for a second consecutive year, attracting athletes from around the world to come and compete in the gruelling endurance event.

Organizers claim that around 2,000 people took part in the race which consisted of a 1.2 mile (1.9km) swim, followed by a 56 mile (90km) bike ride and then a 13.1 mile (21.1km) half-marathon.

Aileen Flynn, fastest Irish female finisher of the event, told us a little bit about her preparation for the race and how she got on on the day.

"I’ve been doing these races for a few years and usually you have to travel abroad to get that volume of people racing and the professionals racing," she explains. "I chose Dublin because it was right there on my doorstep.

"I’ve been training for this distance for a while. I try to get into the pool for three or four sessions during the week, I’m doing the same bike session three or four times each week also and I do a run session on top of that so you have to try and make sure you’re ticking off the three disciplines.

"I would have started training in January this year and gradually building fitness throughout the year to get myself in shape."

The training comes in the months leading up to the event, with a steady increase in the 3-4 weeks before she takes to the track. As a chartered physio, she knows exactly what demands it places on the body.

"I have to try and squeeze it in before work or after work, there’s a bit of organising involved. I have a little bit of flexibility regarding my work schedule at times. It takes a lot of time but I really enjoy the training and the aspect of getting yourself fit for long distance events like triathlon.

"I’m most comfortable doing that half-Ironman distance. I feel comfortable pushing my body to that distance and I did a few shorter races this year that seemed to hurt my body a bit more because I’m not used to having to go at speed during the run at the end of the race. The half distance really suits me I think I’m really comfortable doing it.

"It’s really important to keep your body in good condition, I am a big fan of pilates so I incorporate that into my weekly programme. You have to be very aware as to how you get the most out of your body to move efficiently.

"I also try to work in some stretching and strength and conditioning. It’s difficult to really follow a proper S&C programme when you’ve got a full time job and you are still aiming to get that full swim cycle and run.

"In fact, I had to learn how to swim for my first triathlon, that was my main concern. The first race I did was essentially me trying to survive the swim."

The morning of the race, Aileen's alarm goes off at 5am. The night before, she loads up on carbohydrates to give her fuel for the day ahead. She pulls on her triathlon suit and makes her way downstairs.

She grabs something small as soon before she leaves the house to give her the maximum amount of time to digest her food and makes her way to Scotsman's Bay in Dún Laoghaire for the start of the race.

Competitors begin the event at Scotman's Bay in Dun Laoighaire. Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne  

Racing out of triathlon club, Piranha Tri, she makes her final preparation before taking to the ice cold water and the beginning of the 70.3 mile course ahead, hence the name Ironman 70.3.

The race itself is a tactical one, she explains, and that it's important to ensure you don't drain yourself while completing any one facet of the race. This requires a focus and a mental strength that is developed over the months of training.

"Your mental attitude plays a huge role in how you perform on the day. Going into a race relaxed, confident and a little bit excited or nervous, that all helps in your race. 

"For example, I'd be a pretty average swimmer so I usually am trying to catch people on the bike. It's motivating and it really keeps you switched on when you try pick out people up ahead. That's what keeps me switched on and mentally wanting it. 

"Doing the run as well, what we had during the event was three 7km loops around Phoenix Park. It was so well supported, so you'd hear your naming being shouted on the sideline and you'd pass your clubmates every so often. 

"Again, it's good to try and keep focused on the race and your form. If I feel like I'm struggling because of the run, I just think about keeping my posture and think about keeping my legs turning over."

Competitors cycle through Dublin during the event. Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne  

After the event, there is so much focus on recovery because as many athletes explain, the body at this point is burning.

"Ideally it would be recommended to warm down after a race like that, but generally on the day there’s so much excitement you don’t get a chance. The Dublin half-marathon was so well supported, there were loads family members, friends and clubmates. I ended up cycling home so I probably got about a 30 minute spin into the legs.

"I would have had some tiredness and muscle soreness, all the rest. It took a couple days to get some good sleep and good recovery on board.

"I was in work the next day, but I only did about a 15 minute swim to loosen out the body. Getting the recovery in is very important."

Next for Aileen, she's looking to take part in the Kenmare National Champs and then another Ironman event in Mallorca.

"I’ve a big training block to do this week, which includes a long run session and a hard bike session. I feel ready to get back into it but obviously it takes a few days to recover but the fitter you are going into these events and the more prepared you are the easier it is to recover."

You can read her full race report here

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