IRONMAN Cork 2019 – Paul Hayward on shortened IRONMAN courses

Paul Hayward talks through odyssean adventure just to get through the toughest single day event on the planet which was made so much tougher when the Emerald Isle decided to throw everything it could against these IRONMAN competitors. Read below to hear his account of the event and listen to his views on the shortened course. Before we begin though, let’s find out a little bit more about Paul Hayward:

When did you start triathlon? In 2015 I trained for IRONMAN Wales. One of my friends Paul Shanley told me about IRONMAN and seeing it in Tenby in 2014 made me fall in love with it, watching the Power Hour I just wanted a shot at making that carpet. Sadly I had no idea it was one of the hardest IRONMAN events and I had to learn to swim so it was massive up hill task.

What has to date been your proudest triathlon related achievement? Tough one. But I would say Harriet (my wife and former TTH Coached athlete) making Weymouth 70.3 last year (2018) with 17 seconds to spare is my proudest moment. She did so well at Marbella 70.3 and just missed the line, I couldn’t say anything but cry with her at the finish. I was so proud she continued to train, battled the weather at Weymouth and never stopped - I cried all over again and I couldn’t be more proud of what a strong person she is. I guess it’s not my achievement but we are a team and we shared the journey!

How would you best describe your approach to training and racing? This year I would say serious and focused. A new coach gave me a clean slate and I wanted to do well, and push. I’d always trained hard but this year, with a new job and increased pressure, meant if I was to do well then I had to be focused, listen and develop.

How long have you been working with a TTH Coach? I’ve worked with TTH for 3 years, 2 years with Coach Sorrel and this last year with Coach Mundy (Will). My friend Simon trained with Will and spoke very highly of him, when the changed happened I was pleased to get the chance.

How does coaching help you with your training and racing? For me it adds value to your training and your goal. To have someone discuss your training with you, structure it and then amend it / react to it as you go along is invaluable. Professionally for work it removes all the stress too as I don’t need to worry.

What have you learned most so far this race season compared to previous seasons? Trust your coach. Coaches have different approaches to training and with Will he dropped a swim per week, added a bike and split the long runs. I couldn’t understand it and was a little cautious, however it paid dividends as I felt fresher, better and fitter than I have for a long time. I went into IRONMAN Ireland feeling excited (when I wasn’t nervous every three minutes!).

They said the swim was cancelled, but I am still wet like when I swim!

They said the swim was cancelled, but I am still wet like when I swim!

“You are an IRONMAN”. Such a simple set of words; but to many (if not all) that hear those words as they make the red carpet it can mean everything. It marks the celebration of a journey, often with many ups and downs, and an incredible moment and / or achievement.

Elation does not cut it, maybe it is something close to it but it’s a position whereby you cannot stop smiling in disbelief and happiness. You made, you did it, you are an IRONMAN! I am not sure that even describes it and even writing this now it sends a shiver down my spine, and my mind is taken back to the first time I heard Paul Kaye say these words to me at IRONMAN Wales in 2015.

To be honest I am not even sure that moment in Wales feels real now; such was the hurdle that I overcame that year to do “the impossible” - to be an IRONMAN. Such is the gravity of this feat, I struggle now to believe it is true but the medal and the pictures show it happened.

That is why I was sad to see the multitude of comments surrounding IRONMAN Cork, in that as there was no swim (it was cancelled at 6.15am race morning) so anyone finishing this race was not “an IRONMAN” and cannot call themselves that. Not because I cannot see the logic nor the rationale of this view, but because I stood there toe to toe with these people and we faced everything that Ireland threw at us.

Some of us came through to make the line in what can only be described as "truly horrific weather" and as said by many, but felt by all, there was a real genuine feeling that everyone there may not make the line and the red carpet.

You see with the swim cancelled we lined up for “different format”, which was to be a “TT start” with a cycle of 112 miles and then the run of 26.2 miles within a new cut off of 15 hours. It all sounded so simple and to some, without the swim, there were smiles.

Only the Irish weather had not got started through cancelling the swim. Youghal and the County of Cork saw a month’s worth of rain within the next 16 hours that kicked, punched and frankly laughed at you. Daring you to keep going. I have always dreamed of cycling in Ireland (being half Irish) but the rain was that bad, I could barely see the other cyclists let alone the iconic scenery or even the faces of the people cheering. I recall I saw an Iceland sign (due to the bright lights) in one of the towns and that is all I can tell you, the rain was that relentless.

This entailed that I never thought I would be dry again (despite wearing a cycling jacket) and coupled with every descent meaning that I was on my brakes all the time, I found myself dreaming of my towel and praying I would make it back to transition. The fact that transition was devoid of two thirds of the bikes meant that many people were still out there, fighting to make the cut off. Expending more energy than I had to stay warm and battle through it.

As I sat in transition looking at my towel, a man of in or around 60 sat next to me with blood pouring out of his leg as he had come off shivering. I asked if he was okay to which he said “just about, no bother. Just the run left”. Despite my body and head begging me to stay in the tent, I left with this man and faced the run.

Out onto the run course, we became a fresh target for the rain!

Out onto the run course, we became a fresh target for the rain!

Any momentary dryness was short lived and it felt like the weather could see me, a fresh target, as the rain and the wind battered me back to a soaked shivering mess. I tried to run, and held it for a number of miles at a time, but every so often I had to stop and walk. At these points I was asking myself why I did this, how this was remotely enjoyable and mostly that I just was not strong enough to do this despite all the hours of training.

The stupid thing is that I was, I just did not know it at the time. I kept pushing a few miles more, promising myself I could have some crisps at the aid station or get that next lap band and I could review it. Not knowing if I was going to stop then or keep going.

On making that line I was beaming, despite all the odds and everything thrown at me - I had made the red carpet. I was that caught up with the emption of doing this, I did not see or hear Iron Mike (who was debuting at a European race) see me or call my name and I nearly missed my wife holding my Irish flag. All I wanted to do was cross that line and get out of the rain, as I did so I glanced to my left and I saw the people still out there, with one or two bands with laps to go, and my heart went to them.

I had given everything I had (and some) to make that line, and to those still fighting and pushing in such conditions, were inspirational. To say this was the hardest race (or even thing) I have ever done was an understatement, it made IRONMAN Wales and IRONMAN Austria look easy in comparison. I am not sure anything will ever compare to the feeling of finishing that race, the clouds lifting and the moment of realisation that I had done it. I had finished.

I am not sure anything will ever compare to the feeling of finishing that race, the clouds lifting and the moment of realisation that I had done it. I had finished.

I am not sure anything will ever compare to the feeling of finishing that race, the clouds lifting and the moment of realisation that I had done it. I had finished.

To suggest that my fellow Cork finishers and I are not worthy of the “IRONMAN” title is unreasonable, every person that made the line deserves that title and more. I am not sure that being an IRONMAN justifies what we all went through, physically and mentally but we should not be deprived of the title on the basis it never had a swim. I dare say we all learned more about ourselves on that day than we have in a long time.

Finally to those that missed the cut off or fell just short - you are heroes for trying and my heart breaks for you. If you set off on this challenge again, I will be cheering for you.

With massive thanks to Will Mundy for his time, patience and acumen. Without his Tri Training Harder IRONMAN training plan (ironically putting me in the position of being fitter than I have ever been before and dreaming of a sub 13) I have no doubt I would not have made the line or been half as fit to been in with a chance of doing so. That sub 13 will have to wait for another year.