The Irish at Ironman Kona

Kona Parade of Nations 2016 1

Fifteen Irish athletes will line out this weekend at one of the toughest courses in triathlon at the Ironman world championships in Kona, Hawaii.

All have qualified to race against 2,384 others by finishing within the top places of their age groups at Ironman events around the world.

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Familiar Names

The reputation of Kona as one of the must-do races in triathlon has only increased in recent years as more and more ITU athletes have turned their talents to long distance events. This is also a developing trend amongst age group athletes and this year's race contains a number of names that are familiar to a domestic audience such as current duathlon champion (and Irish Ironman record holder) Bryan McCrystal, and current middle distance champion Aidan Callaghan.

(read on for a full listing of all Irish athletes racing at Kona)

Martin Muldoon's Ironman Journey

Martin Muldoon is a former Irish record holder at Iron-distance and veteran of many Ironman Kona races.  In a guest post, he tells us about his preparations and why he keeps returning to one of the toughest challenges in triathlon.  

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So we’re back in Kona for another shot at this crazy race. Along with Owen Martin, this is my 7th straight trip to the Big Island. We arrived early, but the circus has already kicked off as the pros float around town and Ali’I Drive is swarming with six packs running 4mins/k (they won’t be on race day).

Why do I keep coming back to Kona? Well there is no single answer to that, and I think the motivation for each trip is slightly different. For me, in the early years, and specifically on the first trip, it was the challenge of getting to the oldest and toughest race out there. Kona is the biggest spectacle in our sport, the Olympics is for a select few, but for age groupers, this is the one that we ultimately aim for and it’s such an honour representing our country on a world stage. The build up to this race is a great motivator, but it can be intimidating when you turn up and see the best athletes from around the world, but it’s just another race and it’s always good to remember that in the weeks leading in.

Martin Muldoon 2

I qualified in Cozumel in Mexico in November 2015 and my training this year had been going great up until Roth. I had a tough day there and came out of it disillusioned, I felt the hard work didn’t pay off and I had no immediate answer as to why. After a short break I came back too aggressively and caused an overload on my hamstring.

Since then I’ve been in and out of training depending on the status of the injury so it’s the least prepared I have been for Kona. The only good thing about this situation, is the lack of pressure I’m now putting on myself for the race, with low expectations, I am planning to enjoy race day, which is not normally an easy thing to do.

Getting Faster

Qualifying for Kona is one thing, but racing here is another, and since that first trip, the challenge has been about getting faster and better placed on each outing. The tough conditions here make performances very unpredictable. Turning up in Kona fit and in form is not a guarantee for a good result. Previous experiences in Kona have been a very mixed affair for me, the conditions make a big difference on the day and some people handle this better than others. I dare say I’m not the best built for this race based on previous performances, but it doesn’t stop me coming back for more.

The swim in particular is difficult, but before long it’s over and you’re in a different kind of anxiety trying to move through the field on the bike and run. It’s a long day and much of what you see along the road can be dismissed until the later stages of the race when mental strength prevails and the strong move closer to the front.

Irish Athletes Racing Kona 2016

Bib NumberNameAge Group
1115Pauline AllenF45-49
1216Sean BarryM40-44
1588Conor BellM35-39
1233Ciaran ByrneM40-44
1914Aidan CallaghanM30-34
2171Damian ClogherM25-29
2285Clodagh GlynnF25-29
2289Jenna HenningF25-29
1658Mark HigginsM35-39
1364Owen MartinM40-44
1700Bryan McCrystalM35-39
1703Ross McLynnM35-39
685John MilneM50-54
1376Martin MuldoonM40-44
1725Ivan O’GormanM35-39

Friendly Rivalry With Owen Martin 

I’ve had a friendly rivalry with Owen Martin since my first Kona in 2010. The strong Newry man is also making his 7th appearance on the Big Island. He is fine form this year, and I expect to see him score high in the rankings. He is consistently the hardest working athlete I’ve ever known and he certainly deserves a good race. Kona itself is a great place to visit, it’s pleasantly warm when you’re not going along at race pace. The people are friendly, the food is good and the beer is even better!

The Kona brewery is a stone throw from the race start, and the beaches are just like you’d expect from the movies. The journey to get there is not easy, two, sometimes three long flights and arriving to a spell of jetlag is tough, but once the heat and smell of tropical flowers hit your senses, any hardship is replaced by a feeling of being on holidays.

As Ironman capitalises on demand more, the participant numbers rise every year, but for the most part the race and atmosphere hasn’t changed since my first trip here. The race itself is commercial, but then travelling to the US reminds you that anything you try to do here is quite commercial. It’s more capitalist than back home, and dollars starts to feel a bit like monopoly money as it disappears at some ridiculous rate. However it is well organised and the 5,000 volunteers who run it are kind and enthusiastic.

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Qualification Possible for Anyone Willing to Work

The whole trip is not cheap, but I still think it’s a great experience, and the difficulty of racing here means you always feel you get your money’s worth coming over the line, completely drained, covered in salt with burned and chaffed skin. The qualification is not easy, but it’s possible for anyone who is willing to commit and do the work.

It’s not just about being smart and staying focused, it’s about doing those sessions on the days you don’t want to. I’ve met some inspiring people here who have overcome huge life challenges to make the start line. The Irish squad is getting bigger every year, with over ten of us racing this year. Declan Doyle and Ivan O’Gorman are other Kona addicts, and I expect to see them race here for years to come. Aidan Callaghan is making an appearance, as is Big McCrystal, and if he can handle the heat we’ll see some impressive bike splits this year.

It is sadly my last trip to Kona, at least for the foreseeable future. There are other challenges I’d like to do, and Kona qualifying/racing takes up a lot of time and budget. Ironman Kona will be live in our house next year, I’ll be watching it with my feet up, and no doubt wishing I was there suffering with Owen, Ivan and the other 1500 eejits.