Juggling work, family and pleasure is a struggle for most people at the best of times but imagine coming home from work knowing what awaits you is the challenge of training for your second Ironman event in the space of a three months. That is exactly the challenge that faces Kilnagross NS teacher Sharon O’Hara, but it is a challenge the Tourlestrane native and teacher at Kilnagross NS is embracing.
Having secured her place in the gruelling Ironman world championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii as a result of her excellent performance in the European Championships in Frankfurt on July 8 Sharon will be one of eight Irish people and the only woman, competing in the challenge that will see her swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and then run a 26.2 mile marathon.
Speaking last week after her junior, senior infant and first class students had gone home for the day Sharon reflected on her gruelling event in Germany, the training regime required to compete in such events and how she got the bug to compete in what is regarded as the ultimate endurance event.
The swim is Sharon’s strongest discipline while cycling is something she has plenty of experience of having competed in events such as the ‘An Post Tour of Sligo’ and the ‘Tour de Connemara’ but she had never previously ran a marathon and that was the part of the Ironman she was least looking forward to.
“Swimming was my main sport but then I got a bright pink carbon time trial bike and that’s minded more than the car is, it’s the baby and when I got that I took to the cycling a bit more.”
Together with other members of the Liquid Motion Triathlon Club in Ballina Sharon trained for and then competed in more traditional triathlon events before taking the plunge for the Ironman event and talking about how she came to find herself on the starting line of an Ironman event in the European Championships she said, “It started with the smaller distances, the sprint was half a mile swim, 12 mile cycle and three mile run.
“There was a good few of us that started together and the next one was the Olympic distance which is double the sprint and the next one is the half iron man distance. We said we’d have a go at it, it was more for the fun of it but it took a lot of training.”
Commenting on how training for an Ironman event takes over your life Sharon commented, “Your weekends are gone, six or seven hours out on the bike on a Sunday. It’s intensive enough but you have to just to do it hail, rain or shine because you’d be kicking yourself if you didn’t.”
“During the summer it was very handy because when the weather was good you could just head out but I try to do something most evenings when I get home. Some days I do two things, either the swim and the run or the swim and the bike. The swim isn’t as hard and wouldn’t be as hard on the body.”
Recalling the event in Frankfurt Sharon acknowledged there were times when the going got very tough but she felt the support on the side of the street during the marathon was a huge help in getting her across the finish line.
“Getting off the bike you would be tired and then to run a marathon and I had never ran a marathon before so it was very slow and steady. I ran between the aid stations where you get a drink, walk through the aid station and then run again rather than keeping going.
“Mentally the run.... certain times the head would just drop and you would think ‘I just can’t do it anymore’, your feet would be sore but what was great was you had your number on your front and your name was on your number and the streets were lined with people and they just shouted your name and you’d really get going again.”
While Sharon was delighted to have finished the race in 12 hours 25 minutes, faster than the 13 hours she had been aiming for, there was even better news to follow as she was the fastest female in the 18-24 category and was offered the only place available for that category to compete in the World Championships in Hawaii on October 13.
“You have to make the decision the day after the race and you’re so tired and so sore and you wouldn’t feel like doing another one straight away again but I know I did the right thing to go for it.
“At the time I was looking forward to getting through it and finishing it and then taking a break and enjoying the summer but I was back in to training as soon as I could.”
Understandably after she finished the race in Frankfurt Sharon was feeling the worst for wear as she recalled, “I felt fine when I crossed the line and for half an hour I was fine but after that my stomach just gave up. That evening I was not well at all but the following day I was better than I thought I would be but very tired and very sore but not sick so that was good.
“It’s not just the day afterwards, it’s the week afterwards. I remember we were travelling home and we were all so tired but it was worth it, it really was. You would eat all around you - the day after you’re hungry but the week afterwards you are so hungry all the time.”
With the World Championships less than a month away attention has well and truly turned towards Hawaii and one concern Sharon has is the weather that awaits her.
“The humidity is going to be the problem, it really is going to be a factor. The weather in Frankfurt, it actually rained continuously on the bike, we had great Irish weather and there was a bit of wind but the weather in Kailua-Kona is meant to be extremely humid, extremely windy and sunny. It’ll be a challenge, I’ve been trying to train with extra jackets on, trying to prepare myself but you won’t really know until you’re over there.”
Despite the obstacles the elements will present Sharon insists it is a challenge she is very much looking forward to, “If I get through it I’ll be very happy, it’s a great chance and I couldn’t pass the opportunity.”