Derry girl, Carolyne Doherty, achieved her dream of a life time by recently competing in – and completing – the World Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Thirty-four year old Doherty - originally from Grangemore Park and known as Caz to her friends - is based in Perth, West Australia and qualified for the championships by posting a sub 10 hour time last December in Busselton, south of Perth. This was an astonishing performance during which she swam 3.8km in the ocean in under an hour, cycled 180km in less than five hours and then ran a sub four hour marathon to win one of the coveted age group Ironman slots.
That was just the beginning of the hard work though as she prepared over for the next nine months before travelling to the isolated volcanic archipelago some 2,500 thousand miles south west of Los Angeles.
Carolyne trained and prepared for her date with destiny with two more great performances in the Northern hemisphere. The first race was the Dublin 70.3 (half Ironman) race where she qualified for next year’s World Championships in Queensland, Australia and four weeks later, she also took part in the 2015 World 70.3 Half Ironman Championships on a really tough mountainous course in Austria where, despite ongoing problems with her knee which will require surgery, she again went under 6 hours.
The Ironman in Hawaii was where it all began in 1978 when three retired US army veterans had a discussion about which was the toughest event. Was it the 2.4 mile rough water swim off Oahu? Or was it the Round Island 112 mile bike ride, or was it the Honolulu marathon? They decided the true champion would be the one who could conquer all three challenges in the one day and thus the legend was born.
Now, over 30 years later, athletes from all over the world, try to qualify in Ironman events on five different continents. To qualify, you have to be the best in your age group.
Carolyne, travelled out two weeks before hand to acclimatise. Although used to the heat of Perth, (where she would regularly train in temperatures of 30 degrees plus), Hawaii presented new problems. There was the humidity of up to 90 percent, there were the hills and there was the infamous wind. Every year there are athletes who are literally blown off their bikes by the massive hot gusts that swirl in from the Pacific.
Carolyne was up at 4.00 a.m. on race day, ready to battle it out with 2,500 other top class athletes, all assisted by 5,000 volunteers. Such was the heat and the humidity the Derry athlete was to lose 3.5 kilos over the next 10 hours. Just before the start, the athletes and spectators were treated to the Red Bull stunt divers, and a fly past from American fighter aircraft and the start of the race was announced with the firing of the legendary Kona cannon.
Carolyne swam the 2.4 miles (Hawaii is always a non-wet suit swim due to the heat of the water) in 66 minutes, only eight minutes outside her PB. On the bike, despite the unpredictable gusts of wind up to 50 miles an hour, she remained in the saddle and finished her 180km ride in 6hrs and 2 mins, with the last 60km into a strong headwind. This was a very respectable time making an average of just over 18.5 miles an hour.
In transition, she felt so ill and weak but she bravely donned her running shoes to record 4hrs 30 mins for the hardest, hottest and hilliest marathon of her life. Many people who do the Derry or Dublin marathons in temperate conditions would be delighted with a straight marathon time of 4 hours 30, but to produce this time in these conditions feeling the way she did, was nothing short of miraculous.
Her parents, Frances and Don, her sister Michelle and other friends waited on the finish Line where Mike Riley, the legendary master of ceremonies of Ironman events world-wide, boomed, ‘Carolyne Doherty, you are an Ironman!’.
The Dohertys waited for two hours, only to be told that Carolyne was on a drip in the medical tent. Carolyne was then rushed to hospital where tests confirmed that her liver was 100% enlarged and she was found to be suffering from ischemia, ie, a lack of blood to her vital organs which had begun to shut down. She remained an in-patient for three days before doctors were eventually able to stabilise her condition to allow her a few days R&R before flying back to Perth.
Her finish time, despite the illness, was a fantastic 11 hours 49 minutes. She had pushed herself to hell and back.
Despite her knee injury which will require an operation, Carolyne has no plans to hang up her tri-suit yet.
“I have got the bug for it, all I want to do is qualify for Hawaii again!” confessed Doherty, “I have still got a point to prove to myself out on the lava fields, where it was an honour to be there in the toughest and fastest race in the world.
“Conditions were so hard that over 10% of the world’s best athletes didn’t even make it to the finish Line. I was determined to finish what I started – but I think I can go faster next time!”