A North Leitrim adventure racer is walking on air this week after enjoying a major success in Europe in one of the most demanding endurance races known to man.
Mark McGowan hails from Boyannagh, Kinlough on the Leitrim/Donegal border and he is celebrating success in the European Deca Ironman championship in England at the end of last week. The championship was held in the Allerthorpe Lakeland Park in York.
The Deca Ironman is the most demanding of all adventure races. Basically, it is ten Ironman challenges in ten days - a 3.8 kilometre swim followed by a 180 kilometre cycle followed by a 42.195 kilometres run (a full marathon).
“I came second in the race. It was in York, England. I did it in a time of 151 hours and approximately 42 minutes,” said Mark, who was still on a high on Tuesday afternoon.
The time of 151 hours and 42 minutes is believed to be an Irish record for the event but Mark is awaiting confirmation whether or not this is the case.
“It was a great feeling coming up to the finish and and seeing my wife Sinead and the rest of the team there to meet me.
“It was really difficult to take in and realise that I actually had finished and had come second. I felt weightless and it was as if I was walking on air,” added Mark.
“I was just one hour and 40 minutes behind the winner. He is ten years younger than me and we were the only two left in the race with a chance of winning it with three days to go.
“It was a very small field, there were just eight starters. There were supposed to be ten but there were two non-starters and over the course of the week there were a number of other casualties.
“There was one other Irish competitor in the race. Chris McGuire was his name but he was forced to pull back with a hamstring injury, but he did finish the race.”
The race was run from July 3 to August 1 smack bang in the middle of the hottest week on record in the UK with temperatures ranging from 22 to 42 degrees.
“On the day the temperatures hit 42 degrees I spent seven hours on the bike and they were dropping ice down my back to keep me cool, it was almost unbearable.
“We went from that to torrential rain and gale force winds. The rain was so heavy the road was disappearing in front of me. That was a tough day too.
“But I came through it and made it to the finishing line in second place. I’m now waiting to see if it is an Irish record.
“Running is my favourite sport so the marathon was my favourite part of the race. I found the swimming and the bike which was always in the middle of the day the toughest.
“I remember when I walked down to the lake on the first morning to do the circuit of the lake, I have to do this again tomorrow morning and the morning after that and seven days from now I have to do it again and for three mornings after that.
“But I just said to myself to get on with it and we’ll see how it goes.”
Mark insisted they key to his success and completing the race was a good night’s sleep and a good back up team that included hs coach Paddy McLaughlin of Podium Fit.ie in Carndonagh; his wife Sinead, Daniel Branley, Paddy Donoghue, athletics coach; Gareth Phelan, my physio; Ciaran Clancy and Paul McGee and his many sponsors.
“The most important thing was to get a good night’s sleep and I always made sure I got between four and six hours every night. I was up every morning at 4.45 and I was in the water every morning by 5.30.
“I also have a fantastic back-up team and without any one of them I would not have achieved what I have achieved.”
Mark had a strategy and a plan for all of the ten days and it was a matter of following that plan.
“The swim used to take about an hour and 14 minutes and between transition and feeding I allowed roughly eight hours for the bike and between five and a half and six hours for the run each day.
“The target every day was to complete the course in between 14 and a half and 15 hours for the three disciplines and that included transition and taking food on board.”
Mark’s achievement is all the more astonishing in that he only took up running five years ago.
“I started with a group of lads from Ballyshannon and it was purely for recreational purposes and to get into a bit of shape. My first race was the Cara 10 in Bundoran and it was while I was out for a run one day with Gerry McCafferty and a few other lads and it was during chatting about Ironman racing that Decaman came up.
“After hearing about it I made my mind up there and then I was going to do a Decaman and now five years later I have one done. But it was beyond my wildest dream that I would come second in Europe.”
Mark with the support of his wife Sinead has dedicated the last six months training up 45 hours every week and between competition and training he has completed 20 Ironmans in the last ten months. All in preparation for last week’s race.
Mark, who is a part-time 3D designer with TYR3D in Sligo, is going to rest and take it easy for the next few months. But he has itchy feet and was back in the water on Monday and in for a swim in his old training waters in Lough Melvin.