Imagine waking up one morning and discovering that you had a Ferrari engine stuck up your arse.
Ok so that’s not exactly right.
Kona Secrets book available
Kona Secrets: Lessons learned from over 50 Kona Qualifications.
Knowledge doesn’t produce results, action does. Just knowing how to do something doesn’t guarantee success, especially something as difficult as qualifying for Kona; you have to put in the hours. In this book I share some of the lessons I learnt between being a back-of-the-pack beginner to qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
If I’m honest it annoys me when people dismiss the really important part of the picture. The ten plus years of hard work and training that led to Bryan almost taking the biggest scalp in our sport at Ironman Ireland in Cork in June 2019.
Just stop for one second and think about that.
BMC was only 1 minute and 58 seconds shy of being the most famous triathlete in the world.
Less than two minutes from pulling off the biggest upset of the year.
The local guy, the part time pro who runs two businesses, has a family and went out on Sunday and tried to beat the biggest name in our sport and came within 118 seconds of pulling it off.
It was a one in a million day for McCrystal. He joked with Mike Reilly when he crossed the finish line when he was asked about his race that it was the best swim he ever had.
The swim had been cancelled. Mike Reilly almost missed the joke but we all laughed.
Since Bryan had told me he was racing Ironman Cork there was a part of me thinking that maybe a home course on hard Irish roads with hard Irish weather would all play to his strengths and might just conspire to bag him his first full Ironman win.
I wouldn’t say that to him but I was thinking it, I’ll bet he was too. And so were a lot of others, I was asked dozens of times during the day if I thought he could win.
Then we heard Ali Brownlee was racing and my heart sank. Without fail everyone thought the race was now for second.
Except probably for Bryan. I’d put money on it that Bryan was still calculating how much time he could put into Brownlee on the bike and wondering if it could be enough.
Then race day arrived and we never could have predicted the perfect “McCrystal” storm of events that we had. A cancelled swim, twenty hours of rain, cold, wind, slick, flooded, rough, twisty Cork roads. Hard climbs and dangerous slippery descents. A course where the weather would play right into his hands as a bike racer with excellent bike handling skills.
I spoke to Bryan on race morning and I thought he looked afraid. Anyone who’s ever seen Bryan would imagine that he doesn’t get afraid. He’s about 6’4 and weighs north of 90kg. Sitting behind him on a bike is like sitting behind a double decker bus. With the Ferrari engine I mentioned. Despite the monster hole he punches in the wind and the generous draft he offers I don’t get to sit on his wheel for long. Like probably five seconds. But he looked afraid. Of the day I guessed, it was going to hurt and be cold and very unpleasant for a lot of hours.
A friend of mine said to me when she saw him at the pros briefing that he looked completely different to all the other pros. His legs are the size of a pair of smallmedium sized children. He also weighs probably 35 kilos more than Ali.
That’s like he was carrying an extra half a person along on the marathon.
We were on the course and watching the tracker and Bryan was doing his thing, closing the gap to the lead rider and at the same time pulling away from Brownlee. When he passed us on Windmill Hill it was like we were all suddenly plugged straight into the mains, the atmosphere was electric. It was dumping down rain and had been for hours, the crowd should have been pissed off, or gone home but they were still there and they went wild.
Then it happened. We got the next split. Bryan has nailed it, he’d lit the fuse and in the space of 50k had taken the lead and had opened the gap to seven minutes to Brownlee. My phone almost exploded with texts and messages.
Did you see Bryan’s split?!?
McCrystal has seven minutes on Ali!!!
He told me afterwards that someone had shouted that he had three minutes on Ali. Anyone else might hear that and think they would have their moment of glory leading the double Olympic champion for a while. For Bryan the red mist descended, he thought that’s not enough and went full gas on the bike.
He saw an opportunity to take the biggest scalp in the sport. I fucking know that’s what he was thinking because that’s just how he is.
Bring on the big guys and let me take a shot at knocking them over. Imagine even having the guts to try and race Brownlee and not just for the fastest bike split but for the overall win. Who would even think that they’d have a chance?
We were doing the math at the side of the road in the deluge and we reckoned he would need about 18-20 minutes lead off the bike to have a shot of winning.
The next split came in at 153k. Bryan had over twelve minutes on Brownlee. We couldn’t believe it. He was really going for it. When he went up Windmill Hill the second time the crowd went completely apoplectic. We’d been out in dumping down rain for about seven hours but there wasn’t a single person interested in going home or getting dry. Well, we wanted to be dry but we weren’t moving.
At the end of the bike Bryan had almost seventeen minutes. Christ I thought that’s almost enough. If Bryan pulls out the run of his life or Brownlee blows up…
He got onto the run and went through his first five kilometres in 21:08. We waited on Ali to hit the same timing mat. His split finally came in at 18:31. Shit we thought that’s a big bite out of Bryan’s lead and again we were trying to figure out if he had enough in the bag or if Brownlee was going to run him down.
I thought he’d catch him between 30-35k. Fuck. That’s too far out. If he hasn’t caught him with a couple of k’s to go Bryan would turn himself inside out to stay away but twelve kilometres? That seemed like too much.
The next split showed Ali took back another two and a half minutes. We saw both runners going out and back on the course. Bryan huge and thundering and looking like he would run straight over or through anything that got in his way. Ali up on his toes and floating along. They could have not looked any different.
Brownlee kept on taking chunks out of the lead and Bryan just kept on going. The tracker wasn’t accurate because of the time trial start but we didn’t know that. We thought he had more time. Ais was on the phone keeping me updated from the live stream and somewhere about 35k she said the camera was following Brownlee. She asked had he taken the lead.
I wasn’t sure. Ali hadn’t actually caught Bryan on the road but because of the staggered start he was now ahead on time.
Bryan kept pushing to the end even after Ali caught and passed him and in the end came in with a gap of only 1 minute 58 to
I was behind the finish line when Bryan came in and he was empty, his face was grey. He looked over the crowd when he was being congratulated and presented with his medal by the mayor. Looking for Karen and the kids. He eventually spotted them and went over and hugged and talked for a minute.
He told me later he didn’t blow up, he just gradually tied up as the pain worsened and he slowly ran out of gas.
“I rolled the dice” he said later on social media. “You nearly knocked over Ali Brownlee with that dice” I thought.
There was an air of disappointment, of tiredness. But also I think he knew that he’d done something a bit special.
Why is it important to us what Bryan does? Why is he so loved in triathlon in Ireland?
I think it’s because he races like we all wish we could. Off the front, with aggression and style and panache. Yes he has a gift, that Ferrari engine stuck up his arse. But that’s not all of the story. He has guts and heart and works hard and never gives up.
It’s because he’s the local boy, the underdog, the David to Brownlee’s Goliath. It’s that he knows all of this, he knows there’s almost no chance and he says “fuck it” anyway and rolls the dice.
It’s not the win or his placing that defines him, rather it’s the way he races, the way he carries himself, the way he doesn’t think he’s any different to you and me.
Ais taught me years ago that it’s not the result that matters. Rather it’s how you race. With honesty, integrity, aggression and you never quit. Bryan embodies all of this and more.
Chasing Kona eBook available
From smoker to back of the pack triathlete to the Ironman World Championships.
Read about how I overcame all of the odds and discovered what it would take to get to the Ironman World Championships – my eBook is now available to buy as an eBook on Amazon UK, Amazon US, Barnes & Noble, and iTunes
It is also available as a paperback at Wheelworx.