What image springs to mind when thinking about the sport of Triathlon? Surely it is the image of Long, Lean and sinewy athletes in their Neoprene suits (Which Fit and they can breathe in, a bit like the Scuba Action Man I had when I was younger, about 6 months ago) floating in the water awaiting for the starter’s gun when they explode into action.
Gradually building to a speed which is easier to measure in knots as they glide through the water creating a wake the QE2 would be proud of, the only thing missing is a dorsal fin. Barely breathless they emerge from the water having completed the swim section and with the sure footedness of a military minesweeper they make their way into transition 1 and with a quick change that would make Superman seem a little geriatric they exit with their Carbon-Fibre Speed machine. They power up climbs and Zipp down declines in an Aero position that strangely resembles an after-eight mint except smoother. Covering the outrageous distance and reaching transition 2 in a time that any mere mortal cannot comprehend they leap from their stead and make their way into transition. Without changing their stride the helmet is removed and the runners are put on. With the acceleration of a Gazelle that smelt something strangely lioney, they exit transition and proceed to bound along the run section with an economy of motion that can only be some form of genetic engineering before reaching the finish line with another personal best.
Well, I couldn’t be more different. I don’t create wakes when I swim, I don’t power up hills (But extra poundage and gravity helps on declines) and I certainly don’t bound when running (again the gravity thing but working in the opposite), however on 30th May along with several seasoned T3ers, newbies Fiona and Tom, I was going to attempt my first Triathlon at TriAthy, following in the footsteps of these Triathlon Gods, albeit from quite some distance back. It would be a great learning experience. I had joined the T3 club several months earlier and so had enjoyed training sessions under the guidance of Mark & Liam and brutally honest coaching of Peter Kerns.
Travelling to foreign parts, the week before was less than ideal prep, but life is what happens when you are busy making plans. A sick little man, put paid to any notion of sleeping out the 05:50 alarm as my nocturnal guest practised his wrestling moves throughout the night in what seemed to be an ever shrinking bed. I downed coffee and Porridge before heading off at 06:20. Arriving into Athy, I made my way to registration which at first moved quite slowly but seemed to speed up according to the length of the queue and was very straight forward provided you knew who you were, surprisingly some appeared not to.
Following registration, I started to meet fellow T3ers which was very reassuring and a welcome distraction. Ed was particularly interested on the subject of toilet roll in the portaloo, I figured this was not Triathlon related and so didn’t request any further information. The more seasoned members taking part including Andrew, John, Liam, Anna, Ben, Dave, Tesco Dave and Ed were in great form and looking forward to the day ahead, newbies were more reserved in their enthusiasm. In total there were 17 T3ers competing that day across the various distances as I had no intention of competing only completing. Triathlon is an endurance event and there were no brighter lights shining than Ruth and Mark participating in the Double Olympic.
Collecting the gear and bike from the car I made my way to the transition area in time to see the Double Olympic athletes start their swim. Again the courage it takes to make it to the start line of that event cannot be overestimated. Entering Transition there was a quick bike check and then time to start setting up or at least what I thought was setting up, after all how difficult is it to put on shoes, gloves, helmet etc. How little did I know. The general atmosphere was friendly and relaxed which only added to the occasions.
Race conditions were close to ideal (What would I know but no one else complained), very little wind, and when the sun made an appearance it turned into what appeared to be a very pleasant morning. That was until the Double Olympic athletes starting exiting the swim with faces similar in colour to frozen ham joints. Mental Note #1 must get one of those six pack inserts for the wetsuit. Next up was the race briefing for which I am glad I heard the final 3 words in most of the sentences and then onto the swim. This involved a procession of Ireland’s largest rubber fetish group being lead by a pipe band (Just in case it was a normal Sunday morning occurrence for Athy) where we waited on river bank before walking the plank. At this point I noticed that I was already hungry and the race hadn’t started yet. Mental note #2, maybe eat within 4 hours of the start of a race.
First into the water was the effervescent Anna, who showed no sign of fear or cold whatsoever and with a blast of starter’s gun she was gone and Athy Olympic was underway. Fiona, my fellow newbie was in the next wave and I wouldn’t see her again until she was in the run section. The other T3ers were split across several waves and by wave 5, it was time for me to walk the plank. I had swum the SwimAthy event the previous week and so had a good idea what to expect. The current was actually a little slower this week and so the swim upstream seemed to be less draining, however there was definitely a little more contact with competitors but nothing that put me off. I tried to get into a rhythm and keep moving forward. The swim back downstream was fairly straightforward and even enjoyable. My mind switched off as I got lost in the rhythm of my stroke and I proceeded to entertain some of the canoeists by swimming straight through a bend and into the bank. Mental note #3 must attend open water session and check out this sighting thing. The rest of the swim thankfully was without incident forward until it came time to get out of the water. In true upper body only stroke, the legs were about as much as t!%s on a bull. Mental Note #4 Perform Kicking sets in training. So a couple of stumbles later, a quick bite of the handrail and with the help of one of the volunteers, I was finally on my feet, however my right foot had received a nice little injury and toes looked a little purple and black. As I staggered my way into Transition 1 resembling an extra from a George A Romero movie, (now I am starting to think that the washing machine effect means that your head feels like it has been in one) unsure if I needed my bike or rehab. Wetsuit off, although it probably looked like I was trying to stamp out a bush fire. Foot still throbbing but could wiggle the toes so I took a little more time guiding the feet into socks and then shoes. To jersey or not to Jersey was the question? I figured I would be long enough on the bike that the foot would be fine. Mental Note #5 put more thought into how to organise transition.
The Bike was tough for the first few km but then just like the swim, I settled into a Rhythm, the head cleared and finally some life in the legs. Gels and bars however are not easy to digest on an empty stomach. The course consisted of rolling hills nothing too steep or long and incredible scenery. A few technical sections, which means slowdown and don’t hit the marshalls. Being overtaken by coneheads with Aero wheels did not bother me in the slightest (Only to note that they do really sound like fighters from Star Wars) and I tried to stay in contact with those more on my level including going by a few other competitors. It was great to see some of the T3ers on the course which is a feature of the out and back design. John O’Leary was going uphill whilst I was going downhill so it gave the impression that we were travelling at the same speed, I was still slower though. The hardest stretch was into the head wind heading out to Carlow, however it was rewarded by a straight down wind 10KM into Athy and into transition 2.
Bike racked, helmet removed, cycling shoes off, a couple of deep breaths and then time to wrestle with the laces on the runners. Mental note #6 they are not being silly with the elastic laces. A couple of stretches of the calves, grab some gels and then made my way to the run section. Only a 10KM run left. Legs were initially wobbly and stiff but they soon started to loosen. The run course consisted of 2 laps and had a similar design to an Ed Crotty special i.e. every sort of terrain possible and resembling a scene from Jurassic park which was something I probably wasn’t prepared for. My pace was very poor for the first lap in particular due to a combination of lack of fuel in the tank (couldn’t stomach another gel and there was no chipper on the run route), tender foot but generally the event was always going to be a big ask to complete first time out. Mental Note #7 Put a lot more thought into Nutrition it is not how you start but how you finish. I figured a poor pace was better than no pace so I kept going. I met Mark Foran on the run which provided a great inspiration and a much needed “go Der”, Dave McGrath went by me travelling at a great pace making it look effortless but still shouted encouragement. Finishing the first lap Anna who completed her race in a fantastic time shouted at me to smile for the camera (Obviously she has never seen any of my first communion photos). The second lap was definitely easier which Peter will say because I ran the first lap too slow. At the end of the second lap, right at the entrance to the finish chute were a group of T3ers cheering in the athletes and hi-5 the competitors as they finished (Is it just me or do hi-5s make you feel awkward?). Mental Note #8 Enjoy the moment!!.
Unfortunately I had to pretty much leave immediately after finishing, which meant missing out on the best Beef Curry ever!! Alcohol Free Beer (Why?) but also to enjoy the day with the other T3 Athletes. Mental Note #9 Avoid meeting family until you are in the food queue.
Judging by the smiles in the photos, a good day was had by all. As it was my first event, I cannot compare to other Triathlons but I certainly had a great time and although I made a lot mistakes and learned a lot especially that the sport is not simply about swimming, cycling and running. I was disappointed with the run but I did technically set a PB so at least this time around I had one thing in common with the gods.
You live, you learn so roll on the next chapter in Dunmore East.