By Ed Crotty
After 10 seasons of triathlon I decided this should be the year for me finally to check out what was so special about Hell of the West. Registration on Friday night gave the first clue that this was a unique event. The crew from Limerick TC were so friendly and accommodating, and the goody bag was easily the best I have ever seen, with the high quality red jacket alone worth the entry fee.
The contrast with last month’s goody bag at a popular triathlon in the midlands couldn’t have been starker.
After registration we headed into town in search of some late dinner. The atmosphere in Kilkee was buzzing and the town awash with triathletes. T3ers had formed in various groups at a few hotels and restaurants. After dinner it was off to bed (thanks again to Helena Walsh for sorting out our accommodation) .
After my usual fitful pre-race night’s sleep, I awoke to the sound of the wind buffeting against the roof of our house, so I was dreading the sea swim before I even got out of bed. After breakfast we headed down to transition and my worst fears were confirmed – the water was pretty choppy and the mood had darkened somewhat with the sky.
The well-run theme continued however as the race started exactly on schedule – please take note other Race Directors! Despite the wind and the waves the swim was actually enjoyable! There were two waves of around 350 competitors, so you were never isolated in the water which made it easy to navigate around so long as you don’t mind a lot of close company while swimming!
Out on the beach, I was a bit disappointed to see Ryan just ahead of me, as I was hoping to beat him in this race having finished less than a minute behind him in Athy. Nonetheless I was sporting enough to help him open his Velcro as I ran by him (a DQ-able assist?!). T1 was fast, as this season I’ve finally adopted the bike-shoes-attached-to-pedals-and-elastic-bands approach, which really helps.
The windy conditions had a significant impact on the bike leg. In places there was a lot of drafting going on, much of it unavoidable as large groups formed due to cars on the route, the narrow roads, the sheer volume of cyclists and the wind pulling lone cyclists back into following packs. All of this had somewhat of an equalising effect on the bike leg. I had been hoping to pull away from Ryan on the bike to have any chance of holding him off on the run, but this was not to be! We ended up tick-tacking all the way around, so by the end of the bike I had given up on trying to beat him.
I took a few gels on board in the last 5k of the bike. I saw Kevin G heading out of T2 as I came in, and MT who’s race finished after the bike due to her injury. I picked up my trademark headband (!) and another gel and headed out on the run.
I’d been told that the first 5k of the run was a tough uphill and so it proved. However, I wasn’t expecting the beautiful cliff top scenery with stunning sea views – what a run route! After a few k I started meeting T3ers from wave 1 on their way back in (not necessarily in this order) – Peter Kern on his first race in nearly two years was first to appear, then Mark, then Griff (what a transformation in one winter!), then later Dave H, Evan and Eddie (not looking too happy!), Brendan and Gena. Near the turnaround point I again saw Kevin G and Ryan running in tandem, then Cahir – the bastard! – he was only a few seconds ahead of me in Athy, and Kim. After the turnaround it was 5k of mostly downhill, easily the most enjoyable closing 5k of any race I’ve ever been in. The work was all done and you could take in the views and salute fellow T3ers heading up the hill. In no time I was inside the last k (Ian passed me but I couldn’t hold onto his tail), and then the finish line.
Jenny was there to cheer us all home despite her desperately unfortunate injury, and even brought chocolate cake – Thanks Jen! In keeping with the rest of the day, the post-race food was also superb. The sun came out and we all sat on the grass overlooking the beach and enjoyed the euphoric post-race buzz. There were mostly personal victories to discuss: John O’L’s injury held up; Mark beat Kim by sufficient time to collect a €5 bet from Peter; Ben beat Dave; Cahir and Dave H showed off their torsos and Anna completed her first ever Olympic distance triathlon, just to mention a few that I know of.
What a day, and what a race! Huge respect to Limerick TC, I would describe HOTW as challenging but not insurmountable, and would encourage everyone at any level to give it a go – in my mind now it’s the benchmark for how all events should be run. Next year will be the 30th running of this incredible race – bring it on!