by Doug Veale
First, last – it matters not, Never say Never!
This report represents is a series of firsts, my first race report and my first time doing ‘The Hell of the West’ (HOTW) Kilkee amongst other things. This is remarkable for a number of reasons but mainly because I remember making a definite decision, over two years ago never to enter any race with either ‘Hell’ or ‘Beast’ in the name!
This departure from the plan, is not however a first – I clearly recall my firm opinion that ‘old gibbers’ taking up triathlon were mad! Not to mention, in my first season sitting in Poppy’s café in Enniskerry with Mark Foran and Liam Boggan, swearing that I would only ever do Sprint races and I would never be able to start, never mind complete an Olympic distance race! If I needed any reminder, and I don’t now, never say never!
So there it was – the HOTW was the chosen event, nominated in their wisdom by the committee as the T3 for 2014 club championship, I had no choice despite my previous determination not to enter a ‘Hell’ or a ‘Beast’!
I had the perfect preparation, a week with the family surfing in Portugal, and I convinced myself that if I could do that the HOTW would be easy! I could be on to something here, surfing was very difficult – everytime I managed to stand up on the thing I was so surprised I immediately fell off! Anyway I had it all planned, fly in from Portugal 17.05, collect my gear and on the road by 17.45, arrive Kilkee at 20.05. Unfortunately, Aer Fungus had a different plan delay flight 30 mins in Lisbon for no particular reason, arrive Dublin and wait 1 hour for baggage to be offloaded, eventually my #1 fan (James) and I got on the M7 well after 7pm and arrived in Kilkee about 11pm. Now, don’t get me wrong, we are all very grateful to Dave who booked the houses and planned the sleeping arrangements even though he couldn’t be there himself, we did miss you Dave! But the DAFT.ie map was all wrong, it put the houses on the left as you drove into Kilkee, and as it turned out it was on the right. Anyway Ben was on hand ably giving directions by mobile phone to guide us into our rightful place. The houses were really comfortable and Anna gave us a great welcome and told us her mysterious cousins would be arriving in the dead of the night! A little spooky! Peter was mooching around in a very serious frame of mind, trying to find the most comfortable bed, a bit like Goldilocks but with a crewcut ! I did fear my preparation plans had been seriously disrupted with our late arrival.
I had a terrible fearful anticipation, with talk from last years event of 8 foot waves and not being able to see the bouys! Apparently Gavin Noble swam butterfly just so he could see! I can’t do the butterfly, would I even survive the swim at all? Not to mention the ‘HELL’ in the name? I really was slightly dreading the whole thing, especially after Athy. Despite this everybody else seemed very calm, even #1 fan was very relaxed. I slept uneasily and woke at 6am, had a little stretch and some brekkie, (I did think of Cahir and brought pasta but I couldn’t bring myself to eat it at 6am, it seemed unnatural, anyway there was no colander!) looked out the window and thought ‘blue skies, wispy cloud, no wind’ this could actually be OK! As a consequence of the rushed arrival and trip down I had no cash, so wandered out to find the ATM, as an excuse to get a quick preview of the harbour. The bad news was the ATM was out of order, the better news was the water was calm a mere ripple on the surface! Could this be the calm before the storm or was our luck in? I wandered over to the hotel to register, very organized and efficient!
The tennants of our house – Anna, Lucy, the mysterious cousins (Colm whom I know well, as it turned out!) his mate and the #1 fan, gradually stirred and gathered in the kitchen everyone making last minute adjustments to bikes, helmets, water bottles the usual things before a race. Anna made what seemed like several pots of porridge, The difference was we had 200 meters to go to transition, there was no panicky drive for an hour, mad parking and queueing for registration and toilets! It was very calm and orderly, we did however manage to miss the team photo (need to coordinate this better in future!) Anyway made our way down to transition, which was really well organized if a little tight, as it was the HOTW 30th anniversary and the national championship there was a huge entry. Anyway Chuck managed to find an extra space beside JOL and freed up some space in the middle of the rack. The T3ers were fairly well grouped in transition and there was good relaxed chat as everyone set up their gear, (although Peter was ‘in the zone’ No Achtung Baby! total quiet, total focus) the calm seas had induced an almost overwhelming sense of relief and all fear was now gone. What I had anticipated would be the most difficult and least enjoyable section of the race now turned out to be the best and most enjoyable. Not surprisingly Helena, Piarais and MT did amazing swim times, and remarkably there were 7 T3ers within one minute of each other! At this stage #1 fan was nowhere to be seen, (suspect he went to the tuck shop for 7Up and sweeties!) and in fact Gena was, as ever, a great encouragement cheering everybody on.
T1 seemed fairly smooth although the sand between my toes did worry me, and no Ben I did not stop for a shower and a pedicure! The cycle route was out the North end of Kilkee through Doonbeg, soon to be renamed Trumptown International. At this stage the sun was shining and the views were magnificent, to my surprise I did pass Lucy on the bike – but not for long, we were to be nip and tuck for most of the cycle and the run! Just before veering left on the cycle loop I caught a fleeting glance of Peter coming back in at sonic speed! Soon after that Chuck came past me and disappeared fairly smartly into the distance not to be seen again until the run. I decided not to ‘blow up’ on the cycle and kept a fairly steady pace and enjoyed the views! The last 3k downhill back into Kilkee was just magic, best way to finish a cycle leg and a great rush. Just as well though because the run was relentless, it was up and up and up as the road wended its way out the south end of town on the Loop Head road. I tried to concentrate on the views of the cliffs and the seas, because on the road all you could see was runners snaking this way and that up into the distance as far as the eye could see. As I was running out I passed many of the T3 front runners big Jim, JOL, Laura and Ruth needless to say they were on the last stretch coming back in, but I was very happy to be enjoying the run, which was a big difference to my Athy run! I was glad to reach the 5 k mark as I thought it must be all downhill on the way back! But no, there were some deceptive little hills on the way back too. I was concentrating on my sprint finish, which never materialized, when in the last 100 metres Lucy came flashing past to pip me at the post!
It was a great day, the conditions could not have been better – calm and warm but not too hot! Everybody seemed to enjoy themselves and there were some great performances. Ben did a 12 minute run! Even with a dodgy Achilles, definitely a course record although bizarrely #1 fan, who had reappeared at this stage, told me that he spotted Ben running up and down the finish line for about 12 minutes! The girls shone again in the age groups Ruth finished 2nd in hers and Laure finished 3rd and Jim finished in the top ten! So big congrats to all. As a result we went to the prizegiving and the BBQ light up, instead we had drinkies sitting in the sun out front of the hotel Stella Maris followed by an excellent meal inside. Apres dinner we had a brief walk around the town and then settled outside the pub for a few more drinks, when the sun finally set, we made our way back to the houses for a cup of tea and some cake a fitting end to a truly great day. A well earned kip that night and woke up feeling A1, #1 fan and I drove up to meet friends at Lahinch, then took a rib out to Inish Mor to watch the cliff diving, which was spectacular. I can honestly say one of the most enjoyable races and overall weekends, which will long stay in the memory, trouble is difficult to reproduce that next year? Well, I’ll never say never again!