Paul’s first Olympic Triathlon

t3_paul_cullen_picWho would have thought it? After a dark winter and a cold spring, the hottest day of the year arrives in time for Athy’s annual triathlon extravaganza. I know many of you who have been competing by the Barrow for far longer than I say that Athy regularly gets good weather, but that’s not the way I remember my first-time effort at the Sprint last year.

That day, the wind blew a gale and heavy rain rolled in by the end of the day. My poor family, lured along by the promise of a summery riverside picnic, spent the day huddled against the cold by the river-bank while organisation chaos reigned and I laboured up and down the river. At least they were cured of the desire to come along and spectate again.

But what a difference a year makes? Sun splitting the stones and a beefed-up organisation made for a much improved experience. Mark, an Athy veteran, knew the best access routes and parking spots so we were registered and ready in lickety-split time. If only I could swim/bike/run as fast.

In the balmy conditions, there was plenty of time to catch up with old friends from other sports and walks of life in the pre-race transition zone. It’s funny how so many sporty types eventually get to the triathlon, even if they take the long way round. A bit like me, I suppose.

Among the crowds, a big T3 turnout, of course. The WhatsApp feed had been humming from 6am, and beyond the midnight the night before – evidence that some of us were too excited to get a decent night’s sleep. There must have been a fair amount of muscle fatigue even before the race – not too serious given it was only the texting thumbs that were affected.

After the usual waiting around – we T3ers are a mature bunch, so most of us end up in the later waves – it was time to race. The water was temperate – someone said 14 degrees – though its level was low. There wasn’t too much argy-bargy at the start but maybe that was because most of the field quickly left me in their wake. This was my first Olympic in Athy and my ambition was modest – to swim the course without stopping.

Gurgle. 500m. Gurgle. 500m. Gurgle. The last 500m. That wasn’t too bad, though the bike rack looked distinctly empty when I reached the transition zone. Soon I was whizzing through verdant countryside on a route that thankfully offered plenty of shade. There were fleeting views of other T3ers now and again as the course doubled back on itself but mostly it was head down stuff. The time flew – I can’t say I did.

The sun was higher in the sky and the day had grown noticeably hotter by the time I hit the run. You could feel the heat bouncing off the pavement and the stretch down to the river offered little shade. Just two laps, to be fair – kudos to Anna, who ran four laps for her Double Olympic. The hot weather was really taking its toll by the time the bridge come into view and we crossed the river for the final stretch. A nice lady shouted encouragingly that we had only 600m to run and imagined we took this as good news. A whole 600m!

But finish lines do come – eventually. And recovery comes quickly too. Before long, we were all eating a hot pasta dish in the sun and planning our next events.

A great day. Now I had better go and look up my times.

Paul Cullen