This is another triathlon race report – nothing to do with animals, but just a reminder that each of us has another side to life other than our main profession. For me, daily exercise is one of the keys to keeping a life balance of work/family/health. And triathlons seem to be the easiest way for me to exercise: the mix of swim/cycle/run means that you can exercise on every day that you eat (that’s what I try to do) without over-stressing any one bit of your body (I was plagued by chronic back pain when I used to just do running…. adding swimming to my activities sorted that out permanently).
Anyway, I train all year round – it just becomes part of the daily routine – but the months of May to September are the “race season”, and I try to enter a race every 3 weeks. It keeps up my motivation to exercise. If there were no races on the horizon, it would be too easy to stop training, I’d lose the habit, and I know from twenty years of not exercising what that leads to.
So last weekend I went to Kilkee, Co Clare, for the Hell of the West Olympic Triathlon. Superbly well organised by the Limerick Triathlon Club, it’s been held on the last weekend in June for over thirty years. Hell of the West starts with 1500m in the open water of Kilkee’s horse shoe bay, followed by a 44km cycle against the winds of west Clare and a 10km hilly run along the rugged coastline of Loop Head. It’s a spectacular race and a tough one, with over 1200 athletes competing. If you’ve never seen a triathlon, watch the video to get some idea about what’s involved.
Ideally, I’d prefer to have arrived in County Clare the night before, but I was working at the clinic till 8pm , so had to travel on the same day as the race: my coach, Eamonn Tilley, kindly offered to drive me across to it. That meant getting up at 4am, reaching Kilkee around 7.30am. Not the best preparation for a big race!
It was a beach start (i.e. all the entrants line up on the sand, and when the horn sounds, you charge down into the surf, swimming like mad towards the first buoy that you need to go around). My swim went reasonably well except that I tend to drift off into “bubble land”, daydreaming as I look at the ocean all around me, rather than focussing properly on trying to swim as fast as possible.
The bike went very well: it’s probably my strongest of the three activities. I overtook loads of folk and was only overtaken a couple of times. The roads were “open”, which mean that we were sharing them with cars, buses, trucks and tractors, which was frustrating for us (if we get stuck behind a slow car) and also frustrating for drivers, I’m sure. I nearly cycled head-first into a tractor and trailer that pulled out at the last minute in front of me – I almost didn’t see him because my head was down, pedalling as hard as possible. My average speed was 34km/hour which I was happy enough with, but you can always push harder!
The 10k run was the most painful part of the race. It was up a steep hill for 2km, then along the coast on an up-and-down gradient for 3km before coming back the same way. The real challenge is to keep up the momentum, and not to slow down to the comfortable jog that you really want to do. It’s partly physical fitness, but mostly mental toughness. Your body wants to stop, but you need to over-ride that, and force yourself to keep pushing it. Phew. It was no wonder that I looked pretty miserable at the finishing line. Serious suffering!
The race organisers looked after us well after the race: there was plenty of food and drink to replenish our energy and rehydrate, with masseurs to rub our tired muscles, and more-or-less instant results posted online, so we could see how well (or badly) we’d done. Triathlons are grouped into age categories, so that you can judge yourself against your peers, rather than the young ones who have the advantage of youth on their side. I was 6th out of 49 in Hell of the West, although if I had managed to run half a minute faster, I would have been 4th. I was happy enough with that, although the key word there is “enough”: one of the things that keeps you going in the triathlon world is the hope that next time, you can do better. My next triathlon is in three weeks, in Sligo. Bizarrely, I am looking forwards to it already!