I did a sprint triathlon last week, and I’m doing a half-Iron distance next week: so this week, I did the bridging distance, competing in the National Olympic Distance Triathlon Championships near Mullingar, the Caroline Kearney Memorial Triathlon.
The race is named after a promising young Irish triathlete who was tragically killed during a cycle training session with her team in France in June 2006. The “Caroline Kearney” (or “CK”) has become known as one of the best organised, efficient and enjoyable triathlons in Ireland, and yesterday was no exception.
Organising a busy race with over 500 entrants is no easy task, but the CK team did it smoothly and efficiently. Registration was open until 9am on the day of the race, despite the fact that it started at 10am. It’s common for registration to close several hours before most races (understandably, from the organiser’s perspective) but the later deadline at CK made it far easier for people like me who were travelling to the event. It meant I could have a relatively leisurely start (leaving home at 7.15am), park the car, register, get my gear set up in transition, change for the race, and still not feel pressurised for time. Often there’s a couple of hours hanging around before the race, which can be a tense and tedious time: at CK, there was less than an hour to wait.
And when it came to start time, it happened so quickly, without much of a fanfare or razzamataz, that some folk were caught out, still chatting in the shallows when the “three, two, one, GO!” happened.
The swim was in a lake, following a triangular course around yellow buoys – out 500m, across 500m, back 500m. It went well for me: I was able to tuck in behind another swimmer for much of it, drafting, cruising on the current he was creating. It was difficult to “sight” (i.e. to see where I was heading) because of the distance between the buoys but you can see from the trace downloaded from my Garmin 735XT watch that I didn’t go too far wrong. The watch also told me that my heart rate stayed between about 150 and 155 beats per minute which is about right: neither under- or over-doing it.
The exit from the water was interesting: it was shallow enough to walk on the mud and reeds underfoot from over 50 meters out, so we all paddled in for the final stretch. At one point, there was a big hole in the mud, which gave the spectators some entertainment: as they watched competitors make their way out of the water, predictably one of us would drop down like a stone, emerging spluttering a few moments later. It happened to me: I could hear the laughter from the shore as I emerged from the hole. You can see the person in front of me in the above photo (in the background of the pic) just gathering himself, and I’m about to take the tumble.
I managed to master the velcro strap at the back of my neck that was troubling me in my last race but I had a different problem at transition, again to do with my new wetsuit. I just couldn’t pull it off my legs fast enough, and I found myself sitting on the ground, muttering as I tried. I need to practice this before my next race, but really, who wants to do that? There’s no fun in putting wetsuits on and off. My transition took a good twenty seconds longer than the leaders in my age group as a result, so I do need to work on this, like it or not.
I had a great start on the bike, with my feet slipping easily into the bike shoes as I did a running mount, and I was soon off. It was a lovely course, with no serious hills, and the weather was overcast, still and comfortable. The route was well marshalled, with plenty of warnings before bends and junctions. My Garmin kit told me that my heart rate averaged 148, cadence averaged 90 and speed averaged 33km/hour. The bike section took me 1 hour, 12 minutes. These figures are just what I was trying to achieve: I would always like to be going harder and faster, but being realistic, these had been my targets. The Varia Vision device clipped to my sunglasses worked well: I was able to easily monitor these statistics during the race, pushing harder or easing back at different times: technical kit like this makes it far easier to reach the targets that you’ve set for yourself.
The bike to run transition is always much easier: no pesky wetsuit to drag yourself out of. You just need to take your helmet off, rack your bike, pull on the running shoes and off you go. The first bit of running is always painful: your leg muscles have been pedalling hard for over an hour, and they need to rapidly adapt to the different stresses involved in running. So it hurts a bit, and it feels odd, but after the first 500m, it starts to feel normal.
Running has always been my first love, and I still enjoy it more than the other segments, even though it comes at the end when your body is tired. I find that I slip into a default pace of around 5 minutes per kilometer, where life feels easy. But sadly, that isn’t fast enough to do well in a race, so I need to push myself to go harder. Today, my target was to run at 4 mins 30 secs per kilometer, and again the Garmin 735XT watch made it possible for me to monitor this. I ended up averaging 4 mins 26 secs per kilometer, taking just under 45 minutes for the run. My heart rate averaged 159 beats per minute: I know I could have gone a bit harder and faster, but my thoughts were partly on the Half Iron race next week, and I didn’t want to push myself so hard that I’d risk injuring myself for that one.
I find that I am prone to “burning matches” when I run: I spot someone ahead of me that I can catch, and I put on a burst of speed to bring myself up to them, then I ease off again. You can see this in my Garmin stats – my heart rate periodically went up to 170 beats per minute, running at a pace of 3:40 minutes per km, then I’d ease right back. I need to work on this: I’d do far better if I settled on a steady pace, all the time, of around 4:15 or 4:30 per km. My brain doesn’t seem to work like that: I prefer to have bursts of pain, then periods of recovery. Further discussion on this topic with my coach, Eamonn Tilley, is clearly needed.
The endorphins are coursing through your bloodstream, the end of the effort is just ahead of you, and your supporters are cheering you on: what is there not to enjoy about finishing? It’s no wonder that I am always smiling at the end of races. My finishing time was just on schedule at 2 hours, 30 mins, 20 seconds, one of my best times for the Olympic distance: I have my Garmin gear to thank for this. If I was left without it, I’d be far more hit and miss, not putting in enough effort sometimes, and overdoing at other times.
There’s always great banter at the finishing line: chatting to folk who you had been running beside, catching up with others who you’ve met in previous races and, of course, talking to your team mates: Wicklow Triathlon Club had a strong field of almost thirty entrants into this race. The social side of triathlons is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the sport. My wife, Joyce, had come along to support me (she wrote an entertaining “spectator’s eye view” of the race on her Facebook page) and as well as enjoying watching the event, she commented on the way that folk enjoy each other’s company afterwards. We have all suffered together, which is a classic way of bonding!
Finding out the results
The Caroline Kearney organisers had set up a large screen close to the finish, displaying finishing times and places as they happened. This was a useful innovation: there’s usually a delay between finishing the race and finding out how you’ve done. There was a continual crowd around the screen as people checked their performances. A great idea.
This was the National Championships, so I was happy to be 6th out of 14 in my age group. As long as I am above the half way mark, I always feel that I’ve done my job, and anything better than that is a bonus.
As well as the usual bananas, oranges and drinks immediately on the finishing line, the race organisers had set up a serving stand (above) dishing out curry and rice: the perfect hot meal to recharge the body’s glycogen supplies after a tough race.
Next week: the Ironman 70.3
My next challenge is the biggest this year: the Dublin Ironman 70.3: their organisational team has just rolled into Dublin (see above). This will be twice the distance of the CK Olympic Distance triathlon, and it will be more than twice the challenge.
Check in here again next week to hear how I get on.