I’m having a deliberately quiet triathlon season. This is my last year in my current five-year-bracket age group. Next year is my first year in a new age group. I’ll be the youngest in the crowd then, which will surely boost my chances of doing well. So in anticipation of a competitive frenzy next year, I’m taking it easier in 2016. I’m not doing as many races as usual. I’m choosing my favourites when I do decide to get out there. That’s why I was in Lanesboro, County Longford last weekend, doing the Two Provinces Sprint Triathlon.
The joy of a quiet triathlon season: entering your favourite races
It was the third time I’ve competed in this race, and I love it. The setting is ideal: green rural Ireland, yet populated enough so that crowds of local people come out to cheer on the competitors.
The swim is in shallow lake water, warm enough on a July Saturday for wet suits to be optional rather than compulsory (although like most competitors, I chose to keep my wet suit on: the extra buoyancy is more beneficial than the few seconds it takes to strip it off before getting onto the bike).
The bike is a gently undulating course on closed roads, with few twists and turns. And the run starts along forest walks, moving onto a quiet, closed country road with a slight incline. All in all, it’s a fast course, and the event is run by a crowd of enthusiastic, dedicated individuals, creating a friendly, enjoyable atmosphere.
To cap it all, this year the event had been chosen as the National Sprint Triathlon Championships by Triathlon Ireland, giving a hint of fierce competitiveness to the proceedings.
How not to prepare for a race: too much cheese and wine then lots of pressure at work
My own preparation for the race was not ideal: I returned a week ago from my annual two week holidays, where my training had been hindered by too much cheese, wine and relaxation. Then I had a week of frenzied catch-up time at work immediately before the race, with no time for final touches to my race preparation. I consoled myself with the fact that I had stuck pretty much to the once daily sessions recommended by my coach Eamonn Tilley. Still, my head had not been as focussed on the competition as it might have been, and I felt anxious as the start approached.
Swimming in the wrong direction: not a great idea for a fast swim time
My race started badly: the warm water fogged up my goggles, then they were kicked off by a fellow competitor in the melee heading towards the first buoy. I struggled around the buoy, and as I put my head down in the push towards the second buoy, I became aware that swimmers were coming straight at me. When I stopped, lifted my head and had a good gawp around, I discovered that I had turned a full 180′ around the buoy, and I was heading back towards the start. I was soon back on course, but at that stage, I realised that I wasn’t going to have a record-breaking time.
A broken bike fixed by kind Californians
I’d been worried about my bike as one of the handlebar brackets had cracked in my last race, and I wasn’t sure if I could get it replaced in time. The Irish and UK wholesalers told me that the part was not in stock and it would take a few months to get one in. Fortunately, the kind people at Profile Design in California (the manufacturers of the tri bars) offered to ship the part to me directly, free of charge. As a result, I was able to replace it the day before the race: my bike was working more smoothly than ever.
The cycle leg of the race was easy and enjoyable. I monitored my heart rate with my Garmin watch, keeping it around 155 beats per minute: experience has taught me to pedal harder in a lower gear if my heart rate slips below 150.
Running without getting tired
I headed into the run with enthusiasm: just over twenty minutes to go, and the race would be over. How much can you suffer in such a short space of time? A lot, I soon discovered, as my pace drifted from 3:30 per kilometer down to 4:30. I soon settled into a steadier stride, finding a running mate who was happy at a 4:10 pace. This kept my heart rate at around 165 per minute: I’ve learned that that’s where it needs to be for me to do as well as I can do. If it ever drops below 160, I just need to run harder.
My thoughts often drift off while I’m running hard – there’s a transcendental state of mind known as “flow” that sometimes comes over me – it’s very pleasant. In this race, for some reason, a Bible quotation kept coming into my head: Isaiah 40:28-31 – “Those who wait upon God get fresh strength. They spread their wings and soar like eagles, they run and don’t get tired”. So I found myself running as fast as I could move my legs, and in that state of mind, I wasn’t getting tired. It was only after the race that my legs started to hurt!
A couple of Wicklow Triathlon Club pals were ahead of me on the run, unwittingly acting as targets to keep me motivated for that final surge towards the end. Thanks Karen and Debs – much appreciated.
Post-race feasting to refuel
Like the best triathlons, Two Provinces looks after its athletes by providing good quality nutrition afterwards. Gourmet Fuels, the healthy eating specialists, were on site, with vegetarian and meat options. Free Cornetto ice creams were also being dished out, and one of the great things about doing triathlons is that you feel that you have earned the treats. Guilt-free self indulgement.
This is always a time for talking too, with everyone buzzing on post-race euphoria: Wicklow Triathlon Club is as much a social club as a sports club, and there was a great atmosphere in the food tent once the crowds gathered.
The finish line – a great place to reach
I finished the triathlon in 1 hour 15 mins 23 seconds – I was over three minutes slower than last year: swimming back towards the start is definitely not something to do if you are going for a personal best. I was twelfth out of 29 in my age group/gender. I’d have been in the top ten if I’d got my swim right, and that’s good enough for me.
Triathlons – they’re not about winning. They’re a way of life.
I don’t do triathlons to be in the top three: for me, this is about living a balanced life. If my aim was to be a top age grouper, I’d have to put many more hours into training, and my family and work would suffer (they suffer enough already).
As it is, I train for 7 – 10 hours a week – something like an hour a day, plus a three hour bike ride at the weekend. I need to do that level of exercise to stay mentally and physically healthy, and without the challenge of doing races, I know that I’d be too lazy to get around to doing it. The threat of public humiliation on the race course keeps me motivated to follow the ET Sports training regime.
It’s always a lovely feeling to finish a triathlon, but here’s the strange thing: after a couple of days, I find myself scanning the horizon for the next event. The addiction continues…