Borris Viaduct

Borris Viaduct
Borris ViaDuct

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Skerries, the Rás, the surprise triathlon & a new element to my training.

From January onwards I had been going to Skerries quite regularly at the weekends. 1st and foremost, this was because my aunt Mary had who lived out there had bought a cottage on the coast and had asked my to first design an attic conversion and then an extension for it. This was a great opportunity for me - it would be my first built work and would keep my foot in the door of my qualified profession. Her son, my cousin Billy is also one of my closest friends, so this was also a good reason to go hang out there at the weekends, a nice escape from the claustrophobic suburbia of Lucan (particularly when the attic was complete and they had moved into the house by April). Also the money I got from this job helped enormously with all this kit I was getting throughout the year.

So anyways, between the completion of the attic and waiting on planning permission for the extension my visits during the summer were purely social, just relaxing weekends out on the coast. I had even went on a few runs with Billy up along the beach promenade and back, about 5km. Then on the weekend of the 27th of May, we found out that the Rás, Ireland's national cycling race, would be finishing in Skerries. I don't really follow cycling and had never heard of this race before now, but was intrigued to see it, partially as a spectator of an event in the town, partially as someone who was getting into cycling.

On the day, me and Billy wandered into Skerries town and along the beach as had become a habit, not really aware of when things would be happening. On our way back it seemed like things subtly started happening around us - without being aware of the transition the roads were all of a sudden closed and people were now standing around waiting. The Peloton (I think I only learnt what this word meant today) was on it's way! The anticipation was something else - there seemed to be an endless parade of official motorbikes and cares flying through the place and then silence. And then they arrived, and what a sight!

We were parked on the outside of a hard right bend and this massive tight group of (20?30?40? Maybe a hell of a lot more?!) cyclists flew through it, faster than I could take any straight, tighter to the surrounding bikes than I would generally be to my own! It was amazing to see it, and yet so hard to gauge just how fast they were going and how hard it was to do what they were doing while making it look so easy. Within a minute they were gone, another parade of cars passed, then a smaller peloton of stragglers  and then it was over, all within 5 minutes. It was crazy to think about it - I had only seen a snapshot of the intensity that these guys had been cycling the last week or so, it was hard to get my head around it.

It had captured my imagination and had me on a bit of a buzz. We went into the shop we had been standing outside to get some refreshments. Fuelled by my buzz I started chatting to the guy at the till about the Rás, and mentioned I was training for a Triathlon in a months time. Much to my surprise, he mentioned that there would be a triathlon on in Skerries in about 2 weeks and maybe I should try that...

A triathlon in Skerries! Now I was excited. It seemed ideal - I would have a place to stay and it would be a good test run for TriAthlone, the main event, at the end of the month.

That week in work, I looked up the Skerries Triathlon, and found out it would be on the 17th June, just under 3 weeks away, 2 weeks before TriAthlone. The site was very informative with maps of the routes etc and it all looked very straightforward: A 750m sea swim on a triangular route starting with a run off the beach, a 20km cycle loop  into the countryside and back, and a 5km run along the beach promenade and back, which I thought would be nice. (there was also a warning about the jellyfish in the area on the swim briefing, but I chose not to think about this too much.)

There was a moment of hesitancy though. I was only back running (quite tentatively), and wondered was it such a good idea to be entering an event so close to TriAthlone – maybe the Achilles injury would flare up again, maybe worse?! In the end I decided I was just going to go for it. After all, it was just a test run – if the run didn’t feel good I would just stop, like in my training. So I was committed now, in 2 and a half weeks I would be doing my 1st triathlon!

The following Saturday, Billy picked me up in Lucan, so I could bring the Sensa with me to Skerries. 1st thing we did, with me as the navigator, race briefing in hand, was to drive around the course for familiarisation – this was a really handy way of doing this, to avoid me stopping a dozen times on my 1st test cycle! Then when we got to the house, I immediately got changed to try the course myself on the bike!

Writing this post now, almost exactly 2 years on, it’s funny to think that I actually found the prospect of this quite daunting! Remember I had only been cycling on a road bike for the 1st time ever the last two weeks, getting used to the balance and everything, and this was only in a car free zone, in a straight line on the canal! I wasn’t even sure I could corner yet! As it happens, this was more apprehension and hesitation, once I was on the road I was actually grand… for the most part.

The route worked a little something like this - Once out of the transition area near the beach, you cycle out through Skerries town centre and then onto the coastal road to Balbriggan for a couple of kilometres, then the take a left under the railway bridge and start climbing a long steep hill known as the Black Hill. When you eventually get to the top of this, the road becomes a lot more enjoyable with a lot of winding descents and rolling hills. There were still other little climbs where you had to work your way down the gears but everything seemed fine after doing the Black Hill! Before returning to the main road back to Skerries, you take a left, only to go a couple of kilometres down the road and turn back on yourself to get back to the road you were on (this was clearly to bring the distance up to the required 20km). The main road back to Skerries is great fun, gradually descending back down to sea level over a 5km stretch, making it quite pacey. Then you go around the outskirts of the suburbs before returning to the coastal road and back to Skerries, the route back to the transition area was a bit convoluted, having the weave left and right through a number of tertiary laneways (some of which the road surface was in terrible condition) and back.

I must say I enjoyed the route with a couple of exceptions:
  • The Balbriggan Road, though scenic, was in pretty rough condition (no exactly that there was any potholes, but the surface was in no way smooth) and therefore pretty draggy, which was pretty frustrating on the flat.
  • My chain came off just before I started the climb up the Black Hill, which obviously took away all my useful momentum! This was a bit of a concern, but didn’t think too much of it
  • The Black hill was definitely a task and quite long – I just had to go right down the gears and be patient that my 9km/h would get me to the top of something!! It really but my bike fitness into perspective, something that I never really felt I had to work on.
  • My cornering was a bit apprehensive at times, noting to myself that I definitely slowed down way more than I had to.
  • Braking felt funny!! I had to get on the drops to get proper purchase on the brake levers, and in this position I felt quite front heavy while cornering downhill – this just added to my apprehension on corners!!
  • My balance still left a lot to be desired – I felt really wobbly indicating right when going back into Skerries and I had to slow right down to almost nothing to manage the tight corners through the laneways.

All in all though, it was great fun, and a relief to be on the road for the first time on my road bike. I could see the importance in cycling at least the distance of the cycle leg in training though, and so did the route again the next week, and again the following week the day before raceday. Also during these weekends, on I went on a light run with Billy along the beach promenade which was pretty the running route, and as for swimming, well, I finally got into the sea with my wetsuit the weekend before raceday – I wouldn’t really have called it training, probably swam about 100 strokes, then got out (I’m not a huge fan of swimming in the sea on my own), and tried to get out of my wetsuit  as quickly as I could (this was the total extent of my swim transition practise!!).

I really enjoyed these weekends, and started to realise that there was a whole element to my training that I had not even tapped into yet, and started to get more of a feel for what triathlon training actually was. The prospect of doing this triathlon started to feel a lot less daunting over this weekends (i.e. it went from incredibly daunting down to just very daunting), and finally I felt I was kind of ready to do this!

Bring it on!