So, the weekend had finally come - TriAthlone was here, and I was still on my post-Skerries Triathlon Buzz. I felt ready!
I was going to be staying with my cousin Lorcan who lived in Athlone with his then fiancee Fiona, and I opted to head down on the Thursday so I could have a look at the course on the Friday. My brother, who had done this the last 2 years, was doing the Olympic distance for the 1st time this year and would be joining us on the Friday evening.
TriAthlone was a completely different animal to Skerries.
- Skerries had 350 competitors in total between its Olympic and Sprint distance events, TriAthlone was going to have over 2000!
- The swim was going to be much easier than Skerries in theory - a 750m straight line swim with the river flow (Olympic would have to swim 500m upstream before swimming 1000m with the river).
- The transition area in Skerries had been a small grass area cordoned off with some tape (in fairness, it did the job) - the transition area in Athlone was HUGE, making use of the secure main yard of the town barracks, which sits prominently on the quays.
- The cycle in Skerries was a hilly route on country roads (shared with vehicular traffic) - the Athlone route was a simple out and back on a flat, main road which would be closed on race day.
- The run in Skerries had been a straight forward run out and back along the beach promenade - Athlone was quite a convoluted route contrived to maximise your exposure to Athlone town centre, taking you from the barracks across the bridge, down the main street (where you passed by the finish line),before turning down a laneway leading you to a small quay which brought you back to the bridge and then on a loop around some other streets before bringing you back to the barracks. Strangely, this lap was only 2km and you had to do 2.5 laps of this course to achieve 5km! Once you passed the finish line the 1st time, you would start counting your 2 laps from there. Very confusing on paper. So much so, I could not figure it out and decided I would only do recon on the bike!
There's not a lot to be said about my recon experience on the bike course on the Friday. Irish main roads are pretty uninspiring stuff and this was no exception - 2 wide lanes, hard shoulder, embankment/grass verges each side occasionally broken up Garages and rest-stop restaurants. The prospect of a flat closed road was exciting, but in reality, it was BORING. It seemed like forever before I reached my 10km mark and had to turn around. The Skerries route had definitely been more enjoyable! One thing I noticed was that I was clearly against the wind and on an ever so slight incline on the way out, and with a tailwind and slight descent on the way back - I would have to be clever with the gears to get the most of this tomorrow.
As uninspiring as the course was, I was happy when I came back - 38 minutes, and average speed of over 30km/h. With the river swim in mind and this flat fast cycle course (though with probably a slower run than the pretty flat Skerries run), I could see myself going a good 10 minutes faster than Skerries, and was confident of a time around the 1hour 20minute mark.
Andrew came down that evening and we went to the barracks to register. Here I got my first taste of the scale of the event. The transition area was so big - all I could see was bike racks!! And there was going to be a
of waves (ie heats or rounds of people starting at the same time). In Skerries
there had been 3 - 1 for Olympic, Spinrt Advanced and Sprint Beginners
respectively, here there was going to be 15, 3 for Olympic, 12 for Sprint. The
Olympic waves were going to start first, so Andrew was going to be starting
pretty early. As for me, I was not until the 12th Wave! The transition area
would be closing to competitors on race day at 12pm and my wave would not be
starting until 5.30pm!! What the hell was I going to do for 5 and a half hours?
Anyways we went back to the house and I cooked up a huge spaghetti bolognese for everyone - the least I could do for my generous hosts, also some good carb loading (based my very limited knowledge of carb-loading). After this point, my high standards of preperations started to slip a bit. Knowing I was starting so late the following day I let my guard down, and a casual can in the house with Lorcan and my brother turned into 5 or 6 pints with Lorcan and his friends in the local pub!! Oops.
The following morning, I got up at about 10 with more than enough sleep and I actually felt grand. Lorcan and Fiona were already putting together a pretty epic fry-up breakfast - ah sure it would rude to say no! I was definitely in 'visiting friends' mode as opposed to 'I'm doing that race that I've been training all year for' mode! That said, things felt very relaxed and I felt good. In our own sweet time, my brother and I got together all our stuff, did our final checks on the bikes and headed over to the transition area in the barracks.
The transition was absolutely bustling! If seeing over 2000 competitors setting up for an event doesn't either make you really motivated or really nervous, then you're probably at the wrong event! Luckily I was pretty motivated. I racked up my bike (we had specific spaces for racking our bike in this one as opposed to Skerries where you could rack where you wanted) and crucially I took note of where my bike row was relative to the swim approach - this would be so important in finding my bike later!
I prepared my bike & area pretty much the same as in Skerries. I figured my main problem was just practise and knowing where my stuff was, so replicating the Skerries set-up seemed like a logical step, with the minor exception that I would be leaving my socks in my runners to be put on before the cycle! I found myself, now a veteran of one triathlon, offering advice to the guy setting up beside me doing his first triathlon. It's amazing the difference one race experience can make to your nerves on the day!
We gathered around for the race briefing before the transition area closed, this was important as the swim course had been changed. As there had been such a heavy volume of rain in previous weeks, the river was flowing much higher and faster than usual - this had two consequences:
1. The Sprint distance swim, which was completely downstream, was going to start further up the river to be lengthened from 750m to 1000m, to try and keep it like a 750m active distance.
2. The Olympic swim which was partially upstream was going to be reduced from 1500m to 1000m and do the same course as the sprint distance guys, as they were concerned about weak swimmers swimming against the strong current
Even though I was doing the sprint distance I was kind of annoyed by the change to the Olympic distance - it would have been a major advantage to strong swimmers, and I thought it was a cop out. Afterall you don't see cycle courses and run courses being shortened or cancelled if there is a bit of wind or rain! [rant over].
The next 5 hours, waiting on the quay was not an entirely fun time - my stomach got pretty unsettled and I must have found myself going to the loo every 15-20 minutes - not a convenient exercise when you're wearing a wetsuit up to the waste over a 'onesie' tri-suit which has a cycle jersey over it! This was not helped by the fact that I had a bit of a headache so was drinking all the fluids I had on me (mainly what I got with my triathlon goodie bag). There was no food or drink stations on the quay either which would have helped. At this stage, I probably could've done with some lunch!
At least when the waves had started, I had something to look at, as all the athletes were waiting by the swim exit. The river was flowing really strong! It was something you couldn't really appreciate until you actually the swimmers in the water, but in some case the flow was so strong that if swimmers got their direction slightly wrong , they ran the risk of missing the exit! All very exciting though - there was an announcer with a microphone, interviewing the odd competitor as they came out of the water and the atmosphere was great.
My brother had left for his wave by the time my family had arrived, and I was still about 3 waves away. I was actually pretty dehydrated at this point. The weather hadn't been great at all, but the sun had come out since we were booted out of transition and this was not a good combo! I got a bottle of water off my little brother, but honestly at this stage I just wanted to get into the river! I knew from experience, that hangover or not, I generally didn't feel things like that while swimming, plus a full body dip was just the invigoration I needed!
Finally, my time had come - I gathered with my wave in the waiting area, and just about saw my older brother come out of the swim exit before we started our walk up the riverside park to the swim start. This was to be a much different type of swim start to Skerries, instead of a run start which gradually gets you into your depth, here we had just jump in the river and wait in a group at a notional line between two kayaks until the gun went off (harder than it sounds when you are battling a strong river current!). Despite the strong current the river surface was smooth and flat as a swimming pool, and you just didn't get the feeling you were in a strong current. I tried to negotiate a start position about 1 or 2 rows of people from the front, but through constant adjustment of group to stay behind the kayak I ended up right at the front!
The gun went off. Chaos ensued. For the 1st 30 seconds or so, it was difficult to get going. I tried to kick my legs, but guys were already swimming on top of them. I tried to pull away but strong starters were already ahead and I was swimming on their feet! I would try swim around, but would just bump off swimmers on either side and get a smack in the head for good measure. It took a while to jostle into a free position and find my own rhythm, but in hindsight it was still early enough in the swim. Finally I had a chance to sight - there were buoys we were to swim between, and occasionally I had to but in a concerted effort to slightly change direction - the current was strong! The conditions were great though and I was enjoying the swim. Weary of my quick burn-out on the Skerries swim I just swam steady and strong. All the same, there was hardly more than a half dozen people ahead of me. There was a bridge just before swim exit - we had to make sure we swam through the right-most arch,otherwsie we would run the risk of missing the swim exit. This actually took some concentration. The bridge approached really fast! Even after swimming under the right archway I still had to keep 'steering' right to ensure I got to the exit!
The swim exit was a temporary pontoon and slip made from those modular plastic rafts, and had two float 'arms' extending from it that created a safe zone, that could gather all the fast flowing swimmers. It was quite difficult to get my legs under me and climb out with the speed the river was bringing me in, but there were marshals on hand to pull people out. In Skerries, you had a gradual reintroduction to gravity as you ran out of the sea onto land - here it was a bit more sudden. From out of my depth to out of the water, my legs had completely turned to jelly. As well as this I had to negotiate the slippy surface of the plastic pontoon. It's a miracle I didn't fall over in front of the massive crowd (I certainly saw plenty of people slip while I was waiting!). I ran up the path away from the river, across the road of the quay and into the barracks to transition.
My god, the run to transition was long! It must have been 100 - 200m at least, from the barracks gate to the main yard were all the racks were. At least this driveway was covered in a non slip blue mat, which made things easier on the feet. Transition itself was a bit more straightforward than last time, though not terribly fast. I took off my timing chip before taking off my wetsuit, and made sure to put it straight back on again. Putting on socks was a nightmare as my fingers were still numb, but I figured it was worth the small time delay for the advantages later. Putting on and zipping up the cycle jersey was a similar struggle. I put on my sweatband and helmet, and cycling gloves. I nearly forgot to put on my race belt too before unracking my bike, such was my disorientation still. And away I went on the bike.
Very much like my recon, the cycle was non-descript. It was nice to be on a closed road but that's about all I can say about it. For 10km out, it was just a matter of cycling in a straight line, gradually catching up on cyclists ahead and overtaking them. One thing I didn't mention earlier is that in the order of waves for the swim start, every alternate wave was male and female. This made it quite satisfying to overtake a woman on the bike course, as I knew I had caught up on the previous wave, that had started 15 minutes before me!
At the turning around point, I made a grim realisation - I had been cycling with the wind on this slight incline and now I would be cycling against it, taking all the speed out of the slight decline back to Athlone! There was very little interaction with cyclists on the way back. Whereas on the way out I had maybe overtaken a dozen and been overtaken by half a dozen, I only overtook about 2 or 3 people on the way back. It was a very uninvolving cycle - maybe I needed my chain to fall off again. One thing that struck me as I struggled to find some speed against the wind was just how quick some of the serious guys were passing me. At one point a clocked myself doing about 45km/h on the slight decline, and these guys were passing me like I wasn't moving at all! I knew I would have to work on actually training on the bike for next year, but also I could start to appreciate the advantage of the aero position on the tri-bars (which I didn't yet have). All in all, I found the cycle a bit samey and tedious and I didn't feel as energetic as I had the day before on the recon - I'm sure the hangover had something to do with this! It was a relief to get back into town and back to the crowds, even though I never really looked forward to the run.
I dismounted the bike, and took it up that long procession to the transition area. I didn't feel terribly fast running with the bike, as a lot of serious guys flew past me even then. Though I knew the row, finding my area was much tougher now without my bike as a visual marker. I found it all the same, quickly racked the bike and de-helmeted and away I went.
I was so uncertain about the run - I didn't know the course at all! All I knew that I was 2 laps from when I passed the finish area to when I would actually finish, so I would have to follow the crowd until I had done one lap. The running felt good, despite me being pretty dehydrated (I still hadn't taken to bringing water with me on the bike). Crowds lined the whole run course and the atmosphere was amazing. Despite all this I quickly spotted my parents in the crowd, which was nice. After crossing the bridge and going up the main street I saw the finish line. Right 2 laps to go from here! The main thing here as obvious as it sounds was to stay right and make sure you didn't cross the finish line too soon (actually quite easy to do when you're caught up in the atmosphere, probably not now, but maybe at the end of the 1st lap). Turning right of the main street the course went down a really steep laneway to the riverside. This was really jarring on the knees and I was not looking forward to doing that again! We ran along the quay on a min loop back to the bridge. Just before the bridge was a water station -learning from Skerries, I just walked and made sure I took the water on. I didn't really care about time - it was all about self preservation! Crossing the bridge, took the runners onto another mini-loop before taking us back to the barracks. This mini-loop was probably the hardest as we had to run past a lot of pubs with people sitting outside having a cold pint - I wished I was one of those people!!
It sounds confusing, but now I had done 1 lap, but would only be on my last lap when I passed the finish line! It all made sense while I was running anyways!
Now that I had relaxed into my running, knowing the course, and taking in the amazing atmosphere, I couldn't help but notice how I was predominantly getting overtaken by people. I actually felt I was going alright, but these people seemed to be cruising by me and it looked such little effort for them too! I knew there wasn't an awful lot more I could've done in fitness training in running for this event, but this was the first time I got an indication that my technique was holding me back. All the same, I really enjoyed the rest of run. I saw a few of my cousins in the crowd and there was a few random high fives thrown in for good measure - it really was a great event. The only time I stopped again was to make sure I took on water on the 2nd lap, but otherwise it was all very manageable. It was only when I tried to put in a final sprint at the end that I realised I had very little left in my legs which was good!
As soon as I had finished, my legs started seizing up. I found my brother quite quickly in the post race area, and I got as much free food and drink as I could get my hands on. The great thing about the organisation and size of TriAthlone was that it had it's own app, so I was able to find out my times very quickly, which went a little something like this:
- 750m (1000m) Swim: 08:54 - frankly a ridiculous time, just showed how fast the river was. My split was nearly 4 minutes faster than in Skerries and I wasn't trying near as hard! I think the fastest times were under 6 minutes! Normally around 9 minutes would get you the fastest split, just to put that into perspective!
- T1: 05:43 - very, very slow but didn't know how much of that to put down to the sheer size of the transition area, and how much to put down to taking my time!
- 20km cycle: 41:09 - was pretty dissappointed with this. Really wanted to get over that 30km/h average (ie sub 40 minutes) on this closed predominantly flat circuit. I think Andrew had average slightly over 30km/h on the Olympic circuit, twice the distance! (and fair play to him, by the way!)
- T2: 02:29 - if anything, this illustrated the size of the transition area, as all I did here was run in, drop my bike off and run out!
- 5km Run: 28:45 - Again, was really disappointed with this, I at least wanted to be sub 25 minutes, but maybe my running simply was not as good as I thought it was!
- TOTAL TIME: 1:26:58
Overall I was pretty disappointed with the time on the day. It was real mixed feelings. After-all, I had completed the event I had trained 9 months to complete, but I didn't give a good account of myself. What made it worse was I saw exactly where I could have made up that time (to get sub 1hour 20) with my current fitness. I had done the cycle 3 minutes faster only the day before, and I had done 5km (albeit on a flatter route) 3 minutes faster in Skerries. I knew I could do better, which made for a bit of an anti-climax as it was my last triathlon of the year. It was all down to shoddy preparation the day before, and I knew I wouldn't make that mistake again.