A triathlon before breakfast !

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I’m still waiting for an edible chocolate medal

Well I did say the triathlons were coming thick and fast these days. Hot on the heels of Ballybay last week came another chance to test myself with a short hop relatively speaking down the N11 to Greystones. This morning’s race was probably the earliest on the race calendar so far in that the starting gun was set to fire at 9am which is especially early. The triathlon in question was The King of Greystones, to give it its official title. Its a charity triathlon run by the Gavin Glynn foundation with all proceeds going to the foundation which provides for families of sick children and has been doing so for over a decade. This year’s turnout was the largest with over 300 competitors all braving the chilly 12 degree elements first thing of a Sunday morning. While not a triathlon Ireland sanctioned race, the King of Greystones is just as competitive as is evidenced by the blistering times at the top end.

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While my replacement wetsuit finally arrived this week I had chosen to show faith in the Orca wetsuit that I had been sent on loan courtesy of Athlos Triathlon, I thought it was the very least I would do given their kind gesture, it was also a bit snazzier than my own. The water on South Beach was actually quite cold even with the benefit of the insulation provided by the wetsuit. I was quite surprised as the sea temperature in Seapoint earlier in the week was almost 16 degrees, this morning it felt like 13 degrees. A 3 degree temperature difference doesn’t sound like a lot but it is.

The swim itself was rather frenetic. The swell was high and there seemed to be a lot of people jockeying for position in the water ahead of reaching the first buoy. If it had been my first open water swim I would have been terrified what with all the barging and flailing legs and arms. My rhythm took a while to get going but once it did I felt ok. I was conscious of being passed by a lot of swimmers early on but as I said before one has to swim one’s own race and ignore everyone elses’.

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This time a yellow helmet / swim cap

It is always disorientating attempting to stand up let alone run after exiting the water at the end of a swim  leg and its something I think I’m still getting used to. I managed to get my wetsuit undone on the long job up to the transition zone, where I divested myself of the wetsuit and got my bike in super quick time, in fact I think it was my fastest post swim transition yet. As you might recall from the last blog entry I have taken to putting a swim cap over my helmet to give it a more aerodynamic profile. It probably shaves off only a couple of seconds (by reducing drag) over the course of a 20km cycle but I choose to do it as it gives me a psychological boost.

The cycle itself wasn’t in fact 20km, I’m open to correction but I measured it out at  18.8 km. It involved two laps of a very uphill course, painfully uphill that is on the way out and blissfully downhill on the way back. where you’d easily be hitting 55 km per hour. After what I felt was a slow enough swim I was buoyed when I started passing riders on the uphill leg. By the end of the cycle, I figured there must have been about 20 or so people ahead of me which wasn’t bad given I was roughly 60th out of about 300 out of the water.

A quick transition and it was off on the 5 km run which is always a tough run. At this stage of the race your legs are full of blood after peddling furiously and certainly for me, my breathing is deep and laboured because after coming this far I want to be as competitive as I can, hence it’s never an easy 5 Km jog. A couple of runners passed me but I picked a couple of them off at about midway point. In a regular stand alone 5 km race I can run about 18 min 30 sec, but in recent triathlons I’ve been running about 20 min 30 sec which is 2 minutes slower which is understandable given its the third leg of a triathlon. The funny thing is when you know you have run much faster before, the 5km in a triathlon feels genuinely slow to me despite my pushing hard. It is amazing though how I manage to discover the energy to ramp up the gears when the finish line is in view. I also notice my speed on the homestraight increases in proportion with the number of supporters clapping over those last few hundred meters. 🙂

The good news is that I managed 14th overall and given my slow swim start and a difficult cycle leg I was happy with that placing. I certainly have a few things to work on but in reality it’ll be the winter before I can tackle those in earnest. So that’s a 9th, 12th and 15th place over the last three triathlons, not too shabby at all given I only started this triathlon lark 8 weeks ago 🙂

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Greystones South Beach

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All the way to Ballybay !

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Another week and another triathlon. This time it was north on the road to County (Monaghan to the Ballybay Triathlon in association with Muck No Triathlon club, an unusual name as someone pointed out to me). Now as regular readers will know I have had a bit of a wetsuit dilemma of late as you can see here…

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My new wetsuit ripped and I had to send it back to the sellers who are based in England, that was three weeks ago today and I’m still awaiting a replacement. Needless to say I have been less than impressed with Wiggle and their lethargic approach to customer service. To be without a wetsuit for three weeks in the middle of triathlon season is a bit ridiculous to say the least. Thankfully someone saw me whining about my wetsuit predicament on twitter and next thing Athlos Triathlon based in Belfast (www.athlostriathlon.com) offered to loan me a wetsuit in the interim which was super generous of them so I will be wearing this wetsuit over the next week and during my upcoming race.

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As it happened I had been forced to rent a wetsuit to maintain my training and compete in the Ballybay triathlon last Saturday but needed to return it within 7 days, so the loan suit from Athlos Triathlon arrived just in time for next weeks triathlon. The catch with the rental wetsuit was it was a sleeveless wetsuit which is less buoyant and by extension a slower suit.

So after a two hour drive north and a meandering route through the picture postcard Monaghan countryside I arrived at Lake Major and the registration / transition zone hub. The set up was very similar to the Blessington triathlon a few weeks ago in that it was an intimate setup in a picturesque location with the sun belting down.

I’ll be honest at this point and say that I really wasn’t feeling it that morning. I hadn’t slept very well and had sustained a cut on my foot on  the rocks while swimming in Seapoint earlier in the week. I suppose I was suffering from a bit of a lack of confidence because I didn’t feel in peak physical condition but I was going to try and compete regardless, anything else would be weakness.

Again I marvelled at the bikes on display in the transition zone in advance of the race at 1pm. My bike is a 200 euro job from a run of the mill bike shop, some of tne bikes racked either side of mine were north of 5,000 euro. I know because I googled it standing there like some cycling fanboy.

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My jalopy of a bike compared to the space machines either side, and yes my helmet is pink !!

The Olympic distance triathletes, those swimming, cycling and running double my sprint distance race, were first to take to the placid lake. Ten minutes later it was my turn. There’s always a bit of apprehension before a race because you obviously want to do well but also because you know over one our of frenetic relentless exertion lies ahead and at times it feels like bloody hard work!!

 

There was that added sense of anxiety due to my foot injury playing on my mind but I put it to one side when I entered the water. To my surprise the sleeveless wetsuit didn’t let too much water in and all that remained was the starting gun.

This would be my second time swimming in a lake. Even at this early stage in my journey as a triathlete it is very obvious that a lake swim is the most difficult form of open water swim. If you compare a lake swim to a river swim, the latter is much easier as you benefit from the river flow which invariably flows faster in the centre compared to close to the banks. A sea swim is probably the easiest kind if swim unless there’s lots of wind, swell and chop, mainly due to the salinity of the water which offers increased buoyancy and thus free speed.

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Lake Major in Ballybay is a fresh water lake so its like swimming n a huge pool, only with no lane lines to follow. In fact the only things marking out the course across the lake and back again were big red buoys. Spotting the red buoys from land is one thing, trying similar when you’re in the middle of 50 swimmers all jockeying for position in a race, is totally  different. The technique for spotting a point ahead of you is called ‘sighting’ and involves you popping your eyes just above the water crocodile style so you can see straight ahead. This technique can be quite tiring as you are lifting your head and arching your back every few strokes to ensure you’re not swimming off course and can be practised in the pool but there’s no better environment that the great outdoors.

In my first couple of triathlons when entering the water I got a little overwhelmed mentally as it was an alien environment to me as I had no frame of reference. Consequently I would set out too quickly, carried away by the excitement and adrenalin. My breathing and rhythm would be interrupted and I would have to slow down to gain control again. Now it wasn’t like I was flailing uncontrollably but I resolved to learn from the experience and stay focused on my own race. when so many people are around you the temptation is to over extend yourself and not swim your race as you had preordained. If you do this you will be in trouble very quickly. So now when I enter the water in a race context I swim at my own pace regardless of who is doing what beside me or in front of me. I establish my own rhythm which fuels my confidence and regulates my breathing. In Ballybay this worked very nicely for me. While not the quickest swim in the world I shaved two minutes of my 750 m lake swim time compared with a similar lake swim in Blessington several weeks previous.

I had been concerned the sleeveless wetsuit would slow me down, perhaps it did due to the lack of buoyancy but I emerged from the water in a good position to take to the bike leg. As you will see in a photo above my helmet is pink. This was in fact a swim cap which I placed over my helmet. Why do that you ask ? Simple reason is I was trying to create a more aerodynamic profile as I was cycling. Much in the same way as a wetsuit contributes to a more streamlined body profile in the water and thus faster swim times, adopting an aerodynamic profile on the bike enables a faster cycling time. Putting a swim cap on my helmet covers over the vents which would act like mini sails catching the wind as I was cycling, creating drag and slowing me down which is the last thing I want. The quest for reducing drag is the main reason lots of triathletes spend a fortune on bikes, wheels and helmets. The more money you spend the lighter and more aerodynamic your bike and the faster you’ll slice through the air. The longer the race the greater the benefit a triathlete will see from an aerodynamic bike and the greater the margin between him and someone with greater drag. It’s a bit technical but money basically equals speed.

The cycle itself was actually quite tough in that the course was very undulating and I was glad to see the 20 km marker that signalled the return to the transition zone. At this stage I re-racked my back and set off on the 5 km run. The first kilometre after coming off a bike leg is really a shock to the system. You have gone from peddling furiously for 35 / 36 minutes to sprinting within the space of the 90 seconds it takes to enter and exit transition. As luck would have it I spotted a guy who had beaten me on the finish line in Athlone a few weeks ago. he had posted a good time and was a strong runner so I knew if he was only a minute or so ahead of me on the run then I was in with a shout of a decent placing.

The run itself was hilly and my legs were fried from the tough cycle. I had passed a few runners as I tend to as my run seems strong enough and with a kilometre to go I kicked past a runner who I had battled to reach for about 500 metres, I then kicked for home. As it happened I managed a creditable 11th place which I was delighted with given my pre-race tiredness and foot injury. Overall I was pleased with my performance, my lake swim is definitely improving, my bike leg averaged 33 kmph, slightly down on 35 km ph in Athlone but the course was much hillier, and my run was the quickest yet in a triathlon race at just over 20 minutes. There are absolutely things to improve on for next time and I think I’m getting used to the discomfort which is omnipresent during the race which is half the battle.

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I do love a nice medal!!

The triathlons are like buses and wetsuits these days, they are coming thick and fast. Off to Wicklow for the next one.

 

 

Facing my fear … Broccoli ?

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Hey there thanks for stopping by my blog as more and more of you seem to be doing lately which is most excellent and confirmation that my stream of consciousness doesn’t meander quite as much as I had feared.

Speaking of fears, smooth segue there, that is exactly what this whole love affair with triathlon is for me. I love that bestselling book by Susan Jeffers, the title of which has become a maxim in its own right, Feel the fear and do it anyway, because of the stark simplicity of the message. Face your fears, it is as straightforward as that, anything else is excuse making and giving into fear. Its a very qualitative process with no inbetween. You either face your fear head on or you run from it.

Fear for me was moving outside of my comfort zone. The human body loves predictability and is inclined to make pre-ordained assumptions based on previous experience. So let’s say you tried broccoli as a child and didn’t like it because it was unfamiliar, forever more you would avoid broccoli like the plague. If however instead of giving in to the predictable ingrained irrational notion that broccoli was the worst food ever and you actually tried it and tasted it, you’d pretty quickly figure out that it wasn’t so bad after all.

So now substitute swimming in open water for the broccoli and you’ll see where I’m going with this. I taught myself how to swim 3/4 years ago after an injury meant I couldn’t lift weights in the gym. I had zero lessons, I simply sat on youtube watching videos of swimmers and their technique over and over again. As a child I had had an irrational fear of the water. I was terrified of letting go of the bar at the side of the pool and putting my head in the water. Despite numerous lessons my fear prevented me from becoming anything other than a doggy-paddler. So when I got in the pool several years ago I was determined to teach that 8 year old inside me a lesson or two.

I made it my goal to swim 1000 metres every time I got into the pool. In the beginning I was bloody slow because not alone was I determined to swim 1000 metres but I was going to breath bi-laterally with my head in the water, the proper way. At the start I simply didn’t have the lung capacity to swim more than one 25 metre length without having to pause for 20 seconds to catch my breath. Consequently it took me 1 hour and 15 minutes to swim the 40 laps to complete the 1000 metres. I did this twice a week, every week for the next 3 and a half years. My times came down gradually as I honed my technique and my lung capacity improved allowing me to string a couple of lengths together and then a couple more. After a couple of years I eventually got the time down to 20 minutes, something I was so proud of.

It was at that point I sought a new fear to face and that was open water swimming in water which would invariably be cold. The temperature of the water in your average pool is a balmy 25 degrees, whereas the temperature in open water in summer is roughly 15 degrees. To give you a sense of how, depending on your perspective warm or cold that is, simply run the cold tap in your house and it’ll be roughly the same temperature.

To really conquer my fear I had to take the literal and metaphorical plunge and immerse my 8 year old inner child in open water. Now to be able to compete in triathlons in Ireland you must use a wetsuit, you have no option. Indeed the triathlon season proper only actually begins when the sea/lake/river temperature has risen enough and that is at the end of April. As you will know if you’ve been reading my blog, in the beginning of June I competed in my first triathlon in Athy which involved my having to swim competitively in open water for the first time. It was a potentially terrifying experience but despite a couple of hairy moments I fell back on my training and stuck with the process, focusing on technique and breathing to get me through.

Since that first triathlon I have competed in a fresh water lake, in the sea in Bray and in the river Shannon last weekend. Each open water environment offers a different challenge, be it a lake with no buoyancy or a choppy sea pounding you with waves. The open water swim is for me the greatest challenge at the heart of this exploration of all things triathlon. At saying that, triathlon is a myriad of challenges rolled into one, but having conquered my fear of water the other challenges triathlon present are very doable.

There was however, one aspect of open water swimming that I had been avoiding, till now. As I mentioned in triathlon in Ireland you must use a wetsuit so as a result I have been training in and competing in my new wetsuit. However at last weekend’s race my wetsuit ripped and has since been despatched to the suppliers who will hopefully replace the faulty item. I was left with one problem, how do I train without my wetsuit. I thought, well I could go to the pool, sure I haven’t been in the pool since I got my wetsuit. Then I thought it’s too windy to swim outdoors anyway. Then I looked at the forecast to see if it would rain because that would rule out swimming outdoors. Nonsense.

I was making excuses. I just didn’t at all fancy swimming outdoors without a wetsuit for the first time ever and in 15 degree Irish water !! Feel the fear and do it anyway…

So I did.

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Here, at Seapoint overlooking Howth Head. It really is a stunning spot. I hadn’t actually swam here before but had passed it a couple of times enroute to the Forty Foot in Sandycove where I had done most of my open water training to date. So in I went, feeling a tad vulnerable without my wetsuit but I figured if others can do it then so could I. While it was a bit cold initially the temperature didn’t bother me beyond the first couple of minutes. There was a big difference in the amount of exertion needed to cover the same distance I would have covered in a wetsuit, the latter being easier.

I just did a short session of about 600 metres primarily to immerse myself in the cold water and experience the sensation. Have to say while it wasn’t a long distance or a lengthy session I was delighted I had done it, yet another fear faced down. That 8 year old kid is some motivation. 🙂

A splash in the Shannon ? Yeah go on then

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Athlone Town was the location of the Waterways Ireland TriAthlone

 

Hot on the heels of my last outing in bray a couple of weeks ago I was on the Triathlon trail again yesterday. This time it was into the midlands for the Waterways Ireland Triathlone (clever lads).

Unusually the race was an evening one as opposed to an early start which sees most triathlons begin before lunch. Not sure why but it suited me given how hot it was in Dublin at noon when I set off on the road. In my  mind an evening start might mean a cooler race. Once I had double checked and triple checked that I had all my gear packed into the car, from helmet to ear plugs to my actual bike (can’t forget that) it was 90 minutes drive on the motorway to Athlone.

I had set off a good bit early because I’m generally always early for everything, but it was afforded me plenty of time in the event I got lost, which inevitably I did on arrival in Athlone. In my defence the signposting wasn’t the best , but this is Ireland so maybe that’s no defence at all.

My race wasn’t beginning till 5pm so arriving in Athlone at 2pm was probably a tad premature but it allowed me to register, get my race number, the all important timing chip and goodie bag which in truth was fairly anaemic as far as goodies went.

IMG_20170708_142339 The next step was to get to the transition zone where you set up for bike and your runners for the two phases of the triathlon that follow the swim section. The transition zone is always a buzz of activity with all the competitors milling about the place in various states of preparation. You have the big rollers as I call them, the lads with the 10,000 euro bikes and all the fancy gear looking super serious in advance of the task at hand. You also have the competitors who arrive down with a jalopy of a mountain bike complete with mudguards, bell, and carrier basket (I kid not).

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In the middle would be me, with my 250 euro racer and clip on triathlon handle bars for 40 quid. I would be lying if I didn’t admit i was suffering from serious bike envy and unashamedly spent much of the afternoon before my race eyeing up other triathletes’ bikes. Sad but true, but to be fair I was in my element.

In retrospect I might have arrived in Athlone a bit later as I would have saved myself a long wait in the transition zone in the sun which seemed to get stronger as the day progressed, so much for my  thinking it would be cooler come the start of the race. With about 15 minutes to go, we received a briefing which detailed the cycle and run routes and then it was a long march up to the start of the swim.

I had swam in a river just once before, you’ll recall which was this time last month in the River Barrow in Athy. That was my first triathlon, today would be my third. The good thing about a river swim as opposed to a lake swim like Blessington is you benefit from the current. The advice is generally the further you swim to the middle of the river the faster the current, the greater the perceived advantage, so that’s exactly where I started. The route would take us on a 750 metre swim which arched to the right under a railway bridge.

On my two previous race swims I had gotten a little carried away with my pace at the start of the race and struggled for breath before settling into a rhythm. I suppose given how new open water swimming is to me this was always going to be inevitable especially when you get caught up in the excitement and the adrenaline is pumping. On this occasion I chose to swim my own race and go at my own pace right from the start. Having placed myself in the middle of the river there were relatively few people around me, the water was clean and I wasn’t being buffeted by too many other swimmers. Every so often I would look up ahead to sight the railway bridge which I used as a rough estimate of distance. Its funny at one point I thought the bridge was moving away from rather than getting closer. My rhythm was good , my sighting was good and most importantly my breathing was calm and enabling me to cut through the water. As we neared the end of the course it was the reeds beneath the water that became a concern as you couldnt help but swim through them. By the time I completed the 750 m swim and was out of the water I noticed just under 12 minutes had elapsed, this would be a personal best for me but I couldn’t quite bask in that mini glory as I was trying to get my balance, run and take off my wetsuit all at the one time!! (who says men can’t multitask!! ).

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Incidentally it wasn’t till after the race that I noticed my wetsuit, my new wetsuit had torn along the seam, not exactly something that should happen so I have contacted the manufacturers to see if they’ll be really sound and sort it out for me. Fingers Crossed!!

After the swim was came the cycle portion of the race. I’m still new enough to triathlon to have posed the question to myself … WHY AM I DOING THIS ??? This is exactly was I asked myself as I hopped onto the bike to begin the 22km route while I was still trying to catch my breath after the swim. The cycle was buffeted by strong winds on the way out but less so coming back. There were a few hills on the route which took us 11 km out into the countryside. I cranked up the gears on the return leg and swimmed to endure less wind so knew my speed was good. At that point I had counted only 5 racers in front of me so was hugely encouraged in one sense if a tad disbelieving in another. Surely there had to be more than 5 people ahead of me ??

Once the cycle was completed we were back into transition to ditch the bike and helmet and begin the run phase. For the first kilometre or so my legs were still full of blood after the cycle and I found this combined with the hilly roads tough. My pace was, by my running standards, slow but the heat was a factor too. I think I need to practice more ‘brick’ sessions, these are training sessions where you cycle and then run immediately the moment you come off the bike. It’s just a case of training the muscles in my legs to get used to one disciple followed by another.

Earlier in transition I had got chatting to a guy who I spotted half way through the run. He was a marathon runner and I knew looking at him that he was gaining on me. At that stage I was well and truly knackered and was finding the run an endurance test. With a couple of kilometers to go, that runner chap passed me and I decided to try stay on his tail. I thought even if I managed to use him as a pace maker it would help speed up my run and my overall time. So I sat on his shoulder and he kicked on a couple of times and I still stuck with him. For the last 200 meters we were literally sprinting as we were lapping people and while I tried my damnedest I couldn’t get enough out of my legs to pass him.

All in all it was a great race. I managed to get 9th place in a time of 1 hour 12 minutes which is a personal best for me helped by my fastest ever swim and a crazy fast bike leg where I hit 49km ph and an average of 35 kmph which was awesome.

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So here is the all important medal. I think it’s great that they give all competitors medals regardless of where they place. It’s such an achievement to actually partake in and finish a triathlon of any distance that a medal to signify completion is a just reward. One final note, a huge mention has to go to the oldest competitor in the race, a 76 year old granny who got a massive cheer as she crossed the finish line, such an inspiration.