Three triathlons is a charm

westport1

Well its been a busy few weeks and I simply haven’t had a spare minute to write a blog post so you’ll have to forgive me for condensing a couple of weeks into one post.

When we last met I had just finished the James Mc Manus Memorial Triathlon and had been rather encouraged by my performance. In an attempt to make maximum use of the triathlon season after a loooong looooong winter I had elected to register for 3 triathlons in 3 weeks. My second triathlon of the season was the Tarmonator which would take place in Tarmonbarry Co Longford, not far from the previous week’s. The difference this time was the swim segment took place in the Shannon. From the point of view of scale, the size of the field was very similar to the previous one in Cavan, so around 150 people.

The benefit of a smaller field is the transition area is smaller and generally the entire operation is more intimate which I prefer. The swim itself went without a hitch again. I chose to stick to the strategy which served me so well the previous week and stayed out wide to the left and enjoyed clean water. Once I round the first buoy the swimmers were more spread out and I simply paced myself back to shore.

The first transition was problem free. I had done up the zip on my triathlon suit so that it didn’t come undone as it did the previous week thus saving me time. I am still getting used to using clipless pedals and cycling shoes and struggled a little with trying to get my feet into them and the straps secured before knuckling down into a good rhythm on the bike. I always find I’m breathless when I’m first on the bike. I suppose its inevitable given the hare’s pace at which I have been swimming.

The cycle itself was uneventful, I passed a few people which always gives you a surge of confidence and literally only 2 cyclists passed me out which was good. One of these cyclists stayed ahead of me by about 100 meters and no matter what I did I couldn’t bridge the gap. Returning to transition after the cycle is more fraught than it was for me last year because of those clipless pedals. I cant just lift my foot off the pedal, hop off the bike and start running. I now have to gingerly remove my feet from the cycling pedals and place my foot on top of the cycling shoes and continue to cycle at pace before dismounting just in time before the dismount line. If you time this incorrectly it can lead to time penalties at best and injury or disc-qualification at worst.

Helmet off, runners on and we were off again. The run itself was as uneventful as the cycle. Nobody passed me and I could still see the chap who passed me on the bike 100 m ahead, but no matter what I did I just couldn’t close that gap.

In the end I managed a decent enough 15th place overall, so I was delighted with that. The swim was very satisfying, it took me 13:30 mins , the cycle was 4 seconds off last week’s and 34 min 11sec and the run was 19:55 min, over all I came within a few seconds of last week’s at just under 1:11 hours, so very similar to the previous week’s times.

Fast forward another week and I was hurtling across the country again, this time to Westport in Mayo. I had chosen to travel on the evening before the triathlon as it was going to be a very early start on the Saturday morning with an 8.15 am start which is a couple of hours earlier than normal primarily due to the tides. This particular triathlon was a National Series Triathlon which is of a higher standard than previous triathlons I have taken part in. I had elected to try to step up a level purely to see where I was by comparison.

I managed to get a b and b cancellation only a couple of days prior to travelling and to my delight its location was absolutely ideal in that it overlooked the swim section of the triathlon and transition itself. I never seem to sleep especially well the evening before a particularly early start and this situation was no different. In my defence though, a fitful night’s sleep never seems to negatively impact upon my race day performance.

The morning of the race was a shock to the system. Unlike the previous two week’s there sun was hiding and the wind was blowing a gale. Throw in cold temperatures, rain and a choppy looking Clew Bay and the 45  minutes prior to the start was filled with trepidation. I must admit I did fleetingly consider not competing given the conditions. The sea looked rougher than anything I had swam in before and the thoughts of trying to cycle uphill into a wind while soaking was not at all appealing but I felt I had to compete. The whole point of my starting out on this triathlon journey last year was to put myself in uncomfortable situations. feel the fear and do it anyway, and that is exactly what I said to myself as we got into the choppy water.

Surprisingly, the water wasn’t quite as cold as I had thought it would be, but the chop proved challenging. What didn’t help was my goggles kept filling with water which meant I had to stop several times midrace to empty them out and put them on again. At one point I chose to do the breast stroke for a few strokes to get my bearings. Once I managed to get a rhythm I felt comfortable but before I knew it the swim was over.

The transition went without a hitch and I chose to use the cycling shoes and elastic bands to enable me to get into the shoes as quickly as possible. Once I got going on the bike I started to pick people off. I had started in the second wave of swimmers with the first wave having a 5 minute head start. The cycle itself was uphill into the wind towards the base of Croagh Patrick. The outward 10km took me 22 mins which for me is painfully slow but I think it affected everyone. The inbound journey took me 11 mins and I was hitting 50km plus per hour with the benefit of gravity and a tail wind. I have to a mention to the views all around me on the bike leg, they were truly stunning, sadly I couldn’t hang around too long to admire the vista.

The run felt a little slow and perhaps the fact that this was my third triathlon in three weeks was beginning to tell on my legs. I was tired prior to this triathlon so maybe the accumulation of races rather than a restless night was the cause. The run leg took us through the picturesque setting of Westport House along what was essentially a trail run. In the end I managed a time of 1 hr 15 mins, 48th of the individual competitors and 10th in my age group. Given the conditions in the water and the challenging bike leg I must say I was very pleased with my performance in this standard of field. Interestingly, out of everyone who started the second wave I managed 3rd.

Next up … Blessington triathlon…

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Back in the saddle

brackely lake

Well its good to be back. After what felt like an eternity of an off-season and endless hours winter training last weekend saw the beginning of what I hope will be a long and fruitful triathlon season.

brackley lake map

The opening race for me would be the James McManus memorial triathlon in county Cavan who I must credit for some of the photos in this blog post. Now this very weekend last year I had opened up my triathlon account in Kildare at the well known TryAthy. It seems to be a rite of passage for any newbie triathlete owing to the course being less physically demanding and thus constituting a soft introduction to the world of triathlons. While I enjoyed my first foray last year I found the race had far too many competitors and it became a bit hairy at times from a safety standpoint. I did bring this up with race organisers and it seems these issues were addressed for this years’s race. I elected however to compete in a smaller more intimate race and setting in Cavan and I’m very pleased I did.

The swim section took place in Brackley lake near Ballyconnell in county Cavan. There was cloud cover and the forecast had threatened thundery downpours. The water temperature was a warm 14 degrees and the transition area was literally a few feet from the water’s edge. This is what I love about smaller events. Everything is contained in a small geographical space. The registration tent was right beside the bag drop off point, which was beside the transition area which would hold the 150 bikes and beside this were the all important toilets and the lake. A field of 150 is perfect as it means its alot easier from a logistical standpoint for the organisers to manage and the whole event is much more manageable for the competitors too.

The idea of a lake swim had left me a tad apprehensive as I had only last week re-entered the open water after a winter in the pool. It was a bit of a culture shock to be outdoors again and in my wetsuit which had hung on a hanger all winter. It took me a couple of days to reacquaint myself with the sights , sounds and sensations of open water swimming. despite the added buoyancy of the wetsuit I was finding it tough to swim a couple of hundred meters in the sea at seapoint where I tend to swim outdoors.

The good news for me was that on race day, the water in Brackley lake was as flat as glass and as I practised a few strokes ahead of the starting whistle, I found I could manoeuvre through the water with ease compared to my attempts earlier in the week in the salt waters of seapoint. The only down side was the water was brown and impossible to see through but that is often the case. As we started the swim section I elected to pace myself and stay out wide away from the melee which always accompanies the start. Outdoor swimming is still inherently alien to me as is the concept of swimming so close to multiple bodies thrashing and splashing so I learned from my exploits last year to avoid the mayhem and chart my own path towards the first buoy. As I did I could see the main body of swimmers take a different more direct line but I was happy to sacrifice a few seconds for the sake having clean undisturbed water to swim in . The effect this had was that it enabled me to stay calm and pace myself without being worried I was going to hit someone or that someone was going to clobber me inadvertently.

As we approached the first buoy I had established a rhythm and rejoined the main body of swimmers which had at this stage stretched out substantially. Every so often I would remind myself to slow down and allow my breathing pattern to dictate my stroke rate and not the other way around. Its so easy to get caught up in the moment and allow your competitive instincts to take over. The problem with this is while your pace accelerates so does the demand on your lungs and pretty soon you’re gasping for air because your lungs just cant keep up. This inevitably leads to having to breathe after every single stroke and at the same time your form breaks down and you lose momentum. I was very happy with my ability to maintain a plan to breathe every three strokes bilaterally up until the final 100 meters when more frequent sighting was necessary as multiple swimmers jostled for position on the final straight.

Out of the water and I glanced at my watch to see 13:30 mins. I was very happy with this given my previous attempts at swimming 750m in a lake hadn’t been anything as fast. I was also very happy with my first unbroken 750m swim in almost a year. Now while I can swim 2000m non-stop in the pool, its not quite the same as swimming non-stop in open water as there are no opportunities to grasp a breath at the end of each lap in open water.

pedals shoes

My cycling shoes already clipped into the clipless pedals

In transition as I took off my wetsuit my triathlon suit beneath it came off inadvertently which slowed me down a few seconds. I then grabbed my bike and remembered I had to attempt a flying mount as I had already attached my cycling shoes to the clipless pedals. All of the pros elect to cycle in triathlon shoes and employ clipless pedals, the argument is that they give you a more efficient pedal stroke and help save energy, who am I to argue. I probably should have tried the flying mount before using it for the first time in a competition but anyway, I just about managed it without coming a cropper. As per the photo, the triathlon shoes are already attached to the clipless pedals and held in position with elastic bands, which allows you to place your feet on top of your shoes as you begin to cycle. Once you have sufficient speed, you can insert your feet into the shoes and start pedaling at which point the elastic bands break. The process is the reverse when attempting a flying dismount.

tarmon 4

The cycle itself was fair enough, in that there weren’t too many hills. We cycled 10 km west though the countryside and then returned along the same route. The beauty of this is you can count exactly where you are in the race by counting the number of riders that pass you on the way back. I was relatively happy with my pace on the bike. I averaged 35 km ph and got around in just over 34 minutes. Like last year I chose to put a swim cap on my bike helmet to make it a bit more aerodynamic and enable me to travel through the air with less drag. I had also bought some latex inner tubes which are meant to have less rolling resistance than regular butyl tubes and thus yield a similar speed but for less power output.

tarmon 3

Looking a tad dishevelled !!

I determined by the end of the cycle I was in 26th place but wasn’t 100% sure. Its strange at first when you get off the bike, as your legs are full of blood and the last thing they want to do is run 5 km. A quick transition and I was off on my run which if I’m honest felt slow but then this is always the case especially on the first kilometer or two. As it happened each of the five kilometers I ran was faster than the previous one and as I crossed the line I determined I had run the 5 km in just under 20 minutes which like the swim and the cycle was a PB for me. While initially I had thought I managed 30th position in 1 hour 10 minutes, I had actually secured 29th and was delighted with that.

Its good to be back in the saddle.. now on to the next one !!!