I’ll be completely honest from the outset, I really wasn’t looking forward to this one. Having started this triathlon season with a race on the June bank holiday weekend in the middle of one of the hottest summers on record it seemed it would wind down to a much colder, wetter and windier conclusion 4 months later.
This penultimate race would be my 9th triathlon of the season, four more than last year. I had actually to do even more but a calf strain sustained at the end of July after the Belfast triathlon put paid to that and enforced a six week lay off. In hindsight a brief sabbatical was probably beneficial physically but also mentally. Psyching yourself up frequently for races is demanding and there’s a fine line between being primed for a race and experiencing mental fatigue. The latter is almost as undesirable as a calf strain because it has the potential to seriously undermine your competitive edge.
When I returned from that layoff I was straight into the season with renewed vigour in the knowledge that I had four triathlons on my list to complete by season’s end. I was subsequently buoyed by my performances despite the break due to injury. I was also rediscovering my run fitness which was great news. I was determined to post a quicker run split for this week’s Pulse Port Beach national series triathlon in Louth. The only stumbling block might be the elements however.
As you know the weather has been less than clement in recent days and I really didn’t relish the thoughts of a sea swim in high winds. The temperature had dropped markedly in recent days and the sea temperature would be a lot less inviting than the 22 degrees I experienced in the Blessington triathlon in June. This however is why I got into triathlon in the first place… Get comfortable being uncomfortable!!
I chose to drive to Louth the morning of the race rather than the night before primarily because it was only an hour commute and I just prefer to sleep in my own bed unless I have no choice. When I arrived on site just after 8.30am the place was already buzzing. With 600 entrants this would be the biggest field to date. As I mentioned it was a national series race so the standard would be higher than that of recent weeks. The elite men and women were first to take to the frigid waters which we were gleefully told were a balmy 12.5 degrees…. I was part of the fifth and last wave so it was well after 10.30am and almost an hour after the elites started that we would take our turn. Now I take a cold shower daily so I would be used to the discomfort albeit temporary, that cold water exposure brings. What never leaves you is the fear or dread in anticipation of that exposure. Standing at the waters edge we seemed to wait an interminably long time, just standing there shivering. I eyed my salt water nemesis as the minutes ticked by. I just wanted to get going. To add another layer to the mix, this would be my first ‘mass beach start’. Think of the Normandy landings in reverse and you’ll get a sense of the scene. As the hooter finally sounded, arms and legs of about 150 men flailed in every direction as they tried to gingerly negotiate running into the sea.
When I eventually took the plunge after hurdling a couple of waves the cold water hit me full in the face. While the cold is always sobering, I have become so used to it that while it registered initially, I had moved past that initial reaction within seconds. My race had begun.
I made the mistake of starting on the inside line as we thrashed en masse enroute to the first buoy. Consequently I was pincered in a sea of bodies like a million wildebeest crossing a river in the Serengeti. If only I had taken a wider line I would have had clearer water and a greater chance to establish rhythm. Indeed I bemoaned my stupidity as I enjoyed at best a staccato rhythm for at least the first 200m. Once the field finally spread out I felt I coulad start to race in earnest.
By the time I excited the water I looked at my watch and knew the swim was slow as it registered nearly 18 minutes, but more on that later.
My feet and hands were like ice blocks so it made disrobing the wetsuit tricky. I elected to wear an extra top on the bike just in case I was cold and I also put on socks. The bike segment was rather uneventful in that it wasn’t very technical with lots of bends or hills. My watch gave me updates after each five km segment and I noticed the splits were quite quick. I was passed by a few riders which is never the most heartening of sensations but I reminded myself that this field was of a national standard so there should be no ignominy in this company.
On reentering transition I noticed the bike leg had been completed in 33 mins which was my second fastest time after the pan flat Belfast course. I was about 50m into the run when a chap passed me. He had calves like they were sculpted by Michaelangelo himself so I knew he was a serious triathlete. I knew if I could stay on his shoulder I might be able to make up some of the shortfall I felt I had lost on the swim. So I put the foot down and stuck to ‘calf man’ like a limpet to a rock. This was good, we were passing alot of people and running just over 4 min per km pace. The first half of the run was up hill so I knew once we doubled back from the half way point my pace would be even quicker. Every so often calf man would put in a burst of speed and I would reciprocate. This pattern continued until the 3rd kilometre when I drew alongside him. I wasn’t sure whether to push on but I felt strong so when we hit the 4km mark I went for it. I had memories of Belfast when I passed a chap on the run and he beat me on the finish line because I was oblivious to his presence behind me. This time I was determined not to make the same mistake. I floored it. I was running 3.45 per km pace. If he was going to beat me to the line he’d have to employ those herculean valves of his like never before. Before long I could see the finish line in the distance but I was cognisant that calf man could glide by me any second. I kicked again. Checked over my shoulder. Nothing. Again I kicked as I rounded the final bend with the finish line meters away. I had done it. 18.27 mins for the run, a time that even impressed me at least till I twigged the run was 400m short. I was still very encouraged by my ability to stick to a pace maker, take a bow calf man.
In fact not only was the run slightly short but the swim was 250m long which accounted for my 18 min swim. In summary the swim was a standard pacing for me while both the bike and run splits were very quick. I finished 118 the out of 600 and about 25th in my age group so slightly further down the pecking order than my previous national series result but I don’t think I could have posted a faster time. A good day at the office I think. Now just one more race till the season ends…