Encouraging signs?

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Well just when I think the entire triathlon season is going to be written off, I get some good news. Honestly delerium was creeping in at the prospect of an entire summer under lockdown. Recent months have seen my running confined to one very well worn path in my local park. The ducks are rolling their eyes at the mere sight of me at this stage. My bike training has for the most part taken place indoors on my turbo trainer which is a special form of punishment. I should have bought a fan before the lockdown, hindsight… Plus there’s the small problem of not having any access to a pool since March.

Now I did think I would be able to swim at Seapoint which is 5km from me but when I popped over the other day I was disappointed to see barriers had been erected preventing public access. Understandable, but I’m hoping they will be removed soon because the good news is Triathlon Ireland are looking to start the season in July.

So in real terms we’ve only lost just over a month of the triathlon season proper. It’s a shame as I enjoy Blessington Triathlon in particular which takes place in June usually, alas no joy this year. Although that could change as I notice a few races from June have been moved to later in the summer.

The upside is there may well be some semblance of a Triathlon season after all. Not that I would stop training if the whole year was scrapped. I enjoy the physical challenge of training and generally the discipline of maintaining a high level of fitness. Having races to aim for, is just the cherry on the cake.

Let’s just hope there’s no second wave now…

Oh and did I mention my podcast…

My mantra : keep training fun !!

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Well another long week in lockdown is, well,  down. I have to say I do look forward to the days when I am doing some physical exercise as it does break up the monotony we are all dealing with and provides me with much needed distraction from all the bad news and an opportunity to hone my fitness levels.

Maintenance has been the mantra … maintenance of fitness that is. In doing so I have avoided any high intensity workouts or speed sessions which ordinarily one would incorporate into one’s training to help one get faster. As I mentioned I am reluctant to do this as it can be a fine line between training to get faster and training yourself into oblivion and the immune suppression that comes with it, which lets be honest is the last thing anyone wants right now.

Having said that, I have noticed a pleasant side effect to training as regularly as I have been during this enforced lockdown and that is my times seem to be getting faster without a huge amount of effort. Last week I ran my quickest 5km in 2 years at just under 20 minutes. Indeed at the weekend I took part in another virtual Ironman race and noticed a significant improvement over a short period of time.

This time round was round 4 of the Ironman Virtual club series which was a repeat of the first one I did 2 weeks ago. It comprised a 3 km run, a 40km cycle and a 10km run.

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I managed to finish 6 minutes quicker than a fortnight ago over the same distance, having knocked nearly 2 minutes off the 3 km run leg, 2 minutes off the cycle and another 2 minutes off the 10km leg, which was incidentally a pb for 10km. Given that before 2 weeks ago I hadn’t run 10km in a couple of years I am very happy with the progress. I’m a bit shocked to be honest.

So out of 14,000 competitors I managed to get into the top 15% and again the top 15% in my age group which is just as significant for me. Look, I’m never going to make the podium here but I do like to measure myself in the general sense against my fellow competitors, particularly those in my age category and what i have been able to produce is encouraging.

I’ll reiterate being able to run consistently and build up fitness and speed by virtue of remaining injury free is a blessing. I have been blighted by lower limb injuries in the last couple of years which has truncated my seasons so its novel to be progressing without issue.

Now I do have to say I miss cycling outdoors. I am not a fan of cycling indoors on a turbo trainer. I found the 40km I completed at the weekend very little fun. It was mentally tough and physically demanding which goes against my ‘maintenance mantra’. I normally wouldn’t complete 40km at race pace but I was curious to see if I had amassed more fitness compared to 2 weeks ago. That question was answered. So next weekend I will not be racing the 5th race in the series which involves a painful 5km run, 90km bike and 21km run …. NO THANK YOU. See for me those distances are just no fun to complete. I am a fan of the shorter courses which means I would never do a full ironman which involves a 180km bike and a full marathon. More power to you if you like them but I find them too attritional, the very thoughts of sitting on a bike for 180km gives me backache !!

So this week it’ll be more of the same. Some leisurely jogs and a couple of turbo sessions of the bike. Tomorrow is set to be the last nice day for a while so if you are out and about enjoy the sun before the rains come on Wednesday !!

Look, I’m no Matt Damon

Screenshot_2020-04-23-16-45-26As I write this yes we are still in lockdown. Like many I have lost track of the weeks and days I suppose I’m more focused on looking ahead than over my shoulder at where we have been. I’m keeping my eyes set on the May bank holiday weekend which I believe will be the last weekend for the time being at least under the current lockdown. While I don’t see all of the restrictions being lifted on May 6th I do  believe the 2km limit will be removed and some businesses will be given the choice to open up. The phasing in of normality will begin. Baby steps.

Yes the term baby Steps is pretty much what you could say about my triathlon training given the current constraints. I can’t swim given the pools are all closed and don’t live close enough to the see and even if I did I’m not as brave as the newest resident of Dalkey Matt Damon who went for a dip there recently. As I’ve already clarified I can run regularly enough in my local park which is great but I’m really missing being able to cycle outdoors. The turbo trainer scratches the itch but it’s mentally tough and bloody warm work without a fan. Typically the weather has been perfect for cycling outside for weeks. I have been a bit miffed seeing cyclists all feared up and clearly contravening the 2km regulations but sure there’s always one.

So I’m doing four sessions a week at the moment, two running and two bike sessions. Last weekend I did my second virtual ironman race online which comprised a 1.5km run, a 20km cycle and a 5km run. I managed a time of 1hr 1min and 38 seconds for the lot. Now, Renember you have three days to do the three legs and you can complete them in any order you wish. I biked on the Friday and did the two runs on the Sunday.

The bike leg took me 35 mins and 53 seconds, the 1.5km took just under 6 mins and the 5km 19 min 51 seconds. So it seems my run and bike times are slowly coming down which is a nice byproduct of a regular low intensity schedule. I’m at pains to reiterate my desire not to push things as far as intensity is concerned purely so as not to get rundown.

I managed 2500th roughly out of about 17,000 competitors globally, and got 382nd out of 2500 triathletes in my age group which again is encouraging.

Just one observation regarding some of the times I have seen posted online for the bike leg. It really demonstrates that while turbo trainers have advanced technologically in recent years and are a brilliant way of maintaining bike fitness in a lockdown, the metrics they give are highly questionable. The winner of the virtual ironman completed the 20km cycle in just over 20 mins which is equivalent to cycling at 60km pH pace in the real world, which is obviously ludicrous. Funny enough my own time of just under 36 mins is actually an accurate real world time for me for that distance.

Yes it’s keeping me active and engaged to some degree as is running through my local park with its wooded trail sections. It’s nice to be fit and to be consistently able to run and build on that fitness. Staying fit is a triathletes greatest challenge. Making it to the start line is a great achievement even if that start line is a virtual one.

A virtual race in a lockdown ?

 

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So lockdown continues unabated, but I have to say I feel a heightened sense of solidarity with my fellow triathletes the world over seeing as literally everyone is in the same boat. This means swimming is out of the question as pools are out of bounds and the sea is beyond 2km from my abode. I can still cycle and run as I mentioned previously. My turbo trainer allows me to rack up the miles on my bike indoors and I have a park close to me to facilitate my running / clearing my head. Lets be honest clearing the head is of paramount importance given the groundhog day-esque feel about the last few weeks.

By chance the other day I happened upon a callout by Ironman to join their virtual club. I think this brainchild by Ironman has been precipitated by restrictions athletes are all under and serves to satiate their desire to train and compete with a purpose. So the Ironman Virtual Club sets a series of events each week which you can opt to take part in and as you do you accumulate credits which can be used to avail of discounts off triathlon related products. You can also enlist to take part in a virtual race which is exactly what I did. You must register and by doing so you receive a bib number as you do in a normal race. The most important thing is you must have a smart watch / device which can sync up with the Ironman website. This enables your times and metrics to be downloaded to the website and validates your participation and final placing.

I took part in the second virtual race of the series VR2 which comprised a 3 km run, a 40km cycle and a 10km run. The beauty of the format was it allowed you three days over the Easter weekend to finish it and you could complete the disciplines in whatever order you preferred. So on the Friday evening I cycled the 40km which I followed up on the Saturday with a 3km run, leaving the 10km run to the Sunday when my legs had had a little more time to recover from the bike ride.

I wouldn’t normally cycle 40km nor run 10km but was pleasantly surprised when I completed both legs. I’m not saying the bike ride was easy but I wasn’t totally exhausted and managed to complete it in just under 1 hour 20 mins which translates to a 30 km pace which is reasonable enough.

Again the 10km run was a further distance to that which I am used to running so elected to pace myself and was pleased with a time of just under 44 mins.

An astonishing 16,000 people took part in the virtual Ironman. I managed to finish in 4033 rd place overall and finished in 631 st out of 1900 in my age group, so not a bad showing at all. Finishing in the top 25 % globally is an honourable enough result I think. Question is, will I give it another go and do another Virtual Ironman ? I think so 🙂

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Coping with covid constraints

So its been a couple of weeks since the initial lockdown was imposed upon us and initially I wasn’t too discommoded by its limitations. Granted I haven’t been able to swim at all as pools are all closed and it certainly wasn’t appealing to swim outdoors given the temperature of the water is a chilly 8.5 degrees. I had been able to continue cycling outdoors although I generally do this alone, I have to say I was exasperated to see groups of cyclists out and about. There seemed to be a disconnect between some cyclists desire to continue cycling and the need to do so sensibly. Running is again something I generally do alone. There is a park near me where I have been running twice a week in recent weeks. Its funny the current situation has forced me to run outdoors more than I’ve done in a long while as treadmills are out of bounds and I have to say its a good thing. I have noticed my times reducing with each outing which has arisen without a whole lot of effort on my part.

In recent days a tighter lockdown has been imposed upon Irish citizens. This involves staying at home except for essential workers, trips to buy groceries or to exercise. The main caveat is you can only exercise within a 2 km radius of your home. Now thankfully my local park is just within that 2km boundary which allows me to continue to use the park and more especially the soft grass to run on. The outdoor cycling has however been put on pause. It’s a very good thing then that I own a turbo trainer which you can see in the images provided.

A turbo trainer facilitates indoor riding. You place your back wheel on the roller which creates resistance and secure the frame with a clamp and away you go. I have cadence and speed sensors which sync up with my watch and these metrics allow me to track my effort and speed. Today for example I cycled 30 km in the comfort of my own home. If you fancy an added incentive to train indoors on your bike, you can subscribe to a virtual cycling app like Zwift which allows you to race against other homebound cyclists from all around the world in real time. The technology is as impressive as it is simple and helps to alleviate the boredom normally associated with static bike riding. I have yet to purchase the equipment to enable me to use Zwift but I probably will at the first available opportunity.

In the meantime, I plan to be running outdoors twice a week, cycling indoors and doing strength work. Who knows when the triathlon season eventually starts I may be in the best pre-season shape yet !!

Surreal times but we can overcome

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”Wage war with all our might, wage war against a monstrous tyranny” : Sir Winston Churchill

Never did I think when I set up this blog 4 years ago that I’d still be writing entries four years later nevermind quoting Winston Churchill. These are however momentous, surreal, scary and downright strange times. The irony for me is that I was reading about the Spanish Flu pandemic only a few months ago and not for the first time. I was drawn to the assertion that we were overdue another pandemic which some crudely referred to as nature’s enema. Little did any of us really know that we were literally on the brink of experiencing the same strained normality our grandparents would have experienced a century ago.

My grandfather was born in 1908 so would have had a clear memory of the devastation wrought by the Spanish Flu across the world. It’s an obvious point but one which I have reminded myself of recently, had he succumbed like so many millions did, well you wouldn’t be reading this blog right now. So I raise a glass to his fortitude. In the last few days I have felt a peculiar kinship with not just other people across national, cultural, social and ethnic boundaries but also with people who have seen the horror of a pandemic before and and long since passed. It is sobering to think that in spite of our technological advances and the benefits of accumulated human experience that we enjoy in 2020 over our ancestors, that right now we are just as vulnerable as they were when they faced similar consequences. The current pandemic presents us with a trifecta of fear, sickness and potential death which unify us with our ancestors more than ever before.

Of course we do have some advantages now, but fear is palpable at the moment, as is hysteria. Sadly this is where social media has played a toxic role. I have always had a love hate relationship with social media. In the beginning like many people I was swept up in the tide. I set up twitter, facebook and instagram accounts under the misguided assumption that if I didn’t I would be missing out. How wrong I was. In a couple of weeks time the clocks will be going forward again, as a result we will be losing an hour and many people bemoan that hour loss. In truth its far easier to lose multiple hours per day by scrolling slavishly through your social media timeline.

So I deleted my facebook and instagram accounts and my mind is less soiled as a result. Indeed I am toying with the idea of deleting my twitter account too because it invariably seems to be a magnet for strangers to indulge in withering attacks on other strangers. Twitter to many is a news platform. Events are reported on twitter before they are acknowledged by mainstream media and this is what makes twitter so seductive to me. Twitter is also arguably the world’s largest rumour mill and sadly many a libelous untruth has reached tidal wave proportions before being undermined by the actual facts. This applies to the chaos we have seen in retail outlets in recent days. Social media has fed the beast of hysteria and has gorged itself on our supermarket shelves. It is quite frankly corrosive and has the potential to be downright dangerous at times like this.

Cool heads are needed. The irony is that you can engage with cool heads on twitter too, in the guise of informed educated and experienced experts like my old Trinity College professor Luke O Neill who is an expert on all things immunology. People like this are a much needed factual rational counterbalance to the chinese whispers offered up by so many others.

What has all of this got to do with this blog’s regular subject matter triathlon, I hear you ask. I suppose nothing and everything.

Like most sporting organisations in recent days Triathlon Ireland has suspended all competition until the end of this month. Clubs have been advised against pursuing regular training schedules so as to avoid congregations of club members which would go against that phrase which I am beginning to loathe, social distancing. In reality as far as my training is concerned the current uncertainty doesnt really alter things that much. Granted I don’t have access to a pool but I can still run and cycle, both of which I have done this weekend as they are outdoor sports. The only thing I am conscious of is not pushing myself too much during training sessions so as not to feel too depleted afterwards. This phase for however long it continues will from a training standpoint be one of maintaining fitness rather than trying to improve times. It simply wouldn’t pay to attempt to do anything more than that. Aside from the obvious physical benefit to maintaining a basic level of fitness, getting out for a run takes me away from the scrolling timelines and the bad headlines, providing me with momentary mental respite from the information onslaught. This has to be a good thing and I would encourage you to do the same.

The upside is the triathlon season doesn’t start until the middle of May by which time I would expect everything to have improved markedly. Currently China and South Korea the two countries hit earliest and thus heaviest by the virus are seeing diminishing levels of new cases every day. This means the arc of the spread of the virus is about 10 weeks from initial infection to zero new cases with the decline in number of new cases coming even sooner than this. This gives us hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Its shocking seeing these words written. There have been a few times in recent days when everything has felt like being in a movie, such has been the surreal nature of events. Like our forebears we are facing a daunting reality, a challenge the likes we have not experienced before but we should take some comfort in the knowledge that we can and will come through this.

” My dear friends, this is your hour, to draw the sword against the tyranny”  Winston Churchill

 

Galloping along in Punchestown

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So round two of the duathlon season for me came at the weekend again in Punchestown after the season opener last month. I had intended to race sooner but storms Ciara and Dennis curtailed my plans. Lets be honest duathlons are tough enough without having to battle a force 4 gale and sideways rain. Nope, I elected to wait till the weather was more clement and I see no shame in that.

I had only made the decision to race this weekend on Thursday. Yes its kind of last minute of me, but that’s the way I tend to approach my partaking in these races. If I book a spot too far in advance there is the possibility I may be working or injured so i generally leave it to the last minute.

The weather on the day was lovely and sunny if a little breezy, but nothing like as breezy as it had been in recent weeks. Sitting in the stand after arriving the sun was actually quite warm against the skin , so much so I managed to get a bit of a colour. I know I should have had the factor 50 on but seriously it was literally only about 7 degrees, who knew !!!

There were about 160 competitors for today’s race about 50 fewer than the first race I took part in a month ago. It was still a National series race which meant some of the top amateur triathletes in the country were taking part as they battle for their chance to top the National series ranking and subsequently represent Ireland internationally. Oh and then there was me 🙂 Trust me at this stage I’m just happy to be fit and on the starting line. Having started with triathlon in this very race in 2017,  I have now competed in over two dozen races but there are certain races which standout to me and this is one, primarily because this is where it all began. I remember the elation I felt while cycling around Punchestown during that first race. The sheer excitement at being involved in my first race. The naked ambition, competitiveness and the collegiality I felt with my fellow triathletes. I felt a part of something. That feeling is thankfully still there.

The race itself.

Having chosen to race conservatively last time round, I thought I’d crank things up ever so slightly in this race, in spite of not having a whole lot of extra training under my belt. And so it transpired that decision manifested itself in a quick first run leg of the race where I averaged a respectable 3 mins 52 seconds per km pace. I had chosen to wear a light rain mac during the run as I felt the cutting breeze would make the bike leg uncomfortable but as things transpired I heated up very quickly on the run and actually took the mac off on approaching the transition zone. In fact I stuffed the mack down the front of my top to help insulate my chest against the wind on the bike. I probably looked a tad odd from the distance, what with me sporting what looked like 20% added extra up top but I didn’t care as long as I was warm.

The bike leg is always tough. Mentally I have to control myself as I have a tendency to be passed out. I am not the strongest of cyclists and so lack power especially on the climbs. It is a tad demoralizing being passed by other riders but you have to remind yourself to focus on your own race and those riders tend to be 10 years younger than you.

As it happened I posted a time 20 seconds faster than last month’s time so I was pleased with that in the end. The second run leg was tough. You’re going from a seated position on the bike to running in a matter of seconds. The body is as disorientated as the mind is while you’re trying to make split second adaptations and the cardiovascular system is under much stress. I did get into a rhythm quickly enough thankfully. I tend to use other runners as markers to aim for. So I’ll aim for the girl or guy in front of me and see if I can at least keep pace with them. For most of the second run leg I could hear a girl keeping pace behind me. I was determined to keep ahead of her while trying to close the gap between myself and the guy in front. While I managed to hold the girl off I couldn’t quite close the gap to him but was pleased with my run. In fact both run legs were about 30 seconds faster than last time round, (having run the second leg at 4 min 9 per km pace).

Overall, I came in at 1 hr 6 mins which was a minute faster than last month, but 90 seconds slower than the corresponding race here last March, so there’s work to be done yet !! I managed 61 st place out of 157 in this National series race and 10th out of my age group, so I was pleased with that.

One final observation. I have made the point on this blog and elsewhere before about Triathlon Ireland’s need to embrace eco friendly competition. I have been very critical of the amount of plastic bottles and general unnecessary waste accumulated at each race. Top marks however go to the race organisers because instead of the usual plastic water bottles at the end of this race, we were greeted with recycled plastic cups and water fonts from which we could refill if needed. I’ve taken a photo of the set up above and I would love to see this replicated throughout the season.

Has it been that long already ?

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Well this was the sight that greeted us on Sunday last as we embarked upon another triathlon season. You are looking at a fairly grim, dank, damp and windswept Punchestown Racecourse. This was the location of my first ever race under the triathlon umbrella in 2017, ironically enough it’s not actually a triathlon but a duathlon but lets not allow semantics obfuscate an opportunity for sentimentality. Back then the very notion of competition was shiny and new, the world was my oyster and mountains were there to be conquered.

Fast forward to 2020 and the overarching feeling now is one of gratitude that I’m even on the starting line. I think in the beginning of this adventure I underestimated the significance of actually being able to stay fit. Injuries were something that just didn’t happen. As you will know if you have dipped into this blog on more than one occasion, injuries have been a frequent foe of mine. They have helped shape my mindset and manage my expectations. I had lofty ambitions of representing Ireland in my age group but those ambitions were formed in the vacuum of a perfect world where ageing and injury are purely notional.

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Wearing ten layers ahead of the first race of the season #freezing

No, as the saying goes, everyone has a plan until they are hit in the face. Over the last three seasons I have taken a few blows that have constituted disappoints on one level but simultaneously have gifted me tremendous opportunities to learn about myself which in reality was the whole purpose of taking up triathlon. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and there are few things more mentally and physically taxing than overcoming injury. So at this point at the start of my fourth season I have absolutely zero expectations. My sole goal is to reach the start line of each race and enjoy competing.

With that in mind I chose to start my season in January in Punchestown. The duathlon in question would constitute a 3.2km run followed by a 20km cycle and another 3.2km run. Seeing as this was my first race of the year and I was still carrying niggling injuries I chose to simply pace myself rather than bust a gut. That is exactly what I did. The run section here is always a bit frenetic to begin with as 200 runners attempt to jockey for position as they funnel onto the narrow path that circumnavigates the racecourse. I generally choose to start near to, but not quite at the front of the pack. This allows the faster guys a clear path and prevents my own passage from being blocked by too many slower  runners. This worked out as planned and I posted a 4 min per kilometre pace for the first run leg.

A quick transition and I was on the bike for the second phase. The roads were damp and greasy which will help you go faster but can make bends and descents treacherous, so I tried to be as prudentas as I could. I even took advantage of some of the steep downhills and freewheeled as I tried to save some energy for the second run. As ever I’m also grateful to make it through the cycle unscathed and without receiving a puncture which I can only imagine would be the biggest pain especially given the blustery sdmap conditions.

The second run is straight off the bike is always a challenge. My back was a bit stiff getting off the bike and took a few paces to loosen up but once it did I was into a rhythm with which I was happy. It was only after the race that I learned that my heartrate hit 195 beats per min towards the latter end of the second run, and that was me taking things easy-ish !! The second run leg saw me run at 4.18 min per km pace, inevitably slower than the first leg.

Over all I was satisfied with my first race performance given it was a National series race with a top class field and because it was the first time I had been on my bike outdoors this year, so 75 th place out of 195 wasn’t too shabby at all. The objective now is to get to the next starting line, whenever that is 🙂

We need to talk about flying

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We are now into November and triathlon season has well and truly drawn to a close. Indeed it would have drawn to a much sooner close if I had not travelled outside of Ireland to Majorca and Malta most recently to race. Both locations afforded me the opportunity to race in warm waters under a blistering sun when most Irish people back home were turning on the central heating and braving the cold, wind and rain.

Now as much as I enjoyed competing against an international field in foreign climes I have been conflicted of late. The problem hasn’t been the locations, its has been the issue of travel. Ireland’s location on the western most tip of Europe has been at various points in history a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that we weren’t conquered by the romans in pre-christian times nor by barbarians in the middle ages and thankfully we were spared the worst of the marauding nazis in the second world war. However being an island has its downsides in the form of lack of competition for literally everything and hello rip off Ireland !! We also suffer when it comes to international travel. There are only two options when it comes to getting off this island. You either get the ferry or a plane and this is where I have a big problem. Neither mode of transport covers itself in glory when you look at their respective carbon footprints. In fact both planes and ferries have an appalling impact on our environment. This is a real problem.

In recent months I have been watching Greta Thunberg’s journey literally as she traversed the Atlantic ocean on a ship run solely by renewable energy and metaphorically as she takes on the old world order. Her task is a ludicrously tall one. This 16 year old is attempting to shake people out of their climate change apathy while simultaneously taking direct aim at the governments whose economies were founded and continue to run on fossil fuel guzzling consumerism. Her ambition and her courage are staggering. Meanwhile I started reading Naomi Klein’s 2014 book, This changes everything, Capitalism versus the environment. Its a tough book to read for multiple reasons. Its nearly 600 pages of forensic analysis of humanity’s love affair with fossil fuels. It a tough read because it has held a mirror up to my own behaviour and my own impact on our delicate planet. Yes I am merely one of 7 billion people but alas when it comes to my own carbon footprint I can only hang my head in shame.

However now isn’t the time for wallowing in guilt because I have been a car owner for over a decade and a frequent flyer for longer. Now is the time to examine my behaviour and take into consideration the impact it has on the environment, which is something I have not done in earnest till now. I simply cannot justify flying abroad multiple times in any given year for my own placation. Air travel is insanely damaging to the environment. In the aftermath of  9/11 when airplanes all across American airspace were grounded for three days scientists noted that there was an unusually large fluctuation in mean temperature of the upper atmosphere because of the absence of airplane contrails. These contrails or artificial clouds created from the combination of air fuel and water droplets at high altitude ordinarily block out some of the sunlight and affect the air temperature which has a detrimental effect on fauna which rely on temperature fluctuations for optimum growth.

I could detail the science to you but suffice to say, air travel while being an amazing mode of transport that facilitates so many opportunities to see the world, it is contributing to the destruction of those very destinations. This poses the question. Will I ever travel by plane again ? The answer is I don’t know. I do know that I wont be traveling by plane to another triathlon which limits my ability to compete abroad and this is where I believe triathlon on the whole as a sport has a big problem. If you want to take part in an Ironman in Ireland for example you only have one opportunity to do so next year, in Cork. Beyond 2020 it hasn’t even been confirmed if Ironman will revisit Cork which really puts people seeking the ultimate Ironman challenge in a quandary.

I think Triathlon Ireland have to look at the number of opportunities triathletes here have to race at all triathlon distances. There are lots of sprint distance triathlons around the country, in fact I would argue for more in Leinster. There are opportunities to race middle distance triathlons but very few full distance triathlons and I believe this should be looked at. I just think it would be terrific to give aspiring Ironmen and women the opportunity to stay and race at home instead of heading abroad. The benefits to the local economy would be obvious and the amount of hassle involved with racing at home instead of traveling abroad with your bike would be greatly diminished.

I would also call upon Triathlon Ireland to embrace a far more environmentally friendly mindset in 2020. The colossal and yet needless use of plastic for example at every single TI sanctioned race is baffling. At every point of the racing process from registration through to crossing the finish line plastic rears its ugly head. Its simply not acceptable at this stage to see so many goody bags filled with plastic and paper. I have lost count of the number of plastic water bottles I have seen at races. There are absolutely alternative options that can be deployed, like the banning of all plastic bottles and using edible water pods http://tiny.cc/o2vrfz instead of water bottles. We simply need Triathlon Ireland to come on board and prioritise the environment with some common sense solutions.

So for the moment as I examine my own approach to what difference I can make in my own life to slowing climate change I won’t be travelling abroad to compete. Some reading this might think I’m overreacting slightly but I’d argue, given the science I have read, that we all need to start changing our behaviour because the implications of continuing on the path we are on are dire. I don’t want to be alarmist but a 2 degree increase in global temperature by 2050 was estimated in 1990 as the least worst case scenario … since 1990 that has turned into a grossly unrealistic target. A 2 degree increase by 2050 would have equated to catastrophic consequences for the ice caps, flora and fauna globally … We are already well past that. So ditching air travel is the least I can do.

Making waves in Malta

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So there I was at a loose end. I had a taste of warm weather and wanted more so what better than to hook up again with an old acquaintance that is Superleague Triathlon. In previous posts from 2017 and 2018 you might recall my travelling to Jersey to see this new format of short course triathlon racing. While I was only a wide eyed spectator in 2017, last year I completed in the age group race and did rather well.

Work commitments prevented my travelling to Jersey for a third year in a row but it did get me thinking. I knew Superleague were running a race in Malta in October, having watched it online last year. The temperature would be about 26 degrees and the water temperature would be 24 degrees so very much conducive to open water swimming. The only downside would be the lack of a bike segment due to the nature of the race course but I threw caution to the win and booked a place in the age group Enduro Aquathlon. This race would comprise a 300 m swim in the marina in Birgu, a suburb of the Maltese capital Valletta, followed by a 2km run, followed by another 300m swim finishing off with a 2.5km run. The distances are short I will grant you that, but the racing would be hell for leather!!

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The race in question would take place 6 weeks after my jaunt in Majorca. I booked a private room in a hostel, a flight and figured out the logistics of getting from Malta International Airport to Valletta which would be fairly easy because I wouldn’t have my bike with me. In fact this trip was looking like it was going to be kind economical as the accomodation and the flight combined were only 290 euro, throw in 38 euro entrance fee for the race and it was till cheap as chips.

It takes about 3 hours 30 to fly from Dublin to Malta and when you arrive you have the option of taking a taxi or the bus. The taxi from the airport to Valletta is 17 euros whereas the bus costs 2 euro in the summer or 1.50 in the winter, so I opted for the bus. I have to point out that I only opted for the bus once I had done a few google searches on arrival and figured out my options. Google directions are brilliant for literally frogmarching you from the arrivals terminal to the bus stop in question.  I got the X1 bus to Qroqq which I knew again courtesy of google directions was only a few hundred metres from my hostel.

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I hadn’t stayed in a hostel since I visited Nice in the early 2000s. I had memories of sleeping in a dorm and just didn’t fancy sharing with a load of inebriated younger travellers this time round so the private room with the private bathroom was a good call. The hostel and the room itself was fairly modest but as good as can be expected for 30 quid a night. They put on a respectable enough buffet breakfast in the mornings although the only catch being, to avail of said breakfast you need to be up before 9am. There were plenty of common areas and a small pool which was a pleasant bonus.

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The hostel was situated about 10 minutes walk from the marina near Sliema, the direction of which I headed the following day to collect my registration particulars for the race. I would liken Malta to the middle east meets western Europe. There is very evidently a mixture of cultural influences that have shaped the island over the last few centuries. This makes for fascinating vistas. However those vistas are peppered with the signs of a booming construction trade. There are building sites and cranes literally everywhere in Valletta. I counted 17 cranes on the horizon at one point which is more akin to Dublin than a small Mediterranean island. I go so far as to say the level of construction happening is aesthetically jarring.  The other thing that jars is the Maltese approach to health and safety, which is non-existent because many of the aforementioned building sites simply spill out onto paths and roads unchecked. Throw in the treacherous ‘paving’ and Maltese penchant for parking anywhere and everywhere and getting from A to B on foot can be more akin to negotiating an assault course.

Can I also add at this point that Maltese drivers are the craziest and most impatient I have witnessed. Indeed there are signs asking drivers to be mindful that they must share the roads and urging patience. Having spoken to Irish expats living there the Maltese have a cavalier attitude towards drink driving and seat belts are an optional extra. While I had brought bike helmet anticipating that I might hire a bike as I did in majorca, I elected not to throw caution to the wind. The helmet remained unused in my hostel room as I didnt fancy testing the limits of my travel insurance by taking a trip on a bike on Maletese roads.

I didnt have much time ahead of my race on the Sunday morning so decided to do a little bit of sightseeing. I walked from my hostel along the waterfront all the way to George’s Bay which took the guts of an hour and where you will find the more high end hotels and a cute little beach where you can go for a swim. It was actually on my way to Georges bay that I happened upon an open air pool which charged a fiver for a swim. As it happened I had my togs and goggles with me so took the plunge. It was surreal swimming in an open air pool rather than open water but it was a welcome change.

I had a free day before my race on the Sunday and had seen lots of tourists boarding boats along the waterfront in Sliema. It seemed most people were choosing to take a day trip north to the smaller islands of Comino and Gozo. So after a quick google search I thought I would do the same thing and bought a ticket for 30 euros from a guy at one of the numerous waterfront stalls which was a good shout seeing as he charged me a fiver less than what I would have paid online.

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It was an early start the following morning. I descended upon the buffet breakfast in my hostel after a restful night helped by the fact I had walked 27,000 steps the previous day plus I had managed to operate the aircon successfully which was very much needed given the lack of air coming in the window. While I ate my breakfast I found myself shaking my head at the antics of some of the other guests who were loading up on all the free fruit and croissants just because it was available to them. There are only so many apples one can eat, does one woman old enough to know better really need 4 apples and 8 slices of bread ? Most of the aforementioned food suspiciously disappeared in the time it took me to get a glass of orange juice. Hmmmm.

I arrived at the waterfront at 9.30 and the sun was already beating down so I was glad I had coated myself in factor 30 and wore a hat. We departed after 10 am for what would be a 7.5 hour round trip taking us to the northernmost island of Gozo. It took almost an hour to get there and when we did all the ferry passengers were divided into small groups and were whisked off in cars, jeeps and buses by local drivers to see the island. I sat in the front seat beside the driver which was a good move because it gave me a birdseye view and the benefit of the driver’s local perspective and knowledge. We were driven to the very top of the island which was only 14 km away but seemed longer as we raced through winding narrow streets. When we arrived at our destination we were on the north coast and were greeted by the Maltese version of the cliffs of Moher. Plenty of photos were taken in the baking sun and I even stretched to buying an ice cream to help cool me down. Gozo itself seemed quite rural and less built up than Malta but all that could change with the construction of a tunnel between Gozo and Malta mooted to be in the offing.

After Gozo we were taken to Comino where we had the chance to swim in the turquoise waters of the blue lagoon. This area is famed for the clarity of its waters and adorns the tourist brochures and websites of the ferry companies and rightly so because it is spectacular. The beach at the blue lagoon itself is quite small and access is made difficult by the craggy rocks surrounding it but once you manage to get into the water its breathtaking. I had taken my dry bag with me onto the boat earlier that morning and I was wearing togs so all i had to do was strip off , put on my goggles and tether my dry bag around my waist and I could go for a swim without worrying about leaving my valuables on the beach.

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I was able to swim out away from the hordes and used the dip as an impromptu training session. It was astounding just how clear the water was with shoals of fish swimming happily within inches of me. This opportunity to swim open waters is really what I had been looking forward to from the day. It was a pinch me kind of moment, kind of like swimming in a postcard. Funny enough once out of the water and back on our ferry to make the return journey back to Malta the skies started to cloud over which suited me fine as it had by then been a long day in the sun even despite my factor 30.

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We arrived back at the at 5.30 and thanked all of the ship staff who seemed to be predominantly from the Philippines and were super friendly. That evening I ate locally and retired early after a long day of being a tourist.

The following morning breakfast was had before I headed to an Irish bar around the corner from my hostel, the Mad hatter, with dozens of hats all attached to the ceiling. Now before you ask, no I wasn’t imbibing I arrived to watch Ireland versus New Zealand in the rugby which on reflection was probably not the best idea given the performance and result. However at least I was surrounded by my countrymen which was a comfort given I was away from home. Later that afternoon I did more sightseeing as I headed on to Birgu about an hour away on the bus. Birgu was the location of the Superleague event that I had come to take part in. In fact the Superleague event takes place over 4 days with juniors, corporate teams, amateur age groupers and professionals all getting their turn. On the Saturday I visited Birgu I watched the women pros competing in their semi final. It was great to see the pros like current world champion Katie Zaferes and Rachel Klamer up close and watch how they negotiate the course that I would be racing on the following morning. After the female pros it was the turn of the men. These guys like current world champion Vincent Luis are so ridiculously fit and there’s not a pick on them. I would consider myself to be fit with a body fat percentage of just under 10% but these lads are on another planet altogether. I watched as they took to the 300m swim course like dolphins, cycled at ferocious speeds round corners and down crazily steep hills with zero fear and then as they sprinted like gazelles for fun and all without breaking a sweat.

I stayed watching these ludicrously talented men and women for an hour or so before heading back home. Half of the purpose for my trip was to do a recce of the actual course but also to see how I would negotiate the hour long journey there in the morning. I had used my trusty google directions app again and had figured out I needed to get a 6am bus to be there for 7am.

And so that was the bus I got the following morning. I was pleasantly surprised that the bus actually turned up. I had a nagging feeling given the ungodly hour on a Sunday morning but my lack of confidence in the Maltese public transport system was unfounded. There were buses everywhere, Ireland take note !! It was astonishing at how many people were up and about at 6am on a Sunday morning as it happens. I navigated the route that involved two buses and a journey of just over an hour.

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Once I arrived there were already about 100 age group competitors milling around as I checked in with registration and received my timing chip , swim cap and race number. Within a few minutes we were marched down to transition where the pros place their own gear when they race. Then we had a pre race brief and took to the pontoon for the swim start. In fact there were about 150 triathletes so we actually started in the water rather than diving off the pontoon like the pros. Alas as I lowered myself into the water my tri-suit on a nail and ripped a two inch hole. Thankfully it was the suit that was ripped and not my skin because tetanus is not what one really wants.

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Because there were so many people in the water I knew a turbulent start was unavoidable. I just elected to pace myself and stay wide as I could around the first couple of buoys which would be easier said than done because we were swimming in a marina full of huge yachts like something you’d see in Monte Carlo. Once I rounded the first buoy and then the second the field began to string out. The hard part was getting out of the water and then sprinting to transition while taking off the goggles and swim cap but keeping them on my person (down the front of my tri-suit) during the run for the second swim segment.

I was still breathless as I started off on the run course with its super steep ascent followed by scarily steep descent. We would have to complete this 1km run loop twice before the second swim. The incline was tough it must have been about 15% but I just increased my cadence while I took the descents very gingerly primarily because I didn’t want a repeat of the injury I sustained at the beginning of the season brought on by pounding down a steep descent in Antrim. Secondly the run course was wet because people had just gotten out of the water so it was fairly precarious.

I had never actually dived off a pontoon before so this second swim leg was going to present me with that experience. While I had watched in awe at the how the pros dived off for fun I wondered if i would be able to dive off as gracefully as those pros did, I wouldn’t. While I leapt like an antelope into the air off the pontoon, the goggles left my face which as you might imagine stalled my momentum as I had to tread water till I placed them back where they are intended to be. Never having gone from a swim to a run to another swim immediately I was pretty out of breath on the second swim leg. In fact I had to slow down and breast stroke a couple of strokes to catch my breath which just heightened my appreciation for what the pros do with such ease. The second run went without a hitch as I paced myself well. two more laps of the run course and after 33 minutes of breakneck racing I crossed the steepest finish line ever!!

Interestingly the medal they gave us for our efforts was a plastic medal but it was made of recycled bottle tops which I thought was novel. All in all it was an enjoyable experience and slightly strange not to be cycling at all but the anduro aquathlon is a fun format and one I’d love to see at home here. Oh and I managed 5th in my age group which I felt was respectable enough too!!

 

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