It was all about the swim today...no doubt about it. I've been on a turbo trainer and a treadmill so I know all about stationary biking and running but today was my first time on the swimming treadmill and it wasn't fun............ or to put it another way it was a fu~k*ng disaster from start to finish. But I have to say that overall the Lost Sheep triathlon was a great event and I am delighted to have completed it..
I stayed in Kenmare with Pete and Martin the night before, meeting them at the race briefing ..... mainly about the bike (rules, drafting, helmets, careful on the descent from the Healy Pass "teeth have been lost on that descent"...I kid you not....maybe it should have been called the "Lost Teeth". The swim course had been changed for "safety reasons" whatever they were. Instead of swimming down estuary and back up under the Kenmare Bridge to transition the route was now upstream under the bridge first and then down river to transition. Martin had been down at the bridge at the evening high tide and said he saw a tree floating down river - so no problems there then.
After a late night in the pubs and clubs of Kenmare we rose shortly after 4:30 and within 5 minutes had 3 separate pots of porridge bubbling on the stove.....all that was missing was Goldilocks.
After loading all our gear we cycled through the streets of Kenmare in the pre-dawn darkness the 2 miles or so to transition (not a light between us) with other cyclists coming out from various side roads all heading for the same destination. There had been a couple of heavy showers overnight and the roads were still wet. It was sometime around this point that I had the revelation that i'm not right in the head and what was I doing out at this unearthly hour cycling through the streets of Kenmare in early September in lycra. According to a guy at work, who's in the know, I am part of a growing genetic mutation called MAMILs (middle aged men in lycra).
After setting out our stalls in transition we walked the 1km to the pier for the 7am swim start. The water looked calm and was quite warm when we entered at the slipway. My only concern was the 12" horizontal tear just below the zipper of my wet suit, which increased to about 20" during my warmup - not a good sign.
We lined up from the end of the pier for the start. I swam out a bit so as to avoid the congestion around the pier. I noticed that some of the swimmers were moving forward in front of the imaginary start line until I realised that it was I who was drifting back and I had to swim forward just to keep the line - still I had no inkling of what lay ahead.
5................4.............3 and we were off - the usual seething mass of flailing arms as everyone tried to get into pole position. First thing I noticed was that I did not appear to be making as much progress as those around me but thought that it always takes me a few 100m to get into my stride and I would be motoring soon enough. The few 100m to the first yellow buoy,which we were to keep on our left, took an age and when I got close to it it shifted about 20' to the right - fuck that i'm not chasing it all over the place and I passed on the "wrong"side along with 20 others. Next it was under the arch of the bridge which was about another 200 to 300m away.....and it stayed at that distance for what seemed like an eternity .....every time I looked up to sight I could see that I was getting no closer.... "this is ridiculous" I must be doing something wrong. I veered left closer to shore in the hope that I would move out of the main channel flow but progress remained frustratingly slow. Eventually I was under the arch and naively thought that my problems were over.
However we still had another 500 or 600m to swim upstream before crossing the estuary and heading downstream to the exit to transition. I was beginning to think that someone was taking the piss and that this was a big joke. I was constantly checking to see if I was the only fool left in the water - perhaps I was swimming way off course. But eventually the next buoy came into view and after another age I was around it and heading across the estuary and back down towards transition. At one stage my hand struck the trunk of a tree floating in the water - luckily it didn't hit back.
The last buoy was 20m from the shore and as I rounded it my right calf cramped up completely forcing me to stop dead and wiggle my toes/foot to alleviate it and just when it was easing and I was heading to shore the left calf cramped up and I ended up doing the doggie paddle while trying to ease the cramps. Clambering out over the rocks to T1 proved difficult despite the help I got from marshalls. The clock on the shore displayed 1:02:xx. "What the #u*k, that's nearly twice my target time" - suddenly my 5 hour "best outcome" had shifted out to 5:30. I hobbled into transition - I was going to take my time as I would be out for some time. At least Pete's and Martin's bikes were still racked, so I wasn't the only one have a bad swim day. Off with the wet suit (nearly in two halves at this stage) and on with the socks, shoes & helmet and out on the bike.
I had to take it relatively easy over the first few kms on the bike as I didn't want to risk cramping my calves again. Luckily I had popped the ZYM electrolyte tablet I received in the race goody bag into my water bottle and I took this immediately. The bike leg went pretty much to plan, although I did have a mini bonk going up the Healy Pass. Pete passed me out going up the first climb of the day looking very strong. The roads were reasonably dry and the descent from the Healy Pass was thankfully uneventful. I made good progress from Adrigole to Glengariff getting out of the saddle a few times to mix it up and overtake others.
Unfortunately the pain I had on the inside of my right knee a few weeks ago returned just before entering Glengarriff, which made it difficult for me to get out of the saddle for any length of time. This scuppered my plan for getting up the last climb of the day to the Caha Pass and I ended up spending most of the 7 km climb in the saddle slogging up the hill. Through the tunnel at the top and all that was left was the 20km descent into Kenmare.
I started the descent behind two guys with tri-bikes who were down in the aero position. I tried it for a while but found that I was easing off the pedals just to keep the bike stable so instead I sat up and peddled hard and managed to pass the two of them. They copped on after a while and both of them passed me out a short time later having come out of the aero position. I made good time over the remainder of the descent keeping pace with one of the guys all the way into T2 (the other guy fell behind). I saw no clock but reckoned from the Garmin (which was turned on a few 100m into the route) that I was about 2:50 for the bike.
The sun was shining at this stage and the crowds were out cheering us on. I sat down to put on my running shoes and load up with a few more gels. Unfortunately I was a bit confused and when I stood up found that I had put my left cycling shoe on my right foot - time to take on some more calories. On leaving transition I was passed by a guy doing 6 minute mile pace (I hoped that he was a relay runner) - as it turned out he was the only one to pass me for the entire 13.1 miles. That's not to say that I had a spectacular run - just that all the fast guys were already ahead of me.
I had to fiddle with the Garmin to change it to "run" mode and so did not start it until well into the opening mile. My opening pace of 6:50 didn't last too long as the average creeped up over 7:00. It didn't stop there either as the undulating road gave way to a gradual incline for a few kms. The leader came against me at about the 2km mark, well out in front - I didn't see number 2 for about another 2 miles. My pace dropped into the 7:20's and while I couldn't speed up I managed to keep the metronome going, which felt tough until I took a gel before the 4.5 km water station and then began to feel normal for a few km. The route was very challenging and I though the turnaround would never come. Those coming against me turned from a trickle into a constant stream. 10,11,12...15......20........30.....40...50...60. Pete was in a group of three looking strong (about 64th). By the time I got to the turnaround I was in the mid-eighties, although by that stage my ability to count was considerably reduced.......where's that gel.
I averaged about 7:32 pace to the turnaround and hoped that I could match that for the return leg, thinking that it was more downhill that up. That should hopefully get me just under the 1:40 mark - I had long resigned myself to the fact that 1:35 was not going to happen. I didn't know whether I had enough to get under 5:30 overall and suspected that a 1:40 half wouldn't get me there. The return leg was all about keeping the head down and putting one foot in front of the other. I continued to pass others - quite a few had stopped to walk the inclines. My toe was holding up quite well in the racers although a blister was developing on the ball of my foot.
At last 2km to go and I could hear the MC at the finishing line cheering on those crossing the line. I recognised the guy in the red tri suit in front of me as Norman Kelly from Eagle AC. I had spotted him ahead for a few km but it took ages to close the gap. With 1 km to go he put in a surge and put 30m on me. I didn't/couldn't give chase although I pulled within a few yards of him as he slowed going up an incline. He turned and saw me and encouraged me to pull level but I had only one push left and I was saving that for the last 20m. With sight of the finishing line Norman surged ahead and I tried to give chase - more to keep ahead of the guy coming up behind me (who I had passed walking 50 yards back) than to catch Norman. Into the finishing chute and across the finishing line - at last, I could stop - I looked back at the clock which displayed 5:32:xx - missed my target by a few minutes, as expected. Half and hour down on where I though i'd end up this time yesterday.
This is now my longest endurance event by about 3 minutes, having exceeded the 5:29:xx Connemara ultra . Certainly today puts the challenge of doing a full Ironman into perspective and the training that you would have to do just to complete one.