Originally I had planned to do a relay triathlon after going on a few Galway Tri club nights out. The conversation with this bunch of over exercised lunatics is fine as long as you are willing to talk about one of 3 subjects – swimming, cycling or running!! They saying is “if you can’t beat them join them” and beating them was not a realistic option for me so I had to join them. As running isn’t exactly my favourite and I swim like a stone I decided I would have to try to whip the whippets on a bike. Looking at some of them I didn’t think they would have the horsepower to get up on a bike let alone pedal it up a steep hill. (Looks can deceptive I have since discovered.)
I didn’t own a bike until January and hadn’t cycled in about 12 years. Once bought the bike spent a number of months in the shed preparing itself mentally for the task ahead!! As spring turned to summer the cycling trips began in earnest with short spins on weekday evenings and longer spins at the weekends. A special treat on Saturday mornings was a cycle to Clarenbridge for breakfast in Orla Fox’s newly opened Providence Market Kitchen. The trip home was usually a more leisurely affair. As a romantic gesture my birthday present from himself this year was a pair of cycling shoes and clip in pedals in an attempt to bind me permanently to the bike (or finish me off by forgetting to unclip when stopping)
As a beginner I decided to stay local and picked the Predator Tri club’s race in Loughrea partly because it is close to home and is regarded by many veterans as a lovely race to begin with and partly because its date in September would theoretically give me plenty of time to practise over the summer. Finding a runner wasn’t a problem – once Tony Nevin heard I was thinking of taking part he volunteered his speedy services for the run leg mainly to ensure that I wouldn’t back out. We advertised on the Galway TRI club website to find a swimmer and up popped Keith Hammond of the NMT clinic. With the dream team selected the training could really get going.
With every weekend break in the weather we got out on the cycle course. The long hard upward drag from the lake to the Krush pub through Kilnadeema is rewarded with stunning views of Loughrea from the school followed by a downhill stretch to Aille Cross that makes cycling seem easy. Turning off the Woodford road past Leitrim church there is another small climb, which it turns out, is only a foothill of the major climb on the course. It mightn’t exactly be a category 1 climb in Tour de France terms but I nicknamed it the Col de Madeline after the legendary Pyrenean climb made famous on many tours. Finally the summit was reached at the alpine ski resort of Haut Masonbrook and the speedy descent to Loughrea could begin. The road surface back to the town is scary in places particularly at break neck speed – must mention this to the next councillor I meet. The final km or so on the lake road is the only flat part of the course.
Sunday the 13th of September 2009 Weather wise it was probably the best day of the year. A perfect day for a triathlon especially as our team contained 2 complete triathlon novices. 500 competitors turned up and set themselves up in the Transition Zone. This area is a hive of activity and final preparations for the big day were done in the glorious sunshine. The swimmers lined up by the lake, which was at its best thanks to the previous few days of fine weather. I have previously heard the water described as like swimming in Ballygowan and I can see where that comment comes from on days like this. The other members of the relay teams line up in the ‘pen’ nervously waiting the arrival of the timing chip after each leg. It is a place of great camaraderie and an opportunity to pick the brains of the more experienced participants for details on the course and tips on the rules. After 15 minutes our swimmer ‘Keith the dolphin’ was spotted running at speed back to the pen. We swapped the timing chip and then it was my turn – I had to clip clop back to the bike in the cycling shoes and get on the road as fast as possible.
The first 10k passed in a blur – no time today for admiring the views. I don’t know whether I should be glad of the encouragement people called out as they zipped past me or be envious at the speed at which they did it. The descent through Aille Cross was a good chance to get the breath back after the first climb but requires nerves of steel - probably better not to look at the speedometer at this point as a quick glance had shown 45KPH and I was only half way down. Then the turn at Leitrim and the start of the real climb of the day. Sometimes in the Tour de France the fans write the name of their favourite rider on the road to support and encourage them – in the Loughrea Triathlon however you just get notes to tell you “This is a Long Hill”. One fellow sufferer begged the family watching from their wall “Please tell me you live at the top of the hill” only to be told they did but there was another hill to come!!
The main climb was tough but not torture – it really helped that I had cycled the course before the big day and knew what to expect. I knew I had to approach it steadily as I didn’t want to run out of steam halfway up. Once the top was reached it was downhill all the way home. The Gods of gravity would see me home one-way or the other. I liked the safety touch of the bales of straw on the roundabout – at the speed I was travelling they would have been the perfect springboard to get me to the other side of the roundabout upside down.
I made it safely back to Transition, racked the bike and ran to the pen to pass the timing chip to ‘Speedy Gonzales Nevin’ who set off as if the road was on fire. I think he took particular pleasure in zipping past runners who had already suffered the rest of the course and couldn’t understand how someone could be running so quickly after the previous two legs. He ran the 7th fastest run of the whole day – not bad considering he had to wait around for an hour for his race to start!!
In training I had covered the course a few times and breaking an hour for the cycle was a long way off so I was delighted on the day to complete it in well under an hour. This performance pales when compared to the terrific times of my teammates Keith “The Dolphin” Hammond and Tony “Speedy Gonzales” Nevin. Hopefully I can knock another 10 minutes off the bike time for next year’s race as the Triathlon bug has definitely bitten now. The whole day was a success and that was mainly down to having a great team to enjoy it with.
I would like to thank the Predator Triathlon club for a great race. The organisation on the day was brilliant and I look forward to wearing my Tri T-shirt with pride.
Full results @ : http://www.predatortriclub.ie/index.php?q=node/748