“Hook or By Crook” is the very appropriately named sprint triathlon race hosted by Waterford Triathlon Club every year in the postcard perfect Irish village of Dunmore East every summer. There are hills, there are hills and then there are a few very steep hills. I completely overlooked this minor detail at the time of signing up for it, all caught up in the excitement of signing up for a triathlon race (as you do…) and as a result, I really did have to dig deep and find a way to finish this course by hook or by crook.
My lazy go-to source on pretty much everything, Wikipedia, translates the much used phrase “by hook or by crook” to mean “by any means necessary” and dates it back to the 1380’s when it was first used in middle english. It has often been suggested that the phrase actually originated from Hook Head in Wexford, Ireland and the nearby village of Crook, in Waterford. It was rumoured that famed pillager Oliver Cromwell, once plotting to lay siege to Loftus Hall in Co. Wexford, devised a plan that would involve the use of one of either two ports, Hook Head or Crook. Cromwell is alleged to have vowed that “we will take this house, by hook or by crook.” Short history lesson over!
I love this phrase and for some reason it just makes me think of pirates! Though, actually it’s one that would feel right at home in the world of cycling and most recently, in athletics (makes me sad 😦 ), where some of those at the top levels are doing their level best (pardon the pun) to honour Cromwell’s words, albeit unbeknownst to themselves… Pirates indeed.
This was my first triathlon race of the year. In the week before, I was both really excited about it and also fairly nervous because I’ve had practically no time on the bike or in the water in the last couple of months. The only thing working in my favour was the fact that it was sprint distance so I knew I’d be able to get through the swim and the cycle, even if I was slow as muck and I knew I’d be able for the run at the end. So, my plan was to just get as far as the run, then I’d be fine. What a plan, right?! Honestly, I was also thinking of chickening out of doing it at all right up until the morning of the race so the fact that I got up, got in the car and made it to the start line felt like a victory all of its own!
It was a dry, warm day at Dunmore East seaside but not much wind and the sun was hiding behind a sky of cloud for the most part. Ideal conditions for racing. There are two small beaches in Dunmore, separated by a cliff (see my pics!) and the transition area for the race was above beach no.2. Racers had to swim out from beach 1, turn in the bay and head back towards beach 2, above which was the transition area which was reached by running up a zigzag hill.
Another small diversion: I holidayed in Dunmore East with my family when I was a kid so I remembered the lovely beaches. Really calm bay area, virtually no current and so clean. It was perfect for the swim leg. But I’m not gonna lie people… the water was f.r.e.e.z.i.n.g. As it was a beach start broken down into 3 waves, we were allowed to have a quick dip in the water to test it out before the gun went off and as it turned out, that was not a good idea. I have a mother who does the slow, gradual immersion into the sea when we go swimming at the beach- she thinks it’s less traumatising. I don’t. I prefer the baywatch run and launch oneself into the water David Hasselhoff style. There’s a reason for this: the water in Ireland is always freezing cold – all year around – you just get different levels of cold. There’s the cold where you think to yourself, oh it’s nice once you get used to it before you realise 5 minutes later, actually no, it’s making my head hurt. Then there’s the cold that turns you blue after 10 minutes (not so bad, because you manage to have 10 minutes before you have to get out to save your extremities). Or there is also a cold whereby it’s actually immediately painful and the water feels like dozens of knives are attacking you and it takes at least 48 hours before you can shake it off. Now, you have to remember if you’re not from Ireland, that it is generally not that warm here so the contrast between the air above the water and the temperature of the water is usually a big player in terms of what you consider “cold”. It’s all relative. When you were on holidays in Ireland as a kid, you were on holidays. You packed only your shorts and t-shirts, you grabbed your bucket and space and you went to the beach with your picnic (ham rolls, biscuits, tayto and a flask of tea) and you were going to have a good time, the weather be damned. And we did. Moreover, this is what makes me feel like I’m an expert on Irish water temperatures. I digress.
As I said, “testing” the water first: not a good idea. Just made me want to run the other way and as I heard one girl behind me say, “I could be at home right now in bed nursing a hangover, drinking tea.” BANG! We were off. I stayed towards the back of the wave as I’m not yet very confident in the water and really my main priority is not to get kicked in the head or drowned so I just swam at a nice calm pace and tried to settle myself into a rhythm. Left at the first buoy and left at the second buoy and we were heading back into the beach. More miraculous at this point was that I wasn’t last and that there were still some people around me. I passed an older man on the last leg of the swim who seemed to have been left behind by his wave, but he seemed to be moving fine all the same. Out of the water and the run to transition was up the beach and up a zigzag hill to a carpark, where I very ungracefully yanked off the wetsuit (is there a cool way to do this?), grabbed the bike and helmet and made for the bike mount line.
The first bit on the bike was super – it was a steep downhill through the village with loads of people cheering in support so you felt like a rockstar! But you know what they say about what goes down… This was an out and back hilly little cycle route but actually, the hills weren’t that bad. It was challenging but not impossible and if there were no hills, it would all be a bit flat (pun intended). I’ve had very little time on the bike so far this year so I wasn’t expecting to do well on this leg. A few ladies, and the man I had passed in the water, passed me out on the first half of the cycle but after the turnabout, I started to get into it and was able to pass out a few bikes. Oh and that epic downhill at the beginning… you had to get back up it at the very end. Dude.
My neighbours in transition had unfortunately unhelpfully abandoned their bikes and wetsuits into my bit of space when I got back so I needed the kind assistance of the marshalls to clear some space for my bike so that I could motor on to the final leg. They were very kind and helpful and so quick to see this so thanks for that guys! Jelly legs as usual after the bike but like the bike leg, the run launched you down that deadly little hill and then up, up, up onto the run course. Again this was great, because by now, there were throngs of people around the run course, with marshalls struggling to hold people off the narrow road. With a few people wandering out onto the road, and the steep hill going up, it looked a lot like the Tour de France! It was a great boost. The run was tough. I run a very hilly course when I do my long run at the weekends so I’m used to some big hills but I found this tough. You were more or less running up steep hills for the first 2km, then it levelled out between 2-3.2 km (ish) and then you were all downhill. The downhill was great and more than made up for the way up. The accumulation of the swim and the cycle prior to the run would of course have impacted on feeling the difficulty of the run but it was certainly a big ask of racers and made for a good challenge. After my slow swim and cycle, I was able to make up a bit of ground on the run and passed out a good number of people on the run, which was nice and felt like a little victory as I crossed the line.
I seriously enjoyed this race and am chuffed that I did it. I wasn’t fussed with times or performance, but as ever for me, triathlons are just about doing something that pushes you out of your comfort zone and challenges you to do something different, in a different place or on a different course. The people from Waterford Triathlon Club were great – really friendly and welcoming and they did an amazing job with the organisation and execution of the race. It was top notch from what seems like a top notch group of people. I would highly recommend this race to anyone and if nothing else, it’s a good excuse to go to Dunmore East for the weekend and eat ice-cream sitting on the wall, looking out at the sea. I bet Oliver Cromwell didn’t make the time to do that. Rookie.
Swim: 17.21 T1: 5.16 Bike: 50.04 T2: 1.58 Run: 23:42 Total Time: 1.38.23