Caroline Kearney must have been smiling down on Lough Enell yesterday, as it played host to the best day of August so far this summer. Ireland has not been blessed with a good summer this year so it has become the norm to simply expect rain and wind as an accompanying element to any race. I do like to be surprised and yesterday was a great one.
Caroline Kearney was a great Irish triathlon talent who tragically died on a training cycle in 2006 and this race is held in her memory every summer in the picturesque setting of Lough Enell, hosted by the Midlands Triathlon Club. Despite competition with IRONMAN Dublin, which also takes place this weekend, the Caroline Kearney Triathlon was, again, a sell-out, with 500 men and women taking on the olympic distance Westmeath course.
After an initial mild panic at not being able to navigate the countryside and find the event location at Lillyput Adventure Centre, I somehow managed to arrive with just enough time to register, set up in transition and go to the loo. Phew. First challenge: complete. Borrowing the words of Roy Keane, “all credit to” the organisers who stuck to the timetable and delivered a prompt and efficiently organised race. I’ve been at races where they can be a bit lax about sticking to the timetable, resulting in lots of additional waiting around for racers, which is not ideal when you’re trying to conserve your energy for what really matters. But these lads were absolutely on point, cutting off registration at the assigned time and getting the race briefing under way. Full marks.
Immediately after the briefing, we were escorted down to the lake, a very short walk away from transition and also, on grass, so ideal for triathlon transition. There were 2 waves for the swim, pink hats for the first and purple for the second. I had a nice purple number.
It’s been a while since I studied geography so perhaps I am a little rusty, but for some reason I was expecting the lake water to be warmer than the sea, which I have been swimming almost exclusively in since the summer began… ah, no. Fresh, it most certainly was! On the plus side, there were no strong waves and there didn’t seem to be much of a current, which made a nice change from being battered and pulled around by the might that is the sea. I stayed to the back of the swimmers because I prefer to have some space around me when I swim. As I get more experienced swimming in triathlon races, I can feel I’m gradually getting more confident so this, I expect, will change in future but for the moment, I’m happy enough just going along at my own pace in my own space, marching to the beat of my own drum and all that. That’s all any of these races ever boil down to anyway: you trying to beat yourself. That is, unless you’re actually trying to get on the podium… different story there! (Not likely to be mine…)
The swim went well and I stopped only to sight a few times and on a couple of occasions on the last leg when I got caught by a few waves and ended up with more water in my mouth than was required! However, it did feel really long both on the first leg and on the last leg, with familiar thoughts of “This is frickin interminable… Seriously, are they moving those buoys?!?!…. I swear to God, those buoys are not getting any closer….” But having done a couple of olympic distance triathlons now, I’ve come to expect this feeling and being psychologically prepared makes a massive difference in terms of how you handle challenges on race day. It’s the same for me with long distance running – when you’ve experienced running 20 miles, the ups and downs, the physical feelings, the thoughts that come and go through your head over that 20 miles, you know what to expect the next time you run 20 miles. The next time, you’ll likely be able to handle it better and do better. I always feel confident running, not because I’m fast or good at it, but because I know I will complete the distance, whatever it is, however long it may take me.
It’s the exact same with open water swimming – like marathon running, you’re out there in the middle of an ocean with nobody but yourself to get you to the end of this long course and when you’ve done it once, you then know that you can do it. It’s a calmness. Yesterday, it felt like this calmness has started to come into my swimming, just like in my running. Most welcome indeed! So although the swim did seem long, I knew that if I just kept spinning my arms and motoring on, I would get to the shore. And I did: 34.39.
T1 was quicker than usual for me. On the last occasion, I tried being a smartie by leaving my shoes pre-attached to the pedals in transition with the intention being to get on the bike first and then slot my feet into the shoes once I got going. Alas, I made a mess of this that day and had to stop to get my shoes right in the end. Ugh. This time, I took the simple option: shoes on, helmet on and run to the mount line. Done, with no embarrassing disaster this time…
The 40km bike course consisted of a single lap, with lots of regular and rolling hills. Overall, it wasn’t a bad cycle with no tough climbs or mad descents to handle and not many turns either. Nothing too challenging but a bit tiring nonetheless with the regularity of the rolling hills, albethey minor enough in their respective intensity. There was also a strong headwind for the first 20km and after a brief respite, it seemed to reappear as if out of nowhere for the final 7km. Grrr… I got into the cycle after the first 20km and enjoyed it more than I usually do. Having said that, I was glad to dismount and rack her up again. Bike: 1.35.32.
I was again quicker than normal in T2, managing to escape in just under 2 minutes. I would have been quicker but the jackass beside me had inconsiderately dumped their bike in my spot so I had to move it out of the way before I could rack my own. I don’t use the word “jackass” lightly, nor do I like having to say this at all, but this has happened me a few times in transition and it really ticks me off. I would never do this to someone else – it’s rude, selfish, very inconsiderate and entirely unnecessary. Marshalls need to start watching for this and penalise infringements. Each area was clearly marked and every racer was assigned a numbered spot so don’t be an ass and throw your stuff all over the rack. Rant done!
The 10km run started out with a nice steep little hill and then turned out onto a flat road for a short out-and-back, which took you up to about 3km. The route then turned down a trail road for another out-and-back for another 4km. This section was lovely with lots of trees, nature and just very pleasant to run along. After the obligatory post-cycle jelly legs for the first 4km or so, I found I was running at a quicker pace than I’d thought I’d be able for. My legs felt like two lead blocks swinging from puppet strings, and I was going along with the natural pace that my body was pulling me along with. I felt like I was shuffling, but my garmin registered the first 3 miles at 8.02, 8.07 and 8.18. This spurred me on and together with the pretty scenery, the return of my running legs post-cycle and my passing out of a number of people who had whizzed by me on the cycle, I started to enjoy the run. I managed to keep up the pace and ended up completing the last three miles in 8.27, 8.22 and 8.26, resulting in an overall 10km time of 51.55.
My overall time was 3 hours 7 minutes and 22 seconds. A new PB for me, knocking off about 23 minutes. Yahoo! I was faster on the swim by about 1 minute, on the cycle by about 20 minutes and on the run by 3 minutes. I also managed to get in and out of both transitions a bit faster so goodness all round y’all! It was a new course however so I’m not getting any “notions”, as my Gran would say- it may just have been that the course was faster, not me. But I thank it for flattering me 😉
After the race, I grabbed a banana and some water. Although I seemed to finish in a reasonable time, all of the other finish line goodies had already been savaged by the time I made it through, with signs of there having been protein shakes and sandwiches on offer earlier… there didn’t seem to be anyone monitoring the area so perhaps next year they could control this a bit better so that everyone could get some, rather than it being a free for all. I wouldn’t mind too much but I did see a few people with three bottles of protein shakes so….
On the flip side, there was a post-race BBQ with all competitors getting a lunch voucher in their goodie bags, which was a lovely and generous gift from the race organisers and was wolfed down by the hungry finishers!
Great race, nice course and a really enjoyable day out. Full credit to the organisers for pulling it all off so well and I look forward to having a go at this course again.
Total Race Time: 3.07.22
Swim: 34.39 T1: 2.48 Bike: 1.35.32 T2: 1.58 Run: 51.55