By Dermot Cunningham
Without doubt, outside of Sligo, my favourite Triathlon has always been Blacksod. It was a very special event on the Triathlon Ireland Calendar, and was seen as the final race of the year for many of our Club Members.
Blacksod Point is about 23km from Belmullet in Mayo, with stunning views and beautiful clear water on both sides of the Mullet Peninsula. The lighthouse was famously used by the Allies for weather forecasts on D- Day in 1944, and the area was the scene of the awful Irish Coast Guard Helicopter tragedy in March 2017.
Back in 2011, having completed our Sprint in Rosses Point, I was encouraged to step up to the Olympic level and Blacksod was suggested.
Where do I start in relation to this Olympic – “well obviously you start with the swim” – not really, a Triathlon adventure starts well before the swim.
Planning, Preparing and Packing!
Checking your list of all your gear – pre-race essentials, all the race needs for 3 Sports and of course the post-race requirements, is the activity that gets the mind focused. God forbid that you’d forget anything!! And you bring a few spare items just in case a fellow Club Members is under pressure on the morning. The list on the fridge door is consulted regularly the night before you set off, as you visualise what you will need at all the different stages.
The Triathlon always took place on a Saturday in September, so the majority of Sligo Tri Club Members made the journey to Belmullet on Friday evening. The locals really get behind the event and they are very welcoming of all the visitors. It’s one of the reasons that I took part every year from 2011 until the final Event in 2016. Registration took place in the local Gateway Leisure Centre, so after checking in to the lovely Broadhaven Bay Hotel, (one of the few Hotels in Europe with a 25-metre pool) Competitors would gather at Registration. The next item on the Agenda was Carbo loading – another great tradition enjoyed by Triathletes! Stories would be shared; experiences discussed and plans and expectations for the following day would be gone through in great detail. As well as the question – should I chance a desert?
The Broadhaven always provided a great selection of breakfast options including porridge, which you could enjoy made on milk or a non-dairy option – and after some coffee, and maybe scrambled eggs on toast, we would set off for Blacksod Bay. The nerves and excitement would be building and the sun always shone as we made the 23km journey.
Some Club Members would travel down that morning from Sligo, and there was always a great coming together as we parked our cars, looked out at the swim route and discussed the strength of breeze that would help us on the bike to get to Belmullet.
Racking your Trusty Steed
There were always numbers on the Racks, so it was easy to find your place on the pier. You put some talcum powder into your cycling shoes, and probably the shoes of the those to your left and right, as not everyone consults their list on the fridge as regularly as others. After visualising your T1 and T2 process, you slip on the wetsuit and make your way to the beach for the Briefing.
The beautiful Swim
It was always an in the water shotgun start – in the early years with a countdown from 10, but this was scrapped as it was accepted that some Triathletes aren’t familiar with the numbers from 5 down. From the lovely sandy beach, we swam out 500 metres at a slight angle before turning a sharp right at the large buoy to complete the 1000 metres from there to the slip at the pier. Once you got to the buoy it could sometimes get a bit choppy, and one year we had the company of Jellyfish to help us get home as speedily as possible.
The fantastic Bike
Blacksod was well known for the challenging climb about 1 km into the 43km Bike route, this was taken out of the Course for 2016 by the Triathlon Ireland Rep, but for the previous 5 years we had to make our way to the top and then hang on as we enjoyed the short steep decent on a road with grass in the middle. It was the scene of a few accidents over the years, and I could understand why it was removed.
We cycled through a few villages and got great encouragement from the Marshalls and the locals – delighted and proud to be able to share their beautiful scenery with us all.
Every year we had the wind on our backs until the turn around on the outskirts of Belmullet, and the return journey to T2 was always challenging as a result. It’s interesting how you are never really conscious of the wind until it’s blowing into your face. One of the advantages of a turn around is that you get to see your fellow Club Members and shout a few encouraging words. We’re all in it together, competing with ourselves and the targets we set – for some it’s a Podium, for others it’s making the finishing line safely.
Back in T2 you re-rack your bike, take off the helmet, slip on the runners and head off for the run – checking that the smile is still intact.
The fabulous run
This is probably the most beautiful run in any Triathlon in Europe. After a flat 500 metres, you take a left and climb for 2 km. The scenery is breath taking, or maybe it’s the climb, either way it’s unforgettable and it’s one of the reasons that used to bring people back year after year. In 2016 they added in a new hill, and that really had a serious impact on the tired legs, but it was the same of everyone and knowing that we had the lovely 2 km to bring us to the finishing line was always in the back of our minds.
Water was available at 2 points during the 10 km and was very appreciated – again encouraging Marshalls were on hand to help and convince you that you were going well.
One of the benefits of wearing our Club gear is the shout of “Come on Sligo!” you get from the locals, – and it should be acknowledged that this encouragement may not come easily to some Mayo people.
The Finish Line
No matter how tired you are, you lift your head, improve your stride and increase your pace slightly when you see the finish line. Hopefully there’s no rascal chasing you down so you don’t have to risk damaging your hamstring in the final strides. You cross the line, give back your timing chip, and celebrate with your fellow Club Members with a banana and a Protein Shake. It was always a Sligo Tri Club tradition that we wait and cheer our fellow Members home – no one is left behind.
We would pack up all the gear, and head back to the Broadhaven Hotel for showers, the best post-race meal on the circuit and the prize giving. The food was indeed exceptional – usually 3 options of main course, and a selection of desserts plus tea or coffee. Every year Sligo Tri Club Members featured in the Prizes – and it was great to see our Triathletes being presented and photographed in their Club gear.
It was with great sorrow that many of us searched the 2017 Triathlon Ireland Calendar of Events in vain. The Blacksod Point Challenge would not take place again. Having lost its National Series status and with the numbers low for 2016, the organisers felt they could no longer hold the Event.
But I, like many of our Members, can look back fondly on what was a fantastic annual adventure, we were there, we enjoyed every stroke and stride and we can continue to wear the t-shirts.