A race report by Grace Callaghan
Once upon a time, in a land far far away,….., a Tri Club travelled to take part in an Ironman event.
The faraway land- Cascais, Portugal, and the Club- Sligo Tri Club of course. This race report is based on actual events.
The initial sign up for Cascais was back in 2020, but unfortunately due to a certain global pandemic, the event was postponed until October 2022. The upshot was that we had 2 FULL YEARS to train hard, no excuses, no distractions, anything was possible- PBs, Kona qualifying times- the world was our oyster, and with that strong motivation and determination in mind we began our training……….about 3 months before hand!
In the meantime, the Portugal Bandwagon had certainly come to town, with more club members and supporters jumping on without a second thought. It was inadvertently becoming the ‘Away Race’ for 2022.
We set off from Dublin on Thursday, two days before race day. We had organized to have our bikes shipped to the event. Bringing them on the plane would mean having to get a bike box to travel and having the hassle of minding the bikes after the race too. The guys from ‘Team Truck’ were incredibly efficient, they met us in Sligo two weeks before the race and had our bikes fully assembled and ready for collection when we landed in Cascais.
Thursday and Friday were spent testing out the bikes, taking a dip to make sure that we hadn’t forgotten how to swim since leaving Ireland, and most importantly, doing what we do best- Carb loading! Race briefing was also on the Friday. We almost missed it as we had arranged to have our hair braided (Priorities!). Getting the race braids would surely make us more aerodynamic and take at least 30minutes off our time! Not an issue for the boys of course. In race briefing, the Portuguese MC told us to ensure that our ‘googles’ (goggles) fitted correctly for the swim, and to look out for the ‘bump-speeds’ (speedbumps) on the bike. After spending the rest of the evening taking photos and searching the town for bananas (not an easy find amongst 3000+ athletes) we headed back to the hotel for an early night- alarms set for 5am.
Back in Ireland, some of the support gang (Orla Kelly, Niamh Walsh and the McHugh Ladies) had some bad luck with a cancelled flight, but they were not to be deterred. They booked a new flight for first thing the next morning. Nothing would stop this solid crew from missing out on any of the action.
Race day arrived and the nerves and excitement were running high. We walked down to a busy transition for a final check through our bags and put our water bottles on the bikes. It was still dark. Some of the more seasoned athletes had head torches which seemed very handy and I thought, I must remember that ………..for the next time. I don’t think any race report is complete without some commentary on the toilet situation, so I’ll just keep this brief- there were portaloos, they were dark and they didn’t flush. Enough said. Time had moved on quite quickly and we ended up jogging down to the start line where most of the athletes had already assembled. It was a panic we could have done without. We found ourselves hopping over metal barriers to get to the correct holding pen. The sun was starting to come up as the pro athletes (not us) entered the water first. The atmosphere was overwhelmingly electric. The pier packed with supporters and the music pumping. A quick group hug and we were ready to hit the water.
The swim was a 1.9km one loop course, marked out by large buoys around the boats harbored in the bay. We had also been warned at race briefing about the ‘chilly Portuguese water temperatures’……16 degrees!!Into the water and I attempted a few porpoise/dolphin dives to get the body moving/look the part…. When in Rome! I initially tried to swim tight to the buoys but it seemed that obviously everyone else had the same idea which resulted in everybody getting a bit of a battering. I stayed a touch wide of the following buoys and managed to get into a better rhythm. Despite having the tinted ‘googles’ on, I found the rising sun made sighting a little tricky in the beginning, but thankfully as we turned for home the sun was on our backs and it was a straight swim in following the bubbles of the swimmer ahead of me. Out of the water and it was ‘just a short 500m’ run uphill to bike transition.
The bike course was a 90km loop that would take in parts of Sintra National Park, Estoril Grand Prix circuit, before heading towards the turning point in Lisbon for a ‘fast’ flat return along the coast to Cascais. In the distance, I could see Kevin Mulcahy already exiting transition, he seemed to be among the first few from the club out on the bike. The first 30-35km were mainly uphill which I found tough going. Niall Walsh zipped by me at about 5km followed by Ruth Walsh at about the 10km mark. After some steep descents and ‘bump-speeds’, we reached the F1 circuit where the objective was to ‘push-push’ and avoid a ‘box-box’. Despite our massive head-start, the full ironmen were now out on the course too, Ross and Mouse flew by me on the way into Lisbon, they were on the first loop of their 180km bike! Turning back toward Cascais, I could see that Sheila Devaney, Jane Gormley and Fiona Farragher were closing the gap and following very close behind me. Angela Carr, looking very comfortable on the bike appeared beside me around the 80km mark. I was very happy to see transition coming into view and getting the bike racked. Now just a half marathon to contend with.
The Sligo supporters headed up by the Gormley boys, Keith Farragher and the Hanley ladies had gathered at the transition area, giving us plenty of encouragement as we headed out on the run.
The two loop run course, described in the race briefing as ‘rolling’ took us along the open coast. It wasn’t massively hilly but it definitely had some dragging inclines. John Hanley, Kevin O’ Donnell and Paul Carr were all well on their second lap and heading for home as I started out on the first. It was midday at this stage and feeling quite hot. I could see that James Hardiman was out on the run now too. Seeing the Sligo trisuits at various points on the course was great for a boost and motivation to keep going. The Sligo supporters, now with Gemma Maguire in the mix, had moved to a new location down on the Marina to keep themselves ‘hydrated’- cheering is thirsty work of course! I’m told that it was around this point that Keith Farragher started to consider completing an Ironman himself- recruited and egged on by David Gormley- watch this space guys! The first 10k of the run went ok but I was feeling every bit of the final 11k taking anything that was on offer from the aid stations. On the final 500m from the famous red carpet finish I remember seeing someone with a sign saying ‘Smile- remember you paid to do this!’ and surely it did give me a laugh that was needed to get across the line.
Thankfully we all finished well and in one piece. Needless to say the celebrations went on for a few days after.