By Annabel Gilmartin
In 2018, I had been cycling for a few years, Sunday spins and sportives but no training. I took up running and trained for the first time for a few ultras, including coming dead-last in the Sligo Way Ultra. I fancied having a go at triathlon but found it intimidating looking from the outside. Fortunately, I heard of the ever-popular Women’s Initiative run by Sligo Triathlon Club and got a place! I was nervous of the swimming, so my husband Stephen took me to the pool to explain how to breathe with my face in the water. The Women’s Initiative was the perfect introduction with a fantastic group of women and an exceptional coach in Kate Hawney.
Over winter 2019 I kept practising swimming and I got thinking, ‘what would I do next?’. Unfortunately, I mentioned this line of thought to one Brian Sexton, who began a campaign to get me to enter the Hardman full distance. I bit the bullet and signed up, knowing my swimming needed lots of practice and looking forward to a full spring/summer of coached swimming classes (hah).
The training plan was drawn up with lots of complicated codes in little boxes and was duly ignored, except for the number of sessions per week. 3 swims, 3 cycles, 3 runs, 2 yoga and 1 Strength and Conditioning. A mixture of club training sessions and solo work.
Then, Covid! Apart from the pool being shut and classes off, the routine of training forced me to carry on. The 2km limit put a damper on the cycling for a few weeks especially being so close to town – 60km of 5km laps is pretty grim. Running wasn’t so bad, and little did I know all these laps would come to my advantage during the race.
When we lifted to 5km I could just about sneak over to Dorrins Strand with Pod No. 1, Kate, Barry, James and Claire. Without the pod I would have been stuck so thanks guys!
TriAthy Double Olympic was planned as a marker on the way but this was cancelled. It was a sweltering hot weekend in May and as a pod we decided to do a half-iron anyway.
From there onwards, the distances got longer as the restrictions eased. My longest bike was 160km via Stephen’s granny’s in Swanlinbar. My longest run was 35km on the Sligo Way from Lough Talt to Ladies Brae where I thought the change of scenery would keep it interesting, but it was actually one of my worse ever runs. Once the jellyfish arrived in the sea, I switched to swimming in the Garavogue, which was a lovely discovery.
Several of the Hardman series of events had already run, but even so, we were keeping everything crossed for the big one. I didn’t really allow myself to think that it wouldn’t go ahead and to be honest the training kept me sane. In a way it was the perfect time to train for a big race because there were very few social occasions to tempt me. A few days before the event new restrictions were announced and for about 24 hours, I felt sick with worry. I’m still not sure how it ended up going ahead, but I’m not questioning it.
So, I packed my fab new club tri-suit and bike and headed down to Kerry! The weather looked good; dry and warm enough, not much wind. However, there had been flooding on the run course from the week before, so the course was changed from 3 laps of 14km to 10 laps of 4km with a draggy hill on each lap. This is where all the mental practice of doing small loops came in handy!
Race morning finally rolled around, and I was just so happy to be there in the circumstances I might have cried a bit (it’s a total myth that people from Yorkshire are tough). The swim course was two laps of a triangle in Lough Leane. The second leg was straight into the rising sun which made sighting nearly impossible. The last leg of the second lap I seemed to be going nowhere but just kept swimming and couldn’t really believe it when I got out of the water. OK, the bit I had been worrying about most was done with! Swim done, bang-on target time of 1h31, but showing 4.26km compared to other people’s 3.8km, oops!
A quick bite of lukewarm porridge and off on the bike! I was relieved to be on the bike leg and had a massive smile on my face for the next while. The first water stop was at the top of Moll’s Gap which is a lovely climb. The descent had been re-tarmacked and was fantastic but towards the bottom it got rough and the bottle on my bars jumped out and cracked. All the water leaked out, so I was short for the next few hours.
The next water stop at 90km, which rolled around fine; the sun was out and the scenery was lovely. I had made sticky rice cakes with egg and cheese mixed-in to eat. I ate a mix of these, gels, bananas and a mars bar at the water stop (never has a mars bar tasted so good).
Once in Killorglin there was a tailwind, so I sped along back into Killarney. I had been surprised to discover that it is socially acceptable to wee on the bike during a long triathlon and can report it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. Bike done in 6h25, well under my target time of 7 hours.
On to the run. Due to Covid there were to be no water stops, official advice was to carry a water bottle in your hand, so I used my ultrarunning vest that has water bottles on the front and pockets for food. That is, if I had been able to eat anything because my stomach felt rock solid and achey.
Nevertheless, the first few laps went OK and despite Covid there was a nice party atmosphere around the finish line area. After about 8km my little toes started to hurt (they curl under, usually after about 25km, so this was worrying). For a few laps I started walking the hill and was worrying about not eating anything.
Stephen told me the lady behind was running faster than me but I still had a decent margin. I knew I could keep going for long periods of time, but how fast I didn’t really know. Now it was actually a race for the podium! So, I took my emergency caffeine mega gel and put my head down and ran hard. My feet were quite sore now, but it turns out you can ignore it if you want something badly.
Having finished some time ago, Brian came cycling around the course to shout encouragement and I remember saying to him ‘I just want it to be over’. When the lady behind hadn’t passed me on the final time up the hill, I figured I had it and enjoyed the last few km to the finish. I cried a bit running under the finish line, so happy to have completed it in 12h30, half an hour under my target time of 13 hours and third place lady! All the hard work was worth it!
When I signed up for the Women’s Initiative I would have laughed at you if you’d told me I’d be doing a race like this in two years but having the support of the club made each step doable! Thank you to everyone in STC who helped me during training, and in particular Pod No 1!