Race Reports

Hardman Bantry Bay – Middle Distance Triathlon 31st July 2021


A report by James Coulter

This was an event I have been wanting to do for a couple of years now, as I heard it was a tough challenge and a good alternative to Ironman events. Little did I know just how tough it was going to be. Getting all of my preparation done, calling into Sligo on the way for a few essentials such a goggles and tyre tubes, I headed down to Bantry on Friday evening and arrived at the hotel, which was a mere 1.5 km from transition. No excuses for being late! Upon arriving at the hotel, there was Alan Ryan himself (owner of Hardman events) sprawled across a hotel couch looking very relaxed. If he wasn’t going to panic, then neither was I.

Kate Hawney and Ken Foley – “the run is hell….a horrendous event………it nearly broke me…….I’m traumatised after that race”.

Despite this relaxed atmosphere, I could not help but think of all the reports I had heard from others in the club who had completed the race, Kate Hawney and Ken Foley – “the run is hell….a horrendous event………it nearly broke me…….I’m traumatised after that race”. Barry Guckian arrived shortly afterwards along with his personal physio Claire, the only other Sligo member competing in the event. We were both apprehensive, as I had lost a good 10 days of training as a result of a bad reaction to my second vaccination, and Barry had been training hard to the point where he was overtraining and had hit a wall only a week before hand. With the eventual goal of an ironman there was no point in risking injury on this race.

I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night thinking about the reports of the Bantry Hardman run, that, and I think the hotel borrowed the bed from a homeless shelter, it was hard and uncomfortable. The swim and the cycle seemed to have disappeared from my horizon, so I needed to remind myself that there are two other events in a triathlon which are a little more complicated and need forethought.

The next morning was really stress-free, despite the hotel telling us the evening before that they wouldn’t be doing breakfast before 8, which was also the swim start time. Eventually we found out that they were indeed doing an early breakfast for some ‘strongman event.. I guess their communications are as good as their bed selection.

Participants were divided into two groups. Barry had a start time of 8am, whereas I had a start time of 9am. This was established by the predicted swim time on our entry form. Having an extra hour was great, school boy error Barry.

At the transition area I was watching the first group head off when I got a tap on the shoulder from Ken Foley. Great to see a familiar face, especially one who was not only originally from Bantry, but had competed in the event last year. It was a bit late for tips, but he came in useful for photos.

Swim: 1800 M swim – 4 marker buoys and lots of wildlife.

The water was almost flat calm and really warm. The weather in the morning was ideal with little wind or cloud cover and a temperature of around 16-17 degrees. Ideal for me as I can’t handle heat.

“no way…I can’t do it….there’s tens of thousands of them!”

As the second group were preparing in transition for the swim, we heard an almost hysterical man exclaiming “no way…I can’t do it….there’s tens of thousands of them” This poor guy was part of the first group, having swam a mere 50 metres or so, he did a U-turn and ran out of the water. There was a jellyfish bloom in the bay. This did nothing for the nerves of the people in group 2. It didn’t really worry me as I was used to skin swimming in Sligo with plenty of jelly’s. In any case, I had trained for/paid for and travelled too far to pull out.

As we prepared in transition we had to wear masks. Covid hadn’t gone away, Nor did Triathlon Irelands’ fervent control measures. Upon entering the water our last act was to discard our mask into a bucket. I ripped mine off like a WWF wrestler as I didn’t want to take off my hat and goggles. The race started with participants entering the water two at a time with 5 second intervals. I noticed something in my peripheral vision but swam on regardless. It was only in the shower that evening that it turns out it was the elastic bands that go around your ears. They were stuck there all day.

Swimming along, looking down at thousands of these creatures it was mesmerising and beautiful. A wonder of nature that we were lucky to experience.

Having swam some 150 metres the jellyfish bloom became really apparent as I could feel them bumping of every part of me. There was literally tens of thousands of them just floating around. Thankfully, they were just Moon jellyfish (the non-stinging type) with just a few Compass jelly fish (the stinging type) that were deeper in the water. The Sunday before I had participated in a charity sprint tri in Wicklow. My shoulders felt sore on the swim so I was somewhat concerned that maybe I had over-done it for my level of fitness. There were so many jellyfish bumping off my shoulders it felt like they were massaging me! It was great. Swimming along, looking down at thousands of these creatures it was mesmerising and beautiful. A wonder of nature that we were lucky to experience.

One criticism I had was that the second and third marker boys were some 500 m’s apart. It was really difficult to see and as result a large group of us were heading to the wrong boy. I realised this and corrected my swim. Some participants I talked to afterwards said they had 300 m’s extra on their swim. If I had a swim watch I’m sure it would have said the same. Other than that I was disappointed the swim was over as it was so enjoyable, plus I was one event closer to the notorious Bantry run.

Cycle 85 km’s, 1000 m of elevation, max elevation 282m

This was one event that I was looking forward to as it promised some fantastic views. The route was basically half of the Mizen peninsula and half of sheep’s head peninsula. I was aware that the roads of west Cork were poor as I would often travel these roads with work and I had completed the Mizen to Malin the previous year, but Hardman managed to find the worst roads out of a bad bunch. If I had any advise for someone competing next year, it would be to make sure you tighten every nut and bolt on your bike. The road surface was so rough and uneven, the course had become littered with water bottles and other bike related detritus. After a hard climb in the first 20 kms we came across a section of road with newly laid, smooth tar. It was a welcome surprise, so I took out me perfectly ripened banana, and started to peel it while controlling the bike at a good speed with my forearms on the tri bars. Just as I had it peeled down and even removed the fibrous strings on the outside (The phloem bundles for the nerds!!!) The good tar ended and I hit a series of holes and bumps that shook the crap out of me. I was left with just the butt as the rest of the banana went under the wheel of the cyclist following. He didn’t fall which was just as well as that would have been so cliché.

Like the swim, race event furniture was few and far between. There was sparse use of red arrows to direct us along. We had been sent a link to a you tube video that we were supposed to have watched and memorised. On this video we were told to watch out for such markers as a blue tractor and a man sitting on a rock with a dog. To make matters worse, there was also some other cycling event in the same area, that resulted in large white chalk arrows drawn on the road pointing in a different direction to our route.

Suddenly a cyclist behind me was shouting “right…right…right….turn f#%king right”. I had missed the red arrows, or the man on the tractor or the fairy wishing well or whatever the hell I was supposed to look out for.

On the bike, I had been chatting to a few lads from Kerry, but I fell behind them due to my banana failure. So I put the head down to try and catch them. Suddenly a cyclist behind me was shouting “right…right…right….turn f#%king right”. I had missed the red arrows, or the man on the tractor or the fairy wishing well or whatever the hell I was supposed to look out for and was heading for Mizen Head. It was a righthand turn with no marshal. I was so thankful to him. He let me know that he had already cycled the route, which in hindsight was a good idea. Despite having friendly company and good Samaritans for some of the bike, there were long periods when I was on my own on the cycle. This worried me as I couldn’t be sure I was on the right route. For the first time in my racing experience I asked some tourists if they saw any other cyclists. They reassured me that I was on the right track, and had a chuckle to themselves. I wasn’t laughing….

Some other cyclists had warned me that there was a tough climb after Kilchrohane, around 64km’s in. There is no doubt that they were a friendly crew. So I decided to pull out my homemade flapjacks made from my own experimental recipe. Feck, they were rock hard. I needed a heap of precious water just to digest them. I could have done everyone a favour and thrown them into some of the potholes. But they did the job (thanks Annabel for the tube fuel bag). I didn’t expect what was coming. During one of the toughest climbs I had ever attempted, I had considered clipping out and walking it was that steep. Some other cyclists did walk, but I stubbornly persevered. Normally the tough climbs are rewarded with a speedy downhill which is great for thrill seekers like me, but not this race. You just couldn’t let go on the downhills. Between the grass-in-the-middle type boreens we were on, the loose gravel, the blind bends and locals deciding it would be a good day to move the digger, it was just too dangerous. This cycle was tough and was not going to have a decent average due to its undulating nature. The last 15 kms or so were relatively plain sailing and gave a welcome rest from climbing and roads that would test the frame of any bike. During the last 3 km’s or so the cycle route blended with the last 3kms of the run route. This meant that as I cycled in, I was passing out the stronger runners from the first swim group of the morning. These would have been the stronger participants, athletes that are normally home and have the dinner on by the time I get in. I noticed something disturbing. Many of them were walking, with their hands on their hips, and the road was flat! These guys were fit looking, not the type who have half a pack of custard creams with every cup of tea. What the hell was I in for???

The Run 21 kms. 446m’s elevation gain, max elevation 180m. Great views if you weren’t in pain.

Ah yes, the notorious Bantry run. Once I racked my bike I grabbed one of my empty bottles and mentally prepared myself for the challenge of the day. I looked around for water as I exited transition, there was none. At this stage the sun was out and the temperature had risen considerably. I knew water was going to be essential if I was to finish this race at all. Otherwise, the plan was to attack the hills!!! I ran the first 3 km’s. Attack soon turned to survive. My body was shouting for water. There was a few of us together asking the marshals “where is the water stop?”. They responded, “ I think there’s one at the top of the hill?”. They weren’t filling me with confidence. “I Think” doesn’t really cut the mustard, which was what my mouth tasted like, hot mustard.

Finally on a tight bend I spotted a tap in a farm yard, running in I turned it on and shouted at the other guys, “water” . It was like a scene from some survivor program.

After 4 kms and some hard climbing I was desperate for water. I glanced into every farm yard and house we passed in search of a tap. I was losing time here looking for water in every little lane and field I passed. Even a cattle trough would have done, I was willing to take my chances with bovine tuberculosis. Finally on a tight bend I spotted a tap in a farm yard, running in I turned it on and shouted at the other guys, “water” . It was like a scene from some survivor program. They followed me in and formed a queue. One of them was the guy who set me right on the cycle. I owed him this favour for sure. If the farmer turned up at that point, God knows what he would have thought. I have to say it was tasty water. When we got to the top of the hill there was the proper water stop of plastic drums that had been out in the sun. I topped up the bottle but couldn’t help thinking how much nicer the water in the farmyard was.

The run was torture, It never seemed to stop going uphill. I don’t know how much of it I walked but I reckon it was at least 25%. The day was hot and I was out of water again. Finding a mountain stream I filled the bottle. Again, I found the water from the stream really tasty and much nicer than the toilet bowl flavour water provided by Hardman. Definitely a business opportunity there.

A few aspects of challenging running became apparent to me. One was finding and maintaining a rhythm. Having gel on my hand along with the sweat led me to drop my water bottle. When I stopped and turned to retrieve it from the side of the road I felt dizzy and weak. Starting to run again I found it difficult to get back into whatever rhythm I had. The second challenge was the walking trap, or avoiding it. On a challenging course like this where even the strongest runners walk temporarily, it is tempting to get into the walking habit, especially on tough hills. I know I left at least 15-20 mins behind me by taking the easy option. Barry however did no such thing and his hard training paid off with a savage run time. He ate the tar and spat it out, which incidentally would have made no difference to the road surface.

Overall, it was a great event. Having a few Sligo members there really helped and made the weekend all the more enjoyable. I know everyone focuses on how tough the run was, but I believe the cycle was underestimated, and left very little in the tank for what turned out to be one of the toughest runs on any triathlon that I know off.

Onwards and upwards it is, Barry is in good shape for his Ironman and should do well. I may need a few extra weeks of training but I hope to tick that box soon.

If you’ve read this far, you must have been bored and at nothing! Get out and run!!!!

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