A report by Colette Young.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the Sligo Tri Club’s hugely successful Women’s and Men’s Initiatives, a new plan to inspire people to ‘Return to Tri‘ and provide some guidance, support, and connection after the impact of the pandemic, was put into motion. Annabel Gilmartin sent an email on behalf of the club to anyone who had previously tried the Try-a-Tri asking for expressions of interest. The commitment was two days training a week for five weeks with an event on the 8th August.
Due to the restrictions regarding use of indoor space, a little more bravery was required than for the previous Try-a-Tri, as the swimming took place in the open water of the Garvogue River. It was preferable to own your own wetsuit – but not essential, wetsuits could be rented from Sligo Sports and Recreation Partnership. The intention to be supportive and encouraging of participation, even for those who were inexperienced or didn’t have the necessary equipment, was evident from the beginning.
You could sense the nerves at our first encounter with our coaches, Kate Hawney and Ross McLynn, at Duck Pond in Doorly Park, for our initial Sunday afternoon dip. Many of us had lived in Sligo for most of our lives but had never swum in Lough Gill or the Garvogue River. We took a deep breath, patted each other on the back and off we went. To our pleasant surprise it was a lovely swimming experience – no jellyfish! Dark water, but calmer and not salty like the sea. The lake is dark so there’s little or no visibility underwater, but we got used to it quite quickly.
The bi-weekly sessions, one swim and one bike/run aka ‘Brick’, gave a structure to our training and the collective growth in confidence was evident each week. Our coaches provided us with a clear plan at each session, introducing us to the elements of training that are unique to triathlon; transitions and frequent training and pacing over the three unique challenges of swimming, cycling and running. We were encouraged to have a ‘can do’ attitude and, most importantly, enjoy ourselves.
Six weeks of steady training ensued and then race day was upon us. Family members and friends gathered with homemade banners, ready to cheer us on. Husbands arrived at Duck Pond pushing buggies and hoisting toddlers up on shoulders. We were nervous and excited but well prepared and ready to give it a go.
We got into the water about 15 minutes before the whistle to warm up. There was no turning back now – three, two, one – go! We set off and the pace was strong, everyone giving it their best shot. My goggles were kicked off by a swimmer in front of me, about 100 metres into the swim. The words of warning from the coaches about keeping our calm by controlling our breathing came in very useful at that point. After the initial high energy of the group start, we became separated as we each settled into our own pace. We swam 400 metres from the island opposite Duck Pond, down and around the next island and back up to the slipway. It was a familiar route at this stage and no bother to us.
After a morning of torrential rain, we got lucky with a mild and dry afternoon. The result of the rain, however, was flooding on the bike and run course. On the bike, we had to wade through large puddles of the morning’s rainwater. Just at the point when you would be used to gaining momentum, before going up a hill, a large body of water was waiting to slow you down. This meant extra effort was required on each hill, which took determination.
On the run, instead of running alongside the river through Doorly Park as initially planned, we ran along Cleveragh Road down towards the Blue Lagoon, turning at the slipway at the end of the bicycle track. We high-fived each other as we passed each other on the run and reassured each other that ‘we got this’. Although I must admit, I was so juiced by the end of the run I couldn’t summon the strength it took to give a hearty cheer to those passing.
It was a really fun race, the support from the sidelines creating an exciting atmosphere. The competition was alive right to the finish line. Two finishes in particular spring to mind, tight and hard fought. The women won out on the day, with only one man in the top five over the finish line. I felt totally spent by the end, but buoyed by the cheers from the sidelines. Some kind souls had set up a table with oranges and brownies – they sorted us all out! We were grand again, ready for our big night out in McLynns. Everyone was in high spirits for the post event, a combination of relief and celebration.
All in all, it was a brilliant experience and one I will enthusiastically encourage anyone who’ll listen to take part in. You never know where it may lead.