Race report by Lewis Clarke.
Sign up and Tri
As a brief introduction, I moved to Sligo at the end of December 2020 with my wife, who grew up in Sligo, and two children who’ve visited many times. Having run with three different clubs in England prior to lock-down I was initially keen to join another running club or a cycling club. By chance one of my new neighbours, Stephen Daly, turned out to be a keen cyclist and member of Sligo Triathlon Club. After a few social rides, I decided to join in September 2021.
Running and mobility and winter turbo were my introductions. A couple of PB 5k park runs and a Drumshanbo 10k PB was proof the training was working . During running sessions I’d chat to others about their sporting interests, how they’d come to the club, events and tri experience. I decided to sign-up to the Sligo Tri and Mullaghmore Tri. However, I hadn’t been near a pool for two years and kept using limited shoulder movement as an excuse not to swim.
Time was passing by. I started two swim sessions a week and my first wasn’t fun! I hadn’t tried free-style for years, could barely do a length, and could only breathe to one side. Was it really going to be this difficult? If I was struggling to do 25 metres in the pool, 750 metres in the sea seemed highly unlikely. Even 300 metres in the pool seemed challenging. I likened it to the swimming equivalent of couch to 5k.
The weeks before the tri
- Continued running, and training sessions where possible
- Short duathlon session in Carney with Rod and Stephen to get used to transition with a run, cycle, run.
Takeaways: Strange feeling in the legs and no sense of pace, and need to get low on the bike for those headwinds.
- Social cycle of the course route. Great to be out on a social ride for the first time with some of the club. The course is certainly lumpy and bumpy, and I’m informed a lot of it will be open.
Takeaways: Avoid the racing lines on blinds bends, watch the potholes and mud at the side of the road and replace the disc pads.
- Another cycle of the course route and some add-ons. A little quicker and this time miss some of the big holes and use the tri bars more. Takeaways: I’m going for 100 psi.
- I listen to some triathlon podcasts, watch some youtube videos, search for checklists. I also read an issue of 220 Triathlon that my wife bought me, including swim techniques and there is a great article on an Ironman that didn’t quite go to plan – the key takeaway is expect things to go wrong.
Day before the tri
I run through the kit list, then dash off to find a race belt, and lock-laces. Check my helmet straps and glue everything in place with a glue gun to avoid any faff during T1. Set aside that second set of trainers – the ones I’m not running in. Eat well, hydrate and stick with alcohol-free beer. Setup my watch for triathlon in multisport mode.
Check the kit and load bag, shower, grab breakfast (porridge with fruit and honey, toast, tea – easily enough for a 1000 calories), fill my water bottle, add a hydration tablet. Put the gear and bike in and on the van and off to park. On approach to parking I notice someone cycling to the event on the way and noted for next time. Park, grab gear and jump on the bike to register.
Registration and Setup
The junior try is in full swing – lots of future potential! Lots of bikes parked up, a wide variety from hybrids to full on TT’s. Off to the hall for registrations. “Anyone for the super sprint?”. I can avoid the longer queue but feel like I’m cheating somewhat. No, it’s still the right decision, given my swim ability!
As the junior’s complete and the race brief starts a small hint of butterflies passes. Then I’m into the transition area to locate my number, and figure out what makes the most sense in kit arrangement. Bathmat down, bike shoes open, with socks resting atop, trainers at the back with a cap to avoid squinting in the sun. Helmet and shades then placed on top – “Helmet’s on first” rings in my ears and something about disqualification. It’s about time to swim so I ditch everything except goggles and my as yet unproven tri suit and dump the bag until post-race.
Here we go. I’m later than planned so have a middle lane. I grab a swim hat and attempt to put it on. It’s both thinner and tighter than my regular one, so I try again and rip out a large chunk. The second hat is a “no chance of blending in” pink one. Into the lane and quick chat with the other two in my lane – One is injured, the other similarly unconvinced by their ability.
Then we’re off. I’m thinking, relax, try and breath, ignore everyone else. First two lengths is fine, then I start running out of air and need some breaks. I glance across a lane and see legs – I’m not walking, which is something. After ten lengths, I’m getting frustrated as the breathing still isn’t working. I’m gasping and gulp in some water and thinking others have cycled up their first hill already! Ok, it’s my first tri and I’m no swimmer so crack on. A wave from the marshal and I’m done!
T1 and Bike
I’m now very pleased to get out of the pool. I’m outside, and it’s helmet on first, then rest, then hobble round passed start line and we’re off. The climb is steady and it’s pleasantly warm, although I realise I’m wet, obviously.
Down the first hill I start gaining on some other bikes. I crack on picking out the smoother tarmac and keep low where possible. Then it’s the biggest hill, the ascent is 155 metres and my Hammerhead tells me where I am. I inch passed another cyclist exchanging pleasantries as we grind up the hill. I’m not feeling 100%, is it the gel I slipped into the water or did I eat too much?
I spot a bike going the opposite direction – TT, aero helmet, and obviously a swimmer too. I continue and seek the turn point and cone which comes and goes smoothly. I enjoy the slight downhill pass another bike or two and wave to a few club members. I then reach the Garda bike who keeps ahead all of the way back to T2. The only issue is where a car stops in the middle of the road for a casual conversation and I need to slow to avoid overtaking the Garda bike and colliding with oncoming cyclists. I reach the last ascent and see other club members heading in the other directions from the 750M waves – we wave and call out to each other for encouragement. This is what I’ve really enjoyed about the Sligo Triathlon Club – encouragement.
T2 and Run
I skid to stop just over the line and hobble around to park and in the back of my mind think about tri bike shoes for faster transitions. All is quiet in transition, and my transition goes as planned. I set off across the road and up the hill and my legs have that strange post-cycle feeling.
I’ve no sense of pace so far. It’s warm, warmer than I like, and my calves are tight, which is unusual. The run seems longer than a normal 5k by this stage. I see a few walkers, and think anything warmer than a tri suit would be overkill. I see Ross who calls out – certainly not feeling as good as the usual tempo run. As I approach the finish, I’m not ready for the usual sprint. I didn’t even notice the finish time but stopped the Garmin, grab water, a banana and orange to consume. I feel much better. Now where’s that coffee van and those awesome wraps!
I’ve got some tight muscles and I’m getting cool so grab another layer, walk to the coffee van and watch the next cyclists go through T2 for some tips. I’ll certainly do another triathlon, work on the run to bike transition, keep up the pool swimming and seek out some sea swimming.
The main takeaway for more is the camaraderie, banter and diversity you gain with multisport training, racing and socialising – I’m hooked!