An accidental triathlete

Cope Bridge, Confey, Royal Canal

I have the wipers on intermittent, but the truth is, it’s lashing. I’m in denial. We pull into the grassy field to park up the car, but not before we both note, simultaneously, that the area is called Gallows Hill. I suppose, given the state of the weather, humour is going to be the best foil to get us through the day. The day was Sunday 5th June, and the XIV edition of TriAthy, billed as ‘Ireland’s Fastest Triathlon’. And I was supposed to be doing a long run into Dublin along the canal, but instead, by dint of fate, I find myself wheeling my bike through the streets of Athy, heading for transition, and another dip in the Barrow River.

It all began with a rugby tackle. (Well, if you are fan of Airplane, it went this way: “…first the earth cooled. And then the dinosaurs came, but they got too big and fat, so they all died and they turned into oil…”). The tackle in question caused one of the players to fly off the pitch and into the knee of the coach, who happened to be the father of one of the players, and also the official holder of the ticket for TriAthy. And so on Wednesday, his sister Fiona sent me a text to see if I would fancy taking his spot. I’m never one to miss an opportunity to muck up a training programme, so I agreed. Running into Dublin can wait.

In the past, a sprint triathlon would have been a highlight of the year, and it would have consumed my mind in terms of training and in the build-up to the big day. It was quite a pleasant change to be suddenly landed with the event, even though I have done no swim or bike training. The dip in the canal a few weeks back was the first open water swim in a couple of years, and the bike has given way to running too, of late. So I was curious how it would pan out.

A drizzly day by the Barrow

Well, the weather certainly wasn’t going to help, anyway. They run TriAthy over two days now, such is its popularity. There are four disciplines: Try (a beginners’ event, with a shorter swim), Sprint, Olympic and Double Olympic. I have done the first three, but I’ve no great urge to do the double here. The course is suited to a sprint event, but once you have to double all the distances, and then double them again, you are essentially doing the same course multiple times. The swim in the Barrow already takes you 250m upstream before you turn for the 500m down again; I’m not sure if I’d love to do that for an hour. The bike course is an out-and-back for the 20k, so again, once is enough, thanks very much. And to top it off, the run course is what I would describe as ‘lumpy’. It offers just about every terrain known to runners over the space of 5k, so there’s pavement, road, towpath, grass and various mixtures of these. If nothing else, I suppose it focuses the mind.

As I had the luxury of picking up the race pack locally during the week, there was no faffing about with registration. I didn’t even have to show the one-day triathlon licence. Smooth sailing. Straight into transition to rack the bike. I met an ex-firefighter buddy who was marshalling, and we exchanged pleasantries. I then heard my name and looked around to see my chief getting zipped up into her wetsuit. Looks like I’m not the only Kildare firefighter here, so.

Rack ‘n’ roll

As I was early, I was able to slip out of transition and meet up with Saoirse, and we even had time (and space) to find a nearby coffee shop. All incredibly civilised. All part of the new way of doing triathlon 😉

Of course, the clock ticks down, regardless of how relaxed you are, and suddenly it was time for transition again, and wetsuits, and banter with the other athletes. Stopping a couple of excited young lads about to head to the river without their timing chips strapped to their ankles made me feel like an old hand. Old, perhaps, but certainly no old hand when it comes to triathlon. My first one was here back in 2014, over the same Bank Holiday weekend. I did another sprint that year, and then on to the Olympic, all of which fired up this blog, really… and here we are. You can, of course, get a potted history here.

The wave starts at Athy have been replaced with a Noah’s Ark set-up, which is to say, we go in two-by-two; down the ramp, drop into the murky waters and get going. The only thing I don’t like about this method (which does in fairness beat the washing machine spin cycle of a mass wave start in a narrow space) is that your body takes several hundred metres to acclimatise to the cold. Well, okay; MY body does anyway. In fact, it wasn’t until we turned at the large buoy at the 250 metre mark that I really found my stroke. The transition area has been moved further from the water, which means a longer haul to the bike. The weather was still unpleasant, and I didn’t fancy whirring around the R417 to Maganey Cross and back in just a trisuit. But a quick rummage in the black bin liner I had under the bike confirmed that perhaps I had become a little too casual about the whole experience; my long-sleeved bike top was safely and snugly packed away in another bag. Nothing for it but to get on with the bike leg. And get colder.

The biggest challenge was not getting a mouthful of spray from the bike in front. As there is no drafting, you ideally don’t want to spend much time behind another bike anyway, but it’s inevitable. I passed some out, I was passed out. All told, I felt I was doing okay, all things considered. As I had entered the water quite early, I was in the vanguard, so I was able to see the leading bikes heading for home, which meant the turn was not far ahead.

I played nip and tuck with a few athletes on the return journey, as we took it in turns to pass each other out. It certainly gave me a few targets and kept me honest. Whilst I concentrated on the road, tried to avoid wheel spray, and speedy tri-barred athletes from mowing me down, I was conscious that this was all supposed to be a bit of fun, and that the real deal is up ahead in July, and nothing would mess up the training programme and indeed jeopardise the big day out like a pulled hamstring.

Back into transition, and a brief scolding from a marshal for unclipping my helmet before I had racked my bike. I high-fived him by way of apology. No time to explain that I haven’t done this gig for a while. No need to change runners as I was using baskets, so straight out onto the run leg in squelchy shoes. I recall a previous triathlon here when a shower of rain had passed and the sun came out to steam up the roads. False memory suggests we were running in a sauna, but of course, I am sure it was nothing of the sort. Just a wonderful wave of petrichor. A joy to run in. But today, it’s just raining, with no chance of sun. Head down and try and pick off the runner in front. Rinse and repeat. I feel like we were drier in the Barrow River than we were on the bike or run, and I make a mental note to include this hilarious anecdote in my blog. (good for you. ed.)

I push on to the finish line and Saoirse is there to greet me. At least I’ve been moving about for the last eighty minutes or so: she has had to wander the streets of Athy, trying to pick a vantage point to get some pictures of the event without getting washed away. Medal on, timing chip off, a drink of some strange concoction, and a tub of chicken curry. Then it dawns on me that I have made yet another amateur error: no warm, dry clothes here at the finish line; all safely tucked away back in the bag drop in transition. I’m in the skinniest of trisuits in the rain, and as I have had the luxury of finishing first of our little posse of four mates, I now have to wait for them all to cross the line. Duty calls. By the time I make it back to the bike racks, I’m getting fairly chilly. Plans to meet up with everyone for tea are scotched very quickly in favour of a break for the border. The car heater is pressed into service for the hour-long trip home, then it’s a bath. I start to feel human again by dinnertime.

Four amigos

So, for the stat freaks out there, here are the results from the Athy jury:

Finishing time: 1.22:47
78th out of 504, 63rd male out 314, and 4th in the age category 50-54.
Swim: 15:27
T1: 3:20
Bike: 39:29
T2: 1:44
Run: 22:46

The swim, as I mentioned, was a bit of a struggle, just to get going. By the time you find your rhythm, you are out of the water. Transition is longer than previous, as they have moved it further from the river. I rooted out my old race results from the 2014 event, and they are very similar: 14:30 for the swim, 39:39 for the bike, and 23:17 for the run. My total back then was 1.21:18, and if you factor out the longer transition because of the extra distance, it’s about the same. I’m not sure if this suggests progress (glass half-full; you’re getting older, so to maintain your times is a good thing!), or not (glass half-empty; shouldn’t you be improving with all this training?).

I won’t dwell on it too much, other than to say I prefer the glass half-full approach, and I will not be taking any further questions on the matter at this time.

Heavy medal

In other news, I snagged the official press photos from the recent swim in the canal, so here are a few more from the day:

And from a recent run up in the park, I came across this rather funky looking sign. Once I got the idea that it was a ‘Dad Dancing Up Ahead’ warning sign, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head. So I thought I’d share it with you.

Dad Dancing

And then let’s have some barley, because without it, there is no beer. And that would be awful. So all hail King Barley.

Barley field along the Clonee Road

And we finish with dogs. Here are two recent pics.

9 thoughts on “An accidental triathlete

    1. I have to be careful playing English folk at home as it tends to set Saoirse’s teeth on edge… but many thanks for the tip, and the kind words. You are definitely on my Christmas card list 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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