Saturday, June 19, 2010

That Hill! And That Other Hill!

For some reason that is now not entirely clear to me, I decided after the Valentia triathlon 4 weeks ago to tackle another one, with the Sive Triathlon in Caherciveen being at a very convenient location. I was a bit worried that doing a triathlon 12 days after the Cork City marathon might be a bit reckless, but of course at that time I did not know yet that I would end up running another race between those two. As Niamh dryly remarked, the question is no longer if Thomas was doing a race this weekend but which race he is doing!

Anyway, I spent another restless night in Valentia and got up feeling exhausted already. It’s funny that by now I sleep like a baby before a marathon but can’t get an ounce of sleep before a mere sprint triathlon. Anyway, after breakfast I cycled the 5km from the ferry to the race start. Having a house in Valentia proofed to be great once more. Niamh and the kids would come down from Caragh Lake later on for the start.

I had been slightly shocked to find that I was starting in wave 1 and my first target was not to be DFL amongst the wave 1 swimmers. Before the start I had a few words with Grellan, Pat and a few work colleagues. Since Grellan is a much better swimmer than me I expected him to get out of the water about 5 minutes ahead of me, and the other goal was at least to match his cycle and running times. There was never a question of finishing ahead of him; even if I had followed Ewen’s advice to let his tyres down, slip the chain off and tie his shoelaces together, he’d still have finished ahead of me.

Unlike Valentia, the start was from open water and assembling at the start line was a bit tricky because the (very small) tidal current kept pushing us across the line. But eventually the whistle blew and we were off, 15 minutes late (that still counts as strictly on time in Kerry, I suppose). I had started behind the main throng, which saved me from the worst of the mass swim chaos and made navigation relatively easy. Early on I was right beside another swimmer who kept hitting me first in the shoulder, then the hip and eventually the feet, so I suppose I was on target for not being the slowest swimmer. But my memory from Valentia seems to have played a nasty trick on me. I distinctly remember the swim feeling relatively easy and I thought I might be able to improve on my time by swimming at a stronger effort. That turned out to be false hope. Maybe it’s because my swim training has suffered severely since that first race and I was soon knackered and I had not even reached the first buoy yet. It did cross my mind that I was not enjoying this at all and really wondered what the heck I had been thinking. Eventually I could hear cheers from my right, which I suppose meant that the first swimmers had finished already, the lucky b*st*rds. I eventually reached the first buoy, well past the halfway mark, and I could sense the end of this stage. It would have helped if after rounding the second buoy I had spotted the third one but I first headed into the wrong direction before noticing my mistake. I did not go far wrong and it did not cost me much, but still, it added even more time to an already poor performance. Eventually I reached the pier, heaved myself out of the water and ran into transition, waving to Niamh and the kids. I reckoned the worst was now over.

Improving my transition time was my big target for today and I had made some changes. I already wore my number on the swim so that I would not need to fiddle with the belt. I had left the Garmin at home and used a cheap stopwatch that I already wore during the swim, again saving me the hassle of fiddling with it during T1 (so no fancy graphs this time, sorry). I had rehearsed the drill. Wetsuit off, glasses on, helmet on, socks on (I decided to sacrifice a few seconds because I really do not need blisters for the Ultra training to come), shoes on, take the bike and off you go. It all started well enough until the time when I tried to put on the cycling shoes and I got wobbly and nearly fell over, almost feeling like fainting. It took some time to readjust and then I was off. My combined swim + T1 time was almost exactly 20- minutes, I guess about 17:30 for the swim (just like Valentia) and 2:30 for T1, but once I get the official results I hopefully know more.

The cycle almost immediately starts with a climb up to the main street and I started overtaking others from the off. I loved the bike section! After about 2km we turned right off the main road and soon the road started climbing relentlessly. The gradient was fine, never particularly steep, but for 5km it was all uphill. I did not count the number of cyclists I passed but it must have been several dozen, including (and that was particularly pleasing) a few cyclists with fancy looking triathlon bikes featuring aero bars. Since this was an out-and-back course, I expected the leading cyclists to come into view soon enough and was genuinely surprised that it took over 16 minutes for the leader to appear, and then another minute for the next guy. Eventually the road levelled out and even dropped a bit until the turnaround point and then it was our turn to descend the mountain. To be honest, I thought this was quite dangerous. There were still several hundred competitors climbing the road with plenty of overtaking manoeuvres while we descended at breakneck speed. I tried to ignore the thought that a head-on collision would probably be fatal and instead wondered why I didn’t see anyone ahead of me on my side of the road. Apparently we were descending all at roughly the same speed, so the overtaking stopped for basically the entire next 5 km. Late on one guy on yet another TT bike passed me, I passed him back and the whole process started again, repeating itself a few times until we reached the foot of the mountain and I managed to get away from him. I did pick up a couple more places but on the very last climb, on the Caherciveen main road, I had the entirely new and highly unpleasant sensation of my left hip cramping. It wasn’t too bad and I was able to continue, but it was very uncomfortable. Luckily I was soon at the top of that short climb and it went away.

Just like in Valentia I did not manage to get both feet out of my shoes while still on the bike (I ran out of road) and once more entered T2 with one foot bare and one shod. No matter.

T2 went well, I think. Bike on rack, helmet off, cycling shoes off, running shoes on, run. I am curious to see the results, but I think I will use different shoes next time. My Lunaracers are great running shoes but not made for easy entry. Using lightweight trainers like the Skylon should make things easier (and faster).

I did notice one mishap, but one that had already happened, on the bike. Very early into the cycling leg I noticed something snapping and there may have been something falling off, but it happened too quickly to be sure. At first I thought my pump had fallen off, but that was still there and a quick, panicked scan indicated that the bike was fine. My number belt felt funny, but I could feel that the number was till there. Now, in T2, I finally realised that the belt had somehow come loose and was at it widest girth, which my runner’s frame was nowhere near of filling out. But the number was till there, even if it hung down looking more like a fig leave. It would do for the next 20 minutes.

The cycle leg had been challenging, but the running leg was just brutal! We immediately climbed a very steep hill up to the main street, but after crossing that we kept going straight up the mountain at an even steeper gradient. I saw the guy ahead of me walking and was highly tempted to do the same, but my pride prevented me. I’m a runner, I don’t walk, not on a 5k road stage, no matter how steep. Passing that particular competitor felt good because I no longer had to look at him walking.

This time it did not take long for the leader to appear, I was only about 2 minutes into my run, and after another minute 2 more runners came flying down the hill. Lucky b*st*rds, almost finished! I, on the other hand, kept struggling up the hill. At least I gained a few more places, but nowhere near as many as in Valentia. That’s the problem with starting in wave 1, I guess, there were nowhere near as many targets in view today. After running for ages and suffering badly, a sign came into view. 1km! OH! MY!! GOD!!! All that work for one measly kilometre? And it had taken over 5 minutes! At least it was not as steep any more. One runner passed me, but in that case I did not mind because a) he was doing a relay and b) Pat O’Shea is a former 2:2x marathon runner. He would be the only man to go past me, and I could definitely live with that. I missed my drink at the 2K point because I dropped the cup, which made the sun feel even stronger. Somewhere around here I saw Grellan coming down, probably more than 5 minutes ahead, but what can you do! Eventually I reached the turnaround point and it was all downhill from here. Unfortunately I didn’t pass anywhere near as many runners as on the uphill. I saw Arthur Fitzgerald, a very fast runner, coming against me and very much expected him to catch me, but he never did. I was hurting, exhausted, thirsty, and even my competitive juices stopped flowing when I saw a runner ahead of me and my mind point blankly refused to chase him down. It took a female runner to appear in my sights to belatedly spur me into action again, and after that shameful and blatant instance of pure sexism I was running at full effort again.

I caught a few more runners and shortly before the end I saw Pat, Grellan’s neighbour, coming against me, who I would have expected to be way further ahead in the field. Just before the end I also spotted Shauna from work and then I was almost done. If the runner ahead had worn a normal top he would have kept his place, but he was wearing one with garish big sesame street characters and I could not possibly let a runner in a sesame street top beat me, so I went hell for leather and eventually went by. Then the torture was finally over. I forgot to press the stop button on my watch but it must have been close to 1:22, which is 5 minutes slower than Valentia. The course today had been much, much tougher and Valentia’s cycle leg had been short, which explains some of the difference. But I cannot deny that my legs felt worse today and I did not have that spring in me, which is no wonder, 12 days after a marathon, followed 5 days later by a downhill race.

I unsuccessfully kept looking for Niamh, and 10 minutes later met a few work colleagues. I was still so exhausted that I virtually fell into Jacqo’s arms (which Niamh would not have approved of, I guess), and could only mumble some delirious nonsense about this hill and that hill, which made Jacqo forbid me to drive home in my state. I found my family eventually when they let us back into the transition area where my mobile was located. Valentia Ice Cream has never tasted so good!

And with that, I’m going to rest. Niamh was slightly wrong, there’s no race next weekend.

Action photography by Shea Bubendorfer (aged 9)

2010 Caherciveen Sive Triathlon
1:22:39, 71st place
swim 18:28, T1 1:41, bike 40:47, T2 00:44, run 21:03


  1. Fine report Thomas,

    makes me want to and not want to try one.

    Have a good rest.

  2. There's something wrong with those photos Thomas. Where's the rain?

    Sounds like you had a good race. It'll be interesting to see the splits. Might be a silly question, but do you have elastic laces in the shoes? Just pull them on that way. Also, blisters usually aren't a problem in such a short run, but with another marathon coming up probably worth playing safe.

  3. I think your effort is quite impressive so soon after the marathon!

  4. I don't know how you do it, Thomas, so soon after a marathon. Well done onb another sterling effort