Well, once again Hell of the West lived up to its name. I came down to this race determined to improve on last year. The wind the night before had the Limerick Tri Club flags nearly bending in two; Eamonn (who was race referee for the weekend) said to us that if the wind was that strong on the morning of the race that the swim would need to be reduced or else cancelled altogether.
On race morning the wind had subsided a good bit so the full swim went ahead. We were rushed out of transition really quickly so that TI could check it for bags, then told to come back in again for the race briefing. It all felt quite rushed. The Cat-1 males (including Alex) went off first and I knew we were in for a tough swim; even with the likes of Chris Mintern (race winner and normally first out of the water in these races) the guys looked like they were swimming on the spot. The Cat-1 ladies were up next, and like the Cat-1 men they were allowed a quick warm-up in the water. I was in the next wave - but there were too many of us to let in and out again, so we were told no warm-up unfortunately.
Eamonn lined us up on the beach and blew the whistle. It certainly felt a lot faster once we were swimming in the water, and I felt I was making good progress. However, once we went past the pier, things got rough. We quickly encountered big swells; I swallowed more than my fair share of water and couldn't see the buoy unless I was on the crest of one of the waves. It was incredibly slow and tough going, so it was a massive relief to get around the second buoy, where we turned left to swim parallel to the shore. I figured it would be a lot easier here, but the strength of the current was still just as bad trying to push us towards the shore. I had one persistent swimmer repeatedly attempting to play the bongos on my feet and even grab them a couple of times - I kicked out and made good contact and that was the end of that nonsense. I made it to the next buoy and was looking forward to the current finally working in my favour. The only slight problem was that between the last buoy and the coast are some shallow waters with some jagged rocks... Having been pushed away from them somewhat by the kayakers, I thought I was around the worst of them and made a line straight for the shore. Pretty quickly I found myself in very shallow water with a large rock underneath and nowhere to go. I had to stand up and dive over it into the water on the other side as the waves were crashing over me. Next time I got pushed into the rocks by the waves and barely made it over them - finally breaking clear of the rocks and heading for the shore. I spotted one of the Cat-1 ladies and passed her, so I figured I couldn't be that slow since we were 5 minutes behind. I felt I'd swam relatively well but still was 4 minutes slower than last year (when I felt I hadn't swam well) - 29 minutes! Possibly my slowest Olympic swim to date but by far the toughest. I'd left my Garmin in the car but I think most people clocked it at over 1600m to top it all off. Either way, I was delighted to be out of the water and headed for transition. I got the wetsuit off quickly and was onto the bike - T1 in under a minute so I was happy with that.
The bike starts down the strand and then immediately climbs for a while. Most cyclists ahead of me were easing into it but I pushed hard to get past them quickly and then settled down on the tri-bars as soon as it levelled off. I knew the bike was my best chance to make gains so I was working hard. I was overtaking more than I was being overtaken, and more often than not the guys overtaking me were people I'd already passed coming straight back at me again. This infuriates me because I'm pretty sure that if I were to be doing that I'd get caught for drafting, so I just took a quick drink, got out of their draft zone, then attacked them again and made it stick. I'd a few guys who did this a few times but I made sure I finished ahead of each of them. I was also overtaking a lot of the Cat-1 ladies towards the end so I knew my bike was going well. I noticed that my feet were sore and that my hand was bleeding - it must have been from the rocks. Hell of the West's cycle is cruel in 2 ways; it's usually very windy and it's also longer than a normal Olympic at 44km; just when you should be finishing an Olympic at 40km is the final hill which is a big of a heart-breaker. The good part of this is that it isn't much of a hill in Wicklow terms so I overtook a few guys going up here and then had a lovely downhill stretch where I could push hard all the way back into Kilkee. Just over 1 hour 13 on the bike, 4 minutes quicker than the previous year.
My dismount was good and had another decent transition and then I was on the run. I had a bad stitch on the run last year and suffered badly so I was determined to go better. I felt my pace was decent (for me) but I still had guys easing by me, including Trevor who sailed past me at 3km (although, to be fair, he even beat Noelie's run in the end). Speaking of Noelie, I saw him flying down the hill as I was on my way up, and soon after saw Trevor who'd sailed past even more people. It's pretty much 5km of climbing, turn around, and 5km back down again. So I had a strong feeling I'd be running a negative split. I pushed hard at the turnaround and the number of people overtaking me reduced. It's always encouraging when you're on your way back and you can see how many people are behind you. I increased the pace again when I knew there was only 2km to go and managed to claw back 2 of the places I'd lost. After the final downhill and back onto the flat of Kilkee bay I pushed hard and tried to keep the vomit down and ignore the pain in my feet. I crossed the line and immediately took off my runners to survey the damage - I'd several nasty cuts. Final time for the run was 42:48, 6 minutes quicker than last year and a 10km PB for me.
A massive well done to all the WicklowTri crew who all did really well, especially to Neolie who won his Age Group, John Darcy who came second in his and to Orla who did her very first Olympic race - Orla, if you can do that Olympic you can do any of them.
For me, I was 7th in my AG and 67th male overall (including the Cat-1 guys). I'm still a bit inexperienced at Olympic distance so need to get used to them; I hope to do better in Caroline Kearney - it's a flatter bike so should suit me better. But definitely lots of positives, including having beaten 2 of the Cat-1 males and all but the top 3 Cat-1 ladies.
Next up: Two Provinces Sprint, Lanesboro on Saturday July 16th.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Darren_S, Toni