This is my second year in a row to do this race and was looking forward to being able to compare last year's results to this year's until they cut the run route to 5K from the traditional 7K route. But given how hard I found that run last year, I was pretty relieved with that news too!
It was a dry start for the swim; the marshal drew a line in the sand with his foot but I moved closer towards the rocks on my right-hand-side as I felt it was a better/shorter line out to the first buoy. There was no countdown for the start so before I knew it the hooter went and I was scrambling to get my goggles down and start running. I dove in, realised it was pretty shallow and figured now was as good a time as any to try out "porpoising" as practised last year in Wicklow Harbour. I brought my knees up, stood up, dove in again, repeated until it was deep enough to swim properly. I had a couple of guys swimming right up against me but I'm confident enough this year to hold my ground and just ignore them. I took the first buoy pretty quickly and the second one wasn't too far away. Once around that I noticed a lot of people swimming in different directions which confused me about which buoy to swim back to; it took me a moment to pick out right buoy as there were more permanent buoys in the water all the same colour (yellow). I made up my mind that it was the right one and thankfully was right! Got around the buoy and pushed hard for the last stretch into the shore. I got out and saw Darren Stanley getting out beside me and figured I must've had a decent swim. Official time: 11:25 (compared to 14:45 last year).
If you haven't done Hook or by Crook before, then you might not be familiar with the cliff-face you have to run up from the swim to get into transition. It is vicious! But I knew it was coming so pushed past Darren and pushed hard up the hill - I figured I could recover coming down the hill on the bike. I left my shoes on the bike again so had a quick enough transition and was out before a few of the guys who'd entered transition ahead of me. I mounted and headed off down the hill, trying not to get annoyed at the overtaking going on in the no-overtaking-zone!! I was more concerned with getting my left foot into my shoe, which was causing me problems:
A couple of people overtook me while I slowed to get my foot in (including Darren), but I overtook a group of them going up a hill (including Darren) so made up any places I lost messing around, built up some speed, got down on the tri bars and dug in deep. It was a much tougher bike course than in Athy but I kept pushing as hard as I could. I got annoyed again with some drafting going on, and even more so when the bike marshal pulled up behind 2 guys blatantly drafting, watched them cycle side-by-side for a while, then only told one of them to put his race number to the back before driving on!! Then, coming back into Dunmore East a taxi overtook me, saw the traffic restrictions and then hit the brakes. I had to slow quickly to avoid going into the back of him while marshals were scrambling to get him off the route while I was screaming "MOVE!!!" at him.
I knew the hill back into transition was tough but I learnt from last year not to take my feet out until I was at the top so I pumped the legs and got up as quickly as I could, with first Audrey and then Eamonn screaming encouragement at me. Feet out, off the bike, socks + runners on, helmet off, and off I went as quickly as I could. 35:18 for the bike, compared to 39:09 last year.
Out of transition and they have another cruel bit for you - a steep section of steps to get up before you can descend the hill. Once on the hill I stretched my legs and pushed on to see what they had in store for us with this new run route...
They said during the race briefing "The good news is that only half the run is uphill..." and they weren't lying. Over 2km of climbing was ahead of me. It felt painfully slow but a quick glance of my watch showed I was clearly just struggling to keep up with some quicker runners. I kept pushing, kept trying to keep a decent cadence and knew I'd have some lovely downhill soon! I've never been so glad of a water stop as I was at the 1.5km mark on the way up, and shortly afterwards I saw the race winner coming down the other side of the road. The road flattened out a couple of hundred metres before the turnabout, then it was time to push downhill. I stretched my legs, leaned forward and let gravity help me out for once! I started to look at the runners coming the other way wondering why Darren Stanley hadn't caught me yet - I thought I must've had a really good cycle for him to not have caught me before now, and then after a while I figured something had gone wrong because there's no way I could've been that far ahead of him (as it turned out, he had a mechanical issue on the bike on top of feeling rubbish on the day). I kept pushing hard and found an extra bit of pace before the finish line, crossed it and held back the vomit...