Friday 26th June 2015
I headed down to Kilkee Friday with my teammate Aussie Dave as we wanted to get settled in and make registration early. I also needed to get out on my Planet X Exocet TT bike because I had been in to Adrenalin Cycles nearly every day that week hassling Eamon Foley to make sure my bike was race-ready. I ended up needing new cables so it was advisable to give them a quick test prior to race day (he did a stellar job- thanks Eamon). Out on the bike that afternoon the wind was fierce. When I turned to head home back up the hill into Kilkee I was barely able to keep moving forward and the crosswinds were making staying on the TT bars near impossible. I felt I was been blown backwards! I’m not the biggest cyclist and definitely not the strongest so I was worried about the crosswinds and how I was going to keep control of the bike throughout the race (small person problems). Registration was unbelievably well organised by Limerick Triathlon Club and we were in and out in no time with race chip, swim hat and goodie bag in hand. I saw a few familiar faces at registration and stayed to chat for 10mins before leaving as I needed to get off the feet. There were also some people looking far too serious- triathlon is supposed to be fun!
Back at the apartment (it seemed EVERYONE was staying in the same complex- we had Piranha represented by John Wallnutt and his wife Mags, Cork was strongly supported with Trevor Woods (+family) along with Cliodhna Spain and her fiancé Peter. Limerick Tri Club were the rowdy lot with Mike Heaney and Ross Higgins in one of the apartments below (the whole set-up reminded me of Mosney, but for adults…)
Saturday; Race Day
I was delighted to see 5.45am on my watch as I had the worst night’s sleep of my life- it wasn’t nerves (or so I assumed) because I knew the course but maybe I was anxious about what sort of performance I was capable of giving today. Having finished exams 2 weeks ago I know I’m not where I want to be so I knew I’d be scrapping the bottom of the barrel throughout this race. It was also my first Super Series race and I knew the field was stacked. I headed out on my usual race morning jog with Aussie and my bestie Joanne Flanagan to go check out the sea conditions and see if the buoys had been placed. The sea, to my great disappointment, was calm with only a few swells and white caps but nothing too menacing; and the buoys…well they were inflated but they were still up by the dive centre!I remember the swim being a straightforward out and back, with a turn at the 2nd buoy to cross the bay. Simples.
Transition was closing at 8.45am so we made a point of all being ready to head down for 8.05am. The last thing you want on a big race day is an element of panic because of rushing etc. I had no.454 and it seemed the super series athletes had much lower numbers. Rachel Clancy and I both just had to find a space on the allocated racks and hope that no one came along to kick us out. I was glad to be beside her because Rachel is always level headed and calm on race morning. She goes about her business in a very meticulous manner and always seems to be on top of things. We wished one another good luck and set about prepping for T1 and T2.
Following the race brief wave 1 and 2 athletes were called out to walk down to the holding pen (yep). The males were starting at 9.30am in what we were told was a walk in swim entry. My wave, wave 2, was set to go at 9.38am. We were walked to the water by Eamonn Tilley and we were told to hold our line. To be honest the start came all of a sudden. We were told we had a wait and the next thing the horn sounded. I was caught by surprise so I literally launched myself at the water because I’d already lost a few seconds. I tripped on my first entry, re-surfaced for a dolphin dive and away we all went. I had clear water from the get-go (which was great) but I couldn’t see a thing. I knew the buoys were somewhere out ahead but I had nothing to go off. I looked for kayakers as a guide until eventually I saw the GIANT yellow buoy I was looking for. I rounded the turnaround buoy to start swimming across the bay and I noticed some splashing ahead. I was gaining on the men. I overtook 4-5 at the 3rd buoy and spotted my two markers on the beach straight away. I exited the swim having over-taken quite some more males. My run up the beach felt good and my legs were agreeable to the effort I was putting in to get to T1. I struggled with my wetsuit around my timing chip but eventually whipped it off, fastened my helmet and grabbed my bike to set out on the Hellish bike course that I knew lay ahead.
The climb out of Kilkee really isn’t all that bad- it’s just bad luck that it comes so soon into the bike course while your heart rate is through the roof after T1. I took my first gel of the day and set about making the most of the apparent tailwind we had leading out of Kilkee to the turnaround. I perhaps expected to have quite a push out but it seemed like it was a crosswind more than a tailwind we had. I just kept my body tucked up and focused on pedalling. The bike course was empty bar 2 males that over took me on route to the turnaround. Once we hit it and turned for home the wind slapped you in the face instantly. It was going to be an epic slog home. I took another gel to mentally make me think I’d be well able for the relentless headwind and crosswind we all faced to get back to T2. I detached myself from everything bar my cadence and I had my coach’s voice in my head the whole way on the bike course (as well as ‘just keep pedalling, just keep pedalling’).
I was delighted to be approaching T2 and I would bet that I had one of the fastest transitions on the day because I was so happy to be off the bike.
I got my runners on with no hassle and grabbed my sunglasses before setting out on what has to be one of the toughest, most gruelling 10km runs in triathlon. You face a steep hill climb straight out of transition and you have an Atlantic sea breeze blowing against you the entire way to the 5km turnaround point. Add to this the undulating and twisting sea cliff road and you come to realise why this race is known as ‘Hell of the West’. Dunlicky hill should be re-named ‘the hill that kills quads’ because it comes, like the bike ascent out of Kilkee, quite quickly following transition. Out on the run course I had a few males in sight that I wanted to catch. I have to say I felt pretty fresh and happy on the run. Last year I pulled a muscle on the Dunlicky hill which crippled my run so this year I could just focus on getting to the turnaround. I expended a lot of energy fighting the headwind we all faced and I saw Bryan Keane at the 3km mark absolutely flying. I passed 6 males on my first 5km and then at the turnaround I started to look for the chasing females. At the 6km mark I still hadn’t seen any chasers and when I saw Eimear coming along I could relax and start to enjoy the race as I knew the gap was solid and there was no need to empty the tank knowing I was racing again the following weekend. Coming to 7km I started to see some familiar faces and high-fived all my team mates along the way home as well as cheering on those in the other clubs I knew. That’s the way Hell of the West is. Everyone is dying during it but they are still eager to cheer their friends and fellow competitors on despite the energy costs and the marshals were phenomenal doing their best to make us forget the pain of it all. Coming down that hill back onto the shore front I couldn’t hide the smiles J Great blowout and nice to defend a title that meant so much last year. The torture on the day was worth it too as I also broke my own female course record which I broke and set last year. For the GoTri Team, the club had an amazing day out. We had loads of 1st time Hell of the West starters and lots of familiar faces return for more fun on the testing.
Massive thank you to my coach Stephan Teeling Lynch and swim coach Lars Humer (I’ll work on being able to look in that mirror you talked about Thursday morning!). Thanks also to my bike sponsors Planet X bikes who have given me two fantastic bikes to race on this season and allowed me to make gains on the bike leg.
Image credits to TI media photographer Gordon Thomson