1st June, 2019, Olympic Distance, The Netherlands
Preamble: You see…it’s dangerous to go on the Sunday cycles with the club.
You find that when you’re pedaling hard with the club competitors and coaches that you get into a highly suggestible (& maybe hypoxic) state.
Last Summer 2018, Coach Brendan O Neill told a story of how much he enjoyed competing in Europe and that the occasion of representing your country is an experience that he would highly recommend. He said it’s not that difficult to get into the Age Group Team, as a lot of people do not wish to take up their place in the competition. (Light bulb- ping!)
Now Brendan is a competitor with a rake (almost a swarm) of National and International titles. So his ‘cycle whispering’ made a big impact. Just before Christmas, I broke the news to triathlon’s biggest fan; husband Dan (who is not allowed at any races since he offered me a lift driving past me in his jeep with his arm out the window, during the 10k run section of Nuala Moore’s Seven Frogs Olympic in Maharees, 2017!) The children, Jack 16yo & Ciara 20yo, also both prefer when I’m out training for some reason.
I applied to Triathlon Ireland (TI) online. The Olympic distance European Triathlon Union, (ETU) Championship was in Weert, Netherlands, south near the Belgium border. My category was Age Group F55. My motivation? I wanted to wear the Ireland tri suit! (And, I had images of my heavenly/ rascally mother roaring, even if I was in last position)
Training Regime: All set, winter training going swimmingly base building and then I injured my hamstring. From February I could swim and cycle but not run until April so I was a bit behind psychologically and physically. Mostly psychologically though as I found out in the Netherlands.
Triathlon Ireland: Orla Nugent the administrator opened a FB page to allow contacts between the AG team members. Eventually 14 people joined. There was little interaction despite my attempts to promote connection. Team gear was bought via TI website. Important to follow their advice on fitting etc. (There was no voucher or reduction for Team Ireland members)
Bookings: Advise booking accommodation early. These are massive events and I was so lucky to get an Airbnb in the town. Others on the Ireland team ended up 30 km away. Cost; four nights was about 300eu.
PS My Airbnb turned out to be a luxury designer, Dutch style barn type extension, with a swimming pool. A quiet little nest in the town centre with a lovely retired couple to give me great advice and surprise me with homemade soup and fruit shakes. A complete shock after my last experience in Airbnb (but that’s another story…)
Travel: Shipmytribike is a great service, a little costly but worth it, about 245eu.
Flights from Cork to Amsterdam and train to Weert was very straightforward (135eu & 20eu).
Race Preparation: It got interesting really quickly over there!
The atmosphere was beautifully competitive and really was a shared experience with the athletes from the other countries, all be it with a side eye on the prize!
Team Ireland grew on me though the Whats App group. Everyone was deep in race prep to actually meet up prior to the events but the support for each event was spectacular from our little group of 15.
Psychological mention: I did the swim & bike recce, and tried the run twice. Interestingly, my legs felt like lead. The day before the race I tried to get through the 2.5k loop and failed. I stopped to walk and had to concentrate on breathing. Almost panicky. I was overwhelmed. I said a few prayers.
Smiling can only get you so far it seems, hehe!! I wondered what the hell I was thinking and I thought this is well above my station by rights. I had met and chatted with so many real competitive athletes (including a chance meeting with Alasdair Brownlee, Champion) that I really respected and became very anxious & down.
I went to dinner that evening with Anne Morrissey, F55 Dublin and we each spilled the beans on the doubts. She wanted a non wetsuit & I needed a wetsuit swim!
I woke up at 05.45 and kicked into race prep mode. Suddenly relaxed.
I told myself I just needed to get through each event, that’s all. No pressure as I can only do my best under the circumstances.
We needed to drop shoes at T2 and cycle 5 km to T1 to the Blue Pool Lake, an old sand quarry.
Swim: The start was tense, line up on blue carpet (like the elites!) and a bass drum sounded and then a countdown, a horn and a beach start, with Hawaii 5 -0 music in the background. One stroke after the other, body position, no crossing arms, sighting important, stay with the pack as long as possible…Garmin said 1700m others 1600, Time 34 mins. Pleased enough.
Bike: Lovely flat course and a head wind one-way only. PB of 1:18.
Run: A loooong transition area added to my overall time.
Boy it was HOT. About 26C or more. Dry, no wind. People in houses were pouring water over us from hoses (like racehorses, hehe)
Team GB had 300 athletes so there were LOTS of UK supporters. Team Ireland supporters were loud and wonderful. Even my AirBnB lady Linda came to cheer!
Glad to make 1 hour for the 10k (it measured more though on my garmin)
What a joy to finish!
In the recovery tent, I met a few athletes that were scrutinizing their times and critiquing themselves despite high performances but I couldn’t shake how I had finished in 3:01 close to target and I was thrilled with myself and totally impressed with every single one of the Irish team. We had two podium finishers Roisin Lynch from Derry, F 70 Silver medal, finished in 2:50 and Finbarr McGrady M45 an extremely competitive group.
Going through the preparation and process of competing in ETU and negotiating my way through injury for the very first time, was genuinely one of the best timely and challenging experiences I have had and many thanks to Brendan O’Neill for suggesting it. I would never had thought to put myself forward, believing I had no competitive chance.
But it’s not about podium.
Actually for me it would never be about podium finish in ETU rather, I just wanted to do or even exceed my best in that arena. This was the crux of the issue for me and why I was overwhelmed on the recce runs. My hampered training regime reduced my running capacity so I felt I couldn’t smash it. That was my disappointment.
But then I was very lucky to see just in the nick of time, that I could have easily missed out on….
…the sheer enjoyment of being outside, simply swimming, cycling and running, in another country and wearing the Team Ireland Trisuit. I am very thankful to have achieved this goal and I’m sure my mother was too!
Multiple Thanks CTC
I wouldn’t be anywhere (professionally or personally) without the support of and my experience with Cork Triathlon club. I mean, the club individual members. Each of you has nudged me through different barriers at different times. Many thanks to John O Flynn at MyPhysio for his treatment of the hamstring so that I may finally put it behind me, real soon I hope!
Of course, my children and Dan are wondering when and where is my next one?? I’m telling them the ‘World’ is my oyster! (Note of course I joke about them, they know this- they are my truly wonderful gifts)