Lost Sheep Half Iron Distance Triathlon
This is my 3rd time competing in and sponsoring the iconic Lost Sheep Triathlon with the added onus that this year it was the National Middle Distance Championships. In 2010 the swim was horrific, lots of people had to be pulled out of the water and it took me 1hr 7mins (for reference my full Ironman swim the next year took me about the same time), so I was delighted just to finish in 5hrs 38mins. Indeed it was only after competing such an epic race that I decided to have a go at a full Ironman. Last year I returned to Kerry knowing full well what lay ahead of me and with many more Half Iron distance and endurance events in the legs. My aim was for a sub-5hr finish and I finished just outside it at 5hrs 5mins, due largely to a dodgy stomach and ‘pit stop’ during the run. Thankfully I had finished another Half Ironman event earlier in the summer in sub-5hrs, albeit on an easier course so at least the year’s target had been achieved.
So I had unfinished business with the Lost Sheep (no double meaning intended). Normally at this stage of the season I would have a couple of half Ironman events already completed but due to event cancellations and illness I hadn’t managed to compete in any so that did trouble me slightly. That said I hadn’t had a lazy year and had done quite a few tough events including Quest Glendalough Adventure Race in April, Slateman Savage in May, Mourne Way Ultra Marathon in June and a few triathlons since then so at least I knew I had plenty of endurance, training had gone quite well and I was fairly confident. That was until I saw the weather forecast for the weekend! At one stage they were forecasting a hurricane and 17mm of rain, now I like toughing it with the best of them but that isn’t weather to be swimming in the Atlantic and climbing mountains on a bike! However as the week progressed, fears were calmed and it was just giving moderate rain and wind (be grateful for small mercies). Having achieved an age group podium place the week previously at Dublin City Triathlon and comparing my times with 2015 I was a bit faster as well, it just depended on whether I could maintain the speed over a longer distance! I tapered well during the week, largely due to stiff legs and a sore ankle/foot which didn’t bother me that much during DCT but I could feel for days afterwards, along with a tense nerve in my left hip which was probably related. So my main problem the week before the race was trying not to put on any weight due to lack of training, but at least I was well rested for the event. My target for 2016 had been a 4hr45 Half Iron race but due to the weather conditions and the well known tortuous cycle route I scaled this back and just hoped for a sub-5hr.
Lost Sheep 2015 had a fantastic goody bag and whilst I am obviously biased the feedback from participants has been fantastic and I have seen a lot of them being used in the year since. So the pressure was on to find a better bag for 2016 and driven by race director Trevor Mahoney we devised a cool ‘Gear Bag’ concept for 2016. The bag was so good I decided to launch the bag style for Amphibia as well and these really functional bags are now available in stores and through our website. The lucky race participants also got one of our 100% waterproof phone pouches and with that weather they might well have needed them!
On the Friday before the race there was a great atmosphere around registration with previous racers sharing stories of woe and awe about the course and previous years races with 1st timers. It’s just that sort of iconic triathlon that there are so many stories to tell and it helps build the feeling of anticipation for this year’s race. We sold plenty of toe covers, scarves and towels as people were obviously expecting the worst! There were no new announcements during the Race Briefing so everyone headed off about 9.30 hopefully to get a few hours sleep before the early start. I got my banners and flags set-up that night as well, I didn’t fancy trying to get them up in the rain and wind at 5am the next morning! From transition the sea seemed quite choppy and the word on the street was that it would get worse by morning. Whilst normally I’m secretly hoping for a shortened swim or even a duathlon (!) as are most weak swimmers, really it’s never a good thing as your finish time always comes with a caveat and you don’t feel like you really did the full thing.
After eventually getting to bed about midnight a 5am start came quickly and with some hastily made porridge I set off for transition. As Kenmare is such a small town with limited parking you are encouraged to cycle to transition from your accommodation. This is actually one of my favourite parts of the day, unusual for me as im a perennial late starter and hate early mornings, but I love cycling to transition in the dark and seeing other bikes appearing from the gloom from all directions, none with lights but many with Amphibia bags on their backs. Thankfully there was little rain at this stage, its surreal enough setting up your transition in the dark, never mind getting soaked at the same time. Transition was numbered and the race organisers place team mates together in clusters which I think is a great idea but not many events do it. It always gets the pre-race banter going and helps to calm the nerves. Just as we were about to get in the water the rain started and it continued for the next 4hrs, but sure we were wet then anyway 🙂
Thankfully the wind and water had settled overnight so it was a fairly sedate swim. As usual I had done something silly – bought a new pair of goggles the night before and had to adjust them a couple of times during the race. They certainly helped visibility compared to my old goggles but hadn’t fitted them properly due to not using them beforehand. The swim felt fine, the first half was easy and it was only after the turn that I realised why – the tide was going out! The swim back to shore was a bit more of a struggle and most people veered left towards the coastline. Whether this was intentional or not I don’t know, I had a fairly straight line back but this may have increased the flow of water that I was pushing against… sometimes it’s hard to know. Anyway I finished and felt good, confident I was on target (35mins), so I was very disappointed to see my time at 43minutes! This was slow, even for me, and with a really tough cycle to come it meant my target sub-5hr time had become a lot more difficult if not impossible. Last year I had a 38 minute swim and a good dry cycle and finished beyond the 5hrs, so I was annoyed with myself but this meant that I hammered into the bike from the start determined to get some of the time back.
The bike was wet and tough but I had trained on plenty of days like this earlier in the summer so I wasn’t worried. A lot of the talk before the race had been about what to wear during the cycle with people opting for jerseys, arm warmers and even jackets. The cold generally doesn’t bother me during races when the adrenaline is flowing and I knew the air temperature was going to be ok so I just kept to my sleeveless tri-suit as did a few other hardy souls. It saved a few seconds in transition and I can honestly say I didn’t feel the cold once during the race. As the old saying goes “If you are cold you just aren’t peddling hard enough”.
The other question on everyone’s lips was wheel choice as the chance of strong crosswinds meant deep wheels could be dangerous. Well when you only have one bike andone set of wheels like me the choice is easy 🙂 There are two Category 1 climbs on the bike route but having done plenty of hills in my training they didn’t bother me too much. There were a couple of points on the bike where the wind was in your face but to be honest I thought it would have been worse. There is a very technical downhill after the first climb with a lot of switchbacks, but in the rain everyone was just taking it easy although the conditions led to the demise of Irish Champ Bryan McCrystal who was over 4 minutes in the lead at the time. The scariest part for me was the fast straight downhill section after this, as the tarmac was blotchy and very wet with a serious crosswind and I felt a bit of wheel wobble at high speed (check out my race report here from Snowman Triathlon with a similar incident), so the bike will be getting another mechanic visit or maybe it’s just my head that needs checked! Other riders did seem to be effected as well and one guy with a disc wheel shouted that he was out of control. After the madness of the Healy Pass the rest of the route was less scary and a chance to get some speed up. I managed to drop one of my gels which I hoped I wouldn’t live to regret later. I had hoped for an average of 32.5km/hr but considering the conditions I was happy reaching 32km/hr just as I turned the last corner. With a long transition comes a long run with your bike and due to a dodgy ankle which seemed to dislike barefoot I decided to run in my cycling shoes…. That was a mistake as it felt like a long run with my foot at an angle, but thankfully I didn’t feel any reaction from my ankle. I was delighted with my cycle time and it meant I could have a 1hr40min run time and still make it under the 5hr mark.
So away on the run and as often happens after a tough cycle my lower back tightened up, but at this distance it’s no major concern as there is plenty of time for it to loosen out and it serves as a reminder to take it easy at the start. A couple of people mentioned to me afterwards that the same thing happened to them so at least it’s not just me! It’s a pretty tough run out quiet country roads but there is an out and back loop from about 2km to 12km , so you get an idea who is ahead of you and who is catching you. After a few km my back loosened out and I got to the 8km turnaround point feeling ok, then I started to get lightheaded. Experience has shown this means low blood sugar levels, so that dropped gel on the bike was making its mark and I quickly downed a couple of gels. Thankfully the next water station wasn’t far away so I got some energy drink and water there and was quickly feeling ok again…. Now it was just the sore legs to worry about!
Some runs have a few hills but this run course has a few flats, that’s the difference so its very up-and-down which normally suits me but after pushing it on the bike the legs didn’t have much left, a fact they reminded me about a few times with little cramps which told me not to push it too much. There is one killer of a hill at 17km which my Ultra marathon taught me to walk up… better saving your energy for the flat! Then it’s a nice downhill last km into the finish line in the town centre with loads of people cheering you on. I normally try and lift the pace towards the end and there were a few guys just ahead of me, but a cramping leg means its best to take it steady or I could have been walking to the finish line instead. Overall considering the weather conditions and my own condition I was very happy with a finish time of 4hr56mins and a new PB for Half Ironman distance. A great race, well done to race organisers and everyone that took part, making the best of the conditions we were given. My swim was poor, I had a great cycle and my run and transitions were steady. I was knackered but found just enough energy to enjoy the post-race celebrations and great atmosphere in Kenmare town. Now to start planning for 2017…..