Hell of the West - Cat 1 - Race Report
Sunday, 28 June 2015 | Admin
Hell of the West 2015
On Saturday, I was one of roughly 1200 triathletes to descend on Kilkee for this year’s Hell of the West triathlon. Eoin and I drove down on Friday evening so that I could register and relax, rather than get up extra early on race day. That meant that a 7:30am alarm left me with plenty of time to get to transition and prepare for what lay ahead… The weather was overcast and mild. The sky threatened rain but luckily none fell until much later in the day. The sun didn’t appear either so there was no real heat to worry about. There was, however, a lot of wind!
After listening to the briefing and receiving good luck kisses from my support team (mom Sheila, aunt Trudy and Eoin), I headed for the beach along with the rest of the category 1 competitors. As with Athy (the last category 1 race), numbers were very small. There were only twelve of us in the ladies wave, which was scheduled to start eight minutes after the men’s category 1 wave. In most events, you are surrounded for the majority of the swim. Though sighting is always important, there is constant reassurance that you’re going in the general direction of the next buoy because so many people are plowing in the same direction. In Athy, the really fast swimmers shot off from the start and I swam the route mostly solo. That wasn’t too bad because it was a river-based 750m and I simply followed the centre divider up and down. In Kilkee though, I was worried about being in rough waters with no one around me. The buoys are big but they’re also far away… so I was very conscious of not getting isolated from the start. Sufficed to say, that didn’t go as planned. With no opportunity to dip in the water, we were ushered to its edge after the men set off, lined up side-by-side and sent on our way by a booming klaxon. I was probably the last to react, as I was expecting some sort of countdown. Still, a slight hesitation made no difference at this early stage. I bounded off towards the 1500m route and found myself alone almost immediately. I’d say I did two-thirds of the horse-shoe shaped course by myself. At times, I was wondering if I was going completely off-track. Still, I was sighting frequently and even stopped a handful of times to get a more definitive view of the next buoy. Approaching the buoy at which you turn back for shore, I spotted some other pink hats bobbing in the water. I managed to join their group of three as I rounded the buoy and stayed with them the rest of the way. I exited the water (26:46) to huge cheering from the spectators, as they were completely lining our path to T1 and creating a great atmosphere. I was quite breathless for my 0:52 stop in transition but also very happy to have the swim behind me.
As I said, I exited the water with three other ladies but got out of transition quicker than one and passed the other just after the mount line. I finished the swim in 8th position but in no time I was in 6th. After negotiating the steep hill out of town, I enjoyed some fast downhills in a big gear. As the 44km course changes direction quite frequently, the wind was never coming from one side for too long. It was mostly a tailwind on the outward part but there were a few instances where a nasty crosswind caught the bike, causing me to grasp the handlebars more tightly. I passed another woman maybe 12km in, moving me into 5th. The course was quite empty, save for the enthusiastic and diligent marshals, so I just focused on keeping a steady effort. The changing wind and undulating road meant that frequent gear changes were needed. On the return section, the wind really picked up. It seemed to shift between a headwind and a crosswind… Either way, it slowed me down. I kept an eye out for gaps in the hedges so that I’d be able to brace when a gust of wind shot across the road. Many sections are completely exposed though so you almost had to lean into the crosswind so that it wouldn’t push you in the opposite direction. Anyway, enough about the wind… for now. I passed another women around 6km from town and didn’t see her again. I passed one more soon after but wasn’t able to open up a meaningful gap. Although I held 3rd position at this stage, we entered T2 quite close to each other. With my 1:17:48 split, I had moved significantly up the field but was aware that the two ahead of me were exceptional runners and unlikely to be caught.
After a 0:48 transition, I headed for the 10km out-and-back run up Dunlicky Hill, pleasantly surprised to be in a podium position but feeling less than confident about keeping it. There’s no real reason for my doubt and, as a student of sport psychology, you’d think I’d know better. But that’s how I felt. I was reassured by the cheers of my mom and Eoin as I left town and was happy to meet a friend at the top of the first hill. Aside from that, the course was quite deserted. Also, as there were so few people in the first two waves, there were no runners around to gauge your pace against. I mean, I was going as hard as I could… but I still like having people around to potentially target and pass. A few men passed me but I was unable to hold on. And did I mention the wind before? Well, it’s time for another mention… There was a stiff headwind for the entire outward journey. I felt like I was labouring and not gaining any speed on the downhills but the women in 4th place seemed to stay the same distance behind me for (almost) the entire run. On the last descent, she made a move that I couldn’t respond to. A spectator yelled at me to put in a spurt. My brain said “go” but unfortunately my body said “no”. I was passed with less than 400m to go and watched the podium slip away. My less-than-impressive run split of 44:06 gave me an overall time of 2:30:20.
The atmosphere approaching the finish line was unbelievable and I heard countless people shouting my name. I have to say though, that I was disappointed not to have held on to 3rd. If you had offered me 4th place on the beach that morning, I would have ecstatically snatched it with two hands. But to slip from the Hell of the West podium so close to the finish line was tough. I was spent at the end… hands on my knees, then body bent over the barrier, my aunt wondering why I participate in such a demanding sport. I couldn’t have gone any faster at that point. I guess I need to work on my sprint finish. With that said, there are so many moments in a race where you can steal time (turning at buoys, sighting, transition, etc.) that it’s not reasonable to say it all came down to the last part of the run. After catching my breath, I gathered myself and reflected more rationally on the race. I performed solidly in each discipline. I finished 4th, which was beyond my expectations. And I put myself in a position to get on the podium. Sounds like a good day’s work to me!
The day was a resounding success for Limerick Triathlon Club, my home club. The organisation was perfect. There were hundreds of marshals and supporters. There was an epic recovery tent replete with food. And there were lots of happy faces at the finish line. Thank you so much to everyone who made the day what it was… as is the case every year. See you in 2016…
Images: Thanks to Gordon Thomason/TI Media. Full Albumn available here.
Images: Thanks to Stephen Kelleghan/TI Media. Full Albumn available here