David Power reports back from the edge of Europe in Ireland’s North West on an epic weekend competing in one of Ireland’s most scenic triathlons. He finished 13th behind race winner Chris Mintern in a field of over 200 competitors in this TI National Series event.
When I’m a professional triathlete, I’m going to return to Belmullet and land on the lovely helipad they have located right beside the transition/finish area (The helipad is used by the coast guard as it’s located beside the lighthouse at Blacksod Point). Until I reach that promised land, both being a fast triathlete and rich enough to own a helicopter, I’ll have to travel by car. Which makes you realise Belmullet really is the edge of Ireland, the limit of Europe, next stop Atlantic Ocean and America.
It’s a good 4 hour drive from Dublin but registration was open ‘til 11pm so no panic there. A friendly welcome, no delays, until we got stopped for TI’s drugs quiz. “Which one of these Lemsip packets is prohibited?” at which point you’re presented with 5 packets, all mentioning ultra-strength, colds, flus, rapid relief – all looked harmless enough to cure a sniffle. I failed (the quiz) but got some “Say NO to drugs” tattoos to wear next day.
Our B&B lady didn’t do early breakfasts (she was at a wedding) – but she was so nice to leave out cereal, a toaster, coffee and hard boiled eggs to get us sorted for the morning. We awoke to a lovely calm morning, no wind which is rare. Transition was located at the end of the pier in Blacksod, overlooked by the small lighthouse, with Broadhaven Bay in front of us and the shady hills of Achill Island in the distance.
The Swim: Dead Calm
The sea was like a placid lake – so rare to see on the west coast. It looked so inviting. The swim was a nice clean triangular route, with 3 big buoys for sighting but a nice feature was smaller red buoys every 100m to keep you on track. The swim was uneventful – no crush at the start, plenty of open clear water with a few boats at anchor in the harbour.
My only worry was being wrestled under by a seal which was spotted in the bay earlier. Oh and my hat fell off, so my wet fringe caused all sorts of sighting issues – time to get it cut! Out of the water in 35th according to the announcer, in 23 minutes, so delighted (swim must have been short by 200-300m).
The Bike: Dead Flat
The bike course is a lovely fast, flat out and back on the road to Belmullet, so travelling the length of the Erris Peninsula. After 2km you’ve a serious jolt to the system – 1km up a sharp hill with 15% gradients. You don’t normally see fit guys pushing bikes up hills after 2k, but so it was. After that it was flat, with lovely scenery: tranquil beaches, sand dunes, small villages, boggy land. I was happy that I pushed on the bike (1h13m), although I’m still losing 10mins to the leaders and probably 5mins to the guys I finish around after the run.
The Run: Dead Hilly
Everyone knows I love running, so I hoping to eat up the ground and a few competitors ahead of me. I reckoned I was about top 30. The run was one so scenic, from the glimpse I got around me – after climbing a steady hill, we descended towards Fanmore beach. Running towards the Atlantic ahead of us, Achill Island lurking to the south and islands offshore. As spectacular a vista you’ll find running. The fun part was the “off-road” bit – about 400m onto the sandy beach and through the base of the dunes.
People were getting bogged down, but I just smiled. I was loving it. Having grown up in Tramore, sand dunes were nothing new – they’re one of my favourite places for a run, so heavy sand is not a problem. I was passing lots of guys and a few of the lead girls. I met Chris Mintern at the 3km mark, he was at 7km, so I knew I was at least 12mins down on him – he was so far ahead, fair play. I declined the offer of “poitín” at the water stop, although maybe it would have jolted me on.
After retracing our way up the climb, it was brakes off down to the lighthouse finish. I was enjoying it now, having ran strongly up the hill and nobody in sight ahead of me. I was delighted to hear I’d crossed the line in 13th with a run over 36 minutes, the fastest split of the day. Icing on the cake.
The post-race buzz was great, as the sun shone and everyone could relax by the lighthouse watching competitors of all ages cross the line in grimaced delight. What makes this race stand out is the friendliness of the marshals, spectators and locals. So many people were asking “did you do the race?” and were genuinely interested, so it must be a big event around there.
The best part was the sit down meal back in the hotel in Belmullet – a hot meal, fresh cakes & desserts and coffee. What a step up from bananas and water. The local Minister (Michael Ring T.D.) even showed up to present prizes and make a rousing speech!
Five Reasons Why Blacksod Tri Beats the Rest
Every TI National Series race has been great this year (Dunmore East, Kinsale, Lanesboro, Caroline Kearney) – I’d do them all again for the mix of courses, venues, parties, scenery, but Blacksod has something extra. Here’s why:
- Scenic course – where else do you feel so close to being on the Wild Atlantic Way
- Great grub – a banana’s grand but a sit down meal with plates piled high beats it hands down.
- Nice size – with only one wave start, everything is easier. Registration, transition, parking, meeting friends, mass swim start was even relaxed!
- Jacuzzi and sauna for after the race – or so I hear. Must check it out next year in the hotel.
- Exploring – you’ve come all that way, so you’re going to explore the surrounding landscape. So many activities on your doorstep: deserted beaches, quiet pubs, cliffs, golf, horse riding, coasteering.
I wonder which club will make Blacksod their club race in 2015. It would make such a great weekend. Now all I need is to source a big helicopter to get us all there.
Full results from ChipIT – 4 Belparkers competed: David Power, Ciaran Ryan, Padraig Ruane, Niamh Duggan.