We all had a great weekend down in Mullingar recently, where nearly 400 people took part in the Caroline Kearney Memorial Triathlon, hosted by Midland Tri Club. I was thinking on the way back – what makes a great race? For the weekend that was in it – we paid €55 for an Olympic distance race organised by a local club while 2,000 people paid nearly €300 for double the distance in Dublin the next day, as IronMan 70.3 rolled into town. I know you’re not comparing like with like, so I’m open to feedback and honestly admit I’ve never raced that distance or any IronMan organised events, so I’m sure they are unique.
Having raced over 50 triathlons over the past 7 years, along with multiple adventure races, marathons and road races, at home and abroad, I thought about what makes a great race. The quality of 100+ races on the Triathlon Ireland calendar is really good all round – from Carlow to Lanesborough to Kilkee to Kinsale to Mullingar to Port Beach, they are all super, super races that I’ll go back to again and again.
I don’t really mind if it’s flat or hilly, urban or rural, straight or twisty, road or trail – variety is one of the great reasons I compete. I do like a hilly run – more like Dunmore & Kilkee please! However, having a safe course is important – good smooth road surface (Carlow), no potholes or road bumps (or clearly marked if they exist), quiet roads (closed roads not usually possible). For the swim, I love the sea as it could throw anything at you in terms of jellyfish, currents, swells, wind chop, cold (or heat). Kilkee, Dunmore East, Maharees are my favourites. Lakes & rivers are great as they’re usually warmer and calmer – Lough Ennell, River Suir in Carrick, River Nore in Kilkenny.
I’ve raced in big cities (Chicago Triathlon had nearly 9,000 competitors, while New York Marathon had 1 million spectators) however I really like Irish triathlons in small towns and villages. The more remote the better, as the scenery is usually spectacular, the roads are quiet, access is easy with loads of parking in a field right by registration/transition usually. Less stress, logistics, walking. Plus, it keeps everyone together as numbers taking part are usually smaller, so you meet people and mix better. Post-race finish area also needs some hook to keep people around – food, drinks or an area to chat. Races in Belmullet, Rathnure, Carlow, Laneborough, Kinsale, Baltimore, Dunmore East are all great.
I prefer club run races rather than big events, although I realise being able to organise a big race requires more people, resources and money, so clubs are not always to do this on voluntary basis. Exceptions being Hell of the West Kilkee, run by Limerick Tri & DCT run by Piranha Tri Club. You know the money is going back into the sport and is being done by volunteers. Some races are real fundraisers for a local community, helping bring people together (e.g. Blackstairs Adventure Race in Co Wexford). To be honest, I’d prefer if races cut out all the t-shirts, medals and extra costs and let us race – just give us bananas and a drink and we’ll be fine!
The encouragement, cheering and clapping from marshals always makes me smile. Having organised the Phoenix Park Duathlons, I’ve seen the effort involved in planning for months and then 40+ people volunteering on the night. It makes you appreciate that someone could be standing on a ditch or lane for 2-6 hours, cheering every single competitor on. I really like the old men & women (farmers, GAA heads and auld fellas) who probably know nothing about triathlon, but still come out and help, or just watch.
Saturday morning races are a winner – Sunday morning races not so, as you don’t get to enjoy the full weekend in the same way. Travel down Friday night, register, get to bed early, up early, race done by lunchtime, relax and recover and then celebrate that night with a great meal out and a few drinks. Then have a relaxing spin or swim the next morning to recover. Most races are like that, with some epic weekends up in Dingle, Belmullet, Kinsale, Achill. Some races like Belfast and Loughrea were on Sundays or bank holiday Monday’s which wasn’t ideal.