Race Report: Lost Sheep Triathlon

12th in 4h50m Swim 43m / Bike 2h 39m / Run 1h 21m

“Not another triathlon race report,” says you. “Dave has been doing these for over 10 years. Can he not find something else to write about?” Well hold your thoughts. Last weekend, I entered a new race for me, at a longer distance than before. “So maybe he’ll find even further behind than those fast swimmers and TT racers,” you muse.

While 57,000 people were in a muddy field in Laois at Electric Picnic, last weekend the Kingdom is the endurance sports destination: the middle distance Lost Sheep Triathlon, Quest 12/24 in Sneem and Hardman in Killarney. I don’t want to do a full Ironman (yes, mark my words), but have relented and decided middle distance is very doable without any extra training. I’ve done tough adventure races over 4 hours so this couldn’t be much harder?

Breacadh an lae: sunrise swim, Kenmare Bay. Photo: Martin Jancek

The Swim: Swimming Backwards

The swim started just before sunrise at 7:00 AM, from the pier. Luckily, the heavy overnight rain had cleared through, leaving a beautiful glowing sun to appear behind us, as we headed out in one big wave of 400 swimmers. Apparently, Michael Healy-Rae did a shotgun start – some chancer for a photo (and a vote). Swimming back took a long time, against the strong tidal flow. I felt comfortable and was out in 43 minutes after 2km.

The Bike: Pass after Pass

Gillet on as it was still cold. Good decision for the first hour really, until the temperatures increased. The genius of starting so early meant that “normal people” aren’t out driving around, “getting in the way” of cyclists. The climb up the Healy Pass was stunning, the lake beneath so pretty, as were the surrounding hills.

I was motoring along, surprised to pass clubmates Ben and Conal so early. Anyway past the drummers entertaining us at the top and onto the tricky descent. I loved it, passing several faster looking cyclists on TT bikes. The slippy surface and crosswinds made the road bike a better beast to descend on. Those winter spins up and down Gran Canaria paid their dividend too.

Still motoring back into Glengarriff at 50 km. A banana, a few dates and a bit of water. Energy and legs were good. Bladder filling up. Man, I’ve never had to do a pit stop in a race before. Toilet strategizing ensued in my mind. The tunnel atop the Caha Pass came promptly enough, so I was still enjoying this. It felt like a fast training ride. Descending was nice and fast. We’re nearly there. A good dismount and fast transition. Bike done.

Flying down the Caha Pass, loving that cycle. Photo: Martin Jancek

The Run: Chasing Gavin

First time to put socks on in transition. Off I went over the bridge towards Sheen Falls. A friend at home had said this race would suit me. How right he was! I loved every minute. Rolling Hills out for 7 km, then back again against the flow of runners. Chris Mintern was miles ahead.

Who was first Belpark racer? And could I catch them? Gavin Stapleton was the lucky man. Gav had over a 6 minute lead after we crossed at 6 km. I did some mental maths and figured I could catch him but about 30 sec/km, so maybe by 18km I’d see him. A long way to go. The pit stop happened, it was a great relief: side of the road, 20 seconds and off weeeee go. (Others did in the water, in transition and on the bike. Take your pick!)

I didn’t pace off the watch, just feel. I figured I could hold 19 – 20 min for each 5km segment, so 3:50 to 4:00 min pace. I didn’t want to blow up, so did a check after 5 km and felt good at 19 min pace. I was after overtaking several runners and flew down the hills. Free speed.

Over a lovely bridge at 15 km where I knew more hills would start. I kept pushing, as I was really motivated to catch Gav and be first Belparker home. I felt good, running strong, not tired, so saw it a great prep to run at marathon pace after 3-4 hours of effort already in the legs. I caught 2 lads walking up a steep it, then I caught the lead female Heather Foley and the marshall said I was the fastest runner through there all day.

Great. 5km to go, no sign of Gav or anybody ahead. I kept recalculating, perhaps he’s faster or further ahead. It was like the Tour or Vuelta when Seán Kelly tells you if the breakaway will get caught by the peloton. I told myself not to panic, I just needed to pass him before the finish line at 21 km. Since I had over 90 seconds to close, no wonder I couldn’t see him.

The road stayed empty at 19 km. I must see some runners, any runner, soon. Finally like a hound on the scent of a hare, I saw movement. Black colours, probably a lesser spotted Belpark hare. Target locked. My effort was hard now. 20 km turning onto the last roads down to the finish. Probably 150m ahead. The church spire loomed, meaning we were nearly home, and I was running out of tarmac. 500 meters at the roundabout and a marshall encourages me to catch the two runners ahead.

Closing, I’m hurting now, but think of my brother John. He would tell me I could do it and wouldn’t accept such mediocrity, such as “cruising to the finish” or “enjoying the race.” I surged past Gav, hoping he wouldn’t kick like they do in cross-country. 100 meters to go, I pull it clear. The announcer on the mic says my name. I hope the finish line is close. I can’t run any faster. I’m done. Over the line.

So happy and proud that I did my best. Delighted I performed well in all 3 (4?) disciplines. Relieved my bike held together. Surprised how easy it all felt after 5 hours. They went by fast. Happy to have taken part. Lucky and fit and able to do these events, in such lovely parts of the country. At home talking to my Belpark club mates, who all did their best and enjoyed it too.

The finish line – nearly 5hrs later, only 5 seconds separated Gav and me.

The Aftermath

Physio rub, yummy food, pints, debriefs in the pub. I’m sitting here writing this in my diary, in the garden under a sunny sky. Tired, a bit sore, very happy. That’s the magic of sport.

Other memories:

  • Kerry: it’s always a treat to come down here, it is such a beautiful place
  • All Ireland: the green and gold is out in force: cars, gardens, shopfronts, flags.
  • Race organisers: it’s some effort, especially to do it remotely from Cork. Mighty stuff.
  • Quotes painted on the road or on signs:

        (might be able)

You           can           to do this

Run flat out like a badger on a bypass

Get free Viagra, if you can “get it up” this hill

Photos from Martin Jancek: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jancek/with/48653237068/

Results: https://www.sportsplits.com/races/15713/events/1/

Strava: https://www.strava.com/activities/2667213592

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