Top of the Mournes 2014, Rostrevor, County Down, Northern Ireland
organaised by Newry Triathlon Club
Touted as being the toughest Olympic distance race in the country
Well it’s taken me a while to find a keyboard but finally this is my recommendation for a very good triathlon if you ever find yourself at a loose end across the waters in the Emerald Isle.
The opportunity of a small diversion on holiday this year just down the coast south of Belfast was too much to resist. It would keep my training up a little longer, provide me with some motivation through the lazy summer months and help put Expatries Triathlon club Paris on the International circuit! Registering was dead easy and the French licence was quickly approved to avoid having to obtain another medical certificate. Only real catch was getting all the equipment over in carry-on luggage. I decided to take my own wet suit and hire a bike but a little local knowledge (thanks Rachel) put me in touch with another triathlete (Lewis) who reckoned he had enough equipment to lend me the necessary. Did I fancy coming along to a training aquathon in Donagadee bay Thursday evening so that we could meet up? What better way to test the water!
In Donagadee there was plenty of family support and a good local turn out. A little bit of faffing and down to the water for a 750m swim. Glad I joined them because it was a good deal cooler than the lakes around Paris but I enjoyed swimming in salt water and thankfully the tide was on the turn.
I was relieved how clear the water was and I didn’t bump into any jelly fish. I think our multicoloured hats must have scared the fish away because we caught plenty in the same bay a few days later. Quickly out of the water and huffing and puffing up the hill for a quick 5k run in 3 laps. It was short so it hurt the lungs but I was pleased with my performance in foreign lands. At that point I hadn’t met Lewis either so had no idea that I just pipped him to the finishing post.
Of course the big day was not far away and months of anticipation of going into the unknown faded away with each step nearer the start. Getting the bicycle sorted was a big relief and likewise finding my registration pack. Dead handy being able to speak the same language!
Generally speaking I found the officialdom slightly more relaxed than in France. The referees were very helpful and it was a well organised event but, like in France, make sure you’ve got bar ends in your handle bars. I’m going to start selling them at every triathlon. That along with safety pins for attaching your number in 3 places and elastic bands for holding the shoes in place whilst you run along and jump on the bike.
As I’d already had a practice run in similar water I was ready for the cold and only slightly daunted by the 1.5km swim. Just keep a steady pace and keep going in roughly a straight line. 9 strokes look, 9 strokes look, 9 strokes look..how many was that? Well it worked for me even if those gigantic yellow buoys can look mighty small when you’re out in Carlingford Lough. Choppy water too.
Running into T1 I finally realised why anyone would have a bright pink bike seat. Dead easy to find the bike! Run, ouch, run, ouch, jump, pedal, oh yes, and don’t forget to breathe whilst you get your feet into the shoes. It felt good to finally be on the bike and into my comfort zone. Before long I couldn’t help thinking that Lewis’s fancy aerodynamic helmet was really making a difference. Not that it was easy going dodging the cars. Unfortunately due to other events it hadn’t been possible to close all the roads. No drafting allowed either in this fully sanctioned Triathlon event so once you caught the person in front there was no let up.
Top of the Mournes scribbled across the road at the highest point of the ride was a very welcome sight and meant that I could finally change to the big cog at the front. But heh, what’s gone wrong with the bike? No, hang on a minute, I’m still rolling, oh yeah, oval chain ring! Ok, whoosh! Think I’m going to need one of those back home; that and a pink bike seat.
Bike route elevation
There were a couple of warnings on the way down due to the steep hairpin bends and I was really grateful to the marshals because I didn’t know the route. Without applying the brakes more than the rules of cycling properly permit I would never have made it round. A definite no tribar zone and if you drifted across the white line you were disqualified too. Of course this line is also the preferred route to avoid meeting a car bumper head-on in the opposite direction.
Run route elevation
Now, if you hadn’t guessed already or experienced it yourself, I was feeling pretty tired. I’d managed to keep up my liquids by not letting my ultra-light weight Evian bottle jump out of the holder on the way down over the bumps but, those hills had taken it out of my legs. Coming off the bike in to T2 was a delicate affair as what felt like bolts of blood rushed through my feet. Still, once rid of the bike and exit route located there were too many spectators to go anywhere but straight up the hill. I was struggling with the idea of having to do 3 laps as my legs were clearly not listening to the brain properly. A short downhill duly arrived where normally I can stretch out and work the knees to make up a bit of time but nothing doing. There were further serious-ish moments of concern when the next uphill arrived but I was determined not to fall into a walk. With strength of resolve learnt from my fellow Expatries, who I knew would shrug it all off and chase away in front of me, I kept going in baby steps. I mean it’s hardly an Ironman!
What I learnt in this race was that after the initial weird feeling of running you do find your legs. True I was still pretty tired but the running came back and by half way I was bounding down the hills. Crossing the line in 2h45 was fine by me.
All in all it was a lot of fun in beautiful scenery and we were lucky with the weather. Swimming in sea water in front of the Cooley Mountains with the sun glistening through the waves is pretty much out there as one of my favorite moments. All five of us walked 20km through the Mournes mountains a few days later and there is no doubt it is a beautiful part of the world.