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The Kenmure Triathlon

Thursday, 12 August, 2010

Becoming an iron man

I have always considered myself a non-team player in sporting terms. I have always preferred more solitary activities such as runs or cycles while singing along to my favourite tunes on my i-pod, or a relaxing swim in the sea or one of London’s many Lidos. Perhaps it is the lack of commitment that attracted me. No weekly training at the mercy of the British weather. No weekend morning matches wrecking the enjoyment of precious weekend nights. A plan to go for a jog or a cycle can be made and broken at the last minute. Swims are only slightly more restricted due to timing restrictions and the dreaded prospect of being stuck in a lane with one swimmer up your behind and another kicking you in the face during “rush-hour”.

However there have been times when I have been slightly envious of the comradery and social side of team sports. With that minor envy in mind, I have been intrigued by the triathlon phenomenon that seems to be gripping so many of my peers in recent years. In the past I had viewed triathlons as an activity only for the strongest, fittest and, no offence meant, butchest sector of society. And yet this summer in particular I have listened to many a friend discuss their upcoming or just completed triathlon over a few glasses of wine/beer/shots. This got me thinking; if they could do it, surely so could I.

Then one sunny early summer afternoon, during a boozy picnic in Victoria Park, a friend began rallying the troops to join him back in his hometown, Kenmare, County Kerry in Ireland, to partake in a triathlon. It was to be held a whole 3 months away – so much time to train! We all agreed to participate, and went on to celebrate our last night of guilt-free revelry into the early hours of that morning.

The wonderful weather this summer was a mixed blessing. Great for outdoor training, running in parks, swimming in the open air and cycling through the countryside, with no fear of rain. Sunshine and long, balmy evenings are also great for sitting outside pubs, or at BBQ’s or at picnics, or at festivals, all of which require a glass of sparkling wine or a cold beer. It was hard to reconcile the two focuses of the summer. But knowing that many of the people who were sharing the round of drinks would also be sharing the pain of the 7th of August somehow made it all OK. Adrenalin on the day would have a lot to make up for.

Arriving in Kenmare the night before the big event was all anticipation. Sitting around the dinner table eating a fabulous meal of fresh prawns and fried fish, with not a glass of wine in sight, a friend likened the feeling to the night before a wedding. We were a group of around 20 people, male and female, and all Irish and English.  And we weren’t supposed to drink! The drive from the airport along a portion of the famous Ring of Kerry proved our host right in his promises of spectacular scenery during the cycle and run. People shuffled from side to side of the bus, as it trundled along the country roads in accordance with which offered the best views for that particular bend. Heavy white and grey clouds rolled across an equally white and grey backdrop. Every now and then a rebel ray of sunlight would burst through, momentarily bringing to life the multitudinous shades of green. From illuminated glowing yellow-green grass, to the shadowy forest-green of the tree-covered hills, and every shade on the spectrum in between.

Most importantly, sun was forecast for the following day. The cyclists and runners were thrilled. I was a swimmer. I had opted out of attempting all three sections alone two weeks previously when I grabbed an opportunity to join a relay team. The lack of training and the discovery that a full triathlon involved Olympic distances caused the last minute change of heart.

The event began at 2pm on the Saturday and the swimmers were first up. Three yellow buoys in the relatively calm sea bay marked the 1.5 kilometre distance that we were to cover. I wasn’t worried. I had done 30 lengths in the London Fields lido a few times.

We suited up into our wetsuits and rubber swimming hats. We posed for photographs, all of which I hope to delete very soon. We listened to the rules and safety regulations. We eased into the water to acclimatise. Out of nowhere I overheard someone say we had 20 seconds left.  I began frantically searching for an empty patch of sea amongst the 250 other swimmers. The horn sounded and the thrashing and jostling began. Flying water was everywhere. A foot dislodged my goggles and I witnessed my friend’s head disappear under a body as one swimmer front-crawled over her. The characteristic Irish politeness had clearly been left at the shore. I found a position at the outer edge of the splashing mass of black suited bodies and tried to find a rhythm. It came eventually. Stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe. I interrupted that repetition every 20 or so strokes in order to reposition my slowly advancing body in line with the yellow buoy. The fastest swimmer completed the circuit in 18 minutes, the slowest in approximately 45. Coming in at 35 minutes I was by no means among the quickest, but since my only aim was to not be last I was happy. My wonderfully supportive and equally uncompetitive team-mates were full of praise as I passed them the timer along with responsibility to finish.

From then on it was all cool cider and relaxed cheering. The sun was kind enough to come out and the rain, polite enough to stay away. All accounts confirmed that the scenery was as picturesque as promised. The whole town seemed to be out cheering from the gates of their houses. There were choruses of “Good girl, you’re a fine girl, good woman yourself” from small gatherings of local men. Children would run alongside offering bottles of water and high energy snacks. The applause was equally enthusiastic for the winner, coming in at a remarkable 2 hours and 1 minute, and the final runner arriving red-faced and weak almost 2 hours later.

There was a poor turn out to the prize-giving for the sole reason that people only had a short time to get showered and ready for some well-earned celebrating that night. Accounts of avoiding jelly fish in the sea, and fighting jelly legs during the transition from bike to running accompanied the first few rounds of drinks. After a few more rounds, and having moved from the house party to the bars, dancing and sing-songs replaced talking. More bars, more dancing, more singing and the requisite portion of cheesy fries in the chipper preceded a 5am dive into bed. The muscle stiffness of the next day was attributed to the exertions of the sporting activity, although in all honesty the dancing activity was probably equally to blame.

The endorphins, the comradery of training (and consolations for shortcomings in that regard) and the fun during and after the event, are only some reasons to start planning the next one. A bit of research has discovered that the distances range from sprint triathlons, full triathlons (such as Kenmare), iron man, and for the truly masochistic, double iron man. Having been part of a relay team I reckon the sprint should be manageable. And sure the sky is the limit from there! Addictive? Definitely!

For more information on Triathlon events and clubs in the U.K. see www.britishtriathlon.org

Leanne O’Loughlin was the triathlete

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