Following from The Preparation…
Saturday saw us up and about the house early with the kids. It was a dry, fine day but being the West of Ireland that could change by the time the morning cup of coffee was finished!
We all busied ourselves, Edel was flat out making sandwiches and packing lasagne, I was mucking about at the van fitting Siju lights on the bikes and installing the compass on the kayak. Maurice was assembling the air bed and helping with ensuring all was on board that would be needed. That was alright until I realised I’d left 2 boxes on the kitchen floor back in Galway.
The stress levels were about to go through the roof as I frantically tried to remember what was in the boxes..
Checking the other boxes I realised we had the ‘critical’ kit, it was when Edel came looking for kit that I realised it was her box of spare gear and the small hospital kit that was left behind.
Oh, why could it not have been my stuff!! This could be a long day 🙁
I wasn’t let off easy and as we said goodbye to the kids with “love you’s” and “be on your best behaviour” we were already slightly behind my planned timing so picking up stuff would be a rush. Oh and of course my cleats needed to be replaced yet (I discovered on Friday they were in tatters and my local bike shop Velocity didn’t have the particular ones in stock)
So into Gary’s Cycles Sligo we went to pick up Keo Cleats, a base layer top and water bottles (left on the Sligo kitchen counter) for Edel. Gary himself was there and reckoned we should be signed in. With the rising tension I was starting to think he had a point. Anyway, thank you Gary for your help and your contribution of High5 gels, they’ll come in handy.
With another stop planned in Enniscrone at a pharmacy to pick up unlikely-to-be-needed-medical-supplies we finally put the forgotten boxes behind us.
Rallying at the carpark on the beach in Enniscrone the assembled collection of racers and their support crews set about the tasks of the day, tinkering and adjusting, setting up and generally looking busy. Maurice set about changing cleats for me as I again pulled and poked about in the storage boxes while Edel was changing in the back of the van.
In no time at all we were given a 10 minute warning or was it 5?? Anyway it flew and with just enough time for a quick selfie, we were assembled on the dunes and off and running!!
Stage 1: Beach Run Enniscrone
Starting on the dunes we were down onto the soft sand and beelining for the hard pack which the tide had left earlier and would be easier running.
Within 400m our feet were soaked as there was no option but to splash through a stream. That would wake you up!
Nothing too dramatic about the run except the ridiculous headwind swirling sand around the beach threatening to sandblast your legs off at the ankles. It was 2.5k up to the turn around and the best line was to follow the leaders who were very quickly up the beach a bit. Their footprints told you to expect soft or hard sand underfoot.
We worked as a team, I’m the stronger runner so Edel tucked behind me and then we literally floated back down the beach with a huge tailwind.
Back through the stream and up the dunes to dib in for the first CP and transition to the bikes
Distance 5.09k; 31:28mins
Stage 2: Cycle 1 – Enniscrone to Ballinamore
We were the tailgunners arriving into transition but I reckon with the tri history we got a big jump on some of the teams with a speedy, swift, slick transition from running to bike.
Shoes off, bike shoes on, onto bike and away we went.
Although we had a tailwind we still worked to punch a hole for the other and we worked as a train heading out along the coast.
One thing did annoy me and that was support crews. There are designated support points on the route and crews were to go ahead and wait rather than following their cyclists. There were two crews that kept jumping ahead (not causing any risk to anyone) but it seemed each time they went past us their cyclists always seemed to make it back onto our wheel. Could be nothing. But it annoyed me.
Edel and I hosed along the 107km route which cut back onto the Sligo road before heading to Ballsadare – Collooney – Keadew and onto Drumshanbo. This is beautiful countryside and Edel regaled me with stories of her Grand-dad who fishing in the various loughs. It was pleasant spinning along and you could almost forget the context of the event.
There was no thinking involved, there were yellow arrows marking every change of direction or junction so no need to refer to a map. Though once we made the (correct) turn at Ballyduff Bridge we did ask some walkers for confirmation we were in the right place as the lead into transition was longer than Galway 70.3 in 2011 😉
Turning into the carpark again Edel dibbed in and we started transition to the kayak stage.
Distance 107k; 03:54
Transition 2: Cycle 1 to Kayak
You’d think I could have washed the van! We took a couple of minutes to transition, pulling on the booties rather than shoes, buoyancy vests and making sure everything was well and truly strapped down and into the boat.
The beauty of the waterproof storage hatches meant I could stash treats like Club milk bars and apples for later on the trip without them getting spoiled.
Stage 3: Kayak – Ballinamore to Ballyconnell
As we approached the slip we were told “nope, put in over there —->>>” as arms pointed across the narrow footbridge to the other side of the river I realised suddenly that negotiating these locks were going to be a pain in the a**!!!
Maurice and I humped the kayak (why did I put all that gear into it!?) across the bridge, down the ramp and lowered it into the water. This would be a new way for us to get in and out, normally the front seat is occupied on land and the rear paddler pushed off like a bobsleigh. This would involve careful balancing and low centres of gravity to avoid spilling out of the boat.
Anyhow we were in and off!
Bar a brief “where are the arrows??” moment at the first junction a quick reference to the laminated kayak map and a check on the compass and we were off in the right direction.
There was not too much to this; paddle, paddle, paddle, steer, paddle etc. repeat as necessary 🙂
At the first lock there were plenty of helpful hands to lift out and again cart gear to the put in point. Roughly 100m of portage or so. So with 2 locks to negotiate before hitting Garadice Lough it was plenty of time to settle into a paddling rhythm and take mini-turns allowing each other to eat and drink.
think know I may have gone wrong here as I drank Accelerade more than actual eating. I have some protein bars but didn’t take the appropriate time out or discipline to east as I’d planned.)
It was not until map ref 15/10 that we saw anyone else on the water. At this point a really sleek kayak powered past us. Not that we were slow, it was just sleek. To the point that Edel commented on it! (The girl is getting INTO this!! 😀 ) I tried to explain the differences without coming across too strongly that one of those would be the next on my shopping list. I think the best explanation is that our boat is like a road bike while those lads had a TT bike.
It was handy though, as we entered the Lough, we could check our lines with them, spotting the landmarks. There was support on the lake which warned us about the chop on the water. There was a massive tail wind running swell across the lake, thankfully in the direction we were headed.
A lot of concentration was needed as with the length of the heavier boat the nose would slide down the back of a wave as the back was rising on the next requiring a non rhythmic paddling stroke to continually adjust the alignment and to make the most of catching the waver. Not even sure this is correct technique but it worked for us and we made great headway. Until…
The support boat came alongside to shout something at us about landmarks (we had it all in hand) and the brief moment lapse in focus had us sliding off a wave and the boat spun sideways in a trough. As the next wave washed in over the back, soaking me and toppling the boat we both threw ourselves towards the water and slapped the water with the flat of the paddle, hard. This instinctive move stopped the boat from sliding out from under us, stopped the roll allowing us to right the boat and save us from a swim. Jesus!!
Righting the boat, picking the line and going again I was sitting in 10cm of cold lake water. There was no time to bale the boat as we were 100% on keeping the boat online and from going over on us. A kayak full of water is a PIG of a thing to move and control. It is heavy and stubborn as a mule. All it wants to do it its own thing which is always contrary to what you need it to do.
We passed Church Island working hard and beelined for the exit around the next headland. Thankfully the water was quieter and Edel pulled the scupper plugs which let some water out but most was sloshing around my backside. It was only when we got into the calmer waters of the waterways that we stopped to bale the boat with a bidon. (I will make a baler for permanent fixture in the boat!)
I was still sitting in some water and by the time we got to the lock at halfway (Haughton’s Shore) I was cold and shivering. Attempting to stand up (13k of kayaking too, remember!!) my hamstrings were spasming on account of an hour in cold, cold water and my teeth were chattering. Lifting out we drained the boat fully, replaced the scuppers and got back in again to start moving quickly.
We had 3 more Loughs to negotiate, all much smaller than Garadice and thankfully no more mishaps with rogue waves! There was another support point at Coologe Lock where Maurice was waiting. We just blasted past and waved him onto the finish area. We’d no need to stop and we had actually found a great rhythm and the boat was singing along on the water.
Actually by not stopping we much have gotten a jump on the nice TT-boat as the passed us again. I don’t know how long they stopped for but we were lifted by the fact that we were doing so well relatively on the water.
The stretch into Ballyconnell seemed to take forever. It was “just around the next corner” so many times I was starting to annoy myself with my predictions. It’s hard to navigate when your butt is at water level, you can’t reference landmarks properly as while you might see one or two, you get no sense of distance or depth perception. You are relying on compass and judgement to place yourself on the map, and remembering if you turned left or right at that last bend. Good exercise but leads to “are we there YET?”
Arriving in Ballyconnell we were exiting at a slip (I was disappointed that Dave wasn’t there to slag our matching buoyancy vests 😉 ) and thankfully a helping hand stopped me from staggering backwards into the water as my hammies were complaining about being used and abused.
Distance 26km; 03:59 ( 1 whole hour faster than my predicted time of 5 hours)
Transition 3: Kayak to Cycle 2/3
This was murder.
I was cold. Maurice thankfully had found somewhere that had coffee and we gratefully relieved him of a couple of cups while dealing with removing wet clothing. Removing the wet tri shorts and replacing with dry cycle bib made a big difference. I left the base layer on, switched out the bike jersey for a long sleeve running top I had, threw gilet back on over that and Ronhill jacket on top. I would be toasty soon.
Unfortunately I knocked over my coffee in the process without noticing so only had a mouthful of that 🙁
Rigging up the Silva CrossTraillights for the night-time cycle the plan was to head to the Share Centre near Lisnakea where we understood we had to dib before moving on to the long night cycle. We also believed there was food there so a chance to maybe grab some hot food and coffee before nightfall.
Ha! We were deluded!
Stage 4: Cycle 2 – Ballyconnell to Lisnakea
Was grand. It kinda felt ok to be back on the bikes. At first the legs were not too sure but we soon warmed to the task and I stopped shivering.
The spin to Lisnakea brought us through Quinn country. It’s been a while and as outsiders you tend to forget the amount of employment those businesses brought to the area.
Arriving at Share Centre we discovered that the chat at briefing about “A three course hot meal for all participants and support crews at the Share Centre” did not apply to non-stop racers. In fact there was nothing for non-stoppers. Not even a cup of coffee to be had.
There was a notice saying “1 drink (water / juice), 1 packet crisps, x2 packs sandwiches per person.”
We used their electricity and microwaved Edel’s lasagne :p
As technically Lisnakea was a midpoint in the race it will serve as a break for now. We’ll be back on the bikes for the continuation with Stage 5: Cycle 3 and the final hurdles.
Thanks for sticking with us this far, roll onto Part Deux when you are ready.