Last September making the decision to learn to swim was not an easy choice for me. I had little or no experience. Now aged 41 and this coupled with having a fear of water made it seem like an enormous ask! However having signed up for lessons with UL Arena and furthermore with Limerick Triathlon clubs Monday swim session in UL, the level of care, attention and encouragement I received through the course of my sessions not only improved my confidence in water but allowed me to achieve a lifelong ambition which I thought was beyond me!
With the swimming lessons going well and my level of fitness improving I decided to take the plunge and pick out some races I thought I might manage. My first triathlon was to be Joey Hannan in April. I signed up for the sprint distance. The buzz I got from completing Joey was immense and the seed was well and truly sown, I definitely had the bug!
My focus immediately turned to HOTW. I now had nine weeks to get my head around swimming in open water while still trying to improve my swimming technique. Having registered earlier in the year for HOTW, I suppose I thought at the back of my mind I would pull out at some point before the event. With the weeks flying by and training going relatively well, I still had doubts about swimming in open water. The Thursday before the event I travelled to Kilkee and met with a friend who was also doing HOTW. This would be his first triathlon. We were both inexperienced when it came to open water swimming but we had to just suck it up and get in and see how we would cope. Probably not the best preparation for this particular event! In we got and swam around the horse shoe bay from boat to boat in what one could describe as relatively calm waters. All went well and this gave me the reassurance I so desperately needed to face the race.
I arrived in Kilkee on the Friday having prepared as best I could for the race. I had organised to stay the night with friends who had a house there. At 5 o clock I made my way to the Kilkee Bay hotel for registration, and was given my race no, wave start. On Saturday morning I got up around six o clock not having slept to well for obvious reasons, got my breakfast and organised all my gear to bring to transition. Here I got set up and went over everything in my head in relation to entry and exit of transition. As I looked out into the horse shoe bay of Kilkee, my emotions were mixed. Nervous, scared and excited are words that come to mind. With final words of encouragement and reassurance in my ability to complete the swim I was accompanied from transition to the swim start by another club member who seemed to say all the right things to settle my nerves.
Finally the time had come, the horn sounded signalling the start and everyone raced into the sea. I had one strategy when it came to the swim and it was to stay relaxed in the water. While it took me a few minutes to settle in and find my rhythm, I began to acclimatise to the conditions and focused on sighting. With the occasional adjustment and maintaining a steady tempo I found myself swimming around the final buoy and heading for shore. It had being a tough swim as it was really choppy but I managed to get through it. On exiting the water it was great to see the crowd that had gathered on the beach forming a corridor, funnelling all the athletes back into transition.
With a slightly longer than planned T1, I made my exit and headed off on the bike while remembering the advice given to me to take it easy on that first hill leaving Kilkee. With this in mind, I selected my gear and focused on getting my heart rate down. With the rise and fall of the road I selected my gears accordingly. As I struggled up one incline I changed gear and before I knew it the chain had come off the front chain ring. I quickly unclipped my shoes and stopped the bike and what felt like an eternity, I eventually managed to get the chain back on. While trying to make back some of the time lost I upped my pace and dug deep.
At the turn around point of the course, major adjustments were made to accommodate the unforgiving and relentless winds of west Clare. This for me was the most difficult part of the course as it just seemed to evaporate any energy reserves I had left. By the time I had returned to Kilkee, the backs of my legs were burning and I was really beginning to hurt! Turning down towards the beach front I could see the crowds lining the road all the way down to transition. The hairs on my neck and arms were standing from the encouragement and support of the crowd. As I approached the dismount line and entered T2 I could see my family there clapping and cheering me on which gave me a huge lift.
Moving quickly through T2, I headed off on the run full of enthusiasm from all the support received in and around the transition area, it was just incredible. This enthusiasm however was short lived as I turned and looked up Dunlicky hill, I could feel the colour drain from my face. As I began my ascent I shortened my stride to cope with the steep gradient of the hill. It was great to see the sportsmanship and camaraderie of all the athletes encouraging one another as they passed each other on the hill. On reaching the top, I seemed to find a little energy to up my tempo and carry me back down the hill and across the finish line. I managed to sneak in, in just under three hours, 2:56 to be exact. All the hard work had paid off. The sense of achievement was immense. For me the best thing about the whole day was crossing the finish line and seeing my family there.
When I look back to September 2014, remembering my first swim lesson, struggling across three or four lanes in the pool in one breath, I can now see how far I have come. All this of course could not have been done without the help, support and encouragement of a lot of people. I would firstly like to say a special thanks to my wife Karen for her support. I would like to thank LTC and its members for all the advice and support and in particular the coaches from Monday’s swim session, who helped Me conquer one of my biggest fears.
Strength doesn’t come from what you can do; it comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t! While I know it’s no Iron Man, it did live up to its name and is one tough triathlon! It is definitely a step closer than I was last year! And who knows maybe in a few years that too could become an achievement! All I can say for now is, after getting through HOTW 2015, it has left me hungry for more and I am certainly looking forward to improving my time in 2016!