After finishing second place at the National Mixed Relay Championships, Limerick Triathlon Club qualified for the European Mixed Relay Champions that were held in Banyoles on Saturday, September 3rd. The original team that raced in Mullingar in July included former National Champion, Aaron O’Brien but as Aaron was unavailable, Ross Higgins stepped in. A strong team of Carolyn Hayes (former National Champion), Ross Higgins, Kirsten Huysamen and Diarmaid Lane departed with the hopes of club and country to bring back silverware.
We were glad to land in Barcelona early because, as is certain, everything takes longer than expected: setting up the bikes; navigating to the lake for the familiarisation swim; lunch; finding the location for the race briefing which was delayed; dinner and finally a bike recon. The organisation of the event was very professional which included a presentation of a unique trophy to all competing teams marking the event.
For most of us, the novelty of setting up in a professional-looking transition area was a great experience: the long blue carpet; the personalised bike stands and the pre-race interview. Ross Higgins concluded the team’s interview with “we’re in it to win it!” Ross, at the time, was unaware of the quality of field.(See here) Diarmaid forgot to pack his wetsuit which didn’t matter anyway because the swim was non-wetsuit. He also found that his gear cable had snapped on transit which was quickly fixed in Banyoles. These things added the stress of getting his pedals off before packing the previous day. As things happen in threes, Diarmaid slept soundly on Friday night. The other slight hiccup was that Carolyn punctured heading down to the lake but that was also quickly dealt with. So despite a busy day, we were well- prepared on the morning of the race.
The final unique experience for all the team before the race was how all the teams were announced on-stage. “And representing Ireland is Limerick Triathlon Club…” Uniformed in club gear, we all grasped hands and paraded up to the start. It was a great feeling to be able to stand amongst other countries representing the club. We didn’t quite have matching bikes like some teams had but given that there are numerous versions of the LTC trisuit, it was all very professional to be perfectly matched.
Carolyn was first to go. She had been used to the heart beat sound effect that seems to be synonymous with the introduction to the start of ETU and ITU races but that was when the nerves really set-in for the rest of the team. It seemed that all teams put their best female swimmer first and the best swimmers from all over Europe tore through the water at a rate of knots. Carolyn described the argy-bargy of the entire 300m swim leg but as expected, she exited the water in a good position and maintained that for the 6.6km bike leg which was draft-legal and the run. The organisers were radioed the order in which the runners were coming in and were able to position the subsequent team members accordingly for change-over.
Before we knew it, Ross was tagged by Carolyn and sprinted down the ramp and did a running dive start into the water. Ross maintained his positioned in the water and was joined by a number of people on the bike leg. Even though he was group-cycling for most of the bike leg, Ross was red-lining it through T2 and despite pushing hard, Ross’ lost contact with most of the runners in his group. It’s during the run legs of these relays that the race strings out and most of the third and fourth team members had to time trial it all the way around.
Kirsten put in a serious effort and maintained her position all the way around as did Diarmaid who pushed so hard at the end of the run that he nearly went off course on the final finishing straight.
The whole team was very proud of its performance. LTC finished in 16th place ahead of the other Irish team, Belpark Triathlon Club. The endorphins released after such a hard effort were overwhelming; added to that was the fact that we had the whole day to relax by the beautiful lake under brilliant sunshine. The team was also fortunate to be in the company of friend-of-the-club Joanne O’Donnell whose organisational skills were called upon more than once. Joanne also did a great job as photographer and communications officer for the entire weekend.
This was effectively the inaugural ETU Mixed Relay Championships as last year’s race was cancelled last minute due to bad weather. We felt that we made a good account of ourselves on the European stage. The team would like to acknowledge the kind support of Westair and PJ Matthews and the club itself. A huge thank you also goes to Lynne Algar who has offered support and expertise throughout the year particularly leading up to race day.
Diarmaid Lane’s Reflections
Excitement, stress, nervousness, exhaustion and exhilaration… The ETU Mixed Club Relay European Championships had everything! A fantastic experience that will be the closest I will ever get to an Olympic games. A field littered with WTS and ITU triathletes some of whom raced at the Olympic Games in Rio…
Some reflections on the race… From my experience at the Nationals in Mullingar, I knew that this was going to seriously hurt from the very beginning. Seeing every single athlete (Olympians included) collapse as they crossed the finish line in the tagging area was pretty concerning especially as the temperature increased in the early morning. I was the anchor leg and I was happy to be there as the stronger swims of Carolyn, Ross and Kirsten gave the team every opportunity to get into bike packs early in the race.
The swim was non-wetsuit (lucky for me as I left my wetsuit in Ireland!) but the flat calm conditions suited me and I don’t think I was disadvantaged that much. I found myself alone on the swim and the bike, knowing that there were three athletes behind me (a British guy, a Spaniard and John from Belpark). I held my own on the bike and felt decent. I decided to come out of my shoes around 400m from the finish but that was a mistake… It was a very technical part of the course and as I turned a bend my foot slipped off my left shoe and it popped off my pedal. I was 50m down the road before I knew it but there was no going back. I was very near tears as I dismounted my bike at T2 as I was full sure that I was going to get the team disqualified because I left some of my gear on the course. I had to suck it up and blaze on.
I got a great cheer from my team-mates and the Belpark crew as I ran along the blue carpet out on to the run course. I thought I couldn’t go any deeper into the red but around 300m into the run my form went out the window and it was a case of hanging in there and just keep my cadence as high as possible. The British guy caught me before the run turn around and there was no holding on. He was flying it. I had to do 200m more than Ross and the girls on the run leg as I had to run all the way down to the end of transition before coming into the final home straight. I honestly don’t remember the last 50m. I was all over the shop and going from side to side. I crossed the finish line and was grabbed by two medics and doused in buckets of cold water and sponges. All I was concerned about was that I got the team disqualified… Then the technical officials arrived with my shoe…. Oh damn… I explained the situation and they said everything was fine as I was the last leg and the shoe did not obstruct anybody. Phew!
Carolyn… I think I just got us disqualified
When I started triathlon two and a half years ago I thought that I would never be good enough to train with the likes of Ross Higgins, Aaron O’Brien, Carolyn Hayes and Kirsten Huysamen. I never thought that I could race with them as part of a team on an international stage! I can’t say that it’s a dream come true because I never considered myself good enough to even dream it. Massive thanks to Limerick Triathlon Club and our sponsors for their generous support. Special “thank you” to Joanne O’Donnell for looking after us during the race and for your encouragement all weekend. Ross, Kirsten and Carolyn thanks for being great teammates and friends. And finally, a special thanks to Lynne Algar for giving up your time to coach us all year and prime us for the event.
Roll on 2017 and I hope that Limerick Triathlon Club will be in a strong position to field teams at the Mixed Relay National Championships and that we can qualify another team to represent the club and Ireland at the 2017 Europeans. Limerick is on the map already and the president of the ETU told us about his time here when Limerick hosted the European Duathlon Championships. Let’s keep Limerick Triathlon Club keep up there and a regular team at this great event.
When I joined LTC a year and a half ago I did not have this in mind. What was supposed to be a three-month triathlon stint has instead turned into an incredible and unforgettable journey! LTC has an alluring effect due to the amazing atmosphere and incredible members which drew me in like a magnetic force. It’s not just a club, but a family and I honestly couldn’t have been prouder to represent them at the championships! The only downfall was that the trip was too short! I definitely needed some more time to soak up the sun, but it was worth it and one of my most memorable experiences of my life.
Myself and Diarmaid started our trek to Spain at 2am on a Friday morning and were very promptly met by Carolyn at the airport. Not so much by Ross… BUT the main thing is we all made it on the plane with Butler’s coffee in hand (perks to having superman with you on the plane aka Ross) and jetted off to sunny Barcelona.
We had a few hiccups along the way: snapped bike cable, wrong sized tri-suit, items being left at airport, puncture to race venue, getting lost in streets of Banyoles etc., but all in all our first day seemed to be a success. It should be noted that I was not involved in any of these instances, revealing the true responsible adult in the team. Before race briefing and registration, where we presented with a prestigious competitors trophy from the ETU president, we investigated the course routes. Being professional triathletes we performed numerous run dives off the pontoon, in order to get the perfect slow motion video of us gracefully diving into the lake. After numerous attempts and belly flops we finally managed to get the perfect footage which is currently being patented for your viewing. Credits go to the award winning camera woman Joanne O’Donnell.
Race day arrived and thankfully we had an ITU experienced triathlete on our team. First thing, Carolyn was applying tattoos to our arms and legs in a very orderly and efficient fashion. I was extremely grateful as I am not exactly a morning person and needed all the help I could get. The most impressive part of this trip was that everyone was ready to leave on time for the race. Go Team!!
Arriving at the race venue was extremely exciting and nerve wrecking. Whilst pushing my bike down the blue carpet past all of our fellow competitors to our designated transition area, I thought my heart was going to jump out of my chest. However, after Ross’ amazingly hilarious interview expressing how we were going to be the champions of the race and the pronunciation of my surname over the loud speaker, my nerves had calmed down and I was ready to have some fun!
I take my hat off to Carolyn for leading us out; the pressure of going first must have been extremely intense. Not only did they proceed to play music resembling the elimination round of Survivor for the countdown, but she was racing head-to-head against world-class athletes and well-able for them. Both the lads were absolute machines and it was clear they put everything on the line and emptied their tanks. I must admit that we thought Diarmaid had heat stroke due to his crab like run down the blue carpet towards the finish line which was followed by a small stumble. Every ITU medic clearly had the same thought, as when he crossed the line he was greeted by a crowd of officials who proceeded to feed him water and sponge him down like a king. I was half expecting people to jump out with palm tree leaves and start fanning him down.
After the race, we met up with the Belpark crowd for some much needed relaxation in the sun with some food and drinks. Belpark proceeded to head off for a spin up some mountain nearby, as we felt guilty for not participating we decided to do our own exercise and have a competition by investigating Newtons 2nd law: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction i.e. executing the perfect cannonball dive off a diving board into lake – Carolyn won with a score of 10. Of course we went out that evening for fine cuisine which consisted of a never ending supply of tapas, wine/beer, the Belpark crew and of course the amazing Joanne. Due to the tremendous amount of calories burnt in our 20 minute race, we all agreed that gelato was well deserved, where Ross was as classy as ever and got the dark chocolate flavour, which I honestly didn’t even know existed.
The following day we were up not so bright, but early to begin our venture back to Ireland, where a clear bond between us had formed, which is pretty incredible and refreshing. I personally believe this was the best race of my season, which I know is not saying much considering I was injured for most of it, but I gave it everything and pushed to the very end. Every team member raced unbelievably and I could not be more proud of them! It was an honour and privilege to have raced with each one of you. You are all amazing athletes and even better people and friends! Joanne this includes you too! Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better trip or company. Memories were made for a lifetime and I know there are more epic adventures ahead. I want to thank LTC for this incredible opportunity and all sponsors who help make this adventure become a reality.