North Tipp Sprint Tri Race Report (Nenagh)

Or Viruses, Vertigo & VO2Max

By Derval Cromie

Up at 5am to pop stuff in car, shower, and get bike on. We were heading to my parents in Cork for Easter after the race, so there was a fair bit to load up. Kids were game to come support me in the race and were tucked up with cushions and blankets in the back. Gorgeous morning at sunrise but chilly – thought about the Happy Pear crew who do #swimrise in the Greystones sea – and wondered how they do it. Overnight oats in almond milk & scrambled eggs for breakfast for me. We got away around 6.30, waving goodbye to our mad cockapoo Hugo (our dog) as he wondered when the neighbours were coming round to collect him.

Email info from the N. Tipp Tri people was excellent – clear course and driving route descriptions. Got there at 8am, registration was ever so friendly and relaxed up in the CBS school hall. The school sits above a cinder track where the finish line would later be. Hopped on bike to cycle 400m to transition area behind the swimming pool. Again, relaxed & friendly atmosphere among the marshals & competitors. No-one shouting or haranguing with loudhailers ‘Transition closing in FIVE minutes’. With smaller numbers – (about 260 finishers) – relaxed vibe is possible. Met Sean Farrell and ex-3Der Dave Cahill on my way in – Sean segued into helpful coach mode when he spotted my 2 drinks bottles on the bike – ‘you won’t need more than 1 for a Sprint Tri’. I said ‘I know Sean, the other 1 is my sippy-sippy drinks bottle’ (‘Cos I’m cheeky ). Dave Cahill was sporting his trademark grin – and both seemed in good form. Nice spread of ages in Transition, and a good few university students about – it was the Varsity Nat. Champs.

Set up my stuff, talced shoes & socks a bit more. Also compression socks, Zerod light cycle leggings & a black long-sleeve compression top. It was still very chilly at 8.30am/9, and I knew I’d do better to stay comfortable and warm on bike, given I was in a relatively early swim wave (W3). This Tri was genuinely going to be a training session for me, coming off the back of a lot of illness & injury.

On way out of Transition area, met Stephen Delaney, cycling supremo, TI cycle coach & 3D honorary member. When he heard about my layers lying in wait, I got a firm thumbs up. He felt that lots of people would be chilled on the cycle. Also got some tips from him re racing in Rotterdam in September in the AG World Champs – where the cycle is draft legal (how to do that??!! when Tri cycling is basically an individual Time Trial...) Sam, my husband and biggest facilitator of all this Triathlon lark, rocked up for the chat as well. And we shared a good laugh with Stephen about his longest-transition-ever. A chilly 2-lap sea swim meant he came out with ice-block hands, and a slightly over-zealous Order of Malta crew spirited him into the First Aid tent before he could say ‘Boo!’ 28 minutes later, he managed to sneak away. So...however long it took me to get my layers on – I probably wouldn’t beat his record!                

I had been experiencing nerves around this first Tri of the season a couple of days previously – normal, I guess. My biggest question was would I actually get thro’ it? Given I had no real cycle/run training behind me, dating from early Dec? (Bar a few walk/jog stints with Mr. Hugo in the Phoenix Park) Given dodgy knees. Given a grand total of 45 & 30 minutes easy park cycling in the 2 weeks before? Given the rake of viruses I’ve had, and the 10-day episode of Vertigo?

But then, I took hold of myself, and reminded my little brain that a) I’m not training for the Olympics

b)This is a ‘hobby’ – I don’t love that word – but effectively, I’m not a pro at this, no-one’s paying me, and I’ve got to enjoy it ultimately

So, the watchword became ‘Relax’, ‘Race within yourself’, ‘See how everything holds up on the run. If I’ve to walk, or pull out to protect the knees – so be it. I’ll still have had a good swim & bike’

You probably wouldn’t do triathlon unless you like to push yourself a bit etc. But sometimes that drive to get it all perfect can be our worst enemy. And prevent us from enjoying the journey as well as the races.

The funniest thing for me this past week was the response I got from 2 triathlete/cycle blokes in both Base2Race & 360 Cycles in Clontarf. Got chatting (as you do – my nearly 16 yr old daughter says I’d talk to a broom handle) to both guys about Nenagh, and all me woes in the lead-up. Very much saying I had to keep Heart Rate down, do it/view it as a training session, pace it/race within myself. Both of them said ‘Ah, no – GO for it’ One of them repeatedly said ‘It’s a RACE’ Not having REALLY heard a single word of what I’d said. Or was it the testosterone talking?? Answers on a postcard please... the the race. Kept warm in the locker area behind pool with a hoodie, leggings and runners on right thro’ til after our swim wave briefing. Lockers just behind pool meant I could do this. Had done some dynamic warm-ups outside pool already (gentle high leg lifts/gentle strides/gentle but quick running on spot). Don’t like taking on water in the hour before a swim generally, but had recently read that you can swish a liquid around your mouth, and some of it is absorbed by the mucosal membranes there. Without it sitting in your stomach. So that worked for me when I felt the mouth was dry.  

Lane 4 cleared the earliest of swimmers from Wave 2, so got in and got about 4 lengths warm-up done, and 2 small spurts. It was then time to decide swimmer order in the lane. We had all estimated 15 mins and the first 4 piped up pretty strongly their desired place. So, I happily went 5th, knowing that I might well get ahead of the bigger guy in 4th place as the lengths went on.

 Kept a good pace for first 4-5 lengths in line with recent Fri night swims in Belvo (where we’re replicating Sprint Tri swim pattern – 6x fast 25s, followed by steady 500m, with 2 strong 50m to finish). But then settled down, and coached self thro’ with my ‘Reach & Roll’ mantra. I did not push the swim because I knew I needed petrol in the tank for the bike (and the run). Tired a bit towards end, but just focused on keeping good stroke form, and continuing a solid flutter kick in my legs. Happy when I got the tap for 2 to go – had passed out swimmer no. 4 around length 20. Got out with no dizziness kicking in when I got vertical, able to jog out to bike (only 40/50m away). Was not tired at all from swim (16.50) And then...It was a 7-minute job to get all those layers on!! Transition queen I ain’t – well certainly not yesterday.

Felt good on the bike for the first 5k (don’t we all). Pushed into the bigger ring only once on a downhill, but realised it would ultimately cost me to push it this way. So cycled smart by dialling back to smaller ring & spinning away. The fabulous Maire Fox had passed on her first set of Tri bars to me last season, and they had really made a difference. Enjoyed the way they save your arms & upper body here too. The course was a fairly flat out and back, with the usual longish undulations that you get in Midlands Ireland. You’d plenty of room to cycle just inside hard shoulder, and road surface was generally good. Just a few gravelly bits. Early enough so traffic wasn’t heavy, and car drivers were respectful. It was well marshalled at all the crucial points. So, I didn’t get overtaken on the cycle, but steadily overtook a good few Wave 2-ers who probably had slower swims, and were maybe newish to Tri. That was a wee confidence boost. I didn’t chase anyone down, just kept spinning away steadily, and constantly adjusting gears for steady cadence. So, why the emphasis on steady-as-you-go?

I’ve been going into Dr. Beata Kis in TCD’s Human Performance Lab as she is conducting a study on sub-elite Female Triathletes. Bea is also a 3D member who I see every Mon & Fri at 3D & TI Belvo swims respectively. (Warning – this gets a bit geeky – Google if need to!) Key element was the VO2 Max test session. I had quite a good lactate threshold:  it’s 140 bpm HR. And got my 3 key training zones by HR out as well. I’m not doing Bea’s FTP test just yet given my recent meds/illness profile. But they’re seeing me on a weekly basis to help me out of the viral/vertigo pit! Her supervisor Dr. Nicholas Mahony (double doc – physician & PhD), really insisted I stay below 130-135 HR throughout the race to protect me from lactate fatigue setting in and/or getting sick again. I had got a borrowed HR monitor working (thank you Claire Jones). But then fiddled with settings too much, and couldn’t work it out in time for having to leave transition. So, just used perceived effort, breathing, and sense of muscle fatigue to monitor myself.

Back to cycle! Felt fine at turnaround point, but had noticed how oncoming cyclists looked quite tired & slow as they headed back to T2. There was a headwind which had been pointed out at Race Briefing, but it was okay. Found there were more long slow downhills on way back, and spun handily down them. Finally seemed to get my bit of nutrition right at this event. Gels and me have not been friends in the past. But took half a gel over 3 different timepoints, sipping an electrolyte & magnesium solution (Zero) along the way. Got energy boost, stomach fine.

Again, still overtook a couple of people. And no-one passed me on bike at all – again nice for confidence. Nearing dismount, forgot about reefing feet out of bike shoes, and cycling last 200 with them on top of shoes. (Mea culpa, Tim Downing – I need refresher brick training big-time!) But, I DID do the leg over crossbar and perching on one pedal thing before dismount. Only to realise as I approached the marshal that I had neglected to unclip from the pedal both legs were now perched on!! I was approaching slowly enough that I’d time to say ‘Help, I forgot to unclip!’ And the marshal grabbed my arm, saying ‘Well, I’m not going to feckin’ let you fall over, anyway! ‘Lovely touches from so many of the marshals in Nenagh – really found them a relaxed and helpful bunch. Cycle was 48 mins.

Pulled off the long-sleeve top in T2, but left the leggings on, and tucked them under the tri-shorts on each leg (they’re single-leg leggings). Just so the visuals would be better. LOL Currently...I would say I do not look at my best mid-triathlon...understatement of year! Stephen Smyth has some fairly dubious pics of me that I have paid him big money to hide. (Ahem!) Did not feel too jelly-legged on run, and had read route description in detail, so I knew what was coming up after each turn. I was not going fast, just maintaining a short stride, but good cadence. Trying to ‘chi’ run, lifting knees, mid-strike foot land, leaning a little forward, pumping arms nicely. I had done a lot of taping around knee, back of calves, back of hamstrings. Just to support all those areas. And was delighted that right knee especially was holding up. Have had patellar tendonitis & medial collateral ligament trouble in that knee since Xmas.

Walked 2 mins about half-way to bring HR down (up a hill). If Andy Kinane can do it in an Ironman, and still smash a great time, I’m game for that! Felt comfortable until 27 mins in, when Mr. Lactate kicked in in the calves, and the great slow-down commenced.  Fair few hilly bits on this run route – and I was passed by about 6 other runners. But they were on a different track from me yesterday, and victory for me would be finishing, and finishing comfortably, not busting a gut. Walked another 30 secs about 500m from finish, again to get HR down. Both times, felt the benefit of doing this when I set off again. Everything felt better. Got into the CBS school grounds, directed down a wee slope to the cinder track, and finished strong! Cheered by my husband & daughter up on the bank, and a few other supporters too. They both said I looked comfortable when they caught me racing in and out of Transition, and same with pool. Run was 34 mins, pleased enough with that. Best in a Tri so far is 29+ mins in Clogherhead last September. Parkrun PB is 26 mins.

To put all my niggle/viral gripes in perspective, I met Jennifer above the finish line. She was at the Women in Tri Leadership seminar I attended with Jean Wallace recently for 3D. She had just raced for the first time in quite a while, 3 weeks after completing her last chemotherapy session. Said her legs felt like she was going thro’ treacle on the bike, but she made it... #RESPECT...Puts it all in perspective.

Other great moments – watching Sean Farrell run strongly out of T2, and hearing from him later that he’d won his AG! The showers afterwards – bliss! Wish all the OW-based Tri events had them too. The sandwiches, sausage rolls, wraps, jelly bowls, jaffa cakes, crisps that Nenagh Tri club served in the CBS school hall above the finish – such a nice touch. I mostly munched on the fillings! Mushroom soup in the Abbey Court Hotel before hitting the road. Seeing varsity heads like Con O’Doherty, Aichlinn O’Reilly round the place. Con set a new course record. The chat among the triathletes. The fuzzy sleepy feeling kicking in about 1.5 hrs after finishing, and dozing on the journey to Cork.

For me, the past 4 mths have been a bit of a pain in Tri terms, with a lot of illness and injury holding me back from training, and feeling good. 5 wks lost over that viral cough at Xmas was particularly yuck, and vertigo-induced drunken walking gait was not pretty either. BUT, it has totally pushed me to start taking nutrition, sleep, prehab, S&C, need for physio seriously. And I’m motivated and happy to be working on those, and making the choices that’ll help me train and compete better ultimately. Two of the biggest helps in the past 2 wks have been physio & yoga. Got a month’s Unlimited pass for a yoga/Pilates studio. I’ve yoga’d the clappers out of me over that period (5-6 classes p/wk), and have noticed huge increase in muscle strength, core stability & flexibility. This def got me thro’ Nenagh. As did 2 key physio sessions with Suzy Macken.

I also need to dial down the obsessional element, and choose enjoyment & being relaxed around racing more. We have tremendous triathletes in 3D, and I look up to them. But I may not ever be at their level – and given my age profile – maybe never. But I can keep training, have a goal most seasons (like Rotterdam this year, but could be doing more OW/Leinster sea swims next), and love the craic and camaraderie that is in the club. So, if you’re reading this, and you’re fairly new to Tri, take it handy – you’ve plenty of time to get to know stuff, and to learn what does/doesn’t work. And it’s different for everyone, and preferences may even change from season to season. And for anyone with injury struggles – it’s possible to get thro’. I needed this early season Tri, and it’s been a boost to do it.

And I love the injection of new blood we get from all you new people out there in 3D – so keep bringing it on! Fantastic that you all had such a good day in Portlaoise. I really recommend this North Tipp Sprint Tri for early-season racing for anyone not doing Portlaoise.

And lastly...I want to say a massive thank you to one Tania Finn. Our car went kaput this past week. And car-hire was pretty prohibitive over the Easter w/end. We would not have made it so comfortably to Nenagh or on to my parents without Tania. Because...she lent us her car with great generosity.  Super-grateful.  Go 3D! #clubspirit