Staffordshire is a landlocked county in the West Midlands of England. It adjoins Cheshire to the north-west, Derbyshire and Leicestershire to the east, Warwickshire to the south-east, West Midlands and Worcestershire to the south and Shropshire to the west. Staffordshire is also home to the highest village in Britain, Flash. Last weekend it was also the location for the IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire race. IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire consisted of a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim in Chasewater reservoir, followed by a 56-mile (90 km) bike course through the stunning countryside outside Lichfield, Burton-upon-Trent, and across Cannock Chase, an area of outstanding natural beauty. The event culminated in a 13.1-mile (21 km) run, that started and finished at the historic Shugborough country estate, the former ancestral home of Lord Anson. What Lord Anson would have made of nearly 2,300 lycra-clad triathletes invading his private estate is anybody’s guess, but that’s exactly what happened last Sunday. Blackwater Triathlon Club’s former secretary, Niamh Fleming, is no stranger to half Ironman distance races, having completed quite a few over the years.
Inspired by the activities of his sister and having read Gerry Duffy’s excellent book “Tick, Tock, Ten”, Niamh’s brother, Declan, decided he’d like to give the distance a go. Since Declan lives in Birmingham they decided that the IRONMAN 70.3 Staffordshire would be a convenient event to aim for. So last weekend, accompanied by a sterling support crew consisting of Declan’s wife Hilda, Niamh and Declan’s brother Donal (Who had travelled from Hawaii to support his siblings), and fellow BTC member Julian Boeg the intrepid duo began their assault on IRONMAN 70.3 glory. As it turned out a level headed support crew was vitally important as a couple of mishaps threatened to sabotage their efforts before the race had even begun.
Like 70.3 Dublin and many other IRONMAN events these days the transitions T1 and T2 were situated about 30km apart. As a result the logistics of getting bikes and running gear to their correct locations, checking in the bikes, having a look at the swim start and exit was an endurance event in itself. None of this was helped by the beautiful summer weather and temperatures well in to the thirties. After registering on Friday evening the first not so minor mishap occurred when Julian accidentally reversed into a pole… with the bikes on a rack at the back! While anyone who transports bikes regularly will know that this is an incredibly easy thing to happen, it couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Declan’s bike took the brunt of the damage and his back wheel was bent right out of shape along with the hanger.
Fortunately Niamh’s bike was between Declan’s and Julian’s and turned in the opposite direction so only needed a single spoke to be replaced. The one saving grace they had was that race wasn’t until Sunday, so bright and early on Saturday morning they were outside the local bike shop as it opened. The staff in the bike shop were incredibly helpful and instantly reassuring and got to work straight away. A few hours later with freshly repaired bikes it was time to head back to Chasewater to rack the bikes and bike bags. Then it was a mad dash against the clock to get back to Shugborough to put in the run bags.
Unfortunately an incorrect postcode entered into the SatNav meant that the team headed in the wrong direction and by the time they had realised their error and got back on course the transition closure time had come and gone. I think it’s safe to say that the resulting conversation in the car would not be appropriate to publish. Fortunately the crew manning the transition area were very understanding and were actually aware of the accident, asking “Oh! Were you the ones with the pole? “. The BTC contingent was now famous even if it was for all the wrong reasons!
So Sunday dawned bright and sunny and very warm. Everyone got up good and early and Niamh and Declan got the shuttle bus from Shugborough to Chasewatwer. Once again things weren’t as simple as they seemed though. The bus was a double decker which went a route that included a low bridge. The driver had a wonderful idea to try a 3 point turn, but thankfully abandoned the idea before he got completely stuck there. They eventually made it to the transition area but after hydrating well the day before they were in dire need of the portaloos. Being in the later wave starts they thought they had enough time to put our water bottles and nutrition on our bikes and didn’t hear them call that it was about to close. Thankfully one of the stewards took pity on them and allowed them a 2 second dash in and out.
Finally they were at the start line and the only thing they had to deal with now was the race itself, and the thirty degree plus temperatures. The water temperature was a balmy 20d but several people who had done up their wetsuits too early got cold shock as they entered such was the temperature that early in the morning. Niamh flew though the lake swim, which was very well marked with easily visible buoys. Out on the bike she was keen to know what she could manage and threw caution to the wind and pushed hard. The route was never boring, undulating with most of the climbing towards the end. The course was often very technical with lots of fast descents followed by tight corners. One nice fast descent ended in a 90 degree left hand turn, followed immediately by a 10 degree gradient climb. This caused mayhem as so many of the cyclists weren’t prepared with the right gear for the climb and got stopped in their tracks. It just goes to show how important it is to reconnoiter the course beforehand if at all possible.
Anyone who has ever cycled with Niamh would know that she’s an absolute demon going down hills. Unfortunately every time she started to get speed up on a good descent, it was ruined by a 90 degree right or left turn with overly cautious (what some people would refer to as sane cyclists!!) cyclists in front of her nervously negotiating the turns. Despite the frustrations of being held up so often Niamh was very happy with her cycle, completing the 90 km at an average of 27.2 km/h. Next was the half marathon distance run, in searing heat. Having pushed hard on the bike Niamh was tired on the run, but managed to nurse herself around, walking, jogging and crawling if necessary, just to keep moving forward. She took on water and cola at every feed station and poured countless cups of water over her head, and went under every water spray and hose on the course in an effort to stay cool.
The locals were great, all out in their deck chairs and they never stopped cheering. The relief of going down the finish line was enormous as she crossed the line in a brilliant time of 7:07:29. She was a very happy lady to have finished and she was even happier a little while later when Declan crossed the line too, also with a big smile on his face. Well done to Niamh and Declan and all the triathletes who took part on the day. Despite the setbacks they came through with flying colours, thanks in no small part to their loyal support crew. Once again the IRONMAN organisers ran a brilliant, well organised, friendly event and every triathlete should aim to compete in one some day.
Lough Derg Triathlon
In a busy Triathlon weekend, Blackwater Triathlon Club members Paddy Coughlan and Kevin O’Farrell, took on the Lough Derg Try-a-tri event on Saturday the 17th of June. The Lough Derg Sprint is an open water sprint triathlon that takes place in Dromineer (close to Nenagh) each year. This year the organisers offered a Try-A-Tri event for people new to triathlons. It consisted of a 300m Swim, a 15km cycle and a 3km Run. It was the first time taking part in a triathlon for both Paddy and Kevin and they were understandably a little nervous as they lined up on the shore of Lough Derg, with 33 other triathletes, on a gloriously sunny morning. Just under an hour later Paddy crossed the finish line (59:28), with Kevin finishing just a couple of minutes later (1:02:04). They both really enjoyed the experience and felt that they have learned a lot from it. Getting that first triathlon completed is a huge moment for all triathletes and hopefully this will just be the first of many for Paddy and Kevin.
The Monkstown sprint triathlon also took place on Saturday the 17th of June and The Blackwater Triathlon Club was ably represented by Karen McNamara and Dave McGrath. Over 120 athletes competed on the day. Once again the distances involved were a 750m swim, a 20km cycle and a 5km run. Conditions were very warm, but calm, on the day with a lovely calm swim followed by a hilly cycle course and a nice 5km on a different course from the cycle to finish. Karen finished in 1:31:29 but, like everyone who took part on the day, found the warm conditions quite challenging. Dave came home a couple of minutes behind Karen in a time of 1:35:45. Dave found the transition from the swim to the bike to be the most difficult part of the day. All in all it was a good day out for both of them. Well done to both of them and to the organisers for another good triathlon day out.
The Hook or by CrookTriathlon
The AirPower Hook or By Crook Triathlon took place in Dunmore East, Co. Waterford on Saturday the 17th of June. This sprint distance event, which was organised by the Waterford Triathlon Club, consisted of a beach-to-beach 750 meter swim, an out-and-back 20km cycle on the Dunmore to Waterford road and a 5km run. This year the route of the run was changed, with a large section taking place on the local golf course, finishing at the golf club itself. Having taken part last year, Blackwater Triathlon Club members Brian Baker and Mark Ryan decided to head down to Dunmore East again to join nearly 300 other athletes on the day.
Conditions were excellent on the day, albeit a little on the warm side, with blue skies and bright sunshine as the competitors took to the start line. The sea swim was very pleasant in calm seas with hardly a wave to worry about. The cycle was quite hilly with a big climb on the way out of town and a strong headwind on the way back. The run was also a little hilly but finished with a loop of the headland and a lovely scenic section through the local golf course. Brian baker was the first of the Blackwater contingent home, finishing in 1:17:14, 3rd in his age group. Mark followed soon after in 1:27:12. Well done to both Brian and Mark and everyone who took part on the day. Once again credit must go to Waterford triathlon Club for running an excellent event.