[Report by Peter Coulahan, video from 2012 event promo]
As I’m not doing an Ironman this year this was always going to be my substitute race. Long enough to require some decent training to be done, not too long that the training would take over my life. I did train well for this until about a month ago when I decided I wasn’t going to do it. I had hit a few 4,000m plus sessions in the pool and one 3,000m plus OW session but hadn’t hit my hoped for target of a couple of 5,000m sessions so decided this race was off. About two weeks ago I began to think maybe I will give it a shot…….hence I found myself registering in Sligo on Friday night almost puking with nerves about the swim.
Route was from Rosses Point to Strandhill in Sligo and was broken into 3 sections:
Section 1: 1km across the channel to Coney Island where you exit the water and run across the corner of the island
Section 2. The main part of the swim, 2.7km across the bay
Section 3. The final part of the swim when you turn for the shore – 2.3km
More route details here.
Standing at the start the heat was intense. There was a river of sweat, sun cream and melted vaseline running down the front of my wetsuit. After a warning at the briefing to make sure we put sunscreen on the soles of our feet we were off.
Despite it being a mass start it was very calm. I started at the rear of the pack to the left. I was stroking very easy. There was none of the usual pushing and jostling you get in a tri swim. This was all about energy conservation. The water was warm, the sky was clear and I was loving it. Sighting was going well and the first km passed in a flash and we were out onto a beach where there was a drinks table and then back into the water on the far side of the beach for section 2 of the swim.
This part of the swim can get very rough, but not this year. It was almost flat calm, or as flat as the Atlantic ever gets. I was loving it. Sighting wasn’t as issue as there were enough of us in the water that I just followed the groups ahead. Once or twice the stroke rate began to go up but I reined it back in. My pacing strategy was to swim with a breath every 3 strokes, I know that if I can swim at this breathing pace then I’m using a controlled effort. The scenery to the left of us on this part of the swim was magnificent, not that I looked at it much, I was too busy swimming. You could see Ben Bulben in all its glory when you looked at the land and this also made you realise how far offshore you are at this part. I was passing quite a few swimmers here. You could see them really clearly in the water and it was interesting to watch the style of the non wetsuit swimmers compared to the wetsuit clad ones. There was a drinks boat located at the buoy marking the end of this section. I didn’t need a drink but had planned to get one in my pre race plan so I briefly stopped for a drink of water and headed on. The gel I had stuffed in the sleeve of my wetsiut remained untouched.
Into the final section of the race and I was shocked to see that I could actually see Strandhill beach. I had been warned before the race though that despite it looking close its still over 2kms away so not to get too excited yet. During this part of the swim I ended up swimming over a large kelp bed in quite shallow water for a bit. The kelp was catching my hands and the rocks looked very close, I was glad there was no big swell and I was happy to leave it. At this point the field seemed to break up and there were fewer swimmers around me. I spotted a skins swimmer and assuming that he would be good at sighting tucked in behind him. After a bit I decided that I was going to speed up a bit as I knew I was getting close to the finish. I ended up veering off course a bit here and a kayak directed me back in the right direction but I don’t reckon I added too much to the route. After a bit I saw the final buoy and headed for it. Rounding the buoy there were 3-4 of us but we couldn’t see which part of the beach to land on. This being Strandhill there was quite a big swell / surf. A speedboat then appeared crewed by 4 bikini clad Sirens whp pointed us in the right direction – I will admit, I did find it hard to concentrate on what they were saying The last couple of hundred meters were the hardest of the swim. It was hard to sight and the surf was throwing us around (there’s a reason why swimming is not permitted in Strandhill) . I eventually got into shallow water and took an age to walk over the stones and rocks to the finish. I could see other finishers coming in along that stretch of beach. I did consider sprinting the last 20m on the beach to over take other swimmers but as no one else seemed bothered I didn’t.
I finished in 1.51.53, 82nd place out of 188 finishers. I was almost 29 minutes behind the winner. I am delighted with that swim. All along my aim was to break 2hrs but I didn’t know if that was possible due to the recent drop of in training. I paced it well (a few quick time checks during the swim suggest my pace stayed constant the whole time), never got tired, had no nutrition issues and felt like I could have gone on for a bit yet. Today I’m thinking that maybe I should have ‘raced’ it after all and pushed harder, but it’s easy to think that in hindsight. On Saturday morning I just wanted to get around. The conditions helped a lot, it would have been a much tougher swim if the weather had been unkind. My overall pace was 1.50/51 per 100m so happy with that. That equates to a sub 1.10 IM swim which has been a target of mine for some time. Maybe I’ll do it again next year when the weather is sure to be much less forgiving.
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