I think tapering for Hardman was having an affect on Lorna as well when she suggested I do another long race to make the most of the training over the last few months! Then this race popped up on Facebook a couple of weeks before Hardman and I thought about it for a few minutes before realising it was only 8days after Hardman and quickly forgetting about it! It popped up again the Thursday we arrived home from Killarney and again Lorna strongly encouraged me to do it! After a short check on the legs (a 2min run to the chippie – I didn’t even run back home!), a quick email to see if the were accepting late entries – oh crap they were – a sleep on it and by Fri evening I’d confirmed!! No idea why – I’d never done races 2 weeks running let alone these distances, had no clue how the body would react – 1.9km swim was in Newry Canal should be OK, 90km bike around south Armagh and North Louth could be challenging and a 21km run from Newry to Warrenpoint and back could be torture.
Race morning was bright, crisp & clear. The set up seemed first class – no problem with my last minute entry and got all the info I needed. I was to be in the last of 3 swim waves which gave me an extra few minutes to savour the atmosphere and chat to a few locals doing their first half ironman – think we were all just as nervous at that stage.
A one way bus journey to the start felt much longer then the 1.9km but the canal was as flat as West Wood’s 50m pool! A short briefing on the pontoon, into the warm canal water and soon the horn went. I’d positioned myself close to the front and was soon in clear water. Felt much better than the swim in Kerry and actually felt like I was “racing” this distance for the first time. Caught a good few of the 2nd wave as the Quays came into sight and then it was along side the boats to the slipway.
Out of the water in 33mins (17th overall), into T1 and a slow change – everything that could go wrong did!
Finally out onto the bike – through the city centre, up the big hill out of Newry, still climbing through Camlough, Beleeks and into Newtownhamilton. Legs were feeling a bit tired at this stage but knew there was about 20km gradual downhill back to Dundalk to recover. Was pretty quiet on the bike route so was really hard to tell how I was going – had a constant felling that I was way towards the back which wan’t nice! Really nice spin back into Dundalk and remember looking at my Garmin and calculating average speed as 30kph – was happy with that. Onto the Carlingford Road – a section I knew like the back of my hand, very happy to pass & ignore the turns for Jenkinstown Hill and the Long Woman’s Grave! Around the Carlingford / Greenore junction the legs started to feel a bit heavy and still about 20km to go – this wasn’t boding well and around here I was dreading the run already! Best thing about it was that I love this stretch of the route – the surface is reasonable but some of the views are amazing – the Cooley’s on one side, Carlingford Lough and the Mourne’s on the other and it was a perfect morning to be out on the bike. Some blatant drafting (105!) kept me amused (and a bit annoyed!) all the way back to Newry. The last 5km was a struggle and whatever was to happen on the run I couldn’t wait to get off the bike! Ended up with 2.48 for the bike leg (20th overall at that stage without knowing it). Looking back I’m delighted with that – around what I was hoping for in Killarney but for whatever reason it didn’t happen down there.
The run was as flat a course as I’ve ever run which was a huge positive and right from the off my legs felt surprisingly good – the first km was about 4.45/km which I knew I couldn’t hold for the distance – dialed it back a bit and settled into a steady pace of around 5min kilometers. The route is a long straight stretch all the way to Warrenpoint along the main duel carriageway. Was nice having runners ahead of you to act as targets but the long straights could be tough – once a thought like that entered my head it was time to look around and again enjoy the scenery of the Cooleys and Carlingford Lough. Winner Brian McCryatal passed me going the other way at my 2km mark – looked like he was flying and seemed so easy – what I wouldn’t have given to swap places at that stage!
A quick gel at the aid station about 7km in and I was was still feeling good – the aim at this stage was to keep to the 5min/km until about 15km and see what happens then! Past the Narrow Water Castle, turnaround in Warrenpoint and back out the same way, another gel at about 14km and was still feeling OK – pushed the pace a bit and had a couple of nice targets in the distance. Was surprisingly enjoying the run at this stage and was holding pace really well. Came back in towards the Dublin Rd Bridge in Newry thinking the run was going to be a little short but delighted that the finish was just around the corner only to be directed straight on!! Couldn’t believe it – heart sank for a few minutes thinking there was more to go! No choice but to get over it – couldn’t be more than a km to go so just pushed on across another bridge back down by the Buttercrane – past drafter 105 – which really made me smile! Onto the blue carpet finish shoot outside the Quays to finish the run in 1.49, total time of 5hr 16min – 21st overall. A huge PB for this distance – a nice birthday present to myself!! Delighted with the result – probably one of the most satisfying races I’ve done – maybe it was the lack of expectation I put on myself, the feeling of actually racing this distance as opposed to surviving it or just actually enjoying it – there’s a lesson in there somewhere!
For the first year of the race I have to say it was superbly organised, the marshaling was brilliant throughout, the swim was lovely, bike was challenging but fair and the run was surprisingly nice once you looked up! The atmosphere at the finish was great with loads of people hanging around, stage and live music, nice spread of food, teas and coffees. Well done to Newry City Council and to all involved for organising the Festival of water – it also included a sprint distance race and a kids duathlon. Will hopefully be back for it next year – would a sub 5hr be possible?!
Big thanks to Lorna again – her faith in my ability to do this one was much stronger than mine – I definitely wouldn’t have entered without her pushing me on this one!