My first triathlon – race report

This is my fairly long report from the Westwood annual triathlon which took place on an overcast, cool morning in Clontarf, Dublin yesterday. The distances were 1km swim, 30km cycle, and 10km run. There was also a fun event which was 1/2 distance of the full. The event was in aid of the BubbleGum Club, a childrens charity and a very good cause.

The full-length triathlon started at 7.30am for the first wave. Luckily I was in the second wave so starting at 8.10. I had been up at 6 to eat my breakfast, and get my gear together, so was down nice and early, and got a good spot at the transition area for my bike and gear. I watched the first wave swimmers – one girl did the 1km in 14 minutes! Damn impressive. A couple finished in 16, then the rest finished over the next 15-20 mins, the slowest in the first wave taking around 33 mins I think. The lanes were quite full, about 6 or 7 in each of the 6 lanes, so there was a bit of jostling for the first couple of laps.

First section – 1km swim in Westwood 50m pool

The pool was empty and waiting for the 2nd wave. I was very lucky and got drawn in lane 5 with only 1 other swimmer, and then he didn’t show, leaving me the entire lane to myself – perfect, as the swim is by far and away my weakest section, I didn’t have to contend with people jostling like in some of the other lanes. I think there were about 15 or 16 in total in this wave.

Everyone was in the water and ready to go at about 8.16. The start was in intervals to accomodate the numbers in some of the lanes – I went on the first. First 100m was ok, but I needed 10 seconds to recover before setting out on my 2nd lap. 50 metres later I was at the far end gasping for breath. Needed to sort out my technique – my breathing is all over the place. I knew the theory but haven’t practised enough swimming to be any good at converting that into practise. When I made the 200m I was almost ready to give up – going through my mind was what I’d said to a few people beforehand – if I have to doggy-paddle the whole damn 1km I will, I intend to finish the swim even if I’m here til Tuesday.How I felt on the swim section (image from

Well, it’s obvious I finished it. Nearly went mad talking to myself (300m down, that’s nearly 1/3 way, right? 550 – more than half way – nearly there, etc). Did actually doggy-paddle and breast-stroke some of it too 🙂 And taking 10-45 second breaks at each end on most laps.

Needless to say, I was last of my wave out of the pool, by a good 8-10 mins. I think the swim took me 44 mins, but I’m really not sure at all. My heart was pounding and my head was a daze as I got out. I hadn’t really noticed, but it looked like the 1st wave of the next (half-distance) swimmers had been waiting for me to finish. Nice to have a few people to encourage me on 🙂


First transition was ok, the cold air clearing my dazed head quite a bit, and I was very upbeat as the hardest was behind me. I didn’t rush things, taking my time to get my heart rate back down as I put on the cycle gear. I put my contacts in and cycle shades on. T1 took about a minute I think. Running the bike down to the road and having the Gardai (Irish Police) wave me past stopped traffic was nice.

Second section – 30km bike return trip to Howth Summit

I was confident now. Despite knowing I was at least 10 mins behind the next rider I knew I could finished the triathlon, which had always been my goal. I had done the cycle route recently and am a fairly strong climber which was good for the long gradual rise up to Howth summit. The first 2-3k I took it easy, getting my heartrate down from the swim. I lost one of my contacts at this point but was able to see fine with only one (I’ve done it in enough rugby matches :))

Bike section (image from the first 3k I started to push it, though into the headwind it wasn’t easy. When I got to major junctions it was great to see the Gardai holding up traffic and waving me through the red lights (we had been told that we most obey red lights). After Sutton Cross (about 8k in) I could see the first tailender in the distance, about a 1k or 2 ahead. Caught him and the next rider fairly easily on the start of the climb. I could see riders whizzing down the hill – I was hoping in vain that they were 1st wave (they were not). I caught one more place when I got to the top of the hill – another mountain biker.

Around the island at the Summit Inn, it was great to get onto the downhill section – got down and leaned forward over the bars for max aero position and started flying down. I don’t have a bike computer so I can only guess that I was doing around 30-35mph on the fast sections. Caught 1 more place on the downhill, nice to whizz by 🙂 The rest of the ride was grinding it out to the end – I didn’t come close to catching anyone else (couldn’t even see anyone head of me on the straights).

My gummy bears and bottle of lucozade sport did just the trick to keep me going! Not sure of the timing of the cycle section, I was just concentrating on keeping going at this stage.


Transition 2 was pretty straight forward. I had been spinning in high cadence for the last 1k as advised, so my legs were loose and probably in better shape for coming off the bike than might have been otherwise.

Third section – 10km run return to Bull Island Rd

The first 2k of the run was very hard – feet felt like lead and I was plodding along. My lower back was a bit sore too, I think I need better positioning on the bike – maybe lower the bars even more.

I lost my other contact lens at the start of the run, can’t remember exactly how or when, just sure I had it during the cycle. When I got to the half-distance turn-around (so I was 1/4-way done) I got some water and took a 20 second break. When I got to the bridge at Dollymount house I was a bit confused whether I was to turn onto the bridge and out to the island, or carry on straight down the coast. Not having sight didn’t help 🙂 Luckily there were a few people about for walks and morning jogs – one of them saw my confusion and pointed straight on. (I later found out that at least one person took the right onto the bridge, only to realise it was the wrong way – this section of the route was not signed and ambiguously explained at registration).Run Forest! (image from

Finally I reached the turnaround point on the run and I was delighted to be on the home stretch. On the way back along the coast I met quite a few joggers and roadies out training. One incident was very nice – a guy appeared seemingly out of nowhere and started running beside me, asking me about the triathlon etc. He was in training for a marathon in Copenhagen in 2 weeks time. We had a bit of a chat, and upped the pace a little – I hadn’t been pushing it at all – it was quite motivating to have a running partner for a mile or so. He went his way when we got to the 3/4 distance, and I started pushing it for the last 2.5k. I finally caught someone else who was doing the full event (I had passed a few people doing the half-distance). I took 30 seconds to walk beside him – he had strained his knee. Then I was off, as fast as I could sustain for the last 2k.

I crossed the line at 11.10:49am, so I think I was in under 3 hours, which I’m very happy with. It was my first triathlon and I’m absolutely delighted to have reached the finish line in one piece 🙂

A light jog to warm down, and some stretching in the jacuzzi both saved my legs – they’re fine today albeit a little tired. Can’t have it all!

My preparation.

I was quite unprepared for the event, having decided only 12 days beforehand to participate. I reckoned my general aerobic fitness was close to being good enough to finish – I’d been running and cycling approximately the event distances fairly often recently, and been playing rugby regularly for the last few months. The swim was another matter, but I thought I’d get about 8 practice sessions in before the event. Actually, I had 3 practice sessions (longest distance – 0.6km), and no other swimming in the last 5 years… oh well, like I said, I survived it). I really didn’t want to pull out just because of the swim section – since it was in the pool I decided I would finish somehow. I did cycle and run the full distances on the Thursday before the event which boosted my confidence for those sections quite a bit.

The other preparation I did was good nutrition – and in hindsight I believe it was absolutely crucial to getting me to the end in decent shape. Carb loaded the 2 days before, eating tonnes of pasta and had spag bol before I went to bed on Saturday night. I got up 3 hours before my start time and had the rest of the spag bol for breakfast 🙂 along with a bottle of sports drink. For the bike section I had another bottle of the same and a pack of gummy bears in my jersey pocket for energy replacement, and left bottles of water at the transition point in case I needed more before the run.

After the event I drank another bottle of lucozade sport, a bar of chocolate, about 2 litres of water, a tuna wrap, soup and bread, a pint of Carlsberg, and finished my spaghetti bolognese when I got home. Oh, and dinner that evening 😉 Hungry, eh?

I had my bike (Trek 4300 MTB) set up a little better than most people on MTBs (I have lowered bars and 1.3″ slicks) still not as good as a road bike but close.