I haven’t done one of these in a long time, primarily because I’ve barely been doing any running. I picked up an injury in Killarney which put me out of action for three weeks, then just as I was easing my way back into things the World Cup came along. I know that needn’t necessarily have been detrimental to my training but I have a neighbour who (a) was on an extended work break for the duration of the World Cup, and so was watching every match and (b) who is firmly of the opinion that you have to drink when you’re watching football. When you add that to my love of themed nights, eg home made tapas and loads of rioja for Spain matches, hot dogs, burgers and loads of Pabst Blue Ribbon for USA matches etc, and then throw in the number of late kick-offs and extra time/penalty shoot-outs it means that my ‘training’ has been shambolic for the last four weeks.
I was originally intending to do the Marathon des Escargot in Portarlington this weekend, but once I picked up my injury in Killarney I thought better of it. I really didn’t fancy going into a marathon half cocked, and potentially pick up another injury which might put me out for another block of time. My Hamburg partner had somehow managed to wangle a bit of free time from his job so was making a flying visit home this weekend, and he’d mentioned doing a duathlon or something short while he was here. It so happened that Donadea duathlon was on, is quite close to us and is a race I’ve done a couple of times before and really enjoyed. A few more said they’d do it – my good wife Brid, World Cup aficionado Benny, fellow Killarney competitor (and colleague) Claire and her husband and friend of ours of many, many years, Old Man Pony.
I had no real target for Donadea, other than fitting into my tri-shorts and top without looking like an overstuffed sausage. As I said, I’ve barely been training of late, but at least no matter how painful it might be it’s only a short race – 3km run, 21km cycle, 2.75km run. I had been hoping to beat last year’s time but when the official at the start made an announcement to say that, contrary to the race briefing two minutes earlier, drafting would not be allowed in this race I didn’t think there’d be much chance of that. I was part of a chain gang last year for almost the entire bike leg, everyone (bar one freeloader) putting in a really good shift and we did a cracking time. Taking turns like that, and drafting, also meant that you were able to get some respite and able to go into the last run leg with slightly fresher legs. It didn’t really make a difference to me either way though, if you could draft, great, if not that was fine too. I just hoped that whatever the rules were that they’d be applied fairly and equally.
Benny of course lined up right at the front with all the really quick folks (which in fairness he is too), I was a little more circumspect and realistic and lined up a little further back. It didn’t stop a huge wave of people all coming storming past me right from the off, and I was already going far quicker than I wanted to be. Still, I’ve done enough of these now to know that that’s always the case, so I just ignored everyone else and ran my own race, which at this point just consisted of me getting my breathing and heart rate under control. Having not ran anything like this fast in a long time it definitely hurt but I as I said, it’s a nice short run leg so I knew I’d be out on the bike soon enough.
Out on to the bike then and I was able to make up quite a few places very quickly. I’m not a particularly strong cyclist, but I do have a pretty cool bike, which definitely makes a difference. The very pro looking black bar tape I got on it at the last service is good for at least a couple of km/h too. That didn’t stop a couple of people from coming past me though, a girl on a Specialised with some very nice wheels and a gentleman who was right on her tail, passing her I presumed as we were clearly told no drafting before the race started. I then presumed he mustn’t have heard that particular part of the briefing as he sat on her tail, right in her slipstream for some time. Either that or he was just shamelessly cheating. This annoyed me a bit so I upped the pace sufficiently to catch, and then pass them, only to see them, in tandem, coming back past me. So I passed them again only to have them come past me again, but now there were three in their little group. Until we passed another group and another couple of people latched on to their little train.
I pulled wide or in to the side when they passed me so as not to be drafting off them, but it was bloody tiring up there on the moral high ground so I ended up falling back a bit, consoling myself that at least I was racing under my own steam and abiding by the rules. I was just wondering where the bike marshals were at that point when one went passed me and caught the little breakaway group up the road. He pulled right alongside them for a minute, I thought to admonish or warn someone, but he must have missed that part of the briefing as well and as soon as they were round the bend they’d been approaching he cleared off into the distance. The rest of the bike leg turned out to be quite a lonely affair, I felt like a sprinter who’d been spat out the back of the peloton after the first day of the Giro in the Pyrenees. I was caught by another group just before the end of the bike leg and felt like I must have been the only eejit who wasn’t drafting. It’s something that bugs me in any race that has a bike element to it, and I know it’s becoming more and more of a problem in triathlon, but at least my time was my time and entirely down to me.
I was a little bit disheartened starting the second run leg. My legs were that horrible combination of numb and on fire that you only get trying to run off the bike, and all I kept think was that I’d had to use loads more energy on the bike than the last time I did this race. I’d been hoping to beat last year’s time of 1:11:08 but couldn’t see that happening now. My first run leg this time was 13 minutes something, considerably better than my previous time of 15:27, helped no doubt by being there on time and actually being able to start with everyone else and not a minute after they’d all gone. With the cycle though I was sure I was probably slower than last time out and for the last run leg it felt like I was kind of plodding. Every time I looked at my Garmin too it was saying 4:40/km or slower, which was way slower than I needed to be if I wanted to get near last year’s time. With a few hundred metres to go though the course opens up, comes out from under all the trees and all of a sudden my Garmin was reading 4:00/km. I remembered then how tree coverage can play havoc with GPS, and how my readings in Killarney were all over the place because of it. I got a bit of a wiggle on then, the finish line was just round the corner and as it came into view I saw the clock tick over to 1:09, which came as a huge surprise. I legged it to the finish then managing to get over the line in 1:09:18, a time I was absolutely delighted with. After staggering around for a bit and gathering my breath I saw Benny who’d turned in a fantastic time of 1:05:14 for 37th place.
We headed over the bike rack area to cheer on the rest of our crew, the first of whom through there was Brid who was after putting in a great shift on the bike and leaving the others trailing in her wake. A couple of minutes later I saw Pony mooching around the bikes, but not the other two. Apparently Claire ‘Notions’ Lee and Skippy were engrossed in a conversation about cheese so Pony had left them to it. The three of them set out on the last leg of their ambling tour of north Kildare while I accompanied Benny back over to his favourite place, the post race refreshments stall. Brid was the next one of our group across the line in 1:36:41, while a few minutes later it looked like the other three were going to cross the line in unison until Claire snaked ahead in the last five yards to finish in 1:39:03, Pony and Skippy coming in one and two seconds later respectively.
Grumbling about drafting aside it was a really good race. I always like doing Donadea, it’s a good course, not too far from home, great refreshments afterwards and a good way to shock the body back into action after a period of inactivity.