Hook or by Crook triathlon organised by Waterford Triathlon Club (WTC) and race director Martin Condon wins the 2018 Triathlon of the year at the Triathlon Ireland Awards night. Myself (Eoin Lyons) and Kieran Jackson had the privilege of collecting the prestigious award on behalf of the club and organising committee. The club took great pride in this achievement and it brought a further sense of unity within a group of like-minded people. When the call came to help out at Irelands largest duathlon in 2019 again run by WTC there was no shortage. You would think the mountain the club was climbing at racing excellence was peaking and then comes along the 2019 triathlon, more formally known as Boland’s BMW Hook or by Crook Festival and Expo.
The weekend kicked off Friday evening at registration in Boland’s BMW Waterford where a more professional setup could not be found, quick registration, pasta party and numerous vendors exhibiting their products or services. Plenty of spot prizes to add to an extra nice taste in your mouth after the grub from “The Reckless Chef”. The only damper was the weather, rain was coming down and only got heavier as the night went on, some say Race Director Martin Condon was seen doing a rain dance with all his clothes inside out (apparently draws out the sun) in an attempt to salvage the race. Whatever he did it worked.
Race morning arrived and the masses ascended on Dunmore East. A golden ray of sun shone over the picturesque village. Looking down at an empty transition or down over the bay from the car park you could only be impressed by the setup, the flags, the colour, the buzz was building. Everything on the morning was compact and smooth, loads of parking, close proximity to transition and registration/expo. An immediate striking feature was the number of volunteers/marshals that were on hand – all kitted out by the WTC club in a commemorative 15th anniversary hoodie.
After bikes were racked, wetsuits donned and lubrication applied to all the sensitive areas the race brief was given and athletes lead to the swim start. This year the race would take on a rolling start (rather than a mass start) to increase competitor safety. Athletes seed themselves as per there perceived ability to complete the 750m open water swim. The top competitors were at the front and race favourite Kieran Jackson (3 time race winner – going for 3 in a row) was at the front along with a host of other contenders that would make a top 10 finish very competitive. The starting gun blew and from here on I can only tell the story within my own race: James Mintern took an early lead into the water but Kieran took control after 100m on the front, the pace was fast and I was sitting on Kieran’s feet. You kind of expect a fast start and hope for it to settle but no such luck, Kieran kept the hard swimming up with Sebastian Helka coming around me to move into 2nd and myself and James swimming side by side into the finish. I exited the water in 4th, my average clocked pace for the 750m as 1.10 per 100m.
As we exited the water I guessed that Kieran had maybe 30-40 seconds of a gap built up. The swim finish is into councillor’s strand and transition is an iconic run up what feels like alpine switchbacks that already takes a little bite out of the bike legs. Onto the 20km bike course and you have to be ready to feel bad early on as from the word go your climbing up to Gaultier. My own race plan was to make it to the front of the race on the bike, do or die and give Kieran a race. This was no mean feat when competing against the national elite squad member. A slight tailwind meant for a very fast first half of the bike where any time that could be made up was going to be on the incline. At the turn around I had moved from 4th to 2nd with Kieran now only 10 seconds ahead. On the way back to Dunmore the constant stream of bikes coming against us was very impressive. Over the next couple of km’s I built up my effort again to pull Kieran back, recover a little and go again for a big push into transition 2 (T2). Delighted with myself I made the pass and drove the bike flat out back to T2 holding a slender 10-15s lead. The support and encouragement over the final few bends and climb into T2 can only be compared to an Ironman event, the roads were lined with people. I clocked and average speed of 40km/hr coming back into T2 in 1st position.
The first km of the run is up hill and crucial to how the race will pan out, the remainder of the 5km run is on the fairways of the Dunmore East golf course. Onto the hill and my slender lead had been demolished by a fast moving Jackson that ran with superb form. I tried to fight back but didn’t have it in my legs after a hard fought bike to get up to the front. Kieran had the race in his hands, I had 2nd place secured with an on course time gap to 3rd coming through to me. Behind a battle was ensuing with only 3 minutes 27 seconds between 3rd and 15th position so there was no let up on the pace – up to 30th was only a further 2 minutes behind. Sebastain Helka held on to his 3rd place position after being heavily pushed by Enda Bagnell and Paul Ogle to name the proceeding 2 athletes. The finish line was electric with athletes coming thick and fast. Triathlon Ireland and BMW’s presence well felt at the line and the back drop of the cliff top view over the golf course topped the race off. I averaged 3.29 per km to finish an overall 2nd – Kieran ran a 16:20 5km to win the race.
On the women’s side there was also a competitive field with Maeve Maher-McWilliams, Amy O’Keeffe and Ellen Murphy finishing in that order. Maeve producing a fantastic performance moving up through the field from 4th exiting the water to 1st into T2. Maeve had finished 2nd in 2018 addition to Ellen and wasn’t going to leave that happen again with a run improvement of almost 2 minutes and an overall improvement of 3 minutes from the previous year. The run course in Dunmore lends itself to an exciting foot race as the course bends and switches regularly allowing athletes to keep an eye on their competition, with only a hand full of seconds between Maeve and Amy this would have been a great race of cat and mouse between the two and a progressing encounter for both to be involved in. Looking down through the results it’s extremely exciting to see that from 4th to 20th position were only separated by 4 minutes 20 seconds which is unheard of in many female races, women in sport 20x20 (www.20x20.ie) this is a statistic to be proud of as well as a participation percentage of over 33% in the event overall.
The race, the finish line, expo and after party were unsurprisingly professional and excellently organised – there was something there for everyone, tug-a-war, bouncy castles etc. The prize giving was as equally professional and gave athletes a real sense of achievement by bringing them onto the stage show casing both the sponsors and athletes themselves. Finally to close out the weekend and the recovery from the race/after party another strong 250 athletes arrived into Dunmore East on Sunday morning for an open water swimming event which showcased a 900m, 1800m and 2700m swimming event. This brought together by the excellent open water swimming committee at WTC and again race director Martin Condon was not only a hugely enjoyable event to take part in but safe as could be. To top it off, all were invited back up to Dunmore East Golf club for food and music.