A Super Summer – Ellen Murphy

In News, Race Reports by Joe Johnson2 Comments

Prop your feet up and get comfy, get a nice cup of tea and sit back for a thoroughly enjoyable read and experience life as a CAT1 athlete. Well done on an amazing season Ellen. Class..


2016 was my second year of racing the Triathlon Ireland Super Series for Cat 1 athletes. The series differed from 2015 in that 5 out of 6 races were sprint distance and the initial plan was for all of the races to be draft legal (Hell of the West later reverted to non drafting). There was hope too that bigger numbers of female athletes would participate than in 2015. I decided to sign up for all six races and initially toyed with the idea of including Lost Sheep in race program but then decided that mixing sprint and middle distance races wasn’t really compatible (though Heather Foley later proved otherwise!!). Brendan C. also signed up for pretty much same race schedule as me which really added to the enjoyment in that we could travel & compete together. We could probably have done a joint season review –but that might have been a bit too cheesy!!

Pre-triathlon season and in preparation for draft legal racing, I dabbled with a small bit of bike-racing. I stuck to female-only races, and absolutely loved them all. I would highly recommend to other triathletes to give them a go- even just to experience the acceleration & surges of the top female road racers once they get into attack mode. I also did a small duathlon & 10 mile road race. Most importantly unlike other years, I managed a mainly injury free & consistent build up over the Winter & Spring [aside from a two month hiatus from swimming due to hurting my shoulder falling off a turbo – but not sure I should admit to this]

Before the first super series race of season in Derry, there was the important business of Belpark Club Champs which was the ‘race within the race’ at Westport National Series event in early June. Westport was a stunning location & staff at Westport Coast Hotel where a big bunch of Belparkers stayed could not have been nicer. 02-podiumatwestportMy urgent appeal the night before race for “vats of porridge” to be ready at 8am sharp was just one of the request they happily compiled with. I felt extreme, almost crippling nerves beforehand– not just about trying to defend cup I had won in 2015, but also because this would be the first test of what the form was like in 2016. The first race of year always brings up fears for me of getting bashed in the swim, or messing up transitions. No niggles also meant I had no ready made excuses. This brings an added pressure. I felt relatively controlled on swim & bike, and then I really emptied the tank on the run. I was delighted to take 2nd overall in race behind the winner Laura Tighe, and managed to hold off 3rd placed Derval Devaney in race for Belpark Champs. I was so disappointed for Sally McHugh though as she unfortunately broke her elbow which ruled her out of the rest of season. Sally had signed up for super series and I had been really excited about racing with her.

One week later was the Firmus City of Derry Superseries. Brendan and I stayed literally 50 metres from race start in City of Derry Hotel– which was just as well given the 8am race start time. The age-group race was even earlier with first wave off at 6.30am. Happy to report that porridge was available from 5.30 am on this occasion! Though I had a recovery focused week after Westport, I had managed to acquire a minor calf strain two days before the race. I stayed off my feet as much as possible & purchased every sort of aid that might help (heat patches, kniseo tape, nurfon, calf compression socks, holy medals!) My normal pre-race training schedule was replaced by hours in the hotel jacuzzi trying to relax the calf! On race morning I was still unsure if I would be able to bike or run properly but thought better to start in any case. A fast flowing river meant I limited my time losses on swim, and though I exited at end of field, I managed to bike up to a little group of three by end of first bike lap and then broke away from them. I started the run in 10 th place, and felt like I was moving well. The ladies ahead had opened up pretty decent gaps however and I only managed to move up 1 more spot to 9th. Still I finished race with calf in one piece and was happy enough with result against a pretty stellar field. 03-racingwithaileenreidinderryLocal Derry women, double Olympian and Irish superstar triathlete Aileen Reid was the winner of race, with Heather Foley and Laura Tighe in 2nd and 3rd respectively. What a privilege to be able to race against an Olympic athlete like Aileen and equally impressive to see that some of our rising stars like Laura Wylie & Emma Sharkey are able to swim & bike at her level. Overall I was extremely impressed with the whole set up in Derry, which felt very professional and well-run. The looped bike course on closed roads had a little bit of everything – a steady hill, some descending, and technical cornering. The run had two dog- legs which allowed you see exactly where the opposition was at & it included a run over & back over spectacular Peace Bridge. There is talk that it might be an evening race in 2017 which could be really electrifying in city centre location & potentially an ETU level race in future.

A quick turn-around meant that five days later meant Brendan and I were on the road again to race Hell of the West in Kilkee for the Olympic Distance National Champs. Despite starting triathlon in 2009, I had never done this iconic race before. I think the name and the epic horror stories from others about the rough seas, exposed bike and brutal run course had made me chicken out from signing up. A minor panic ensued on Friday when I arrived in Kilkee and decided to do a swim recce only to realise that the left arm of wetsuit had completely ripped off. Thanks so much to Ben Malone who had not only sorted the accommodation for the big Belpark crew but also did a u-turn on his way down to Kilkee & picked up a brand new wetsuit from BasetoRace for me. Despite my new wetsuit (which I love), I had one of my worst swims of the year at HOTW. I never really felt comfortable in stormy conditions and I ended up isolated from bunch fairly on. I did have my own minor Alastair Brownlee moment where I stopped swimming to offer some encouragement to another competitor who was feeling unwell but that probably only delayed me 10 seconds at most. I existed the water in about 13th place but a massive 6 minutes behind some of the ladies who had only been a minute ahead in the sprint distance the week before. I also hadn’t eeked out any real breathing space over strong bikers/runners like Kim Hickey (Pulse), Derval and Aileen Flynn (Piranha) who were hot on my heels out of the water. After about 2km, Kim Hickey went past me on the bike on an uphill and my heart did sink a little bit as I dropped back the obligatory 10 metres – presumably she would now just pull further and further away from me, and the other 2 ladies would soon follow suit. However in previous seasons I‘ve definitely had races where I let self-doubt defeat me before a competitor does, so time for a bit of positive mental attitude. Taking a couple risks going full belt on a downhill section on TT bars, I managed to close back in on Kim and overtook her again. We did have a couple more back n forths during remainder of bike course, and I managed to catch a couple other ladies. Before I even got to half-way mark though Aileen went whirring past me at an astounding speed. What a pity it wasn’t a draft legal race- I would have loved to got aboard that speedster train!! At about 40km to go, Kim overtook me again and for first time put in what felt like a significant amount of distance. I was definitely beginning to feel a little drained now. That HOTW bike course is tough and long at 45km . However again I was really aggressive on last downhill section, and also managed to get feet out of shoes without losing much speed, which meant I closed back in on Kim and we entered transition practically together. I had a good transition and started out on run ahead of Kim . (BTW I had practiced transitions and doing that last downhill on bike the day before-all these marginal gains can be significant at end of race!!) I was still nervous about how my niggly calf would hold up on tough run course – I hadn’t ran on it since Derry, and I think this helped me temper my pace early on. Kim came up past me at about 2km mark, but I managed to get back on her shoulder. The race was on!! We stayed together until 9km mark. Kim seemed stronger on any of uphills and a couple of times she edged away from me, but the elastic never quite broke. It was Pulse’s club race so she had huge support on course. But I equally had brilliant support from Belparkers and other friends – thanks so much to everyone who used up some valuable oxygen to give me a shout on. It all really helped.

It is funny the things which go through your head when you are a ‘one on one’ battle like that. Remembering hard training sessions you had put in, remembering races where your head defeated you before your legs and how the disappointment lingers afterwards, remembering the complex scoring system of superseries & bonus points on offer for national champs and that making up just one spot could make a difference at end of season . Some days you are just mentally tougher than others, and on last downhill, I started to edge slightly away from Kim. Caoimhe Ni Mhurchu came into sight with about 500m to go and in my effort to keep gap on Kim, I passed Caoimhe, and then I spotted Siobhan Gallagher on the last corner, -a chance of another place, I sprinted past her – only 250m left – & then disaster as both my legs & my competitive spirit started to give in – Lynne Algar screaming at me to keep working, lots of cheers for Kim meant that I knew she was still right there and one final slow motion sprint I managed to cross the line, barely holding off Kim, Caoimhe, & Siobhan – after 2.5 hous of racing all 4 of us crossed over line within 12 seconds of each other. I was in 7th place overall. The podium women Laura Tighe, Carolyn Hayes, Heather Foley had significantly outsplit me in swim, bike, run, so I am under no illusion of how high standard is at top of field. However I got a huge buzz from knowing I had given it all on the course & had managed to keep battling throughout the race.

After 3 races in 3 weekends, I was ready for a little mental and physical break, and I spent a few days at home in lovely Dunmore East and allowed calf started to settle down. Part 2 of season report coming soon!

Season Report: Part 2

05-teambronzeatnationalclubrelaysTwo weeks after Hell of the West, it was the Mixed Relay Champs and as there had been so much racing & recovery in June, it wasn’t possible to do a full taper for this particular event. The Belpark team was made up of my two training partners Derval & Brendan C, and talented Belparker Art McManus, (who had taken a pretty lengthy hiatus from triathlon racing but we had convinced with promises of a ‘hug from Bressie’ to make a comeback for the race!) On paper we knew we had a pretty decent team, but that there would be some uber strong opposition from other clubs. I think all four of us were pretty het up by it all in advance- should we wear clip- in pedals, would wetsuits be optional , and also the stress that if you had a bad race, you would be letting your team mates down. The format was female/male/female/male. As anticipated, most clubs put their strongest female swimmer first, and even though it was only 300m swim, I ended up existing in 11th spot and about 1 minute down on a bunch of 7 ahead who were working well together in a bike group. A lung-bursting & heart thumping 6km bike and 1 mile run later & I had managed to close down group, and tagged over to Brendan, in 6th place, but only about 15 seconds down on overall lead. Brendan, Derval and Art all did fantastic races. I think we all preformed to best of our abilities on the day & we were really thrilled to get third place. A bronze medal at National Champs –happy days – and it was really lovely to share podium with such brilliant team-mates!! The only slight concern was that I managed to tweak an old hip injury when cycling home afterwards. {hint, this may become relavant later in the story!]

06-chasinghardatlanesborotri1 week later was the Sprint national champs in Lanesboro, more superseries bonus points offer and it had the biggest female superseries entry of the year. I was resolute to try have a better swim than last two races, and started at a more controlled pace rather than a panic sprint for 100m and then blowing up. My tactic seemed to work. I exited again in my now familiar mid-to-back of pack 12th place –but significantly- the gaps were smaller than in previous races. Within 1km of bike, I had caught Jenny Algar & Paula Burrowes, and the long straight road meant we could see a good number of athletes ahead of us in twos and threes. I was determined to use some of lessons learned from bike racing and started issuing instructions to other women to try work together. My legs felt good and before the half-way mark we had caught 6 others. Jump aboard –lets get this train moving – Finally a chance to be in proper draft legal race with 8 in our group!!! I was taking long pulls at the front and then at one stage I turned around and realised our group had split and only Paula and Niamh Corry were still with me. Paula is a strong biker and I pretty much shared the pacing duties with her for next 8km, but then I did ask Niamh to take an odd turn. Niamh is still a junior and always a super swimmer & very solid runner, & is now developing her strength & skills with draft legal biking. With about 2km to go, I started to think about the run & that it would be nice to have a bit of clear road at start, especially as I knew it would be difficult to beat Niamh in a pure foot race. I put in a small bit of a spurt to see what might happen (okay it was an attack but that’s the excitement of draft legal racing. You have to consider the strengths and weaknesses of athletes around you). I got a gap and entered transition 25 secs ahead of Niamh & Paula. Out on the run, and I passed Laura Wylie. (Laura is on comeback trail after a long lay-off from running –She had a brilliant attitude all year turning up and competing even when not at full fitness) To be honest I didn’t feel great on the run at all. Maybe the bike efforts had cooked the legs a bit. At turn around I was surprised to realise I was in 4th place overall but could see podium was out of reach. Niamh however was worryingly close to me & a determined looking Derval was motoring through the field and up to 6th. Time to hold it together as best I could and get to finish the line. When I came across line in 4th place, I knew logically I had a decent race. I had got the most out of my swim. I had been tactically astute (Niamh’s run split was 8 seconds faster than mine, so that small gap on bike proved crucial), and I had hung tough in the run when I felt like shite. But I did just feel a wave of disappointment. 4th can be a fairly crappy place to finish. However, a few weeks later, I got the welcome news from Triathlon Ireland that as third over the line Emily Wintsch was a Junior International athlete from Great Britain, I was in fact third in the National Champs race & my medal would be awarded at TI awards. I got such a quiet sense of personal satisfaction when I got this news. I know opportunities to win national medals are not easy to come by, especially with so many talented athletes coming into the sport every year and standards rising all the time.

07-lovingtheforestrunatsligoiNext up on superseries calendar was Sligo Triathlon. This was in the stunning Hazlebrook Forest, The day before the lake was super calm which suits me ‘windmilling’ swim style. However next day was much more gusty and I had a particularly bad swim. I never really caught feet. I existed in sixth place as it was quite a small field but there were big, big gaps to ladies ahead. Also I made two mistakes in transition –firstly managing to take my number belt off with my wetsuit and I had to pause to pull it back up and secondly on existing transition – my bike shoe felt off. I let out an all mighty expletive –( and then promptly apologised to marshal standing beside me in case she thought it was somehow directed at her & I’d get a penalty). I finally got going on bike course, cursing myself for loosing valuable seconds. The looped nature of course meant you had a full view of how race was unfolding. I could see Lynne Alagar & Siobhan Gallagher working really efficiently together at the front. Heather Foley was about a minute behind and going on past races would most likely close in on them, and Niamh & Jenny Alagar were further ahead of me than at Lanesboro, but possibly catchable if I kept pushing. By the half-way mark of bike, I caught Jenny Algar and passed her, poor Niamh Corry had unfortunately crashed, which meant I was now in 4th a and still cycling solo. Heather by this time had caught Lynne & Siobhan. I hoped she would jump away from them rather than towing them (and any chance of podium away from me), but the two ladies showed great racing craft, and fought to stay on her wheel even when she attacked. This meant the three of them stayed together and had a significant gap of almost 4 minutes when they started the run . I loved the three lap forest run, which had a nice drag at start of each lap and though I knew I was unlikely to make podium, keep pushing. I managed to get within 40 secs secs of Siobhan who finished 3rd. At the end of race, I was disappointed that my swim had been below my normal levels and it had cost me any chance of a podium spot but I took a lot of heart from how I felt on the run. Roll on DCT, where I knew also that Paula Burrowes was entered and we might be able to work together again to close gaps on fast swimmers like we had in Lanesboro.

08-belparkersontouretubanyoles2 09-belparkersontouretubanyoles Unfortunately however my season unravelled a little bit after Sligo & that dodgy hip never settled down, and I barely ran or biked over next three weeks. Belpark had qualified for European Club Relay Champs in Banyoles, Spain so my physio Eilis Connery advised to not risk aggravating the hip by doing DCT.

10etubanyoleswithbrendanc07-belparkesontour3

At European Champs, our Belpark Team was Jonny Morris, Marie Boland, and Brendan C for and myself. I managed to just about hold my body together for the race & then had to call an end to my season. Though it wasn’t my best performance, I had an amazing experience- diving from a proper pontoon beside Olympic Competiors and triathletes who are on the European Elite circuit. What a brilliant sport triathlon is, and what opportunities it opens up to us!!

Despite season ending slightly sooner than expected, I honestly loved every minute of racing this year. When the final scores in super series were calculated, it turned out I was in 3rd place overall, with Carolyn Hayes in 1st & Heather Foley 2nd. This was a much better result than I could have anticipated at start of year – though I know there are some other super talented athletes were unlucky to miss out due to injury and illnesses. 2016 was definitely my personal best season since starting triathlon

And now for some thank-yous!

Thanks to all the clubs who hosted superseries races & to Triathlon Ireland for having the vision to promote draft legal racing in Ireland. These superseries waves are not currently profit making for clubs so it is really only for a love of the sport that they put them on. Across the series, 39 different women competed at least 1 superseries race, including two other Belparkers Derval Devaney & Marie Boland ( 200% growth on 2015!). Hopefully numbers will continue to grow in 2017.

Massive thanks also to my coach Kevin Keane – I really appreciate Kevin’s continued support and friendship, and his ability to hold me back when needed. I think we both know if left to my own devices, I’d probably be burnt out & not loving and enjoying the sport so much. Eilis Connery is a brilliant physio & friend, and helps keep me in one piece (most of the time); and my main training partners Derval & Brendan C are a great support too. Also a big shout out to all the Belparkers who have kept me company on a bike spin or sea swim or breakfast in UCD. I am so proud to train and race with Belpark – there is always such great comradery among all our members & the fact that Belpark was short-listed for Club of the Year just proves what a great club it is.

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Comments

  1. Helen Holohan

    I can’t believe you fell off a turbo Ellen, although I did do that myself last year…
    Well done on that write-up . It’s really interesting to hear about your experience from the pointy end of the field!

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