FAST-paced fun in the heart of summer surrounded by beautiful scenery...
These are just a few of the reasons that the King Of The Hill (KOTH) sprint triathlon held in Kinsale for the past two decades has been a sell-out.
The event, which is hosted by the Cork Triathlon Club (CTC), consists of a 750m swim in calm waters, a scenic 23km cycle out to Garretstown and back, and a hilly 5km run to the finish line — from which the race earned its apt name.
The swim-bike-run event takes place at Dock beach on July 27 and this year is marking its 20th anniversary.
From meagre beginnings of just 45-50 participants to 300 sprint triathletes, as well as 20 juniors and 20 relays, the logistics and organisation of KOTH has grown with its popularity.
This year, the man at the helm for the event is race director James Fahey. He has been a member of Cork Triathlon Club since 2013 and been involved in marshalling the past five KOTH races.
The 37-year-old triathlete said: “CTC organises two races a year, KOTH in Kinsale and The Lost Sheep in Kenmare. For the past five years, I’ve competed in the Lost Sheep so by default I’ve ended up marshalling at KOTH.
“Having helped out at registration, setting up transition, marshalled out on the bike course and last year acting as chief run marshaller, I felt I had a good grasp of the race — although I’ve never taken part!
“I’ve gained a huge amount out of the club over the past few years, making a whole new group of friends and learning so much about all aspects of triathlon. It only seemed right to give something back and help out on the committee this year.”
Talking about the most important aspect of his role, Mr Fahey said his biggest responsibility is ensuring everyone gets home safely, which is often easier said than done.
“One year, while I was out marshalling on the bike course, a guy hit some cow dung on the road and came off his bike. He broke his collarbone but got back up and continued cycling until the ambulance finally caught up with him.”
Mr Fahey said the committee can only do so much and a certain point, the athletes need to take responsibility for themselves.
“You can do your best to minimise the risks in a race but there will be some things you just cannot plan for.
“We have a doctor and two ambulances on standby but unfortunately, we don’t have the time to clean up all the cow dung on the cycle course.”
Despite these minor risks, the race director was keen to highlight the suitability of the event to first-timers and said he hopes to maintain the excellent status of KOTH as one of the top sprint triathlons in the country.
“We want a good atmosphere and a race that people will want to come back to again and again,” added Mr Fahey.
Looking back over the years, James chatted about some of the more memorable moments that have happened on KOTH race days.
“In 2000, the goody bag included a T-shirt, but whoever designed it managed to spell ‘Millennium’ wrong and it quickly became a collector’s item!”
While KOTH, which is sponsored by McCarthy Cycles, is known as a well organised and safe event, there have been years where things did not go to plan.
“One or two years the buoys marking the swim drifted. One year it shortened the swim to 500m while another year it lengthened it to over a 1km!”
Mr Fahey said this bone of contention surrounding the distance did not deter participants from enjoying a heavily influenced ‘personal best’ race time, but said most people were in on the joke.
“Anybody that boasts about how quick they did the swim in KOTH — you can probably guess what year they took part!”
Over the years marshalling the course, he has seen all kinds of random things.
“You see all sorts at the race. In particular for those who are participating in a triathlon for the first time. From someone wearing their wetsuit the wrong way round to others having a picnic in transition!”
KOTH was the first triathlon in Ireland to introduce a timing chip Mr Fahey said it was much needed.
“For years, the results were recorded by hand, so when a large group of swimmers and cyclists came through at the same time they missed out on a few results.
“When it came to the end and they saw some participants had no time for the swim or cycle, they just made up a time!”
While the event very much caters for beginners, it always manages to pull some impressive names who enjoy the challenging course and great atmosphere.
“We have had ex-olympian Bryan Keane and European and national sprint champions like Trevor Woods and Chris Mintern compete in KOTH. Chris and Cillian Tierney started their triathlon journey by competing in the junior race.
“On the women’s side, Caroline Kearney who was one of the best female triathletes in Ireland, before she died tragically in a car accident while training, was the first woman to win.
“In the years after, we’ve had homegrown talents like Joyce Wolfe, who is an Irish Ironman record holder, and national sprint champion Carolyn Hayes compete.”
Most likely this year, the athlete to beat will be Trevor Woods who has earned the title of ‘King Of The Hill’ over five times.
In 2013 his time was 59.43, however, last year he won it in 1.10.27, which James said shows the importance of good race conditions such as dry weather and calm waters on the finish time.
Last year, history was also made when all three sisters from one family took the overall women’s title. Amy Wolfe in 1999, Joyce Wolfe in 2017 and Lorna Wolfe in 2018.
The KOTH race director emphasised the versatility of the event.
“As much as it’s targeted for first timers it’s also a very competitive race.
“There are substantial cash prizes for the overall winners and age groups and we try to make it an enjoyable day for everyone.”
Offering encouragement and advice to potential participants, Mr Fahey said for anyone looking to try training as a triathlete, setting out a target race is a good idea. “It helps to focus the mind and you set yourself a target.”
The veteran CTC club member mentioned a number of club supports for anyone looking to gain confidence in the different disciplines.
“For most people, the swim is the most nerve-wracking and intimidating part of the race. The club organises open water swims and aquathons (swim and run) at the Dock beach in the lead up to the race, including a try-a-tri event on May 19. These help first-timers acclimatise to the open water and it helps that they are familiar with the surroundings which again makes it less intimidating.”
Mr Fahey also said the club has developed a ‘new to tri’ program that caters specifically for beginners, making use of existing club activities but making it accessible to those who are taking up the sport.
For more information on CTC training sessions, see www.corktri.com or check out their Facebook page @Corktri.
For information on KOTH or to register, see http://www.corktri.com/events/kinsale-king-of-the-hill-triathlon/ or log onto their Facebook page ‘CTC King of The Hill.’