By Ciaran O’Donnell
Sligo triathlete, Brian Sexton, was the winner of the hugely successful Sheephaven Half Iron Man staged in Downings on Saturday in a time of 4 hours, 27 minutes and 34 seconds.
Second was David Sheridan from Longford in 4:38:13, with Letterkenny man, Sean McFadden, taking the last podium position in 4:40:16.
The event, hosted by the Letterkenny 24/7 Triathlon Club, had been in the planning for quite a while, and the local club left nothing to chance when putting on a magnificent spectacle which was enjoyed thoroughly by competitors and supporters alike.
The battle at the front of the field was a real epic affair. In the end, 16 minutes separated the top five finishers at the end of a grueling contest which attracted triathletes from all corners, ages and abilities. The relay team event added to the buzz in the seaside town which was came alive in earnest just after 7 o’clock when the hooter sounded to signal the start of the 1.9k swim – almost 200 wet-suit wearers dashed down the sand into a blue, calm and beautiful Downings Bay.
David Sheridan led for most of the race, having swam fastest and biked the 90k quickest. Indeed, it was only over the final two mile loop that he was overtaken by the strong finishing Brian Sexton, who took almost six minutes out of him over the half marathon. Sean McFadden was being closed down by fellow Letterkenny 24/7 clubman, Gavin Crawford over the run, but the former held on to take third position in the tussle for first local home. Two times winner of the The Race, Marty Lynch, from Ramelton, had a solid showing to finish fifth overall in 4:32:44. Crawford was the fastest man over the half-marathon, covering the 21km course in 86 minutes 40 seconds.
The first woman home was Laura Wylie of Hi-Elbow TC in a time of 4:46.48. Second was Cork TC’s Katie Hickson in 5:10.23 with Jackie Kelly of AThlone TC third in 5:20.22.
Speaking to the Donegal News at the finish line, Brian Sexton said it had been the toughest half iron man he’d competed in since taking up the sport ten years ago.
“It was hard going out there. It was a long day and a hot day,” the 43-year-old commented.
“The swim was nice, but you had the sun coming up and into your eyes, so it was very hard to spot where you were going. And it was also full of jelly fish – left, right and centre. There was a small bit if swelling when we got out into the bay and it was crowded at the start. But it thinned out a bit towards the end a bit and swimmers settled into their pace,” he added.
The winner had encountered a problem with his bike on one of the big climbs when his chain jammed.
“But I caught back up again and I suppose I made up most time on the run,” he explained.
The Sligo man got familiar with the course two weeks ago during a weekend visit to Downings.
“I’m glad I did because it was a shock to the system. They don’t come harder than that,” he added.
“This was my first race of the season. A few of us were talking about the Sheephaven and when it came up on the calendar we said we just had to do it. While the pace was hot out there today, it was hard not to take in an enjoy some of the spectacular scenery. It’s absolutely unreal, particularly on a day like this.
“It was a really honest race. In terms of half irons it’s a real tester, you could not get much harder than that. In terms of half iron man races, that’s as tough as I’ve done.”