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So after an extended break from long-distance triathlon, and triathlon in general, I finally bit the bullet and completed my first half ironman (70.3) distance triathlon in 8 years. The race in question was the Sheephaven Half Ironman 2021. Having had some time to reflect it’s time for a race breakdown. It’s also a good time to look at what I can take away from the race in terms of going forward.

sheephaven half ironman finisher medal and mug

What is Half Ironman triathlon?

A long-distance triathlon event. Know also as a 70.3 triathlon with 70.3 referring to the total mileage of the event.

Often used as a stepping stone race before tackling the full ironman distance events.

Distances for Half Ironman

The distance of the event falls roughly halfway between the Olympic distance and full Ironman distance races.

  • 1.9km swim (1.18 mile)
  • 90km bike (56 miles)
  • 21km run (13.1 miles/ half marathon)

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About the Sheephaven Half Ironman triathlon

So the race in question was the Sheephaven Half Ironman 2021. Just the 3rd running of the event since its start in 2018. A half ironman (70.3, middle distance) triathlon based in the coastal village of Downings, Donegal, Ireland. A local race for me but with a national level field due to it being part of Irelands national triathlon race series.

  • Sheephaven Half Ironman swim course

A beach start sea swim, in a relatively sheltered bay. If the wind gets up though it gets pretty choppy.

  • Sheephaven Half Ironman bike course

Pretty much a single loop course. I would put it in the category of very hilly, for a triathlon anyway, with just over 1100m (3608ft) of climbing. Very scenic, but also quite open and exposed to the sea breeze in places.

  • Sheephaven Half Ironman run course

A 2-lap, out-and-back run course coming in at 20km on my Garmin. The 158m (518ft) of climbing though more than makes up for that missing kilometer. Let’s just say the run feels changing after 1100m (3608ft) of climbing on the bike.

Why my long break from triathlon?

This break away from the triathlon scene was part voluntary and partly forced upon me. I originally entered the race in 2020 but it was subsequently canceled.

The years previous  I stepped back from triathlon due to a new family, change in career, and the time those things consume.

I never stepped away from fitness and racing totally in that time though. I just put my focus and training into less time-consuming endeavors.

Why I did it

This race had the added attraction of being pretty much a home race for me. The entirety of the race is on roads that are well beaten by my feet and wheels. Honestly, if it wasn’t for that fact I would probably still be on an extended break from triathlon.

My preparation for the Sheephaven Half Ironman

Earlier this year I set myself a challenge to complete a sub-45 minute 10k. I started training for that on the 17th of May. As part of that training, I also cycled a bit so my overall run/cycle fitness was improving as part of the challenge.

12 weeks into the challenge I signed up for a local Olympic distance event and the Sheephaven half triathlon. I had no intention of racing triathlon at all at the start of that challenge. The races sort of jumped in my lap and I entered them on a whim on the back of that 12 weeks of training.

I started swim training at week 12 and completed a grand total of 8 open water swims (no pool swims) between 800m and 1900m over the 5 weeks.

At week 14 I completed the Olympic distance event. On week 17 I completed the half ironman.

All in all, I had  17 weeks of total training with 5 of those weeks at the end more focused on half ironman distance stuff.

In the final four weeks before the race, I completed the following races –

  • 15th August -15k run race – 1:09:20
  • 21st August – Olympic distance triathlon – 2:43:19
  • 28th August – Half Marathon run race – 1:40:57
  • 5th Sept – 10k run race – 44:41

For a complete diary of that full 17 weeks of training leading up to this race check out my other post – ‘My road back to a sub-45 min 10k‘.

My expectations for the race

I have done Half Ironman distance races on three previous occasions. All on the same course with times ranging from 5:01 (my P.B.) to 5:20

The expectation for my first half ironman in 8 years was to finish under 6 hours at an absolute minimum, assuming no mechanicals or injuries.

My realistic expectation was going somewhere around 5:45. The best-case scenario for me was going sub 5:30.

  • Expected swim time – 45 mins
  • Expected bike time – around 3:10
  • Expected run time – around 1:40

My Race Plan

  • Swim plan

Easy effort on the swim. Go in last and stay away from groups so as to swim at my own pace.

From training, I discovered that an easy effort, smooth, focused, and relaxed stroke was giving me times very similar to when pushing hard.

  • Bike plan

Push around a 70 – 80% steady effort. Hold back from going all-out effort on the steepest sections if possible. Drink every 10 mins and a gel around every 40 mins. Drink and take gels on the slower sections and keep aero where it matters on the fast sections.

  • Run plan

No quicker than 5:00 km pace for the first 10 – 15 km and then as fast as I could after that. A sip of caffeinated energy drinks every 10 or so minutes.

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Sheephaven Half 2021: Complete race breakdown

So let’s get into the nitty-gritty and talk about how the race actually went for me.

Swim breakdown

This part of the race I was the least prepared for. I had no sea swims done leading up to the race, and all the swims I had done were lake swims. Because of this I was I bit concerned about the water temperature, potential choppiness, stinging jellyfish, and how those might affect me.

Luckily it was relatively calm and the water temperature was quite bearable, just a little cooler than the lake swims.

The air temp on the morning was a little cooler than normal. I made sure to not get too chilled before starting the swim. I did a very short warm-up swim right before the start.

The swim start was a rolling one. I entered the water dead last as I knew I wasn’t going to be fast anyway and wanted to swim to my own pace and nobody else’s.

I started out easy and controlled for about the first 1/3 building to a steadier, but never too hard, effort after that.

At its furthest point out the swim did start to get a bit up and down but no breaking waves at any point.

A few jellyfish sightings at depth further out and a very close encounter in the last few meters. Luckily no stings!

Overall, I was happy with the swim and actually quite enjoyed it.

  • Swim time – 40:36
  • 100th quickest swim time overall (111 finishers)

Swim to bike transition (T1) breakdown

A quite long run of maybe 40 secs – 1 minute from exiting the water to transition. I debated about whether or not to remove my wetsuit before getting into transition. In the end, I decided not. However, that length of a run though was close to the limit of a wetsuit running dry by the time of getting to the transition area.

Luckily the wetsuit came off without any issue

I put my socks on at this transition and had no issues getting them and the cycle shoes on.

Everything thing else went smoothly here but definitely a bit slower than I would have liked.

sheephaven half swim exit

Bike breakdown

The bike went really well for me. My hope was to average 18 mph if I was lucky. However, I averaged over 19 mph for the whole course. I felt as strong at the end as I did at the start. I expected to start faltering in the last few hills at least but never did. It was perhaps the only time where I steadily passed other competitors and didn’t once get caught.

The course took me just under 3 hours and it just flew by. One of the most enjoyable bike legs I’ve ever completed in any triathlon.

I only had one issue worth mentioning during the bike leg. That was one of my bottles (water) jumping out at around 12k on a fastish downhill section. Luckily I had two bottles, 1 water 1 energy, so I decided to leave it and grab a replacement water bottle at the aid station further into the course.

I refilled the by then empty energy bottle with the new water and that got me to the end of the bike with no hydration issues.

In terms of nutrition, I took 3 High5 aqua gels (2 standard, 1 caffeinated) in addition to the 750ml bottle of High5 energy drink.

Weatherwise conditions were very favorable with just a little drizzle at points and a very light breeze throughout.

  • Bike time – 2:57:01
  • 23rd quickest bike time overall (111 finishers)

Bike to Run Transition (T2) breakdown

My plan here was to get my run shoes on, stash two gels, and grab 2 small 250ml bottles of energy drink along with my watch and then go. Should have been pretty fast, like well under a minute fast.

The problem was I had a few too many things to grab though. It turned into a bit of a juggling act trying to carry two water bottles while trying to put a watch on. I must have forgotten I don’t have three hands! I ended up stopping to put my watch on.

Lesson learned for next time.

  • Bike to run transition (T2) time – 1:25

Run breakdown

What can I say about the run? I expected it to be painful and oh boy it didn’t disappoint. It was hilly and after the bike, my quads very quickly had nothing left for those hills.

I started out ok holding close to my target 5:00 per km pace. Things deteriorated fairly quickly though toward the end of the first lap. Pretty much the entirety of the second lap of the run was torturous. I never resorted to walking, as much as my body screamed to do so.

By the end, I was really struggling to push a 6:00 km pace on the flat. Trying to run uphill was unpleasant, to put it mildly.

On the run, I had nutrition and hydration in the form of two 250ml bottles of High5 energy drink. I also had two High5 aqua gels. I didn’t finish both bottles (150ml remaining)and took neither of the gels.

Looking back now it’s more than likely my nutrition and hydration were inadequate for the duration involved. However, my stomach wasn’t really able to take much more fuel or water on board during the run.

Anyway, I got through it but just a lot slower and more painfully than I would have liked.

  • Run time – 1:52:21
  • 62nd quickest run time overall (111 finishers)

Overall result

I completed the race in 5:33:44 and 43rd overall out of 108 individual finishers.

What I’ve learned from this

  • My bike training long rides didn’t get long enough.
    • Only got to 93 km for the longest ride in training.
    • I think this is the main reason I started to fade so early into the run.
  • The same thing with my long runs.
    • Only got to the bare minimum of 21 km for the longest run in training.
    • I believe this contributed to feeling so spent in the later stages of the run
  • Always have a puncture repair kit with you on the bike.
    • I put new tubes and puncture-resistant tires (continental GP5000’s) on both wheels 1 week before the race.
    • I SHOULD have still taken some kind of repair kit with me on the bike though.
    • I witnessed a lot of people puncture on the bike leg.

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Will I do it next year?

Assuming I can get an entry I will 100% do this race next year. With some luck and hard work, I’ll be looking to SMASH that 5:33:44 and get closer again to the magical sub 5 hr mark.


All in all, I’m happy with how the race went. I certainly learned a few things for next time though.

A word of thanks also must go to the race organizers, an extremely well-organized race. Particularly the bike course which had a marshall/steward at every junction.

If you’re looking for a challenging but rewarding Half Ironman give serious consideration to the Sheephaven Half.

This race has reignited my love affair with triathlon again!

As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have any thoughts, advice, questions, or opinions related to this article.


Always consult your GP before undertaking any form of weight loss, fitness, or exercise.

Michael Duffy
Michael Duffy

Fitness, health, and outdoor enthusiast! 2 decade of experience training for, and competing in different sports. Boxer, runner, road cyclist, triathlete, and XC mountain biker. More about me here.

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