Three down, one to go…


Quo vadis?

It’s one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, and it’s roughly nine months to the Hardman long distance triathlon. Nomenclature in this instance shouldn’t really be an issue, but as anyone who knows me would concede, I’m nothing if not anally retentive about spelling, grammar and syntax (instantly making me a hostage to fortune as a blogger…).

So, triathlons. Three events rolled into one. And not, it turns out, the result of some beer-fueled bar bet as some reports would have it. Certainly the Ironman triathlon concept was devised in Honolulu as something of a challenge, but triathlons had been around in France since the 1920s. In 1974, the first ‘modern’ triathlon that we would recognise today was staged in San Diego in California. The founders of this event were runners, who added in swimming, and then finally cycling. My kind of people!

Since then the sport has morphed into a fairly ruthless business, which is not surprising. In doing so, the distances have been formalised into four established distances: the Sprint, the Olympic (also called Intermediate or Standard Distance), The Double Olympic or Half Ironman (also called Middle Distance, or Long Course), and the Ironman, or Long Distance (also called Ultra Distance).

It’s a little confusing admittedly, but if you roughly think of it as doubling the distance every time, you are close enough.

Pedants will of course point out that the Olympic distance is double the Sprint: 750m swim becomes 1.5k; 20k bike becomes 40k; 5k run becomes 10k. Simple maths.

However, in the next step up, the distances don’t double up again. Instead they take the legendary Ironman distances and halve them. So, from the Ironman distances to the Double Olympic, we go:

3.8k swim to 1.9k; 180k bike to 90k; 42k run to 21k. And yes, I have rounded some of those figures…

And as tri aficionados know well, the ultra distance triathlon event (or Ironman) borrows the distances from famous Hawaiian events, namely the Waikiki Roughwater Swim of 3.86km, the Around-Oahu Bike Race (185k; they adjusted the distance to allow for the bike leg to start at the end of the swim), and a marathon, which was held at the time in Honolulu. And as running nuts would be quick to add, the marathon distance of 42.195k is something of a fabrication. Ironically the modern Olympic games had set the Marathon at 40k (which would have suited the doubling up of the distances quite neatly).

It was during the London Games in 1908 that apparently, to please the royal family, the start line was moved back to Windsor Castle, and an extra bit was added at the end to ensure the race finished at the royal box. As many marathon runners would concede, that extra couple of kilometres can be a right bastard.

One of my favourite little books…

Here’s one of my favourite little books (the sort that hang around in your downstairs loo). It’s The Joy of Running by Paul Owen (not to be confused with another volume of the same name which is rather more serious). In it, there is a fabulous quote attributed to Frank Shorter who, as he puffed past the 16 mile mark, turned to a colleague and said ” why couldn’t Pheidippides have died here?”

So anyway. Quo vadis.

Last year, I did my first ever triathlon – a Sprint down in Athy. It was a cracking day and I enjoyed it very much, giving me the impetus to go on and explore the event further. Later that year I did a 2k sea swim and a slightly longer ‘sprint’ in Lough Key. Once again I was blessed with the weather.

Lining up the for swim at Lough Key. Hard not to notice I was perhaps the only one wearing a shortie. On the upside, I did have a neoprene hat!
Finishing the Lough Key triathlon and having my brain ankle chip removed.

Doing these gave me the confidence to go again earlier this year and return to Athy for the Olympic. As I mentioned sometime before (it’s buried in the bowels of this blog somewhere), I only ever used generic, off the peg training plans. These are fine for the shorter distances, and if you stick with them and have a sensible diet to match, and make sure to rest up when you’re supposed to, you’ll be fine.

Doing the Olympic was part one of the plan for the year. Part two was the Ireman Triathlon in September of this year, which was the middle distance race, or the half-iron. That went roughly to plan as well, which was pleasing for several reasons. Obviously, you don’t want to make a holy show of yourself having told everyone you were doing it. Secondly, I had never tried anything so ambitious in athletic terms, bar marathons. Prior to the race, I had only cycled 90kms once, and needless to say, I wasn’t swimming beforehand, nor did I run a half marathon afterwards.

Having said that, it was tough enough at the end. I had met up with a fellow triathlete called Eamonn. We had chatted before the off, and hooked up again in T2 (the second transition zone). So we decided to run together and see how it went. We stayed that way with about 3kms to go when Eamonn decided to make a break for the border. In hindsight, he is a more seasoned triathlete than I, and he was sporting a Garmin, so could very quickly calculate finish times based on pace. This is precisely why he came in on 5.59:45 and I trailed in on 6.01:27. But in truth, I didn’t have it in the legs to keep up.

The run was a loop. As we passed the finishing area having completed the guts of the run (though the hardest part was yet to come), I recall asking Eamonn if he thought he would be up for doing it all again; the swim, bike and run. Because that’s what I’ll have to do next August, albeit in the correct format.

As the website says: ‘The 2016 Hardman Long Distance Triathlon will take place in Killarney on Saturday 20th August 2016 at 6:30am. Test yourself to the limit on the most amazing triathlon course in Ireland.  A 3.8km swim on the beautiful Lakes of Killarney is followed by a 180km bike ride on the fabulous Ring of Kerry and then a 42.2km run in the Knockreer Demesne in Killarney National Park.’

We are about nine months out from the big day, pretty much to the day. I have done three out of the four established triathlon distances. I just need to do one more.

But before we dive in head-first, I need to nail down a training plan. Roughly-speaking, I plan to divide it up into three blocks of three months. Working back, the last block will be a specific, targeted plan including speed work, peaks and tapers.

The middle block will focus on getting some miles in on the various disciplines as the Spring weather improves. Prior to that, I am planning on spending the winter months building base fitness in the gym, doing some running, and trying to work on the swim stroke.

(I also have a heart rate monitor – the budget watch and chest strap variety that Lidl were doing a while back – and plan to work out my own training zones. I have no plans to get a power meter for the bike, and let’s be honest: I only bought clippies a few weeks ago, and I ride a 1980s steel-frame bike. Adding a power meter isn’t really going to tell me anything I don’t already know. My average bike speed usually dips below about 30km/h so many of the shiny state-of-the-art gizmos one could add to your bike would be wasted on me. Triathlon magazines, websites and books are replete with charts that explain the exact percentage you will shave off your bike time with aero helmets, tri-bars and solid wheels, to name a few. But these only come into play at decent speeds; the sort of speeds I only manage with a tailwind and a little downhill slope! Plus I’m broke.)

So it’s a very loose plan, and will evolve as I go on, and as I read The Triathlete’s Training Bible, I will no doubt glean some gems from its pages and build them in too. In between there will be some Park Runs, no doubt, and perhaps the odd 10k and half marathon. And probably a few injuries. And the occasional beer. And fish and chips. And bars of chocolate whilst watching films. And missed training sessions. And of course, there will be a few new bits of gear. But all the while, the focus will be on Kerry in August.

That, and the lampreys…



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s