If at first you don’t succeed, tri, tri again…


The Royal Canal towpath in a mist, Leixlip.

Alas, Gaelforce West got the bullet last week. It was slip, slidin’ away for a while, so it wasn’t really a huge surprise. And with COVID still stalking the highways and byways of the land, it would have been an odd spectacle to see hundreds of athletes, cheek by jowl, slogging their way o’er hill and dale in Connemara.

So it was time to dust off an old idea. The idea was to journey the full length of the Royal Canal. It followed on from the Great Barrow Run. I hadn’t really thought it through (no change there!) to any great extent, other than it would nice to do. The Royal Canal is one of two major canals that were commenced in the late 1700s in order to connect Dublin on the east coast to the mighty Shannon river in the midlands. The other line is the Grand Canal, to the south, that connects the same features but along a more southerly route. And of course, the Grand also joins the Barrow River.


The Royal Canal Way is 146 kilometres long. From east to west, it starts at the Dublin Docks at the Liffey and runs through Dublin county, my own county of Kildare, in and out of Meath, Westmeath and finally Longford. As regards which way a canal flows; well, generally the answer is both. From the Royal Canal Amenity Group website:

Rising out of Dublin through a series of 26 locks it reaches the summit level (a height of about 94 m above sea level) near Mullingar and then descends a further 20 locks to its destination in Richmond Harbour. Lough Owel in Co. Westmeath is the main water supply for the canal.

In other words, canals, unlike there riverine cousins, need a constant supply of water or they will eventually run out, as locks are opened and the water naturally flows down to the next lower level. Mullingar is about the mid-point along the route too, so there is a pleasing degree of symmetry here. And as a final note of no consequence, Lough Owel is a lovely spot to swim, and is quite popular with triathletes in training.

Lough Owel, Mullingar.

The Royal Canal towpath is in the final stages of development as a greenway, and this will see at least one bank finished as a cycle path, which means a set width and finish. In some cases, particularly around some of the larger towns, that means tarmac; in most cases, it’s hardcore, blinded with fine dust. Sadly, this will spell the end for the ‘real’ towpaths which were constructed by hand, and were grassy paths, made for dray horses. But such are the sacrifices we make for tourism.

The rough plan I had for the Royal Canal sojourn was to run it over two days. Then I thought I might cycle it. Then I considered running it in one sitting. After a little research online to see how feasible that might be, I discovered a local man, Gary O’Daly, had already done it. And fair play to him too. You can read about his adventure here.

So why not do it as a triathlon? Indeed! In order to work out the distances, I just took the full ‘iron man’ distance lengths (2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run) and worked out the reduced figures over a 146k event. And that roughly equates to a 2.5k swim, 116k bike ride, and 27.5k run.

I’ll start from Cloondara, where the canal joins the Shannon, and then bike all the way to Maynooth, which is only a few miles up the road from me here in Leixlip, and then run into the city centre. According to Gary, who’s been a mine of fantastic information, the cycle should be all on fairly solid pathway, track and road. The ugly bits that are as of yet unfinished are from Leixlip into Dublin, and as we will be running that section, we can just take our time.

A good mate is going to get me out to Cloondara early doors so we can get the swim underway at first light, and manage the handover of the bike. He’s then very generously offered to track my progress through the midlands in case I have a catastrophe that requires intervention. I’ll not tempt fate by listing any such disasters, but hopefully any mishaps will be no more than a flat tyre. I’m going to use my Orbea road bike. I had only put brand new Durano 25mm tyres on for the rough cycle of Gaelforce, so I am confident they’ll tackle the towpaths without too many problems.

When we get going on the run, I hope to have a few mates riding shotgun with me. Again, Gary has offered to jump in, which is most welcome. And a few of my more regular running mates may also join in the madness. Apart from the company and camaraderie, there are a number of sections along the canal within the city boundaries that have something of a reputation. Vandalism, assaults and muggings are a regular features, alas, so the more the merrier in terms of crew.

As far as I know, this hasn’t been attempted before. If you are reading this and have done it, please let me know. Gary’s time for running it, supported, in one go, is currently acknowledged as the fastest known time. I will probably be less modest if I do make it into Dublin’s fair city in one piece in a few week’s time. I will be claiming a World Record! Needless to say, time-wise, it would be a feat that would be surpassed by even the most modest of proper triathletes, but that wouldn’t matter. I mean, who remembers the second person to climb Everest? Huh? Exactly!*

More on this anon.

* Tenzing Norgay probably gets you points at the pub table quiz. But that’s not really what the question is about, and you know it!

4 thoughts on “If at first you don’t succeed, tri, tri again…

  1. Talk about making lemonade! Sorry about Gaelforce and all that, but my gosh — a first-ever, custom-made Royal Canal Triathlon? Fantastic! Epic!! And definitely historic!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love your metric equivalent triathlon idea. That’s pretty freaking brilliant… the actual IM distance is WAY too far for my liking. Actually, come to think about it… I’d like a 200 meter swim, 145 km cycle, 800 meter run. That’s MUCH better.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Cheers Jim. I know. Way to go to spoil a good cycle 😉
      I imagine you were a fine triathlete in your day, before you discovered bikes were really where it’s at. Truth be told, I am at the mercy of the canal’s distance anyway. I’m daft enough to try this even if it was much longer. Thankfully, it’s not!

      Liked by 2 people

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