How I got to Tri

With triathlon season very close to starting for me, a question I’m regularly asked is how I got into triathlons. Here I describe the long path into tri which I’m so glad I took

Growing up in Ireland playing Gaelic Football and Hurling was something that you did from a very young age. I played it with my local club and school. While in school I’d do a bit of swimming and running but my 1st love was always football. Being part of White’s Cross as we ended almost 50 years without a top level championship for our grade in 2006 was one of the biggest achievements with them, along with captaining our Minor, U21 and B team.  I had my ups and downs playing football. Injuries, moving to Dublin and falling out with coach meant I struggled to hold down a regular starting place with the 1st team but still had 3 more championships, 7 cup medals and 4 league medals to show for it. I always had the 2nd team which meant I got to enjoy playing regularly but it was with them that I had my biggest injury and started my path down the triathlon route.

Celebrating 2006 Championship with Damian

2011: 1st step to being a triathlete

I had just returned from a trip to Austin in May 2011 and I had a game to play. I was jumping up for the ball and got a push in the back and fell awkwardly straight on my shoulder and right then I knew something wasn’t right. One of my teammates pulled me up off the ground without knowing what had happened and my shoulder popped back in but I feel that may have caused the long term issues.

After many trips to physio, scans and exercises I knew I had to keep active so that I wouldn’t lose my fitness. So on June 14th I bought a new bike and that evening went out with my brother in law Robert for my 1st cycle. I had planned to only do a short one but ended up with a 33km cycle. The end aim was to do the Sean Kelly Cycle 90km cycle which I signed up for. To mix things up I decided to do an adventure race in Killarney. It was a mix of mountain running, cycling, kayaking and more running. It was torture from the beginning and I knew I’d have to work hard on my running going forward.

No lycra at the start

Killarney adventure race

2012: 2nd step to being a triathlete

After spending most of 2011 after my injury doing cycling I started to look at doing a bit more running. And it was 2012 where I did my 1st road race. Damian and I finished the Mallow 10 in March and the running bug hit then. I continued to try get in as much biking as I could but I preferred running so it was easy to forget about it. I did another adventure race in April and completed my 1st half marathon at the Cork half in June. I ended up doing 2 more half marathons in Dublin and Clonakilty to round out the year where I went from doing no running to doing more of it than cycling.

1st Half Marathon

2013: Time to try a tri

Well I tried cycling for one year, running for another year so what would 2013 bring. It started with focus on running. I completed my 1st marathon in Rotterdam in April but with another leg injury I decided to do a bit of swimming for recovery and also to help with my shoulder which continued to give me trouble. I made a full return to football as well. The love of the game started to come back but in the back of my head I also thought what if I put together swim, bike and run and try a triathlon. So I then went off and bought a wetsuit and looked up what race I could do. June 29th was the date. I decided to do a try-a-tri in Tralee. Short distance but it would give me the feel of its something I could do going forward. The 1st open water swim I’d do would be this one. The one thing I remember from it was looking at the sprint and olympic distance swims and thought people doing that must be crazy. So when I started the race I flew off in the swim but started to get tired towards the end of the 250m swim. On to the bike and after an awful T1 I got out and did the 15km, nothing spectacular but happy to get it done. Then the run, it was to be a 2.5km run but ended up being 3.5 after being directed the wrong way. Once I crossed the finish line I knew I had the bug, I needed more. I wanted to go again.

Tralee try-a-tri

So on July 28th it was time to race in Kilkenny and another Try-a-tri distance. Of course to make the day even more fun I had a football game a few hours afterwards. This race didn’t go as well as Tralee, it was a tough swim, very long transitions and had the game in the back of my head. But once I finished I was happy I did the race. I didn’t have a plan to do another one for the year and I wanted to work on my swim and bike.

Finish line of Kilkenny Tri

2014: Time to up my game

With plenty of football to play during the year I decided to I needed to join a tri club to help improve and learn from others with similar interests because if I didn’t then football would take over and I’d have no structure. So I joined Cobh Tri Club and they were welcoming and certainly did help me understand transitions, be more confident in open water and have fun along the way. My first sprint distance tri ended up having a shorter swim due to the weather conditions and choppy water, not the ideal start but it also meant I had more time to make sure I was ready for the distance. 2 weeks later I tackled my 1st complete Sprint Tri and it was a great experience knowing that I could do it and power through on the run.

1st Sprint Tri

Of course in my madness I signed up for London Olympic Distance and I will always remember the fear the night before when I looked at the swim distance. Since it was in the dock you could clearly see the long straight lines. My stomach turned a bit but in the end there was nothing to worry about and I completed it and wanted more. I completed the season with 2 more Sprint distances and was already looking to next year and trying to see what I could fit in.

1st Olympic Distance Tri

2015: Time to up the distance

So after booking another trip to New Zealand I found Challenge Wanaka was on while we were there. I had to do it, this meant half distance race on the other side of the world. This was not something I thought I’d ever be capable of but it meant raising my game and distances. It was an early season race but was an amazing experience and it cemented why triathlons were the way to go.  I also did 3 sprints and an Olympic distance race as well. I completed New York Marathon and Amsterdam Half marathon to round out the year. I played a few football games throughout the year but it became harder and harder to fit the games and training in.

Epic View on Bike – 1st half distance

2016: Focus on Triathlons and Running

I finally decided it was time to focus 100% on Triathlons and running in 2016. Trying to fit in football when training wasn’t working and could not give either my full attention. With the plan to do Challenge Galway Half I really wanted to give it my all and have a result that I’m happy with. So finally it was time to retire from football. 2016 saw my highest mileage on the bike, running and my swim sessions meant I got a bronze medal in the Lee Swim. My training meant I finished Galway in 5:37 which I was delighted with. I felt strong throughout even though the swim and bike were a lot tougher than expected due to windy conditions. With triathlon being my focus for the 1st half of the year, the 2nd half of the year was all about running. Finally broke 4 hours thanks to pacing from Damian in Dublin Marathon. An injury just before Dublin meant I wasn’t fully fit going into it and for the remainder of the year but it was a successful year and the plan would be to build on it in 2017.

Challenge Galway Run

Conclusion

I would say to anyone out there, don’t be afraid to try something new. Challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone and see what happens. At least if its not for you then you can say at least you tried. It was the best sporting decision I made and I look forward to continuing my triathlon and running adventures with the biggest goal of completing and Ironman in 2019, all from someone who struggled through 250m swim to begin with. I have met some great people along the way and have had some fun times. Its not all about winning or suffering, its about getting out there to enjoy a challenge. Go on, you won’t regret it.

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