By Tim Mackey
I was going to be 40 soon. Very young kids, busy work life, busy home life, not much time for my own exercise or anything else for that matter. I was watching my dad’s health rapidly deteriorate over the past few years, at least in some part due to complete lack of exercise since his 40s.
I was still getting in a swim every week or two, which might sound fine but I never felt better than in my 20s when I would get up at 6am and swim before work every day without fail. There were times I would have to drag myself out on a dark winter morning but not once did I ever regret going for the swim. So swimming is in my DNA and every now and then my better half will encourage me off to the pool if she thinks I need to clear my head, she’s usually right of course. I was never worried about falling off the exercise thing completely like Dad, but it may have spurred on my interest in triathlon when I was chatting with a friend who had just done his second ironman. After his first I thought fair enough it’s an incredible achievement that you could cross off your bucket list, but to do it twice? I wondered if it was something I could ever do, or more to the point – train my body to do. The swim for an ironman is 3.9km which sounds like a lot but I would have done the same in training, so this wasn’t intimidating. Then I thought, well I cycle everywhere and how hard can it be to stay on the saddle for 6-7 hours, so that could conceivably be manageable, and running a marathon after all that, well I had no concept of long distance running so that part was definitely daunting. So without saying anything to anyone I started going for morning runs at the weekend with the baby in the buggy, the 4 year old on her bike, and the dog, to see if I could find me some running legs. This was part of my plan to keep my new exercise routine from becoming unpopular at home. My curiosity was peaked and I was definitely searching for a challenge or something, with “life” happening all around me. I got a loan of a book “Be Iron Fit” which explains the training required and how to manage with family & work commitments etc. The author points out that people might say they have no time for training, but can watch an hour or two of TV every night and think nothing of it. This described me pretty well and so I went online and searched for a local tri club, determined to find the time. I came across the T3 website and there were great photos of races and training and trips abroad, but what I liked the most about it was that it was a small club, I found this reassuring. So I joined the club and thoroughly enjoyed the sea swim training at the end of the summer, getting used to the wet suit and trying to remember all the new names & faces. I got one of the club tri suits and I put it on and remember cycling home that evening feeling like I “belonged” with this new group of like-minded people, of all ages and abilities. It didn’t matter what level I was at, everyone was there to have a good time and enjoy the training.
I had signed up for the Dublin City Triathlon as a first race a month later. It’s a “sprint” race with a 750m swim, 20k bike and 5k run in the phoenix park. Having set my sights on completing an ironman in the next 2 years, I will admit to treating this race as a bit of a dinky race because it was so short. But it was the best thing I could have done. I left home early in the morning, with my wife chuckling at the state of me in my lycra suit, and I couldn’t argue there, it was a new look for me. There was a vague plan for my family to come out & cheer me on in the race but trying to mobilise a young family to go anywhere is easier said than done and I didn’t really expect to see them until after the race. I met up with the other T3 people doing the race and enjoyed the pre-race banter. It was all new to me and I didn’t really know what to expect, from the race, or myself. Within a minute from diving off the pontoon for the swim start, my heart rate sky rocketed and the breathing went haywire. I had to switch to backstroke and breaststroke for the rest of the race. I had never swam in any situation with adrenaline before, the wetsuit felt tight on my chest, and I didn’t warm up in the water beforehand. so I never got going with my relaxed swim stroke, and it took me a full 10 minutes with my head up out of the water to calm down and finish the swim. As soon as I got over the initial panic I stopped worrying about all the people passing me out and started to enjoy the scenery around the canal. I had to laugh at myself because I had just watched a youtube video the night before about how to stay calm in the first few minutes of the swim and deal with the adrenaline rush at the start of a race. There was nothing like getting out there and experiencing it for myself. The icing on the cake was seeing all my family on the run, and my daughter running out to me for a kiss. I finished the race and knew I was hooked. I’ve played a few other sports over the years, but the mix of the three disciplines in triathlon is what keeps the interest going for me. They challenge the body in different ways and it is very accessible right up to old age. I was inspired to see a new record broken last week by ironman finisher Hiromu Inada aged 85. Maybe I can challenge his record in 45 years :)