The photograph above was taken soon after I had taken up triathlons, a decade ago. I thought I was doing all right: I had bought the Lycra tri-suit (!), the road bike, a wet suit and a few other bits and pieces. I was training hard enough, and I felt great. My race times were mediocre, but I was happy enough being Mr Average. Then someone sent me this mid-race picture where I’m sporting a Santa Claus waistline. Hmmm. My pride was badly dented. Something had to be done.
Professional help was needed
The photo made me realise that I was struggling to get where I wanted to go, on my own. A fellow triathlete from the wonderful Wicklow Triathlon Club made a suggestion: why not start to work with a triathlon coach? So I contacted Eamonn Tilley of ET Sports. Would he be able to help me?
Eamonn talked to me for an hour, that first day. He had been involved in triathlons for over two decades, and he knew everything there was to know about them. His advice to me was simple: I just had to do what he told me to do, and he would make me swim faster, cycle faster, and run faster. He promised that he’d reduce my race times, make me feel happier in myself, and to cap it all, he’d prevent my vanity from being offended by similar photos in the future!
A simple fitness programme
The programme was simple: he sent me an email each week with instructions on what exercise to do, then I had to phone him every Monday with an update. Typically, he asked me to do two sessions every day (e.g. a swim in the morning and a run in the evening, plus a long bike ride at the weekend) and he gave me one full day off to rest every week. If I did what he asked me to do, I would get faster.
Every Monday, he opened the conversation with a simple question: “How is the body”. He taught me to listen to my body – not to over do the training, but also not to underdo it. And he taught me other stuff too: the importance of good nutrition, acceptance of not being perfect, the need for discipline but also realism, the necessity of fitting in training around the other demands of work, family and social life.
The recipe for improvement worked
Results followed: my race times got faster, I slimmed down a bit, and I began to enjoy triathlons far more. Within a few years, in 2013, I had qualified to represent Ireland in the World Triathlon Finals for my age group in London. I wore an “Ireland” triathlon suit, and the event was the highlight of my triathlon career to date. It was surreal: racing through the streets of London, closed to other traffic for our benefit, and being cheered on by flag-waving Irish supporters, competing against triathletes from USA, Canada, UK and many other countries.
I thought this was a one-off highlight for me: my wife even put the “Ireland” tri-suit in a frame for posterity: it sits on the wall beside my desk.
Six years later: time for another big challenge?
I continued to train with Eamonn: the training routine had become part of my lifestyle, keeping me relatively fit, both mentally and physically. I’d been doing half a dozen races a year, but I became a steady-Eddie, not a trail blazer of any kind.
Then last year, Eamonn put it up to me again: why not try for the World Triathlon Finals in Lausanne, Switzerland, in August 2019?
It was difficult to say “no”: it was over a year away, and there was plenty of time to get ready. All I had to do was to keep on following his instructions. So I said yes, and now, here we are: this week I am heading to Switzerland with around fifty fellow age-group triathletes to represent Ireland. Triathlon Ireland has been immensely supportive of our self-funded journey to put Ireland on the international triathlon map, and they are sending a team of officials out there to help us prepare for our events.
2019 World Triathlon Grand Finals
I’ll be racing against around 150 triathletes from around the world in my five-year age group (55-59). I’d love to be up on the podium as one of the top three in the world, but being realistic, my main aim is to avoid the fate that Eamonn threatened me with if I didn’t train properly: to be “Paddy-last”.
I’ve been training hard, and I will give it my best effort.
More than 4000 professional and amateur triathletes from all over the world are expected to take part in these world championships, lining up on the shores of Lake Geneva in Lausanne this coming weekend.
- Day one, Friday, August 30, will be dedicated to the next generation of the world’s elite with the junior and under 23 events.
- On Saturday, August 31, the Elite Men’s and Women’s races will take place. These events will be broadcast live on national television channels and will crown the world’s top two triathletes. The first batch of amateur triathletes in the “Age Group” category will also race on Saturday, doing the Sprint course (750m swimming, 20km cycling and 5km running).
- I’ll be racing on Sunday, September 1st, doing the Standard distance (1,500m swimming, 40km cycling and 10km running) in the morning. In the afternoon, the Paratriathlon event will take place: coach Eamonn is in charge of the Irish paratriathlete team these days, so we will all be cheering them on.
The BBC is covering the World Triathlon Grand Finals, but I’m not sure that the age-groupers will make the cut. Still, if you want to see some of the best triathletes in the world in action, you should take a look and see.
And if you want to watch us all in action, TriathlonLIVE.tv will be covering all races and will have multi-camera views of the age-group races in Lausanne. You need to pay a one-off monthly subscription of €2.25. Just follow this link, with the code WORLD_CHAMPS19.
As I have said before, triathlons are my way of keeping my head and body in the right place. They are not for everyone, but I am convinced that if they gave the sport a shot, many people would find that they enjoy doing them more than they might expect. You can start slowly, with gentle running, easy swimming and social (or commuting) cycling.
So go on, put it on your bucket list. Give Eamonn a shout if you want some help. And maybe I will see you at one of these World Triathlon Grand Finals some time in the next decade. Or the one after that even?
You see, the age groups don’t stop when you get to sixty: the oldest bracket is 85-89. That’s thirty more years of racing for me. Come on, why not join us?