herald

Sunday 20 August 2017

You don't have to be Superwoman to finish your first triathlon. Just sign up . . . and do it!

FROM the start of her career, she was known as Sporty Spice – and Mel C has really lived up to her moniker by completing the Shock Absorber Women Only triathlon in Eton (UK) this month.

But Mel isn't alone in her love of this sport – which includes a swim followed by a bike ride and finishing with a run. Thousands of Irish women regularly train for and take part in challenging events just like this all over the country. Well-known model Roz Purcell completed the Kilkenny Triathlon just last weekend. We spoke to a few women in the capital to find out what the appeal is.

Sharon McGuire is 29 years old and lives in Blackrock. Working in Sandyford as a marketing manager for Exaxe software solutions, she is a member of the Piranha Triathlon Club and has been involved in the sport for three years.

"My boyfriend Tadhg and housemate Cormac were both very big into triathlon, but I thought they were mad. However, in 2009 I volunteered as a marshal for the Dublin City Triathlon, run by the Piranha Triathlon Club. I soaked up the atmosphere that day which was filled with excitement, elation and pride as people of all shapes and sizes crossed the finish line. It was then I realised that I wanted to give it a go.

Motivation

"Not long after that, we moved to Australia for eight months and Tadhg trained with a triathlon squad there. I joined their beginner group in an effort to learn how to swim with my head in the water, I couldn't even swim 50m straight at the start. But before I knew it, I had been bitten by the triathlon bug and joined the club in Dublin as soon as we got back to Ireland.

"I found the swimming difficult initially, as I couldn't swim with my head in the water, but it is only after you enter the sport that you realise that a lot of people are like that and you are not on your own.

"I found that if I regularly wrote down and tracked the times I did in training, then months later I could look back and see exactly how much I had improved and this gave me great motivation to continue even when it felt hard. Up until this year I trained a bit haphazardly – whenever I could fit it in around my life – I aimed to swim twice, run twice and maybe bike once each week.

"This year I qualified for the age group (amateur) Sprint World Triathlon Championships in London in September 2013, so I decided to get more structured with my training. Tadhg has helped to write my training plans for me which can see me do 10 hours or more of training each week. The training will vary from week to week depending on how near I am to a race or how I am feeling.

Instant

"This week, for example, I'll do five hours of cycling, almost two hours of running and three and a half hours of swimming.

"By the end of the season, I hope to have completed two Olympic distance (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) and four sprint distance triathlons.

"There is a great social element to triathlons. By joining a club like the Piranha you get an instant group of friends who are all into the same thing as you.

"I also love how welcoming the sport is to beginners, the pros often rack their fully carbon-fibre time-trial bikes in transition next to someone who is doing their first triathlon on a mountain bike and they will both tell each other their race stories afterwards.

"The major appeal to a lot of triathletes, me included, is that you can eat loads and not feel guilty.

"My advice to anyone who is interested is to join a club to train with other people and coaches who have a world of advice and tips and also not to pay attention to the times or training that other people do, because at the end of the day, triathlon is about racing yourself.

"You should train to what your body is able for and if you try to do crazy training because someone else is then you will just get hurt."

Ellen Shilling is 38. She lives and works in Blackrock as a life coach kinesiologist for www.xhale.ie. She started training as a triathlete in 2010 on the recommendation of a friend and although was intimidated at first, soon developed a love of the sport.

"Before I joined a triathlon club I was a regular user of the gym – running indoors in front of the TV was my idea of multi-tasking and relaxation. So I decided to take my friends' advice and looked into triathlon clubs in Dublin. It was nerve-racking turning up to the first couple of sessions – I was totally intimidated and even went into training to be what I deemed to be a 'triathlon level' before attending any of the club sessions.

"However I needn't have worried, because the great thing about triathlon is that you can be at any level to compete. You don't have to be majorly fit or young, you just need to ready and willing to give the sport a try and to be up for craic.

"The other great thing is that it is an individual sport. If you miss a session or you're not motivated, you're not letting anyone down

"Add this to the club atmosphere, which is very supportive and full of banter, and you've a great recipe for meeting new people and challenging yourself physically and mentally.

"The winter training sessions are all about building base and aerobic capacity while summer sessions are shorter and involve more resting as you prepare for the triathlon season which runs from May to September.

"From October until April, I'll train 10 to 12 hours a week but this will be cut down to five or six in the summer.

"However, you can start with whatever suits your ability and time commitments. In my job as a life coach and kinesiologist, I work with motivating and helping people deal with issues, negative patterns and stress.

"I needed an outlet and a balance for this and triathlon provides that. I would encourage anyone who is thinking about getting involved to just do it. Don't wait, sign up and go along."

Chartered physiotherapist Nessa Smyth has a special interest in sports injuries. The Dublin woman spent 12 years working with the Athletics Association of Ireland and says triathlons are suitable for people of all ages and anyone with a moderate fitness level who is happy to put in the training hours necessary. But it is important to prepare your body and try to avoid injury.

"Once you can swim, bike and run and you have done some training in preparation for the specific distance of the event, you can do a triathlon, regardless of your age. But it is important to train for any event and prepare your body.

"For the swim component, you obviously need to be confident in the water and know you can cover the distance in the time frame outlined by the race organisers.

"Ideally you should have practised swimming in a wet suit in the open water. For some people who are new to swimming and possibly anxious about this, this is very important and helps minimise the nerves and anxiety.

"It also gives you an opportunity to practise sighting, which is looking up regularly usually every six strokes to make sure you are going relatively straight and heading in the most direct line as possible for the buoy, as there are no lines to keep you on course.

"The amount of training that is necessary depends on your current level of fitness, how competent you are at the disciplines, the distance of the event and how competitive you want to be – so it varies greatly.

Disciplines

"Some people starting out will train once a week at each of the disciplines, if they are competent at them and have an average level of fitness from training regularly over the years at some aerobic sport. But competitive club athletes will train up to 10-12 times a week including all disciplines and do gym sessions as well.

"If one of the disciplines is new to you, you may need to devote more time to that and develop it so that you are capable of completing the distance in the time allocated by the race organisers. It is important to gradually increase your training levels to avoid injury and burn out."

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