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Mick’s Trip Down Memory Lane

Join us as Coach Mick takes a trip down memory lane to the inaugural days of Triathlon in Ireland and his recollections of the start of his love for the sport over 30 years ago. ⭐️ 

“Throwback to the 80’s, and a new crazy sport called triathlon was born. After a conversation between a long distance swimmer, cyclist and runner, each claiming that theirs was the toughest sport, they came up with the mad notion of doing them back to back, and so it happened. 

It came to these shores with the first triathlon taking place in Skerries in 1983, and numbers participating grew quickly.

Probably the biggest and most prestigious event on the Irish calendar, the NCF (North Connacht Farmers) sponsored All Ireland Triathlon took place in Rosses Point in Sligo from the mid 80’s. This was an absolute brilliant and amazing event, consisting of a 1.9k swim along the full length of Rosses Point strand, a 90k cycle around the foot of Benbulbin and through Yeats country, and finishing with a 21k run taking athletes back up the beach, across the golf course, and over the hilly backroads before heading back for the finish along the promenade in front of huge crowds of spectators. It was testament to the popularity of the event that it was shown in full on RTE at the time, with helicopters even being used to get some of the footage.

In 1988, after watching the ‘87 event on RTE sport, myself and 3 workmates in Pearse Street Garda Station decided it would be a good event to have a go at. None of us had ever experienced a Triathlon, and were actually clueless to be honest, but were very fit young lads with good running and cycling experience and a number of marathons under our belts so we weren't fazed. 

I remember landing down there in ‘88 for the first time - we got down on the Friday to attend the "pasta party", as much food as you could eat, and even a few beers for the more adventurous ones (can't remember if I was one of those 😜). Up bright and early next morning to go out and get set up in transition.  Wow! What a set up! 450+ athletes getting ready, the place was buzzing. Find a spot for your stuff and get on with it. There was very little in the way or "rules" or "technical officialdom" but loads of space for everyone and a great setup. By now the nerves were building and for the first time I wondered what I had let myself in for. It didn't help when I looked out over the cliff at the swim course and nearly freaked out when I saw how far away the start buoy was,  only to be told by an all too happy looking nut job that that was only the half way mark, and the almost invisible one that seemed miles away was the actual start. Now it was “bricking it” time, but there was no turning back. 

Togged out, walking silently down the long walk to the start. No fancy gear here, no titanium coated wet suit with anti roll bars and go faster stripes- just a simple pair of neoprene longjohns that were about 4 sizes too big. And we were off!! Battling through the surf, the shock of the cold water taking your breath away. Switching front crawl and breast stroke, just following the hats in front, thinking this swim would never end. 

But it did, and soon enough we were scrambling up the sandy climb up the transition and to the awaiting bike. There was no sense of urgency with anyone, people having a cuppa tea and a bun, toweling down and putting on dry warm gear. Sure what was the rush, we had a long way to go. 

The bikes were not like what we have now. Mine was a 10 speed steel bike, with toestraps to keep the runners tight on the pedals, gear levers on the frame, cables everywhere, and not an aerodynamic anything to be seen. The gears were a 42/ 52 up front and a 13 to 19 on the back, with 36 spoke chrome plated wheels. A beauty in its day, even if it was nearly as heavy as myself.  Nutrition consisted of a bottle of lucozade, a banana and a mars bar, and a few slugs of water at the aid stations along the course. The course was breathtakingly beautiful, though tough, and we zipped along, pushing ourselves all the way. I kept thinking il give it a good lash on the bike, and burn the run, as running was my thing. The cycle ended, with some relief I must say, and I completed it in 2hr 50min. I didn't know if that was good or bad at the time, and was just looking forward to the run, I was going to blitz it. 

“Holy mother?!! What’s happening to my legs???” I'd never run after cycling before, least not anyway after 90k on a bike. Thankfully after a few km the legs loosened up and the rhythm came back somewhat, until at about 16k in the lack of food and fatigue kicked in like a mule, and the last 5 km was a blur (not because of the amazing speed, but because I was seeing stars).

Keep going, one step at a time, to the next pole, the next km mark, then the promenade and finish are in sight and finally across the line, surrounded by a wall of supporters each side of the road for the final 400 meters. 

What a feeling! One I will never forget. I was a triathlete, and hooked for life or at least as long as I can throw a leg over a bike or run a few km.  In the end, I did a 1hr 24 min run, and finished in 4 hrs 53min. This time was meaningless to me then as I had nothing to compare it to, but looking back on it now I find it amazing that we were doing those times and faster back then with basic equipment, little knowledge of nutrition and no experience in combining three very different sports. 

My overriding memories are of the simplicity of it all; rules and red tape didn't exist, everyone was having fun and out doing their best, there were no weapons grade bikes or equipment, everyone was on an equal playing field. What surprised me the most was the friendly atmosphere but combined with a fierceness of competitive spirit and a never give up attitude, with athletes nearly out on their feet but still smiling and willing to chat and engage with those around them. We had no race experience, poor equipment, no nutrition strategies, no coaching, no training plans, power meters, garmins, heart rate monitors, tri bars, compression socks (thank God 🤣) Facebook, Instagram; they would have been like something out of star trek. However, we had a great love of sport, of the outdoors, of meeting up with our friends and club-mates for a run or cycle, and no thoughts of greatness. 

Now, in these tough times, it great to know that these attributes are still something we can rely on, and no matter what we can always and still get out and do something. 

The sport has progressed in lots of ways, but the fundamentals of friendship, health and friendly competition are still there. 

Here's to a great future in this sport. We will be back 🙂“ 

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