If you can’t run for a while – there is a lot to be said for making a SHARK ROCKET.

HUSBAND, FATHER, WRITER, PAINTER and ageing athlete who hasn’t quite hung up the lycra.

If you can’t run for a while – there is a lot to be said for making a SHARK ROCKET.

rocketAt the age of forty-seven I realised I’d never

Ride through Paris in a sports car with the warm wind in my hair.


Nor was it something I could have contemplated at thirty seven, the age Mrs. Jordan was when it first dawned on her too and maybe it would not have been possible at twenty seven either. In the seventies I had a grand mop of hair- a time when it was expected of a callow youth. But in subsequent decades my hairline has migrated up and over to join its antipodean counterpart at the back of my neck. To be honest driving in Paris has never really appealed – Parisian traffic is scary enough on foot. I am getting old and there are other signs.


Last week it occurred to me that I no longer had the ability to do a backward somersault. Now I should come clean and admit I have never done one.  I have been known to do a few forward hand flips or a line of acceptable cartwheels in my time – usually after a refreshing lager or two (some people sing, others get rowdy or aggressive; I used to do a bit of a floor routine). If ever called upon to perform a back somersault to save the world or such, I was always smug in the knowledge that I knew I could pull it off and score nice style marks too. That was because I had visualised myself many times in my minds eye gracefully lifting off the floor, throwing both legs over my head and landing softly back on the ground; thus executing the perfect back somersault. Thankfully I was never daft enough or drunk enough to actually try.


Visualisation is a powerful tool and something I use a lot in my triathlon training. It could be, for example, trying to picture myself executing the perfect swim stroke or just crossing the finish line in reasonable time. But last week standing in the middle of our kitchen I could no longer see myself somersaulting. Try as I did my subconscious would not let me even imagine it any more. This has to be some sort of ageing self preservation mechanism. I also recently discovered that unless I am in full training gear and only after a thorough warm up, I can no longer hop on one foot. My two year old daughter is not impressed with my hopscotch skills. Not long ago I also tried to swing a golf club and couldn’t get it above shoulder height. Outside the regular planes of motion that excessive swim bike run has imprinted on my joints, my ageing body now struggles with anything different. My warm ups take up most of my training time these days. I seem to be more prone to injury too. I am getting old.


It goes with the territory that if you are training for an ironman you will lose weight.  If you train a lot your body fat percentage will be quite low. If you are of similar vintage to myself you will look emaciated, have sunken cheeks, hollow eyes and concerned members of the public will offer you food. I had my first and only outdoor spin of the year on the bike last Saturday week.  At about three hours it wasn’t a particularly long ride but on the Monday after there was still an imprint of a helmet on my forehead. My skin is losing its elasticity and with little fat underneath to plump it up it can’t be bothered rebounding from any mild trauma for at least a few days.  I now resent those youthful athletes with their podgy baby faces and childlike bodies who dominate triathlon and other endurance sport. Alistair Brownlee in triathlon or Peter Sagan in cycling for example; it’s not that I am jealous of their magnificent performances, it’s that they do it and still look human afterwards. Shortly after crossing the finish line in Hawaii two years ago I took some rather risqué snaps of the inside out man staring back at me from the bathroom mirror.  All eyeballs, sinew and veins. I would not have looked out of place in the plasticized Bodies show that has been touring the world. I was my own Leonardo Da Vinci dissection sketch. Some day I may do a painting based on those photographs entitled Portrait of the Artist as an Ironman but at the moment I don’t think the world needs to see it.


I am getting old. I am only just back to tentative running after a two month sabbatical with an Achilles problem. Coupled with that, I have had persistent hip pain for quite some time now. There is nothing like a few injuries to make you question why you are still putting yourself through the physical and mental demands of training. Certainly at 47 it’s a question I have asked myself more than a few times recently. Watching Brian O’Driscoll in the Aviva bowing out gracefully from professional sport at 35 was food for thought. I didn’t do my first Ironman until I was 38. I have just finished Sean Kelly’s book Hunger. He retired at 38. I enjoyed Kelly’s book. I read it when I couldn’t run. I was fascinated by the huge number of races he would do in a season. Often he would drive himself or sleep in the back of a car being driven through the night across Europe from the finish of one race to start of another the next morning. I enjoyed his enthusiasm and his detailed accounts of race tactics and politics. But as I approached the end and his retirement loomed I began to question my own continuing involvement in sport too, particularly as I am nearly ten years older than Kelly was at the time.


The difference is they were professional athletes. Two men who could have driven – or may even have, through Paris in sports cars with the warm wind in their hair.  They have both had Paris at their feet in their time. But I doubt it was ever their style. There is a huge gulf in demands and rewards between professional and amateur sport.  For the professional it is their livelihood as well as their passion. Training is not something you do for an hour or two a day but something that pervades every aspect of your life. Both Kelly and O’Driscoll have had long illustrious careers. They were the best at what they did. Kelly certainly stepped away when he no longer felt he could win. He admits to losing the hunger to hurt himself enough to challenge. I race age group and don’t depend on results for anything other than personal satisfaction. My age group moves with me so I am never too old or too young to compete against my contemporaries.  It’s part of my life as opposed to it being my life. I do it for fun and well being. That said age group racing is competitive. To be successful it does demand a lot of my time.


Age group racing is often looked down upon by others in sport. But it is a perfectly valid system of categorising different groups in many sports.  Other sports have categories based on different criteria that are more accepted but may not be any more valid than categorising competitors by age. Boxing, wrestling, weightlifting, rowing for example are divided into weight divisions. In effect big people are not allowed compete against smaller people.  Would a basketball division in the Olympics for people under five feet tall be any less valid? Why are professional boxers not allowed to compete in the Olympics?


At the end of Kelly’s book, one of the final things that pushed him into retirement was the arrival in the peloton of a number of new fast young stars.  He listed a few names, among them was Lauren Jalabert. That cheered me up. In Kona 2012, I ran down Jalabert and overtook him in the Energy Lab. The age difference between the two of us is a deal less than between Jalabert and Kelly, but I consider him a young pretender as he is in a younger age group.  It was my proudest sporting moment.


Unlike the somersault, I can still visualise myself with a decent swim stroke, climbing a Col like a Columbian or even crossing the finish line in Kona again. I may be getting old but I am not too old.


I am back running again, very slowly for now but with little discomfort. It feels good. I still enjoy it and the cycling and the swimming too. This summer I hope to be racing in Kilkee and at Ironman Switzerland – for starters.


Thanks to everyone who turned up to Wheelworx on a miserable night a few weeks ago to hear me drone on for two hours about Ironman racing. I hope you got something from it. Thanks to my sponsor www.wheelworx.com for inviting me in to talk.  Great to see Rob Cummins back at work in the store after undergoing back surgery. No doubt he will return to training soon and be chasing another Kona slot. In the meantime you can always visualise it Rob!