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Gearing up for triathlon test

Mark Daly, 34, is BBC Scotland's Investigations Correspondent. In October he is embarking on a challenge that will take him outside his comfort zone.

Mark Daly
By Mark Daly

"Why would anyone want to do that?"

It's a question I've been fielding for the past few weeks from various friends in the build-up to making my big decision.

I'm getting married on 2 May. But that's not the decision I'm talking about. I made that one ages ago and it still seems like a nice idea.

No, I mean the decision about doing an Ironman distance triathlon - which for many athletes, is the ultimate endurance sporting challenge.

It means swimming, cycling and running, and lots of it. I'm a bit young for a midlife crisis, but I've decided to have one anyway, so I'm going to compete in the inaugural Challenge Barcelona race.

On Sunday 4 October, along with 2,000 highly-seasoned and almost certainly better prepared athletes, I will take to the warm waters of the Mediterranean for a 2.5 mile swim.

Mark Daly
Over the next 20 weeks, I intend to train for about 300 hours, slotting in morning and evening sessions around my work, and long weekend sessions

Mark Daly

Following that, it's out of the wetsuit and onto the bike for the middle and longest leg, the 112-mile cycle. Then we finish off with the trifling matter of a marathon - 26.2 miles.

The world record is just over eight hours. Some people take 20 hours. I have no idea how long it'll take me but I'm taking the Monday off work anyway - just in case!

For all you people out there who do this sort of stuff all the time, I salute you.

I don't know how you do it. I'm only five weeks into my six-month training programme and already I'm lagging behind, struggling to fit the training rigours of a serious athlete into a normal working life.

However, once I come back from my honeymoon, the real work begins.

Over the next 20 or so weeks, I intend to train for about 300 hours, slotting in morning and evening sessions around my work, and long weekend sessions.

My social life is going to take a bit of a hit, I'll have to lay off alcohol off course, but, according to Challenge Barcelona race director Jordi Gonzales, it'll be worth it.

"It is a race like no other," he told me. "The feeling when you cross the line to finish your first ironman distance triathlon is hard to describe, but it's something you never forget."

And he should know. He's done 13.

"Often, athletes have to make incredible sacrifices to do the training for this race," Jordi added.

"And here at Challenge Barcelona, we understand that it is people's dreams we are dealing with, and for that reason, we will be striving to make this race as perfect as we possibly can."

Well that's all very well Jordi, but how do I get round the course?

I've done a few triathlons but never gone below 2hours 20mins for the Olympic distance - the comparatively 'easy peasy' distances of 1.5km swim, 40km cycle and 10km run.

"Well, you've simply got to put the work in, and you've got to get the mental preparation just right," says Jordi.

"And that means incorporating your normal working and family life. Otherwise, it can't be done. You need the support of your family because you have to be away for so long doing the training."

tors at the 2009 Ironman in New Zealand
Athletes endure a 2.5 mile swim as the challenge gets under way

Hmm. I'll run it past my intended, whom I'm hoping will be one of the expected 100,000 spectators on the day.

The organisers have also thrown in a warm up event, over the half Ironman distance on 24 May. That race is already full but there are a few places left for the big one in October.

Just think, you too could sign up for five months of long, arduous, solitary training in preparation for up to 16 hours of agony... what are you waiting for?

My job as Investigations Correspondent means I sometimes come up against nasty people and have had some fairly intense experiences in my time as a journalist.

But to date, I have encountered nothing in my career as daunting as the prospect of lining up on that start line in Barcelona. At least it'll be scenic.

James Witts, editor of the sport's monthly bible 220 Triathlon, said that Ironman distance races are the stuff of legend, although more and more people are prepared to have a go.

Competitor at the 2009 Ironman in New Zealand
Ironman competitors face a gruelling 112-mile cycle ride

"Triathlon began to get really popular about five years ago and is now one of the fastest growing sports on the planet," he said.

"The great thing is that anybody can try triathlon over the shorter courses, like the sprint or novice distances - but the Ironman distance, that's something else.

"In many ways it's a ridiculous challenge. And you've just got to put in the work and that means organising your life around your training."

Right. No short cuts then. A couple of years ago I made a complacent attempt at training for the London Marathon and got to the start line full of bluster.

Without going into the detail of what was, quite simply, the worst day of my life, my final two km took 45 minutes. I finished traumatised, a broken man and resolved there and then never to run more than the length of myself again.

And here I am. But it's too late to back out now.

Over the next few months I'll be posting articles and video diaries here about how my training is getting on.

I'll be happy to take any tips from more experienced athletes, feel free to email or leave a comment because believe me, I'm going to need all the help I can get!

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see also
Athletics on the BBC
21 Apr 11 |  Athletics

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