When several people in succession gleefully announce their relief at not having to see you again, you could be forgiven for being a little upset. I, however, greeted the news with congratulatory smiles and waved them on to greater, Aoife-free things. That’s because they had just met me for the sixth time in a 42km run, which had been preceded by a 180km cycle and a 3.8km swim—all using the same set of limbs that had got them to the lake shore at Killarney Golf & Fishing Club at 6.30 that morning for the 2015 Hardman full-distance triathlon.
I was manning one of the water stops, which also turned out to be a motivational, counselling, and tourist information stop. From flashes of lycra pausing only to raise a hand to indicate that they had no need of such mortal crutches as water, to nauseated wrecks hobbling on their newborn foal’s legs, the human spirit in all its guises passed me at that midge-ridden corner of Killarney National Park. There was Douglas, who had broken his coccyx the previous Tuesday and “shouldn’t really” have been doing a full-distance triathlon, Darragh who promised to name his first child after me (I do hope it’s a girl), and a whole succession of men who revealed that their lovely wives would probably leave them if they ever did another such event.
Yes, the winner finished the hilly and difficult course (the cycle takes in the grinding, ear-popping roads of the Ring of Kerry ) in a searing time of 10:06, and there were some thrilling moments when the first riders blasted up to T2 within minutes of each other, but the day belonged to people like Graham Janssen, the first swimmer out of the lake, who basked in his moment of glory, knowing he would be overtaken within minutes of getting on the bike, but also knowing that the previous year he had been one of the last to clamber onto the pier; and Dan Fitzgibbon, who made it further in the triathlon than he had any previous year, wheeling into the Castlerosse Hotel car park in the pitch dark, hours after the winner had gone home; and Siobhan Griffin, the second woman home, who gave up smoking and learned to swim the winter before her first full-distance triathlon last year.
In the end, it’s not really down to €4k Olympia bikes, Garmins, or ideal stroke rates: What is truly inspiring about the 80-odd individuals who took part in last Saturday’s epic event is the way that even the most unlikely athletes can complete superhuman challenges if they have an insanely dogged attitude. And a water-station steward they really don’t want to see again.
(All images courtesy of the amazing Valerie O’Sullivan.)