It was once the preserve of the super fit and masochists but triathlon has become the UK’s fastest-growing participation sport.
KARL HOLBROOK is taking it on in Lancashire this July. And, starting this week, he will take us on the journey from his settee to completing the gruelling 2.4mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and then a marathon on one day
Ironman, it is one of those words that strikes fear into the hearts of even the most hardened triathlete.
So what it will do to a chubby desk jockey who until recently couldn’t run further than the corner shop for a Snickers bar, who knows?
But we are going to find out because I’ve set myself the biggest physical challenge of my life to take on one of the toughest events on the planet in a bid to see just why so many people are ditching chocolate bars and lazy afternoons for energy gels and gruelling cycle tours to join the country’s fastest growing sport. Triathlon, for those with only the vaguest knowledge, is for those lunatics not content with swimming, running OR cycling but instead punish themselves by competing in all three disciplines in one go.
There are various distances from sprint events that combine a 750m swim with a 20km cycle and a 5km run to Olympic distance races that include a 1.5km swim, 42km bike ride and a 10km run.
But to find out what makes the sport tick, I’ve decided to take on the biggest and toughest race in the triathlon calendar – the ultra-distance Ironman.
When Ironman UK returns to Lancashire in July, days before my 34th birthday, I will line up against almost 2,000 others to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles across some of the area’s toughest terrain and run 26 miles – yes, that’s a marathon on top.
To get there I’ve linked up with TriPreston, the city’s burgeoning triathlon club.
Since it was set up in 1997 the club has grown from just a handful of members to more than 100 athletes, ranging in ability from rank amateurs (me) to a clutch of elite superbeings.
Last year four TriPreston athletes secured places in the Team GB squad for the World Championships in London and this year the club will send 28 of its members to Iron-distance events across Europe.
If they can’t get me match fit, nobody can!
I will be taking part in their training sessions and tapping into their vast knowledge in an attempt to complete a challenge that thousands attempt and fail.
I’ve got six months to get from fat man to iron man and over the next 26 weeks these pages will document the highs and inevitable lows of that journey and all the amazing, often crazy, people I encounter along the route. Wish me luck!
Next week find out how I got on taking my first baby steps into the world of ultra-endurance training with TriPreston.
10th Ironman UK returns
When the 10th Ironman UK returns to Lancashire on July 20 it could be the toughest yet.
Organisers are currently consulting councils and communities about updating the bike course to a gruelling two-lap course from the traditional three-lap route.
The 112-mile course will include the brutal Sheep House Hill climb at Rivington, where spectators can get up close and personal with the athletes in true Tour de France style.
The route contains more than 5,000ft of climbs with punishing inclines up to 20 per cent.
But before anyone gets anywhere near a bike, thousands of competitors will have to battle it out in an epic 2.4m swim around Pennington Flash in Leigh starting at 7am.
The run starts after the bike in Rivington, and athletes will head into Bolton town centre, where they complete three loops of a circuit before finishing in Victoria Square in the shadow of the Albert Hall.
When all is said and done, those strong enough to finish will have travelled more than 140 miles by their own steam alone (that’s the distance from Preston to Birmingham). Thousands will start, many won’t finish inside the 17-hour cut off.
This year, the fourth be held in Lancashire, will be the biggest yet with 1,950 atheletes taking part.
The event sold out in the record time of 50 hours – in 2012 it took eight months before selling out.
The event attracts competitors from over 35 countries aged 18-73 and some 30,000 supporters spending more then £2m in the area are expected to come out along the route.
Kevin Stewart, managing director of Ironman UK, explained the growing popuarity.
He said: “With recent improvements to the courses and the event experience, Ironman UK is seen as a true test for athletes who strive to achieve their goal of completing one of the toughest one-day challenges in sport.
“The welcome and local support that they have received during the event has been a major factor in creating the success.”