Off-road triathlon with a little less attitude

Adventure racing involves a mix of sporting activities and usually incorporates a great big mountain

Kathryn Thomas abseils from the top of the Aviva Stadium during the launch of the inaugural Dublin Adventure Race. Photograph: Brendan Duffy

Kathryn Thomas abseils from the top of the Aviva Stadium during the launch of the inaugural Dublin Adventure Race. Photograph: Brendan Duffy


‘You’ll never run a marathon with your feet. Take up triathlon.”

It was September 2009 and a doctor had just casually ended my marathon running career before it had even started. I’d been happily training for the Dublin City Marathon when out training one day I started to feel as if my right runner was too tight. The next day my foot had swollen visibly and I knew something was up.

Six weeks later I was sitting opposite the consultant who looked at an MRI of my foot and broke the bad news – I had a hairline fracture in my foot due to the mileage I’d been clocking up.

My feet are the wrong shape for the intensity of marathons, according to the doc. But take up triathlon? Easy for him to say but harder for me to do given I’ve never actually learned a proper swimming stroke.

Fortunately the younger and fitter brother-in-law came up with a solution: Dublin Dares You.

It was an “adventure race” in Dublin city that involved urban orienteering, a cycling treasure hunt, some kayaking but, most importantly, the chance to abseil off the roof of the Aviva Stadium. The chance of clambering into the upper reaches of the stadium and descending much more rapidly on a rope had lured me in and before you know it I was hooked.

Although I kind of stumbled into adventure racing (literally in my first couple of races), I’m increasingly happy that it became my preferred option. There are five reasons why.

How do you know someone in the room has done a triathlon? goes the old joke. Don’t worry you will.

It’s a sport that really takes itself rather seriously with all that talk of PBs, carbon fibre bike components and VO2 max levels. Triathletes don’t go for a run, a cycle or a swim. Oh no, they have sessions – brick, turbo and swim sessions by all accounts.

In contrast, adventure races have a much more “let’s get this finished and go to the pub” attitude. Hey, not that we’d condone this kind of thing, but I’ve even seen people having a sneaky cigarette in the car park afterwards.

Adventure racing has been described as off-road triathlon. The one-day events popular in Ireland combine running, hiking, cycling and kayaking in a combination most entrants can complete in four to six hours. What really differentiates it from triathlon, besides the fact you don’t have to get wet, is there’s generally a bloody big mountain involved. This, of course, plays into the hands of the stubborn or delusional weekend athlete, because for most of us getting up that hill is going to be a matter of mental rather than physical strength.

Wetsuits are not the most flattering attire for middle-aged people but they have transformed swimming in this country for the better.

What really bothers me is when triathletes un-zip their wetsuits to reveal their “one-piece” tri-suits which, with their compression qualities, leave little to the imagination.

Fortunately most adventure racers choose a looser fitting cycling jersey (with lots of pockets for food and other necessities) and shorts.

If you want to compete in an official Triathlon Ireland event, you will need a licence. Fortunately TI has a similar attitude to its licences as the Irish authorities had to driving licences in the 1950s – there is no test and you can just buy one in advance of the race. (Actually the licence provides you with third-party insurance during the triathlon which is kind of important). In contrast, any unlicensed fool can enter an adventure race.

And don’t get me started on the complex rules which dictate when you can overtake another cyclist in a triathlon.

Let’s face it, if you are going to put a few months’ effort into training for an event, you want to be able to impress people. If boring Paul in accounts did the same event last year, it’s not really going to cut it. With as many as six triathlons taking place each weekend during the summer it’s quite likely Paul has managed to squeeze in a sprint or relay triathlon at some point.

That said you don’t want to make things too exclusive. The most active thread in the triathlon forum on recently asked if triathlon had got too open, ie was it being made too easy to account for all the “newbies”?

Chill out guys and girls. Most of us are going to be back at the desk on Monday, not training for our next Ironman. If you are taking your sport that seriously, are you still having fun?

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