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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 21 January, 2019

A million questions without any reassuring answers - the first step into the unknown

As Ryan Bailey begins his fitness journey, former triathlete Bryan Keane is on hand to offer some expert advice.

AND SO THE uncertainty begins. The endless amount of questions without any reassuring answers. That unsteady middle ground between planning everything on paper and actually getting into the substance of training.

A general view of a competitor during the bike leg Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Why did I even sign up for this?

It’s a valid question. And one which everyone who has ever signed up for a new challenge — be it a physical one or not — will ask themselves. What’s the point? Why worry, why stress, why demand something extra of yourself when you can just continue on as is?

Here’s why.

It’s bloody addictive. You buy into it — the training, the diet and the lifestyle. It’s an obsession. It becomes a way of life rather than part of your life, and is never a chore or strain. You often wonder why, but you always know the answer. You wouldn’t have it any other way.

And so the process starts again. The goal — complete a triathlon — has been set, the groundwork in place and now it’s just about putting in the hours, getting through the work and building up towards race day. The fun part.

Nerves — even at this early stage — are inevitable, not least because it’s a step into the unknown but because it is all part of the process. The apprehension, the adrenaline, the highs, the lows, the pain and the sense of fulfillment extracted from every step — no matter how small — along the way.

But what is that first step? How are you supposed to know when you’ve never travelled this path before?

“It is daunting,” Bryan Keane, one of Ireland’s most successful triathletes, admits.

Oh, God.

“And training is hard, it’s tough work like.”

Let’s move on quickly.

Triathlon - Olympics: Day 13 Keane represented Ireland at the 2016 Olympics after missing out on London through injury. Source: Bryn Lennon

There must be positives…

“The one piece of advice I would give is to surround yourself with people who have the expertise or knowledge that you’ll need to tap into. So joining a triathlon club is so important and training with someone with the same goal is really useful. Training becomes a lot easier if there is someone else you can feed off and bounce stuff off.

“All of these people can advise you and help you along the way and that’s a big part of it. The triathlon community is very, very welcoming.”

Keane, now a sports photographer with the Inpho agency, last year announced his retirement from international competition at the age of 36. The 2016 Rio Olympics was the highlight of a career which saw him compete in some of the biggest events in the world, alongside the biggest names in the sport.

It’s worth hanging onto his every word, even if some of it isn’t exactly what you want to hear.

“Never avoid your weakness, you can’t bluff anything really,” he continues.

“If you’re not going to do the work, you’re not going to get the return on it. It is about small steps and small pieces. Your goal might be at the end of the season and you might think you’re never going to get there but just knocking it off bit by bit, you can get there.”

Keane stresses the importance of concentrating on all three disciplines — swimming, cycling and running — equally, and to avoid falling into the trap of neglecting one because it’s your weakest.

I don’t particularly like swimming, and that’s even before you throw the cold Irish sea into the equation.

“If you are good at something you can obviously do something a little bit less of it, because you’re strong in that area, but you can’t not do something because you don’t really like it. You will be found out.

“A lot of people can be a little bit daunted by swimming and frightened by the water and how cold it is but it’s about exposing yourself to it and getting used to being in the water.

“All the races in Ireland you’re going to be in a wet suit and that helps a huge amount. You’ve got added buoyancy and if you’re not a strong swimmer, you put on a wet suit and that aids you.

“Swimming does take a lot of time but with the weather getting better, it makes things a lot easier. There’s a lot more sea swimming happening now and it’s a lovely way of getting out in the evening. There are so many beaches around the country where you can swim and it’s like anything, the more you do it, the more you like it.”

Bryan Keane during the cycling stage Keane in action back in 2014. Source: Photosport/Fiona Goodall/INPHO

All part of the challenge, so it’s important to divide my time equally between the three disciplines, even if I’d prefer to just focus on running or cycling.

“You never want to work on your weaknesses, everybody likes to do things they’re good at but that’s part of triathlon, you do need to work on all three disciplines,” Keane is quick to stress.

The training plan is locked in, now it’s about working out how to best go about it around a busy work schedule. That’s the key, according to Keane.

What about a target? What time should I be aiming for?

“I wouldn’t set a target,” he says. “Signing up for a race is a target in itself and going and completing that is a really good thing to do.

“Races change all the time, conditions change on the day so the main thing is going out and enjoying the race and being part of a race. A lot of people who are new to the sport stress over getting the right equipment, the transitions and then times — but it’s important to enjoy the process of racing.

“Pre-race nerves are a good thing and putting yourself on the line should be the main target. And then you can assess how you’re feeling and what the conditions are like and readjust how hard you’re going to push your body. That’s when all the training comes in.

“Signing up is a target in itself because sharing the atmosphere and environment with like-minded people is a great thing to do. It’s why you do it, and the number on the clock comes next.”

You can follow Ryan’s journey over the next 12 weeks right here:

Get out, get active! 5 outdoor exercises to really push yourself this summer

‘You tell yourself never again, but it’s a drug. You crave more even when you should say no’

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Ryan Bailey

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