Lifestyle Health

Monday 19 March 2018

A feat that will endure forever

Sean Buckley and James Colbert are challenging people to take on their 2068k Triathlon

James Colbert and Sean Buckley at Cahir Castle grounds in Tipperary. El Keegan
James Colbert and Sean Buckley at Cahir Castle grounds in Tipperary. El Keegan

Tanya Sweeney

Given the abundance of endurance events issuing a call to arms to sports enthusiasts in Ireland, Sean Buckley and James Colbert were keenly aware that in order to get noticed, their event would need to surpass all others.

"You have to create something extreme, and you start to realise what kind of extreme events are already out there," notes Sean. "I'd heard of an event where you do 10 marathons in as many days. That's insane to me, but there are some fellas who can do that."

And, in creating their Endurance Challenge 2068 event, they certainly didn't disappoint on the extreme front. The two friends plan to undertake a record triathlon feat by cycling through every county in Ireland, swimming 120k of the River Shannon and running in four consecutive marathons, a total of 2068k – all in just 22 days.

In a first, the cycling challenge will take participants through every one of Ireland's 32 counties on four different cycle tours, covering in excess of 1780k.

Participants can then take part in four consecutive marathons in each province before taking on the 120k swim.

All in all, it clocks in as one of Ireland's most gruelling and extreme physical challenges.

Those who sign up to the challenge will find themselves in rather good, if endlessly fit, company. Cork-born Sean is no stranger to endurance events, having swum the English Channel as part of a relay in 2010, and completed various Ironman events. For his part, his partner-in-crime James is a former competitive rugby player, and a former director of rugby at Midleton RFC.

"For years I'd have been your average GAA or soccer player in the village," explains Sean. "I started a bit of swimming when I had to have an operation on my knee. My trainer asked if I had any interest in swimming the Channel, so that was that. It turns out that Cork has the fourth biggest group of people who have swam the Channel.

"In 2010, James and I started cycling for the Ironman events, and we'd be cycling 150k on a Sunday," he adds. "We'd be like, 'I've never seen this village before', or 'there's a beach I've never noticed'. James realised he'd never been to Antrim, and I'd never been to places like Donegal. We'd been to places in Australia and the US, and there were parts of our own country that we had yet to discover."

Pretty soon, the idea of creating their own event began to take hold; something that would push participants to their limits.

In 2012, tragedy also struck as Sean's father John was diagnosed with terminal cancer in April. A former black belt in karate and all-round fitness enthusiast, he died in December of that year. Before long, the objective for Sean and James' endurance event became clear; to raise money for Breakthrough Cancer Research.

"When you see someone go from being fit and healthy to needing help out of bed within the space of a few months, you become so thankful for the little things," adds Sean. "I always think, 'I may have a pain in my side from cycling, but at least I can do it'."

And, during what was doubtless a gruelling time for his family, Sean began to find some solace in his training sessions.

"I found it easier to train while my dad was ill," he says. "I needed a break. It was great, to be honest, to get onto a bike for two hours and not have to talk to anyone. I realise too that this whole challenge for me is part of the grieving process."

Sean and James' objective to raise €500,000 for Breakthrough Cancer Research has certainly helped them get noticed in their community.

"I'll be in the pub and people are like, 'is he not meant to be training?'" laughs Sean. And further afield, their challenge has gotten the thumbs-up from former Olympic medalist Sonia O'Sullivan.

"She found out about the challenge through Twitter," explains Sean. "She wrote to us to say, 'that looks amazing', so now she's kind of like our event ambassador and is happy to help in any way that she can.

"She's been helping out a bit in terms of awareness from her base in Melbourne," explains Sean. "We'd love it if she came back to get more involved."

Whether or not Sean and James are joined at the start line by Sonia remains to be seen. But, for now, the enormity of the challenge is certainly looming large. While participants are invited to take on as much or as little of the event as they please, Sean and James are planning to take part every step of the way. With that, Sean and James are training twice a day, six days a week.

On Tuesday, they swim in the mornings, often for two-and-a-half hours, and run in the evenings, take a 80k cycle on Wednesday and take to the gym on Thursdays for stretching and core work before starting the regime all over again.

"If I was training full time for the Olympics I'd probably be doing the same amount of training," smiles Sean. "Where athletes can probably go and nap during the day, I have to run the family business in Midleton. The pros are that I can go training when I want, but being self-employed, you have to pick up the slack afterwards."

It's a punishing regime by anybody's yardstick ... but with the prospect of raising up to €500,000 for a cancer charity, the prospect of finding a cure for cancer is far outweighing the physical sacrifices.

"To have witnessed personally the pain and suffering that a cancer patient endures during treatment made me realise that any pain I would endure during our Endurance Challenge 2068 would pale significantly in comparison," says Sean.

"If we can do this challenge, it means that anything is possible ... and maybe we can sort a cure."

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Irish Independent

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