Sunday 19 November 2017

Ultra Triathlon: One for all and all for one

Three friends are taking on a unique ultra triathlon across Ireland

Three friends are training for the most gruelling 11 days of their lives.
Three friends are training for the most gruelling 11 days of their lives.

Ben Blake

Three friends are right now in training for an event that promises to be the most gruelling 11 days of their lives.

With the aim of raising funds for two charities close to their hearts, Mark Neilon and Wes Reilly, living in Portarlington, and Richard Hart from Dublin have hatched a plan to do an ultra triathlon that will see them travel countrywide while clocking up 900k.

Taking place from August 22 to September 1, Up and Over kicks off with a 7.6k swim in Portlaoise Leisure Centre before the trio head to Cork the next day for the second stage.

A 646k cycle will begin at Mizen Head and, after taking the scenic route through Tralee, Lisdoonvarna, Claremorris and Ballybofey, they are scheduled to arrive at the most northerly point of Ireland, Malin Head, five days later.

And to finish off? A final leg consisting of a 225k coast-to-coast run from Oranmore in Galway to Dublin city centre.

"The idea came about last year," says Mark, a 36-year-old prison guard.

"My mum was diagnosed with cancer last May or June. A friend of mine, Wes, had done a charity event the year before and we decided we would organise something a little bigger.

"Richie, who had cycled from Mizen to Malin Head before, also came on board and we wanted to put a triathlon twist on it.

"It's all about raising some money. Richie's mother has had cancer twice and a couple of our friends have had children with autism, so Irish Autism Action and the Irish Cancer Society are the two charities we opted for."

Around 2009, the three lads all decided they needed to get fit for their own personal reasons – Richie had been putting on weight since retiring from rugby league and taking up golf a year earlier; the birth of Mark's son, Ethan, gave him the motivation he needed to lose a couple of stone; while Wes had been into running and cycling when he was young and thought he would like to rekindle his interest.

They have since participated in several marathons, triathlons and Ironmans between them, and Richie is just back from competing at the European Triathlon Championships in Turkey. However, stepping up the training programme for their latest challenge hasn't been easy.

"The training has just gone out of orbit. We're doing 12 hours a week at the moment, covering 70k running, 200k on the bike and about 6k in the pool. We're covering at least two half-marathons a week in running.

"It has been difficult for us all to fit it in with work commitments. I've got two small kids as well, so there have been a lot of lunchtime sessions just to fit in the hours. We have calculated that towards the end of July we're going to be at 18 hours a week."

The original plan had involved an open-water swim, but due to fears that they might pick up an illness which would prevent them from seeing out the event, they instead chose the pool.

Until February 2011, Mark could not swim. Now he faces 304 lengths of a 25m pool.

"We've given ourselves four hours to do it – 2k per hour with a few breaks in the middle," he says. "It's more about endurance and getting it done than doing it fast."

And that is a point the group are keen to stress. They do not intend to make a race of it, and have talked about staying alongside one another from start to finish of the three stages.

"We are confident that we will get it completed as we're not on any time scale," says Mark. If we have to stay out for six, seven or eight hours to do it one day, we will.

"We have an idea in our heads of the pace we want to go. It's not going to be lightning pace, but it will get the job done. Let's just say we'll be faster than Eddie Izzard but slower than the world record."

On the penultimate day (August 31), the public are encouraged to turn out and join in between Offaly and The Curragh. There is a 7k, 10k, half-marathon and full-marathon to accommodate all levels of runner who want to get involved.

On top of that, Mark and Wes are also sure to get a warm welcome when they pass through their hometown.

"That day is going to be the most important as we're looking to raise as much money as possible. We did a 5k for autism in Rhode, Co Offaly, last January and a load of locals turned up.

"There was an old guy in just a pair of jeans and a shirt who put on his number and walked it. It is just a matter of getting involved for the local charity, so we would encourage people to show up."

The final 48k stretch will bring them up to Camden Street in Dublin 2, where a reception will be hosted by main sponsors, Flannery's Bar.

Fundraising efforts have been encouraging, with around €3,500 raised so far, but the aim to bring in €10,000 for each of their two charities is some distance away, and Mark is pleading with people to dig deep in the run-up to and during the event.

For more information on how to donate to Up And Over, visit, upandovertri/ or

Irish Independent

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