Friday 24 May 2019

Ironman Bryan McCrystal not slowing down anytime soon

Bryan McCrystal
Bryan McCrystal

Ciaran Lennon

Footballer, cyclist, jeweller, father, coach, Ironman. There's many sides to Bryan McCrystal, but he's comfortable with the juggling act. And tomorrow he'll be in his element when he mixes the swimming (1.9km), cycling (90km) and running (21.1km) that combine to form Ironman 70.3 that takes place all over Dublin.

While the world of sport has been dominated by the events in Rio this week, the 2000 endurance athletes that plunge into the water at Sandycove early on Sunday morning will be focused on their own quest to success.

For McCrystal, the former Leeds United footballer, it's a chance to test himself against some of the best on home soil as Ironman returns to Dublin for a second successive year.

“I'm in great shape to be the best I can be this weekend, I've been training hard, but taken it easy this week,” he says. “I'd be honest to say if all goes well and things go my way there's no reason why I couldn't win it overall. You have to look at the pro field, there's some good guys there, but it's not out of my reach.”

McCrystal will compete in the amateur category but is confident he can match the pace of the professional triathletes, who have the luxury of concentrating on their circuit full time. Life is a bit more complicated for the 35-year-old Dundalk man, who rides on the domestic cycling scene for Team Asea, has two young kids and a jewelry shop - although his wife has now taken the reins on the retail front. He has also taken on a coaching role with some of the younger Irish competitors, but despite his busy schedule he doesn't envy his professional rivals.

“I've taken out a professional one-day license two or three times, but it's just not viable, there's no future in it, at the stage of life I'm at with a family, kids and bills to pay you can't make a living out of it,” he says.

“It sounds great in conversation to say your occupation is a professional triathlete, but it's not great in the large scale of things. The good thing is as an amateur in triathlon or Ironman the amateurs line up with the professionals. There's probably no other sport that allows the amateurs race in the same race as the professionals.”

Not that McCrystal should feel uncomfortable mixing it in that sort of company. Last month he finished an impressive fifth against a world class field at Ironman UK in Bolton and has achieved a lifetime ambition of qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii this October. He also won the Duathlon National Championships earlier this year and rode a strong Ras with his cycling team. Despite entering pensionable age in sporting terms, McCrystal continues to push the boundaries.

“I am getting better (with age), my numbers are getting better every year, in terms of my performances. I only started this at 28, I was a footballer before that so you can't compare me to a 35-year-old cyclist who has been absolutely drilling his legs for the last 25 years. So that fatigue probably isn't in me, so I don't see myself slowing down anytime soon.”

That football career involved a four-year spell as a youth team player with Leeds United, during the time the club was being swept up in the dizzying pursuit of  success under George Graham and David O'Leary. While McCrystal never quite managed the big breakthrough, the ball-playing central defender enjoyed being pulled along on a crest of a wave for a while.

After Elland Road, there was a brief spell at Exeter before coming home to play in the League of Ireland and Irish League. In  2007 he fell out of favour at Newry City and knew it was time for something new. McCrystal signed up for the Dublin marathon that April and was quickly on his way to a second sporting career as an endurance athlete.

“The football years were the best years of my life, I wouldn't change how my sporting path has gone for the world,” he insists. “A lot of people say to me 'if you'd started this when you were 18 you'd be riding in the Tour de France now,' this kinda thing, but that never enters my head.

“In some ways I think I have the talent even at my age now to get international call-ups and I've never been looked upon because of my age. I probably earned the right to get those call-ups but they've never come.”

Not that McCrystal is sitting around waiting for a phone call, this is what he loves, the quest to push the boundaries and the quest for success.

“I couldn't see myself doing anything else. When people see me going out doing a 20km run on a Sunday as if I've two heads, well I enjoy that. If you're not enjoying it, it's time to give it up, I am very competitive, getting results on the board and winning is very satisfying.

“When you win and taste success you want more and you want to better yourself. And certainly over the last number of years, winning races and doing the Ras and being involved in that type of race really motivates you to push on to the next goal.”

This weekend that goal is quite clear.

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