By Ciaran O’Donnell
Another half iron man completed, and another podium finish. For those with drive and ambition, the podium is the only place they want to hang out. Aidan Callaghan of Letterkenny 24/7 Triathlon Club is no exception.
Last Sunday morning, as the world sat in wait for the most eagerly anticipated All-Ireland hurling finals of the modern era to unfold at Croke Park, Aidan Callaghan was doing his bit for club and county on the other side of the city in the Dún Laoghaire 70.3. Finishing first in his category and seventh overall was a worthy return for his efforts.
It’s eight years since the St Eunan’s midfielder swapped his boots, gloves and the size five for wheels, racers and a tri-suit. While it took the 35-year-old a couple of seasons to find his way, he’s been at it full on since 2013. Growing up, he was actively involved in a number of sports.
“Once the Leaving Cert was over, swimming went by the wayside. I played underage gaelic with St Eunan’s and soccer with Letterkenny Rovers. Then I went to college in England. I suppose I’m putting so much effort in now. It’s not that I feel I left something behind, but maybe I spent too much time in the pub in my twenties,” he says with a laugh.
“Over in England I was playing gaelic and not a lot of soccer. I came home, played a wee bit of GAA and got a bad hip injury. I took a year out and during that time I decided to go and give triathlons a lash. I’d done a few 5ks and was a handy enough runner. I played a wee bit of soccer for Lagan Harps, but didn’t go back to the gaelic.”
Along with winning the 35-39 age group category at the weekend in a time of 4 hours and 33 minutes, he placed 7th overall in a field of 1,149 and thus earned qualification for the 2019 world championships which will take place in Nice next September. That all six in front of him were pros – he also had a few behind him – made his latest performance all the more satisfying.
“Podiums are where it’s at and it’s where you want to be, obviously, if you’re putting in the kind of effort I’m putting in. I’m delighted to have won my age category and even more so with my overall placing and being the first amateur. I suppose what really topped it off was putting it up to the pros and getting in the mix. 14 or 15 pros started and 12 or 13 of them finished,” he comments. While Aidan has gone quicker than 4:33 in the past for the 70.3, given the conditions and the gradient, he’s extremely pleased with his splits; he clocked 28:54 for the 1.9k swim, averaged 35k per hour for the 90k cycle and posted 1:22 for the half marathon.
“Sunday’s course had more climbing than the Sheephaven Half held in Downings earlier in the summer. It was a really, really tough course. There were some tight pulls up through the Wicklow Mountains. Going up Long Mile Road is like going up to the top of Mamore in Inishowen. There’s a benefit, obviously, when come down the other side as you can send it on. But you couldn’t see ten or 15 feet in front of you as it was that misty and drizzly at the top. The wind was howling from the side, so that made it dangerous.”
As with every race of this nature, Aidan had a plan. And while his swim time was down, the rest of the competitors were also shy of target, too.
“It was extremely choppy and you were swimming into the wind as well. The chop was coming straight at you. I had the fastest swim if my age category, so I was happy enough with that,” he says.
The bike went fully to plan and he kept things steady throughout.
“I looked at my power numbers and just kept it to my watts. Everything was bang on and I felt really good on all my climbs. I didn’t feel wrecked or tired, and got to recover on the descents before going again on the next climb.”
Aidan ran extremely well off the bike. The aim was to run between 6:00 and 6:15 per mile, and he averaged 6:12 which was a solid shift.
He went into Dublin on the back of three good outings, winning the Belfast Titanic Standard Distance NS Triathlon at the end of July and the Crooked Lake Triathlon in June. He finished second in the Westport Triathlon, also in June.
“The nationals were in Wicklow earlier in the season. I finished ninth and was bitterly disappointed with that. But as Letterkenny AC’s Paddy Ward, says,’the bad days make the good ones better’.”
It’s been a busy 18 months for the ETB Youthreach Co-Ordinator. He married Catherine Regan in April last year and took on the challenge of the Donegal Ultra Cycle over 555k the following June where he finished second behind Ronan McLaughlin.
“It was tight. During the 555, I loved it. Looking back, I loved it as well. But it probably did take away from my season.”
The countless miles in preparation for the 555 have certainly served to make him a stronger biker. Aidan was race director for the hugely successful Sheephaven Half Ironman which was rightly hailed as one of the best events of the sporting year in the region. Next on the tick list for 2018 is the full ironman in Barcelona in October.
“Again the plan is to go well there and hopefully end up on the podium,” he says.
Overall, he’s having a good season. Over time, he’s learned not to do too much hard grafting too early. He batters away himself in January and February, with a more structured approach adopted in March.
“I really get into the heavy stuff after Easter and that seems to suit me because I’m peaking well at this time of year. In 2016 when I went to Kona I did the same, so it’s all about looking after the body,” he adds.
Aidan trains an average of 20 hours per week. Over the last three months, he’s been swimming four to five days a week. He’s on the bike five days, he runs off the bike three times a week and usually has three single runs in the week, too.
“That doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else and that’s why you have to even it out. For November, December and January I just sit back and relax, and give the head and body a bit of time to recover. It is pretty full on. But I do enjoy it. I wouldn’t be at it if I didn’t enjoy it.”
On the podium, preferably on the highest step, is where Aidan is keen to remain. He’s also looking at the possibility of getting a pro licence and maybe making a buck or two, given the level he’s able to compete at. “I just want to enjoy my sport, keep getting podiums and keep doing well. It would be great to go pro and get money out of it the odd time. I want to be as close to the top in most of the races. I’d also like to go back and win another national championship, having won it previously in 2016. I’ll probably give that a rattle next year, depending on the course. It would be nice to finish in the top five of the world championships next year. I just want to be as good as I can be. It’s not about money, it’s about bettering yourself and challenging yourself,” he comments.
It’s nice to feel that people are looking up to you have good will towards you. People are interested in how I’m getting on and where I’m going next, and I suppose I am conscious of that.”
The world of endurance sports might well have a lingo all of its own, yet only three words really matter to Aidan Callaghan.
Power, placings and podiums.
By Ciaran O’Donnell