By Ciaran O’Donnell
Two years ago, Peter McLean couldn’t swim a stroke. Fast forward 18 months, and the 59-year-old completed his first ever Half-Iron Man which is made up of a 1.9 metre swim, a 90 km bike and a 21k run.
Seven hours and 33 minutes after taking the starter’s hooter for the inaugural Sheephaven Half at Downings beach, he crossed the finish line. It was the toughest thing he’d ever done. It was, on reflection, the most rewarding. To conquer the event in soaring temperatures – the mercury rose to 36 degrees on that sweltering Saturday – made it all the more satisfying.
At the recent 24/7 Triathlon Club’s annual awards’ night, Peter was named ‘best male newcomer’. It was the perfect end to a perfect year for the Letterkenny man with the easy-come, easy-go manner.
In April, 2017, he took part in the ‘try-a-tri’ in Letterkenny organised by the local club. Just weeks earlier he started learning to swim.
“I wanted to give the ‘try-a-tri’ a go. It was something different and there was a bit of everything in it. The idea of running a day, cycling a day and swimming a day appealed to me. I really enjoyed it and couldn’t wait until the next one,” he recalls.
“I suppose I was bitten by the bug from then. I was also delighted that I was able to complete the Gartan Swim Challenge in August, because that was my other goal for 2017,” he adds.
Peter competed in the ‘super sprint’ in 2018 in preparation for the Half-Iron Man.
“The only difference from that to the ‘try-a-tri’ is that the swim is 16 lengths in the pool instead of eight. The bike (20K) and run (5k) are the same in both events.”
Peter first heard about the Sheephaven Half in September 2017.
“Sean McFadden had me fully primed to go for it from then,” he says.
Having retired from the ESB in 2009, Peter had plenty of time on his hands and set about devoting much more of it to training. Six days training per week soon became the norm. It was a major transformation in his way of going.
Back in 2012, he took up cycling. Up until then, he had no interest in exercising or competing.
“We were in Mac’s on the High Road one morning and Angus Hunter asked me if I’d like to go out cycling and that was the start of it.”
He continued biking and in an effort to mix things up he took on the ‘couch-to-5k’ challenge in 2016. The third and final part of the jigsaw was pieced together in the March of the following year when he took to the water for the first time.
It’s a whole new world for Peter now.
“I enjoy the people and I enjoy the social end of the 24/7 Triathlon Club. Everybody gets on. The club is made up of all different levels of athletes. I felt that I could fit in with the level that I’m at. It’s a great club with nice people and good structures,” he says.
Peter has lost three stone over the last two years and says he’s never felt better.
“My advice to anyone thinking about taking up triathlons is to give the ‘try-a-tri’ a go – that’s the one that will smit them. If it doesn’t, they can go back to the bottle of Lucozade,” he adds with a laugh.
For nine months, Peter’s sole focus was on the Sheephaven Half. Getting to the start line and crossing the finish line were the two aims.
“I knew if I could get out of the water I could finish it. About a month beforehand, I met Karol Harvey and he asked me if I was doing the Sheephaven Half. I told him I’d entered, but I also told him I didn’t think I’d be doing it because I wouldn’t manage the swim. He said ‘sure if you don’t, won’t there plenty of canoes there. Sure we can pull you out of the water and take you in’. That was all I needed. Once I got that reassurance, I was right. After that, anybody who asked me what I was doing, I told them I was definitely doing Sheephaven.”
The Sheephaven Half was a hugely successful sporting spectacle, with the glorious sunshine serving to show the coastal corner off the county in all his splendour.
For Peter, June 30th 2018 is a date he will always recall with pride.
“The members from the 24/7 club who were marshalling were fantastic and the support along the way was something else. It was like stepping out into the final of the World Cup for me, such was the cheering and excitement. Everybody was shouting my name going through Downings and at all the water stations. The people were really, really encouraging.”
Sean McFadden, who finished third overall in the event, went back along the course and accompanied Peter over the last five miles.
“Charlie Joe McGinley was also a great source of support and supplied me with water. He was with me from Rathmullan,” he comments.
Peter took the following Sunday and Monday off. On the Tuesday, he swam 1,400 metres and ran 5k.
“I was as right as rain. I’d been thinking before that that I mightn’t be able to walk for a week after the Sheephaven. But I was brand new, not a bother.”
He’s planning to start this season where he finished the last – with a triathlon in Florida in April. Last September he competed in the Crystal River Triathlon while holidaying in the US and won the 55-59 category in a time of 1:30:54.
“The plan would be to do one a month after that. If I do the Half-Iron Man in Downings, I will be in a new age category as I turn 60 on June 16th.”