Killarney native Alan Ryan has spent most of his adult life overseas, mostly in the U.K. and Asia. When it was time to come back to Ireland, he knew exactly what his home town was missing—a triathlon.

“I have always been interested in events like triathlons, especially while I was living abroad. I always believed that Killarney was ideal for a long-distance triathlon, and when I moved home to Ireland in 2007, I started looking at the possibility of organising one myself.” The result was Hardman Events, which launched its first triathlon in 2011.

In case you are thinking of doing one any time soon, a full-distance triathlon involves a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride, and a 26.2-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order. The one that Alan first organised in Killarney in 2011, starts with a swim in Lough Lein (the biggest of the Lakes of Killarney), a cycle of the entire Ring of Kerry, and a full marathon in Killarney National Park.

And if you are feeling competitive: “Our course record is 9 hours 11mins, and our slowest time is 16.5 hours, which shows the range of athletes who take part.”

Keeping It Real

This is not a race for the timid. Hardman events are renowned for favouring more challenging courses. “We try to keep it as real as possible. If we are looking at a route with a hill in it, then we’ll go over the hill, not try to find a way around it. We also assume that everyone who takes part is an adult with a fair degree of cop-on and responsibility and does not expect us to hold their hand to the finish line.”

The Bar is Rising

In the decade since he set up Hardman Events, Alan has seen a marked difference in the kind of athlete signing up for events. Some amateur athletes have become more focused, and they are not as happy simply to take part and keep fit any more.

“Now people come into the sport and want to be competitive from the very beginning.”

He has also noticed that participants are more likely to enter events overseas, but that they frequently judge local and international races by different standards. “People have more money to spend on events and travel abroad to race. This can be very expensive, but athletes then expect the same bells and whistles at home for lower prices,” he explains.

One constant remains, however. “For the most part, athletes are in it to enjoy themselves and have fun in a good social setting. These are the people who we like to cater for.”

“We Have It All Here.”

Alan describes county Kerry as “an outdoor athletes’ playground. This is the main county where people come on training camps but we haven’t capitalised on it as a sporting destination.”

That could all change now that the pandemic has reminded people of the joys of holidaying at home. With nobody taking foreign breaks for a while, there are opportunities for home-grown sports businesses to show people just how much fun they can have on an Irish activity break.

“The ban on overseas travel means that a lot of athletes have no choice but to race at home, which is good,” Alan points out.

Interest in Amateur Endurance Events Continues to Rise

Participation in sport is becoming more popular, but Alan does not believe it is all down to increased health consciousness. “It is the herd/group mentality, ” he maintains. He believes that people want to feel like they belong and are part of a larger group. “Being able to say I am a triathlete/cyclist/runner etc is seen as a good thing. How else can you explain the number of men out cycling these days? It is a healthier version of golf.”

One of the big differences between racing today and racing a decade ago is the growing prevalence of technology in amateur sport. Devices that help people monitor their performance are now increasingly accessible to even the most inexperienced athletes. Alan doesn’t believe that this is always a good thing.

He has noticed an unhealthy obsession among some of his participants with tech. “It breaks my heart when I see someone cross the line with a huge smile, only to look at their Garmin and be disappointed to see they missed their target. If you are relying on a computer to tell you whether you have had a good day or not, things have gone too far.”

Never Too Late

If you are thinking of taking up triathlons, the best thing you can do is to join a club. The pursuit involves three different sports, and it can be very difficult to learn and stay motivated when you are training in such diverse disciplines. Alan is full of praise for the clubs.

“Triathlon clubs are very sociable places and very welcoming. There is a fantastic  triathlon club in Tralee that will bring anyone from beginner to expert in good time.”