On Sunday morning 350 triathletes aged from 17 to 71 will take the plunge into the chilly waters of the Foyle for the fifth firmus Energy City of Derry Triathlon.
The city’s new Mayor Malíosa McHugh and Derry’s Olympic triathlete Aileen Reid will do the honours to start the competitors off on their journey of a 750 k swim in the Foyle, a 20 k cycle and a 5k run.
Reid, who is a member of the city’s North West Triathlon Club (NWTC), took part in last year’s event and was the first woman to cross the finish line. This year she is staying firmly on dry land and is back in Derry to officiate and inspire those taking part.
This year’s triathlon is a big one for the city: it’s been designated as one of the National championship races for 2017 which means top triathletes from all over the country will come to Derry to take part.
And race director Paul McGilloway, himself a seasoned triathlete, hopes that this year’s race will be an exciting one for spectators due to the number of experienced elite athletes pushing for a coveted podium place.
However he points the majority of people are doing it to see what they can achieve and most of all to enjoy the experience.
“If people think it’s all about elite athletes they’re wrong. The elites make up a very small number. You can do this sport from when you’re 16 until you’re 75 – it doesn’t matter what age or sex you are,” he said.
Paul, who has lost count of the number of triathlons he’s taken part in, says the best thing about the firmus event is that it takes place right in the heart of Derry City and people can have a ringside seat at the finish line.
“We are lucky to have our triathlon right in the city centre. All the facilities are on our door step and the City council is great with facilitating the event. Most city triathlons end up out in the sticks but we are right here along the quays,” said Paul.
Race participants will begin to arrive in the city early on Sunday morning. At 8.35 am the first swimmers will enter the Foyle at Sainsbury’s. The race will be staggered into five waves with the elites going in the last two waves.
The second part of the race sees participants get out of their wetsuits, put on their cycling shoes for two laps of the Craigavon and Foyle Bridges. After the bike section, athletes rack their bikes and set out on the last piece of the triathlon race; the 5 k run over the Peace Bridge, around St Columb’s Park and back to the finish line.
This year seating is being arranged for spectators to watch the athletes as they cross the finish line.
Paul added: “What we’ve noticed in the past is people come and say ‘I’d love to have a go at that’. The following year people will try it for themselves. This is a big call out to the people of Derry. Come and see something special happening in our town. You’ll see young and old out racing and that in itself is a wonderful thing.”
Derry triathlete Odhran McKane, who at only 18 is already making serious waves in Irish triathlon circles, is hoping that he will have good race on Sunday. A member of North West Triathlon Club (NWTC), Odhran was inspired to begin his own triathlon journey when he watched his Dad Joe cross the finish line of Derry’s Liam Ball triathlon four years ago.
After seeing his father proudly complete his first triathlon, Odhran, who was 14 at the time, said he knew that he wanted to try the sport for himself. It wasn’t long before he was winning junior races all over the country.
Now the teenager, who is currently studying for his A Levels, is one of the country’s leading young triathletes and has been hand-picked for Triathlon Ireland’s Junior Performance Development Squad.
And on Sunday Odhran will be hoping to emulate his fortunes of last weekend when he won the James McManus Triathlon in Swanlinbar, Co Cavan.
His journey to Sunday’s race has been one of hard work and dedication leaving little room for normal teenage diversions.
He trains six days a week, often twice a day and says he eats healthily most of the time.
“You do have to make sacrifices but I don’t mind making them. I hope to turn professional and represent Ireland in triathlon in the future,” said Odhran.
“The firmus City of Derry Triathlon is my favourite one. I’ll be on home soil with a home crowd and I know the course from my training. It means a lot that it’s at home and it’s one of the best races in Ireland.”
Odhran’s racing career sees him as his family traverse the country most weekends to take part in events but his proud dad Joe says it’s worth it to see his son fulfil his dreams.
“There’s a lot of help behind the scenes,” said Joe. “Myself and my wife Debbie are very proud of him but people have put great work in to help Odhran including people like his swim coach Gerard Curran, Brendan O’Connor of Performance Swim Bike and Run and his running partner Pius McIntyre.
“There’s a lot of sacrifice involved – we are away every Friday, Saturday and Sunday – but I wouldn’t change it.
Odhran’s doing well - he’s got his own aims and he’ll get there and we’ll help in whatever way we can,” he says.
Mum of one Kitty Downey, who lives in the city’s Waterside, will also take the plunge into the Foyle on Sunday morning.
Along with over 50 other women from Derry and Donegal, Kitty undertook a ladies Try-a-Tri in November 2015 organised by Carmel Lynch Bradley.
And she enjoyed the experience so much that she decided the sport of triathlon and the training that goes with it would become a regular part of her life.
“I’d always been into sport but after I had my son Niall (8), I got out of my routine,” explained Kitty.
“I signed up for the ladies Try-a-Tri and it was brilliant. It was all about women and there was a huge buzz around it. It didn’t matter what level you were at – the atmosphere was brilliant and I just felt it was great to be part of it.
“Afterwards I thought I need to keep this going and I can’t be a one trick pony so I did the Liam Ball Triathlon last year and the Firmus Triathlon too. It was just about keeping it all going. I enjoy the training sessions with North West Triathlon Club because it makes you feel you are part of something that’s bigger than you and you’re meeting new people.
“I haven’t done loads of training for this year’s event but I’ve done enough. I just really want to do it. It’ll be great on the day.”