Ironman George prepares for his toughest challenge

“About halfway through, the demons start telling you to give up,” says George Sherwood.

“About halfway through, the demons start telling you to give up,” says George Sherwood.

“Most of it is in the head. I find, personally, it is 90% mental – the endurance, the suffering – and then 10% ability and training.”

He is speaking about ‘Ironman’ – a mammoth endurance race, a triathlon taken to the next level. He is in the final stages of preparation for Ironman Austria, which he is doing next month to raise funds for charity.

“It is the suffering though, you go in for the pain,” he says.

“Your muscles are shot after 10 hours of intense activity. The reward is the finish.”

Nearly 3,000 athletes from over 40 countries will take part in the event in Klagenfurt, Austria on July 1.

The charity for which George is raising funds is the Down Syndrome Centre, which works to provide support services and information for parents whose child has been born with Down Syndrome. It’s a cause close to his heart – his three-year old daughter Hazel has Down Syndrome.

“She’s the one that keeps me going on the wet and windy days, when I don’t feel like going out training,” he says.

“She has had a few heart operations – the doctors said that it was like running a marathon every day until she had [the operations]. I want to put something back into that. It is a cause I have a connection with.”

George, who is managing director at Sherwoods Digital on High Street, is a relative newcomer to the sport. He only started doing triathlons about three years ago, for health reasons and to get fit. It was a hobby, nothing serious.

But before long, he had developed a passion. And after a year, he found himself wanting to step it up to the next level: Ironman.

Ironman is not for the faint of heart. The race is an extended triathlon: A 3.8km swim, followed by an 180km bike ride, topped off with a marathon (a 42km run).

His first was in Switzerland – more of a trial run, a learning experience than anything. After that it was Challenge Roth – perhaps the most famous long-distance race in the world, attracting around 300,000 supporters each year.

George’s time in that race was 10 hours, 49 minutes – and his goal for Austria is to knock a good 50 minutes off that.

“You are always trying to improve your time,” he says.

“I’m trying to get below the 10-hour mark. All going well, it is possible.”

The Kilkenny athlete will fly out to Austria on Thursday, June 28. He will do a course recce on Friday, and attempt to acclimatise to the conditions, as well as register for the event, build and rack his bicycle.

Generally, about 50 or 60 Irish will travel out to the Austria event. George is the only one from Kilkenny.

His time objectives for each aspect of the race are as follows: One and a half hours in the water, five hours and fifteen minutes on the bike, and then on to run the marathon in three and a half hours.

“When you do cross that line, the emotions hit you,” he says.

“You have spent eight to 10 months training for that one day. You finish and you’re absolutely spent. It certainly takes a few days – you see some people on IV tubes or going into hospital.”

Competing in Austria also throws up a number of problems not encountered during training within the climes of Kilkenny.

“The heat is another factor,” says George.

“We aren’t used to around 30 degrees of heat.

Along the race route, there are aid stations every 30 kilometres. However, most competitors will carry their own supplies also – fluids, energy gels and energy bars.

“I set my bike alarm to remind me to take some every 30 minutes,” says George.

“Nutrition is every bit as important as training and equipment. On race day, you would use about 10,000 calories.”

At the moment, every day of the week involves hours of training. The ring road is his running track, and the Ormonde Leisure Centre is the swimming pool. Cycling is done anywhere and everywhere.

“Before you can get off the bike and run without your legs going to jelly, it takes a lot of training,” he says.

“January and February was to build a base. March and April was speed. May and June was high intensity and speed.”

At the moment, he is doing the last of his intense training before adopting a more relaxed approach as the race date nears.

“I have a race in Dunmoreast on June 16, and then on Saturday, I’ll cycle back from there to Kilkenny, which is about 75km,” he says.

“then, I have a 10km road race in Johnswell the next morning. After that, I will start to taper down.”

George is also a member of Kilkenny Triathlon Club, which organises its own events locally and promotes the fast-growing sport in Kilkenny. There are around 150 members in the club, and there is a big interest in events like this. It is the currently the fastest-growing sport in Ireland, and the club is constantly adding new members.

To give some idea of the popularity of the sport, all 2,800 starting places for Ironman Austria were booked out within 26 minutes of the event opening for registration online. Whatever way this one goes, George says it is unlikely to be his last.

““It takes over your life,” he says.

“Once you do it once, the next day you’re signing up again. I have never met anyone who has done one and hasn’t also done a second or third. It is a bug and you get bitten!”

To make a donation or to sponsor George’s efforts in Austria for the Down Syndrome Centre, visit http://www.mycharity.ie/event/george_sherwoods_event.