IT’S a cold April evening at the CIT complex as members of St Finbarr’s Athletic Club gather for a weekly track session.
Under the watchful eye of Fergus O’Donovan, tonight the athletes will complete a session of four 800 metres runs with a corresponding recovery in between.
Although smaller than usual due to a road race the following night, the group is made up of some of the more experienced athletes in the club, along with a number of newcomers the product of the current running boom.
As he completes his allotted number of 800m repeats in a shade over two minutes and 20 seconds each, the 6ft 2in frame and long stride of Cathal O’Donovan stands out.
The woodwork teacher had travelled to the track the short distance from his digs near the Rendezvous Bar on his lightweight road bike and after a short warmdown its back on the bike, another session completed.
Bike, run, bike. It’s a sequence that plays a big part in this 25-year-old’s life and which sees him compete this weekend at European level in the Dutch town of Horst.
The duathlon is not as high profile as its better-known cousin, the triathlon, but it is just as demanding, as O’Donovan explains what awaits him this coming weekend: “It’s the long distance European Championships and it comprises of a 15km run, a 60km bike ride followed by another 7.5km run. After completing the 15km run, it’s straight on to the bike and when that’s completed then it’s out the gap again for the second run.”
“The other two on the Irish team are Mark Nolan from Kerry, who’s a member of the Emerald cycling club and based in Belgium, and David Vaughan, who lives in London, and recently won the Welsh championships,” says O’Donovan.
Last year, the European Championships were held in Limerick where O’Donovan finished third in the open race.
“Some of the lads advised me to go away and train a bit more and apply for the elite race. There was a qualifying event held in Wicklow back in October and I came fifth in that and then I sent off my sport CV to see if I could be selected for the elite.”
It’s a rapid progression for the man from Balteenbrack near Dunmanway, who is just a short two years in the sport. But the athletic ability was always there, as he recalls: “I was always into athletics and my father used to take my brother Risteárd and myself to all the local sports. Living in the country, we were usually busy on the farm so we weren’t members of an athletics club but we won a lot of medals, running in our bare feet.”
“In the country we always cycled everywhere but I never cycled competitively. Then, while teaching in Skibbereen, a friend of mine was into spinning classes and so I started that. I got a bike on the bike-to-work scheme and started to do a few cycle tours such as the Ring of Kerry and the Tour of Munster.
“One day one of the teachers I was working with told me about a duathlon in Skibbereen which was part of the West Cork Series so I said I’d do it for the craic and I ended up coming fourth and that’s where it all began. I got to know a few of the people from St Finbarr’s like Paul Gallagher, James Curran and Kathy Cooke so when I started working in Kinsale I joined the club.”
This year alone O’Donovan has taken part in nine duathlon races and has won eight of them. “The first race of the season was in Limerick and I beat the likes of Dave Richardson, who would be one of the elites, there. I also won in Carrick-on Suir, along with a few in West Cork, and I set a record for the Valentia Island event.
“The toughest I had was in Ennis, that’s Ireland’s only draft legal race. That means you can draft on the bike behind the fellow in front of you. The best in Ireland were there. I led the run but then the chain came off my bike and I ended up second, three seconds behind the winner.”
Prior to the commencement of the duathlon season, O’Donovan had put in a good winter of cross-country running, claiming the bronze medal in the Munster Novice and finishing 12th at All-Ireland level.
While running may be a pretty basic and cheap activity, the same cannot be said of the duathlon. “It’s a fierce costly sport, just this evening I collected two new wheels and they cost me €2,000. That’s just the wheels alone, without the tyres. The bike I’m taking to Holland is three grand, and that’s just a road bike. I can’t afford a triathlon bike, but I find that the road bike is more suitable for the Irish roads anyway.”
O’Donovan has obtained some sponsorship from The Edge Sports Shop and St Finbarr’s have also made a contribution to his costs, but in the present climate he knows that sponsorship is hard to come by. “I tried everyone and even contacted the Irish Sports Council, but they couldn’t help me out. My family have been a great support, but of course I’d be delighted if someone came along and sponsored me,” he says.
Anyone interested in helping Cathal can go to: