Two World Champs in Six Weeks for John Lenehan

From qualifying for Kona after Ironman UK to winning a Silver medal at the World Sprint Triathlon Championships in Lausanne in the space of 2 months, read John Lenehan's race report on the build up to the two events...

John Lenehan Swim

The 10 Year Goal

Winning a silver medal in the world sprint triathlon championships in Lausanne was genuinely very unexpected. The whole weekend was really brilliant. It came quite soon after Ironman UK (on 14th July). The Ironman was a big effort and it took a long time to recover from.

I have been trying to qualify for Kona for 10 years, probably to the detriment of my running and short-course triathlon career. In relative terms I’m probably not as good at long-course/long-distance racing, but there was always a sense of unfinished business with the Ironman. It’s a very challenging endeavour but I’d always felt I had it in me to qualify for Kona. It was a case of trying to maximise everything, have a good build-up and a good race. This was easier said than done, it would seem, as the last 10 years have proven…

Prior to Ironman UK this year I had entered 9 full Ironman races and 4 half Ironman races, each of which went wrong in the build-up or on the day, for various reasons mostly beyond my control. To name a few: a sports massage that caused septicaemia just before a race, my front brake caliper breaking during a race, missing out on qualifying by one place at a race, getting food poisoning and collapsing when leading my age group in a race, crashing in training and dislocating my shoulder/breaking my wrist before a race, getting sick in the run-up to a race, freak monsoon weather conditions leading to almost-hypothermia in a race (I’m very lean and don’t go well in cold/wet conditions). There were some very tough circumstances and setbacks, but I kept coming back time after time, believing it would finally all come good.

Finally, at Ironman UK 2019, it did all come together. All the hard lessons had been learned. Everything went well in training and in the race. I had a decent swim, an acceptable bike on a very tough course (10,000 feet of climbing on rough roads), and a reasonable run, again on a tough course. I was very relieved to finally qualify for Kona.

John  Lenehan Ironaman

the World Sprint Triathlon Championships

In 2018 I did my first sprint triathlon, and did well enough to realise that I am probably better at the shorter races. Off the back of a few decent sprint/standard results in 2018, I had the opportunity to compete for Ireland in Lausanne. Having just qualified for Kona, with 6-7 weeks between Ironman UK and Lausanne, and 4-5 weeks between Lausanne and Kona, it wasn’t an easy decision to go to Lausanne. I knew the timing wasn’t ideal.

In the end, I decided to go for it (I’m glad I did!), and take the opportunity while it was there, but I knew I wouldn’t be ideally trained. The recovery after Ironman UK took a while, and I had a sore back heading out to Lausanne, but thankfully it didn’t seem to affect me too much. I had no expectations of challenging for a podium. I hoped I’d place in the top half of the field, possibly breaking into the top 20 if it went really well.

John Lenehan Bike

My short-course swimming could do with improvement and I was some way down on the leaders coming out of the water. But I felt strong on the bike and made up positions. The bike was exhilarating, on smooth fast roads, with a good mix of corners, ascents and descents. I’d never done a draft-legal race before and it needed full concentration. I went hard on the bike, knowing it would only be half an hour or so, and knowing that in the short-course races, the run is usually my strong point.

I felt good on the run, didn’t really notice the heat, and kept passing people. There was great Irish support on course. Indeed there was great Irish support the whole weekend, it was really good to meet Triathlon Ireland staff, competitors and supporters alike. I crossed the line thinking I’d had a reasonable race, but I was expecting to be told I was 43rd or 30th or maybe even 19th so to hear the announcer say I was second was a huge surprise. I really couldn’t believe it.

I raced again the next day in the standard race but I was a bit fatigued. It was a tougher swim (the water was rougher and felt colder) and I just didn’t quite have the zip in my legs for the bike and the run that I’d had for the sprint race, which was understandable. I raced as well as I could in the circumstances and think I was something like 22nd in the standard race.

John Lenehan run

A Podium, a drink and a burger

I really enjoyed the closing ceremony and podium awards. It was great to have a drink or two, and a burger. A podium, a drink and burger – none of these things happens very often. It was good to chat with others from Ireland, including Roisin Lynch who had also won a silver medal. I was lucky to have great support on the trip from my girlfriend who did so much to enable it all. Thanks also to everyone at Triathlon Ireland, and all the Irish out in Lausanne. It was a brilliant experience.

The silver medal might mean I have to re-think my targets for next year, but I’ll get through Kona first and have a bit of a rest after that before I start to think seriously about next year…