Can anyone complete an Ironman?

Can a busy working dad find time to complete an Ironman if they put their mind to it? Channel 4's Paul McNamara takes on an Ironman as a 'social experiment', here's how he got on...

can anyone do an Ironman?

Despite a hectic all-hours job and a young family, triathlete and Channel 4 correspondent Paul McNamara wanted to prove that anyone could complete an Ironman. Here’s how he got on in Barcelona…

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My first triathlon was London about 12 years ago. I had every intention of learning to swim properly but I ended up spending almost the whole summer in Afghanistan.

I landed back on the Friday and London Tri was on the Sunday. I breaststroked the whole thing, I was the last person out.

Luckily, I have improved since then. But in Barcelona the weather was horrific. The 70.3 lot went out before us in the swim, but it was terrifying to watch them. They were literally jet skiing and pulling people out of the water. Everyone was just silent.

I got through it and then the bike was really tricky because you had loads of headwinds and crosswinds. But my main fear was making the cut-off times. I had absolutely no design on finishing in an amazing time, I was literally there to complete it.

Once I knew I was going to make it I was like, ‘this is great!’ After that I actually enjoyed it, despite being knackered. What I did find is that training with gels is very different to racing for 11hrs on them. I stopped being able to swallow them!

I saw a couple of people cramping up, so I was downing Bombay mix with flat Cola for the last two hours.

Ironman Barcelona bike leg
Athletes hunkering down on the IM Barcelona bike leg (Credit: Eric Alonso/Getty Images for Ironman )

Crossing the line was weirdly emotional. I couldn’t talk for about 20 minutes as I was worried that I’d just burst into tears. I’d been building it up in my head for 15 years, so the fear of not being able to finish it was massive.

The next day there was no comedown, I was just incredibly elated. Doing the Ironman was more of a social experiment for me, to see if I actually ‘could’.

Covid actually made my job busier, I’m constantly all over the shop. One morning I was up at 4am to do a bike session. And then by 7:30am I was in Downing Street shouting questions at the Australian prime minister.

The next day I was off up to Leeds for another story and then trying to find a swimming pool. The pubs being shut during lockdown meant I had more time to train. But I still didn’t realise just how tough it would be to fit it all in, around a work schedule that has no fixed routine whatsoever.

I wouldn’t have been able to get through the Ironman if it weren’t for my turbo. I set it up in the shed – I’ve done a lot of hours on Zwift in there!

The majority of my training took place between 4:30 and 7am, before dealing with the kids and then working. It actually had very little impact on my wife.

Now my training’s gone down and my alcohol intake’s gone up, so I’m at that itchy-feet point again. But I’m signed up for the Marathon des Sables in April.

I don’t think I’d be able to commit to a full Ironman again, but the thought of doing a 70.3 now doesn’t feel like anything really! I think I’ll just enjoy it a lot more.

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Meet Paul

Paul McNamara, 39, is Channel 4’s business and global trade correspondent. He lives in North London with his wife and two children, aged 8 and 5. He’s been doing triathlons since 2010 and has wanted to do an Ironman for about 15 years.