Age Group Stories: Oonagh O’Brien10th Aug 2018 | Written by Carolyn Reid
The Moment has arrived as International competition returns to Strathclyde Park with the Glasgow ETU Triathlon European Championships! The Championships include an Elite Men and Women’s Olympic distance race, a Mixed Team Relay and Age Group Sprint distance events.
Among the British Age Group athlete’s aiming for success in the Championships is Edinburgh based triathlete Oonagh O’Brien. A member of Edinburgh Road Club, Oonagh only started taking part in triathlons in her fifties. Working with her coach Penny Rother, Oonagh has represented Great Britain in numerous Championship races and is now ready to compete in Glasgow!
We got the chance to catch up with Oonagh before the Championships to chat to her about how she got into Triathlon and what she loves about age group racing!
How and when did you get into Triathlon?
I have always done a variety of sports but none very competitively. I love swimming and swam with a club and for my school briefly as a child. I always swam regularly and in my family, there has always been a tradition of open water swimming, getting into the sea or rivers whenever there was a possibility. I cycled to commute for years and when I heard about triathlon I thought, well I can swim, I can cycle and surely anyone can run!
How did you get into Age Group racing?
I heard about people competing in World Championships at Edinburgh Road Club but really didn’t pay much attention as my times were never very fast and I just thought it was something for people who were very fast! I got to know a lovely group of women who were in the club and lived locally – some of us already knew each other as our kids were at school together and we encouraged each other to participate. Penny Rother, a coach with the club, is a very successful triathlete and Age Grouper and she helped me to plan races and explained how to qualify for events. This was about two years before the World Championships were in London and I realized I was going to be 55 that year and so I would enter a new age group. I started to look at the races required to qualify and just started plugging away from there.
Did you face any barriers to Age Group participation and if so how did you overcome these?
The first qualifier I went to down in England was unlike any Scottish race I’d been to. It was Luton, it was huge and I was on my own! I had a really bad race and to be honest at the end of it I thought I wouldn’t bother trying anymore! However, that experience really helped me the following year when I realized one of the qualifiers was in Nottingham where my sister lived and a friend wanted to do it as well. Staying with my sister and competing with someone else made it a much better experience and I actually realized how much I learnt from the terrible result in Luton! I think the other barriers were in my head- having a busy job and lots of family commitments made me feel that I shouldn’t ‘indulge’ in triathlon, the time and the money it takes up. Having a great group of other females in the same position was fundamental to me overcoming those barriers and understanding how important it is to prioritize ourselves sometimes!
Has your journey been particularly influenced by anyone?
I wouldn’t even have dreamt about trying for age group racing without Penny Rother! I am not a fast triathlete and my times don’t change much, but she has been so encouraging, making you realize that with work on technical aspects, choosing the right races and efficient training, even when you don’t have lots of time availability and the demands of work and family, you can do it! She makes it such fun as well and we all have a lot of laughs – without which I would never stick at this!
Other club coaches have been great as well- Linda Mclean who has coached with ERC for years attended the first triathlon I ever went to which was amazing. When you hear Linda yell at you to get the hell out of transition, it takes at least a minute off your time I am sure! Linda is often at races encouraging people and giving great technical advice. All our other club coaches put in a huge amount of volunteer time as well, Alistair Russell and Martin Gore, who were both head coaches before Penny are brilliant too.
My particular group of female friends in the sport are incredibly important. I am really lucky to have a group of female triathletes around in a male-dominated sport. We support each other, help each other when we are down, celebrate our success and are just central to keeping going. I love it if we enter cycle races as a group of women who know how to chain gang and ride technically well together – you hardly see any women’s groups doing that! I just feel so lucky to have joined a great club with so much expertise available to us and a high number of women and older members.
What do you think is the best thing about being part of the Great Britain Age Group Team?
I feel really proud to be part of the age group team and now that I have completed a couple of races, I am beginning to get to know people which adds to the experience! It’s an amazing opportunity that someone like me, who is 60 can take up this sport in my 50s and with some hard work represent Great Britain in an international competition on the same course as the elite athletes, and get to experience the incredible atmosphere you get when you represent your country!
Oonagh will be competing in the 60-64 Age Group at the European Championships on Saturday 11 August, come along to Strathclyde Park and watch the race!
If you would like to find out more about the British Age Group team, click here.