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The Irish Triathlete is the only book written on triathlons in Ireland. The book takes the reader through the 36-year history of the sport – right from the early eighties to the present day. I finished and published the book just over a year ago. And I’ll have to say all the comments I have received thus far have been positive ones.

The book remembers some of the giants of the sport such as Ger Hartmann, Desi McHenry, Diane Sloan and Tom Heaney etc. from days long gone and even some modern icons such as Newry’s Martin Patterson, Portadown’s Conor Murphy and Silverbridge’s Owen Martin, the latter who has qualified for the World Championship in Hawaii an amazing 11 times. There is lots of other local interest too. The book features the Newry and Setanta Clubs and there’s a special six-page feature on Bessbrook’s Mallon family.

Here’s an abbreviation of the book’s final chapter and it tells the story of my last triathlon.

It was always going to be a long day. And as it turned out, in the beautiful Dutch city of Maastricht, my final Ironman triathlon time of 15 hours 35 minutes was the longest I have ever been in competition.

They say Ironman is one of the toughest single-day events in the sporting world. And as the sun dropped in the sky and I lurched grotesquely and painfully towards Utopia in the form of the finishing gantry in the heart of Maastricht, I fervently believed this as fact.

In those final kilometres I went through the agonies of the damned.

I also went through the agonies of the damned the night before the race. My confidence was at an all-time low. I didn’t believe I could finish the event. I couldn’t see Tony Bagnall crossing the finish line. I questioned my sanity a thousand times. I didn’t sleep a wink and rose at 4am for breakfast with a stomach upset that further dented my abysmally low confidence. Luckily my stomach settled as I walked to the bike park to prepare for my Ironman swansong and I began to feel a little more relaxed.

Race day began at 7am as the sun blazed down on the River Maas and almost 1000 triathletes got ready to swim 3.8 kilometres, bike 180 kilometres and run a 42-kilometre marathon. It was a magnificent setting for the thousands of spectators who thronged every conceivable space around the swim start, including watching from 200-metre-long bridges.

The swim in the warm 21-degrees water was refreshing and, even better for the triathletes, there was no free-for-all effect as the race organisers had introduced a new rolling start.

Despite my pre-race pessimism, I enjoyed the swim and was pleased with my time of one hour 18 minutes.

The start of the bike leg too was fine as in the mild morning sunshine with little wind I was happily bowling along at 19-miles an hour. Those good times came to an end after about 40 kilometres as the course got ragged. Sharp 90-degree bends, steep hills and worse of all bad road surfaces, painted a different picture. My speed plummeted, the temperature zoomed to 27 degrees, and I still hadn’t reached The Cauberg, that notorious hill, the major feature of the famous Amstel Gold bike race, and a climb that had also been featured in the Tour de France.

I had trained for this hill by making weekly jaunts up Jockey’s Brae at Jerrettspass. The gradient there was 10 per cent but there were places on the Caulberg that reached 12 per cent or more. So I wasn’t relishing this climb … and we had to do it twice. But when I reached The Cauberg I found it wasn’t nearly as tough as Jockey’s Brae.

Anyway I finished the two-lap 112-mile bike ride in 7 hours 16 minutes, admittedly a bit slower than my anticipated time, without too much stress … but the run on a three-lap course was always going to be the race-buster.

My plan was to run a bit and walk a bit and I began ok by running the first kilometre. I walked a bit then but when I started to run again my leg muscles began cramping. I made several efforts to resume running without success but after about three-kilometres the cramps stopped and I was able to continue with my original idea.

I shuffled around the first hilly lap ok and about halfway through the second lap. But at that stage, although eating and drinking at every feed station, I was getting increasingly tired and increasingly worried that I wasn’t going to make the finish.

I had never failed to finish a race I had started in my whole triathlon career.

Was I about to end my Ironman swansong on a mighty low point?

Was I to get a DNF in my final Ironman event?

On the last lap, as the miles began to take their toll, I discovered I was walking with a crouch. Yet although I wasn’t able to run any more, I was still making progress. Yet over that last lap the pain was seeping into every bone in my body. The medical people on the course too were concerned at my grotesque posture and kept enquiring if I was all right. They also asked me questions such as - what is your race number? What day is it? Yet my brain was fine and I was always able to answer their questions.

Over the last few torturous miles, in near darkness, pictures of my three lovely grandchildren began flashing into my brain and I began muttering: “Eva, Meabh, Henry, I love you and I want you to be proud of me.”

This thought was a big incentive and carried me to the line where the crowds were absolutely brilliant, chanting, “Tony, Tony, Tony.” They knew my name as it was printed on my race number.

The commentator informed the spectators I was the oldest finisher and that brought increased cheering. Thus I finished my Ironman career on a high, something I just couldn’t have visualised 16 hours previously.

I had entered Maastricht as a means of qualifying for the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. When I entered the race there was no one else in my 70-74 age-group. So I thought: all I have to do is finish under the 17-hours cut-off time and I will be able to book a dream trip to the Big Island.

But my dreams were dashed when two others entered in my age group – and one of this duo was a quicker biker and a much faster runner.

Yet on the night before Maastricht my mental anguish was so extreme that, regardless of the next day’s result, I decided I wasn’t going to Kona. As it transpired one of my two rivals beat me. I wasn’t disappointed at all in that outcome and indeed was thankful I didn’t have to turn down the Hawaiian slot.

My 30-year Ironman career is now over.

No more 100 plus mile bike rides.

No more 18-20-mile runs.

No more one and half hour swims.

But in that career there were some unbelievable highs. Like crossing the Ironman finish lines at Almere (twice), Klagenfurt, Zurich and Maastricht.

Like meeting some absolutely fabulous people.

Like becoming the first 70-year-old Irish person to go under 16 hours for the Ironman.

Like hearing five race commentators say: “Tony Bagnall … YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.”

The Irish Triathlete is vividly illustrated with lots of photographs, many from the early days of the sport in Ireland. If you would like a copy you can contact Tony Bagnall at 07815787874 or email him at

The book originally sold at £13 but is now available at the bargain price of £8 … plus postage.

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