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The Triathlon veteran

Story by Tom Kelly

Wednesday, 17th August, 2011 5:00pm

The Triathlon veteran

Forty odd years of training have led an Athlone born member of the Garda Siochana to win the 45-49 age group sprint in TriAthlone for four successive years.

Michael Macken first worked on his fitness by doing chores on his father's farm in Carrickobrien in the 1970s, and he enhanced his fitness immensely when he went to the Marist College.

"We had a running club in the Marist and Bro. Phillip was very involved in that, and then the Athletics club got going, and then Neil Molloy came to the school and encouraged cross-country running," said Michael, who is a Garda Sergeant, stationed in Dublin.

"Neil was great, and drove us around the country in his own car. Parents were doing the same, and in those days we were togging out in pitches, with no dressing rooms and no showers."

Michael played a bit of football, but didn't like it very much, although he was very good at playing hurling for Southern Gaels, and he was later on the Westmeath minor team, as a centre-half back.

"I was a fast little hurler and was light from running, and had to make a choice between hurling and running," he said.

He chose running, and ran track and field, and cross-country with Athlone Athletics Club.

"I did my Leaving Cert in 1981, and like everyone else who leaves school, you have to pull back a bit with your athletics," he said.

Michael worked for a while in Ericsson, in the creditors department, although he admits to never having studied accountancy in his life. However he was able to do the job, and in 1982, he was interviewed to join the Garda Siochana, and had to put on weight to join the force.

"It is hard to be heavy when you are running, 80, 90 miles a week, so I had to quit running for a while to put on half a stone, and I lost touch with training for over two years," he said.

"I had run the Dublin City Marathon from its first year, 1980, and went back to it with a few lads that worked with me in Pearse Street. I was hooked again, and slowly but surely improved my times, and trained with the top four or five garda athletes in the country, including Connie Lynch, current world record holder, and Pat Collins from Athlone."

Michael worked at the garda station in Pearse Street, Dublin for seven years, and for five years at the Traffic Dept. in Dublin Castle.

He travelled around the world competing at the Police and European championships, and for fifteen years in a row, he won the Garda Triathlon Championships. In nineteen years, Michael was never outside the top three in that championship.

In 1997, he was presented with a Garda Sports Star, 'Athlete of the Year' award, for his athletic achievements.

He has won ten medals in total between three trips to the World Police and Firemans Games, and a gold medal in the European Police championships.

He received the prestigious Millennium Award for Achievement in Triathlons, which was a Garda Sports Star award, from President Mary McAleese in 2000.

Michael competed in his first triathlon in 1988 in Dublin, and since then he has gone on to race in both national and international events, both in open and police competitions.

In open competition, he won gold in the National Duathlon Championships with his Emerald Stewarts (West Dublin) triathlon club and has finished in the top ten in the National Triathlon Championships every year he competed.

He came first in three Irish Duathlons in 1999 and second in two other Irish ones.

Also in 1999, he achieved first place overall in the Leinster Senior Duathlon League

He did his first Ironman competition in 2000, and went on to complete four more Ironmans, including one in 2001 in San Diego. His best performance was in Frankfurt in 2002 in 36 degrees heat, in the year before he turned 40.

"I saw turning 40 as an opportunity to be a veteran athlete," he said.

In 2003, he won the prestigious National Veterans champion, in Lough Neagh, Ballyronan as a member of the 'Hole in the Wall' triathlon club from Dublin. He was 17th overall in the country, and he has continued on racing throughout his 40s, and many times winning races outright, and nearly always winning veteran races.

He is now in his 48th year, and is still racing, which is as natural to him as breathing.

"I don't know what spurs me on, I just love doing it, I love to race, l don't always love the training in winter, but come the summer, the work will stand to me," said Michael.

"My motivation is six months down the road, and races I intend to compete in. There is no point in complaining and I love to compete."

Michael has competed in all the TriAthlone races since 2006, and won't ever forget the first one, where the rain fell all day, and where he finished fifth overall and first place in the Over 40's.

"I always compete well in Athlone, and get the buzz of the town, which is a great place for a race," he said. "The swim was downstream this year (2011), and was a lot easier than it should have been and the Shannon is easier to swim in than people think. Some say the water is dirty, but I find it nearly spotless coming down from the lake."

He also said this year's cycle route out on the Ballinasloe road couldn't get any better, from a safety point of view.

"It's important to win a race, but the following day it doesn't matter whether you get gold or not, but on the day it does, because you want to get the best out of yourself, and want to get a reasonable result," he said.

Michael is based at the Garda Siochana headquarters in Phoenix Park, with the Garda Technical Bureau, and his specialty is working in the fingerprint department.

"Our primary role is investigating serious crimes, like murders and suspicious deaths," said Michael, who as the Garda Sergeant on duty is responsible for managing crime scenes.

"It can be a very demanding job, and people wonder how we cope with some of the situations that we encounter, but one thing that drives us on, is the desire to get closure for the victims and for their families."

The Carrickobrien man has had a fantastic six years with TriAthlone, and won the Over 40s competition each year.

To date, over the past four years, since going into the 45-49 age group, he has won eleven All-Ireland gold medals, which consisted of being four times winner of the National Sprint Championships, four times winner of National Olympic distance championships, and three times winner of the National Series.

His next major goal is to compete in a half-Ironman in Kenmare, Co. Kerry next month.

"Sometimes training for me is therapeutic, and I mull things over in my head, about work or whatever and go out running with a problem, and come back with a solution," said Michael.

"But I mostly focus on the session and maintaining a particular speed. When I cycle with other lads, we usually end up chatting."

Michael is a founder member, and current Chairperson of the Athlone Triathlon Club, and 78 members took part in TriAthlone this year, and the club took two medals at the event, including Michael taking gold in the 45-49 age group.

"As chairman of the club, I was very proud to see so many of our athletes competing on the day, either racing for an age group prize, or simply out to achieve the satisfaction of finishing the race, and I'd like to congratulate each and every one of them," said Michael.

Michael is one of seven siblings of parents, Michael and Patti Macken, Carrickobrien, and he and his wife Helen lives in Athlone with their two children, Michael Jnr. and Thomas.

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