Meet the member – Mike Burke
Well Mike, how’s the form? How’s everything going for you?
I’m doing well…despite COVID’s best efforts this year.
Tell us about how you got interested in Triathlon and how you came to join Pulse?
Ahh, long story short, I had taken up cycling, in an effort to shake off the depression I was going through at the time when I heard that the Ironman 70.3 coming to Galway in 2011. I was intrigued, this was the first time I heard of Triathlon. I was just amazed by the scope of the race – the three disciplines and the huge distances. I put a relay team together from family and friends for the swim and the run, with me doing the bike leg. It pelted rain all day long, as only it can in Ireland but we had a fantastic day and despite being knackered and soaked to the skin we all said afterwards that we’d love to do it again…but solo.
And so I joined Pulse in 2015 – after a bit of research I emailed Miriam and told her I was considering a Triathlon Club, but I was worried, I knew I was an OK biker, a reasonable runner and but I couldn’t swim. That didn’t faze her at all so I turned up for the first training session at the running track in Tallaght.
God, that night I couldn’t even complete one lap without stopping for breath but I was going to persevere, or at least until Pulse told me I couldn’t. After about a year Naomi Devaney took me aside and taught me how to slow down and pace myself and then I was off – thank you Naomi, if you hadn’t taken me in hand I may have thrown in the towel at that stage. The support from the club has been so important to me at every stage of this process.
Tell us about your first race?
Unfortunately, I have not YET overcome my fear of being out of my depth in the water so, apart from the Galway Ironman, my first attempt at a triathlon was in Carlow in, I think, 2016. I went down to do the Try-a-Tri, set-up my bike in transition, got into my wetsuit, jumped into the river, totally panicked and got straight back out. After this the legend that is Eithne Connolly took me aside and told me if I entered for the Try-a-Tri in Athy she would stick with me for the swim and get me through it.
Well, I completed the swim – with Eithne – and was last out of the water. The following Monday I was afraid to look up the race results. When I eventually did I found I finished mid-table – I’d forgotten that I picked off quite a few on the bike leg! I was chuffed. And just for the record I haven’t given up on swimming and Triathlon – I’m back in the pool now and once I get some consistency back I’ll start back at the training sessions. I still have a yen for a SOLO Ironman medal.
What’s your favourite race/distance to race?
Though I’m keeping some running going over the last 2 years I’ve been concentrating on my biking and on longer distances. By far my favourite race is the Donegal Atlantic Way Ultra 555 – 555 kms with 6,200 mtrs elevation. Some years ago, probably around 2016, someone in Pulse posted on Facebook if anyone was considering the DAWUR 555 race. I looked it up and was hooked by the scale of the challenge.
My first shot at this race was in 2017 and I abandoned at 312 kms. On hindsight I was totally naïve and ill-prepared for it – I had done almost all my training on the flats and I had no nutrition/hydration plan.
But the reward in failure is experience.
For 2019 I took on the great coach, Cillian Moffatt, and attacked this race again and this time got to 370 kms/22 hrs before abandoning, totally exhausted. This time I hadn’t done all the training session Cillian had set out and though I had a nutrition/hydration plan I didn’t stick to it!!
Over the following months I agonised about trying it a third time. I was afraid to do it and afraid not to do it again – afraid to do it because if I failed again I’d throw my bikes into the sea and walk away from cycling completely and afraid not to do it because I just couldn’t live with it having beaten me.
So this year myself and my support team with Cillian and John Goodall went back to Donegal in August and I am happy to say, beat the race.
Apart from the physical training, nutrition/hydration etc we did a lot of preparation beforehand, a couple of reccies to Donegal, setting out plans, timetables and organisation with the crew, which was worth a fortune before we set off. We were organised, everyone had a job to do and did it well.
I had set myself a target of 36 hrs and finished in 33 hrs 18 mins. I was actually in tears as I arrived at the finishing ramp – totally elated. I might have been the last finisher (apart from DNFs) but I completed it – I truly felt like a God.
My support team and Cillian were brilliant, it was as much an achievement for them but they could see what it meant to me, they were invaluable to me and the local support on the course was absolutely fantastic – there were people I didn’t know cheering me on by my name all along the course, even in the dark of night, it was amazing. The Gillespie family from Anagaire were out on the road cheering me on in three different places. They even brought me out soup and sandwiches – and they made sure to be at the finish line to see me cross the finish line – love those people!! Support like that is worth watts!
And then there was John.
John Goodall, Marion and the kids came up to Donegal to help me get this done – John mending a puncture in the first 30 mins and then riding with me for about 250 kms during the race. He was a huge diversion and help to me on the road, taking my mind off the tiredness and the hours, it can be lonely pursuit over such long distances. We’d be cycling up the road in our own little bubble of concentration and chat when we’d hear a scream, getting louder and closer and closer and there would be Marion and the kids driving by with all the windows open cheering us on at speed – thank you John, Marion and kids, you brought smiles to my face that day, that’s for sure.
What’s your favourite Pulse memory so far?
So many to choose from but I think I’d have to go with the warm weather training week in Mallorca in 2017 – great training and great craic. On a week like that you get to see people in a light wider than just training. I gained two daughters – Miriam and Fi and an American uncle – go figure!!
The training was great – warm weather, great roads and scenery and great trainers in Rob, Steffi and mad Gerry. The craic that week-end was mighty and I got to sleep with, sorry, I meant share with John Kirwan – what more could you ask for!!
Then there were the group of “cyclists” with whom we shared the last day and who looked down on us mere triathletes – seemingly telling Miriam at one stage to “try and keep up”!! – that raised hackles!! I think it was Anthony Gar who sorted them out when he asked “So, who’s up for a 20km run?” as we finished the day’s cycling – that shortened their cough!! Great week.
What’s the best thing about being in a Triathlon club?
The best thing has to be the camaraderie, help and support in the club – there always someone available to answer a question or point you in the right direction. And then there’s the great support when you race – I remember it even in the two Triathlons I did in Carlow and Athy.
When you’re not swimming or pedalling or running, what keeps you busy?
Probably my main passion apart from loving training (!!!) would be travelling though I haven’t managed much recently due to family life and more recently, COVID. But as soon as this virus is behind us I plan to get back out there – South America has been calling me for some time. I also want to get back into my photography – I haven’t taken any real photos in about 2 years and I really want to get back into it.
Outside of Triathlon, what’s your favourite sporting memory or achievement?
Honestly before joining Pulse I didn’t do a lot of sport though I’d watch anything with a ball – I used to play a social game of football every Saturday in Bushy Park. But I do remember getting my ass to the 2007 Rugby World Cup pool match between Ireland and France in Paris. The craic was mighty but unfortunately Ireland probably played their worst match ever – we were wiped off the pitch but a great week-end none the less.
What’s the bucket list, once in a lifetime race you’d love to experience?
My ultimate race at this stage depends on whether I crack my fear of open water or not.
If I do I’d love to tackle The Norseman Triathlon – maybe it’s just a great piece of advertising but it looks awesome.
And if I don’t crack the swimming thing The Race (across Europe) or The Race Across America would be my ultimate race. These are both epic races – the numbers are huge.
What’s the next Triathlon goal you’d like to tick off?
Terrible to say but, after almost 6 years in Pulse, my triathlon goal is still to complete my first full Tri. As I mentioned, my problem is my swimming and I have to stick to it and just get it done. With the bike races I have in mind for next year – Mayo 650 Ultra (2-man team), Joe Barr 200 and Donegal 555 – and I’ll need 2021 to make any real progress in the water it will be 2022 for the Triathlon. That’s the plan. One way or another it has to happen – I won’t rest until I’ve completed an Ironman.
What’s your favourite book/movie/tv show? What do you like about them?
I’m not big on TV and not a great reader but
Fermat’s Last Theorem – Simon Singh. I was always interested in and intrigued by the logic of maths but never very good at them. But this book enthralled me. After Fermat solved the theorem in the 1600’s it too mathematicians 300 years to work out how he did it.
Hunger – Sean Kelly. Not a brilliantly written book but still an excellent read and probably the best cover shot for a cycling book. I had a signed version of this until one of my dogs got hungry!!
2001 – A Space Odyssey
A magnificent film and so forward looking. Based on the novel by Arthur C Clark. I love how they humanised the on-board computer HAL. I loved how they portrayed HAL as going mad when they had to disconnect it’s memory. I loved the Blue Danube Waltz as they docked the space ship with the space station. I loved the mysticism of the obelisks in the desert – a truly beautiful film.
Who inspires you?
For better or worse, I tend to be more inspired by the guys working hard at the back end of the race than the guys at the front competing for a podium. This is probably not ideal inspiration but you take it in whatever form works for you.
As I watched the swimmers in the 2011 Galway Ironman coming out of the water I noticed a guy who was decidedly unfit and very overweight but he’d completed the swim. I remember thinking “Well Michael, if he can do this race you definitely can feckin’ do it”
Another huge inspiration is my coach Cillian Moffat. He’s always trained to be the best he can be at whatever he’s done be it hurling or triathlon. He got himself to Kona despite puncturing in his qualifying race – the youngest Irish athlete to qualify for Kona. He’s been recovering from a back injury for the past two years and he’s still positive and completely inspiring to his athletes.
And then there are the numerous Pulsers – Shay Brady doing the Marathon de Sables (if I was a runner that would be on my bucket list – might be yet), Damian Derwin doing his 100 km run, Joanna Butler qualifying for Kona – the list goes on. In reality I am surround by inspirers in Pulse!!
What one nugget of advice would you give to a new member starting out on their Triathlon journey?
Training for a Triathlon is a long journey – be patient and consistent. And be prepared to train HARD as well as long – it will hurt. But the achievement when you cross the finish line is fantastic and totally worth it. Consider what players/athletes in other sports would think of spending 12 – 16 hours competing – only cricketers play for longer and they have tea breaks and sleeps!! So, finish an Ironman and you’re in a very elite club.
Finally, as this is the last episode of MTM before the big day, could you share a happy Christmas memory with us to bring some festive cheer to what has been a tough year?
Ohh, this is easy. Years ago I got hooked on celebrating the new millenium so in December 1999 we all set off to Fiji to usher in the year 2000 – Fiji being on the International Date Line we were among the first people into the new millennium. We arrived in Fiji at 8:00am on Christmas morning and spent the holiday on a desert Island – Beachcomber Island – that you could walk around in 7 minutes and surrounded by tropical waters. The whole family enjoyed it hugely – I finished off my PADI scuba diving licence there. My first open water dive was in tropical waters surrounded by little clown and angel fish. We greeted the first sunrise of new millennium while standing up to our chests in the tropical Pacific Ocean and sipping champagne – well Coke for me. It was truly magnificent Christmas/New Year. And I know what everyone is thinking now – he can go out in the sea on a little boat, throw himself off it and go diving and HE’S AFRAID OF OPEN WATER!!! I’m thinking the same but that’s where I am…for now. HAPPY CHRISTMAS PULSE, AND HERE’S TO A HEALTHY, SPORTS FILLED NEW YEAR.