Mere school teachers aren’t meant to have exciting lives, so their students believe. John Meagher killed that notion with his trip to the Hawaiian Ironman, impressing all with his efforts.
An arduous and, quite simply, insane event, the Ironman World Championship attracts 1850 participants each October to Kona, Hawaii. It is the product of a debate which occurred in the late ‘70s. The topic: which endurance athlete was the fittest? The solution: The creation of a super event. It combines a 3.8km ocean swim with 180km cycle across lava fields and then tops it off with a marathon run (42.195km) on boiling bitumen.
For those not involved in the event, the question of why anyone would submit to this torture lingers. John Meagher, a school-teacher from Melbourne, simply answers, ‘It’s a challenge. (Hawaii) is a world famous race, the largest one-day competition you can do.’
While the acceptance of amateurs in a sport’s world championship is an unusual occurrence, Hawaii organisers do not allow the average punter to participate. Such an extreme event, entrance to Kona requires a top-two placing in an age group at qualifying event.
‘I’d attempted a few Ironmans and hadn’t had much success with them (but) I wanted to go to Hawaii. I picked a qualifying race in Busselton (Ironman Western Australia) and was lucky enough to get a spot for Hawaii 2010.’
This qualification process creates a start line of supreme athletes ready to put on a show.
‘You can see the quality of the people. I suppose, not making the Olympics, this is a close as I can get to a very high quality race of elite people coming together,’ Meagher says.
John Meagher is certainly one of those elite athletes. Although he has spent his past twenty years at Marcellin College, Bulleen, the woodwork teacher’s real passion is running. A marathon personal best of 2h16m (2h03m38s is the current world record), a triathlon world championship win in his age group and short college career in the US are all part of the 48-year-old’s impressive résumé.
‘I dabbled with football (at a young age) and I wasn’t really that good at it. The football coach used to get me to do laps and I found that I could beat anyone in the team,’ Meagher describes.
On the advice of a high school teacher, Meagher ventured down to Box Hill Athletic Club. ‘I joined when I was 13 and have loved it ever since. It controls your life a little bit but Ironman is pretty crazy.’
Meagher explains that training for an Ironman almost becomes a second full-time job. His exercise schedule included four hours of physical training each day, along with the occasional six-hour cycle on a weekend.
Even with a busy schedule, this event is still within reach for those who are committed. ‘Running is really good for time-commitments but Ironman is really good for age-group people. Triathlons are set up for age groups,’ says Meagher. He marvels at the three athletes over the age of 80 at Hawaii 2011.
However Hawaii has a way of finding gaps in training preparation. It churns up its competitors with over 90 not finishing Hawaii 2011 and many more falling well short of their target time.
After a relatively successful Hawaiian Ironman debut in 2010, Meagher was hoping to break his time of 9h46m. School commitments, including coaching the Marcellin athletics team in addition to his long-standing coaching of the school’s cross-country team limited his preparation.
‘This year I didn’t do enough long rides. I got off the bike (in Kona) and I was wrecked. I was pretty dead,’ Meagher recalls.
Cramping, Meagher says, was his main demon. Starting late in the bike leg, he was forced into a tough decision.
‘I made my mind up and went, “Okay, the day is gone. I just need to finish this thing.” It’s a real headspace,’ Meagher says. ‘You need to start dealing with the negatives and make sure you put them into the back of your mind and just settle down and take one step at a time.’
Many thousands of steps later, the father-of-two made it across the finish line, with a respectable time of 10h29m21s, including a 3h55m cramp-filled run.
‘When I finished the run, my legs kept spasming. I lay down and made sure I ate salt things and made sure I got lots of fluid into me,’ says Meagher.
Even with all the fluid and energy consumed during the race, Meagher lost an alarming amount of weight.
‘You weigh yourself before the race and after and the difference was 9 pounds (4.1kg),’ Meagher says. ‘My daughter was 9 pounds when she was born.’
As he tells his stories, it is clear that Meagher is an educator at heart. A cross-country and track-and-field coach, a woodwork teacher and now three-time Ironman, he enjoys sharing to teach others.
Meagher says, ‘It’s another life experience that allows you to give that knowledge to other people.’
He may yet return to Kona to challenge himself once again and further push the stereotypical teacher out the window. Hawaii 2012 is on Saturday October 13.