Andy Holgate’s triathlon journey

WE TALK to Andy Holgate about his unexpected journey into the world of triathlon.

Andy Holgate.

One of Andy Holgate’s most cherished moments is crossing the finish line of the Outlaw Iron distance race in 2012 with his 18-month-old daughter in his arms.



ANDY HOLGATE didn’t have much of an idea of what he was getting himself into when he agreed to take part in his first triathlon. However, since that initial race in 2006 he hasn’t been able to stop training for and competing in the sport.


Andy is the first to admit that he’s not a born athlete but through hard work and determination he keeps on competing and is now the veteran of five Ironman races. He has inspired thousands through his blog and gone on two write two books on his adventures and journey in the sport.


We caught up with Andy to find out more about his experiences in the sport and what readers can expect from his two books.


You competed in your first triathlon event in 2006, could you give us some background on your life and your previous involvement in swimming, running and cycling?


I started running as a child, my Dad was training for the London Marathon and my brother and I would join him for a mile or so. I then joined my home town athletics club, but that all fell by the wayside in my late teens when I discovered the social vices that were available. University life followed and then a sedentary existence. I attempted half-heartedly to run a few times but the knee pain which had dogged me since I was nine years old made it easier to quit. Cycling and swimming were not features in my life.


running awards

Andy winning Book of the Year at the 2014 Running Awards for ‘Can’t Swim, Can’t Ride, Can’t Run’.


What inspired you to enter that first triathlon and what was the feeling once you had completed it?


It was a dare from a work colleague that saw me line up at my first sprint triathlon. I had started running and was happily progressing at my own steady pace. John knew this and as a triathlete he kept trying to persuade me to take up the challenge. I hadn’t swum since leaving school 20 years beforehand, so the answer was always a firm ‘NO’. Then one day I cracked and agreed in front of witnesses. I was doomed, I had to go through with it or the shame of backing out would mean I’d have to look for a new job!


To be fair, I love a challenge and I was secretly buzzing about what lay ahead. I had one month until the race. I swam every day, my Dad repaired my mountain bike, that hadn’t been out of his garage for almost 15 years, and I started to read everything I could about competing in triathlon. I also watched YouTube videos on how to swim properly (they didn’t really help – I was that bad).


This was only ever going to be a one-time only gig, but I loved every minute of the race, once I got out of the water, I just knew before I got off the bike that I wanted to race more. Finishing was amazing – I loved it. I went home, high on success, had a beer and then searched the internet for other races. That’s when things got really interesting.


Andy Holgate

Since competing in his first triathlon the sport has become a major part of Andy’s life (photo SportSunday Photography).


You then entered an Ironman race. For those who aren’t informed about the races could you give us some details about the concept behind them?


An Ironman race is basically a very long triathlon. You swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and then finish your day off with a 26.2 mile marathon run. You have to complete the 140.6 mile course in under 17 hours. It is race that commands respect, you can’t just turn up and wing it, most people train seriously for six months at least. However it is a race that anyone can finish if they want it bad enough and train for it.


Six years later you are the veteran of five Ironman races and numerous other triathlons. What have some of the highlights been?


There have been lots of highlights over the years, I’ve had so much fun and met so many fantastic people and friends. Three moments stand out for me.


The first was at Ironman Germany in 2009, the atmosphere was amazing. My family was there to watch and I raced to a PB (12.57) and then celebrated with my friend Andy who had just completed his first Ironman. That day is up there with my wedding day and the day my daughter was born.


Second was the moment at Ironman Lanzarote in 2012 when I realised that I was going to finish. It came at about 90 miles into the bike leg, I was alone, I was knackered and my mind was playing tricks on me, telling me that I wouldn’t beat the bike cut off time. Then on a deserted road I heard shouting and cheering, in the searing heat I thought it was a mirage but it turned out to be my COLT (City of Lancaster Triathlon) clubmates chanting my name and offering encouragement. It was the mental boost that I needed to get to the finish, and once off the bike I knew that I would complete the race that scared me more than any I’d attempted before.


The third highlight is kind of bitter sweet, it came at the Outlaw Iron distance race in 2012. I crossed the line with my 18-month-old daughter in my arms, a moment I will always cherish. That moment also stands out for me because my Mum was there supporting, as she always had since my nursery school sports day many years before. A month later she passed away – it would be the last time that she saw me race.


Andy Holgate

Andy has inspired thousands through his passion and determination in triathlon (photo GDH Photography).


Throughout this whole experience you have been constantly blogging to keep fans and friends up to date with what you have been doing. What release do you find in blogging and what benefits has it brought you to be able to share everything with the online community?


The blog started out just to keep my family and friends up to date with what I was doing training wise, I never expected anyone else to be remotely interested in what I was doing. It came as quite a shock when people from across the world started leaving comments. The blogging first of all is fun, I enjoy writing down my thoughts, feelings and ideas. It kind of gives me a forum instead of sitting at home and boring my long suffering wife with my thoughts on such fascinating subjects as heart rate and SWOLF scores (grounds for divorce!).


Another benefit is that I’ve received some excellent advice over the years when people relate to what I’ve written and shared their own experiences and thoughts with me. And finally because of my blog I’ve made some great new friends both in the real and the virtual world.


Andy Holgate

‘From common man to ironman’ the cover of one of Andy’s two books.


You have now written two books: Can’t Swim, Can’t Ride, Can’t Run: My Triathlon Journey from Common Man to Ironman and Can’t Sleep, Can’t Train, Can’t Stop: More Misadventures in Triathlon. What can readers expect from the books and what motivated you to write them?


The first thing that they can expect is brutal honesty – what you read is what you see in real life when you meet me. I’m proud of my achievements in triathlon but boy have I made lots of mistakes over the years, and they are all documented in the books. I’m not fast but I have a stubborn desire to get the job done and I think that comes across in my writing.


I think that the normal person thinking of getting into the sport can relate to me and my story because I’m nothing special and given my weight issues I’m not your typical athlete. I write like I’m having a conversation with the reader – my style won’t be to everyone’s taste but it is 100 per cent me. 


I’ve been told that the books are both entertaining and inspiring and that makes me smile. The message that I hope comes across in my story is that If I can do it then anyone can do it. I was asked by a publisher to write the first one and was given five weeks in which to do so. I never once thought about inspiring people to be fair as I didn’t consider myself as being an inspirational figure. I just wanted to share my experiences and hope that people enjoyed what they read. Very simple, a bit like myself.


What advice would you give to those inspired by what you have achieved so far?

If I’ve inspired you then that is amazing. Just keep having fun – if you enjoy what you do then you’ll want to train more. It doesn’t matter if it’s a sprint, a 5k race or an Ironman, what matters is it’s your goal, no one else’s, only you can achieve it.


Keep moving forward and on the dark days when it hurts just have a word with yourself and say “If Holgs can do it then so can I”. Good luck.

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