The long road to Ironman – an athletes journey, Darren McKemmish

Athlete Darren,ย shares some of his training journey heading into his first Ironman. It’s been a long time in the making, when 2020 was the plan, but finally we are about to embark on the final leg of his Ironman journey – the race itself this weekend! So keep reading to follow his journey and how he relates Ironman to that of ‘eating an elephant!” ;-p


Give us your back story โ€“ who is Darren and how did he get into triathlon?

Most people know me as Dazza or Dazzler, I’m based in Country Victoria, where I live with my partner of 32years Sue. I actually stumbled across triathlon after finding a bike in 2016. I had bought a steel frame bike at a garage sale and repaired it to get it rideable. A friend encouraged me to get out on the road and we would go riding Sunday mornings and I was terrible. I’d have to stop often, but every week it started to get a bit easier, and we’d get a little faster and I really started to love it. We started doing some running as well. And in 2017 I decided to do the local triathlon. Again I was terrible! The swim was only 250m and I was last out of the water, I had to breaststroke, my ride was slow, and the run was HARD! I came third last, but what I remember was how supportive people were during the event. But I knew I had a LOT of work to do. So I started some run training with a local running group, did a 12km run event – the furthest I had ever run! And later that year did my first sprint distance triathlon. And I survived.

Fast forward, I joined the local triathlon and cycling clubs and gradually got faster and stronger and in 2019 completed my first half Ironman in 6:38hrs, and 4 months later cut that down to 5:41. I was well and truly hooked now, and realised with consistent training, I could actually do ok!

When did you set yourself the goal of IRONMAN and how has that journey looked?

From there I knew I wanted to complete an Ironman, but the plans of Cairns 2020 got put on hold, 2021 was a write off but now here we are !

The Journey has had its ups and downs, a few stop signs and side steps along the way, a couple of mechanicals, road blocks, a destination change, but some great guidance over the past couple of years from Coach Sarah and some awesome company along the way and now I’m ready for my long awaited first crack at an Ironman!

What challenges have popped up along the way and how have you managed them?

COVID would be the biggest one. Not being able to swim much as all for such a long period of time made it tough getting back in the water and a little shoulder niggle thrown in there too. But we worked our way through that and feel comfortable now that I’ve done enough to get through. Having to train mainly solo during covid was tough at times, but my me and my training buddies kept supporting each other and encouraging each other which helped and which meant we all continued to train through which set up in good stead for when things opened back up again.

Work is another big one (isn’t it for everyone!) haha But I have some seriously long and tiring days at work, I often start at 4/5am and work through to late arvo, So training in the mornings weekdays is near impossible, and often in the afternoon I’m work tired. But Coach Sarah worked with me on this and helped make it work. I also have an understanding boss who provided some flexibility at times which was super helpful. So I found communicating with those around you super important.

Have you learnt anything new along the way ?

I learnt that making training fun was important to me, so we made that work by incorporating things I love into my training program including:

– I run with my dogs often, which they and I love! So they joined me on many of my runs
– Riding with groups, as it makes the time go much quicker and more enjoyable ! So I’d include additional riding before and after to clock up my long weekend ride and not have to do it all solo.
– Including our local tri races and crit racing on a weekly/fortnightly basis allowed us to include some intensity into the training, while for me enjoying it with others. So these became regular inclusions in my training over summer.

What parts of your program / training have given you the most confidence leading into your first Ironman?

Long rides for sure. Just knowing you can do the distance and not be absolutely smashed at the end is important. And practicing is nutrition and getting that right. As they say – nutrition is the fourth discipline of triathlon ! But really, just having a coach who can lay out the program for you and not have to think too much about what is needed has been so good. To have Sarah as a sounding board, to adjust my training when needed, give me a little push when I was slacking off and help me balance around work and family life ensured I was able to get to this point in a far better space than if I tried to tackle it myself!

Any pieces of advice tips/tricks (or what not to do!) from others you have had along the way that you will take into the race with you?

I’ve had plenty of advice and words of wisdom for others, a few that stick with me.

  1. From Luke Barlow: “it’s like eating an elephant – one piece at a time!” I loved this. It made me laugh, but totally makes sense!
  2. Don’t do too much to early
  3. Don’t burn too many matches
  4. Keep it under control
  5. Pacing is key!
  6. It’s about getting from the start to the finish as fast as you can but as WELL as you can (thanks coach!)
    I’m still learning these! (I tend to go all in!) HA! So lets hope I’ve learnt enough to put this sound advice into practice this Sunday….

Can you picture yourself crossing that finishing line yet?! And what do you think that will look and feel like?

I’m thinking it will be quite emotional. A lot of time and effort and mental and physical energy has been put into this event, so I may just shed a tear! It will be awesome to see my partner of 32years Sue at the end. She’s been just invested in this as what I have.

And importantly โ€“ how do you plan on celebrating / rewarding yourself? ๐Ÿ˜Š

We’re having a well earned holiday afterwards and I can’t wait! Sleep in here we come !

Any plans post Ironman?

I have recently purchased a vehicle that we are planning on doing some trips in where we can take my bike, sleep in it and can explore the country side riding and running. We can’t wait.

I would like to get some stuff done around the house too! Sue has bee amazingly supportive during my training, so it’s time to finish off the garden for her and do a few more things for her and what she would like to do. It’s all about give and take! So time to give back. ๐Ÿ™‚

Amazing work Dazza, I can’t wait to support you on the sidelines this weekend, cheer you on, and feel those goose bumps as you hear those words down the finishing chute “Darren McKemmish YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!”

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