AMATEUR triathlete Tony Cullen has his sights set on the world championships after finishing second in his age group at Ironman UK in Bolton on Sunday.
The 40-year-old freight manager, who trains with running coach Dave Cole at Bury Athletic Club, had already qualified to compete on the world stage in Kona, Hawaii, later this year after smashing his personal best at an Ironman event in Lanzarote in May.
But he picked up a calf injury in that race and went into Sunday’s mammoth challenge unsure if he would be able to finish.
In the end, the dad of three, of Myrtle Grove, Whitefield, clocked a time of 10hrs 09mins 16secs – two minutes better than his previous best at Ironman UK and only 15 minutes outside his best ever time over the distance, which includes a 2.4mile swim, 112-mile cycle and 26.2-mile run.
“You can never be disappointed when you complete an Ironman. You can never predict what you are going to do on the day, so many different things can happen,” said Cullen, who finished the bike ride in front in his 40-44 age group before settling for second place – 27th overall – at the finish line.
“I had to stop on the bike four times – my chain fell off four times and got caught in the crank – so that held me up a little bit.
“And I have honestly not ran more than five miles since picking up my injury in Lanzarote – that was one run in nine weeks.
“So the marathon was a lottery, it could have been five hours and ended up being three hours and 40 minutes, so I will take that. “All of those aspects combined, I am just over the moon with getting over the line.”
Cullen believes making it through Sunday’s ordeal will now give him the confidence to go full steam ahead for his first ever crack at the World Ironman Championships on October 11.
And as well as looking after his own training, the former footballer is now coaching others, juggling his day job with a new career as a personal trainer.
“I qualified for Hawaii in Lanzarote because I raced really well after I had a good training block leading up to it,” he said.
“After picking up the injury, the training for this (Ironman UK), especially run wise, was nowhere near it needed to be.
“But after taking some coaching badges and setting up a new team – Total Tri Training – we are now really moving things on and if I can clear up this injury in my calf, hopefully I can really kick on at Kona.”
Cullen was not the only Bury-based competitor at the event, with seven other local fitness fanatics taking on the Ironman.
Polish-born Bartolmiej Holda was next home, finishing in 10:35:43, with Mark Jackson also breaking the 11-hour barrier in 10:49:02.
Rowan Ardill, featured in the Bury Times last week, endured a tough day in challenging conditions, failing to beat his previous time but still managing to make it home in a very respectable time of 12:47:16.
His brother, David, who lives in Hyde, also completed the course in 13:52:04.