We are big fans of all things health and fitness at The Happy Pear, so we are super-proud to be sponsoring professional triathlete, Aine Donegan, this year. A part-time nurse from Dublin, 29-year-old Aine, was crowned ‘Irish Middle Distance Champion’ last year, in her victorious debut performance at the Lost Sheep Triathlon in Kerry. Aine is a regular face in The Happy Pear community, in both Greystones and Clondalkin, and we recently caught up with her, to hear all about life as a professional athlete, how she deals with the highs and lows of sport, and her advice on how to get started with exercise. Enjoy!
When did you first get into triathlon?
In 2013, I signed up for a charity triathlon with a group of friends for fun. None of us had a clue about what we were doing; we actually had to google what a triathlon was and what to wear! I wasn’t fully sure if I was ready for the bizarre looking triathlon suit, so I opted to wear a running vest tucked into an old pair of cycling shorts! Despite our lack of knowledge, we made a pact to train and motivate each other for the event. I loved the race and immediately signed up to another after I completed it. I enjoyed the new challenge of a multi-discipline sport. Triathlon venues are very idyllic and I enjoyed making weekend trips out of taking part in races all around the country.
Have you always been sporty?
Looking back, I guess I was an outdoorsy kid, I was never known to be great at any one sport, but I tried my hand at many things including camogie, horse riding, and basketball. My mum always tells the story of me cycling a mile to the shop by myself when I was four and still had stabilisers on my bike! Once my older sisters found out I was capable of cycling such distance up a steep hill, they began ‘offering’ to time me cycling to the shop! They still claim that those timed cycles assisted with the endurance I have today!
What is it about the sport of triathlon that you love?
The outdoors, the sense of freedom, the fun, and particularly the racing. I absolutely love going fast on my bike anywhere!
What is your training plan like throughout the year?
Currently, we are in the base phase. So I am working on getting fit after the off-season break. Racing starts around May until September, so it’s important now to build properly, get strong, and focus on good form and technique, to see me through the summer of racing. I do some form of training almost everyday.
Do you have to be careful about what you eat?
I aim for a wide variety of nutrient-dense foods from plant-based sources and I try to ensure I absorb enough vitamins & minerals to keep me healthy with such a high training load. I have found that, since turning vegetarian, I have a wider variety of nutrients in my diet which has improved my overall energy levels. I have learnt a lot about different plant-based protein sources too, which was something that I had been concerned about prior to turning vegetarian. I have found that a more plant-based diet makes me feel a lot better overall. Being sponsored by The Happy Pear has helped immensely in ensuring I get healthy plant-based meals into me straight after training sessions, which taste absolutely delicious. Getting my meals and snacks for the week has cut down on meal prepping time allowing me to rest and recover more in between sessions, which is a huge help this year. Porridge is a staple in my diet and I’m lucky to have The Happy Pear Cafe located in the Shoreline Leisure Centre in Greystones, where we have breakfast straight after swimming; it couldn’t be better! The Happy Pear cafe in Clondalkin is also conveniently located close to Base2Race, where I do my indoor bike sessions, so I have the option of eating there too, knowing that I’m getting nutritious meals.
Sport is not just physical, it’s a mental test too. What do you do to keep your mind strong and focused?
I always focus on why I started, what I want to achieve, and where I want to go in the future. This keeps me driven, and gives what I’m doing a clarity of purpose. I like to keep things fun and enjoyable; the day I stop loving it, is the day I will change direction. I have found that keeping a diary has been very helpful. A diary is great thing to look back on, to see how far you’ve come, and what you’ve learned and achieved. Setting both long-term and short-term goals helps to keep me on track. I try to be mindful and enjoy the journey that each triathlon is taking me on.
Have you had any low time in the sport? Can you tell us about how you got through it and kept your mind strong?
Sport has many ups and downs. For me, a bike accident I had three years ago, took me out of the sport for the year. It was my first time being badly injured and my first trip in an ambulance. To overcome this hard time, I turned my focus away from the injuries and the bad feelings I had from what had happened, and instead, turned my attention towards getting better, resting, positivity, rehabilitating properly, and accepting that there was nothing more I could do until my body had time to heal. I also think that numerous falls off horses when I was younger helped me to deal with injuries in triathlon, and to always get back on the bike!
What is a typical day like for you as a professional athlete?
My alarm goes off at 5.40am. I have a quick stretch, coffee, and then head to the pool. I swim with the HupHup Performance group, which is usually anything from a 3.5 to 5k swim. After a bowl of porridge and a coffee, I’m usually out on the bike for a few hours or I may have an indoor session. My favorite bike session would be a hilly group spin. Luckily enough, Wicklow is full of hills! After anything from two to four or five hours, I grab some lunch from the Happy Pear, relax for a while, and try to get a quick twenty minute nap in, before the next training session. It could be a run or some gym work in Shoreline. My favorite run session would definitely involve some form of mountain running around Djouce, or I always love the cliff walk early in the morning! I do gym work two or three times a week, as I find it helps keep me strong throughout the racing season. I end most days with another stretching and foam rolling session, so that my muscles are nice and supple to do it all again the following day.
Are there ever days when you just don’t feel like training? How do you overcome that?
Absolutely! Some days, you just feel tired, or you look out the window and it’s lashing rain, and you wonder how you’re going to get everything done! It’s times like these that discipline, consistency, and focusing on the small steps towards getting to your big goal will get you out the door. Having a group of people to train with on days when motivation is lacking, and a coach who is there on the pool deck at 6.30am, always helps. There’s a sense of teamwork and commitment when you are surrounded by a great circle of people who are all working with you to help you achieve your goals; it’s very inspiring.
What would your advice be for someone starting a new fitness plan?
Pick something that makes you happy and you will enjoy doing! You’ll be more likely to stick with it when you’re having fun and surrounded by good people.