Avery leapt from newbie to Ironman in record time

Dale Avery, best known as a tennis coach, enjoys the tortuous triathlon too, a sport that many local South Africans like him excel in. Tennis has its own physical demands but triathlon is in a class of its own for endurance demands.  

Avery is unlikely to be challenging compatriot Marius Acker for triathlon supremacy, but he could soon be giving Marius Deysel, Johann Prinsloo, Greg Meaker, JP Hanekom a test. In fact, Avery beat Deysel in the triathlon last year and was sixth male overall.  

“They’re a good bunch of guys and their advice and being able to train with them has helped a lot,” Avery said. 

He thinks he came tenth in the duathlon last week, although official results are not out yet.  

At 33 and triathlon training for only two years, he was still fit and tough enough to complete a grueling Ironman, in Port Elizabeth, South Africa last month.  

An Ironman involves a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a full marathon 26.2 mile run – all lung-busters in their own right and put back to back that is a zillion calories burned.  

He trained for four months with an understandable lapse over Christmas. “I had a really good swim, conditions were great, calm with no real currents to fight,” Avery said.  

“But I had a tough bike as the course had a lot of climbs, something I had no experience in. The tough bike leg took its toll in the run resulting in my legs cramping up eight miles into it.” 

A time of 13 hours and 29 minutes did not beat the 12 hour personal goal because the run took over five hours “so plan B was just to finish.” 

Remarkably, he only started triathlons because tennis clients from Genesis Trust, the duathlon race sponsors, nudged him to enter.  

“I borrowed a bike and entered the day before the race,” he said. “I hadn’t done any training and had never been on a racing bike before. I fell and broke the coffee table learning how to clip into the pedals in the living room.”  

Avery did okay in the race, but realized that there was only one duathlon a year. So he figured if he could learn how to swim properly an attempt on the Cayman triathlon in November was viable.  

“My friend Bill McFarland taught me how to swim and that’s how I got into triathlons,” he said. Sounds simple but it is incredibly tough, and extremely demanding to train for.  

At least the junior national team tennis coach, who has lived here for four years, had his tennis background as basic fitness.  

“Tennis and triathlons are both endurance sports, so in that respect, it helps a bit.  

“But tennis involves a lot of short sprints, stopping and starting and direction changes. Triathlons are all about maintaining a certain pace in mostly a straight line,” he said. 

Avery’s sporting career began in tennis aged 9. He enjoyed ball sports but ironically he avoided swimming at all costs and did not enjoy long distance running. In high school, tennis and basketball were his passion.  

“I spent every afternoon at school playing sport and filled up open time with other sports like squash, cricket, hockey and rugby. But never swimming. 

“Now I would like to do an Ironman in the U.S. and then South Africa one more time. Then that’s it for Ironmans. The training involved and the time commitment is just too much. It takes over your life. I will keep doing half Irons and Olympic distance triathlons though.”  

Future sporting commitments are the Flowers Mile and 5km sea swims next month, and then the Stroke and Stride series in August. “My goal, as always, is to do better than I did the year before,” Avery said.  

The Ironman was by far his most challenging event, but last year’s Olympic distance triathlon in Cayman was the toughest.  

“I went as hard as I could and on the finish line I had nothing left. Sometimes the shorter races can be the most painful.”  

The fact that there are so many excellent South African triathletes in Cayman is a mix of factors, he feels.  

“It starts at a young age in school,” he said. “Inter-school rivalry is fierce and winning is everything. There are no medals for participation. It’s a combination of sports culture, access to facilities, conducive weather and an intense dislike for losing. Even if I’m not going to win a race, I still want to beat the guy in front of me.”  

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Dale Avery enjoys the demands of triathlons. – PHOTO: RON SHILLINGFORD
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