Elderly man aims to win Ironman World Championships in France

August 24, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Zachary Roman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Completing a full Ironman race — a 3.9-kilometre swim, 180.2-kilometre bike ride, and 42.2-kilometre run — would be an outstanding achievement for many.

For Caledon resident Bob Knuckey, it’s not enough unless he wins.

On September 10, 75-year-old Knuckey will compete in the Ironman World Championship race in Nice, France.

In the past year, Knuckey has swam 500 kilometres, biked 9,000 kilometres, and ran 1,500 kilometres to train for the race. He’s also thrown in 150 hours of functional strength training for good measure. 

Here’s how that breaks down each week: On Mondays, Knuckey swims for an hour or two; and on Tuesdays, he swims in the morning and then goes for a run. Wednesdays are a big day, as Knuckey will swim three kilometres, go for a 90 to 150-kilometre bike ride, then run six or seven kilometres. Thursdays are like Tuesdays for Knuckey, and Fridays include a swim, and maybe a bike or run if Knuckey feels like it. Saturday is another big day like Wednesday, and Sundays are for a long run — 16 kilometres in the morning and eight in the evening, for example.

Knuckey trains with triathlon coach Barrie Shepley and swimming coach Miguel Vadillo of the C3 Canadian Cross Training Club at the C3 James Dick Quarry in Caledon Village.

“I sometimes have a tendency to do extra,” said Knuckey, noting that Shepley is great at giving him the right amount of training to do without getting hurt.

One time before a big race, Knuckey was doing some extra bike training beyond Shepley’s training plan for him. Knuckey recalls riding up a hill in Inglewood when Shepley happened to drive past on his way to a golf game. 

“He caught me… he got out of his car and he scolded me,” said Knuckey with a laugh. “I listen to him now.”

Knuckey has been an athlete all his life, winning the 1976 Toronto Marathon with a time of two hours and 28 minutes. He competed in marathons for decades, all while teaching full-time and raising four kids with his wife Susan.

Knuckey first met Shepley around 20 years ago, and Shepley saw Knuckey’s potential in triathlon. Shepley said he didn’t want to see Knuckey stick to running exclusively, as older runners can become plagued with injuries because it’s a hard sport on the body.

It’s safe to say Knuckey has lived up to that potential thus far, as he has three World Ironman Championship wins under his belt. In 2018, he won the Hawaii Ironman World Championships in the men’s 70-74 category with a time of 11 hours and 55 minutes. It was 20 minutes ahead of his closest competition.

Knuckey and his coaches have long been preparing for this year’s race in France, where Knuckey will have the opportunity to break the men’s 75-79 category world record and win his fourth Ironman World Championship.

“It’s not easy doing this kind of training at any age, but by the time you’re 75… it takes a very unique, determined 75-year-old to be able to properly prepare for such an event,” said Shepley.

In addition to the support from his coaches, Knuckey has been receiving great support from his family and fellow athletes at the C3 Canadian Cross Training Club. C3 members participated in a fundraiser to help Knuckey with the expenses of his upcoming race, and over 10 Caledon residents are heading to France with Knuckey to cheer him on.

The entry fee alone for Knuckey to participate in this year’s Ironman World Championship was $2,000. Once the cost of airfare, accommodations, equipment and more are factored in, it’s quite the costly endeavour.

Competing in the 2023 Ironman World Championships was almost impossible for Knuckey, as he recently avoided a scary bicycle crash.

“I hit a really bad section of road, and my rear wheel came right out and locked,” said Knuckey. “I was skidding, skipping… I just managed to unclick (from my pedal) in time to get my foot down before I fell.”

Knuckey explained all too often athletes can get hurt before a big race, as it’s when they’re most tired from training. That’s why after 49 weeks of the rigorous training mentioned earlier in this article, Knuckey is right now in the midst of his taper. This means he is still training hard, but to a less-extreme extent so his body is able to better recover for the big race.

While Knuckey has a strong desire to keep pushing himself, Shepley said some of the best things Knuckey can do at this stage is get massages and take naps.

Knuckey joked that his diet is perhaps his weak point. He starts most days with a bowl of cereal, and stops by Tim Hortons or McDonalds for a bacon bagel or BLT after his morning training is done. He does eat one good meal in the evening, thanks to his wife Susan.

During long runs and bike rides, Knuckey will bring along energy gels and heavily-salted mini potatoes. The fast-acting carbohydrates and sodium in these snacks help replenish what he sweats out. In an Ironman race, Knuckey can burn through as many as 8,000 calories, so it’s very important to replenish them along the way.

Knuckey said one of the main things that drives him to do such intense training is his competitive nature.

“I like to win, so I like to do the work,” said Knuckey. “It’s my life: eat, sleep, train. If I didn’t do this, I’d be sitting in front of the TV… my lifestyle is to keep moving.”

Knuckey said he’ll be competing as an athlete for as long as his body lets him. He currently sees a chiropractor and gets a massage once per week as a means of making sure everything is in tip-top shape.

“I go in there and I say, bring me back to life,” said Knuckey. “When you do all that exercise, you get little knots in your muscles. It really helps to get rid of them.”

By being a member of C3, Knuckey finds that he always has someone to train with. It especially helps with running, as when he’s with other runners Knuckey runs 15 to 20 seconds a kilometre faster than he does by himself. 

The Ironman course in Nice involves a very hilly biking section in the Alps. Knuckey said he’s learned to not push himself too hard on the bike so he has energy left for a consistent run. It’s a lesson he learned the hard way at previous Ironman races.

“If you go too hard, you’re burning a match,” said Knuckey. “If you burn too many matches, you’re going to have a crappy run because there’s nothing left in your legs.”

Knuckey shares this advice and more with his fellow athletes at C3.

“I try to help people get better on the bike and build their confidence,” said Knuckey.

Shepley said Ironman contests require absolute respect for an athlete’s fellow competitors, the race course, their equipment, and their body — as well as a bit of good luck. 

“If Bob wins the 2023 Ironman World Championship and comes close to setting a world record, he will have to be considered one of the greatest masters of all time,” said Shepley, adding he’s very proud of Knuckey and the large team of people and sponsors supporting him.

Readers Comments (0)

Please note: Comment moderation is enabled and may delay your comment. There is no need to resubmit your comment.