Canadian aims to push world Ironman envelope at age 70
Bob Knuckey wants to be the fastest man at the world Ironman championship among men in their eighth decades.
The 70-year-old retired teacher from Caledon, Ont., has pulled out all the stops in training to both win his age group Saturday in Kona, Hawaii, and to break the record held by another Canadian.
While the TV cameras will follow the professional triathletes racing for US$650,000 in prize money, there will also be more than 2,000 racing amateurs for whom Kona is also the holy grail of their sport.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a long while,” Knuckey said. “I started, I would say, two or three years ago really putting a big focus on this.”
Knuckey will be among 118 Canadians competing as age groupers Saturday.
The Kona record for men 70 to 74 over the 3.86-kilometre ocean swim, 180K bike ride and 42.2K marathon is 11 hours, 45 minutes and five seconds set by Regina’s Milos Kostic in 2011.
“When you are the baby in these age categories, the 70-year-old versus the 74-year-old, you’ve got to be ready when your zero comes around,” said Knuckey’s coach, Barrie Shepley.
A former marathoner, Knuckey completed his first Ironman in 2007 in Wisconsin just weeks after treatment for prostate cancer.
He won the men’s 70-74 division at this year’s Ironman Texas in 11:20.07.
But Kona is considered the most challenging Ironman because of searing heat and variable crosswinds. Course records stand for years until favourable weather conditions allow them to fall.
The top men have yet to race under the eight-hour barrier there.
Knuckey twice raced the world championship in Kona in his 60s, finishing fifth in his age group in 2014 in just under 12 hours.
“If it’s a good day and not too hot and not too windy in Hawaii, my goal is do around 11:40,” he said.
Knuckey doesn’t have the running pace he once had and can’t log the same training mileage he once did, but he compensates for that with swimming and biking.
“Believe it or not, my swimming has gotten faster,” he said. “My biking is a lot stronger. I don’t know why.
“You figure you’re getting older and you’re lacking muscles. My massage therapist seems to think my muscles have gotten stronger and my power on the bike has gotten stronger.”
Knuckey is challenging some perceptions about what’s possible for “master” athletes, Shepley says.
“One of the things we try to do with our master athletes, it sounds weird, but as you age you want your rate of decay to be lesser than your competitors,” the coach said.
“You try to make sure that rate of decay is less by strength training, by yoga and all of the things that Bob is doing.”
In a nod to his age, Knuckey is diligent about stretching, nutrition, massage and getting on top of aches and pains quickly.
“You have to listen to the body,” he said. “If something lasts more than three days, I’m getting chiro, I’m getting physio, I’m getting massage.”
Bob Knuckey, 70, wants to be the fastest man in his age group at the world Ironman championship.