That’s what they say at Ironman.
I was first inspired to try Triathlon after watching my youngest son Jack take part in the 2009 Padstow Sprint. I could not believe what I was watching, there was no way I could ever do anything that extreme.
So I got my old bike out the shed, blew the tyres up, and set off with some mates on a 20-mile pub crawl, it wasn’t until the next day that I realised just how unfit I was. I thought having played sport most of my life I was relatively fit, clearly there was going to be a massive job ahead before I entered my first Triathlon.
For the first time in my life I joined a gym, but membership alone wasn’t going to get me fit, actually going and working hard was what I had to do. Five months later at the end of the winter I was two stone lighter, and able to swim, bike and run with the best of them, well maybe mid-pack in the veteran age group.
I entered my first sprint that spring armed with new trainers, a shorty wetsuit and a borrowed bike; I was so excited I was now a Triathlete, complete with finisher medal and official time slip. With this first experience in the bag I carried on and entered several other local Sprints and Duathlons, and loving every minute of competing & keeping fit.
I can’t remember exactly when the “I” word was first mentioned, but I do recall thinking that was probably a step too far, or not as my first sprint seemed impossible before I first competed, and now sprints were a just a jog in the park. I was in my 49th year and probably suffering a little mid-life crisis, but determined to test myself at the next level. Along my two sons we signed up for the Ironman 70.3 in Aix en Provence, France. Where better to celebrate my 50th?
Spring & Summer 2013 I trained relentlessly with my fellow triathletes, Tom (eldest son) & Stuart Massey, we entered The Cotswold 113 which was promoted as the flattest mid distance race on the calendar. At 7am on the 15th June 2013 stood on the bank of an icy cold gravel pit, I remember questioning my sanity, I hadn’t swam a mile non-stop since junior school and that was just circumnavigating a shallow 10m pool, and probably walked some of that. There was no way I could swim that far let alone being swamped by 1000 other competitors, this was not going to go well!
Forty-six minutes later I emerged from the lake resembling a half drowned dog. With a drunken stagger I headed toward the half empty bike park; this gave me a boost knowing I was far from last. I probably took a little too long recovering in transition, a record 8 minutes, in which time Tom and Stu had caught me up. We exited the bike park together onto the open road, 56 miles to go and we were blasting flat out full of adrenalin. 2h20m later and we were back absolutely exhausted. In hindsight I should have kept a little in the tank for the run. The first mile of the run was more akin to the ministry of silly walks, but I loosened up and ran / walked to the finish line in a total of 5h30m.
Aix en Provence 70.3: The original plan was to take part in my first IM70.3 with my two boys, and a little wager between us on the result. Training injury prevented both Tom and Jack from being fit to complete each discipline, so they opted to team up and compete as a relay with the help from their sister’s boyfriend, Josh. Their updated plan was for Tom to swim, expected to finish 5 minutes ahead, Jack a bike specialist to add to the lead by another 20 minutes, giving Josh an advantage in the run, they could not lose.
Reality was cruel to them. There is no replacement for hard training, spending hours on the bike hauling up and down hills, donning my wetsuit after work and beating out laps of a disused quarry, and whenever a spare moment scuffing out my trainers plodding around the lanes. Youth didn’t give them the edge. It was a close battle but I managed to cross the line just in front.
My second IM70.3 was at Exmoor 2014, this was going to be my last, never again! The toughest 70.3 there is, so what a way to go out. Again I trained hard alongside my two boys, this time injury free. We arrived at Wimbleball Lake fit as we could be and excited at the challenge. The atmosphere topped any event I had been involved in before, Ironman really do know how to make every athlete feel special. Nerves were just as present at this start as they had been on my first sprint, the difference was I knew I could do it.
The experience was so special at Exmoor I came straight out of retirement and entered Stafford 70.3 as part of the Unstoppables. I am currently training hard alongside, Jack, Stuart and two of his sons Alex & Jim, who are entering their first 70.3.
I was asked to give a couple of tips to first time Ironman athletes:
First, unless you are a strong swimmer start at the back. At Exmoor I entered the lake last and over the next 7 hours overtook 900 athletes on route. Play to your strengths.
Fuel is very important, keep energised and hydrated to feed your muscles and help avoid cramp. Ironman provide plenty of hydration and food stations so don’t worry about carrying too much.
Finally train hard and be prepared. Confidence is your best friend and will help you stay relaxed and enjoy the whole event.
I look forward to meeting you all on 14th June, together we will help to beat blood cancers.