“Armbands To Ironman” (Fast track!)

Some 50yrs ago aged just 5yrs old I had a drowning accident whilst staying at a caravan holiday park on a family holiday. The accident happened when I fell head first in to a 45 gallon drum of water which were placed around the caravan park and use as part of fire prevention measures. My brother ran to get help but in his panic forgot which of the drums I had fallen in to, and when I was eventually found and pulled from the water i had stopped breathing. Luckily for me one of the people who helped rescue me was a retired doctor who gave me the kiss of life and saved me. The accident left me with a lifelong fear of water and a feeling of claustrophobia whenever my head was submerged, and so I never had the confidence to try and learn to swim.

That was until Aug of 2018 when, inspired by some fellow Felixstowe Road Runner athletes who were training to take part in Ironman Barcelona Triathlon I decided that I wanted to try and learn to swim in order to complete a triathlon myself. I got in touch with Seamus Bennett at Swimsmooth Suffolk and even though swimming front crawl was impossible for me then he spent some time with me developing the basics of a breast stroke in order that I could compete in the Peninsula sprint triathlon at RHS Ipswich in Oct’18. The swim leg was 500mtrs of the pool and it took me nearly 17mins to complete. It felt like the longest 17mins of my life and I was pretty exhausted when I got out of the pool, but the bike leg of 20miles and then the 5k run both went well and I was hooked on the idea of competing in more triathlon events. To do so I knew that I would need to develop a front crawl swim stroke as its definitely considered the most efficient for longer distance events, but I was worried that given the enormity of the challenge for me I would lose the motivation to learn and my triathlon journey would end nearly as soon as I had started.

The only thing I could think of doing to truly motivate me was to enter a long distance Ironman event myself and so I began researching which would be the best event for a first timer and a very weak swimmer. Ironman Copenhagen in Aug ’19 came out on top and so as soon as registration for the event opened I duly paid my ~£600 and signed up. At the same time I also entered the Blenheim Palace sprint triathlon, the Leeds Olympic distance (both in Jun’19) and, and the Outlaw Half distance at Holkham in July’19 as part of my journey. So that was it, in at that deep end and no going back now! I went back to Seamus and told him of my plan, and there started my journey to Ironman.

The amount of training required is quite some undertaking and definitely not something that should be underestimated. I typically trained for 9-13hrs per week, consisting of 2-3hrs of Swimming / 4-6hrs of Biking and 3-4hrs of Running and added strength and conditioning to that including a 1hour weekly Pilates class, both elements of which are very important in developing and keeping your core strength in order to maintain that level of training without injury. I also have regular deep tissue massage to help prevent long term injury.

Despite the volume of training I found that once I had established a routine I loved the multi-discipline approach and the amount of variety it brings to training. My swim progress remained slow though and I found that I could only swim any sort of distance in the pool with the aide of a pull-buoy buoyancy aide. My confidence did start to grow a little as I took up more open water swimming where I found the natural buoyancy you get in salt water and by using a wet-suit help me develop my swim distance further. I persevered and completed each of the ‘shorter’ distance triathlon events in reasonable times for a beginner.

Fast forward to Sunday Aug 18th and I crossed the Ironman finish line in 13hrs 52mins. The swim of 2.4miles took me ~2hrs and was the hardest thing I’ve ever done..but I did it and crossing that finish line will remain with me as one of my proudest achievements.
My swimming is still weak to say the least but I plan to continue working hard to improve in order to complete some more ‘Half Ironman’ events in 2020 and a second long distance Ironman event in 2021.

My takeaway piece of advice would be, no matter what your circumstances or ability if you dare to dream big and are willing to work hard then anything is possible. My sincere thanks go to Seamus Bennett (Swimsmooth Suffolk), Kim Debenham (Muscle Worx Massage), Helen Duggan (Core & More Pilates) and special friends Dan and Lizz Clark for believing in me and for all your help and support along this journey.

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