For a few years I had wanted to be an Ironman, the title bestowed on those who could successfully complete a gruelling triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run. One of the ultimate tests of endurance and here was I, in my late 30’s, a couple of stone overweight, and coming to the end of an average (at best) amateur football ‘career’. I had always done plenty of running as well as doing bits on the bike, but I couldn’t swim.
But I set myself a challenge and then tried to work out how to achieve it. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own and knowing I couldn’t swim so well, I enrolled in adult swimming lessons and also joined a local cycling club (both of these were hard to do but I am so glad I did – and would recommend that you seek help if you are thinking of doing something similar). I sorted out my diet and lost a couple of stone (cost me a fortune buying a new set of clothes). Bit by bit I got fitter and stronger and enjoyed it more. Lockdown happened and what was supposed to happen in 2020 was now 2021. For me this was an extra year to train, for my family it was another year of me being a stranger and recognising me more in lycra than in any of my other clothes.
Sunday 4th July arrived with a 2:30am wake up, England had beaten Ukraine the night before so I definitely had not had my 8 hours sleep! The swim, which was the discipline I feared the most when I started this, was amazing, 1:18 against a predicted time of 1:20, great going so far. I remember from this how beautiful the sky looked from the water, and inside I smiled all the way round as I was enjoying this.
Through transition and on to the bike, 112 miles and a 3 lap course which I had familiarised myself with previously. It was hilly and all the hills had to be done 3 times. I had friends, family and fellow club members out on the course providing a huge boost whenever I saw them, all was going great until the rains came! Torrential downpours for 20 minutes at a time which left my clothes ringing wet, made braking very difficult and resulting in more cautious cycling. This was a mental test to add in to an already physically demanding course. Each lap got progressively slower but I had predicted a time between 7 hours and 7:30, and I got off the bike in a time of 7:05, and at this point was relieved to have made it this far, and excited and nervous about what was next.
Again a change in transition, fuelling up on gels and water, and the small matter of a marathon to run. The course organisers decide we should run 4 laps of a course, again mentally tough, especially on the 2nd lap. I run (and by this I mean trot) for most of it, walking through the aid stations and on the occasional incline. Midway through the 3rd lap I get a 2nd wind and the realisation that I was nearly there and on the verge of achieving my goal. At this point my running gets a little less slow, my smile a little more visible. On the last lap I feel like I could hug everyone as I know this is the last time I am doing this route, the next time I reach Bolton town centre I will turn off and head down the red carpet to the finish line. As I approach the finish I can hear the crowd and as I approach the red carpet I see my wife there looking very emotional (she was probably just relieved it was over) and here the announcer and the crowd shout ‘GEORGE, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN’!
I still amaze myself writing those words (and replaying the video back) and looking back I am so proud of what I achieved and the work I put in to train to get there. We all have our own Ironman, and I can tell you whatever it is, it feels bloomin’ great to achieve it. So if you are thinking about an event or challenge you always wanted to do, my advice is go ahead and book it, challenge yourself, scare yourself, the feeling you get from achieving it is one of the best ever!! It doesn’t have to be an ironman, it can be a 5k that you run non-stop, a half marathon, a tough mudder style event or anything that is relevant and personal to you!
I chose to raise money for North Yorkshire Sports Mental Health Fund, we use the money generated to support the sport and physical activity workforce to be more mental health friendly, and also to support targeted projects to work with people who have issues with their mental health. If you could spare any money to donate then the link is below, or if you would like to fundraise for us then please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to talk to you about your idea.