The picture on the left is me back in 2013 in a drug induced coma fighting off pneumonia. Two weeks, three heart stoppages and a collapsed lung later, they woke me up.
Whilst bed ridden, I had a long time to reflect on missed opportunities in my life. I thought about the things I wanted to achieve before I was ill but did not, using the “I will do that tomorrow” line. With what happened to me being so sudden and serious, I realised that tomorrow could be a day too far away.
I left hospital two and a half stone lighter and on very shaky legs; under doctors’ orders I could no longer smoke as this would double my recovery time – this was easier than I thought as I completely forgot I smoked! I sat out the rest of 2013, using the time to recover properly, making sure I was well fed and rested. Some would say a little bit too well fed…
Anyway, my goal once I had recovered was to train to complete an Ironman Triathlon. If you don’t know, this is the toughest one-day challenge event on the Planet; consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.2-mile (42.2 km) run, raced in that order, without a break. Problem was, I was over weight, hadn't done any physical exercise since leaving the forces in 2007 and the 3 fundamental things needed in triathlon events were missing - I didn’t have a bike, couldn’t swim and I couldn’t walk around the block without getting out of breath or feeling as though my shins were on fire!
So, where to start? In April 2014 Scantec joined the Cycle to Work Scheme which gives employees a tax break on a brand new bicycle. The only ‘snag’ is you have to use the bike to commute to work, however this was music to my ears; not only do I get a brand new bike but I also get fit going to work everyday! I took to cycling like a duck to water, it is true what they say, “you never forget how to ride a bike” and I entered my first 100-mile charity ride after 5 weeks. Raising money for Claire House Children’s Hospice on the Wirral, I found that I was not only keeping up with the other cyclists, I was over taking them. This helped to give me the confidence that I might actually be okay at this cycling lark. One year on I have pedalled over 2500 miles and completed in lots of events such as riding from London to Paris (again for Claire House).
With cycling boxed off and my fitness at a higher level, I decided to try and tackle swimming which, if you knew me in High School, you would know I despise. My greatest achievement in the pool was completing the 25 metres and, I will admit now, I walked the first 10 metres and pulled myself along the bar (whilst the teachers’ backs were turned) for the remaining 15.
So, in September 2014 I decided to learn how to swim. I learnt off some of the best coaches in the world - all the ones that had YouTube channels anyway! After one week of splashing around and swallowing countless litres of chlorine water I started to resemble a human swimming and not a spider drowning. A week later, I could finally swim 100m without walking or pulling myself along the bar when my swimming teacher wasn’t looking. I was disappointed it took me 15 years to achieve this, I would have very much liked a badge to sew on to my speedos… Within a few months however, I was regularly swimming 2000m each session. Badge please?
Two down and one to go… Now, running and I have never been friends, even during my time in the Army, I ran because I had to not because I wanted to. I found a decent size field, used my GPS watch and set it to beep after a mile and half (the standard running test distance in the army). Back in my younger days I was clocking 8 minutes. Ten years on, 15 kg heavier, I struggled to do it in 12 minutes and of course, my shins were on fire for days afterwards. I took it very slowly over the next few months; running for 15 minutes every other day on grass then increasing this to 20, then 30 and so on. With the help of my brilliant physio - strengthening the muscles used for running - I can now run 90 minuet half-marathons and sub twenty minute 5Ks.
I booked my first triathlon in for April 2015, and I trained morning and night. I submersed myself into the world of Triathlon, if I wasn’t out training then I would be found with my head in a book looking up techniques and nutrition. I feared I would be the last guy over the line – this drove me to work harder and harder in my sessions.
When I felt like quitting, something my sister said to me when I was in hospital comes into my head and spurs me on - she whispered, “let him sleep for when he wakes, he will move mountains”. I wanted to smash through mountains let alone move them. It’s a shame my body couldn’t keep up with my enthusiasm, as, sod’s law, I got injured 5 weeks before the race. I couldn’t run or swim until my physio gave me the all clear.
I was devastated. All the hard work over winter, training on Christmas day and New Year’s day was all in vain. Even if I could race, no training for 5 weeks meant that my fear of being last would definitely be more likely now!
I dubiously raced my first triathlon in April 2015 in Chirk after getting the go ahead from my physio three days before. In some ways, I felt better, as though the pressure was off. I wasn’t race fit so I thought at least I would get to experience what it’s like and I would be able to learn for next time. However, the second I jumped into the pool, my competitiveness and adrenaline took over - I placed 6th in my age group and 65th overall (out of 400). I was ecstatic with this! When I got home, I did realise that I was one of only a few who used a road bike on the bike leg (a Triathlon bike would be 90 seconds quicker every 10 minutes). I was only a few minutes off top three in my age group - maybe I could have got there if I had a better bike and not been injured!
Through all this hard work, it seems that I am quite good at this triathlon business, and I feel as though my dream of finishing an Ironman Triathlon is in sight. But now that I feel ready to complete one, I have the bug - I want to compete! What started from the idea of a bed stricken dreamer is now my reality.
The aim now: I don’t want to just complete an Ironman; I want to represent GBR in triathlons. Hopefully this could be a reality in the next five years, as long as I keep my dedication (and stay injury free).
I would like to leave you with a quote which I think is quite apt, “don’t just dream, believe and you CAN achieve.”
So, the picture on the right is me chasing this dream!