Ch. 22 – The journey to H. I. M. Weymouth

“Without fear, there is no challenge, without challenge there is no growth, without growth there is no life” – Ant Middleton (SAS – Who Dares Wins)

Where dreams come true

Preparation

It’s 0430 hrs 22nd September 2019, my alarm has gone off on my phone. The cheesiest, longest ring tone I could find. It didn’t matter I was already awake. Excited and nervous at the same time. It was race day and I was not about to miss it. Besides, I had been listening to the heavy rain and wind blowing through the harbour, and along the Jurassic coast. Willing it to settle in time. The conditions on the Saturday looked tough. I did not want the swim to be cancelled. I had been working hard and I wanted my piece of the pie. I was getting in regardless!

Sue was ok with the early start. However, convincing her about pre race nutrition had failed. All Sue could foresee was a lot of hanging around. She would not be wrong, as it turned out.

I got the porridge on, bananas and toast. Careful not to go crazy. I made Sue a cup of coffee and slowly got through my meal. I was in no rush, I was relaxed. Everything was prepared the night before. I had just descended the flights of stairs of the town house we were invited to share with the lovely Farwell Family, door after door of bagged up kit, waiting to be grabbed. Mine was there, I was ready.

I had slept with the timing chip on so I wouldn’t forget it. It had been presented to me the day before by Fran (Shrewton Running Club), as if it were the Crown Jewels, her palms caressing it as if it were on a velvet cushion. It was an exceptionally important part of the day… This was our relay Baton! Sue had the honour of crowning me with the Jewel. Taking the very important role of securing it to my left ankle.

We were working as a relay team. Fran was taking the run leg, after her partner Moss finished the bike. We all had our parts to play, but mine was to be first. I am the swimmer.

I slowly sipped from one of my water bottles and filled it up again. The last of my preparations was done. Hydrated and eager to see what I could do.

I took a little walk outside. Sue was right, we had plenty of time, I was pleased to see the sea had calmed down a bit. Still a strong wind in the air, and still raining. However, the aggression of the waves had gone. It looked like the swim was definitely going to be on. Let’s do this!!

img_2615
Choppy seas the day we arrived…… Getting in regardless?

Fran and Moss rose later than I did. I was chomping at the bit, excited, I wanted to see the marker buoys. I needed to visualise the course. Sue and I headed from the finish area toward the start line.

The previous evenings weather had dumped the beach all over the roads and paths, mini dunes and drifts swirling around, mesmerising and soothing at the same time. If the sand didn’t get washed or swept away Fran, our runner, was going to have a tough day.

It was eerily silent as a gentle flow of people began to make the walk to the start line. Or at least to transition 1. I needn’t worry about the bike, I went straight to the start pens. The noise began to rise as people began to mass, the tension and nerves electrified the atmosphere. Doubts, fear and confidence stood side by side. I had none of those. I had focus, I had trained for this moment, I had a job to do. Success was inevitable, The only uncertainty was how quick the swim could be. I was doing it to conquer the demons of Staffordshire, but more than that, I was doing it as part of a team. I was not going to let them down.

I slipped into my wetsuit and lubed the points of friction my training had taught me. Training is also learning, and chaffing is no fun. Especially where salt water is concerned.

As I stood chatting with Sue, putting a swim cap on (I would be wearing two, as a frozen head is no fun either) the announcement came out from the Familiar Irish tone of the Lady announcer…. Swim start is delayed and the distance shortened. This was not good news, I had trained hard for this event and consistently swam well at endurance distances, swimming 950 meters? Is that a sprint? What do I do? I was not prepared for this eventuality.

The night previous it was more likely the swim would be off….. Ok!, so lets see this as a positive. I would at least get a swim.

 

After a little hanging around I eventually decided it was time to crack on and get amongst it. I said my goodbyes to Sue, the hardest part of these events for me. At this point I knew it would be easily a long half hour before she saw me safely out of the water. Sue was now laden with my change of clothes and the fact she had to have complete faith in my ability, I knew I could do it, and I knew I could be quick (Not Michael Phelps, but for a guy dragging a belly… I knew I was pretty quick) Sue, however, simply had to believe.

I took myself up into the seed pens (areas cordoned off and intended to separate the athletes and their predicted swim times). Despite the shortened swim, we were advised to stick with the times for the full distance. I was going to hit 40 mins for 1.2 miles, I had trained for a hard finish! Today I was going to have to aim for 20 mins for 950m.

Gradually moving my way through the seed pens (I am R/H front of the two purple swim caps

Shock and fear came over me for the first time since I got in my car to drive down to Weymouth, since then I hadn’t felt at all doubtful. I expected to be able to see the large buoy markers. It was now 0620 hrs and the Pros were due out at 0700 hrs. I couldn’t see the route, I knew it was shorter, but where were the sighting references? A peak in the coastline? A Lighthouse? A tree line or bigger house? I couldn’t visualise it because the buoys had not been put out yet. On top of that a big sea mist had set in the distance. Huge oil tankers began to disappear.

After a few minutes the boats started dragging out the buoys and the tension started to ease, the distant red turn buoys were deep in the mist and it would be impossible to use a land based marker point. I figured I would just have to swim to each way point marker…. Yellow buoy to yellow buoy…. eventually I would be able to see the red buoy and make my turn.

The chatter around me was tense, a guy next to me revealed he was shitting his pants and looked like he was about to climb over the railing and bail. I gave him a line about “We’ve done the training” “Now its showtime” but clearly I needed to shuffle forward politely, this guys energy was not good.

The Pro men – the buoys are out and Its on!

I shuffled through the tight masses of rubber (Neoprene) clad people until it was impossible to go any further. I was in sight of the 38 minute flag. perfect. I must be at the 40 min point. I recognised a guy standing next to me from my first ever open water triathlon, it was clear he recognised me but through sheer focus and belief we had entered a zone. we nodded but didn’t communicate verbally, the start was imminent.

My feet ached as I stood on the cold damp pebbles of Weymouth beach, the swim start carpet in sight. We had been held back! A delayed start on top of a shortened swim. I wasn’t bothered by this now, but I knew I had left a wife expecting a husband out of the water half an hour ago, my team would also be confused…. Why has he not exited the water yet…. I did not get into the water until 0816 hrs.

The swim

So here it is, I am now on the famous red carpet, walking toward the open sea. The pro’s are finished and out on the bike, The tunes are pumping…. “Right here…. Right now” its my time! I quickly apply a last minute bit of spit to my thumb and wash it around my goggles, I do not want to fog up. I choose my lane, like a race horse I am now funnelled into a start block. Beep, Beep, Beep…. 6 seconds and I’m off. The others go quick and hard down the beach, running and diving into the sea. I knew I would catch them so mine was more of a jog, a controlled start. I was still technically injured, or at least in recovery, and not about to try and be a hero. I was quickly into a rhythm but my breathing way too fast. I knew this would happen, I had trained for it, I opted to breath every stroke and settle down. Buoy one… Boom… Its on! I am sighting well, the buoy is close to my right shoulder.

I dug in and found a hip to swim alongside, like a baby Dolphin would be with its mother, drafting and conserving energy. I was trying to relax my breathing and become more bi lateral. The guy I was swimming alongside was not so keen to drag me along. He was very proficient at breast stroke and appeared to be alternating between that and Front Crawl. Every kick of his breast stroke intended to send a message to me, was swiftly replied with a strong catch and pull of my arms. Neither of us were prepared to give up the advantage of drafting off each other. Each of us fighting to secure our spot.

We got each other to the next yellow buoy and slowly he began to fade into the distance. I needed to find another toe, or hip to tuck in on. We were beginning to spread out. Some had chosen to go wide of the group. I was sticking to my line, tight to the buoys. Others had began to pass me, clearly lighter and stronger swimmers. My buddy was now nowhere to be seen, I was sticking to my own race.

The first turn buoy

The red turn buoy was now clearly in sight, the sea mist had began to lift. Ok, I thought to myself this is where I begin to really work…. I turned at the buoy only to be faced with a swell sufficient to stop me dead. 30 feet to my left a guy who moments ago was swimming fast and strong, now neither of us appeared to be moving…. Wow! Now I had to work proper hard, lets get out of this swell. Pleased it wasn’t just me, watching with each breath the challenges the swimmers around me were facing. The overwhelming smell of diesel filled the air as the rescue boat came and plucked someone out. It really was tough at this point but the very fact that people had given up spurred me on. I was here to conquer.

 

The sea was big out here, any confusement to why the organisers had chosen to shorten the swim, now gone. Just ten minutes earlier I stood looking out to the sea and feeling pleased at how much calmer it looked. The Pros has nailed it, but right now it wasn’t calm at all, and some people were struggling. It needed respect. Eventually we pushed through to the next turn point. Pleased to get the swells and waves behind me. No longer would I be taking huge mouthfuls of salt water on board each time I tried to breath. I would use the swells and waves now to my advantage, they would push me home.

The next challenge came in the form of sighting, until now I was doing alright. Now as I swam up a wave the buoys would be gone, hidden by the water, and as I climbed, so would I have to fall down the other side, the buoy now below me. To some I might be exaggerating, but this is how it felt to me. I had not been in a strong sea before, not this strong. I had chosen good weather to train in. This was all new, I was learning on the job, and I was loving it.

I chose to sight every three strokes now, knowing that mostly the buoys would be hidden behind a wave each time. Beforehand a quick crocodile sight, or lift of the head every six strokes was sufficient. It was working, I was keeping to the course. The only challenge now was that the current was slightly to my left, so as well as pushing me home, the sea wanted to push me right. I needed to keep working my swim back against the current. It was a challenging five minutes or so. My friend from earlier still nowhere to be seen.

As we all swam in our various states, the water being beaten to a frenzie, the shoreline began to get clearer as the sea mist from earlier was lifting. I became conscious of the heavy rainfall around me, but more so, of the ever nearing beach. I was nearly there. It felt comfortably within the cut-off time, but I wouldn’t be looking at my watch until I was firmly on my feet and running towards T1…. And Moss, our cyclist.

It is no accident that the shoreline for these events is full of marshals, in and out of the water. I took my first few steps after righting myself. The swim had indeed taken a lot out of me, despite being a short swim, my legs were like jelly and I collapsed. Fortunately it was only temporary and the various marshals ensured my next few steps were going forward and not down, or backward.

I had decided whilst out in the swim not to bother taking my wetsuit down to my waist, I had trained for this in other events, but today it would be easier for my relay team to spot me coming in, if I was the only one still fully suited.

Smiling, and trying to breath in for the camera

As I ran up the beach front and across the coveted red carpet that is synonymous with Ironman events, I knew that Sue would be just around the corner. We had an agreed point where the crowds would be thinner, I glimpsed her in the distance, phone at the ready. I made sure I put on a happy face and tried to breath in a bit for the camera. The happy face was the easy bit, I was elated to actually be part of something I had trained so hard for, part of an Ironman event. Breathing in was not so easy.

 

I kept a steady pace to T1, literally just out of a long injury I didn’t want to slip on the wet roads, equally I didn’t want to be minceing into T1. This was my first run of anysort since June.

As I entered the funnel toward T1 I heard the congratulations and encouragement from Tori Waight and Kent Langridge, Many of the Tri Force gang had said they would be racing, I had already met up with Leanne James. At this moment I forgot Tori and Kent had said they would look out for me. The boost was immense, I got the pace up and made a proper entrance into T1. Moss, our cyclist and Fran, our runner pleased to see me. The Crown Jewel (Timing chip) could now be handed over… My job was done.

I now had the awesome task of being spectator and supporter of what truly is a brilliant spectacle. The atmosphere at these events is electrifying. #anythingispossible

Moss would go on to have an epic bike split taking us up into eighth position amongst 47 registered Relay teams. The effort he put in made clear by the difficulty in walking he was having as we chased Fran around the run route, offering our support. Fran would get the warm part of the day, but despite this she opened up her engine for a Half Marathon PB.

Fran powering out of transition and heading towards a PB
Moss (Red) hammered the bike leg

We met a few hundred yards before the finish line and ran across the line together. Each of us earning our place amongst the team. Each of us truly deserving of our medal.

Team Shrewton Triers aced it with a very respectable time of 5:44:24

Team Shrewton Triers

The journey

If you have read my previous blog chapters, and in particular Ch. 21 – The final chapter… Or is it? You will know that my Fatman-Ironman Journey has had many ups and downs. I was able to conquer many fears and achieve things I thought never possible. I had managed to adapt and live with my fears, and perhaps even began to use them as strengths, helping me go beyond what originally started out as simply “Losing a bit of weight”. However, the set back of HIM Staffs DNS and the weeks after, was by far the hardest part of my journey so far.

I had put everything into achieving my goal at Staffs, and I believed I was ready. The run would have been a run/walk strategy but I knew the bike would be strong. Sadly, as I would quickly learn, injury can come at any time.

I initially walked away from training completely. I needed to deload and switch off, this was always the plan anyway, I just expected it to be with a medal. When I returned to training the drive was no longer there. I wasn’t able to bike, and wasn’t able to run. But as before I could focus on the swim, and improve that. This time round the fire inside my belly had burnt out. Training through July was a chore, getting to the pool was an effort, and pretty soon training was becoming inconsistent and my times were dropping off. I would swim a 100 lengths, and the next day the pool was the last place I wanted to be. Before Staffs I was swimming in excess of 10k a week, every week, and loving every session. Now I was starting to loathe it. What had happened? I eventually owned up to Billy in a heart felt conversation. I wasn’t giving up, I just didn’t have the drive. I wasn’t attending my Tri Club sessions and I was generally down in my mood.

I kept digging in, seemingly on the Mondays I would be up for it, and smash out some awesome times in the pool, really going for it. The following session I just wouldn’t be there mentally. By the end of the week I simply didn’t do it. I knew this was not good, but I didn’t have the tools to reverse the cycle. What I needed to do was get out on my bike. The world was enjoying a glorious summer, and through injury my head was face down in an indoor pool. I wasn’t going to be able to ride for a while yet and had to make a decision.

The decision would come in a bizarre form. Moss, our cyclist at Weymouth announced to me at our running club social night that I was doing an Ironman relay? Was I? I was derailed immediately, he announced “as I could swim, I could form part of their relay team” Him and Fran, “Get you out of injury and back into training”. They were looking for a swimmer, and everyone they knew was either in an event or training for one. Moss has a brilliant sense of humour, and is great at making you feel at ease. However, this was no joke, and I was not at ease. He was serious.

Initially I laughed it off and cried “Injured” and desperately looked for a way out. Just say no, was the whisper from my friend Karen. The reality was, I was afraid I would let them down. Injury had allowed me to think negative. This had not been the case for a very long time. The last few weeks I had been down, because I was allowing fear and disappointment to rule my life. That night in Shrewton I very nearly turned down the best ever opportunity to reverse my depression, If I had, I probably would have given up on my journey all together and thrown in the towel. Instead I awoke the next morning and sent Fran, Moss’ partner, and our runner a message saying I’m in and where do I sign up etc.

In an instant my approach to training had changed, I was now back in the pool most days, hitting big sessions and signing up for events to focus my training for a 1.2mile Sea swim. I contactced my swim coaches at my Tri Club and organised coached seaswims. I would get to the sea as many weekends as I could with my wife Sue patiently keeping an eye on me. I would swim in lakes and quaries as much as I could. In August I had turned it all around again, I was swimming further and faster than before, and by some way. I felt efficient and confident. The negative chimp long gone.

My first training race was at Vobster Quays I swam their last aquathlon event in Septemeber, clearly not a runner yet, but an event where I could choose my swim distance, and go for it. I swam 1.9k that day in 43 minutes and had plenty in the tank for more. On the 14th September I swam 2 miles at the Cotswold Big Swim  comfortably longer than Weymouth was going to be….I was ready!

Thank you for taking the time to read the latest chapter in my blog. As I have said before “If you surround yourself with the right people, success will come”

I now have a renewed focus, the doors of possibility are firmly open, and I am considering my plans for 2020.

I have a score to settle.

I hope someone, somewhere can take something from my journey and apply it to theirs. I hope to see that person on a start line somewhere

#ANYTHINGISPOSSIBLE


Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”

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