Ch. 21 – The final chapter… Or is it?

So here we are in the last weeks building up to one of the biggest moments in my life, Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire on June 9th 2019.

I have been writing this blog now since the beginning of November 2018 and have very much enjoyed the process. Initially I was going to keep the fact I had entered an Ironman event a secret. Just tell my wife and my coach and keep it super low key. I soon realised in order to complete my goal I was going to need all the help and support I could get. I’m also not very good at keeping secrets.

Over a period of a few weeks I went from keeping it a secret, to beginning the process of writing a blog and sharing my entire journey with the world.

The process has helped me overcome many, many hurdles along the way. Reflecting on the positive things I have achieved, all the time keeping focus on my goal, and the process of how I was going to get there.

Return from Mallorca (Tri Camp)

I had a blast in the Spanish sun. It certainly wasn’t a holiday (Ch. 20) but it certainly was fun. I was already thinking about the probability I would be back next year. I felt exhausted and awesome at the same time. Once the dust had settled after our flight home, once the bag was unpacked and the pets all back, I sat down and had a look at my training schedule. It was 2300 hrs and I needed a rest. Fortunately Billy had predicted this and slotted in two rest days. It had been some time since I had the pleasure of back to back time away from training. I would sleep like a baby!

The return to work was odd. I was exceptionally tired from travelling, and doubtless fatigued from the weeks efforts. Throughout the day I recalled the various memories of Mallorca. The effort of the moment now replaced by fond memories of fun. My love of all things swim, bike and run had grown. I wondered how a single week can completely change a mans perspective on life? Mallorca certainly had a positive effect on me, as you are about to read.

Building on my achievements

My return to training back in the UK started on May 1st. I was down for an aerobic swim and a tempo effort on the bike. Billy had told me when I was leaving Mallorca, that I had a great week, and was very impressed with my efforts. He now wanted to see me build from that.


The pool availability meant I would be swimming in Salisbury. The very pool that nearly ended my “Journey”. I remembered the time Fenella Langridge had helped me out in that pool. I was training for my first Open Water Triathlon (Ch. 12) and had a mid pool meltdown. A mouthful of water had quickly turned to a panic stricken fight to reach the end of the pool. Exhausted and lacking the confidence to get back into my set. Fenella swam with me for a few lengths and observed my technique. A kind gesture from a Pro athlete to an aspiring athlete. But nonetheless her comments and encouragement that day, made the difference between completing my set and moving on to the next, or simply giving up completely. Back then I was working towards swimming up to a 1000 m.

My first swim back in the UK was awesome, swimming at an aerobic pace for an hour and easing past 2500m feeling like I could swim all day. Sadly I had to get out of the pool and head out on the bike.

I go back to the pool at Five Rivers in Salisbury as often as I can. A kind of gesture to the pool demon and Tri Gods, and in the true belief of the Ironman slogan “Anything is possible”

The Bike – Tempo

It wasn’t a particularly cold day but I had been used to mid twenties for the most part of the previous week. I would layer up for this ride.

I was down to complete 90 minutes of efforts, broken down in intervals of 10 minutes easy, and then 10 minutes at RPE 8 (Rate of perceived exertion). Followed by an easy 10 minutes ride home to cool down.

This was going to be a tough set, I had experienced this kind of ride on the last Saturday in Mallorca when we all rode out to LUUC. I was mentally prepared and keen to see what I could do.

I decided on a simple out and back for the efforts, after climbing out of the village onto a gently undulating road. I had set myself a point in the road I wanted to reach in the first ten minute interval and got cracking.

I had worked it out perfectly, the undulations were tough but Mallorca had given me the knowledge and confidence to hold a rhythm. Tapping away at my gears until my Garmin gave me licence to ride easy. I turned around after 5 minutes of easy riding, and gently approached the spot I had ended my effort at. Boom! Thirty minutes of riding done, and barely out of breath.

I would do another two identical repeats of this before eventually needing a rest. I had pulled up on the side of the road, just before starting my final effort. Pausing my Garmin and taking in the views of Salisbury Plain. The Swallows had began to arrive, and so had Billy.

Damn just as in Mallorca, the moment I chose to loaf about and there is my coach riding up behind me in the distance. “Shit” he will know its me as I’m wearing my tech T-Shirt from Mallorca. “Hey Ho”. Deciding to make the most of my rest I waited for him to pull up and have a short chat.

Billy was mega impressed with my day so far, chuffed to see me putting in an effort. Knowing that I was about to put one more in, we got cracking back in the direction of home, Billy holding my wheel, being pulled from my draft just like we had done in Mallorca. Only this time I was in front doing all the work, I loved it. Quickly passing the ten minutes and pushing for another 3. “Cheers Billy, that was awesome” as he went his way, and I went mine.

After two and a half hours of training I was content and would put my feet up and enjoy the remainder of my day. Mallorca has made training fun!

Day two

Day two of training would not be as much fun. The weather in the UK had forced a turbo session for my ride for the day. I had enjoyed the better part of the week being warm whilst training, my muscles somehow more relaxed and flexible. I wanted to be out and about on the bike, but today it was not going to be possible. I was now entombed in my pain cave for 45 mins. The chilled air from the recent rain making the warm up all the more crucial. 45 minutes may not seem like a long time to be in the saddle, but on the Turbo there is no free speed. No breeze to cool the flesh. The scenery stays the same. With the sweat dripping off of my chin and my wrists, believe me 45 minutes was plenty.

As I got off the Turbo I noticed my Achilles was tight and set about some, now all too familiar gentle stretches. I was due in the pool with my Tri Club in an hour. I hoped I could shake it off soon.

After just 8 minutes and 22 seconds my coach Helen Witt had made the call for me to bail on the set and go home and rest. After just 400m of swimming my Achilles had been aggravated to the point that it was obvious to those around me. Helen made a good call that night (as you are about to read) and besides 400m in 8 minutes is not too shabby, especially considering the discomfort I was beginning to feel.

Proactive not reactive

I had learned in Mallorca that there was little point in trying to battle through a set that wasn’t working out for me. Pain is no friend, and it certainly is not weakness leaving the body (I have heard this quoted many times in my life). Pain is an indicator, a signal that something is not right.

After getting home from the bailed swim I was not disappointed or upset. Quite the opposite! I was pleased with myself for listening to my body, and the advice of those around me. I would apply some ice, rest and elevate for a while, and then set about some active recovery. Some may not think of foam rolling and stretching as active recovery, but for me it was better than lying on the couch and feeling sorry for my self.

The following day I got back in the pool and ended the week on a high.

As soon as I got home from work I went straight down to Five Rivers swimming pool in Salisbury and gave the pool demons and Tri Gods the bird. Smashing through 2300m of freestyle swimming, concentrating on technique and strength. The set whizzed by and with 8 minutes to spare the 1 hour session was done.

The following day (Saturday) I would get on the bike for 2.5 hours solid. Riding a new route through the picturesque Woodford Valley in Wiltshire. The hills would get the heart rate up but there was nothing here like Formentor, I was strong and the Achilles fine. I finished the ride setting three new peak performances for my coach. Hitting the goals and returning home with pride.

That is how to deal with a set back. Look it straight in the face, rest and readjust, then come back stronger.

Focus! The big day is fast approaching.

For the remainder of May I began to go through a process of shutting out all the white noise and really focussing on the goal ahead. Balancing life at this time was difficult, I was clocking up 12-15 hours of training a week. I would run in the early hours before work, use the gym in my lunch hour, and be in the pool or on the bike after work. I was loving life and ticking off session after session. I didn’t write much in my blog, as quite often I would be falling asleep, recovering and resetting for the next day.

On the Saturdays I would get down to the New Forest in Hampshire and swim in the lake for an hour, before a brick session on the bike and run. The New Forest is an awesome place to be before the rest of the world awakes. Nature appears to be completely at ease with the lone cyclist sharing a sunrise with it. The herd of Ponies completely oblivious to me passing by.  There really is no better feeling than that of complete exertion, to being completely spent, but having done it completely free of the stresses of life. Thats what Tri training did for me and it happened in the New Forest. I will be looking for that feeling again, and again.

There really is no better feeling than that of complete exertion, to being completely spent, but having done it completely free of the stresses of life.

Sundays had become my long bike days. I would ride blissfully around the Wiltshire countryside quite happily for up to four hours. There wasn’t a hill around that phased me. Yes they are still tough, but I took them all on….. knowing my taper week was looming and making sure I got the best out of my sessions. I would use these long weekend sessions to test my fueling strategy. Being a larger build and a heavy sweater, hydration was going to be key. In Mallorca I had been well disciplined with this and felt pretty good going into Ironman.

Race Strategy

It was now June. Crikey, that month flew by. It was no time since landing back in the UK after Tri camp that Billy and I were sitting down to a cup of coffee and discussing key components of my race…… The strategy.

Swim…. I was ready for the swim! Having signed up for the event in October 2018 and being injured pretty much thought the winter months, I had spent a lot of time in the pool. Swimming 1.9k in under 1hr 10 min. Was going to be a doddle. As long as I could deal with the pre race nerves, and a rolling start off of a pontoon? We agreed that I should place myself in the 40min seed. I was comfortable I could achieve that. Besides all my worst moments were behind me, my recent swims in the lake at the New Forest were proof I could do it. It would push me, but I wasn’t there to have a picnic.

Bike…. I was absolutely confident I was going to be able to smash the bike. 56 miles in 4.5 hours? I was aiming for 3.5 hours, and sure I would be there or there about. We chatted about two hilly components at the start and near the finish. They would slow me down for sure, but they were never going to get close to the hills I had conquered in Mallorca. I needed to keep well fuelled and hydrated, and be smart with my gears. The bike was not an element we were concerned with at all.

Running… I had only been back to running for four weeks, The Achilles scare now in the past. Nonetheless, this was not great preparation for a half marathon by any standards, especially after swim and bike. Yes, I had a good aerobic base from the training, but I was not conditioned into the physical demands of running. We needed for me to have a strong swim and bike to bank some time. I would focus on running from one aid station to the next. Knowing it was a 2.5x loop around the city of Stafford, we had worked out I would pass an aid station every 1.4 miles and hopefully have 3 hours to complete it. Yeah I could do that, surely?

All I had to do was get there……

A crushing blow…

You all probably know how my day ended…. before it started! Some of you might of been wondering where my journey was heading? without exception the support I received over the remainder of June has been amazing. As I write the remainder of this chapter, I am currently still injured but gradually getting back into the pool, and next week on the bike, hopefully……. Anyway here is how my big day went….

June 9th 2019 HIM Staffs

On the morning of Friday 7th June 2019 Sue and I travelled up to Staffordshire for our big day. Having packed and prepped all my gear the night before. Sue was up before me and just as apprehensive. She was worried about the run element, but believed I could do it. Sue has been integral to the process and shared some of my darker moments on the journey. The fact she knew I would do it was as much a success, as me getting the medal on the day.

However, I had had a rough night. On the Thursday I had been getting muscular tightness in my “Good” leg. Stretching and foam rolling hadn’t really helped and I was quite stiff in the knee area. Things were not looking good as I struggled to get down the stairs.

I felt I could stretch it off? In any case I was not going to give up now. I had come this far. I was so close.

We eventually got to the hotel after a miserable 4.5 hours driving, mostly admiring the delights of the M6 Birmingham. Rain, rain, rain. The journey had not done my knee any good at all. Instead of activity to loosen it up. I was sat in a car. This would turn out to be the death of my dreams for Sunday, albeit I hadn’t accepted it at this stage.

As soon as we had acquainted our selves with the hotel we set about driving to race HQ. Rain, rain, rain. Sue didn’t want to get out in the rain, so I plodded off and entered the world of Ironman. My knee was much better, now I was moving about. The Ibuprofen helping somewhat.

Queuing up for registration – Nothing to lose, everything to gain

Tori (TriForce) had messaged me earlier to see if I was about, and we met at registration. I joined the queue and collected my race gear. The various stickers, swim cap and infamous Tattoo’s (Transfers) you get when you enter these kind of events. I was exceptionally calm and was now referring to my knee as a niggle. I also met Emily (TriForce) Both Tori and Emily (Seasoned Ironman athletes) were impressed at how relaxed I looked. I felt as if I had nothing to loose and everything to gain. I just needed to ensure I got round that lake.

We sat through the race brief and I entered my red bag (Running gear) into transition 2. Sue had now been sitting in the car for over an hour. Rain, rain, rain. Not how I had planned to start the weekend for her. I didn’t think the race brief would be so long. I would have to get her back to the hotel and buy her a G&T.

Saturday 8th June 2019

Today we would go down to the lake for a recce of transition 1 (Bike) and have a look at the lake. Rain, rain, rain. We got the shuttle bus that Ironman had laid on, despite forgetting to pay for Sues pass in registration. I left my bike in the car, whilst we went for our recce.

I guess sub-consciously I knew I wasn’t going to be taking part at this point. Although even at this stage the thought of not starting had not even crossed my mind.

The transition area was filling up with tens of thousands of pounds worth of bikes. My entry level bike would be easy to spot amongst all these flashy TT things. My racking area was right in the far corner and near to the bike exit. Awesome, nothing to panic about when getting out of the lake. So we headed off to look at the vast expanse of water, rain, rain, rain. It hadn’t stopped since we hit Birmingham.

We had a short walk from the shuttle into what is the SSSI (Nature reserve) of Chasewater and by this time we were soaked through. Sue was doing a good job of staying upbeat, clearly not wanting to put any extra pressure on me. Deep inside she must of been cursing the very day I signed up.

Chase water reservoir – Not how it looked when I was there. Rain, rain, rain!

The walk from T1 to the lake was quite a way, I had been warned of this by Billy “Expect quite a bit of a run from the lake into transition”. Normally this would have been fine, but now my knee was really starting to complain. I was starting to lose the full range of motion, as the swelling and inflammation began to protect whatever injury I had received. The walk to the edge of the pontoon start was a long one indeed. Physically, yes, but now I needed to make a decision. As I stood looking out across the buoys, visualising my swim, and sighting distant objects to help me navigate the 1900m, I had the first sense of negativity for a very long time. I knew I could do the swim, but what was I going to gain if afterwards, whatever this injury was, left me broken and unable to get out of the lake. The biggest fear was that an official would see my physical condition and pluck me out of the race altogether. This was going to be my choice and I made it whilst standing on the start line.

I was not going to race!

By far the hardest decision ever. I had discussed it in a phone call with Billy before hand. “You could do the swim and get something out of it” was discussed, it just made no sense. I had been swimming distances well over that for months now. I knew I could do it. The problem was that in order to swim, I had to first rack my bike and get my timing chip. At this point my knee had swollen so much that the ibuprofen was not even touching it. In all probability I would of struggled to get my wetsuit on. Mounting a bike, whilst probably amusing to all those around me, was not the way I wanted my race to end.

What I needed to do was accept that I had a rather bad injury and allow the process of healing to begin… Now!

I made the decision not to rack my bike, collect my running gear from T1 and go home.

The best decision I have made since taking on a sport I have become extremely fond of. Triathlon, and Ironman may have won that day, but all the successes I have had along the way far out weigh the disappoint of the moment. I made the decision, not Ironman, and in doing so will be back to full fitness quicker, and ready to complete my journey. Albeit on another day.


Once I had made the decision there would be no going back. Despite which fact, the Transition areas would close in 2 hours. The feeling of going back into T2 to collect my running gear was awful. I was the only one heading in the other direction, limping.

Bizarrely, for the first time since Friday morning the rain began to ease. As if trying to lighten the mood of the moment. Outwardly I was staying positive and happy, inside was a completely different story. I needed to get home before I could start feeling sorry for myself. I approached the race officials in the giant marquee and explained my situation. Whilst sympathetic, they were thankful I had made the right choice. That was it! The moment my day ended, and I didn’t even collect a T-Shirt.

Sue suggested we go back to the hotel and have a few drinks, maybe go and watch the race the following day. I needed to get away from it and go home. I don’t think Sue really wanted to be in the rain any longer, but was simply trying to put some happiness into the situation….. We checked out and went home.

Finally home – Learning to live with “My decision” and what turns out to be Patellar Tendonitis

The following day, I awoke to the news of everyones efforts, some brilliant swim times from Team TriForce. I switched off, selfishly I couldn’t bear to watch. The sun was shining and they were all having a great day. I couldn’t even walk now, the Injury was worse than feared.

I put a lot of positive thoughts on social media about how I felt, but inside as the days passed, I began to get depressed.

I needed to recover. Physically and mentally,  and ultimately took time away to switch off from training for a week or two. I had to stop the world and get off!

Billy was brilliant during this time. Keeping a distance and allowing me to gather my thoughts. When we did touch base, he timed it perfectly. The day before I was ready to give up. However, this day I had decided to accept where I was at. Put running on hold,  and focus on what I knew I could do, Swim. Bizarre as it may sound to those who read the early chapters about me learning to swim a width. However, here I was, signing up for my next challenge and putting Ironman on hold until next year.

My Running club and Triathlon club have been amazing through this period, as I have said before, if you surround yourself with the right people, success will come. I just needed a week or two to feel sorry for myself.

The Fatman-Ironman journey, nearly ended in disaster, failure or me giving up. However, in simply moving the goal posts, I get to have a whole lot more fun, and do the big one another day. So…… It turns out there will be another chapter, and I will go on to get that medal. The training will not have been wasted.

I am now signed up for The Big Cotswold Swim on the 14th September. Knowing I could do the 1 mile, and looking for a challenge to help me get over the disappointment of Staffs ….. The 2 mile option seemed just the ticket.

Wish me luck.

Thank you for reading the latest chapter in my blog. I’m now over the disappointment and focussing on all the positive things I have achieved so far. For a while it was difficult to see beyond injury, almost impossible to even think about blogging it. However, I have now done that, and hope you are excited as me to see where this journey takes me next.

Please take the time to read the previous chapters in my journey. Chapters 1-21 have been a lot of fun to write, and I welcome your comments and opinions.

I don’t know what the next chapter in my blog will be about, or when I will write it. But rest assured, I will still be hunting down my finishers medal for my first ever Ironman event. Watch this space.


Previous chapters in my Journey “Fatman – Ironman”


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