Some fifty years ago, aged just five, I had a drowning accident whilst staying at a caravan park on a family holiday.
I fell head-first into a 45-gallon drum of water of which there were several placed around the caravan park and used as part of fire prevention measures.
My brother ran to get help but, in his panic, forgot which of the drums I had fallen into 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 and he 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, so I never had the confidence to learn to swim.
However, in August 2018, inspired by some fellow Felixstowe Road Runner athletes who were training to take part in the 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 ‘Swim Smooth Suffolk’ and, even though swimming front crawl was impossible for me, 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 the Royal Hospital School near Ipswich in October 2018.
The accident left me with a lifelong fear of water and a feeling of claustrophobia whenever my head was submerged.”
The swim leg was 500m of the pool and it took me nearly 17 minutes to complete. It felt like the longest 17 minutes of my life and I was pretty exhausted when I got out of the pool. But the bike leg of 20 miles and the 5km run each 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 it is 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 almost as soon as it had started.
The only thing I could think of doing to truly motivate myself was to enter a long-distance Ironman event and so I began researching to find the best event for a first timer and a very weak swimmer.
Ironman Copenhagen came out on top and, 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 and the Outlaw Half Distance at Holkham as part of my journey. So that was it – in at the deep end and no going back!
I went back to Seamus and told him of my plan and 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 nine to 13 hours per week consisting of two or three hours of swimming, four to six hours of cycling and three or four hours of running.
There was added strength and conditioning, including a one-hour 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.
No matter what your circumstances or ability, if you dare to dream big and are willing to work hard then anything is possible.
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.
However, my swim progress remained slow and I found that I could only swim any sort of distance in the pool with the assistance of a pull-buoy buoyancy aid.
My confidence did start to grow a little as I took up more open-water swimming as I found that the natural buoyancy you get in saltwater and from 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.
Then, on Sunday August 18th, I crossed the Ironman Copenhagen finish line in 13 hours 52 minutes.
The swim of 2.4 miles took me about two hours and was the hardest thing I have ever done. But I did it, and crossing that finish line will remain with me as one of the proudest achievements of my life.
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.
To sum up, my advice would be that, no matter what your circumstances or ability, if you dare to dream big and are willing to work hard then anything is possible.