My Personal Journey Into Triathlon
I’ve always loved sport, both as a fan and competing. I played 20+ years of rugby, including representing Boston RFC and Lincolnshire since moving to the “Shire” from Wales in 2003.
My introduction into endurance sports came when my Uncle got me involved in road cycling in my mid-teens. However, rugby and cycling were never really a match made in heaven. I played rugby on a Saturday, then spent the rest of Saturday afternoon and evening socialising in the clubhouse (win or lose, on the booze). The thought of dragging my bruised body out of bed with a hangover to ride my bike on a Sunday morning never seemed too appealing.
Cycling took a bit of a back seat until working away from home more frequently meant that I wasn’t able to commit to train with the rugby club on specific days/times. Cycling gave me the advantage of being able to go out at whatever time suited me, work and family commitments.
Fast forward to the January of 2015, when our family was hit with the news that my cousin, Nicki had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. Nicki and I were born 6 weeks apart and have always been incredibly close. In fact, she is more like a sister and best friend to me than a cousin, and she also just happens to also be my drinking partner and my daughter’s godmother.
Nicki and her family have been through their fair share of personal tragedy over the past 15 years, so this news came as a body blow to us all and was grossly unfair. She was fortunate to have been diagnosed at a relatively early stage, but even so there were some incredibly dark days through her treatment and one particular day where things got so serious that we thought we may lose her.
The reason this is relevant is that I decided I needed to do something positive to try and help. Doing nothing was giving me too much time to think and I was getting angry. Endurance sport was the answer. I asked myself, “what the hardest event I can think of?” “Ironman triathlon: 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, full marathon” “Right, let’s do that!”
Trouble was, I hated running and swam like a stone. It was so far-fetched I didn’t tell anyone. My first step was to address the running element. I entered the hardest marathon I could find, the Brutal Midnight Mountain Marathon in the Brecon Beacons in June of 2015. Through training for it I found I enjoyed running more than I thought. Box ticked! I also found a passion for open water swimming, which I found liberating and far more enjoyable than the monotony of plodding up and down lanes in the pool. Box 2 ticked!
So I went ahead and registered for Ironman Wales in the Sept of 2015, with the race 12 months away. The race date of 18th Sept 2016 was etched into my brain, where it would stay for the next 365 days. I set up a Just Giving page and Nicki and I decided that I should raise money for Cancer Research UK.
Training was pretty intense. 6 days per week, 6-8 sessions per week. It was tough, but I needed it to be. Every time I wanted to miss a session or cut one short I thought about Nicki in her hospital bed, hooked up to drips and wires. “Nicki didn’t give up, now toughen the f**k up and crack on!”
Training for an Ironman is a selfish act. It’s fair to say that my focus was on the race and as a result I wasn’t the greatest person to live with over the training period. My family were also making huge sacrifices to allow me to do what I needed to.
My first ever triathlon was a half iron distance in May 2016, which I followed with another in Snowdonia in July.
Ironman Wales race day – Sept 18th 2016. It came around far more quickly than I had expected it to. I was ready, but as always would have loved another 2 months to improve fitness levels a bit more.
The race lived up to all expectations, it was brutal! From the sea swim with jellyfish the size of small cars, to the non-stop climbing on the bike course (2500m vertical ascent over 112miles), to the 600m of climbing on the marathon. It is no wonder that Ironman themselves call Ironman Wales one of the very toughest races on their circuit. Fortunately at least the weather was calm.
My toes cramped 3 miles into the marathon and I ran 23miles with severe pain in both feet. By the ½ way point of the run I was in a world of pain. But I just kept repeating my mantra I’d used through training, “Nicki didn’t give up, now toughen the f**k up and crack on”.
I finished in a time of 12hrs 51mins, 21mins outside my target time. But considering I punctured on the bike and the pain in my feet on the run, I was happy. I had absolutely nothing left.
The finish line was an emotional place to be honest and I was happy to share the experience with my wife, kids, Mum and Dad, Nicki and some of my other best pals who had all come to support.
Despite the pain, it was hands down one of the best days of my life. The support from locals in Tenby is incredible from dawn ‘til dusk. There is virtually not an inch of the course where you don’t get people cheering you on. You really do feel like a rock star for the day. I also managed to raise £3500 for Cancer Research in the process.
Happily Nicki is doing really well. We have just celebrated the news that she has been in remission for 12mths and is getting on with life. I’ve got my drinking partner back! 😉
It’s fair to say that I’ve now caught the triathlon bug and through Boston Triathlon Club, made some great friends in the process. Although I’ve promised my family that I won’t do another full Ironman again this year. This is a great sport and no matter what your inspiration for getting involved, the rewards that you will reap are enormous.
Steve Bourne (Driver)