In celebration of the Ironman World Championships in Kona over the weekend, we asked ironman enthusiast Phil Collard to write about his experience and how he got involved in the sport.
Taking part in Ironman Sweden had never really been on my agenda to be perfectly honest.
In fact; taking part in any triathlon hadn’t really been something that I’d ever expected to do, what with the whole “being told I’d be in a wheelchair” – on two separate occasions – thing (a result of childhood cancer… it’s a long story and not one for this blog!).
So lining up at the start-line of my first triathlon four or five years ago was as surprising to me as it was to anyone who knew me!
What I discovered that day was a sport which is so very inclusive, welcoming, friendly and, above all, fun.
So much so that I entered my second within hours of crossing the line.
Getting into Triathlons is easy. Don’t let anyone kid you that it’s not.
You don’t need fancy kit (I’m sure that some people remortgage their houses to get into it), you don’t need to be a supreme athlete (there is such a variety of triathlon distances and the very shortest is, well, pretty short!) and you don’t need to have a “cast-iron” will to win (you know; “eye of the tiger, man, eye of the tiger”… yeah… you don’t need that!)
You do need a pair of comfortable trainers (I’ll refrain from calling them “running shoes” as I always think that sounds a bit elitist), you do need a bike (I used a hybrid for my first few events and I’ve even seen people using shopper-bikes), and you do need some basic clothing suitable to the disciplines involved.
It also helps if you have a desire to compete with yourself… to exceed your own expectations… but even that’s optional; you might think that crossing the line at all will give you a sense of euphoria and if that describes you then, well, that’s great, genuinely great.
Once you’ve decided that you want a part of this uber-friendly world then just get yourself online, punch the words “triathlon events” into Google (other search engines are available) and you’re away.
It’s really not difficult but it’s so very worth it.
Now an Ironman-distance triathlon involves broadly the same requirements of the participant as any other triathlon but, from my experience, there’s one ingredient that you need to remove from your basic “make-up”; that ingredient is “sanity”.
Whichever way you cut it, there’s something wrong with someone who wants to go out there and swim for 2.4 miles (with 2,500 other people all fighting you for the same bit of water), ride for 112 miles before then running a marathon!
And there’s definitely something wrong with someone who is happy to dedicate the huge amounts of training hours to it in the 9-12 months ahead of the big day!
Yet it feels SO good when you cross the line that in a split second, you go from being someone who’d dearly love to hear the words “you ARE an Ironman” to someone who has every right to brag about it for the rest of your life.
You become your own inspiration… and that’s a powerful thing.
I entered an Ironman, as I said earlier, almost by accident. A chance comment on Twitter had got me thinking about it and the thought simply wouldn’t go away.
For me, it was a silly endeavour really as “technically” I’m not allowed to run at all, let alone run a marathon (an overhang of that issue I referred to earlier which nearly left me wheelchair-bound… twice) but once the idea had lodged itself into my brain, the only solution was to dobicycles at triathlon small one.
Who knows; even reading this blog may get some of you to think about entering an Ironman. To those people, please pass on my apologies to your “significant others”, your children, your friends and your work colleagues.
To those people; you’re about to demand so much support from your partners and children that any normal relationship would falter, the training for an Ironman is THAT immense.
You’re about to become someone who can talk about nothing else but training so your friends and work-colleagues will need to either love you immeasurably already or they’ll need ear-plugs.
I also feel the need to apologise to you… yes, you… the one for whom reading this has now planted that seed of an idea in your head to enter an Ironman.
The training can be painful… but the race itself; that can be a whole new level of pain. Be prepared for that. Embrace it rather than fear it. Know that it’s coming and accept that, however hard you try, you’ll not have a perfect race. The event, at 140.6 miles, is a big distance to cover and it’s unimaginable that you’ll get through it all without something not going quite as planned.
There’s way too many things that can go wrong to cover them all here but the most important thing on race-day is; chin up and keep moving forwards.
As well as the pain, there’s the mental torture that you’re about to put yourself through – the “do I really need to drag myself out of bed at 5am to train?” days, the “but it’s bitterly cold and wet out and I have a cold” days and the “I’m not swimming in that, I’ll be seasick” days. You’ll need to become a master of telling your mind to be quiet.
Yes, I am indeed sorry if, by reading this, you are dropped into the world of Ironman.
But as well as apologising TO you, I feel that I must also start looking forward to the messages of thanks FROM you.
What you’ll find the other side of that finishing line is a sense of euphoria that is tough to describe to anyone not experiencing it.
And it lasts, too. I crossed the finishing line over a year ago and it’s not showing any real signs of going away!
You also get a lasting sense of invincibility; nothing can defeat you, you’ll try anything and, if you encounter a brick wall in your way (either physically or metaphorically) you feel that there is nothing stopping you from simply walking straight through it.
The event itself, whilst painful, is also a stunning experience. You feel like an elite athlete even if you’re not, the huge support from the crowds and other athletes see to that. There is no sense that, just because you are not crossing the line first, you are any less of a competitor – the atmosphere is as focussed on the back-markers as it is on the front-runners and, aside from those who really are in it to win it, everyone who crosses the line has conquered their own individual challenge and is, therefore, a winner.
And that sense of winning is also transferred to your support-crew too – even my wife and kids got swept away with the whole atmosphere on the day and a myriad of friends were following my every move on the online athlete trackers… all of these people who have given you their support for months feels involved too.
In simple terms, the smile on your face both during the event and indefinitely afterwards is impossible to get rid of – it’s the ultimate legal high.
So, whether it’s a more sane triathlon that you’re looking to take part in or the Ironman itself, don’t wait… make the next website page you visit after this one a “triathlon entry form”.
To hear more about Phil and his races, head over to his website at philcollard.com or follow him on twitter @PICollard!
If this has inspired you then check out our ironman triathlon insurance, to get a quote click here.