From birth I was a ‘hyper kid’ with far too much energy. Fortunately (for my mum & dad) I was able to channel this into running in my early years. After some success at local school races, my PE teacher Richard Coe recommended that I join the local athletics club. He said I would be good at running with an appetite for pain he had not seen before. At the age of 11 I joined Blackheath and Bromley Harriers and soon became to love the track and the mud. I remember getting hosed down after cross country races on the doorstep for fear of mud in the house.
At 12 I won the London Mini Marathon and numerous cross country and track races up and down the country. I found I had some talent for running. I continued to run until I was 16 when I sustained an injury and (more likely) got side tracked going out with friends and girls. Towards the end of my short-lived running exploits I joined the local swim club, Beckenham. My technique was horrendous, but my competitiveness had not ceased and I slowly battled my way from the slow to the fast lane. I swam for a couple of years, to no real standard, before stopping sport completely.
At 18 I went to the University of Sussex where I studied Business & Economics and attained a first class degree. Destined for ‘City life’ (or so I thought), I applied to numerous desk jobs in the City. My plan was to make as much money as possible, as quickly as possible, and save up for an early retirement… what was I thinking!? I quickly discovered that the 80’s hay day of earning a quick buck had gone and in came the 2008 financial crisis. I took a sales job for 6 months, applied for graduate positions, saved hard, and then travelled for 6 months around Central and South America and India with a few friends.
Working life and the start of training
Upon returning from my travels I started work on the AON grad scheme as an insurance consultant. Sat behind a desk all day, it didn’t take long for me to realise that I needed to do something with my body to stop me going mad. I went back to my old running club and started training again, with the intention of running the London Marathon.
After stepping up the mileage quite rapidly, I inevitably encountered some niggles. This is where Trevor Simmons, or ‘Trev’, as I call him, comes in. Trev, a very experienced sports masseur who had run over 30 marathons, quickly became a hero of mine. Not only was Trev an athlete himself, we clicked instantly and a fantastic friendship ensued. Trev is a one in a million kind of guy and without him, and his magic hands, I wouldn’t be doing triathlon today.
The London Marathon came around quickly and I was fitter perhaps than I had ever been. The target was 2:45 so I set off at the required pace. After 9 miles I ran past Trev and he could see straight away that something was up. In fact, I knew something was up after the 2nd mile. Afterwards, I found out that what I’d thought was a bad stitch was in fact a trapped nerve. A run became a jog, then a jog became a walk as I struggled to the finish. The worst part of all was turning up to the pub two hours later than expected to get a clap from my friends who had come to watch. My marathon debut gave me serious motivation to get it right the next time.
After disappointment at the London Marathon I needed another target for the year. Trev and I sat down to consider my options and that was when he suggested that I try ‘triathlon’. I was 24 and had never heard of the sport. He mentioned the London Triathlon, which was coming up in June, and said he thought I could do well. I hadn’t ridden a bike since childhood and I hadn’t swum for 8 years, but I was up for it. I planned to focus on triathlon until June and then do the Amsterdam Marathon later in the year.
June came quickly and my method of training was simple - I left the house on my bike and rode as hard as I could for as long as I could. The same applied to swimming and running. Race day came and I racked my ‘iron gate’ into transition. I raced as hard as I could and finished 2nd overall. After a few beers and a couple of days’ rest I thought, ‘maybe with some proper training I could do quite well at this triathlon malarkey’! After the London Triathlon, I trained for the Amsterdam marathon and completed in 2.46.00, which I was quite happy with at the time!
After a promising ‘one off’ race at the London Triathlon, I decided to give training a real crack over the following winter. To put it bluntly, I didn’t have a clue. I joined up with a local cycling club “34 Nomads” sponsored by my good friend Nick Gasson on the weekends, equip with my woollen socks, trainers and ‘iron gate’ of a bike. I didn’t even understand that having a coffee stop was ingrained in cycling culture - why we stopping lads?? The elder statesmen of the club soon put a stop to my half wheeling, sprinting up the hills and generally breaking every etiquette printed and I slowly learnt how to ride a bike. I thought to myself - why didn’t I do this 10 years previous! I ran the Cross Country season for my old club; Blackheath & Bromley Harriers and swam as often as I could.
In my first season I qualified for the World Duathlon & Triathlon Championships, finishing 6th and 30th as well as cutting my teeth at local races. I rode on the drops with a banana for fuel, a shoe horn in transition and finished most races running sideways with the effort. Someone told me...if you are good enough someone will give you some wheels…
The following season, my main aim was to qualify for the World Triathlon Championships in London – my home town! I managed to qualify early in the year, forgetting one very critical thing – ticking a box, registering my ‘intent’ to qualify, which after much appeal to British Triathlon stopped me from competing at the Worlds. I was truly gutted and my last resort was to race under a friend’s name in the open category. I was fighting fit, super motivated and I really, more than anything wanted to know where I stood against the best in the 25-29 AG. I raced, and won the open category, with a time equivalent to 3rd in the World, my 32min 10km off the bike was also a good confidence boost and gave me belief going forward.
Post London, I took some time out to rest up and get ready for the final challenge of the year – the Lanzarote 70.3. Trev was also competing and I felt nice and relaxed for this one. Whilst everyone had their dead serious game faces on, we listened to some power ballads by the swim start and I looked forward to the next few hours. The atmosphere was more relaxed than the frenetic Olympic distance races. All started well with a solid 25min swim, onto the bike I felt nice and relaxed and sped up Tabayesco without too much effort. One thing I did struggle with was getting the gels (which I had cello-taped to my frame) off the bike! I had stuck them too well and almost had to stop dead to get them off! Some fell off and others managed to get strewn across my face – not ideal! I kept going, not thinking much of it. On to the run. I hopped off the bike rearing to go. Too exited perhaps. I ran off as if I only had the 10km to go and almost immediately, started to feel hungry.…hmm, little did I know. I wondered why everyone was running so slowly and said to the guy next to me…come on, run with me mate. I was running at 5:20 per mile pace and flying. My pace soon slowed after the first 7km lap and I was feeling very low on energy. A run turned to a swift jog, to a jog, then to a sideways walk. I had broken a golden rule – not eating enough! That had never been a problem before (for the people who know me well!). I was extremely disappointed not to finish and woke up surrounded by the local Canarian massage team tending to my needs – it could be worse!! A fellow Blackheath & Bromley Harrier took this snap - apt really; I was certainly feeling blurred!
The season ended with a lot of questions. What I could have done better? How much better could I be if I had more time and gave the sport my full attention…
Moving to La Santa, Lanzarote
In November of 2013 I left my full time job as an Insurance Consultant at AON and decided to give Triathlon a real crack. At that point, I was training 2 times per day most days whilst trying to do the best I could at work. To give two things 100% just doesn’t work sometimes so, over time I was continually frustrated at work, when I saw colleagues climb up the ladder. Every day I went in totally focused so I could leave at a decent time to get my training done. If you don’t put the extra effort in, you won’t get the gains and that was becoming a common theme at work. Especially, when going into an appraisal your manager says “you don’t want to be here do you; you just want to be doing those triathlons”. AON had been very good to me, including sponsored me to go to New Zealand for the Amateur World Champs so I was lucky they were very supportive. I remember the CEO taking me into his office; I thought it was P45 time when he said ‘is there anything you need for this race that will make you go faster’. Errr, wheels pretty please... He probably underestimated the cost, but sure enough I had a pair of posh wheels on my bike. Very generous!
Trev gave me a good insight into what it might be like to train full-time – lonely, no money, lack of mental stimulation, away from friends and family. He did not sell it to me. I was thankful for his advice but decided to bite the bullet anyway. I did not want to regret not giving it a go, especially given the finite time available to me. Urgency drove me. I packed my bike box (all of 45kg!), said goodbye to my girlfriend Emily, took all my savings (about £6,000) and a loan from my mum’s partner Terry, and took the plunge. Just four weeks after handing in my notice I was in the sleepy fishing village of La Santa in the north of Lanzarote. The hard part was done – or so I thought!
Living in La Santa
Being born and raised in South London and having been living in Brixton after uni, La Santa was a change, a massive change in fact! I had never lived in a village before let alone a sleepy fishing one. I had also never lived alone (get the violins out). I found it eerily quiet with the odd dog bark and constant crash of the sea. I spent the first few weeks walking around the apartment with my iPod in and watching terrible American TV shows about alligator catching. Cooking for one was a bit of a challenge too. I remember once making enough curry for eight portions, eating them back-to-back, and the apartment smelling like a Rogan Josh for the next week! In time, I got more comfortable with my own company and slowing down, but it took some getting used to. After all, all I had to do was train and rest. No work, no commute, no admin; I just had to chill, which was not something I had done much of before! Believe it or not, spending hours drinking coffee with your feet up can be frustrating!
This is where Sam Wattie came to my rescue when he visited La Santa for a 'bus man's holiday' to look after Trevor & Lucy's clinic whilst they enjoyed their honeymoon. Sam and I hanged out a lot and luckily for us, the surf was up and the infamous wave 'El Quemao' had arrived. Every surfer - employed or not flocked to have their ride on the wave. It was a 'heavy' wave that broke on just a few feet of coral, and plaques had been mounted on the harbor side to honor surfers who had lost their lives. It made for fantastic viewing and Sam & I spent our rest days sitting back and watching these madmen go for the perfect wave. Some were not as lucky..
And so my apprenticeship began, and it was hard work I can assure you. People assume that when you have all day to train, you train all day. The realities was not quite that, but close. We started my training with a heavy emphasis on strength and endurance to build a foundation that would allow me to train more. I did a good 300 miles a week on the bike accompanied by ‘Afghanistan training’ - carrying 18kg kettle bells in each hand for 90min whilst performing all types of exercises in the arid scrubland that surrounds La Santa. I swam endless laps of that glorious pool at Club La Santa and ran on the dirt tracks amidst the volcanoes around the village. Lucy (another star sports masseuse, an experienced personal trainer, and Trev’s wife) set me a mean circuits programme on the rooftop of their apartment to build all-round strength and conditioning. That was brutal. The circuit involved 45 seconds of effort with 15 seconds rest, with exercises such as press-ups, burpees, lunges and squats. The only solace was the sun setting on the horizon shortly after...
On top of the sheer volume, training in Lanzarote, for those who have not been, is tough. It’s windy, it’s hilly, and it’s hot. The wind in particular is an element that you have to embrace. A few of my visitors were happy to go home after being battered on the bike for a week. It has got to be one of the only places where you can actually suffer more downhill than up. For the first 6 weeks I hammered myself on the bike so much that I ‘bonked’ at least twice a week whilst I tried find out where my limits were – no wonder I now know every coffee stop on the island! Trevor paired me up with Bert Jammaer, a Belgium professional on the bike (2 x winner of Lanzarote Ironman) and I have to be honest, the first few training rides I was nervous. and made sure I'd packed my sarnies. I soon got used to the relentless pace and his speedy descending - he did not wait for anyone, and I soon realised he was a man of few words, maybe a word an hour. I have to thank him for bringing my cycling on big time, and put up with my verbal diarrhoea after an espresso!
It was all made easier, however, by my brilliant mates and coach, Trev & Lucy, who, it seemed, loved to be there when I was suffering most. I remember one track session ((3 x 1km, 5 x 400m) x 3) that worked out at around 17km of hard effort. Without Trev shouting at me (which I strangely enjoy) it would not have been possible. Another occasion that stands out is when I did a time trial up the infamous Tabayesco. I led from the start and half way up I passed Trev who was screaming expletives that I won’t repeat (but I will upload the video, much to his disgrace). Lucy was appalled. Apparently my mum watched the video whilst her partner was asleep and the vocals made him jump out of bed thinking there was an intruder!
Recovery was something I had rarely thought about whilst in London. It had just been about cramming the sessions in around work and play. I remember someone telling me that ‘amateurs think about training, professionals think about recovery’. It is something to take very seriously, and for most hyperactive fidget-bum sportsmen it is harder than the training itself. You only get fit whilst lying on the sofa, right? This was the element of training that it took me longest to grasp.
Christmas came around fast, and I was ready to gorge and take some downtime with friends and family. A two-day delay at the airport left me unexpectedly spending Christmas with Trev and Lucy. Things could have been worse; a long ride in the sun, followed by a roast and a screening of ‘Home Alone’! Finally, I made it back to the UK to be met by Emily and her mum at the airport with a very-welcome box of mince pies (thanks Fran!). Two hours later, ten were gone!
After a short break I returned to ‘the rock’ in January 2014 more prepared, mentally and physically, for what lay ahead. I found that a small crowd of like-minded nutters had arrived in the village; a Czech named Pavel, and the Danes Karina, Katrina and Ollie. Pavel, or Pav as we called him, moved to Lanzarote to train and compete in the Lanzarote Ironman 5 months later. A nomadic surfer dude at heart, this was no mean feat (he has since sailed across the Atlantic)! Karina on the other hand was a former Pro triathlete who was training for Ironman South Africa. Ollie (who has gone on to become a model in Milan!) was working at the local sports club. We all got on like a house on fire and a commune-type set up quickly developed. I now had people to hang out with whilst recovering and the social side of my La Santa life was far better. We spent most evenings cooking for each other, chilling on Pav’s rooftop watching the sun go down, and sampling the finest baked goods made by Karina. We always looked forward to the nights when Karina cooked, knowing that all Pav could cook was gnocchi (which he did quite well, to be fair!).