To those that are returning to this domain - Welcome back. It has been a while. More of that in a minute. If you are visiting this site for the first time then you are very welcome here. 

It will come as no surprise that this last year or so has disrupted most things in the world of triathlon, multi-sport and the endurance world. But I am not here to dredge all that back up. The important thing is that we are seeing races come back and there are some amazing performances coming. To those that have stuck to training plans and routine, if you haven't already, soon you will be reaping the rewards of your hard work over the past 18 or so months. To those that feel they have let the past year and a half slip - please don't give up. I hope that by following my ramblings on various platforms you know how much I love this crazy sport and how I believe it truly is a lifestyle for everyone and anyone

So what prompted me to open up this channel of communication? Well here is a story that I thought you might like.

I have just completed my 14th Ironman Distance race. My 3rd one in the South Of France in Nice. A race that I absolutely love and if I could only ever do one race it would probably be this one. Full of history, glitz and glamour. A 2.4 mile swim in the most amazing water, a ridiculously hard bike course and then a mind and body sapping marathon along the Promenade des Angles in sweltering heat. What more could you want? It breaks experienced racers if they are not meticulous in their preparation. So who in their right mind would ever choose this race as their first Ironman (or second ever triathlon)?? Enter stage left Hannah Sherborne. A very good family friend. Fit? Athletic? Up for any challenge? Yes, Yes, Yes. All of those in abundance. In a game of Top Trumps she would be the Top Card in those categories. Knowledge about triathlon?? Not so great a category. 

Just after I returned from my little trip to the Big Island of Hawaii for the 2nd time Hannah started to ask questions about the race. How far was it? What is involved? How much training do you have to do? I could see the flicker of intrigue light up in her eyes. And then 2020 happened. With no racing happening that flame lay dormant for a few months. Hannah joined in of a few group Zwift sessions using Claire's bike (she only owned a mountain bike) and she continued to swim in the Sea with her dad and brother Jack. In times past she fell out of a golf buggy and damaged her shoulder quite badly - but still managed to swim from Alcatraz Island back to San Francisco one armed!

And then at the end of June 2020 - with no prompting or pressure she asked if I thought she could do an Ironman. Yes was the answer. Would I help her? Yes. Which one should I do? And before I had really thought about it I said Nice. I had already signed up for it and so it made sense for her to do that one too - well, to me anyway!

IT IS A NUMBERS GAME

In the 419 days between signing up and completing the race Hannah averaged 9 hours 1 minute and 36 seconds per week. She averaged 14.5 miles running per week; 6 hours, 2 minutes and 9 seconds on the bike per week and 2.89km per week swimming. (obviously swimming was tricky in lock down so to give to a better indicator - since mid April she has averaged 6.01km swimming per week.) Whilst that may seem like a lot of hours to some - it really isn't a whole lots for anyone coming from literally Zero to your first Ironman in just over a year. Longest run? 21.5 miles. Longest Bike ride outside? 55.9 miles - although Hannah did ride indoors - A LOT! 

What you will see is that Hannah is able to follow orders pretty well. During training days off were kept to a minimum but easy days were exactly that - EASY. Heart rates, paces and power figures were bang on. When she had niggles she got them looked at and when she was tired she took rest early. It was the epitome of consistency. 

And it paid off.

My year and a half has been as yours has probably. Uncertain. Especially when it came to my fitness. I got caught up trying to race my 17 year old nephew at sprint races and trying to keep ahead of my son on the athletics track. I maintained a decent level of endurance and managed to get a fair amount of exercise in. However a recurring hamstring injury (caused by an attempt to stay ahead of Oscar in a training run of 4 x 100m) meant that my long runs were 9 miles. Fast-ish but not long enough really to be competitive over the Ironman distance. I had done some races. I put together a decent effort at the Swashbuckler Half Iron Distance Triathlon in July and managed to race well at a local Olympic Distance race a few weeks before Nice. So maybe things weren't as bad as it seemed.

2 different preparations coming to Nice.

Understandably Hannah was nervous. During race week we worked out a strategy. I knew she was fit enough to finish somewhere between 12:30 and 13 hours on that course. On a great day if everything went well it could be 12 hours. But as always the main goal is to cross that finish line. We tried to simplify things as much as possible. Water, salt tablets and shot blocks were on the menu for the bike. Run from one aid station to another. Take something at every opportunity. Never leave an aid station without taking something. A phrase I repeat time and again to every person I have helped get through an Ironman.

We lined up in the 60 minutes and below swim pen. A strong swimmer she would get a big advantage by starting with the fast people. I then needed the loo and missed the start so ended up with the slightly slower swimmers. She came out the water 4th female. 15 minutes ahead of her closest rival in her age group. I came out 9s ahead of her virtually in 6th place in my category. Maybe, just maybe.......

I had chosen to take a road bike - partly because the course had 2750m climbing but partly because I was untested in long rides in the aero position. Straight away I was being overtaken and left behind by the racers on more aerodynamic bikes. I would get them on the climb surely. But when that came I was still being left behind. And then I caught up with Hannah who looked to be riding really well. I knew she was far up the field because spectators were screaming "Allez les Filles" as she rode past with the excitement of a child at Christmas. I slowed for a quick chat and asked how things were going to which she replied "are my legs supposed to hurt this much?" with a slight nervous smile on her face. I assured her that the first miles are the hardest.

I wished her well and pushed on. Leaving her behind. Or so I thought. 10 minutes later she passed me on the climb. By this time (about 30 miles in and having already done nearly 1000 meters of climbing) it was clear today wasn't going to be the miracle dream day. I couldn't get comfy. And then I made the decision to ease off and totally enjoy the day and having the opportunity to race in the most stunning region. Throughout the rest of the ride I helped Tom from Belgium with punctures by giving on of my spare tyres to him. He had already had 3 punctures. I saw him on the run and he did get another one so it pleased me I was able to help salvage his day, especially as he went on to a run ridiculously quick 2:55 marathon. I helped a young British chap in his first Ironman straighten his handle bars as he crashed into a table at an aid station. Instead of going to the loo whilst still riding I stopped and went in the hedges. The first time I had done that! I struggled on the uphills and loved the descents. I waved and smiled at children - hoping to give them memories that Ironman doesn't have to be the monster that some people make it out to be. I was loving being a middle of the pack athlete when I am more accustomed to being closer to the front. I was learning what it was like to race at a different time of the day. I finished the bike when the race leader had a lap and a half to go. I was that person that looked at them in awe and thought "Wow they are flying. What an inspiration." 

Hannah finished the bike about half a minute ahead of me - and went to the loo. I had a chat to Claire and the rest of the gang to reassure them I was ok and today was a different kind of race. They told me that she was about 50 minutes ahead of second place. By that time Hannah had left transition and was tearing down the run course at 7 and a half minute miles to a huge roar from the crowd. I caught up with her eventually! That was to be the theme for the rest of the day. For most of it we ran shoulder to shoulder. She got all the cheers. I got none. I reminded her of the rules. Don't leave an aid station without taking something, keep your socks as dry as possible for as long as possible, smile as much when it gets hard and no matter how painful you think it is just keep moving forwards. Stopping only delays the finish. And then she went to the loo again. I took the opportunity once more to keep my shoes clean and visited the toilet as well. A first on the run too. I eventually caught Hannah up. Lap 1 ticked off. Lap 2 was pretty uneventful. We had settled in to an awesome routine. I was shuffling along quite comfortably and Hannah ran beside me. I chatted to people around me. She was quiet. She was still taking coke, water and crackers at the aid stations. She just kept going. Like a machine. Despite the frequent toilet stops she never broke stride. She ran straight away once out of the toilet. In fact she was the one telling me to run when we go to the zebra crossing or traffic lights when I just wanted to keep walking. It was the Iron-Rookie  teaching the 13 time Ironman finisher what mental toughness was. I had a front row seat of what goes on 2 hours after I was used to being finished with 10 km left to run. I had found a new level of respect for anyone out there once it gets dark.

I have probably coached athletes to over 100 Ironman finishes in the past 12 years. I have seen people make the cutoff on the bike by a matter of minutes. I have helped people go from good athletes to standing on podiums at major World Championships. I have raced all around the world and witnessed people achieve their dreams of completing races to the very best of their abilities and seen them come back time and again - faster. Every race I live with with athlete - unable to help them once the gun goes off other than offer words of advice should I see them on course. I have stood on the side of rugby pitches glued to the tracker. I have stood at the finish line at midnight watching the final finishers - completely in awe at them. But I hadn't really seen what it had taken to get them there. Now I was running with some of them. In fact I was one of them. As I tried to banish the familiar pain in my legs but "walking" it was my fellow "middle of the packers" willing me not to stop. Making me smile with the "you are looking great" when quite clearly I looked like a piece of spaghetti. 

I have been fortunate enough to have raced at the top level at most distances. I have stood on every step of the podium. I have made amazing, lifelong friends that I would do anything for. I genuinely thought I offer no more and yet here I was learning more.

"I'm not going to stop at this aid station" It was the first thing she had really said for quite some time. Other than "I'm just popping to the loo" We had 2 miles to go and I was busy chatting to a nice chap from Oxford who was also on his last lap. We were chatting about how many races we had done. He had done Nice in 2016 like me. He is crushing this race - about 1 hour 40 ahead of his time from 2016. When he asked if I was ahead of my time from then I replied "No I'm actually about 3 hours slower" to which he quite naturally said "oh dear are you having a bad day?" I replied immediately "actually I am having the best day" as I saw at Hannah starting to pull away from me once more. 

When I caught up to here I told her to savour the finish chute. Don't rush it. Find your family and give them all a hug. Dutifully she obeyed and ran across the finish line to hear those famous words "Hannah, You Are An Ironman"

She finished in 12 hours and 38 minutes. Almost 20 minutes of which were spent in the toilet. She won her age group by 50 minutes and had the grace to go up to the second place finisher and give her a hug and congratulate her. Does she know who Jan Frodeno or Daniella Ryf are? Probably not. But maybe Hannah is actually in tune to exactly what Triathlon really is all about. Working hard and being dedicated are so very important in order to succeed on the day. But being humble, grateful and gracious will get you a lot further down the line.

Thank you Hannah for reminding me of the importance and for embodying the philosophy that we at 9 Endurance believe in.

Hannah didn't accept her Kona slot because she wants to travel and spend time with her boyfriend next year. She says she will never do another Ironman but that flame still burns in her eyes. She will be back!