Iron is just another four letter word...says Tom Britton
20th August 2017 - 9:30am
Little did I understand when I began this journey what I could accomplish. In late 2015 I walked into a quiet gym tucked away in Kilkenny and asked “Can I run a marathon?” I wasn’t asking because my will wasn’t there, I was asking because of the fact I worked 80 hours a week for the previous 20 years or so, lived on all the wrong foods, consumed way too much wine, was 4 stone overweight, and my blood pressure was comfortably into stroke territory. On this day I met a guy call Eddie Sheehan. Eddie who’s been my coach since said “Anyone can do whatever they want”. Eddie asked me, which marathon I was planning on – “I’ve no idea Eddie, I’ll see”. I went home and googled “Marathons 2016”. Washington DC happened to be the first marathon of the year.
I love DC! So I booked it, walked back into Eddie the following day and said “Washington, March 16”. In a moment akin to the famous Fools and Horses Poker game moment, Eddie looked at me and said “March 16, that’s 4 months, it’ll be scary”. That was November 2nd 2015. The decision to begin this process started on the MSC Fantasia Fam in June of that year. It was a time of deep reflection……Rebecca Kelly rang me whilst on board asking “Where the ****are you? No one has seen you in 2 days”. I was playing black jack………I’m not a gambler, and you can stretch a tenner a long way if you take it handy! 3 Days of sitting in the calm of a casino on a cruise ship, drinking ginger beer, watching human nature playing out is actually pretty interesting stuff……..so I agreed with Rebecca I would join the fold of the Fam trip and enjoy what turned out to be an amazing life altering trip! (Who knew MSC could do that).
Washington DC happened and it was the week my dad passed away. I came off the marathon course, grabbed my medal, walked back to my hotel, packed and flew home. The nurses had told me – dad had 7 days, they were bang on. He died Wednesday afternoon. But I was thrilled, I showed him my medal. He had proof I had done something outdoors, not involving a computer, or generally sitting on my ass! (We were a hurling family and I was the black sheep). Washington took over 5 hours to run, stumble, and burst through a lot of pain. The shortage of training time showed, my legs were in bits, I didn’t know enough about nutrition or as they say – I didn’t have enough miles under my belt! In June, with encouragement from some buddies I pushed forward and completed the Waterford marathon in just under 5 hours, but this time I was “just in pain”. In October it was Galway Bay’s turn and a better time of 4 hours, 6 minutes. And finally, in -3 C again just over 4 hours, the Philadelphia Marathon! Four of us took on the Philadelphia Marathon. On the Aer Lingus flight home from Newark, I wondered, “What next?” – I hadn’t reached my target weight of 12.5 stone! How to do more than a marathon? The only name I was aware of was ‘Ironman’. Ironman was to me the gold standard! Ironman I had an idea was a tough race. Again when I got home it was googled. An ironman consists of a 2.2 miles swim or 3800 metres, followed by a 112 mile cycle, followed by a full marathon of 26.2 miles running (well moving by use of your feet, running could be a tad optimistic). Homework again was completed and in my instance I signed up for Bolton, England. Bolton was chosen for one reason – weather! Hopefully it would not get too hot and it didn’t disappoint. Again in my head, I said “Well, I know I can run a marathon, I know I can cycle, sure I’m cycling since I was a chap, and I had swimming lessons when I was 4, what could go wrong?”
So how do you go from just running to putting this lot together? Well in early December I had my first swimming lessons, my bike which made guest appearances was pulled into service and a host of professionals became my new best friends. By the end of December, there was a sports nutritionalist, (yes, my diet is nothing like what it was 2 years ago, up to 25 hours per week vanish in training, personal trainer, bootcamps, swimming lessons, triathlon coach, and one or two technical experts along the way. Why all these, well, after completing Bolton, the following day I walked into my car, drove to Holyhead, jumped on a ferry, went to dinner in Chapter One with the Kimpton team and I had no pain. I drove home the same evening. No issues! That was a sign of correct training and nutrition.
What can I tell you from the race? It is one of the most inwardly reflective inspirational moments you will ever have…..well 16 hours of said moments. Running up the last 100 yards with the Kilkenny flag over my head, being cheered on by the crowd…… was …….. you just felt the love. There were a few bandits there from Wexford and Waterford “Kilkenny might not be able to hurl this year, but ye at least can run”. I can remember moments………the gun going off at 6am…..and the slow moving forward of 2000 fellow souls as we entered the water and the first swinging of my arms to cut across the lake. Hearing the whir of my chain through the gears of the bike and thinking “Brendan has done a great job making her sing”. Half way up the tallest climb and a guy wanting to chat about how my gears were set up…………I was thinking “put one leg in front of the other”…grinding it out……….thinking about gears at that moment was beyond my little processor brain! Then there was the cute lady who ran out twice hugging and kissing me, a total stranger on the run. On the final turn, looking up at the clock and thinking “I’m going to XXXXing make this”. ………for those of us who cross the line between 16 hours and 17 hours, we are known as heroes. Heroes because we’ve stayed going for 16 hours! The true sports people, the guys, who’ve trained for years, ran all sorts of races, and I suppose live for this stuff – they’ve made it home in perhaps 11 or 12 hours. And then there are the rest of us. I call myself the Jamaican Bobsleigh team of Ironmen – anything but obvious. BUT in the words you live for as I crossed the line just after 10pm on the 16th July – “Tom Britton, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. I hope that in achieving this, it inspires someone out there who’d not had to the courage to revisit their lives – that now they do. And take on something which once seemed impossible.
Whilst ironman is the most obvious part of all of this, you learn so much about yourself, and indeed about those who surround you. I’ve perhaps removed over 100 phone numbers from my phone. People who I had picked up over the years through work etc, but, no longer had any connection, negative people. I had phenomenal support from those around me in the final run up to the event. Mental strength is almost more important than physical strength on the day! There were guys who were fitter than me, younger than me – who didn’t make it. And if one wasn’t bad enough – I’ve signed up for a second – I’ll get this last half stone…………..somehow. Bring on Tenby………. Wales……… 10th September 2017! Yes it’s 3 weeks awayand no I don’t live in a padded cell YET!
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