“Fancy running the great Manchester 10k?”
“Go on then.”
“Fancy running a half marathon in Blackpool?”
“Yeah, go on then.”
“You’ve definitely got a marathon in you.”
“Maybe, we’ll see.”
“Fancy joining a running club we’re setting up?”
“Yeah, why not…”
“Fancy becoming a run leader?”
The above are actual conversations that I’ve had with my mate Andrew Graham. I had a couple of 10k’s under my belt when he started his own personal fitness journey. I wasn’t entirely sure where my journey was taking me at the time so it was nice to have a shared goal as we both trained towards the Great Manchester 10k and then the Blackpool Half Marathon in 2011.
Since then he’s continued to push on bringing his times down over multiple distances and competing in triathlons over multiple distances. But he’s continued to support fellow club members and help them push further than they ever thought they would.
He’d always been a big lad at school and it wasn’t long after leaving school that we both lost touch. By the power of social media we reconnected ten years later and, through various conversations, we got on to the subject of running. I didn’t know at the time how much weight he’d actually put on but by the time we’d gotten back in touch he was already on his way to losing a fair bit of it.
Little did I know at the time where those conversations would take us both and the wonderful people we would meet as a result. One of those people would be Kev. Both he and Andrew would go on to form DH Runners and, in the process, would trigger a chain of events that would go on to change a lot of people’s lives in the process and would also see the inception of Carlisle parkrun.
But, on a personal note, they, in turn, would both change me. Giving me the nudge from a below average runner and an introvert by giving me the confidence to push my boundaries and, by becoming a run leader and club committee member, widen my social skills.
So where am I going with this and why the backstory?
Both Andrew and Kev took part in the Lakesman Triathlon (Ironman distance) over the weekend. It was a massive undertaking for both of them (as well as their loved ones) as they undertook a lot of training in the build-up (30+ weeks if I’m not mistaken) for the 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and then the 26.2 marathon to end the day. It was awe inspiring watching them train for the event and when I got a chance to be part of the The Lakesman by taking part in a relay team I jumped at the chance as I wanted to be around to see them compete.
Compared to what they had ahead of them running a marathon was a drop in the ocean.
My team of Kathryn (Swim) and another old schoolmate Rob (Bike) had not been without their issues in the run up to The Lakesman. With Kathryn having an accident with just a few months to go to the event which ended up disrupting her swimming training massively.
But we made it to the day just about intact.
It was going to be a bit weird for me as I’ve always turned up to a marathon knowing what time I was starting so I could adjust nutrition and stretching accordingly. As it was I had a roundabout idea of when Rob was likely to come in so I just had to hope that he’d be there or there about. Breakfast consisted of two egg and bacon rolls and I packed a tub of cornflakes to have just before Midday and some jelly for an hour before I was expected to set off.
By the time I rocked up at Midday the lads had done their swim leg and were out on the bikes and were six hours into the event. Kathryn had done her bit with a swim of 1:33.30 and Rob was still out on the bike. So Jo (another DH Runner) and I got ourselves changed and waited for our respective team members to come in.
The transition area was amazing. The ladies in there were right on the money in terms of organisation. They were grabbing competitor’s transition bags and passing them things they needed to get sorted so that the transition was as smooth as possible for them.
Not long after Jo had started her run Andrew arrived into transition. I’d been tracking the cyclists so I knew Rob wouldn’t be too far behind.
On a side-note Team Lakesman were just about coming to the end of their day with a blistering time of 7:59.14. Our very own Paul Graves smashed out a 2:36.26 on the run.
Andrew got sorted and headed out for his run and about six minutes later Rob arrived having completed the 112 mile bike section in 6:16.48. A very quick transition of the timing chip from his ankle to mine and I was off. (Did I mention the manly hug? No? Well we had a manly hug first).
Having set off not long after Andrew there was a good chance I was going to run into him at some point. About a mile into the run we hit Keswick town centre and it was amazing to see some familiar faces cheering me on as I passed. Even though I was just a mile into the run I felt suitably pumped up to crack on. Two miles in and I bumped into Andrew and we started chatting before I knew it we’d completed the first lap with only four more of the five lap course to do.
As we came to the end of the first lap we ran straight through DH country. The DH Runners feed-station was on the approach to Crow Park which was a stone’s throw from the finish line. The feed-station was manned by volunteers from club and there was an amazing buzz as we passed through.
We continued to chat throughout, not just to each other but, to other competitors as they set out to achieve their own personal goals. Some were veteran Ironmen competitors, some were novices, some were on their last lap and some were on their first but each and every one of them had started the day early as they set out to push past the pain and achieve glory.
The feed stations throughout the course were immense for the constant supply of liquids (coke, water or isotonic) or fruit, crisps, pretzels etc. As well as the words of encouragement throughout as they were getting as soaked as we were as the Heaven’s opened an hour into the run.
The supporters too were also immense. Especially the group on the four lane section where you had to run down, then up, then down and then back up coned sections of a distance around a mile and half. Every time we reached the top end of the section a group would chant “Go Hard or Go Home” repeatedly (The DH slogan which was on the back of my vest). Not to mention all the DH crew and who were around and about the course.
We bumped into Kev (and Jo) a few times throughout the run and it was good to see them on the course. At one point we were all on the four lane section at various points and another competitor turned to me and said “Just how bloody many of you lot are there?”
With one lap to go it was inevitable that both Andrew and Kev would finish.
As we ran through DH country one last time it was just a hop, skip and a jump to the finish line. The wall of noise from the supporters was immense and one could be forgiven for getting a tad emotional.
Andrew crossed the line in front as I gathered my team mates to cross the line with me as a team.
I grabbed my medal and was instantly surprised by my wife and kids. My wife hadn’t been very well that day so I was surprised to see them all especially considering that they’d have had to have stood in the rain for the better part of two hours waiting for me to finish. What a great way to end Father’s day.
I must admit that I did feel a bit of a fraud when the relay team members received exactly the same medal as the full distance competitors. To me, I just thought there should have been another medal to make a distinction between the two. But hey, maybe that’s just me.
I finished the run with a time of 4:04.17 and a team time of 11:58.46.
Kev wasn’t too far behind and both he and Andrew could now officially call themselves Lakesmen or Ironmen or both I’ll leave it up to them.
It was amazing to be there to see them achieve it after all the training and even more special to see their family and friends beaming with pride. I can’t even put into words how chuffed for them I was and how proud of them I am.
For me, that was my sixth marathon in the bag with Chester Marathon on the horizon in October. I honestly don’t think I’d have gotten to six if it hadn’t have been for the support of Andrew and Kev. Never mind all the triathlons I’ve taken part in.
Thinking back to that first 10k together in Manchester I can guarantee we both never thought we’d have achieved what we have let alone one of us being an ironman.
I dread to think what’s next. But if you train for it and you visualise it then there’s no reason why you can’t achieve it. I don’t know if I’ve ever got an Ironman in me but if I ever decide I have with the support of family, friends and club members who like to see everyone push the boundaries who knows where we’ll end up?