Published 28 September

Written by Kieran Henderson (Commercial director)

I hadn’t swum for 30 years, didn’t have a bike and hadn’t done much exercise for about 10 years as the responsibilities of having a young family and working long hours seemed to squeeze out other activities. Participating in endurance events definitely seemed like something for ‘other people’ and sport without a ball didn’t seem much like fun!

But it’s funny how the mind works and what the encouragement and inspiration of others can do. The first spark of interest came when I sponsored a work colleague to run the London marathon. I was impressed with her commitment and fitness and I thought that it would be a great challenge, so I bought a beginners guide to running your first marathon.

However, with a low fitness level, it took me many weeks (and a few muscle tweaks) to feel comfortable running, initially working up incrementally from 5 to 25 minutes on the treadmill. I knew very little about training levels, how to avoid injuries, recovery time, nutrition, hydration, footwear, stretching etc. I also had to be able to run five miles before I even started the marathon programme.

Nevertheless, despite a steep learning curve and a few setbacks, I strictly followed the weekly schedule and, with great satisfaction, I completed my first marathon in just under a year.
Shortly afterwards, a work colleague (an age group GB triathlete) asked me if I’d thought of doing a triathlon. It didn’t immediately appeal but, after some consideration, it seemed like another interesting challenge, so I decided to take adult improvers swimming lessons at the local pool to learn front crawl, and I also bought an entry-level road bike.

After about six months of training, I entered my first sprint triathlon (750m swim, 20km cycle and 5km run). It went badly, as I started off swimming too quickly, had to stop to catch my breath and I ended up swimming breaststroke to reach the end. My transitions (changing from one discipline to the next) were also laboured, but I completed it and I found that, even at my rudimentary level, there was a buzz and a sense of camaraderie from being in this environment. As I was starting to feel fitter and training with others, I moved up to a Standard Distance Triathlon (1500m swim, 40km cycle and 10km run).

After completing a couple of these, my local town was hosting a Middle Distance (half Ironman) Triathlon event (1.3 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, 13 mile run) which was going to be televised for Scotland’s ‘Adventure Show’. I decided to increase my training and enter with six months leading up to it. It helped to train with people that were fitter and faster than me, and I joined in with the weekly cycling and running time trials, hill reps, endurance runs and HITT

I also found that it’s easy to feel ‘imposter syndrome’ when you haven’t got a particular strength in swimming, running or cycling, but I just slotted in behind others. On the day of the event, the weather was perfect and there was a great atmosphere, with supportive competitors, spectators and marshals, although completing it was exhausting! Nevertheless, I’ve also discovered that endurance athletes have short memories and the feelings of pain and discomfort seem to ease over time. I completed two more Middle Distance events before my colleague asked me if I had thought about completing an Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and 26 mile run). Completing a Middle Distance twice, effectively, seemed unrealistic but after deliberating it, I Google-searched a 26-week Ironman training programme and followed it diligently.

My first Ironman was in the Forest of Dean and my training over nine months had gone well. The quarry swim and first part of the bike ride had also gone well but the forecasted rain arrived early and it was extremely heavy and cold rain. I was under-dressed with just a trisuit on, not having considered that arm and leg warmers or a spare top would be necessary in August. Although I completed the ride, the severe effects of the cold meant that I was directed towards the St John’s Ambulance by the marshals rather than the run section, and that was the end of my race.

Getting a DNF (Did Not Finish) is always disappointing and especially when you have travelled 1200 miles and taken four days to compete in such a big challenge. So, I banked the training, followed the same programme and completed the same event in glorious sunshine the following year. The sense of achievement was multiplied many times over the feeling of my first marathon and the camaraderie with other competitors and volunteers was life enriching.

From my once sedentary life to my first attempted Ironman took seven years, and the motivation and stimulation have remained. Over the last twenty years I have completed multiple Ironman’s, Middle Distance triathlons, Ultra, Trail and Road Marathons, along with shorter distance running and triathlon events.

These events have taken me to beautiful locations, motivated me to improve my fitness, I’ve learnt new skills, it’s provided me lifelong friendships and given me an antidote to everyday life. I’ve met some amazing people and I now appreciate the role of volunteers, who always have an encouraging word when your legs are telling you that they’ve had enough! Events are becoming more popular and it is great to see so much interest in fitness and enjoyment of the great outdoors.


Official photos to view below. 

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