A question I often get asked is 'How did you get in to triathlons?', so I thought I'd share the answer here. In spring 2006 I was at home one weekend, flicking through the sports channels on TV. With nothing on, I searched the schedule for later programmes and saw something that caught my eye, 'Ironman Lanzarote'. I read the programme description and realised it was something to do with swimming, cycling and running - could be cool I thought. I set the programme to record and watched it later that day.
The programme began in the usual fashion, pre-race interviews with professionals and age-groupers, with everyone describing the brutal heat, humidity and hills that make the Lanzarote course famous - the toughest Ironman in the world no less. Upon hearing the distances of the race, a 2.4 mile swim - 112 mile bike - 26.2 mile run, I was glued to the screen, unable to believe that completing the race was possible.
The race captivated me. I wasn't sure if it was the ridiculous distances that appealed to me, or the combination of combining different events in one race, or even the tough conditions of the course. Whatever it was, it ignited something within me - 'I'd like to do that one day' I thought.
I'd always been a sports nut, playing team sports in school until the age of 16. During college, I'd stopped playing team sports, and I was looking for an active outlet - I'd found it. My swim background consisted of dragging myself to swim squad practice once a week from the age of 11-13, which involved being shouted at rather than taught. I'd had a few mountain bikes as a kid, but had never done any proper riding. I enjoyed running in school, although I wasn't competitive, and I went for the occasional 30 minute jog. As far as I was concerned, I had the skills to do a triathlon, and was ready to roll! But not quite, I needed a bike. I'd told my parents how triathlon was my passion (even though I'd never done a race!) and that I needed a new bike. So for my 18th birthday I was the proud owner of a new Schwinn road bike.
My first race was in January 2007, an offroad duathlon race called 'Monsterman'. I had arrived. With a name like that, I couldn't help but feel a bit hard-core! My friends were playing football for fun, but here I was on a cold, wet and muddy weekend about to do the 'Monsterman' - beat that! But the result was a disaster. I finished 57th/62 finishers, with a time of 4h:03, nearly 2 hours behind the winner. Despite that, my experience was fantastic! I'd had my first taste or multisport and I wanted more.
Later that summer, after racing a few small local events, I competed at the UK Half Ironman, and finished in just over 6h:30. Now that was an experience, that was an adventure, that was more fun than the shorter races. I think it was also because you had to travel to the race the day before, register, rack your bike, get your transition bags sorted - it all seemed so serious! At this stage I still had no idea what I was doing, both from a training perspective and equipment point of view. For example, I swam once a week on a good week, cycled and ran when I felt like it and pumped my tyres with a mini hand pump - as long as there's air in them that's good, right!?
After that race it wasn't a case of if I'd do an Ironman, but when. I didn't really give choosing the race much thought, but talked to my parents quickly, who had been super supportive of me, and I said 'How about Switzerland?', to which I received a positive response, probably thinking that in a year's time I'd be over the sport and on to the next craze! I remember logging on to Ironman.com and submitting the Pay Now button - I was going to do an Ironman. 5 years later and 5 Ironmans later, here I am, trying to carve out a career in the sport.
So why talk about this? Last week I registered for Ironman Lanzarote 2012, so in a strange way, I feel that things have come around full circle. In that regard, going to Lanzarote will mean more to me than going to just any Ironman destination, as I feel that I owe everything I have, and everything I've experienced, to that race. Seeing Extreme Endurance athlete Timo Bracht win the race earlier this month left little doubt in my mind that 2012 was the right year to go. As Paula Newby-Fraser said, 'Your Ironman charisma is not complete without doing this race'.