Ironman Flordia 2017 – Race Report

First off apologies… you’re probably sick of hearing about this sodding Ironman! My facebook feed was alight with congratulatory messages snapped pics and an amazing outpouring of love and support from friends, family, fellow triathletes, squad members and well-wishers, it was simply overwhelming and wonderful all at the same time. So please know that these messages all helped to make this experience very special for me. I am also not going to leave this thank you to the end of the report –  You cannot do a race like this without support, I wouldn’t be at the start line without the encouragement and love from my wife who knows when training isn’t going well and pulls you through it, she doesn’t mind when the alarm goes off at 4:30am so you can get a 3 hour ride in before work, she is the one that worries when I am out on the Cayman roads and doesn’t really sleep till I get back in, anyone who has done this sort of thing will tell you it’s impossible without their support of your endeavor, so this is for her. In addition I have also had a great training partner in Danny we have both had dark times in training and helped each other through and we are part of a collection of athletes (Breakaway Squad) that train together and motivate each other, it’s an amazing group of positive people and Generali have also sponsored some of us with great kits which you will see me wearing during the event so big thanks to them. The one other person who made this possible was coach Kim Schwabaumber (Fuelyourpassion.com)  a multi time Ironman podium finisher, nutritionist and all round fab coach. No matter what your ability I strongly believe that having a coach for this type of event that understands your strengths and weaknesses, holds you accountable for the plan and gives expert and experienced advice is invaluable it certainly helped me achieve the training I needed and the experience I wanted out of this event. Kim Thank you.

Ironman Florida,

Our event was in Panama beach Florida normally more synonymous with spring breakers evidenced by the plethora of amusements and bars most of which were beginning to wind down for the off season, only to be engulfed by the Ironman machine. IM Florida has been in Panama beach for nearly 20 years and the residents and volunteers have had plenty of events for which to practice! They managed to operate a slick well planned event and the greatest thing of all the weather played ball! No storms, no great wind just some nice heat, which to be fair we are pretty used to!

Bag and bike survived the various planes train and automobiles to get to the event and although American Airlines managed to break bags and do some superficial damage to the bikes it was nothing that was going to stop us!

Coach had told me I needed to get some medication to have on me during the race which mainly prevents stomach upset etc… things like gas X, Tums and Imodium, So you can imagine the cashiers face at the local “Piggly Wiggly” general store when two guys dressed mainly in lycra deposit tubs of Vaseline, and various stomach meds on the counter….. I say no more….Piggly w

Medical

Having achieved the All World athlete status from the various 70.3 races last year it was great to be able to use this perk to skip the hour long line at check in, it really made us feel that little bit special akin to getting invited to board in group 1 on American! Check in was a breeze so now it was time to chill. Having been fighting off man flu for the last few days I wanted to dive into the ocean and flush out the travel and test the water conditions etc…. so Danny and I donned the wetsuits and went down to the beach. Pretty much the only time its ok to get into an elevator with another man dressed in rubber…..

The sea was cold, I was very glad it was going to be a wetsuit legal race! Once you got going the coolness of the water was quite refreshing and you didn’t really notice the temp! Dip done, time to chill. Trying to chill the night before an ironman is akin to asking a 7 year old not to think about Christmas on Christmas Eve! It’s a mixture of emotions and OCD overdrive! The excited anticipation made my stomach want to remove anything it consumed within around 30 minutes great for pre-race weight loss bad for the mind thinking “ oh my god what if it’s like this tomorrow!”…. I packed, repacked and tinkered with my nutrition and race notes, thank god we had to check in our gear bags the day before as that didn’t allow for last minute messing around with stuff. I tried to be as calm and methodical as possible to eventually stop messing. The last thing I did was write out my fuel plan on the bike so I could tape it to my handlebars, this turned out to be the single most important thing I could have done.

Handlebars

The worst part of an Ironman is the night before, well actually it’s the 6 months worth of training, but the night before is an excruciating wait. You just want to get on and do it! Having had a pre race meal of chicken and pasta salad we all retired to our respective rooms. I elected to sleep in the spare room so that I would not keep Kym awake with my inability to sleep after all it was going to be a long day for our support crew as well! I needn’t have worried to be honest as I actually got to sleep pretty quickly and didn’t wake up until the alarm roused me. DC and I were pretty calm had some breakfast managed to “loose a bit more weight” which is every athletes dream start! And we headed out. The girls we going to meet us at the swim start an hour later.

Having deposited the nutrition bottles on the bike and dumped our special needs bags we proceeded to the beach start which took longer than expected and we were only just ready as they were playing the star spangled banner. Whilst it’s not my national anthem it always sets a great tone to a sporting event in the US and I enjoy the atmosphere of it. A kiss for the important people, Kym, and the cannon sounded…the race had begun. It was a self-seeded start meaning that you lined up around the time that you think you will do the swim in. To be fair I think athletes did do this realistically as I didn’t have to swim over any slow swimmers nor was I swam over. I seeded myself in the 1hr 10-1hr 20 section. Even though I thought I could go quicker you just never know what happens on the day. I was jumping up and down to the music as we headed down the start chute, hi fiving spectators all in an effort to calm the nerves reduce the heart rate and allow myself to enjoy the moment after all 6 months’ worth of training had led to this.

As I dove in to the cool waters, the nerves eased the breathing slowed and I fell into a rhythm remarkably quickly. This surprised me as in other swim events it has taken me a good 10 minutes to find that sweet spot in the breathing. I think the cold water helped and that I wasn’t caught up in a swimming melee as I was straight out into some good open water with a small draft pack ahead. The sun was just coming up so it was dark below, pretty eerie but also very serene, as I rounded the buoy at the top of the course around a half mile out to sea I stole a glance back at the chasing pack and realized I was swimming well and certainly up there with the top 10% of the swimmers. Knowing I was heading back to shore I allowed myself to ease into a slightly quicker stroke count as current pushed us back toward the shore. A quick mental body check, all good, apart from a small chaff around the neckline of the wetsuit, dam I must have missed that part with the vaseline. As I exited the water to go over the first timing matt to complete the first loop I was looking out for Kym but could not see her amongst the crowds of spectators, just as I reentered the water I was sure I heard her and took a final look back I didn’t see her but the video she took of me confirmed I had heard her! I glanced at my watch 31 minutes for the first 1.2 miles I was happy with that it put me on a good swim time if I could maintain so that was the plan for loop 2. About half way through loop 2 I caught up with some of the slower swimmers still on their first loop while this is actually a great motivator (You know you’re having a good swim) it’s actually quite difficult to navigate as you do swim into people at some pace. A lot of the time slower swimmers are slow because their sighting ability is all off meaning that they are not swimming in a straight line from point A to point B and on several occasions I had to move people by the leg to point them in the right direction! On other occasions I did literally swim over a couple of people but it was only by accident as the water didn’t allow for me to see them really until it was too late. I maintained pace and exited the water in 1 hour and 6 minutes a really great swim that I was delighted about as I had never considered going sub 1:10. This put me in a great mood going into transition and I had said to myself take your time get dry and do your thing. I lay down on a matt so the “wetsuit striper” (LOL) could take my suit off, this was a mistake as it allowed sand to get on my back and ultimately end up in places that will cause me grief later….. A tip that Danny gave me was to empty my transition bag completely on the floor before you event start to change kit so that you know you took everything you’re going to need on the bike. Again the volunteers here were amazing packing everything for you once you had finished with it. I changed into dry cycling gear ensure my nutrition was in the pockets and headed out. All told I had been in transition just 8 minutes. As I was leaving I saw Danny coming in so I knew he had also had a good start.

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The sun was starting to come up the wind had a chill but my breathing was good and a quick check of the heart rate showed 130 beats per minute. So my coach wanted me to do between 125 and 135 BPM which is kind of where the heart had been in training and I had manage to maintain a good average of 20+ mph which would result in around a 5 hour 30 minute bike time for the 112 miles. I was not to overcook the bike as this would throw off my run and the fuel plan so stick to the plan was all I repeated for the entirety of the bike portion! I had to do this because I felt good and thought I should go quicker but this is fatal in this kind of race because feeling good in hour five does not equate to feeling good in hour 10. The bike is about measured control, eating/fueling and hydrating for the beast that follows. Sure I could ride a 5 hour bike if the bike was all I was doing but a sub 6 hour bike is always considered a good result on an ironman course. The other thing coach Kim had insisted on was this “You must pee at least twice on the bike”. The reason for this I that it tells you that you are hydrated, if you don’t pee in 6  hours you’re going to suffer on the run as most likely your dehydrated. I had the fuel plan taped to my handlebars having to drink 50 ounces of fluid in the first hour (basically to cover the swim deficit) and then all the various times I had to eat. I can’t tell you how happy I was when at around the 40 mile mark I felt that tug on the bladder that says if you want to go you can. Now that’s easier said than done when you’re cycling along at 20 mph and you don’t want to stop because your mate is behind you and you’re still competitive with each other! Plus you don’t want him to go by and you not know whether he is behind or in front! Also I have never, ever pee’d whist cycling along before! I’m sure the veterans amongst you have got this down to a fine art but for me it was going to be a first and hopefully last occurrence.  As you all know cycling gear is quite tight and tends to hold your gentleman’s package up out of the way of the saddle, however this is not the most beneficial position to start a steady flow so I needed to rearrange a little, cue much hilarious hip swinging and short pulling to try and get my misters to dress to the right… I had made sure no one was around me during this but I dread the thought that someone was videoing this half mile stretch of road out in the Florida outback! Needless to say I managed it and the only person in the world who would be happy about this was the coach but to be fair I was also quit impressed with myself to! I did have to verbally apologise to my bike though. The road wound its course for another few hours and when I came upon 100 miles I thought Danny must be nearly with me now as I knew he was aiming for a slightly quicker bike time than I and sure enough I could spy him about half a mile down the road. As he came alongside he said his feet were hurting but as mine were a little numb as well I thought this was just par for the course. It turned out this would really hurt Danny’s run in a little while. At this point I was happy the swim had gone well, we were on the last few miles of the bike and I was cycling along with my training buddy about to complete the bike in 5 hours 32 minutes which was bang on plan. I had fueled as ordered and felt pretty good coming off the bike.

Into the run transition and once again I stripped off and put on fresh clothes to begin what is my nemesis. As you will have seen from previous blogs running is not my strongest sport so this was going to be where I would fight my demons and have what we call the dark moments! My feet ached and my back was stiff so I just walked out of transition talking to Dany trying to pep ourselves up. He was quieter than normal and I felt that maybe he was in more pain than he was letting on at that point. We walked and then gently jogged together. I think we were both excited at that point to be reunited with our other halves who were waiting about a half mile up the road. We had picked this point as it was close to the apartment and we would run passed them 3 times before seeing them at the finish. It is so so uplifting to see loved ones along the course and they were even more excited to see us! Some great video of us going passed them for the first time and Danny had found his feet (or so I thought) a he continued off on a quicker pace than I was going to maintain so we left each other to our own run race. This was probably the hardest moment for me as I looked at my watch around 3 miles into the run and the enormity of what still lay ahead hit me. I remember thinking this is going to take me hours (About 5 more at this stage) and you have that tiny bit of self-doubt, the sun was beating down and it was around 2:30 in the afternoon. Self-actualization comes into play here, positive mental thought. I think this is what the Ironman really tests. It test’s one ability to be mentally tough, you can be as fit as you want to be but if you haven’t trained the mind to push through pain and self-doubt then it always going to be a struggle. I actually said to myself it doesn’t matter how long this takes you can do it even if you have to walk you are going to be an ironman.  I thought of a picture I had taken at the Athlete’s briefing it was a simple picture of a wristband they give to first time athletes attempting the accolade it simply says “Ironman – I will become one”.

I will become one

When I said I would do this it was because I wanted to challenge myself, I like the endurance aspect of it and what I have learnt about how far you can push your body if the mind is willing is incredible. I am not the best or fastest athlete out there but I do have sheer bloody mindedness that doesn’t allow me to stop! This is the culmination of a road to wellness that started 3 years ago. If you take up triathlon this is also the race everyone asks you have you done? Everyone has their own journey but they are all incredibly individual. So these thoughts pulled me from the dark place and I started to look round thank the volunteers soak up the atmosphere from the crazy, lovely supports and enjoy it! Really enjoy it! Before long I was coming up on mile 6 (just 20 more to go!) and I realized that Danny hadn’t run past me yet so I couldn’t be far behind him, a minute or so later I saw him coming towards me he was walking with the first signs of a limp, as we passed he said he was done he looked very forlorn so I said keep walking and I’ll catch up. I sped up to the turn and caught him up shortly after. His feet had still not recovered from the bike and he was suffering cramps because of it.  I suggested we walk run for a few miles and tried to lift his spirit with some banter about carrying him over the finish line etc… but inwardly I knew he was in for a long day as we were only at around mile 9 on the run here. Eventually Danny said to me he couldn’t run anymore and that I should run my race. I told him I would only carry on if he promised to finish to which he agreed. I knew he had to go passed Kym and his wife Dawn so I could pre warn them of his plight so they could encourage him on also. As I carried on I was gutted for my friend who is a stronger runner than I and trained as I did. It’s a long time to be in pain. I truly hopped he would finish.

As I came towards Kym and Dawn around mile 13 I could feel myself getting choked up I am not sure why but I think it was the realization that I only had 13 more miles to go and that I was feeling good, I loved that they had been tracking us for hours and the ironman dream could become reality in just a few more hours! I managed to tell them Danny wasn’t in a good way but I also didn’t want to lose my rhythm so I continued on and around to go and do the loop over again. Luckily the sun was going down and the heat was abating so this was all positive stuff for me! I passed Danny again we high fived and told him to get through it. I knew Kym and Dawn would also talk him into persevering which the video evidence also gave great light to! I caught up with another runner a little further down the road his name was Alex and this was his 5th Ironman. He was from New Jersey amd worked IT, he was a big guy like me and we chose to run and walk together for a few miles chatting about ironman the charity he was running for and various other bits about life. We attracted a few other walk run peeps and had a little community of us for a few miles it really helped. Most of them were on their first loop and were impressed that I was on the last leg it was great motivation and wonderful that everyone was encouraging for everyone else. It’s the only sport where if you’re not going to win it everyone just wants you to finish! Its dark now and mile 20 came up which was a real wow moment for me just 6 miles to go, I left our little community as I was moving quicker now as the realization crept in that my stomach was fine, my fuel plan had worked and now I could let go and just go for the finish. Around mile 23 you could heard the crowds and announcer at the finish but those 3 miles go slower than the first 23!! I started empting my pockets of unneeded gels and medical stuff, took my sunglasses from my head and put them in my pocket. I was excited to see Kym just as much as the finish line to share the realisaion that it was going to happen. I turned the final corner and the finishers chute was before me it’s about 800 meters long with people all along the side railing cheering, the big finishing gantry illuminated by massive lights and a huge TV screen. They are willing you along all the way and about half way down I heard Kym scream CCCCHHHHRRRRIIISSSS it was the best feeling I turned to her and just screamed back as the video showed, then the immortal words anyone who has started this race dreams of hearing. “Chris Bailey – You are an Ironman!!!”

 

I thought I would be an emotional wreck but instead I just smiled, I had nothing left I was walked through the finish area by yet another amazing volunteer I had my picture taken, and then fell into the embrace of a massive hug from kym who I think was just as amazed and astonished as I was, she screamed at me “you broke 13 hours! Amazing Amazing everyone’s been tracking its been amazing OH my god!!!!……” As I said at the start of this, only those close to you know what you sacrificed to do this, they know what it means and they also know when you exceeded your own expectations. Wow.

A beer in hand and a dry top we waited to see if Danny had beat his pain, we didn’t have to wait long till his name was also hallowed as an Ironman. Now the celebration began in earnest.

Thank you to all who followed on the what’s app group and on Facebook. The support for Danny and I was incredible and it only reinforces that we have some amazing family and friends. Big Love.

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Ironman Racine 70.3 Race report

 

It was dark, somewhere in the distance an owl hooted. The warm breeze associated with the Cayman climate at this hour was none existent. My eyes were still heavy with sleep having gone through an all day bike mending marathon session the day before. Something that is becoming all too familiar when traveling with Danny Cummings. Our mission to arrive in the nether regions of Wisconsin were somewhat thwarted by a 14 hour travel day missing connecting flights, but thank all the gods our bikes and equipment had made it to the race start with us.

Our hotel in Racine was palatial and not what we were expecting. Its situation on the shores of Lake Michigan made it very idyllic and the sunshine and clear skies of the Saturday before the race left us no clue as to what was in store the next morning.

I love arriving at race destinations the buzz and atmosphere around an endurance event is like no other. There is respect from all competitors, respect that comes from the knowledge that you have put in time and made sacrifices to be here, the cost itself is a major part of that. To give non-triathletes a sense of what that cost is I’ll break it down quite simply:

“It would be cheaper to run a formula 1 racing team than do an ironman”

Ok I may be over egging it slightly but having winced at the $375 charge to get my bike on a plane with me (on top of our flight charges, hotel, car/truck hire, food, mechanical and various miscellaneous costs) its no wonder people only do these things once! For me however this was my 3rd such event and probably the one I was least prepared for. Having had travel interrupt my training schedule followed by a nasty chest inflection that I only just managed to control the week prior to the race, my prep and fitness were really an unknown. This was not going to be a PB for me but more like a battle to the finish.

Traveling with highly temperamental bikes (i.e the parts get broken in transit) meant that on the Saturday we spent a good portion of it readying the equipment and driving to a few bike shop to get spares or repairs, no bother its part of the fun and making sure that your racing buddies (in my case 4 of us from Cayman) are all set for the next days adventure. The non-fun part is handing over yet more cash for said spares or repairs!

Race Morning:

4am – Alarm goes off – I think I got to sleep around 1am – bad times, but I just find it incredibly hard to sleep the night before a race, my brain is just wired with excitement and anticipation – Will I have a good swim, can I run with my bad chest…. On it goes….

4:15 – Second Alarm goes off just in case, but I am up first of all stretching then trying to force some toast and oatmeal down, its difficult, mainly I’m just trying to wake the gastro-intestinal tract to make sure I can “loose a few extra pounds” because no one wants to use a porta potty on race day… its seriously not fun….

We set off for Bike check in around 5am the sun just raising over the harbor it looked glorious – we took a few pics – it was the calm before the storm. Once we had checked in and got our stations ready the sun had given way to a dark sky filled with ominous clouds the wind had picked up and although we couldn’t see the beach from where we were we could see the flags, lets just say the poles were not standing to attention. Hummmm this isn’t looking good. Then over the speaker the announcer informs us that overnight the water temperature has dropped to 54 degrees….. my god that’s cold. Considering our training takes place in the warm waters of the Caribbean I know this is going to hurt. Danny and I had braved the waters the day before when they were at 64 degrees and it had taken your breath away you could not swim sustained in that without a wetsuit for more than 5 mins tops. People were looking anxious, I was feeling anxious and to top it off I had now caught site of the beach where large waves were waiting to great us into the water. The announcer informed us that the start was going to be delayed while they watched a particular weather front come in.

Groans were heard all around, you see our fueling plan starts when you wake up, it’s a science, if you know your going to be exercising vigorously for 5+ hours then eating becomes a science. I had taken on slow burning carbs my drinks on my bike were all prepared with various gels and supplement’s. But we are on a time line, I know my wave is/was due to start at 7:43 therefore I know roughly what time I would finish the swim and thus start on the energy drinks fueling towards the half marathon. If you burn your breakfast off before you start your fueling plan has to change. You’re going to need more on your bike. It may not make a huge difference but its stuff like this that can get in your head during a 2-3hr bike ride and leave you wondering whether that stitch on the run is due to needing more fuel etc… Anyways… The heavens darkened the weather worsened and all participants were told to take cover and seek shelter as severe thunderstorms headed our way. The Swim start was cancelled. A tough call by any race organizer but the right one, it was simply too dangerous.

Once the weather had cleared the race started with the bike and was followed by the half marathon run. It was not what we wanted but we were here and we were going to do this. We had all gone back to the hotel where a good breakfast had been eaten you know bacon, sausage egg…. Just what you want prior to doing 4 hours of exercise! The race didn’t start for us till around 11am so fueling plans were out the window it was a case of make do and get it done.

For me that was no problem – I went off with a bang with the pent up energy of a cheetah being released back into the wild I had a great bike ride and felt pretty good, that was until around 2 miles into the run when I revisited that big breakfast with very little warning! At the same time that I was regurgitating said bacon and sausage did I not get cramp in both quads causing me to fall over just as the medical cart went passed me, triggering what can only be described as a very panicked code “a” someone collapsed response. After several reassurances that I was ok I hobbled back off down the course much to their surprise. There is a bit more to this story but will leave that for the beer debrief.

IMR70.3 bike

This setback obviously affected my run and it was a disappointing 2 hour 40 half marathon. But at least I knew what went wrong!

I finished the 2016 Racine Ironman 70.3 cheered on by the other members of our team who also did outstandingly. I never tire of the good sportsmanship and friends I have made whilst doing these endeavors and am now in full training mode to complete the Miami 70.3 Ironman in 12 weeks time. Thanks for following thanks for the support and please do give what you can to the Mountains and Marathons challenge in support of the Cayman Islands “Have a Heart” Foundation. http://www.mm4hh.com IMR70.3 run fin

Endurance events and childbirth is the same, here is why!

Seriously what makes a man or woman wake up one day and go “Yes” an ironman is for me! It doesn’t have to be an Ironman event it could be a marathon, half marathon, Sparta anything really… Also why is the biggest age group that takes part in this 30-40 years of age?

Well I think I have the answer, it basically to prove to yourself that you’ve still got it! Regardless of whether you’re doing it to loose weight or simply to tick a bucket list item the answer is the same – You are proving it to yourself.

Completion of said task is also akin to childbirth – now please forgive the analogy dear reader, I am aware I am male but I promise you will see where this is going!

Yes doing an endurance event is like childbirth.

You see you have the great idea to get started lets call that the “sex” part – its exciting, its fun, you may even try new gear! Then it gets real and the training begins in earnest let’s call that getting pregnant! You have 9 months of struggles, sickness, aches and pains in places you never knew could ache. You get up early and have to pee allot! There are numerous doctors visits, maybe event a bunch of physio appointments, you read every article you can associated with your race/birth, you tell everyone what your doing (even though its obvious). You start craving gels, bananas and protein shakes, you cut out anything that could be bad for you….

Then Race day – The Birth – Several hours of pain, sweat, tears, hugs, breathing, clothing changes, vaseline, water, towels, there are ambulances and medical staff on hand and finally the finish – Its arrived oh the elation, the emotion, again more tears, calls to loved ones, comments on the time and condition of participants. The moans of never again! – Then 2 days later lets do another one!

So you see doing an endurance race and giving birth really is the same!

I write the above as I was asking myself why I keep doing these events and simply put the elation of completing the task at hand is way better than the months of training and pain on the day. The sense of achievement helps motivate and the health benefits simply make you feel good.finisherpix_1273_033452

Words that can turn a man cold!

The following words will normally fill a man with dread – “Honey can we try the sustainable food restaurant on Sunday evening” “Sustainable food”? I ask, “Yes” she said – it serves mainly vegetarian dishes, you eat off wheat based cutlery, oh and it does a great Lionfish curry. It must have been a weak moment for me because normally I would be clamoring for a Sunday roast or at least a meat based hearty affair washed down with a nice red wine. Alas, as good husbands do from time to time I simply said “sure, why not”. Although I could think of a million reasons why not my head was saying, but she wants to and you always eat what you want.

So with very little enthusiasm (from my part) we set off for a new sustainable eating restaurant called Vivo, it’s based on north west point road in West Bay Grand Cayman. Only a 5-10 min car ride from seven mile beach. Its located in a popular dive spot/hotel. Upon arrival I was not bowled over, metal chairs no cloths and a take out style inner room. However you sit outside looking over the ocean which surprisingly is not that common as only a few of the restaurants her come with ocean views. Our server Lori, greeted us with a warm smile and “sit wherever you like guys” which I immediately warmed to. It made me realize that look, dinner doesn’t have to be stuffy just go with it try something new and relax! Lori immediately bought over the iced water some table mats and asked had we visited Vivo before. She explained what the restaurant was all about and made some recommendations for the starters which we took her up on, plus a couple of glasses of bubbles for good measure.

The appetizers of falafels and egg plant roll arrived with a mint dip and another dip that looked like honey but actually had a nice spicy bite to it. The egg roll was like a Quesada and was delicious and the falafel was actually pretty tasty and more like a samosa. Both were filling without making you full and I was impressed! Other diners were enjoying their food also and plenty of   yums and wows are being heard. For mains I had the Lionfish curry (Lionfish is an invasive predator fish to Grand Cayman and needs culling so it is sustainable) and my wife had the vegetable curry, simply put both were fab.

Plates finished wine drunk and some happy banter with our waitress Lori who made time for everybody in the restaurant. We asked her to thank Chef Marie who had whipped up our food in no time chatted some more then made our way home happy in the knowledge that we would come back here.

So the morale of this tale – Those moments you keep missing by sticking to the norm, this could have been one of them! Take a chance on something new. I am always berating myself for predicting the outcome of something based on preconceived ideas which have no foundation, just because I’m not a vegetarian in this case. But even then sometimes the food doesn’t matter but the time you spend in the company of someone you find very important.

lets-try-something-new

Those goodbye letters at the end of a visit

There is a part of living overseas that is truly rubbish, I always remember my mum and my auntie Dee saying ememotional goodbyeotional goodbyes to each other after the summer holidays and that was only a boat ride across the Irish sea! But back then it was hellish expensive to get from England to Ireland unless you went via a 16 hour door to door car journey involving an eight hour sea crossing on the B&I boats, which, back then I used to think were massive, the biggest ships on the ocean some even had cabins! However once you have crossed the Irish Sea in a storm you knew you never wanted to be a fisherman or sailor. When you have seen your Nanna “Mac” throwing up in a plant pot whilst trying to find a seat you know that a better way to travel must be found. These days if there is a stiff breeze the ship won’t sail but back then they went in all weathers! Plus the boats were not the mega cargo hauling ferry boats of today with cinemas and all manner of amusements on board, oh no, you really were in for an epic voyage of discovery. The discovery being the contents of your stomach! Maybe that’s why they got so upset at saying goodbye they really were not sure if this was the last voyage!

However saying goodbye to family, especially my mum really never struck me like it does now, I get to see close members of my family face to face so infrequently that it really is like having a piece of your soul torn away just for a little bit. Then, face-time or Skype conversations resume and its ok because everyday is one more day closer to when you see them again. I also think that as we get older we worry more that something will happen to them that we wont be there for, you feel the frailty of life when you hear so many horror stories and honestly I think you never really know if you are saying goodbye… Now that’s heavy… and I don’t say it to upset you dear reader, but to emphasize the importance of living everyday to its fullest and appreciating the fact that you will always have someone who loves you unconditionally, fat, thin, rich poor, good qualities or bad your family will always be the ones who will be there for you. Of course I am supposing that you and your family are close I can only draw from my own experience and whatever ups & downs we go through we have always remained close.

Of course this most acute of pains, “the saying goodbye” one, is totally self-inflicted as we decided to live our lives away from them. We decided that a life on a Caribbean island was worth the momentary heartbreak of saying goodbye, I say momentary as it actually takes a good few days to subside enough to think about normal things again. But there is a tipping point, should it become too difficult because we didn’t want to be here then we would move in an instant to be closer to them, but for now the pros of living in this idyllic place far outweigh the lows of saying goodbye and one of the best remedies for overcoming the low is remembering just how much of a good time they had whilst with us and that reunion embrace that’s sure to come again very very soon.

We always make plans for the next visit, be it us to them or vice versa so we are able to say “see you in September” as that feels real, tangible almost, it feels close and manageable. As I write this I haven’t seen my sisters or father in nearly 2 years its gone so quickly but I know time has come that I must see them as I can’t bear the thought of it being a further 2 years till I see them again. So the September date has been agreed!

I also write this on the eve of my mums 3 week adventure with us over the Christmas and new years period of 2015/16 coming to an end. Its been 2 years since her last trip here and although we talk most days about life, my siblings and the like, her excitement leading up to this trip was akin to that of a 5 year old at Christmas which was just so lovely. Both Kym and I looked forward to this trip as well for several reasons. We both knew my mum needed the break, she works all the hours god sends to ensure the family can be taken care of even though she should take more care of herself, she is mum and she will never stop worrying. Even though we her children are fine, finding our way in the world making mistakes but generally getting by. Mums will never stop the “what if” thought, so they will make sure they have a little put away! Its part of the reason that Kym and I wanted to ensure she had a complete break, gave her the treats she gave us and hopefully send her back to Ireland feeling rejuvenated and ready to take on the world with one small change. Take care of you mum.

So today we have all been a bit subdued as we know the goodbye is coming, its way worse than knowing your going to the dentist to have a tooth pulled because the sadness hits you in waves. One minute you’re fine the next minute a mess knowing that she or they are not going to be a part of your day to day life for a while. It is like grief, and some deal with it better than others. Me, I’m getting worse maybe its because I respect all that they did for me growing up, maybe I can relate to them better now I have some worldly experience, maybe its just because I love them unconditionally and am truly sad that they are going.

But I cant stay sad for long, mum and the rest of the friends and family that visit, love visiting, we create memories, we have quality time and we can remember specific details of each visit. Facebook helps us give them an account of what we are up to and us them. I honestly don’t know how people did this in the time before Internet and skype, maybe that’s why the Cayman Islands were considered a hardship placement! It makes you laugh now but you had to be made of pretty stern stuff to leave everything behind and only be in contact via mail –snail mail that is. I love the wonders of our technology for that. It keeps us close and we are only a call away. Now teleportation that would be cool….

In closing “goodbye letters” its worth noting that I have kept all the little notes we slip under the door or hide in the suitcase that makes us leak a little on the plane or at home when we find them. They are amazing reads for those times when you want the assurance that someone cares and loves the time they spend with you. They remind me of moments I forget and always leave me with a smile on my face because after all they are sonnets for the heart that even Shakespeare, Wordsworth nor Elliot could not capture and personalize for you better than your mum (or someone special to you).

Safe travels Mum see you in September xx

goodbye2

Small goals can turn into big things – 640 Challenge!

I have heard the saying from small acorns come large oak tress and understood its meaning but never did I think I could plant those acorns or that one I planted would grow into something far reaching.

A short while ago I embarked on a life style change that would reduce my weight. Its not that I was massively unhealthy I just enjoyed my food and wine a little too much. Because of that my exercise revolved around walking to restaurants!

I found myself in Macys in downtown Miami circa end of 2013, I needed some new work trousers and as I went through the rack I picked off the trusted pair of 42 Long. For a good time I had always fluctuated between a 40-42 inch waist. At 6ft 4 I didn’t think there was anything wrong with this. It didn’t hold me back, or so I thought.

It wasn’t until I entered the changing room and realized that these 42 inch waist trousers were at least 2 inches to small! OMG how had this happened…. Now most men will not admit they are unhappy about there weight, it a girls thing, but it was at that exact moment when I realized that “Macys” no longer did trousers in my size, that my true feelings about myself came to fruition. I hated being “big” I had been deluding myself about being tall and healthy, all my family are big, I just don’t have time to exercise etc etc etc… My own sense of self confidence was getting lower and lower because I wasn’t happy about the way I was starting to look. You would see it in photos and simply say, right I will start the gym on Monday. You never did.

Although most men will not talk about their own demons in regards weight I believe we are truly just as susceptible to conformity of body image as women, we read the male version of the magazines and social media influence of the “beach bod, men’s health cover” so we always think we are fat too! Notice that’s the first time I have used the word fat. It’s a horrid word as its connotations are so negative and the stereotypical perception of a fat person is that they are lazy or stupid. This is a huge error in judgment; I work long hours and don’t think I’m stupid I had just lost a sense of “healthy” balance in my life. You just don’t notice until you notice (If that makes sense!). My snoring problem was out of hand, my energy levels were low and my metabolism had slowed right down. All precursors to depression and further weight gain. Only an individual can stop the unhealthy living and they do need support when they really mean to take control.

My Macy’s moment was my point of self realization that I had to take control, I had avoided the scales for months but I needed to see what I had become. Nearly 320lbs.

Wow 320lbs heart attack central aged 35.

Now there are thousands of inspiring stories out there of amazing people who have taken control and dropped weight and many of them have kept it off. Those that have I guarantee made a life style change. That’s what I did.

However, I had to admit what I had become, not just to me but to my wife and friend’s. I had to tell them what I wanted to achieve over the next few years. I wanted some quick wins for motivation but I needed long term goals. I wanted to enjoy life, diet exercise had to be enjoyable it had to become part of my daily routines without thought. It couldn’t be a battle. As food or the easy option would win!

We did a few things straight away:

  • Cleared out the cupboards at home of junk food – if its not there I cant eat it
  • Lots of fresh fruit prepared in bowls in the fridge to snack on when the cravings came.
  • Enter an 800m swimming race (Swimming is great all over exercise with little impact on joins)
  • Whilst I hate running enter a 5k race as the feeling of completing a goal would be worth it
  • Stop drinking alcohol during the week!

The first 800m swim was only 2 weeks after we did this but along with a few friends I did it, was slow, but it was great to take part and start a little training. The first 5k was a few months away and I needed to get off the couch!

I couldn’t run more than about 400 meters without starting to struggle which really made me realize how unfit I was. I can’t say how demotivating it is when you really struggle to do something when everyone around you looks like its no effort at all. That’s why I give massive credit to anyone out there putting one foot in front of the other regardless of their shape or size because you know what, they motivated themselves to do it mainly to benefit them, not for anyone else just for them. Anyways I get off track….

These swims and 5ks were the stat of things and I needed to enter myself into events to help me stay motivated and have a small goal to achieve. It also helped that a few friends did these events with me (obviously they were quicker but that didn’t matter). You will learn that the people who take part in running clubs or tri-athlon training or any endurance sport that they do it to compete with themselves, to better their own times so they are genuinely happy for you to achieve any of your own goals! You don’t have to beat anyone else, but you do have to beat yourself! There is always a reason not to get some exercise, so give yourself a reason make it enjoyable!

Fast forward to January 2015 – I have lost over 50lbs and embarked on the Guatemala trip as previously written about. Once I returned I kept thinking about how I could continue to support this project. I am not super wealthy with unlimited resources (far from it) so what could I do that would raise awareness and possibly raise funds for this project. I started tinkering with the idea that I could run a marathon, its been done a hundred times before but it would also give me a reason to run and continue training plus tick something I thought impossible off the bucket list. Then I thought I could do a half ironman, after all I like the swimming and the biking part of it! I organized a charity bike ride in 2014 which raised $10k for the local hospice care charity so I thought I could do that again. Then someone suggested cycling the blue ridge parkway. I had no idea what the was but it sounded fun – it turned out to be 470 miles from North Carolina to Virginia with the Appalachian mountains in between! Throw in the Cayman marathon for good measure. Each of these things were happening at great time intervals, literally once a month from august until December. So an idea started formulating…. It turns out the distance of all the events combined is 640 miles the exact distance from Grand Cayman (Home) to Guatemala…. Quite some coincidence…. So there you have it the small goals this year have turned into the 640 Challenge (www.facebook.com/640challenge).

So I get to continue a training plan, keep healthy, loose a bit more weight and raise money for a good cause. I also linked a local literacy cause “LiFE” literacy is for everyone, to be a joint benefactor of funds raised along with the Guatemala Literacy Project which links both ends of the challenge. To date we are near the $10,000 raised mark and with the prospect of “Pedal to the Point” race raising and additional $10k we are going strong. You can follow the fundraising here: https://www.razoo.com/story/640challenge

So the first challenge was the 470 mile bike ride and I have written a little write up of the experience below. In short is was brutal!

However I hope this missive gives food for thought that the small goals we set ourselves can and have led into something much bigger than I could have imagined – I have been on TV and radio locally promoting the cause, I have had people for all over the world offer support and donate. Two of the best things of all – these great causes get some needed funds and I get to feel great about my fitness and the journey this is taking me on Cayman, Miami, Chicago, Virginia, North Carolina, Charlotte, Guatemala – (editors note I self fund all the events so all monies donated go directly to the causes).

640 Challenge Part 1 – Blue Ridge Parkway 470 miles in 4.5 days!!!!

“Well it was a ride of two halves the first 236 miles while tough were enjoyable as my bike was working fine. Then the gods of destruction decided it was going way to well and that the challenge needed to be harder. Nevermind the fact that we were already spending 10 hours a day in the saddle, forget that some of the climbs went on for 15 miles! Really it didnt matter that we were covering over 10,000 feet of elevation in every ride… so just to make it interesting the rear hub in my wheel (Which is a new ceramic hub) failed, the bearings went… no matter we have a spare wheel. Unfortunately the cassette on the spare wheel was only a 26 compared to the 30 I did have. (the cassettes were not compatible to change over…) so now hills were slightly harder…. then the cycling gods decided that it was still too easy so around mile marker 236 the chain decided to twist itself around and rip off my rear deraliure. Never seen that happen, but without changing the whole groupset which is not a roadside repair, my bike was done. Enter, top gear style, the spare bike. whilst a nice “specialized”  bike it was unfortunately a 54. A tad small for me. So with the seat post extended and the front stem at its max we managed to get some sort of fit. as you can imagine by the time we had set that bike up put my pedals on it etc.. we had spent nearly an hour at the side of the road. that day I still had 80+ mile to complete. I was cycling alone, uphill, slowly and now had saddle sore, neck issues and hurty knees! That day took nearly 13 hours to complete. I then got a chest infection from being so hot and cold all the time. the next morning was agony to get up and I had 115 miles and 4 pretty epic climbs to get through!  somehow and I really don’t know how I managed it in around 10 hours which everyone one surprised about. If it hadn’t have been for the charity it would have been game over! Feeling like death warmed up I retreated straight for a hot bath and cream application to places we cant mention. Im not kidding when I say everything hurt, the bike fit was so bad it put pressure in all the wrong places! Knees especially bad. 

The final day was 75 miles and the 3 highest peak of the blue ridge. I was crying at breakfast as i felt so bad with my cold/chest couldn’t bare to put my bum on the saddle or even think of cycling uphill! Then one of the guys changed my saddle for a brooks saddle, it would put pressure in different places so I thought it was worth a try. Well I can only say that saddle was the comfiest thing I have ever sat on, pure joy! it lifted the spirits and the same chap (Piers Dryden of Ogier) rode the first 30 miles with me at my snails pace and got me over the first two peaks. I started to feel allot better knowing I only had one more climb then 20 miles of downhill so I told him to go on and that I would be fine now. He was a legend, I pulled myself up the last 10 mile climb with an average gradient of 10%. Then settled in for 20 miles of downhill!! I hit 54mph!  past the finish and collapsed. 

Feeling quite euphoric at the end of it I really didn’t relish the actual accomplishment until i was wrapped up in blankets in the back of the bus.  Your brain will give up 10000 times before your body will. There were times I was very close. If my bike had held up it would have been easier but still gruelling. When your not used to hills they become demons!”

Part 2 640challenge – Chicago Marathon 11th October….eeeeekkkkk

470 miles in 4 days complete!
470 miles in 4 days complete!
Carolina State line Pic
State line in the 640Challenge Top!
chirs running SS
Training at a local running event
Before my self realisation moment.....
Before my self realisation moment….. 300+lbs

Be your own superhero

In 1983 a woman named Mary Manning a shop worker in Dunn stores in Dublin (kind of like marks and spencer or Macy’s ) started a strike that would allow her to meet world leaders like nelson Mandela, archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Irish prime minister and many others. What did she do?

She refused to sell Cape oranges.

You see at that time in South Africa there was apartheid, and her shop workers union had said they could abstain from selling goods that supported Apartheid. So she started a movement by saying no to cape orange sales. She went on strike for 2.5 years before the Irish government finally supported her action and embargoed South African goods that supported apartheid. She was only joined in her strike by 9 others. But what she and her fellow strikers achieved was simply heroic and worthy of super hero status.

But what intrigued me was why would a woman living thousands of miles away in a different country stand up for someone else.

She didn’t do it for fame or fortune she did it because to her it was a way she could make a difference.

I’m sure many of you have seen the film “the blind side” about the young African American (Michael Oher) who was homeless and taken in by the Toughie family in the mid west. There is a point in the biography and a great point in the film that shows you the moment when someone says… I can change this…

The point in the blind side is when Leanne Toughie (played by Sandra Bullock) looks back at Michael and tells her husband to turn the car around. She didn’t know or could have foreseen how this small action would lead to her eventually adopting and supporting this boy it was for her just the right thing to do.

So recently Emma Watson used this quote in an address to the United Nations: “if not me who if not now when” And I wondered did people knowingly run this quote through their head when they make these life-altering decisions. None of them thus far knew it was going to be life altering but you understand my point.

“No one else is going to do this thing so do I care about it enough to do it?”

Many people look back and these deeds and think yep great wow but I never get the opportunity to do something amazing and I would say you do you just keep missing it!

That’s quite a bold statement.

Think about it – you have had opportunities in your lives right now that could turn you into a super hero, but you either didn’t recognize it or were not passionate enough about making a change, taking a stance or you just didn’t have the time to take it further….

That’s ok, we can’t do everything, there simply isn’t time but how do you recognize something you want to be passionate about?

Someone asked me about 7 years ago what I was passionate about?

I listed a whole bunch of things I liked but they pressed me. Ok but what really makes you passionate… I didn’t know and it wasn’t until I moved abroad that I realized I was passionate about adventure. Trying something knew, having experiences. You see I believe a passion is different to a hobby or doing something you like when you allow that thing to change your life or define you.

When I first met Derek Haines a British man who has lived in Grand Cayman for many years and now calls it home. I had no idea what I would learn from him.

I learnt that you do not have to be extraordinary to achieve something amazing. Derek was simply a man with a purpose. His passion is running and he uses that passion to support causes that he feels benefit others. So when at 66 he decides to run 6 marathons in a year I thought he was bonkers.

He raised over $1million and brought a whole community together that now has a the funds to build its own hospice care facility.

But whilst the fund raising is great that’s not what made him a super hero to me. It was two things:

he made it happen
he inspired me to put one foot in front of the other and start moving
Just over a year ago I tipped the scales at 310lbs

In the last 12 months I have completed 2 triathlons, 2 half marathons, a half iron man, and a whole bunch of 5 & 10 k races – I also lost 60+ lbs

I am alive again. Cayman, Derek a few close friends and my wife saved my life. I was destined for a heart attack. A sedentary life which would have cut short my passion. They are super heroes to me and they don’t even know it.

Derek was also a member of Rotary which is a service club, what I mean by that is they get together and organize projects that benefit the community and others. They identify the need. It’s up to you whether you take part.

Derek was part of a group that have been traveling to Guatemala as part of rotary for a number of years. I decided to join the group this year and 9 of us went on a self funded trip to Guatemala as part of the GLP.

Guatemala is a country less than a few hours flight time from us here. Yet the poverty in the rural areas are 3rd world. Until you have seen 3rd world poverty up close and personal it cannot be described.

The GLP tries to break the cycle of poverty by providing schooling, books and compute centers to schools and children that otherwise would not have access to it. It’s been going 17 years. It works.

Before I went – I learnt that most of the group who have been on the trip sponsor a child through school and the program. A friend who was going suggested I sponsor a child before I went as I would get to meet them and it would be a fantastic experience. So I did it costs less than one meal out per month and yet it changes this child’s life, when you do the math it’s a no brainer.

So what do all these examples have in common?

You have to put yourself out there in order to experience something new.
Only you can make it happen.
There are superhero’s amongst us their identities hidden to only those that they have affected.
You don’t have to wear a cape to be a superhero.
So you can be the difference without knowing it, we have so much opportunity right in front of us. Unplug – talk – go see – have an adventure because if I hadn’t tried something like the Guatemala Literacy Program my two boys might still be working in the fields for $2 a day. To them I am Batman.