July 29, 2017 Philip

Failure is not fatal

Two weeks on from our 7 Ironmans in 7 Days challenge and The FCG EPIC Week and the dust is starting to settle.

In the weeks leading up to the challenge Warren and I outlined in blog posts and talks to schools and businesses that this challenge had a high risk of failure due to the number of unknowns that we were unable to test during training, like the intense lack of sleep we would experience during the week. With the dust settling on the challenge I wanted to share my thoughts and experiences during each day of the challenge, and also share about the community impact of The FCG EPIC Week.

Day 1

Warren and I had set ourselves a minimum finish time on day 1, why would we do this? To avoid the excitement and adrenaline causing us to go out too fast on the bike or the run, this minimum finish time on day 1 was set at 15 hours. For me the swim went really well on day 1, I pulled out a personal best Ironman swim time of 1hr 8mins, I felt good and it felt a comfortable pace. The support we had on the swim was great. After the swim came our first nutrition test, making sure we would eat enough prior to the bike and stock up on food for during the bike. We were pretty unlucky with the weather on day 1 for the bike. Our route, laps of the west coast in Guernsey, meant we had 10 miles of a headwind and 10 miles of a tailwind. We had to make sure we weren’t pushing too hard into the wind and also keeping calm with the tailwind and not burning our legs out. The marathon on day 1 was a good one, Warren and I had slightly different strategies as we find that on multi-day endurance events you need to run at a pace that is comfortable for your running form and how you are feeling. We finished day 1 in 14hrs 45mins, just under our MINIMUM finish time of 15hrs. My stats from day 1 are below:

Day 1 thought of the day – “Body feels good, it’s the lack of sleep that we need to be careful of”

Day 2

5.00am alarm for breakfast…how was the body feeling? It was feeling ok, no niggles from day 1 and I felt ready to take on day 2. The swim again was really well supported with the Tri-Fitness team and others coming along for a paddle with us. The conditions on the swim again were good, the body was in a good place and I completed the swim in 1hr 15 mins. We were aiming for our transitions to be relatively swift but to balance that with ensuring we weren’t feeling rushed and we were taking on enough food before jumping on the bike. We were aware that the weather forecast on Tuesday was for rain later in the day and we thought we’d get away with it and complete the bike before the rain came. Again, the headwinds one way down the west coast felt brutal, and we had to manage the pace to not work too hard into the wind. With about 25 miles to go on the bike the weather changed, force 4-5 wind and driving rain, this gave us a choice. Continue at the steady pace and just accept that you’ll get cold or speed up and get the bike over with. Our decision was to accept that we would get cold and keep at the steady pace to avoid burning the legs. In hindsight this might have been the wrong choice.

The last 25 miles on the bike on Tuesday were cold and wet. We got back to our base and sat in our cars for 30 minutes with the heating on to just warm up and stop shivering. This was essential as it was still raining and we had the marathon to go and needed to go out as warm and as fresh as possible. Louise had done a great job on social media of getting support runners on such a grim evening, we must have had over 20 people run with us across the evening, a wet and windy 26.2 miles. Day 2 was finished in 16hrs 10mins, the impact of the weather on the bike and the slow transition from bike to run added a good hour to the day.

Day 2 thought of the day “There are some wonderful human beings in Guernsey, to come out in this weather and support us, incredible” 

Day 3

The number of hours sleep was gradually decreasing and days were getting a little longer. Yet again we had a wind that would be a challenge on the bike, however the direction meant that the swim in Havelet bay was calm. More support turned out again for the swim, day 3 for me was a 1hr 16mins swim, I was pleased to only be 1 minute slower than day 2, the body was going well. Warren had a really tough swim, he was pulled out with about 1000mtrs to go due to experiencing extreme cold and may have been on the verge of hypothermia. I put his down to the lack of sleep and the body / immune system starting to struggle to regulate the core body temperature in the sea. Warren’s condition meant we were about 30 mins late on to the bike, and with the headwind we would struggle to make up any significant time…it was looking like it would be a long day. I need to make a point here about Warrens’ mental strength, how he recovered so well from such a bad condition post-swim was very impressive. I was worried for the first hour on the bike but he bounced back to produce a strong ride. We sometimes talk about game changers during training, these can often be mindset changes or simple tweaks to the training schedule. On day 3 we had what felt like a game changer on the bike. After 36 miles we stopped for a coffee…caffeine was part of our nutrition for the week but sitting down for 5 mins in a cafe and drinking a coffee gave us both a mental and physical break. Day 3 weather on the bike was yet again headwinds one way on the west coast loop, and it was our longest day on the bike with a ride of 8hrs 20mins.  This meant we made it back to Havelet, our transition base, at around 5:30pm, we knew this could lead to a post 11pm finish that day.

As I was getting changed for the run I felt I had two options, the first was to run a comfortable marathon and finish the day at about 11pm or push the marathon a little and aim to finish around 10:20pm / 10:30pm in order to start the recovery process earlier. The legs were going to feel tired whether I ran a 5hr or 4hr 30min marathon so I decided to push on and pick up the pace on day 3. I never thought I’d say this but to have some mates run with me in y-fronts pushed me and inspired me to complete the day 3 marathon in 4hrs 20mins. Yet again it was humbling and inspiring that people were giving up their time to come and swim, bike or run with Warren and I. Whether it was 30 mins or 4hrs, this made a huge difference. Day 3 for me finished just before 10:30pm meaning I could begin the recovery process and get to bed before midnight!

Day 3 thought of the day “It’s ok to treat yourself and remember to enjoy it – that coffee stop was bliss” 

Day 4

After just under 5 hours sleep I’d woken up worrying about Warren…not something I thought would happen at 5am! Warren messaged me at about 4:30am to day that he was not going to swim on day 4 as this was the only way that he would get close to completing the week. This was a tough read, but for his own safety I knew he had made the right decision on day 4. After washing each mouthful of breakfast down with water (as the body was not enjoying eating breakfast at 5am for the 4th day in a row) I made my way down to Havelet. I was greeted with about 25 swimmers who had all come down to join us on the swim, the was incredible and a much needed boost. It felt like another good swim, in near perfect conditions, a little slower than previous days at 1hr 19mins but the body felt good. By the time the swim had finished Warren was as Havelet and was looking fresh, it was good to see him despite him telling me to get a move on and to get on the bike. We had also had a shift in the weather (only lasted 24hrs) and day 4 saw a drop in the winds to a force 2/3. It was a good day on the bike, we hit our target pace time of 7hrs 30 mins (averaging 14.9 mph) but looking back at the data we realised that the pacing was a little erratic. Rather than consistently hitting 14.9mph we found ourselves jumping up to 17mph for a period, then easing off to 13.5mph for another period – a lesson learnt in pacing. Yet again we had great support on the bike with cyclists joining us all throughout the day. Timings on day 4 were working well for us, we were on the run at 5:30pm, which meant if we ran well the finish time wouldn’t be too late.

I had a real mental battle during the first 4-5 miles of the run, I had to convince myself that I could complete the day 4 marathon. For the first 50 minutes it was literally one step at a time and to avoid focusing on 26.2 miles and to focus on small goals. I need to make a public apology here to Jim Mallet and an other runner that joined me 3 miles in, they were great and really chatty but I just needed to be quiet, to listen to conversations and focus on the next short goal. At mile 5 I poured a bottle of cold water over my head, realised that I had it in me to finish the day, had amazing support around me and I was back in the room. At the end of the first lap I apologised to the support runners and confirmed that the “lights were back on” and I could now think about enjoying the run a mile at a time and having some great people run with me. I completed the day 4 marathon in 4hrs 48mins, and thankfully finished the day before 11pm which meant I could get to bed just after midnight!

Day 4 thought of the day “Remember to break the challenge down to small goals, mile to mile, lamppost to lamppost”

Day 5

Ah, day 5…the day I call the hard butter day. My day 5 literally started with a meltdown. Up for breakfast at 5am, planning a mixture of toast, avocado, smoothie and fruit. As I go to butter my toast there is no butter in the kitchen, only a new pack of Guernsey Butter in the fridge…and it was harder than a brick. Now any human operating on normal sleep levels would have found an easy way to soften the butter…but I was not in that place. I began to breakdown and cry over the lack of soft butter for my toast. After recovering from the butter incident I made my way to Havelet, a song came on in the car and I began to cry again…what was happening. As I turned up at Havelet a good friend, Emily Bookless, asked me how I was doing as I got out of the car…I started crying again! Mike Ward, who was a star (and Mother Superior) during the week came over to me and explained that getting all emotional happens when you do multi-day ironman events. He explained that anything can set-you off and that was the exact position I found myself in. Warren was back for the swim on day 5 and it was great to have him back in the game on the swim. The day 5 swim felt ok but I had to adjust my route slightly as the further we got out of Havelet Bay the waters were more choppy and getting the arms above the chop was more of a challenge.

The other challenge I faced during the swim was my mind starting to focus on the bike. Why the hell did I allow myself to do this? This is one of the major lessons we have learnt over the past few years, deal with what is immediately  in front of you and don’t think about the long game. With almost every stroke I was battling with my mind as to whether I could complete 112 miles on the bike. I finished the swim in 1hr 15mins, and as I made my way to the car to eat and get changed for the bike I said to Warren “I don’t know if I can do the 112 miles on the bike today”…his reply was just what I needed to hear. A simple “let’s just get on the bike, move forward and see what happens”. So that is what we did, we got own the bike, albeit about 30 minutes later than we wanted to be but we just started to move forward. I probably spent the first 60 minutes moaning about everything but then realised that I needed to snap out of it and get myself back to a positive perspective and enjoy the day. We enforced a full on meal stop on day 5, which meant 20 minutes of sitting down at Vistas Cafe and eating two sausage rolls and chips, crisps, chocolate and a coffee.

By about 70 miles into the ride Warren was really suffering from the lack of sleep. Some of our support riders could see that he was becoming a little unsteady on the bike. As we reached Pembroke on one of our laps Warren took 10 minutes out to have a power nap, he demanded that I carried on to complete lap 4 of the route. I was pleased to see Warren heading in the opposite direction after his power nap. With about an hour to go on the bike I could feel my mind going so I stopped off at a cafe for a double espresso to give me a much needed boost. Warren and I joined each other at about mile 85 and this is when Warren made one of the toughest decisions he has had to make, his challenge was over. Warren was looking shattered and was basically falling asleep on the bike, not a safe place to be in. Warren rode back to base and after composing myself I went on to complete the last 20 miles of the bike – this was tough 20 miles. Moving time on the bike on day 5 was just over 8hrs but with the food stop and the stops with Warren I didn’t make it back to base until about 6pm. I was greeted with a decent number of support runners and found myself apologising as I knew I needed some time before heading off for the run. I was further delayed when I had no running socks in my bag, so my wife drove home to get me some as I didn’t want to risk running in cycling socks! I eventually started running just after 7pm. What was the approach and target on the run? Chatting away to Jon Press (who was completing his own challenge of 7 marathons in 7 days) the aim was to complete the marathon that day, so a pre-midnight finish.

The support on the Friday night was amazing, at one point here must have been 35 to 40 runners in the group, a privilege to run with so many people. I needed two emergency toilet stops on laps 1 and 2, these were taken in the Red Lion pub, the Friday night revellers were amazing, cheering me in and out of the pub and handing me donations to the charities. One of my younger sisters flew into Guernsey to support the challenge and joined me for 10km on the run, the first time she had ever run 10km in her life, this type of support kept me going! Laps 3 and 4 began to pick a little in the legs, the pace slowed but we kept running and kept moving forward. One of the highlights was to have Warren turn up on the final two miles and play the Rocky soundtrack out of his car next to us…absolute comedy gold!  I finished the marathon on day 5 in 4hrs 34 mins, and got back to base at 12:10am. I made it up to see Paul Gosling and Guthrie Steer at about 12:20am, I wasn’t in bad shape at all physically and asked them to just get me to the start line for day 6. I got to bed at 2:00am and was already wondering what impact 3 hrs would have on day 6.

Day 5 thought of the day “People really don’t know how much the support helps us get through the tough times”

Day 6

This was probably the toughest mornings I have experienced since taking on endurance challenges. After 3 hours sleep I woke up feeling physically good but the accumulation of the lack of sleep was impacting me. I was slow eating breakfast, confused answering questions that Louise was asking as she was helping me get my kit ready and beginning to feel a little overawed by the day ahead. I had to shift my thinking back to just getting through each discipline, one step at a time. I arrived at Havelet for the swim just before 6.30am, again the support was immense, about 20 swimmers to join me for the planned 3.8km. The route was similar to previous days, 2 big loops around Havelet Bay or 3 shorter loops depending on the swell / chop as we went further out to sea. The first 500mtrs felt ok, I was just concentrating on my stroke technique and breathing. We stopped at a buoy and the support team and my wife checked on me, I was doing ok. As we set-off to the next marker something shifted, my body felt absolutely drained and concentrating on technique and just moving forward became a huge mental battle.

I stopped again after 200mtrs, set-off again, made it another 500mtrs and then stopped. I took my goggles off and looked at my wife, she gave me a look that said “it’s over, you’re done” I told her to look away as I gathered my thoughts. I headed back towards the beach thinking that if I make it there then I can maybe approach the rest of the swim 100mtrs at a time. As I got to shallow waters, with half the swim completed I had nothing left to give. The accumulation of the lack of sleep had defeated me. A total of 20hrs sleep across 5 nights had pushed me to my limit. I turned round to my wife and just said “I have nothing left to give”. They were the words I feared during the last 6 months. Being open and honest, I felt devastated. To work towards something and sacrifice so much for 18 months of training it felt horrible to realise that the challenge was over after 5 Ironmans in 5 days. As I got to my car I decided to phone Warren as I wondered if he would have any words of wisdom that may help me get back into the challenge and finish the swim. As I explained the swim to him in tears he simply said “You’re done mate”…my reply was a firm “is that the best bloody pep talk you have mate?”. I knew, he knew, my wife knew it. Game over. Safety comes first.

As I sat in the car, on my own, reflecting on what the body was telling me I went through lots of lots of scenarios, including going back out in the water to finish the swim and to get own the bike and pedal. But I was told that I would have been a danger to myself and others had I made it onto the bike.

Day 6 thought of the day “Failure is not fatal”

Warren and I knew that this challenge had a high chance of failure, despite many thinking we would cruise through it due to our history with endurance challenges, this one pushed us to our limits, we found them and we were beaten by the lack of sleep. But thankfully failure does not define us and success for us was not defined by completing one, three, five or seven Ironmans, success for us was driven by what we wanted to achieve from our challenge and the community event – The FCG EPIC Week. We wanted to:

  1. Raise money for our chosen charities This Is EPIC and Guernsey Mind
  2. Inspire the local community to push themselves with their own 7 day epic challenge
  3. Get as many school children participating and active during The FCG EPIC Week

As we begin to take in what happened during the week both from a personal and community level it is helping focus on what we did achieve rather than what we didn’t.

  1. We are still counting but we have now raised over £25,000 for the charities
  2. We had over 160 people sign up to the FCG EPIC Week, and loads more join Warren and I each day own the swim, bike or the run sections
  3. We had three primary schools get fully behind the week, which meant around 1000 children were active for the week.

One thing that Warren and I talk about from our endurance challenges is to enjoy the process of taking on a huge goal and enjoy the journey of being the best you can be. During the FCG EPIC Week we simply gave people the opportunity to set themselves a new challenge for the 7 days. To have over 160 people commit to this challenge was fantastic. To have 1000 primary school children be active during the week with all sorts of challenges was amazing. Warren and I spent hours after our challenge catching up on social media posts, pictures and messages from peoples challenges. We are so humbled by what everyone has achieved. Well done Guernsey.

A huge thank you to everyone that made not only our challenge but the FCG EPIC Week possible, the team is too big to mention (and we’ll probably miss a name or two by accident!). A huge thank you goes to First Central Group for being an amazing headline sponsor and getting behind the event with such passion.

 

Roll on My EPIC Week 2018! 

 

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