Mark Gollins Journey from Grantham Sprint tri to Bolton UK Ironman – Part 1

Many know Mark and in this prequal he gives us the background to his build up to racing IronmanUK.

Unbeknown to myself that first lunch  time swim at Riddings Pool with Leigh Peat would lead us both to compete in the 2018 UK Ironman @ Bolton.

Leigh was on my shift late February 2015 , and we chatted about what were both had been up to & what we fancied doing re training . Leigh had just qualified as a black belt in Kick boxing and was looking for another challenge . I was regularly competing in Duathlons and had done the bike leg in the Weymouth Challenge Relay “Ironman distance” the previous Sept 2014 competing with Damian Mitchell ( Swim ) & Pulmani Bangani ( Run )

We both chatted and found out neither of us could swim !!

Leigh said right lets meet at Riddings Pool the next day & see if we can crack this swimming game .

I borrowed some goggles & managed to find a pair of holiday speedos , and there we both were in the pool the next lunchtime attempting to swim before a 2/10 shift .Leigh had been trying to swim for a week or so and could manage a couple of lengths ,but I was a complete novice . In my first attempt I managed to complete a 25m length with a combination of doggy paddle / front crawl / breast stroke all with plenty of splashing about .

Completing 1 lap of 25m was hard work , and I was blowing like a “gud one”. This swimming game wasn’t going to be easy.

The guys at Riddings pool were amazing and soon plenty of tips about technique etc were been fired my way as they realised I needed all the help I could get . I went to Riddings Pool nearly every day for 3 weeks , and finally got to be able to swim 3 lengths without stopping. I remember Sue Couch watching myself & Leigh in our poor attempts to learn to swim in them first few weeks & she was very kind in offering advice. I was finding swimming difficult and frustrating as I couldn’t understand how I could ride a bike & run but couldn’t swim 3 lengths without blowing out of my arse . Then Sue gave the best advice ever, which I still stick to now and it was all about breathing .

I was trying to swim 4/6 strokes without taking a breath.

Sue suggested I breath every 2x strokes something I still do now. I then started to swim slightly longer & was getting up to completing 6 lengths without stopping. We was in April & I was still struggling to swim more than 6 lengths , so needed something to aim for. So I decided to enter my first pool sprint triathlon and entered Grantham Sprint Triathlon taking place early May 2015. I perservered with the swimming even though I hated it and was still struggling but eventually 2 weeks before the tri I completed 16 lengths. I was so elated and chuffed this inspired me to swim 20 lengths just before Grantham. So Grantham was going to be my first ever Triathlon at the age of 53 years. Looking back to them days in Riddings Pool , who would have thought myself / Leigh & Sue would all enter our first Ironman & all finish Bolton Ironman in 2018.

Grantham Sprint Tri May 2015 – I was one of the first competitors in the pool due to my estimated slow  time . I was so excited but also apprehensive. I took my time & completed the 400m in just over 10.32 mins so was chuffed finishing 26th overall. The season progressed  & I entered my first Open water sprint tri @ Hatfield in the summer of 2015 . I was so scared and was literally shaking before the start of the race as Kev Wilson & my wife Andrea  tried to calm me down before entering the water.  I remember breathing a huge sigh of relief as I came out of the water , something I still do as I am so pleased to get the swim out of the way.

The next race was the first  race in Hull with the swim around Princes Quay with the bike course a really technical multi lap race round the city centre. The swim was a spectators dream for viewing as they looked down from the walls on the water like looking into a gladiators arena to see all the commotion round the bouys . The organisers deliberately put the bouys close to the walls to cause carnage at these points as swimmers climbed over eachother to get round . My first experience of the washing machine effect with every swimmer looking for clear water but finding someone in the way. With each race I was gaining more confidence in the water but still had only swam a maximum of 750m. Then Kev Wilson & Phil Woolgar suggested we all enter Majorca 70.3 Half Ironman the following May 2016.  Kev wasn’t a much better swimmer than me but was willing to give it go,  I was more apprehensive as no way could I swim 1.9k especially in the sea !

So I had to attempt a 1500m swim before I would enter Majorca .

So off we all went to Blue Lagoon near Askern to compete in the blue ribbon 1500m race in late August. A 3x 500m course with some awesome swimmers who were competing for cash prizes as the entry fee was £20. I was lapped by the good swimmers who were absolutely flying round the course. Thankfully I  managed to finish albeit second to last after Kev had duffed me up at one of the bouys on the 2nd Lap . ( Thanks mate )

So my first season at attempting Triathlon was over so it was back to the pool to practice over the winter months in readiness for Majorca. I also thought it would be a good move to get a swim coach & I found one with a great reputation. But my bad technique and possible inability to listen resulted in my new coach “binning me off “ so with confidence at an all time low was back in the Pods trying to fall in love with swimming again. Pete Connelly was always at hand at the Pods to offer kind words of encouragement and advice as I tried to increase my distance through them winter months. May 2016 was fast approaching and it was too cold to open water swim in the UK. I really wanted at least one open water swim before Majorca and persuaded Steve Hall to give it a go at Hatfield one Saturday morning late April. The water temp was 10 degrees & we both managed a lap before we started to lose feeling in our hands & feet!

Majorca 70.3 – : May 2016

Myself , my wife Andrea & daughter Hannah  flew out to Majorca with the intention of competing in my first 70.3 Ironman event in the sunny climate of Majorca. Kev Wilson and Phil Woolgar flew out a few days later with their wives and surprise guests Julian & Cheryl Moorhouse / Ruth Wilson to offer us all support. I remember waking up the morning of the race at 4.45am & getting ready for breakfast when Kev Wilson phoned up asking if I had been out side . I asked why & he said its throwing it down outside where I replied it will soon pass we are in Majorca after all. He said Golly its going to rain all day , I was horrified. I hadn’t envisaged rain in Majorca to that extent so had no wet gear with me. The hotel was roughly 2 miles away from the start so we got a taxi down to the front and it was certainly grim , dark and with the rain lashing down. We quickly put on the wetsuits and made our way down to the sea front . We were allowed a practice swim in a designated area but once we got out the water the cold really hit you . We were shivering waiting in your predicted swim time pen. Myself & Kev entered the water together and  the race was on .

The sea was really choppy & we swam straight out of Alcudia bay in the lashing rain and got into a nice tempo with little congestion. Then at about the 800m point the relay swimmers ( fastest swimmers in the field setting off last ) came over the top of us as we swam into a cloud of jellyfish. I was shocked as I was stung on my neck and wrists but it certainly made the swim faster on the return. I was so happy to complete the swim and again breathed a huge sigh of relief as I exited the water to cheers and shouts of encouragement from the crowds of supporters who had braved the extreme weather to support the 70.3 Ironman competitors.

The bike course up to Luc in the driving rain was a tester but the descent from the petrol station was hazardous to say the least. The mountain was littered with cyclists falling off / missing bends going off into trees / bushes / sliding down the roads as that descent is so technical with sharp hairpins especially in the wet. I was so pleased to finish the bike & get onto the run. So my first 70.3 Half Ironman completed , would I do another ?

After much soul searching I decided to enter another half Ironman distance the Sundowner and that brought my 2016 season to a finish. The highlight of that race was running with Dave Hinch & Jon Callen as we all encouraged each other to the finish only to gutted to find out Jon still had another lap to do as he started in the elite group.

2017 – Lee Thompson also suggested to a small group of us to attempt the January swim challenge ( a mile a day throughout the month called the 28x day challenge ) Motivating yourself to get to the pool every day was tough especially as I was working a 21x shift pattern . Your time and distance had to be posted on the Group Facebook page to prove your session was complete. It was great to see most of us who started the challenge finished it including Leigh Peat / Sue Couch.

I decided to go on Steve Clarks / Dean Kirkhams Majorca Triathlon training camp . We were on the second week that for some reason didn’t have many guys on it especially after the first week had been fully booked. That week was fantastic as we trained with some great guys who finally convinced that Ironman was the way to go. We did the crucifix ride on the Wednesday where Paul Wilson was my wing man both in 2017 & again in 2018 as he dragged me up Sa Calabra & Soller never leaving my side. Paul is a strong cyclist from Yorkshire and I cannot thank him enough for all the help he gave through both training camps in 2017 & 2018. The guys on the 2017 camp were an awesome team with Richard the big Swede giving lots of advice as well as chastising about me always parading about without a top on !! . Pete Tindall my room mate for both camps 2017 & 2018 who smashed Barcelona in 11hrs 15 mins later in 2017 also gave lots of advice on Ironman training . Rick Powell who recently competed in the 6x Ironman events most recently Lanzarote. Richard Enness a well established Lincsquad Ironman. Dave Finch a really strong cyclist from Yorkshire who as progressed to Quadrathlon

The advice from some of the Ironman coming out of the 2017 Majorca training camp was that the bike leg was the key to doing a successful Ironman .You had to feel fresh getting off the bike in order to run the marathon . Break it up and run between the aid stations but walk them taking on what fuel was on offer .

The 2017 season was full of races as I had decided 2018 was going to be my Ironman year .

I raced mainly Olympic distance qualifying for the world championships in the Gold coast @ Leeds world series triathlon finishing 4th in my age group. A further three half ironman distances Grafham / Leger & Vitruvian also completed .Feeling good & injury free the next step was think about 2018 events.

So know was the time to enter the 2018 Bolton UK Ironman.

I decided I was going to really focus on the bike training throughout the winter but train on an old winter hack to make things interesting. I bought an old 8x speed Carrera TDF of facebook for £70 to train through the winter to prepare for the 2018 Ironman year. Riding this bike was certainly different to my Cervelo & Orbea , but I preserved throughout the winter also riding it in the 50x mile winter sportif from Brigg. Completed the January swim challenge where I swam at least 1x mile a day throughout the month as I had done the previous year.

I booked on Steve Clarks / Dean Kirkhams Triathlon trg camp in April 2018 and arrived better prepared then the previous year and had a ball with the guys on that camp .The banter was fierce and the crack was fantastic . I celebrated my 56th birthday on that camp & the guys really made it a special day . I would recommend anyone thinking of doing an 70.3 / Ironman to go on one of these training camps as you learn so much and have guys around to really push & test you. Special mention to my room mates Pete T , Gary “bum coach” H & the Big Swede Richard who by this time was starting to accept that this 56 years old Codger was going to let it all hang out no matter what & with no shame .

When back in the Uk I did the Lagans charity sportif around the Bolton course as well as some naughty hills in the area doing 65x miles with nearly 6000ft of climbing. Then back to Clumber for the rearranged Standard distance duathlon , where I bettered  my previous PB by 6x mins in a time of 2hrs 18x mins. Then was back to Spain ( Calpe ) for another weeks training on the hills & especially around the bars of Calpe . That week with the guys is so special & really appreciate being invited to ride with this awesome group of athletes who like to train hard but also play hard too. I landed into East midlands Airport on the Friday afternoon only to be packing again on Royal wedding day to travel to Grafham for the half ironman on May 20th. Grafham went really well & things couldn’t have been better until late on the run I sensed my right knee was starting hurt. I completed the Grafham half Ironman in 5hrs 16 mins so was really chuffed how everything had gone apart from my right knee know starting to swell .

I had a quiet week as the 200x mile “Yorkshire Beast” with over 20000ft of climbing was my next event held on the Bank holiday Sunday 27th May. I had entered the “Yorkshire Beast” to find out what it was like to compete for potentially 17 hrs & also to ride 200 miles as my longest ride to date was 115 miles. The Yorkshire Beast certainly lived up to its name & am sure a few of you have read Darren Hepworths report on the event. It was one tough ride where climbs of up to 33% on rough pothole strewn gravel roads had to be conquered. You had to average at least 12.5 miles / hour including the 5 food stops to keep in front of the Beast or else you was out of the game.

I was please to ride the course in 14x hrs 11x mins but my right knee was in crisis and I struggled to walk to my car and drive home.

I rested for 2 weeks when really I should have been hitting the running part of my training for Bolton Uk Ironman. News of my injury was getting to a few friends who suggested I go see Victor in Gainsborough Riverside surgery. He scanned my right knee to diagnose inflamed tendonitis and suggested I should be considering my long term health and pull out of Bolton Uk Ironman. The only diagnosis was rest , but pulling out of Bolton was not on my radar. Things got worse as decided to do my first bike session since the Yorkshire beast on Fathers day morning. I hit a wet patch on the road just outside Bawtry and fell off bouncing down the road over 20 mph. As I hit the road I thought “what am I doing to myself & my Ironman dream was certainly in the balance. It hurt but luckily nothing was broken & I was able to limp home cut & grazed with my ego well dented.

With Bolton only 4x weeks away , things were not looking good.

I had entered the Leger Half Ironman supposed to be my last event before Bolton before taper a week later , was I in any state to compete. My knee was not improving and I was still cut & bruised from my fall . I turned up to compete in the Leger to see if it was possible to get round the course as Bolton was only 3x weeks away. Big mistake as I pulled out of the run at 5 miles after advice from the St Johns Ambulance team , who were not happy on my sad limpy deteriorating running style.

With 3x weeks to Bolton , could I possibly still fulfil my Ironman dream ?

To be continued…..