Aspire’s Director of Fundraising and Marketing, Paul Parrish, was this week announced a finalist of the JustGiving Awards ‘Endurance Fundraiser of the Year.' He has raised over £28,000 for charity with a series of longer and longer triathlons culminating in a Triple Ironman in June last year.
Here, he writes about the gruelling but incredibly rewarding experience. It’s an inspirational read for anyone who’s ever thought of taking on an active fundraising challenge.
It’s 2.30am on the morning of June 8th: I’m lying in my tent listening to the howling gale that has been forecast to sweep across the South West tonight and for most of the morning. I have to be up in 2 hours time to prepare for the longest event of my life. It is also the longest continuous triathlon at competition level in the country. These things I know: I have to swim 7.2 miles. I have never swum further than 5 miles. I then have to cycle 336 miles. I have never cycled further than 232 miles. That was a year ago. Training for this event I never went beyond 130 miles – and that was on one single occasion. I then have to run 78 miles. The most I have run in a single sitting is 54 miles. So not only do I have to extend unimaginable distances by over a third I also have to put them together to complete this absurd event. Making me even more apprehensive is the storm outside. Cycling in gale force conditions is the most energy sapping of all. It is making me more nervous than any of the shortfall in distance.
That created as much fear as I have ever felt before any event – apart from my University finals which I had glaringly failed to prepare for and ended in disastrous ignominy .....
But trusting in some yet to be identified force at 6am on the morning of June 8th I launched myself into the waters of a lake in the New Forest and began to swim. For the duration of the swim I saw nothing under the water as it was murky. At times I realised I was swimming with my eyes closed for long periods. Only when I hit the marker buoys (twice) did I remember to open them. 39 laps and nearly four hours later someone told me it was time to get out and I made what I thought was a witty remark. “Oh no, already? I’ve just got into my rhythm.” That was as good as it got humour-wise for the next three days. I had swum a third the distance of a Channel crossing. So far so good.
I then climbed on my bike and began to cycle. It really gets a little hazy after this. I began to cycle at 11.00am on the morning of June 8th and I got off my bike at about 5pm on the evening of June 9th. I thought many things: I thought about life, about sandwiches, I even spent some time naming all the animals that I thought could be kept in a zoo without being upset by captivity. Most of them were quite small, apart from the birds. I thought about the people who had sponsored me to complete this challenge; how I knew them, what I would say to them if they were with me. I have always done that when I do ultra events. If they were to ask me I could still tell them what specific detail I thought and where I was when I thought it. There were a number of people that I thought about with a special love borne from care and concern. Two of the people I thought about are very poorly. Both of them texted me continually over the course of the event with concern and care for my well being. It ensured I would never stop, never get off the bike until I had pedalled each of the 336 miles. I do these things for these people – their attitude to life inspires me: they would inspire you.
I actually coped okay with this distance. It was the equivalent of cycling from London to Scotland. I should express that in some astonished hyperbolic fashion complete with exclamation marks. But maybe that simple sentence is enough. What more is there to say? The legs kept going round and I’d like to say I escaped unscathed......but oh, my bum! I have spent several hundred pounds having my bottom remodelled. The scaffolding will be coming down on Tuesday.
When I got off the bike I began to run. I ran 72 laps of a 1.01 mile course. It sounds terrible, doesn’t it – so repetitive, so boring. Yet it became very important for me to return to food and people. Just the chance to interact gave me a lift. More texts of encouragement began to come thick and fast. When I took time out to eat or drink, I would look at my messages. They alone were enough to keep me going. Some were funny, some made me emotional, but all kept me inspired. Human contact. One of the many simple things that I learnt were so important to me when under duress.
I also had an amazing group of people crewing for me. My family stood guard throughout Friday and all through Friday night. They supported me, cheered me up, told me I stank and were prepared to put together a rota through the night with my youngest son getting up at 6am so he could give me Bovril for breakfast (Hmmm, yum). They were relieved by four people who couldn’t do enough for me. This fabulous band: Rod, Matt, Ayesha and Dave bought me food, told me when to eat, bought me warm fresh clothes, changed my bike wheels when a mechanical failure nearly put paid to my attempt. The last point is interesting and is a good example of how fatigue makes me (and you, I suspect) react in a much more negative way: When my oh-so-fancy rear wheel buckled I arrived at the race centre distraught and in tears announcing to everyone that my race was over, that my whole life was a waste of time, that everyone hated me, fate was a bitch and my childhood had been blighted by my obsession with train-spotting. Rod calmly got my spare bike, swapped the wheel and had me up and running in twenty minutes. And finally, Andrew, my old school friend turned up to support and ended up running a half marathon. It was a long time since he’d seen me and he wanted to chat: I wasn’t going so fast by this point so what better way to have a few hours chat. Next time we should go to the pub…
Back to the run: Having run 71 laps of this tiny course I was finally made to run the last lap in the reverse direction (I could have said backwards, but that would have been a stupid image). Running in reverse direction was so disorientating having run in the opposite direction for the best part of 24 hours. I couldn’t even recognise the course. I kept getting confused, bumped into trees, drunkenly lurching towards the lake at times. And I felt so dog-tired. Suddenly waves of fatigue hit me and I just wanted it all to be over. Enough was enough. I was spent, and finally, finally after 59 hours I raised my arms to cross the finish line. I had become a Triple Ironman: A title so useless I will barely mention it again in day to day life. It will never help me get a job, it certainly won’t help me build relationships with people, and it will never be a sport that will get any recognition. But it means so much. It helped me raise a huge amount of money, and it has given me a sense of achievement that 12 years ago I would never have believed possible. The size of the challenge is commensurate with the size of the wedge it has driven between Paul now and Paul then.
Are you inspired? You don’t have to be a Triple Iron Man to be a hero in our books, why not take a look at some of our active fundraising challenges and create a story of your own…