Tony Watts has not been certified, but judging by his latest ultimate endurance adventure he should be. So should the 61 others who attempted the Enduroman in England last week.
Englishman Watts was featured in these pages in March for cycling 366 miles in a 24-hour event in Florida.
Crazy as that might sound, he surpassed himself last week being one of only 46 to complete an Enduroman event.
Ironman competitions were introduced to test the mettle of all super-fit and slightly demented athletes. Well Enduroman is exactly twice that length. So Watts must be, eh, twice as demented.
Off he trekked from Cayman’s tropical furnace to chilly Lichfield last week to swim 4.8 miles, cycle 224 miles and run 52 miles. (It’s supposed to be summertime in the UK but the weather gods are on strike.)
It was organised by a group who proudly boast of being in a unique club of only six who have completed the full Enduroman.
That triathlon starts with an 87 mile run from London’s Marble Arch to Dover on the Kent coast, then a cross-channel swim of at least 21 miles to the French coast before completing a 180 mile cycle to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
The current record holder is Eddie Ette who did it in an amazing 80 hours and 5 minutes. Well, it does help to kill time.
Although Watts swam in a pool and not open water, it was so cold, a wetsuit was obligatory.
‘The first of my 304 lengths of the 25 metre pool started at 09.30 on Saturday morning,’ he says.
‘The water had been kept colder than normal and wetsuits were allowed.
‘Pre-event worries about missing the three and a half hour cut off and not being able to start the bike section proved groundless.
‘In fact compared to my 3.5 hour training swims, the 2 hours 50 minutes in the pool was remarkably easy and I wasn’t even last out of the water!’
After changing into every piece of cycle clothing that he owned to ward off the cold, Watts ventured onto the first of the 16 out and back bike loops which are 14 miles long, at 12:30.
‘It was cold and wet and I wished I had spent an extra half hour in the pool which was relatively warm. This was real English rain; the sort you know is just going to carry on all day, just miserable.
‘Lap four was torrential, it was so cold I had to work really hard just to try and generate some body heat, it was my fastest lap.
‘Fortunately the rain stopped before dusk and by the time it was dark the wind had dried me out. If I had still been wet when the overnight cold set in then I think it would have finished me off.’
His plan was to save the legs and complete one lap and refuel every 55mins and get round in 15 hours. It didn’t happen.
The excuses are: the conditions and the hills and the lost time getting the bike patched up in the mechanics tent, plus the feeding which took longer than he imagined.
At each pit stop Watts, 45, had to leave the bike and walk to his food stash behind transition. The hills were bigger than they looked on the website course profile and as the night wore on they seemed to get steeper.
‘I couldn’t properly take advantage of the down hills as the bike had become unrideable at speed, wobbling and shaking enough to scare me into repeated braking.
‘During the night I ate a pound of oats, half the world’s supply of raisins, two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, four power bars, hideous amounts of energy drinks and a cheese burger with bacon.
‘I’m guessing roughly 5,000 calories and it still wasn’t enough. I think combating the cold used up a lot more energy than I’m used to and the body was craving calories of any sort. The cheese burger pretty much evaporated straight into the blood stream.
‘Riding at night is really pleasant, especially once the drunks have gone to bed. During the early hours there’s time to appreciate the quiet and enjoy the tranquil English countryside.
‘There’s something very civilised about taking a comfort break in a hedge and listening to the sounds of nature at night.
‘It took the mind off the cold and what was still to come. It just kept getting colder and colder. When dawn finally arrived there were patches of mist and fog but there was a clear sky too and I knew it would warm up eventually. At 05:30 I got off the bike, changed shoes and started walking.’
He tried not to think about the double-marathon distance. The course started with an uphill tarmac footpath then 12 wooden steps up into a wood, a cross country downhill through the wood following the security tape and dodging all the Hi Vis paint sprayed roots and stumps. More uphill tarmac followed before downhill back to the start and the supporters and the refreshment table.
This time the plan was to speed walk the first two laps, giving the body time to forget the bike and then when there were 40 laps left it would only be four sets of 10 laps each – much more manageable!
In the first quarter he found it easy, speed walking the uphills and jogging downhill got him through in just under three hours.
He managed to do the next quarter in three hours too. All the months of Watts organising the Wednesday Night Running Club from the World Gym, were paying off.
‘The next quarter was hard. I could still jog downhill but the uphill was getting slower and slower.
‘Everything was sore, everything was screaming. The new target was to jog the softer cross country downhill and walk the rest as fast as possible; just keep it going until the last quarter.
‘The calorie count kept on rising. I’d already got through another pound of oats with obligatory raisins, more gallons of energy drinks, another peanut butter and jelly sarnies and yes two more cheese burgers.
‘But I knew my legs were gone and no amount of drinks, bars or gels would make them work again. My energy levels were good, I was well hydrated but when I tried to run the soreness in the legs scared me and it felt like one wrong foot placement and something would give way and go twang’
There just wasn’t enough muscle strength or enough training miles in his legs. He had done six long runs of over 20 miles the longest (26 miles) being six weeks earlier at the end of Couer d’Alene Ironman and the last (22 miles) being four weeks earlier.
‘I always knew it wasn’t enough, especially as I was always sore for days afterwards but it would just have to do.
‘I watched enviously as so many amazing athletes just kept on running all 52 miles, many in less than nine hours. It was just awesome.
‘I just plodded on. There was no speed walking, only plodding. It was like just walking until the body refused to move anymore.
‘Every now and then I’d lose concentration and get a spasm or a twinge or involuntarily the leg would give way just for a split second before somehow the other one compensated and stopped me keeling over.
‘In the first quarter my fastest loops had been less than 12 minutes the last two were just under half an hour and now I was going up the steps sideways.
‘I wonder how many more loops I could have walked before everything shut down. It felt like maybe only a couple but there’s always more than we imagine left in the tank so it was probably quite a few.
‘At the end, my original hope of a sub 30 hour finish was a distant memory and I was happy just to beat the 35 hour cut off and get the medal and the T-shirt.
‘I crossed the line just before 7.30pm on Sunday in a time of 33 hours and 50 minutes. I was 39th and for 10 seconds felt like a sprightly young rooster before reality returned and I was searching for the Zimmer frame.
‘It’s always good to bite off more than we can chew. I came frighteningly close to the edge and almost choked. But you know what? It was brilliant.’