This is my summary of 2022’s adventures . It is long and rambling but I hope years from now I can look back and remember the memories, enjoying the good and laughing at the bad. Some of it still too raw.
My first urge to do a triathlon was in 2017. Standing at the start line at Timanfaya Park, Lanzarote, on the start line to attempt Haria Extreme Ultramarathon. There was a female in front of me (I am sure this will draw some jokes/comments) who had a red tattoo on her calf. This was the first time I had ever seen it. After a few attempts I found someone who had enough English to explain was it was. Ironman. What? Triathlon. Hardest thing to do. I could not swim, had never ridden a bike, and fast forward to 2022 and this was my year.
2022 was already lining up to be a busy year. I had got a slot via the Norseman Ballot in 2019, but with Covid it rolled over so 2022 it was. Add to that my “luck” at getting into Swissman via the ballot and supporter duties for Nial at Celtman 2022, I would do well to not end up single and broke after all this. Then St George became a possibility, and add to that a slot at Greek Hero, an Xtri prospect race, I knew it was a push.
I spoke with Alan Cardwell, who agreed it was doable, but it required balance, focus and discipline (ie listening to him and no-one else). So May was St George, Utah, June support at Celtman before the next week heading to Ascona for Swissman, then Norseman in August, my first sprint two weeks later, and then October Greek Hero, in Corfu, from where I type this.
Okay – I wasn’t at the very pointy end of my AG when I qualified at IM Mallorca in October 2021, but I turned 40 in 2022, so thought this would be something I would regret saying no to when slots rolled down and I got the email. The cost was absurd. But I was blinded by the attraction of this.
Logistically getting me and my TT bike there from the shitty transport hub that is Belfast, was a mess. I had decided to pay a bit more and travel the whole way on connecting flights with one airline. I was supposed to arrive in Vegas on the Wednesday night with the event on that Saturday. The Belfast to London flight was initially cancelled, so this resulted in a nine hour stop over in London, not ideal, but okay. The two hour delay to the Vegas flight was not welcome. And take note, if you are not going to ‘Vegas,’ do not fly to Vegas. This was supposed to be the least stressful way to get to St George, Utah. Bollocks. It was a flying nightclub. The two hour delay out only served to increase the alcohol consumption levels of many on the flight. I was shoved in between various stag and hen parties. I know in hindsight I should have foreseen going on a flight to Sin City at that time, would have been rowdy, but this was mad. Finally when landed, no sleep or food (the reputable airline’s approach to dealing with rowdy people was just ignore the entire section, me included – don’t blame them I would have done the same), there was a two hour security queue. I was grouped with a very drunk stag do, which I was mistaken for being a part of.
It was only after I spoke to a Trooper, and explained I had to drive to St George, that he bounced me through, two hours later. Finally, on the road again. One final snag. Hire car – the company was based via a shuttle bus from Las Vegas Airport. This took an hour. When I got there, there was a queue of about 20 people ahead of me. I arrived in time for breakfast on the Thursday. No sleep, no food, and no effin idea what time it was. On the Thursday, after around two hours sleep, registering and practice swim, I set about putting the bike together. Bike damaged, repair required. Details don’t really matter, but another punch in the face. Fair to say, not the perfect preparation for this one. So, the event. The buzz from seeing the pros, even with some big names dropping out, is hard to describe. That aside, about three hours in, I knew this was not going to be for me. Desert heat. If you haven’t experienced it, don’t. How I managed sub six hours on the bike is beyond me, but that run, people collapsing, stopping, vomiting etc, was brutal.
All I could think, which wasn’t a great deal, was I have never experienced anything like this type of heat/humidity, and why am I here. I had to dig deep, more mentally than physically to finish it. My nutrition plan, went to hell. Despite it being so warm, with the lack of humidity, I actually didn’t realise I was sweating or needed to drink. That sounds ridiculous, but true. Afterwards, I lay two hours in the recovery area with a nice IM volunteer from Texas continually checking on me when all I wanted to do was sleep. The organisation and show that came with this event was hard to believe. A different level. But I suffered for a while after, and even with sun cream on, pretty sure I suffered categorised burns. I will never take piss out of anyone who complains about sunburn again.
Heading home, again on delayed flight, things weren’t done yet. Landed in Belfast the Tuesday night, after travelling from the Monday morning, waited over an hour for bags, and then text message and email – your baggage has been delayed. It is in London and will be delivered to you later tonight. To cut a very long story short, even as I type this the airline still says they are searching for my baggage (namely my TT bike). Despite telling them, which was a challenge to speak to a human, that I had randomly called into the airport a few days later and found my bike, I had to use email etc to communicate. I am still trying to sort the further damage suffered on the return flight. All in all, St George was a bust.
Nial had supported me in 2021 when in perfect weather (for Celtman at least), we got up the mountain and got blue, and with him getting a slot in 2022, I was his support. My first go at this. And it was more stressful than I could imagine. I seen things from a whole different perspective. Despite thinking I would have plenty of time to eat, and drink coffee and cheer people on, read a bit, listen to some music, enjoy it from this side as opposed to competing, those thoughts were quickly dispelled. The only ‘calm’ moment was in the morning when the competitors set off on the bus to start. That is it. The rest was a blur, and it flew by. You could almost predict it was going to rain. It was biblical. And we were camping, in a field, or more appropriately, a swamp. Nial knocked it out of the park and got a blue, but due to the poor weather, the mountain was closed (the second time this has happened him).
Add in the fact that Nial’s vehicle was marooned in mud in T2 , this resulted in an additional 90 minutes post race and recovery to travel to the field, get towed out of the field, and get back to the campsite. Long, but successful day. To anyone who started that event, you have my respect. It was simply brutal.
Despite the weather, I cannot recommend this race enough. Just be prepared to deal with four seasons, jellyfish, strong winds, bumpy roads, and those b%$£d campervans/RVs. Just ask
Stuart McInnes about the chaos caused by them in the official parking for T2 which in a sentence, resulted in nearly every vehicle having to be towed out by one tractor, and support teams either running or car sharing to get to T2A.
This race scared the shit out of me. It still does. The elevation is insane. The course is insane. It is insane. I cannot remember the exact line, but it is something like from the palm trees of Ascona to the eternal ice of the Jungfrau. The views, and scenery were jaw dropping. To me, hands down this is the most beautiful country I have visited. I want to live here. My wife, Nikki, was my support for this one, having supported me with Nial in Celtman 2021. Solo support was not recommended, but I was sure she would be okay. What would follow, proved me right, despite everything going wrong that possibly could go wrong.
It all started so good. There was a direct flight from Dublin to Zurich. Not ideal, as Dublin a two hour drive from base, and Zurich a few hours from Ascona, but after America, better flying direct, less can go wrong etc etc. I should have known better. No delays out, and got off the plane feeling as strong as ever felt. Sitting at 70kg, I felt ready to at least attempt the Alps on my road bike. Zurich airport was like an upmarket American mall. Waiting for my bike, it went bad. The airport baggage area was crazy, unlike the rest of the airport. My bike bag, containing my bike, pedals, power meter, 90% of my nutrition, and swim gear, never arrived. I was informed it was still in Dublin. Great. With two flights per day between Zurich and Dublin, and this being the Wednesday with the race on Saturday, surely there was no issue. After queueing for an hour to log the delayed luggage, I was assured it would be sent to me in Ascona, and given a number to call. We set off from Zurich in the large, but empty hire car, in thunderstorms, and the beauty of the country was
I had planned to relax and prep the Thursday and Friday. As indicated above, this race scared me. Where I live, it is simply impossible to replicate the climbs. It was going to hurt and I needed to be ready. But when Thursday and Friday passed with over 100 francs spent on telephone calls (of course Switzerland is not part of the EU for calls ), I simply didn’t have the gear to race. I contacted a few people on Facebook, but it was really Alan who came to the rescue. He knew one of the organisers who knew a guy who knew a guy – you get the picture. After registration on Friday, I met the other guy, and a bike was produced, with pedals and a garmin mount. However, the other guy was about 6ft3’ and I am 5ft8’ so first problem. Nikki and I had spent the last two days trying to find wetsuits, nutrition, and everything else that was still missing. Even finding lube for swimming was a problem, and it took two days to find Vaseline. I ended up with Winforce nutrition, which I think is a Swiss brand, but I had trained on my trusted brand and was worried. By the Friday night, trying to sleep, I had all the gear required to line up, and genuinely did not think it was possible I would finish.
The swim location is a movie scene. It was stunning. Out of the water around 1h10m, which for me in a borrowed suit and other gear, I was delighted with. I jumped onto the bike, the second time I had planted my arse on it (the first being to check on the Saturday morning at 4am that my pedals were compatible with my shoes). About 28 minutes into the bike, I was in trouble. I remember looking at the time and distance, and feeling the pain in my body from cycling a bike way too big for me. There were a lot of dark moments, and despite thinking I was strong mentally, I know this race showed up a lot of weaknesses which I will try and address going forward. This hurt. A lot. I have never been as happy getting my bleeding ass and undercarriage off a bike in my life. It was around eight hours of hell. I did enjoy the first descent after going up the Gotthard Pass, but it was proper quick descents, with various switchbacks, and this was the first I had ridden this bike, the make of which I have never heard, and even though I did gain in confidence, it was the realisation that once you do the Gotthard, you have Furka and Grimsel Pass to do after.
In T2 Nikki was quickly given the bike as I ran to a portaloo to do a complete change and clean up the blood. Nikki had navigated what is in my opinion, the hardest Xtri I have done to date to support. The road book for supporters and the routes they had to take was over 30 pages. It was a challenge in itself, and given my state with all the issues with gear etc, I was in a dark and lonely place, and she didn’t get 1% of the thanks and gratitude she deserved. That was before she accompanied me going up that bloody mountain on the run. She is the reason I kept going. She seen me stripped back. This race can do that to you. It did it to me. The run finish was epic. I will not speak in any great detail about the run, other than given what dealing with, my left foot was numb coming off the bike as I had to cycle on my tip toes given size issues, and it took me 4km to be able to even half run. We got up it, and I can say of all the events I have done, I think this is and was the hardest.
It also had the best finisher ceremony and I often look at the pictures which despite the challenges, I feel immense pride in. The location and views are impossible to describe. They treat the athletes and supporters brilliantly, covering train costs up and down during the event, and for the finisher’s ceremony. The finisher and supporter T-shirts are also the most impressive I have seen to date. I think I have to try and get back to this event. Having done it though, it scares me more than before. This is a course that requires respect. It will chew you up and spit you out and is unforgiving and relentless.
In case you are wondering about the bike, well, we travelled home on a late flight on the Monday from Zurich to Dublin. The bike etc was flown in on the flight taking us home. No joke. Also, the airline made me pay to fly it home once I had retrieved it from the lost/delayed baggage area. 80 francs. I was so exhausted and pissed off, I simply couldn’t even argue about it. In addition, when the bike made it home, almost inevitably, it was damaged – the frame was cracked, and front derailleur broken. It made me determined that for my A race, I was not playing the bike baggage lottery again. An alternative plan was needed.
I was so worried about getting my gear there, I bit the bullet and paid a transport company to send it to a very nice Norwegian man called Tom, who had raced Norseman, and lived and worked along the bike course. The relief of knowing (and hearing) my bike with Tom the day before I got on a plane was huge. Tom might be one of the most modest people. I later learned he has podiumed at this race, and his insight even for ten minutes collecting the bike was invaluable. It was so long coming that this event felt like it was never going to happen. I thought it would be the pinnacle, the ultimate race. I was not wrong. Having Nial and Nikki with me was so important. They both know me, good and bad, positive and negative, and helped me survive some pretty epic weather. The logistics of this race were an eye opener. It is in the arsehole of nowhere. And it finishes pretty much in a lesser arsehole of nowhere. It was a long day out, and a long day travelling back.
Having Alan doing this race as well was great. Sounds stupid, but being able to share the experience, and speak to another person you know who is doing it the same time as you, I found helpful. From the practice swim to the pre-race briefing. Spoiler before the race summary, we both got Black. Objective achieved.
This was my first time to Norway. Given what it cost me, it may be my only time. Swissman was my first time to Switzerland, and I was warned it was expensive, but Norway a whole different level. Be warned. If you get into this one, be prepared. And that is before I needed to re-mortgage the house after the merc shop.
Straight to the race. The swim. The most iconic start in any triathlon in my humble opinion. It just didn’t feel real, at least until I hit the icy water after the ferry jump. If felt bloody real then. Treading water for ten minutes and it actually dawning on me this was about to begin, was quite emotional. Then it began. I think the water temperature was around 13/14 degrees. My swim was slow, but I didn’t care. I came out of the cold water smiling. And things were about to get interesting.
We knew the bike was going to be a little cold. Apparently, on the plateau after the first climb which I loved, with the wind chill it was -4 degrees. I was happy. As crazy as that sounds, it suited me. When it got warmer, my progress slowed, but the kilometres flew by, and I am getting excited by what about to type. The last 30km or so of that bike. YOU. HAVE. TO. DO. I am smiling typing. The course is not that technical, it is strap in and hold on. It was mad fast, and I got into T2 grinning. I have never felt like that on a bike. Ever. Coming from a running background when the only thing you rely on is yourself, I admit there is a huge relief coming off a bike, minus any mechanicals, and getting on your two feet. My plan, as drafted by Alan, was to run and manage the first 25km to Zombie Hill. And I did. I ran the whole part until then. The man made a plan, we executed the plan, and it all paid off. The 4/5am starts before work, the FTP tests, the interval bikes and runs, the Winter strength sessions, all of it. It was worth it, just for how I felt then and there. If you know, you know. Barring some major injury, the Black was in sight. I could ‘relax.’
My support met me and I struggled after Zombie. The last part was never-ending. It seemed so close. Finishing was a massive anti-climax. I suppose just looking forward and training for this event for so long, you just cross a line and that is it – like any race. I could not have done it without Nial and Nikki. Nor Alan.
The only criticism I have, and there is only one, is the chaos of coming down the mountain. No-one has written it that I can see, but a few from the event have talked about it. You can walk down the mountain, or take the funicular. No issue. My support and I waited two hours inside a very cramped tunnel. I, like many others, felt sick. One of my support was nearly physically sick waiting in those conditions, but still we did not try and make excuses or jump the queue. Others did. This is just my observation, but for a race that is perfect in every other respect, this needs to be addressed. I cannot help but compare it to Swissman, which was more efficient that you could imagine. This race will not be topped. End of. I hope I am wrong. I do not think I am. But I will keep searching. The Black T shirt is framed with all the other race numbers from 2022 events before the last below. Nikki also got me an additional Black T-Shirt as they had a few left over, so I can wear it with pride. To others it is just a T-Shirt. It means nothing. To me, it means more than I can ever describe. I couldn’t swim or ride a bike four years ago. If I can achieve this, others can. For now I just want to keep learning and improving. There is more there.
Honestly, post Norseman, my initial thought was I could have done without this one. But now I have done it, I am so glad I did. Plan was simple, fly in Thursday, meet support team for first time at registration Friday, and get this done Saturday. My usual support could not come here, so the organisers put me in contact with a supporter to make this possible. And thankfully, there were no issues with logistics.
If I ever complain about Irish/Scottish roads again. Punch me. I like the Greek Hero concept. This is our island. You will swim, bike and run around it. We will not spend money, or shine up our shitty roads etc for anyone. It is what it is. Stop complaining, and go. See you at the finish line.
For the 4 th event in a row, Stuart McInnes is present. He must think I am following him. I know no-one here, not even my support until the briefing. I walk in, with my Celtman Beanie, and there he is. What are the odds. There are so many people who you keep bumping into at these events. And they are good people, like Stuart. This is why Xtri will only continue to grow.
At the pre-race briefing, my main supporter, Fanny, then arrives. She knows everyone and lights up the room. I am in safe hands. She supported last year, and despite only meeting her, I am at ease, and know she will have my back. Panic over.
The swim is amazing. You have to do the event, just for the swim start, finish, and T1. The swim starts in the dark, with tow floats and glow sticks mandatory. It starts from Mon Repos Estate, where Prince Philip was born. It ends at a fortress, which when you are swimming up to it with the strong under-currents and winds, the magnitude of it hits you. You then run into the fortress into T1, and cycle out of the fortress. This is a transition zone like no other. The bike is raw. No sugar coating. It is rolling, impossible to get any rhythm on, hot, windy, and the roads are covered in stones. Not gravel, stones. There are holes everywhere. Some might consider it dangerous. Add in stray dogs, cats etc and small narrow roads through villages dodging buses, idiot drivers in rental cars, and waiters carrying trays of food and drink, you get an idea of what this is like.
Then, a technical hilly run (including across a nudist beach – no shit) finishing up at Angelokastro follows where a warm welcome awaits with a fire pit, good food, people and drink. The race went well. I was 2 nd after the swim, 3 rd after the bike (where I got drafted, for first time in any event, for around 7km – no complaint lodged, I just ignore these people who do this, they know who they are), and began the run in good shape. All was going so well, as I got within three minutes of the top two, then took a wrong turn, for 3km, had to double back, and sort my head out. I ran 45.53km in total.
My own fault, no-one else’s. But my support put my head right, and my support and then with the mandatory support runner Dimitris, who was a brilliant runner, got me back up to fourth. Based on what had went before this year, having that knowledge and being able to draw on those events, I felt I had my best swim and run of the year at this event. I was just disappointed feeling I let my support team down as they deserved more and had given me every chance to do better than I ultimately did. I hopefully have made life-long friends, and learned even more from my error than if I had not made it.
Triathlons done and dusted for 2022. Nothing booked yet for 2023. However, ballots soon for the big ones. No clue which ones will put name in hat for. Or where 2023 will take me. Thankfully not single, and relatively speaking, in one piece.
I am now the very proud owner of a Blue Celtman Finisher Shirt, a Red Swissman Finisher Shirt, and a Black Norseman Finisher Shirt. I also have one hell of a T-Shirt from Greek Hero, and an IM Worlds T-Shirt. In summary, 2022 taught me a few things, which you can probably guess. Firstly, you get what you pay for. No half measures. Get a proper coach. I couldn’t swim or bike four years ago, and I have so much to learn. The above would not have been possible without Alan and the guys at TriathlonWorkx. For the events this year, it required people with knowledge, not someone rehearsing what others say/do or what they learn from a google search. Deal with real humans, real people, and listen. Second, nothing in long-distance racing ever goes to plan. Add three disciplines into any long-distance race and the odds of having various clusterf***s increase rapidly. So the second lesson for me was take it in, adapt, and try your best to overcome. Third, you have to rely on and trust others. Again, without that trust, reliance on and help from people I have never met, and my support teams, the above would not have been possible. Despite all the shit we hear, there are good people in this world.
Written by: Dave Jones