Yesterday was not only Friday, March 11, but also day 6 of the #8in8in8 challenge, which my coach, Craig Percival, has embarked on and which sees him complete 8 Ironman distance triathlons (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run each time) in 8 days in all 8 states and territories of Australia.
Anyone who knows about triathlons, the size of the Australian continent or the weather conditions we’re currently having here (e.g. 37 days in a row with temperatures above 26 degrees here in Sydney), will realise that this challenge should actually not even be physically or logistically possible for a person to achieve. But then again, Craig isn’t just a normal human being…
Let me explain…
I was first introduced to Craig by a colleague who is coached by him and while I hadn’t met Craig in person until yesterday (he’s based in Melbourne), I have been training under his guidance since August 2015. He gave me a well-designed program to suit my needs and goals, and delivered the best pre-race pep talks I could have asked for. He is obviously very experienced and successful and helps his athletes develop a very focused and level-headed approach to their training which will keep them on a successful path for the long term.
Despite a busy work schedule, nagging injuries and a reasonable level of self-doubt, Craig has helped me to achieve a first place in my first duathlon (run, bike, run), a 5th place in a very strong field of competitors in a sprint triathlon and a second place (and my first proper medal) in a popular local sprint triathlon, which is my proudest race achievement to date.
Despite his successes as an ultra endurance athlete and coach, Craig is the most humble, down to earth and generous person I know and spending the day with him yesterday out on the course just cemented this for me.
The 8in8in8 challenge, which raises funds in support of John Maclean’s foundation to supply wheelchairs for children with disability, started on March 7 in Darwin, followed by Perth, Adelaide, Hobart and Canberra before arriving in Sydney for a day of physical, mental and emotional challenges.
When Craig arrived at Caringbah Leisure Centre for his swim at 6am yesterday he looked like a man who had his spirits broken. That’s the only way I can describe it and it was very sobering. I expected him to be worn out, tired and aching after 5 days of gruelling hot conditions and lack of sleep. But to see it for myself was another matter altogether. His support crew did an excellent job of getting things setup and ready for the day, while a boost was delivered by the arrival of John Maclean himself, world champion triathlete Craig ‘Crowie’ Alexander and cricket legend Steve Waugh.
Craig, Crowie and myself jumped in the pool for the swim at 6.30am and the day really kicked off. My plan was to swim with Craig until he was at about the 3km mark and then get myself ready for the bike leg. This saw me completing a 2.6km swim in 56min with a day of cycling ahead of us.
After a massage and some photos, everyone was ready for the ride. The support crew took off to set up the cars by the side of the road with nutrition, drinks, etc. while Craig, myself and a local triathlete started the bike leg. We were joined by John and another local cyclist and went on our first of many laps around Kurnell.
My plan for the bike course was to stick with the group as much as I could and rejoin them on the next lap in case I got dropped. Well, I am proud to report that I didn’t get dropped and managed to ride for 162.5km. I skipped one lap to pick up my car from the pool, restock my nutrition supplies and have a can of coke. My first coke in 8 years. I had no actual desire to drink it, but the support crew handed it to me and it was gold! And it made all the difference for the rest of the afternoon…
Crowie joined us for 2 laps at just the right time and was able to keep Craig’s spirits high, while setting a tough pace for all of us. Being able to ride behind these two outstanding athletes was like a tutorial in cycling technique. Really cool to watch and learn!
Craig, Crowie, Rod and myself riding laps at Kurnell
We kept riding and eating and drinking and riding more. Steve Waugh joined us for the last 2 laps as did John Maclean.
Finally, late in the afternoon, we were done and had arrived at Wanda Beach in Cronulla for Craig to finish the bike leg of the day and transition to the run. Earlier in the day the decision was made for Craig to walk the marathon instead of running it. A number of people from the Cronulla Tri Club joined Craig and the group set out to start the last challenge of the day – walking for 42.2km.
I took a break to put myself back together. Never having cycled more than 100km, especially not after swimming for an hour, had taken a toll on my body and left me exhausted, dirty, sweaty and rather hungry. The kind people at FitnessFirst let me use their shower and 15min later I felt human again. I ate my way through a big bowl of potatoes with cucumber, chickpeas and salsa which really hit the spot and satisfied my salt cravings as well. Nutrition wise I had gone through the day eating a lot of fresh dates, energy balls and watermelon and drinking plenty of coconut water, plain water and that all-important can of coke. Being vegan means that these kind of events require special planning. I can’t just rock up and eat whatever is available :-). But that’s fine and I am pleased that my nutrition strategy paid off, eating small amounts of energy dense foods in frequent intervals (every lap, basically).
Having said that, I have never eaten this much in a single day. And I still managed to come out 1,600 calories short of what I should have consumed, after burning 4,500 calories throughout the day…
I joined the marathon during their second lap, feeling refreshed and somewhat rested and Craig, as tired and exhausted, worn out and sleep deprived as he was, started to perk up again as more and more people gathered in his support. Adults, kids, triathletes, runners, locals and visitors – many made the trip and walked with him. The breaks kept getting shorter and shorter and as the hours passed by, he kept getting closer to the finish line.
Due to my running injuries I needed to take frequent breaks but rejoined the group for the last 3 laps. By that stage the banter had gotten rather comical at times as most people by now were beyond the ‘tired’ stage. Craig was still happy to chat to those walking with him and we did our best to keep him fed and hydrated.
During the final lap we started to actually run and added short run intervals. This being at around 1.30am on a Saturday morning, we came across the colourful crowd of Cronulla’s night revellers who looked on with slight confusion (and not so slight intoxication), as we trotted along the esplanade.
John had returned to join us for the last stretch of the run and somehow at 2am on Saturday morning, Craig got it done and completed his 6th consecutive ironman distance triathlon in 6 days. An incredible achievement.
Crossing that finish line behind Craig and John, two immensely inspirational guys, was a highlight for many of us. And just after 2.30pm everything was packed up and we headed off.
After unloading my rental car and returning it to its location, I crawled into bed at 3.50am, exactly 24 hours after the day started for me.
Friday, March 11 was by far the most physically challenging of my life as I completed 70% of a full ironman despite being a short-distance triathlete.
But this pales in comparison to what Craig achieved that day. He pushed through all the physical, mental and emotional challenges to get it done and in the process not just inspired countless people around the country who have been following his story, but also raised much needed funds for children living with disability, to give them a chance to live life to the fullest and reach their true potential.
Craig, I take my hat off to you, it has been a great honour!
Dear readers: if you would like to get behind this great cause and help Craig achieve his target of raising $80,000 for the John Maclean Foundation, please make a donation here:
Every Dollar counts! Thank you 🙂