A little over a week ago saw my return for my third attempt at the formidable Ironman UK 70.3 at Wimbleball Lake, Exmoor. Before that story unfolds, I realise that there is a need to fill in a little gap from where we left off together at the end of Forging the Dream, to now, over a year later.
When I look back over the past year, continuing to work towards becoming a semi-pro 70.3 triathlete, one of the things that stands out most is how other people help you when you are most in need.
I think at certain points in our lives, we all face decisions that will really test us. They force us to step outside our comfort zone, to let go of something, or to take on something, with only a sense of a ravine of uncertainty beyond. It is perhaps also at these times that our lives are somewhat at the mercy of others, and when we can be humbled by a generous offer of support, or a helping hand extended from an unexpected place. I had reached one of those times.
After failing to qualify for the 70.3 World Championships at Wimbleball in 2011, every ounce of me was focused on trying again in 2012. I was demanding more of myself in my training and lifestyle. I was continuing to work with my coach James Stewart , who was providing structure and balance to my previously green approach. I had nine structured sessions per week. The Drummond Clinic had offered continue their support through their young athlete performance programme, providing all of their services and expertise at no cost. No one had ever done things like these for me before.
An awareness began to grow inside me that I was facing a decision. My life on the farm was physically demanding, and increasingly began to clash with training time. I knew I had to do it; to turn part-time as a semi-pro triathlete. I had to say farewell to my dogs and horse, who found new, caring homes. I had little savings, so my new abode became a spare mattress on a floor in Brixton. Now, depending on your frame of mind, this living space could either be seen as a trendy, funky live-work space, or an up-market squat. Either way, it provided a low-cost way to live and train. Some might say it was a rash decision, given I still had a long way to go in my athletic career, but my time was now much freer to focus on getting closer to my dream. I needed some income to feed myself, and still had my beloved motorbike, so I tried my hand at being a part-time motorcycle courier.
The dirty exhaust fumes filled my lungs. I was sweating, the traffic congested. I had invested my last bit of money into a GPS, but still got completely lost in the maze of London streets. Then my motorbike broke down, nowhere to go. This was not going to plan, and my first day in the job was the only day. I hit a very low point that night. Exhausted, hungry, questioning what I was doing. It’s as if I was being asked just how determined I was to make it. How much was I willing to endure and sacrifice?
I was down to a few pounds a day for food. My athlete nutrition had quickly reduced to bare essentials, cooked on a two-hob camping stove (the ‘trendy live-work space’ kitchen). My morale was tested, and everything seemed more emotionally raw. But it’s at these times that it seems we are made to focus on what it is that motivates us to be an athlete. What is it that carries you through? Who is that ‘person within’, as my coach describes it? That mindset that breaks you through a challenge in life, a motivation barrier in training, or a pain barrier in competition? For me, it’s helping others who are in need. It lifts me when I start wallowing in my own woes, and in that instant, it did.
Aside from training, a job was top of the agenda, but day after day, CV’s went without response. The hob cooker had broken. I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. There was no money left. I now faced the prospect of going without food. Did I have the determination to continue? I was beginning to see that the journey to find the person within is not just about learning what motivates you as an athlete, but also about whether you can sacrifice everything for what that thing is, and to really dig deep to know whether you are being true to yourself. When you resolve not to lose heart and focus, things always do seem to turn around, like sunlight breaking through dispersing storm clouds.
A letter arrived from my Grandma that day with some pocket money. I could eat. The next day, my friend learned of my predicament, and offered to buy another hob cooker. Her fiance donated a spare bike, so that I could travel to a job interview across town. I got the job, and could begin to pick myself back up.
A few months later, I went to the Triathlon Show to launch the trailer for Forging the Dream, and met a good friend and fellow triathlete Ryan Flinn there. When he saw my running trainers, which were starting to show a few signs (and smells) of the two years of training and competing they had been put through, his only response was to sponsor me a new pair. This was completely unexpected. A couple of weeks later, out-of-the-blue, a new Polar RCX5 heart-rate monitor arrived in the post from my coach. I was very overwhelmed, with that choke in the throat. I had been taken on an emotional roller coaster, from the feeling of having nothing, to being surrounding by support and generosity. One final gesture from my brother, who sponsored me a race entry into Ironman UK 70.3, and the stage was set for the beginning of a new race season in 2012, and with it, a step closer to becoming semi-professional.
Triathlon was becoming more life-changing than I had ever imagined.
PART 2 follows on FRIDAY 29th June. You can continue to follow Marc’s journey here at at Triathlete Europe, or www.forgingthedream.com. Join the Forging the Dream Facebook page and share your stories of what motivates you to be a triathlete.