Epic journey for Alan
HOW does a swim from Ipswich to Hintlesham, followed by a run to Ramsgate and then a cycle ride to Looe in Cornwall sound?
If that is your idea of fun then read on.
Alan Macpherson, 37, likes a challenge, but to complete the equivalent of the above in just over 26 hours, over three days, takes some beating.
Alan swam 10K, cycled 262 miles and ran just over 52 miles in the 2011 Ultraman UK. While such a feat is likely to bring the most avid fitness fanatic out in a cold sweat, Macpherson did all this battling chronic disease, Crohn’s.
The Scot from Great Whelnetham took on the invite-only challenge in the Welsh mountains, that has been completed less times than the climb of Mount Everest, and finished 11th, giving him the Scottish record.
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“I crossed the finish line and all I could do was think about whether I had done enough to qualify for the Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii in 2012!” said Macpherson, a married dad of two, originally from the Scottish Highlands, who was formerly in the RAF.
“I’ve reached the time, but now I await an invite. When I look back on what I have achieved so far, it is some journey and I am not going to let it stop yet. I was diagnosed with Crohn’s in 2004 although the problems began in 2002 and I had to stop running a year later.
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“When I came out of hospital, and there was a chance that I might not have survived, I bought a bike and my first ride was 80 miles. Then within eight weeks I was back doing marathons.”
Being super-fit physically is tough enough but to be able to come through the mental side of the task is something else.
“The first day you have to complete a 10km swim in Lake Bala with a six-hour cut-off point, followed by a 90-mile bike ride and you have to complete the first day in under 12 hours,” said Macpherson.
“You start swimming in the middle of the night, in the pitch black, and all you can hear is the waves crashing against the rocks, which makes your heart sink a little,
“Swimming is my weakest discipline but I had trained there so I knew where my marker was and I finished in three hours, three minutes, doing front crawl.”
When Macpherson got out of the water he had no trouble finding his bike as out of the 29 competitors in the race, 24 had already set off!
“A lot of people in triathlons have a 15-30 second transitional period but I took 15 minutes between leaving the water and getting on my bike,” he said.
“My crew, (including his partner Dawn and coach, Simon Bourne) did everything for me including getting me out of my wetsuit and into clean, dry clothes and I had someone spoon feed me rolls and drinks. It was like a Formula One pit-stop.”
Macpherson ended day one in 14th position.
“I was buzzing with all the caffeine inside me and facing the biggest day of sport in my life,” he said.
“On day two, the plan was to finish within the required 12 hours but that went out of the window at the bottom of the first big hill when I came across people starting too slow. I found I was pushing myself to the limit. My plan was destroyed in record time.
“I encountered a puncture during day two and my seat came loose but with the right stops to refuel with my crew, I got through it and after the initial 20 miles, I only saw one other rider, Welshman Shaun O’Keefe. I finished seventh in the cycling.”
The cycling was completed in five hours 20 minutes but came with its own problems. Aside from the problems with his bike, Macpherson had to overcome the sheer mental torture that gripped him.
“It was absolute agony at one stage and I hit the ‘riding through treacle stage’ where it felt like I had two punctures and was pedalling a tractor,” he recalled.
Macpherson finished day two in a good time but only moved up two places, ahead of a double marathon around Mount Snowdon.
“I was delighted. It proved to me that the competition that I was up against was immense but I deserved my invite,” he said.
“The running experience was brutal and we ran in the most horrific wind and rain, people laugh but it was a real Rocky Balboa moment and would not have looked out of place in one of the films. I finished the two marathons in eight hours, 55 minutes.
“The Ultraman in Hawaii will include swimming in sea water and running in lava fields and I really want to do it.
“Believe it or not, there is also the Deccaman race which involves completing 10 Ironman (2.4km swim, 112 mile bike ride and a full marathon) races in 10 days.
“My missus says I am not doing it, but you can never say never!” he laughed