I am not from Epworth. I’ve only visited the town three times (all involving a Khyber curry!) but I am very connected to the Isle and to charity TeamVerrico. I used to work for Paul and, when Anna got ill, I made a promise to her to do something that was harder than expected. When she was desperately raising money for treatment, I ran the Paris Marathon to help. Anna challenged me to push myself outside my comfort zone.
I was desperately sorry when she died and resolved to make good on my promise. I live in Shanghai now but last month I was back in the UK to make good my word, dressed in lycra. Here’s my story.
Over to the east the sun has begun to peep above the confluence of sea and sky. The sand is cold between the toes. 2,000 hardy souls stand in bright green swim caps on Tenby’s North beach. At 7am a horn sounds and Ironman Wales is under way.
The massed ranks of spectators see a lemming-like rush towards the water’s edge and, beyond that, the frothing sea churned by the wind milling of countless arms. And, in that thrashing mass, I fight for space, relax my breathing and try to slow my racing heart. A scene less reminiscent of the softly lit swimming pool in Shanghai where I trained is hard to imagine.
As the cold water begins to seep around my wet suit I think of two things. The buoy about half a mile to my left which marks my first turn and the promise I made to Anna (above). I run over a favourite Churchillian phrase: “All that is required for victory is perseverance. Never ever give up.” I shorten my stroke to militate against the choppy swell and, well, just get on with it.
A little over one hour and 20 minutes later I am running up the beach, through the crowds towards transition and the start of a 180km bike ride. My wonderful support team are there and I am in high spirits. I stamp on the pedals and tell my legs to shut up.
Then, towards the end of the first lap, a wonderful moment. The steep, narrow and windy road out of Saundersfoot is awash with spectators. The space left on the tarmac is only wide enough for the bikes to ascend in single file. There are flags everywhere, cow bells ring and there are messages chalked on the road. This is as close to riding the Tour de France as I will ever get.
Entering the transition area for a second time I consider the 42.2km run to come. And I doubt myself. Running has never been this difficult. The sun eventually dips and I run on in, gathering gloom for the last few miles. The course wends its way through the town and I approach the finish. Then, astoundingly all alone, down the magic carpet for the final few metres.
A man with a microphone declaims “Nicholas Cranfield, you are an Ironman!” And then it is over, a medal round my neck and a smile on my face. Promise honoured and job done. Thank you Anna.
When Paul sent me a picture (above) of Lucia wearing my medal, I knew my efforts were appreciated. £5,000 will go some small way to helping fund research into this invidious disease.
Support TeamVerrico. Let’s stand together to fight. Resolve to never, ever give up.
* by Nicholas Cranfield