Chris Graham - Ironman Wales 2019
Now the dust has settled on the 9th edition of Ironman Wales I want to tell you about Chris. Chris approached me in January of this year and asked about coaching towards Ironman Wales.
Chris had a solid endurance sport background having been a runner for a number of years, including two good-for-age entries into the London Marathon and a 75-mile ultra-marathon around the coast of the Lyn peninsula in North Wales.
All good so far.
From an Ironman perspective, the somewhat less positive aspects of Chris’ sporting background were that he had little cycling experience and could barely swim more than 25 metres front crawl.
When I started coaching Chris he was about 4 weeks into a 12-week learn-front-crawl swimming course run by Clare Thomas in conjunction with South Cheshire Triathletes. Bear in mind that, at that point, we were just over 7 months out from Ironman Wales. It was a tall order but Chris was completely undaunted by the challenge ahead of him. Actually, I think he found the challenge inspiring.
I was confident in Chris’ run strength and, between us, we came up with a plan on which to base the training for the next 7 months. There were two main focuses:
- Get Chris’ swim technique and fitness to the point where he could complete the 3.8km comfortably without depleting himself too much; and,
- Get his cycling endurance and strength to the point where he could complete the very(!) demanding Ironman Wales bike course while leaving enough in reserve to capitalise on his run strength in the marathon.
It wasn’t all plain sailing - an extended bout of flu took Chris out of the game for about 2 weeks and there was some time away due to work - but, all in all, the plan came together well. The hardest thing for me as a coach was to persuade Chris to hold back in his run sessions :-)
Chris worked incredibly hard on his swimming and cycling. His technique, strength and endurance in both disciplines improved hugely. At the same time he was able to maintain a lot of his previous run fitness.
We had a detailed chat a week or so before race day and formulated a plan. I have to say, from looking at his results on the day and messages we have exchanged since, he executed that plan superbly.
When we first got together Chris was a bit worried about the time cut-offs in the swim and bike because of his lack of experience in those disciplines. The Ironman swim cut-off is 2:20 - that means you have to be out of the water by then or else you’re not permitted to continue the race. A similar cut-off applies after the bike section. If you haven't completed that by 10:30 after the start of the race then, again, you are not allowed to continue.
His performance on the day was amazing when you take into account where he started in January. His swim time was 1:26, which is staggering for a guy who, 8 months previously, couldn’t swim more than 25m front crawl. And he was in T2 over an hour inside the bike cut-off.
He then pulled out a 3:58 marathon on one of the toughest run courses on the Ironman circuit to finish in 13:34. Overall a brilliantly executed race which meant he could use his run strength to finish strongly.
Congratulations Chris. It’s been a pleasure working with you - here’s to the next one :-)