As Eurosport report Team Sky’s dominance on the road to Paris in the Tour De France, one CRC employee has spent the last ten days taking on an equally monumental (if not greater) sporting challenge.
Category Manager Andrew Hassard stepped off his bike for the last time yesterday at 1730, casually changed into his run gear and set off into what can only be described as a perfect summer’s evening. All that stood between Andrew and a place in sporting history was 24.2miles, 40 laps of a small lakeside course in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.
So what makes this so special? Plenty of people do block training routines and the occasional triathlon?
Andrew, along with two other brave competitors Keith Clarke (NI) and Bob Davidson (NI) set off on their challenge ten days ago at Ireland’s first ever NI Decaman/Ironman Challenge in aid of Cancer Focus NI, making this event even more special. Their task: 10 Ironman distance triathlons in 10 days.
It’s hard to sum up the 10 day event in a few short paragraphs. I’ve spent most of my career around professional athletes across many sports and despite these three guys being amateur/semi-pros, their preparation, dedication and resilience to get to the start line, let alone day 10 was something to behold. How do you even prepare for an event like this? 2.4 miles in the water, 112 miles on your bike and then run a marathon…10 times in a row? It’s just not logical. Let alone sane.
All three Decamen were seasoned athletes, Andrew in particular has tackled various 'off the wall' endurance events like a Double Ironman and the Celtman (which he did just 10 days before the start of this event!). The NI Decaman, however, was going to be a mammoth challenge – previous experience aside.
As the guys hit the water on day one, the natural racer took hold of them all with some of the fastest times for a Deca length swim being put in. CRC’s Andrew Hassard exited the water first in a blisteringly quick 57mins. There were nine more days to go. Surely the pace couldn’t be sustained this long?
The bike leg of the race was along a quiet country road on the outskirts of Dungannon. Away from major traffic the three guys and those that would join them for support over the 10 days would spend hours in the saddle taking on an eight mile loop which centred around the event village. Fellow CRC colleague Barry Dunn dubbed this ‘the loneliest road in the world’ and by day three, everyone concerned was starting to understand why.
Over the course of the week the guys were visited by road race champions, family, friends, team mates, triathlon newcomers, work mates and a host of people just curious to see what someone who was ‘desperate’ enough to try a challenge like this looked like. Nonetheless, all of those who came to give support, sent texts and rang for updates were of great support to these valiant athletes. It was evident from day one that the Decaman was going to produce highs and lows. Andrew had stated in a pre-event interview with me that he was sure that there would be amazing times and likewise that he would descend into the lowest of low places. This reinforced the sheer mental fatigue that was involved with this event.
By day five when I revisited the site I was shocked to be welcomed by a smiling and ‘chipper’ Andrew who’s first question to ME was ‘Well, How are you?’. He was asking ME how I was! Sadly, the mid way point for fellow challengers Keith and Bob wasn’t so upbeat. Bob had struggled to keep his food intake and overall nutrition maintained and as a result he was losing strength rapidly. The vicious circle of long days on the course and little sleep ahead of a 0630 start each day was catching up with him.
Keith was in the same boat and as he hit the run course mid-week was seriously looking like a beaten man. Determination, the support of family and the knowledge that this was for an amazing cause was driving these men towards the last finish line.
As day six started, the weather turned and driving rain and increasing winds were the order of the day. As limbs got heavier, training niggles moved to the forefront and routine maintenance became a little more regular – days seven, eight and nine passed in either a blur or a black hole for all the guys.
Somehow, all three men were still standing. Maybe they could make the finish. Perhaps we were about to see the 68th, 69th and 70th Decamen worldwide crowned. Yes, you read that right and hence my TDF reference.
There are more people who have won the TDF and indeed climbed to the top of Everest that have completed a Decaman. This is not a sport. This is worldwide achievement.
Sunday July 15th 2012. The Final Day.
It was hard to believe this day had come around. All the training, all the preparation and all of the pain culminated in this day. Today was the day. The last swim, final run down the ‘loneliest road in the world’, and just 40 laps alongside the peaceful Eskragh Lough and it would be over.
As we drove into the event village we were greeted by an amazing atmosphere. Irishman Gerry Duffy who had completed a Deca in 2011 had made the long journey north to see Andrew finish. Astounded at how fresh he looked, Gerry reaffirmed his faith in Andrew as I spoke to him saying he knew all three would make the distance no matter what. I have to admit, for me at times it wasn’t that clear cut!
Attended to by family and friends all three men were nearing the final leg. As the sun started to set, the atmosphere heightened with more and more people coming down to see the finish. A quick bit of maintenance from Andy at BodylabNI and CRC’s ‘Big Man’ Andrew Hassard was out on his run. As he started the final 40 laps he was still smiling, still laughing and still appreciative of everyone’s support and attention. This really was a chance in a lifetime to witness an amazing sporting win and emotions were high.
Despite being the final finisher on many of the last ten days, first across the line was Bob Davidson. Speechless (for once) Bob struggled to say anything other than to issue thanks to his wife Grace, his amazing support crew and everyone for their support. Just behind him and putting in a very quick run (for a tenth day!) was Bob’s cousin, Keith Clarke. As he took his final lap it was amazing to see Bob cheer him on and be as ecstatic to see him finish as Keith was himself. Camaraderie was high all week and these three men had clearly bonded.
So where was CRC’s ‘Big Man’ Mr Hassard?
He hadn’t got lost in the woods, nor had he finally succumbed to the temptation of a gravy chip and a Chinese takeaway. His aim was to get to day eight, he had told me that once he got there he’d forget about times, forget about beating the clock each day and wind down into the finish. He’d started the day some 16hrs ahead of his fellow ‘Deca brothers’ in the overall timings so taking the 'win' (not that this is really a competition) was already in the bag. Today was about crossing the line, realising this wasn’t a race nor a dream and finally getting the coveted title of ‘Decaman’.
With everyone in the village cheering him on Andrew crossed the line shortly after 2300. 70th Decaman Worldwide.
So what did it feel like? We caught each of the guys as they crossed the finish line and tried our best to get some answers from them. Overall, there was a feeling of pure joy. The Decaman had been conquered in Ireland for the first time. This really would go down in sporting history.
I’ll leave the last words to Andrew Hassard who this afternoon posted on his Facebook account.
“I don't know where to start on this one…………..
10 of the hardest, most gruelling, totally and utterly buster days but the most amazing sense of achievement at the end. Still a bit raw and emotional about it all but so proud of the team around me who helped make this happen.
Thanks for the messages of suport along the way, most appreciated and helped a heap. Even bigger thanks for all the donations; gone way beyond all expectations and definately made completing the event a must! Thanks, thanks and thanks some more. Please donate if you haven’t already www.justgiving.com/Andrewdeca”
Stay tuned for the final timing results and video edit from the event as well as a gallery of pictures (once we sort through them all!)
Thanks to everyone on behalf of CRC for making this event a HUGE success.
Now….somone mentioned a triple Deca in Italy next year. Andrew, Bob, Keith – fancy it?