Never say never…

I only started working for Willow in February and within a week I’d already committed to taking part in Will of Iron. If you haven’t made it round the rest of the site yet, it’s basically an ironman in a week (instead of 17 hours). It means swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running a marathon (26.2 miles). Easy, right?!

I ran a half marathon last year and as I crossed over the finish line I told myself: “Thank the bacon sandwich that’s waiting for me, it’s over. Never again.” I’m not a naturally athletic person and at first used my half-marathon exploits as an excuse to eat macaroni cheese twice a week (and this was before I’d even started training).

Feeling sorry for myself after my first 5km training run

Feeling sorry for myself after my first 5km training run

I really admire people that enjoy exercise but sadly I am not one of them. I don’t know about you but the thought of doing an ironman distance triathlon at all is quite alarming even if I don’t have to do it all at once.

And yet here we are.

I may be a rather reluctant runner but Will of Iron is pretty exciting as it’s a challenge anyone can take on. Despite the rather intimidating distances, you can really make the event your own. Do it by yourself, do the half-distance, or get together as many team members as you can find. As long as you complete the distance within any seven consecutive days in May you’re a winner.

Mark, a colleague at Willow, is doing the full distance by himself. For the record, he is my hero. There are lots of others who have signed up who are tackling the full distance or the half-iron man distance by themselves. Other teams are doing a bit of everything. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to have a team doing it with me and we decided to divide the challenge by discipline which means I’m only responsible for the running. Thanks to Carol, our team’s cyclist, for being convinced (by me) to do just the cycling instead of doing the challenge by herself and to Simon, our team’s swimmer, for making sure I didn’t have to factor in the horror of buying a swimming costume as part of the challenge!

I hadn’t actually been running since December until last weekend when I just about struggled my way through 5km. It was ok. I got a bit lost en route and now walking upstairs is mildly painful (my own fault for not stretching) but I’m getting there. A bit of me might even be looking forward to it.

Whether you’re as averagely* athletic as me, a serious triathlon competitor or somewhere in between, we want you to sign up to Will of Iron. Every penny you raise will help Willow create more Special Days.

We’ll be introducing the rest of our Willow teams soon but in the meantime wish me luck!


* please interpret as regular cake eater and sofa sitter

Q&A With Catherine Faux

Catherine Faux was named Triathlete of the Year 2013 and is the fastest triathlete in her age group in the world. Described as ‘the most aspiring female talent in long distance triathlon’, Catherine is the face of Will of Iron – let her be your inspiration to take part…

catherine-faux-new[1]What was your first race?

Mansfield Sprint was my first triathlon (not even an eighth of an Ironman distance!), though I’d done some running and swimming at school. The earliest races I ever remember are sports days at primary school; I won the skipping race since I seemed to have the coordination to just charge and swing the rope all at once. Though now I’m pretty sure the 6 year-old me would beat 26 year-old me!

When and why did you make the decision to move in to triathlons?
I knew of a race at Rutland Water which was near my home town and I always thought it looked pretty cool so, when I won an essay competition at university (which gave me enough to buy a cheap bike) that became my aim.

What is your favourite discipline?
It depends where I am, and when you ask me! At the moment (crazy-weather February) it’s running, because cycling is not pleasant in bad weather and much of it has to be done on an indoor bike at this time of year. I love running in the summer too, but the cycling gets much better and you can go on beautiful evening rides that end at a good pub out in the Peak District.

In Hawaii (where the Ironman World Championships are held) it’s so hot that cycling and running are just a big sweat-fest, so being in the water becomes the best. Plus the marine life is incredible to watch whilst you swim above it – and there’s a floating coffee boat in the ocean days before the race. The cycle and run courses used for the race are just roads through lots of sparse lava rock so those elements are comparatively less fun, however during the race itself, the swim is least enjoyable and the last few miles of the run are incredible!

What do you like about triathlons, as opposed to other endurance sports?
Triathlon requires both brains and brawn, and if you are smart you can potentially beat quicker, fitter but less well-prepared competitors. I love the disciplines, I love the people you meet and the sights you see that you’d certainly miss otherwise, even around my local area. I love the buzz of a good training session and seeing how good the human body is. It’s really quite impressive what it can do. I love triathlon because you don’t have to be the very best at any one part of it – it favours all-rounders.

How often to do you train?
Usually twice a day – with a rest day once a week.

What has been your career highlight so far?
It has to be the 2013 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in October. I came 10th overall and broke the amateur record by 17 minutes. No one was really expecting that, least of all me!

What has been your biggest challenge?
Passing my last set of medical exams. When I’m spending so much time training it doesn’t leave any time or energy for studying, and I tend to be very focussed on one thing at once. Needless to say having been focussed on Kona this year I had a whole lot of cramming to do!

What’s your next big goal?
Passing the next set of exams! But in terms of triathlon I’ll be taking some time out as I complete my first couple of years as a doctor, so I want to make this season a memorable one.

What are your tips for any would be triathletes wanting to get started? How should they approach the training?
Get something in the calendar – it’s motivating and exciting to have an event to look forward to – whether it’s a challenge like Will of Iron, or a race, or just a personal goal. Make plans for training – it’s good to have purpose and focus, and to keep a record so you can see how far you’ve come. But don’t be afraid to miss or swap sessions if your body needs a break, if other commitments make it impossible, or the weather forecast was wrong and it seems criminal to miss a beautiful day outside if you had planned a swim.

What do you do in your spare time?
I love training, so that is something that I’m happy to spend a lot of my ‘free time’ on. I spend a lot of the remainder cooking and baking, and drinking inadvisable amounts of coffee, church, hanging out with friends… the usual.

My Story – Ting Wan

It made me realise I can still dream…

Ting is 30 and living with incurable bone cancer. After all the hospital appointments and treatment, her one wish for her Special Day was to see her husband smile again. Here she shares her story with us:

“I married Jonathan in 2011 and our lives seemed perfect. Just weeks later, I suffered debilitating back pain and a loss of sensation in my legs. We were shocked when scans showed a large tumour on my spine.

I immediately had two surgeries and a diagnosis of malignant high grade osteosarcoma – a rare and difficult to treat cancer.

As I recovered from surgery and prepared for nine-months of tough chemotherapy, there was more bad news – the tumour had returned and this time was inoperable. The little hope that I’d one day recover evaporated. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy followed.

At the start of 2013, with final treatments behind me, I’d regained some mobility in my legs and was well-enough to travel. We decided to go to China to visit my family. Saying goodbye to relatives for what was likely to be the last time was harder than any of the surgeries or treatments.

Confined to a wheelchair

In June, the growing tumour was pressing on my spinal cord. Within ten days, I was paralysed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair. I was completely dependent on my husband and care workers. Doctors said I might only have months to live.

At first, I thought such a life was not worth living. However, memories of all the happy times and the thought of my Willow Special Day kept me going.

The most wonderful gift

With the love of good food in common since the day we met, our Willow wish was to have a date in a nice restaurant. We quickly decided on the world famous restaurant, Fat Duck.

With my paralysis so recent, getting around was a struggle, but Willow took care of absolutely everything. The experience left me with wonderful memories. Jonathan has been my carer, cook, physio, nurse, driver and shoulder to cry on, and seeing him relax and smile for the first time in years was the most wonderful gift anyone could ask for.

I couldn’t stay strong without the support of loved ones and organisations like Willow. Thank you so much Willow for helping me realise my dreams.”

Take on the Will of Iron challenge this May and help create many more special moments for people such as Ting and her husband John.