A FORMER couch potato from Bishop’s Stortford is aiming to prove he is made of stern stuff by taking part in this year’s Ironman world championship in Hawaii.
Father-of-four Tom Craig, who works in telecommunications strategy, is already training hard for October’s mammoth challenge.
The 46-year-old Scot secured his spot in the world’s toughest endurance race after entering a competition organised by disability charity Scope, the official charity partner of Ironman UK.
The once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was awarded to Tom after he made a strong application where his pledge to raise £50,000 to support Scope’s work with disabled people and their families stood out to judges.
He said: “A close friend was provided with unbelievable support from Scope when his daughter was born two years ago. It will be great to provide something back.
“I would also advise anyone to look at the videos of some of their support work on YouTube. I can guarantee you will find it highly motivational.”
Competition for places at the event is fierce. Each year, 80,000 athletes compete for a slot at Kona, but only 1,900 make it to the starting line on race day.
Tom has eight months to attain peak fitness and raise his target from sponsors before he sets off alongside the world’s fittest people, swimming 2.4 miles in rough waters, cycling 112 miles and running a 26.2-mile marathon.
He must complete all three legs inside 17 hours to qualify as a finisher.
Tom says: “This will be a huge challenge for me. It’s like a Sunday league footballer being given a shot to play in the World Cup final or the winner of the school dads’ race competing in the 100m at the Olympics!”
He is currently working in Qatar and said: “The weather really helps with getting the training going in the winter months. Cycling can be a little hair-raising on the roads in Doha though. I get up at 5.30am to get some training in before work or, failing that, late at night when everyone’s gone to bed.”
Seven years ago, with three friends, Tom completed Ironman Austria, raising £55,000 between them for London’s Great Ormond Street children’s hospital.
He said: “When I started training for the Austria event people openly mocked me because at that point I was a severely overweight businessman on my way to an early grave. But I did it and when we handed over the money to the hospital it was one of the proudest moments of my life.”
In the intervening years Tom’s fitness regime has slipped drastically, and he said that he now stands at “the foothills of Everest” as he prepares to regain his fitness for his toughest challenge yet.
Wife Saffron, who cares for children Melissa, 16, Lewis, 12, Nina, 2, and three-month old Rory, has played a crucial motivational role.
“My diet secret is the look of scorn on Saffron’s face when she sees me with a packet of crisps,” he said.
“Seriously, when you start building your exercise the fantastic thing is you create a greater degree of flexibility in what you can eat as you are continuously burning calories.
“It also becomes self-enforcing. When you’ve spent an hour running to burn 700 calories you really don’t feel like undoing it all with two glasses of wine.”
Tom had this advice for anyone looking to lose weight, get fit and take on a similar challenge.
“Give yourself small goals and keep increasing them. I started by walking, jogging, walking a mile around Stortford. Then set goals to increase jogging and less walking each time. Before long you’re jogging the entire route and looking to increase the distance.
“Above all, don’t push too hard too fast – you will either injure yourself or lose motivation.
“Another great tip is enter an event three to six months out. Select according to your ability, but it must be a challenge – 5km run, 10km run, sprint triathlon. It doesn’t matter, just something that gives you a reason to get out and train.”
As he looked to October, he said: “It will be a lifetime dream if I can complete the course and I’m genuinely excited and terrified at the prospect of what’s to come.
“When I’m packing the bike into the car at 6am at the weekend or in the pool at 10pm at night I try to visualise the excitement and buzz of being on the start line in Hawaii.
“It seems surreal. I’m no athlete for sure, but for one day I will be sharing the same course with some of the fittest genuine athletes on the planet.”
To support Tom and Scope, donate at http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/TomCraig.