Giles’ miles of iron grit

Recently I took part in the Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Durban. (That’s me on the left in the pic above.) For those who are unfamiliar with the format, it is a race broken into three legs: 1.9 km swim in the ocean, 90 km cycle on the road and a 21.1km run. Informally referred to as the “half Ironman” due to the fact that these distances are half the required distances for a full Ironman, it is a race that can test and reveal many things about a person, especially their “grit”.

Having participated earlier this year in the half Ironman that is held annually in East London in January, I decided to enter an additional race scheduled for Durban at the beginning of August. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew that since I had “done it once” I could do it again, so I wasn’t too fazed about the race. But this article is not about me. It is about grit.

My good mate Giles Hedley (next to me in the pic above) decided to enter the January event with me. He had no qualms about running, but wasn’t too excited about having to swim in the sea. His particular style of swimming resembles an empty beer bottle being thrown in the water: bobbing at first, but then filling up with water and sinking to the bottom. Deciding that it was not worth drowning for, he pulled out of the race, much to his own disappointment.

However, when the entries for Durban opened, he entered again. This, I thought, was surprising, as he would still have to swim the required distance in the sea, and had shown no interest in improving his swimming abilities. Later, as the ramifications of what he had just entered set in, he again decided that he probably “wouldn’t do it.”

The day before the event, he dutifully drove me down to Durban to provide some much-needed spectator support. I managed to persuade him that he might as well bring his bike along and experience the whole setup of the race, even if he wasn’t going to participate.

We arrived at registration. I registered; he registered. I bought some race day nutrition from the Expo, so did he. We attended the race briefing and then he decided that he “might as well check his bike in” with mine. I found this all very interesting. Giles was moving ahead as if he was going to participate, which he was still adamant he wasn’t going to do!

Then on race day, we drove to the beachfront together. It was at this point that Giles decided he might as well give it a shot. No training, no preparation and no brains; just grit.

As we joined the flow of competitors making their way to the beach to start the race, Giles stood out as he did not have a wetsuit. (In most triathlons there is an option to use a wetsuit as it keeps you warm and provides buoyancy at the expense of added drag.) One man walking next to us asked where Giles’ wetsuit was, to which he replied, “I don’t have one”. The man’s next sentence was, “Well then you must be a really good swimmer!” I couldn’t help but chuckle as Giles dismissed the comment and contemplated his impending fate. And this is what he had to contend with:


Small people, big sea


Note: those waves are coming back onto shore, which should give you an idea what we had to get through going out from the beach.

And he did it! Giles swam all 1900m, and then some due to the fact that it’s hard to swim in a straight line in the sea. Then he hopped on the bike and did 90km, after which he laced up his shoes and finished the race.

Was it smart to do that? No. Was it hard going on the day? Yes. Would he do it again? Maybe. But did he conquer one of his fears? Absolutely.


He did it! Giles Hedly finished a half-Ironman on pure grit

All too often in this day and age we are faced with the misconception that something can’t be done or that it’s foolish to try. People will advise on all the reasons why you shouldn’t attempt something, but few stop to think about what they stand to accomplish if they just believe in themselves and – come hell or high water (literally, in this case) – give it their all.

If nothing else, you might just discover that you have some grit in you after all.

One man who had just about all the grit in the world, said this more than 100 years ago:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

So go out there, like Giles did, and be that man in the ring. Discover your grit. What do you have to lose?

Find out more about grit in this TED Talk by Angela Lee Duckworth.