Captain Simon Powers was first bitten by the triathlon bug when he was posted to Cyprus with the Royal Logistic Corps. Six Ironman races later, he’s stepping up to the challenge of a lifetime on June 2 – The Battle Back 1000.
Captain Powers will take on a 21-mile swim, an epic 870 mile bike ride from Land’s End to John O’Groats and a 140-mile coast-to-coast run. In total he will rack up 1031 miles over 10 days.
We caught up with him to find out how he’s fitting in all that training, his race fears and how he’s got his wife on side.
What make you decide to take up this challenge?
I organised a number of events while I was based in Cyprus, so when I knew I was going to get posted back to the UK, it was an event I wanted to do. It was also a great opportunity to link it with a worthwhile charity, Battle Back.
Which part of the challenge will be most difficult?
I’m nervous about all three parts, but probably the swim most because the furthest I’ve ever swum is 4K during Ironman events.
What strategies do you have to cope with the swim?
I’m going to break it down into legs when I compete. I was going to do it in one day, which I thought would take around 16 hours, but now I’m going to do it over two days. I start my open-water training this month, so I’ll be building up from one hour to six-hour sessions at a local lake in Surrey.
Which bit of the challenge do you think will be most rewarding?
I’m looking forward to seeing the entire country via the Land’s End to John O'Groats cycle, but I’m also looking forward to finishing the event.
Can you talk me through your average training week at the moment?
My average training week has been 120K cross-country running, approximately 300K on the bike and 20K swimming.
How do you fit that around work and family life?
I start training at 5am with a swim and turbo session, then I run or bike over lunch, depending on the weather. In the evening I’ll do a long run or bike in the evening with a head torch. Then my longest sessions are saved for the weekend.
How does your wife feel about you taking on this challenge?
Emma has always been supportive in all the events I’ve done in the 25 years we’ve been together. She’s going to be driving the support vehicle and looking after me. I couldn’t do it without her.
You have Type 1 diabetes - what impact does that have on training and during the race itself?
I just have to be in control of my blood sugars. I always ran the Ironman events with a method I call the three Cs; control, complete and then clock. It’s always in that order. I trickle feed myself with fluid and gels throughout the day to keep my sugars regulated. Normally, at the end of an Ironman, my blood sugar levels are around 6.8, which is very controlled.
How do you keep motivated? What keeps you going on the days you don’t feel like training?
There are many mornings I don’t want to get out of bed, especially if the weather’s bad. I know if I don’t put the hours and training in, then I’m going to struggle during the event. My mantra is train hard, race easy. I know there’ll still be some blood, sweat and tears during the challenge, but I’m working to minimise that.
Which triathlete inspires you most?
Anyone can quote the Brownlees and the other famous triathletes in the UK at the moment, especially with the Olympics coming up. However, my role model is a guy called Roy Running, who was an RAF Officer in Cyprus when I first started triathlons who took me under his wing - I’m still doing this because of him really.
Do you have any training tips for people thinking of going long or taking on an ultra?
Work with nutrition, train sensibly, listen to your body and remember that injury prevention is key. At the moment I’m suffering from a little Achilles Tendonitis in my left foot, so I’m being told not to run. You’ve got to listen to the professionals and make sure you abide by what they say, because if you’re broken, you won’t be able to compete.
When it gets tough during a race, what strategies do you use to keep going?
I break things down into legs and I’m very much a data-cruncher, so I look at my Garmin and work out what’s around the corner. If I’m in a bit of pain, I’ll think of good times that stood out in the past, for example, surfing in Bali – I put myself in a nice place.
Do you ever worry that the challenge is too big? Is there a danger that challenges have become too extreme these days to attract charity support?
Yeah, I worry about it all the time, but I think through the web people have more access to information and they can train smarter. You can’t start stop an individual trying to achieve something, can you? In order for you to know your limits, you’ve got to be able to push them in the first place - that’s all that I’m doing really.
After you finish this challenge, do you have any more races lined up?
I’m doing Ironman Wales in September. I was due to attempt The Bob Graham Round in May but because of the injury I can’t really train, so I’m going to do that towards the end of the year.
Find out more about the Battleback Challenge or if you’re feeling inspired, how you step up to long-distance events.