How Patrick Beat Busted Achilles to Triathlon Around the World in His 60s

Patrick has been a client of mine for around 15 years, and I first met him after an Achilles tendon injury that almost put an end to his triathlon aspirations. But at almost 67 years old, he’s still doing them, and competes in the British Age-Group Triathlon Championships. We interviewed him so he could share his story and his secret to triathlon success.

How did you get started in triathlons?

I’m from a very active family and have always been sporty myself. As a young man I always used to play football, golf, cricket, went skiing and all of the usual nine yards. It was always for fun and never what I would call serious. This lasted until my 30s, when I became much less active. Not sedentary, but I wasn’t doing a lot of sport anymore.

Then in 1989 my wife and I went to live in Canada. At that time, the jogging craze had swept the country. We were arguably the only people anyone knew who weren’t jogging, and literally everybody rode their bicycles. Canadians, as it turned out, are completely sport mad.

So I started jogging, which wasn’t difficult, because everybody was doing it, and we bought bicycles and started cycling around Toronto. I had an extremely stressful job at the time which involved gazillions of miles of air travel, and I found the jogging and cycling helped me to do the job that I did without losing my mind.

So that covers running and cycling, how did you get into swimming?

In the mid 90s we moved back to England and I joined the Serpentine Running Club so that I could continue running with the level of support I had in Canada. But it was around that time my Achilles tendons packed up.

My Achilles had been completely terrible ever since I was a child in the school football team. Now when I have to fill out forms detailing which injuries I have, I write, “all the above” – plus a few which aren’t listed.

I had to have blood injections in both my Achilles, which really isn’t funny. When the doctor says, “this is going to hurt”, they mean you’re going to be living off painkillers for a few weeks.

These injections meant I was off running for the best part of a year and a half. So I thought, why don’t I learn to properly swim? After about 18 months doing that seriously with tuition, I was able to get back on my bicycle then eventually running as well. After that, I took up triathlon training with the Serpentine Running Club.

Once I was back on my feet I started to develop this bucket list, things like swimming across the Bosporus, doing the Escape from Alcatraz, cycling up Ventoux, and eventually qualifying for the British Age-Group Triathlon Championships.

That’s the sort of overarching story. I spent the best part of 20 years getting to the stage where I was able to qualify for my age group. And I’ve been a client of Cameron’s pretty much full time over that period.

How did Cameron help you towards your triathlon goals?

Because I was starting triathlons in my 40s, I experienced continuous injuries. They’re such a brutal regime that if you’re not 25, you’re going to get hurt. So it’s a matter of, how are you going to deal with that?

I was in and out of Cameron’s clinic almost weekly, not only keeping my Achilles in decent shape but also keeping the rest of me in one piece. On top of my Achilles injuries, I also had a chronic rotator cuff injury and recurring pain in one of the big toes that I broke playing football as a child.

It was simply a case of, if I didn’t do the things he told me to do, I wouldn’t be able to compete. Because I knew the toll my training was taking on my body, I became very cautious, almost a hypochondriac. So it’s great to have someone to see as soon as I feel, say, a niggle in my calf.

My Achilles are where I have to be most careful. If I feel anything unusual there, I stop straight away. I’m almost 67, which means if I injure them again now, I’d basically have to pack up.

What advice do you have for other people taking up tough activity later in life?

You have to have a real hard look at what it is you can and cannot realistically do with the injuries you have. You have to talk to proper people who actually have a clue about what they’re talking about, and in health and fitness, there’s a lot of people out there who don’t.

That’s one of the terrible problems. There’s an awful lot of advice that’s actually really bad and should be absolutely ignored. It means you have to go through the exercise of finding people you can trust, which isn’t easy.

I was bloody lucky to have found Cameron around the corner from me. When he sent me to have my Achilles done I thought I was going to have to give up. But he helped me look after my body and keep doing what I loved, and it’s a lot of work, it’s become a way of life now. I plan ahead what I want to do, and Cameron and his team work with me to figure out what I’ve got to do to be able to do that.

Many people ask me, how do I start doing triathlons?

I say, you have to understand triathlons can completely overcome your life. They just become what you do. For me, that’s been fantastic, but it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and it requires constant support from Cameron and his team, along with the Serpentine Running Club and the various coaches I’ve seen over the years.

There aren’t that many people who do what I do at my age. Most people would rather not do it, to be perfectly frank.

If you do want to do it, you need to take it seriously, and you need the right people helping you, and a good bit of luck finding those people in the first place.

A great place to start is SilverFit, founded by Eddie Brocklesby, who I believe is the oldest female athlete to complete the Hawaii ironman in under 12 hours-some feat. I met Eddie through the Serpentines. They’re a charity dedicated to getting older people active, and you can visit their website at www.silverfit.org.uk

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