When Charlie Crawford joined triathlon club PhoenixTri, he initially had ambitions of completing a short aquathon.
But over the past decade, in his own words, “things have snowballed”. He started out with sprint triathlons and training help from the Guildford -based triathlon club.
Then came Olympic distance, before he achieved multiple half Ironmans. And last month, he finished his first full Ironman at the age of 71.
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He made the journey to Copenhagen for the sporting challenge on August 22, which had been postponed from 2020 due to the pandemic.
The distances Charlie had to cover included a 2.5-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and finishing with a 26.3-mile run. Amazingly, he finished the impressive feat in 14hrs 47mins.
“I am fitter now than when I was aged 40,” retired Charlie told SurreyLive. “I have always had back trouble, since crushing my vertebrae as a teenager. At one point, I was walking with a stick.”
Initially, his family were concerned about his Ironman ambitions. “They were very against me doing it and thought I was mad. My wife threatened to divorce me,” he quipped.
“Training for the full Ironman was the hardest part; it was long and tough,” added Charlie, who is now chairman of PhoenixTri – the club he initially joined as a beginner swimmer having never owned a road bike.
He describes running as his weakest phase and while he has become accustomed to open water swimming, he had to become confident swimming in the sea.
“It honestly filled me with dread; the waves and salt water,” he said.
Business owner Charlie is now semi-retired having spent 20 years working as a counter-terrorism consultant. He travelled the world working with the likes of architects developing high-risk buildings, such as airports – making them as safe as possible from terror attacks.
He previously spent 27 years in the army, having joined aged 15. However, when his army job became more office-based his back problems worsened, forcing him to leave.
Before his epic Ironman journey, the only form of exercise he entertained was golf. However, his back has now improved, the fitter he has become.
“I think the rust has worn off. I am a big believer in the phrase ‘use it or lose it’ and think the NHS should be prescribing more exercise than medication for many ailments,” added Charlie, who has been married to Sandie for 47 years. The couple have two daughters and a two-year-old grandson.
Charlie, who lives in Godalming, is no stranger to physical challenges with many half-marathons under his belt. Four years ago, he also took part in the Nepal marathon, which was particularly “tough running at altitude”.
On race day in Copenhagen, Charlie appreciated the “amazing” crowds supporting the athletes, “it really helped push me on,” he reflected.
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“I thought the swim was never going to end, it felt that long. Fortunately, I had hired a super quick road bike from Copenhagen, which meant I was over an hour ahead of the clock when it came to my run, so I could relax a little bit.
“I actually prefer the full Ironman distance because it is that much longer, so you have to pace yourself and cannot rush,” Charlie added.
“I can’t believe I have achieved an Ironman to be honest, because it was never on my radar. When I joined PhoenixTri, I was just looking for something to do other than golf.”
The Surrey resident – now the Danish over-70 Ironman champion – has qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in February.
And his best advice for anyone in their later years who may think it’s too late?
“Just do it, don’t think ‘I will do that in five years ‘ – just do it now. It’s so important to keep fit for your grandchildren. Once you’re retired, you can still have many more exciting years ahead of you.”
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