Let's start with me admitting that I am not a triathlete. I did once finish a half ironman, however to date that has been my only brush with a triathlon of any distance and that was an unmitigated disaster.
In 2007 I ran my second desert stage race and my first in the four deserts series. When we gathered at Beijing airport to make the long journey inland to china's farthest western corner, on the border with tajikistan, we were introduced to a group of aussie runners also making their first foray in to the world of multi stage events. We later arrived in Kashgar, a market town on the silk route bordering the himalaya, we discovered we were in fact sharing a tent with those very same aussies. The first night was a wash out. Flooding had hit the valley we were scheduled to run through for the first two days and we spent the night sleeping on the floor of a local school classroom. The following day we set off on our first marathon. When we arrived at our tents, we quickly got to know the rest of the guys there, and we instantly hit it off. Pete bouquet was an Aussie with a huge heart, full of life, jokes and around for the sheer experience of pushing himself to extremes. Pete Wilson was a boxer slash endurance runner and Michael hull was the wise head of the group with years of adventure racing under his belt. We spent the week going through the usual trials of a desert race, blisters, heat stroke, dehydration, fatigue, pain and ultimately exhilarating highs of finishing at first the individual stages and later the event as a whole. The one thing the other guys all had in common was a background of racing ironman. It's what they had grown up doing and they had pushed each other countless times over numerous races all over the world. To the wide eyed endurance virgin, it was intoxicating listening. We stayed in touch once we had all departed for home. In fact more than that, our friendship seemed to grow despite the distances between us. Frank in the USA, hully and willo in sydney and bucket out in Singapore. We all committed to racing the atacama together, heading back through south America to visit the Antarctic later that year and finally in 2009, regrouping one last time in the Sahara where we completed the 4deserts series together. We definitely formed somewhat of a band of brothers. We made countless other friends along the way and when reach of us travels abroad nowadays, it's rare that we don't stay with each other or at least get together with friendly faces and catch up on the months of racing and training in between.
In 2011, hully and bucket finally made it over as far a the uk and raced our first ever centurion event, the north downs way 100. Two days later, hully and I were on a plane to Leadville together, where he crewed me single handedly to a solid finish in a race I had no business's finishing. We travelled home on the Monday, hully back to Sydney as I went in the opposite direction back to London. 4 days later, hully lay in a western Australian hospital in critical condition and with burns to 30 percent of his body. Arriving back in sydney, he had flown almost immediately up to the kimberley region of australia to take part in a racing the planet event over 100kms in a single stage.
What unfolded during that race has been well documented subsequently. Along with two australian girls and a South african runner, hully had been trapped by wildfire in a remote canyon midway through the race. The flames, which in the Australian outback are capable of moving with e speed of the wind, engulfed their position and the four were forced to run back through the burning grass in order to prevent being burned alive. They each suffered horrific injuries compounded by the fact that it took some considerable time for help to reach them.
I don't want to pass comment on the why's and wherefores of what happened for those circumstances to transpire that day. I remember being at work and receiving a call from one of our mutual Australian friends explaining that hully was in a critical condition in a Perth hospital. We all race these kind of events knowing that we are moving through extreme environments where accidents can and do happen. That being said to be met with that news just a week after departing his company in Denver was a shocking experience. A few days later, hully was able to stay conscious and feel strong enough to call around us all and let us know how he was doing. Immediately it was obvious that the total energy, laid back go with the flow attitude but hard as nails composure was being employed in full as he brushed off the injuries and talked us lucidly through exactly what had happened, at least what his memory had allowed him to retain having been overloaded with a greater amount of pain than anyone could imagine. His burns were total to his legs and left arm as well as his right hand. The other two girls were in intensive care with burns to up to 70 percent of their bodies. The prognosis for hully was a long stay where he was, with multiple operations to replace his skin with magic skin and grafts in order to begin the process of healing. The exposure to infection during that time was massive and it was a while before he was 'out of the woods' and able to return home. He continued to remain upbeat and open to talking about things. After months of rehabilitation, he was left with bandages which he had to keep on at all times, covering his healing skin, he wasn't allow out during hours of bright sunshine and made countless visits back to hospitals and doctors as his condition improved. Months later he began to run slowly again albeit in a good deal of pain. The process of healing continued throughout 2012 as the endurance athlete began to emerge once again.
Late last year I had dinner with my wife Lisa and we both agreed that it was long overdue I went out to see him. We had a long chat on Skype and of course, with a trip in the works the logical thing would be to tie in a race or two of some description.
From the day we'd met in china, hully had talked fondly of his ironman days. He had, for all that time, been stuck on 9 ironman finishes. Every year he put his name in for the kona lottery, for a ticket to race his tenth at his dream race, the ironman world champs, but hadn't come out lucky. As I began googling races happening over the two weekends I would be out with him, ironman new Zealand suddenly popped on to the radar and instantly I knew that was the answer. Hully could race his 10th whilst I raced my first.
So flying all this way to race ironman is very far from the real reason for this journey. It is a sideshow to spending time with some very dear friends and celebrating the thing that brought us all together in the first place.
Whatever happens it'll be another incredible experience, but just another adventure on the journey through our lives, thankful that hully has returned in full to what he loves doing.