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“You don’t have to be elite to compete” – Here’s Ross’ story…

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Ross Jones’ ‘Fatman 2 Ironman’ vlogs on YouTube have been inspirational to many of us. Welsh Triathlon’s Chairman, Martin Kitchener, sat down with Ross to chat about the reason for starting his journey, the process, the challenges and more. Read some highlights of their conversation below.

If you’d like to check out Ross’ YouTube, including his ‘Fatman 2 Ironman’ video series, click here.

[Martin] First of all Ross, thank you very much for sharing your triathlon journey on YouTube. I know it has inspired many people in our triathlon community. What inspired you to start triathlon?

[Ross] As you can see throughout my journey, I’m not a small lad. I was actually a founding member of a running club back in 2012 and I lost a lot of weight through running. I fell out of love with the sport in 2014 for other reasons and I piled a lot of weight on. In September 2020, just after covid started opening up, I was nearing on 25 stone. And I thought I need to save myself here. So, I stopped eating myself to death and I decided to try slimming world. I lost 7 stone from that September to July. And then in the November, I joined Nuffield gym in Bridgend with my mate. And I started swimming for exercise. Because I’d never swum before apart from on holidays, I didn’t know how to breathe right. And in the December, we booked to do Roade Sprint Triathlon up in Northampton.

My mate Lugger [Simon Lightwood] messaged me in January 2022 to join Porthcawl Tridents. They had just started up a couple of months previously. But I wanted to see if I could get the triathlon done in March first. Then if I enjoyed the training and wanted to take it to the next level, then I’d join the Club. Low and behold, two weeks later I’m signed up to the Tridents. So, I signed up in January 2022, I did my first Sprint triathlon in March, and I then went on to do an Olympic one in Newport.

You said you had a background in running, but where did your initial idea of starting triathlon come from?

I’ve got a lot of mates that have done Ironman, so obviously seeing them on their journey has been inspirational. I know a coach in Pen-y-Bont Tri Club, Aaron Davies. I used to play rugby with Aaron. I remember talking to him in 2018/19. We went out at Christmas and he said “January 1st, I’m off the booze” and I said, “you’ll never do it”. He said, “yep, 9 months solid training, I’m doing Ironman Wales.” And watching him on his journey, I was like “wow, fair play”. And in the back of my mind, it was always an ambition to do that and wishing I could be like them.

That’s interesting because, certainly in South Wales, there’s quite a few people who used to play rugby that have entered the world of triathlon, including some famous names likes Shane Williams and Gareth Thomas. Why do you think that some people start triathlon after playing other sports, like rugby?

What I think, because my mate Lugger is an ex-rugby player as well, I think triathlon is a bit of a midlife crisis sport. Not only that, especially on the rugby side of it, when you hit mid/late thirties when you retire you lose that sense of belonging with a club, that comradery, that community. And by joining the Tridents, all of a sudden it's like I’m part of a club again. Everyone is integrating, helping and encouraging each other. Instantly, I was back to my rugby days in that sense anyway.

You mentioned multiple times how important the Tridents club has been in your journey. For you, what are the main advantages of joining a triathlon club?

I think structure is a big factor. As with a lot of clubs, I think it’s all run through Spond [Sports Team Management App]. You have weekly schedules and timetables. Our Club have actually got a calendar that you can print it off and put it in your office. You can pick out the main club events and triathlon events as well and you can tailor your training around them or fit them into your training schedule.

Also, if you are looking to step it up a distance, there is always someone in the club to relate to. And everybody is approachable which was a big positive for me. Outside of triathlon, you look at someone who has done an Ironman and you think they won’t give you the time of day. But it’s not like that. And I’m in that position now where I’ve got people coming to me for advice and I’m like ‘why are they coming to me?’ But I take it back a step and I think even if they take one little bit of advice I give them, its something they never had before they asked.

One of the strongest themes to come from your vlogs is how you have managed the ups and the downs of your triathlon journey, including dropping your Snickers bar at Ironman Tenby, and getting injured during training. What has helped you manage these highs and lows?

To be perfectly honest with you, the reason why I started the vlogs was because I thought to myself this is going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I don’t know when I’ll have the opportunity to commit to a full Ironman and fit it in with my family and work life again. I want something documented for my family to look back at. How amazing will that be when I have a little grandson or granddaughter saying, ‘look at Grampy’.

But not only that, by going public on camera and being as transparent as I possibly can. And as you probably saw, there was no hiding anything. By going live on camera, it was keeping me accountable. If it inspired anyone that was a bonus.

Alongside your resilience, one of the strongest messages I got from watching your vlogs was how you combine: a busy job with a lot of travel, a young family, and then on top of that, to make and edit the videos. How do you manage to squeeze it all in?

First disclaimer, I don’t like training in the morning. I tried it. It’s not for me. I rung my managing director and I said, ‘I need you to invest in me this year and on my lunch break, if it’s okay with you, I’m going to swim’ and that’s what I did. Nuffield is literally about 600m from my office, in Bridgend. So 1 o’clock 2-3 times a week, I was in the pool. So, all I needed to do then was my biking and running after work which is never more than an hour and a half even when you’re up to peak.

I gave up drinking on the first of January last year obviously for weight control but, for me, it was the domino effect from the alcohol in not being able to train the next day or the day after that. So, I just knew I had to cut it out of my training routine. And to be honest with you, being an ex-rugby boy and loving a few beers, it did not bother me at all. I still went out. I still socialised. Yeah, I was ‘boring’ to some people at times but they certainly appreciated the lift home at the end of the night.

So, Saturday was basically my day to train, every other day of the week I’d work around the family or my work then. Yeah, it was manageable. There was days were I couldn’t. And one of the hardest things for me, which you can see in my videos, is beating myself up over that thinking if I’ve missed a session I’m not going to be able to do this. Reading the Don Fink plan, he’s like “if you’ve missed a session don’t worry about it, you’re human, wipe the slate clean.” I found that really hard in the beginning.

One of things that worries people about starting triathlon is the commitment you have to make. You show it is possible but, of course, it normally involves some personal sacrifices, and a lot of support from those close to us. You make that very clear.

Yeah, when you sign up for a full Ironman, you’ve got to have the buy-in from your family. If your family are not behind you, supporting you, it’s only going to end up one way.

You started your vlogs by saying that with the Ironman distance, you were going to be ‘one and done.’  You now seem to have changed your mind on that but, for now, you will be concentrating on more manageable distances?

I’ve got some other things outside of triathlon, a couple of goals in work and personal life. I didn’t get down to my target weight. My last weigh in, 3 days before Tenby, I was 18 stone. In the back of my head when I first signed up, I wanted to do it in 15.5 hours so I was an hour away. And I think, if I’d gotten down to under 17 stone, which is where I wanted to be, I may well have had that in the bag. So, although it went textbook to what I expected, when I set that goal at the start of my journey, I did fall a bit short of that. However, I’m not beating myself up over it, don’t get me wrong. I am pleased but I think we can always do better.

Yes, in triathlon, it’s not just Ironman events, there’s so many other formats. That’s one of the advantages of our sport isn’t it?

Well, you say that, one of the things I failed at last year was the full long course weekend. Because of my knee injury, my physio advised me not to do the run. And looking back at it, it was so hard for me on that day. In fact, on the day, I put my running gear on and I jogged down from Penally Court down to Kiln Park as a test, my wife doesn’t know this. When I got there, I said to Lugger “I’m going to run with you” and he said, “no you’re not.” He said “don’t be silly. What would you rather have on your wall, the fourth medal or the Ironman medal?”. I thought about it and he said “you’re six months into this, don’t throw that all away. You can come back next year and do long course without wasting nine months of your life training”. And I said, “that’s the most sensible thing you’ve ever said to me”.

So, on that note, I have entered full long course weekend, again this year.

So that’s your plan, do you have a message for the people out there who are thinking about starting a triathlon journey?

Number one, normal people can do it! You haven’t got to be elite to compete and go for an Ironman distance. Yes, it takes discipline and dedication. But with enough planning, you can achieve that. I suppose I am testament to that. I’m not your average athlete. There would have been plenty of people who know nothing about the sport who saw me running through Tenby in Spetember and were either inspired or probably laughed.

And when you’re just starting the sport, joining a club is really important.

At the end of the day, if you are interested in triathlon, I would highly recommend joining a club. Contact your local club, most people are on Facebook or they’ll know somebody.

Joining a club, you will guarantee yourself you’ll never have to run or bike on your own again. I think the biggest thing to take from that is road safety on the bike. We haven’t got to repeat the amount of fatalities we’ve had on the road in the last year. Road safety is an issue it seems at the moment. But at least if you are in numbers, you have an element of safety.

Most clubs are 100% inclusive. It doesn’t matter what size, build, age, gender. Just join them.

And most people in clubs started once themselves and they can remember that they didn’t always know everything they know now.

I’m actually starting my foundation coaching course next week.

It’s great that you’re getting involved in coaching because I can imagine that you’d be a very inspirational coach, your enthusiasm is infectious.

To be honest, it’s not something that I thought I’d be doing. But I thought I’m no expert in triathlon, I’m only going into my third season now. But I’d like to give something back now. If I can help, not only the people who message me, but the people in our club. Because we’re a really inclusive club, the Tridents, people of all ages and sizes. And if they look up to me, great.

I was speaking with Catherine, our Chief Exec, the other day and she asked me to thank you very much for all the volunteering your club does, like at the 70.3 in Swansea. Our sport runs on folks who volunteer their time at events, and in clubs. It’s important to remember that Welsh Triathlon is a fantastic community that thrives because of the goodwill and efforts of many people.

I appreciate that, I’ll pass it on. I wouldn’t have got to where I am, or achieved what I’ve achieved in so little time, if it weren’t for people sharing their knowledge and experience with me. And I’m a big believer in paying that forward. So, if I’m only coaching or giving advice for the next year or two years then I’m doing my bit. And if everyone has that attitude then the sport of triathlon would just go on and on.

 

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