He did it! On 23 April, and after months of preparation, training and logistics, Hartlepool teenager Ben Turnbull set the Guiness World Record for consecutive sprint-distance triathlons across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
To achieve this phenomenal feat Ben had to complete a full sprint triathlon in each of the four countries of the UK. This consisted of a 750m swim, a 20km bike and a 5km run, before traveling to the next country.
Ben, a 14-year-old student at Man Academy in Hartlepool cemented the world record in dramatic fashion his challenge in less than 24hrs. His new world record now stands at 17:44:48 and will take some beating, even for any adult who has eyes on the record.
Ben, myself (dad) and his nana Yvonne made up Team Turnbull, and we supported by driving and documenting Ben’s record attempt while independent volunteers from each country would support in observing, witnessing and getting the data needed for the record books to ratify the world record.
Each country supplied a small army from local tri clubs to will Ben along, these included: Brown Shoes Tri Club from Belfast, Newton Stuart Tri Club from Stranraer, Carlisle Tri Club for the English leg, and Denbyshire Tri Club from North Wales.
Here’s my account of the eventful day…
Triathlon one: Belfast, Northern Ireland, 5:30am
The physical feat is hard enough in its own right, but to be prepared, alert and ready for each triathlon over such a long day puts a huge responsibility on Ben and the team.
This is why getting everything right needed to be pin-point perfect to ensure Ben could safely attack this challenge. We had four teams across four countries making sure all logistics allowed him to succeed.
And succeed he did, but it was not a straight path to success and problems arose from the outset that Ben had to overcome.
“I’d recovered from an ankle injury a few weeks before,” Ben explains, “and thought I was totally over it, but a sharp descent on a hill in the first run in Belfast at around 5:30am aggravated it and caught me by surprise.
“I was in agony and panicked as I genuinely thought the challenge would be over before it began, but my dad and the team quickly redesigned the route to more supportive terrain, and I hobbled three kilometers to just get to the end and get medical treatment “.
Over the following hours after his first successful, yet painful, triathlon in Northern Ireland, Ben was massaged, strapped up, and prepared for his next triathlon in Stranraer at 10:30am that morning.
Triathlon two: Stranraer, Scotland, 10:30am
“By 10:30am the heat of the day had arrived,” Ben continues. “The swim in Stranraer was lovely, and so was the bike, but a painful run in very hot conditions was only made better by the amazing volunteers in Scotland, who dragged me around a flat 800m course.
“They’d sectioned off a local pool for me to swim without any distraction and the bike course was hard and windy but really beautiful. I was really tired by the end of the second triathlon, but in high spirits as my ankle had held out, with just a little stretching needed so I was able to run the entire triathlon without walking.
“I knew the 2.5hr journey to Carlisle in England would give me plenty of time to refocus, fuel, rest and start thinking about triathlon number three.”
Triathlon three: Carlisle, England, 3:30pm
The English leg was tough in Carlisle. Although Ben was in high spirits, he was very tired and very aware that his ankle was suffering.
By mid-afternoon the sun was very high and hot, and after his fastest swim split of the day of only 12 minutes for 750m and a fast and flat bike leg, his energy was waning for the run.
But Ben never lost focus and kept pushing forward, taking the final 5km as a run/stretch strategy. But we could see he was running out of steam a bit, he needed more fuel and more fluids. Like the true athlete he is, he gritted his teeth and finished the run in just over 30 minutes… and then we were on our way to Wales at around 5:30pm.
Matt and his team of one, nana, took the travel time to make sure Ben had ample fuel, food, fluids, and supplements to give him the energy for the final race in Buckley, Wales, which they aimed to reach at around 8pm that evening.
Taking full advantage of hot services food Ben filled up on much needed carbs, protein and fluids and took time to sleep a little before putting his body through one last part of the challenge.
This all went according to plan and Ben was alert, rested and ready to race when they arrived 10 mins behind prediction at 8:10pm at Buckley Leisure Center, North Wales.
Triathlon four: Buckley, Wales, 8:30pm
Ben fondly recounts the final triathlon: “I actually felt amazing at this time. I think I knew I’d done the hardest part and this last triathlon was just going to be fun for me. I didn’t set myself a time, I just wanted to enjoy it.
“I was just about to get into the pool and swim and my mam popped out to surprise me. She’d traveled nearly 200 miles to see me complete the record which was amazing and gave me a real lift.”
Ben went on to complete the final push alongside his crew from Denbyshire Triathlon Club, who were there to support and witness his achievements.
A little after 10pm that night as the sun set over Wales (Ben had actually watched the sun rise over the sea in Ireland that same morning, 17hrs earlier), he completed his amazing feat with a smile and a sprint for a good measure.
“There were really times during the day where I thought I might not make it,” admits Ben. “But I was never going to give in because I knew it was all about the charities, and to fail would mean that children in Ukraine and homeless dogs may not get the funds they truly needed, so I kept going.
“I’m excited to hold a record and know that I am the first to ever do this and that can never be taken away. But it’s more important to me to keep raising awareness and money for these charities so I want people to keep giving,”
So far Ben has raised over £2,500 for British Ukrainian Aid and the Dogs Trust, please consider donating to these amazing causes by clicking on the links.
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