No stopping Irongran
Mother of three and grandmother of four, Eddie Brocklesby is focusing on completing her seventh Ironman next week in Mexico. Margaret Jennings speaks to the inspirational 75-year-old
IT’S still called the Ironman, from when the endurance–testing triathlon was originally staged in Hawaii in 1978. But 75-year-old Eddie Brocklesby, who has successfully completed six of what is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world, in the past nine years, can justifiably claim the title Irongran.
The British mother of three and grandmother of four, is currently focusing on completing her seventh Ironman next week in Cozumel, Mexico. Just consider the challenge: a 3.86 km (2.4-mile) swim, a 180.25 km (112-mile) bicycle ride, and a marathon 42.20 km (26.22-mile) run — raced in that order, and without a break.
“I should be called mad-gran, not Irongran,” Eddie tells Feelgood. And when asked what her 20-year-old self would have to say about how her extraordinary sporting life has panned out, she replies “utter disbelief”.
Considering Eddie only took up running at age 50 to increase her bone density before menopause, because a doctor advised her to do so, there is hope for us all.
And that is a message she brings across in her book, published earlier this year, called Irongran: How Keeping Fit Taught Me That Growing Older Needn’t Mean Slowing Down, in which she looks back at her life and shares the challenges she has faced personally and during her sporting endeavours.
It seems slowing down has never been on this awe-inspiring woman’s agenda, however.
With a 50-year-career in social work behind her, and having spent the last two decades participating in marathons, triathlon, duathlon and Ironman events across the globe, she also founded a charity called Silverfit five years ago, to organise fitness classes for older people.
“Physical inactivity is the greatest killer of people of my age as it’s a precursor of illness and dependency. I realised the many benefits of sports as we age in terms of health and alleviating social isolation,” she says. “Silverfit has been far more successful than we thought possible and is now in 17 venues in London. I would love to expand more widely, but need to find funding for core staff.”
Apart from her iron-like physical strength, Eddie obviously has a steely determination as well as resilience and energy. At the age of 56, for instance, 10 years before her first Ironman, she could barely swim: “I couldn’t do the crawl at all and only a minimal breaststroke — keeping my head above water like all women of my age, because you couldn’t get your hair wet and ‘catch a chill’.”
But she persevered. And that determination is encapsulated also in her response to her tooth falling out when, at age 60, she was running in the London Marathon; she picked it up and carried on. Two years later, in the midst of her high-octane sporting career, she also received her PhD, based on a decade of research with adoptive families with whom she had been working.
The death of her beloved husband Phil from cancer in 1994 still remains with her. “Phil’s cancer came on so quickly. He had surgery to remove a tumour in his colon just before our 30th wedding anniversary, but by November we were told the cancer had spread to his pancreas and he had less than six months to live. In fact, he had only three weeks.
“I can still remember our final awful, desolate sleepless night together: Just the two of us as Phil drifted in and out of consciousness. At 1pm after one final big hug, it was over. I resolved to make the most of the future.”
Running with her friends became her therapy and now she says: “I was the lucky one in 1994 when my husband died. It still motivates me at times of stress — to live for today.”
For any of us who might think we are ‘too old’ or ‘not fit enough’, it’s worth mentioning that Eddie, who is the oldest British woman to have completed an Ironman, has had torn ligaments in both knees and suffers with arthritis.
What would she say to any of us wanting to make a start at getting fit? “Take it steadily, build up slowly, try and find others to join a journey to more physical activity — look for fun activities. It is the social side of connecting, having the chat and the cup of tea, that keeps our Silverfitters coming back.”
In the build-up to the Ironman, as well as working “flat out 60 hours per week” as CEO for the charity, she has been putting in 20-25 hours’ training — but is easing off as she gets closer to the date.
And does she have specific goals? “The last Ironman took me 16 hours 6 mins. My target is to beat the cut-off time, which will be midnight. But as long as the water is not too choppy it is a fantastic swim, one direction — hopefully with the current behind me, over the most fantastic coral reef.”
It’s a far cry from not wanting to get her hair wet almost two decades ago.
STEELY DETERMINATION: Eddie Brocklesby founded Silverfit five years ago, a charity that organises fitness classes for older people.