Island Games – Gotland

Today, in case you didn’t already know, is Isle of Wight Day. A day to celebrate all that is good and great about our beautiful diamond shaped oasis of calm.

So I thought it fitting to choose today to celebrate  our doughty duo of amazingly talented Island Games heroes,  Nick Kenney and Trish Train.

Started in 1985 on the Isle of Man , the Island Games were organised to celebrate “The Year of Sports” and to give athletes from different Islands the opportunity to compete internationally. Intended as a one off occasion, 700 athletes competed from 15 islands over 7 sports. It was such a success that Guernsey decided to take it on 2 years later and the rest, as they say, is history. 30 years on and the biannual event now sees 2500 competitors from 24 islands taking part across 19 sports.

2017 saw the turn of the Swedish island of Gotland. A peaceful idyll off the east coast of the Swedish mainland, it is a popular holiday destination for the Swedes. But despite its tranquil nature, it is by no means it’s literal translation, (the different land). It’s main town, Visby, has modern facilities to rival any city, despite the quaint appearance of quaint old walled town with its narrow streets and spires.

The proceedings began, just as any international games does, with an opening ceremony. With every participating team parading the venue, flying their team flag and wearing their team colours, it really adds to the excitement and anticipation of the week of eventing ahead.

Kevin Winchcombe also accompanied the team in his role as Team General Manager. His role was to ensure every single competitor was registered for their events and co-ordinate the team as a whole.

“I managed to see 13 sports over the week. It was tiring, but amazing”

Nick was the first to compete as his event was scheduled early on in the week of competition. He’d trained hard across all his 3 disciplines all through the cold winter months and this was his time to put all those minutes, seconds and hours of blood, sweat and tears to work.

However, Mother nature had other ideas that morning. With gusting winds of 25 mph and 2m waves, the sea swim was deemed too dangerous by officials and was reduced in length from 1500m to 600m. Nerves already jangling, this did nothing but heighten the anxiety of the field.

“It’s my weakest discipline anyway” said Nick after I quizzed him on his Facebook post describing the swim as a “near death experience”

“It was the hardest swim I have ever done. It was so hard to get into a rythmn because breathing was so difficult. Going into such massive waves so beyond anything I had trained for. I had to stop to catch my breath and I drifted off a bit. It was scary. I came out quite near the back

But he did it ! He completed his swim in just over 13 minutes. He had to compose himself and perform a seamless transition onto his bike for the second part of this 3 leg journey.

The cycle leg consisted of 4 laps of a 10k course around the surrounding area of Visby. The weather was still hampering the triathletes as the wind was still gusting and it was now raining. It was quite a technically challenging loop as the competitors found themselves flying down fast descents into sharp turns and negotiating cobblestones, made slippery under their tyres from the recent downpours.

But despite the demands of the circuit, Nick was determined to make up some of the time he’d lost on the swim. He managed to overtake quite a few of the competition on the way. Confidence back, he made another good transition and embarked upon the final segment – the 10k run.

2 loops of a 5k course through the heart of the historical walls of Visby was all Nick had to conquer to find glory at the finish line.

“The support through the town was great. The locals really got behind the event, the atmosphere was fantastic”

Nick has worked tirelessly on bringing his 10k times down all year and it paid off as he stormed through this section of the event, overtaking more competitors as he went. He came over the finishline in 43.19 making him 46th overall and 3rd out of the IOW team.

“I was hoping to finish in the top 50, so I was delighted with my result. The sense of team spirit really spurred me on. I really wanted to do well for the Island. It was one of the proudest moments of my life”

Our Trish had a rather different journey toward her event. It began in November last year when, after a Summer season of pure brilliance, she ran her qualifying time at the Gosport Half marathon.
Hours of training ensued, concentrating solely on getting quicker, running harder, getting stronger. She took being granted her place at the games very seriously, giving it the respect it deserved.
And then disaster struck. On a club run in March, Trishs’s foot suddenly became excruciatingly painful and she had to stop immediately. A misdiagnosis followed as she was told it was a sprain and it would heal shortly. However it soon became apparent that there was a lot more afoot (sorry -dreadful pun!), and she was finally diagnosed with a stress fracture. By this time though, the games were only 8 weeks away and it seemed that Trishs dream of competing at this international competition were over.

She was given a removable cast to wear as she was relegated helplessly to the sidelines, watching her fellow clubmates compete, always with a smile, but all the while watching the clock ticktocking away on her dream.

Finally with only 4 weeks until the games kicked off, the cast was binned for good. A week later, she was given the go ahead to try running again.

“I was terrified” she said “I’m on my feet for my job too, I was so worried it would knock me out from work again. My coach Geoff Watkin, set me a plan”

It was trepidacous to begin with. Running 1 minute at a time to start with, until she made it to 20 minutes. The journey to recovery was a long road stretching before her, feeling all the more further away, knowing how hard she’d trained before and how frustrating it was to have been so near and now feeling so far. She only had 3 weeks to recover when it should have taken months, but she had to try, she had to do what Trish does best…she dug deep and kept her focus.

As the days ticked by and the games drew ever closer, Trish was still unsure of her fit to run status. She kept plugging away, getting upto 7 miles until the day arrived when it was time to leave and she boarded the plane on the journey she had almost given up on.

She spent her time in Gotland wisely. Enjoying the atmosphere and watching some of the events but kept her main attention on her training still. Making good use of the facilities and services that were on offer toto athletes.

“It was nerve wracking having to wait until the end of the week to compete” she said “although it did give me a few extra days to train. We could use the track there which was handy. I managed to run 9 miles a few days before the race which was good but tiring, I couldn’t believe how much of my fitness had disappeared. I knew it may not be enough. I was so scared”

Race day arrived.

“I have never stood on the startline of a race really not knowing if I could finish it. It’s the most nervous I have ever been”

The weather wasn’t kind as the runners set off in the rain around the course. Starting at the Athletics Stadium, the course then took them on 2 laps around Visby town. As with the 10k of Nicks event, the support on the route from both locals and other competitors was uplifting. Trish battled her way around.

“I felt awful the whole way through” she says “After 7 miles, I was shattered. My feet were sore and the rain was making them worse”

But she battled through it. Deliberately not wearing her watch so that she couldn’t worry about her pacing and her time, she tuned out from the pain and kept putting one foot in front of the other until there was 13.1 miles behind her.

“I was so relieved to see the finish”

She’d made it! A little slower than her pace when she’s fully fit, but 20 minutes faster than she thought she had run (no watch on her wrist remember!) Waiting for her was teammate and fellow runner Charlie Metcalfe, who had been a great source of support and encouragement during their week in Gotland.

“I’m so glad I didn’t pull out. It made me feel so proud to represent the Island. I’ve had such an amazing experience here. It’s made me so determined to qualify for the next games in 2 years. It’s unfinished business. I want to come back and compete when I am at full fitness”

As if Nick hadn’t been put through his paces enough during his event, he took part in an open Half Marathon race which took place after Trish’s race had finished. It followed same route that Trish took. He proudly stool on the startline in his trusty Roadrunners vest, flying the flag for our wonderful club. Having not done any distance training for months, he was running it for fun.

But what fun it was! He stormed round. No sign of any tiredness lingering from Monday’s Triathlon. All doubts disappeared. He absolutely smashed it. He finished in a remarkable 3rd place and even took 30 seconds off his pb! Crossing the line in 1.27.53!

Time to party!! A closing ceremony to bring the curtain down on a memorable week.

An enormous privilege and achievement for both of them. We are so proud of you. Gibraltar 2019 here you come!