'It always seems impossible until it's done' - the story of North Norfolk Beach Runners' Maria Greaves DECA 10 in 10 experience
10 Ironmen in 10 days - sounds impossible doesn't it? Not for Maria Greaves as she explains to Mark Armstrong
"It always seems impossible until it's done…"
Seven words inscribed upon Maria Greaves' left arm.
Never did it seem more impossible than on day eight of DECA - a challenge that sees tri-athletes attempt to complete 10 Ironmen in the space of 10 days.
It was all going rather well for policewoman from Holt, Maria. She had completed day seven and went to bed that night sad that this monumental challenge would be over in three days' time.
Then day eight happened.
"I don't know why but for some reason my knee blew up like a melon at the end of day eight and the mood amongst myself and my crew certainly changed. I had been really upbeat but I knew things were going to get a bit grim from hereon.
"I woke up on day nine and my knee was massive. It had completely seized up straight so getting into the wetsuit was tricky - someone said I'd got DECA-itis!"
Tri-Anglia member Maria wasn't going to give up easily though, in fact she wasn't going to give up at all. Thoughts of quitting never even entered her head. Her two children Millie and Chloe were due to arrive for the last couple of days and there was no way she was going to let them have a wasted journey.
"I couldn't let them down - that's not the kind of example that I want to set to them at all," she added. "There was never any way that I was ever leaving without that medal.
"I knew I was just going to have to suffer through it. I took some paracetamol and ibuprofen to try and get it moving again.
"The first couple of miles on the bike were agony - I had this crackly feeling in it. It eventually eased a little and as long as I didn't press on the pedal the knee would turn.
"My right leg did all the work in the last couple of days and I had to walk both marathons on the last two days so they were slow. That then has a knock on effect as it means you get less rest and less time to recover."
This was where her crew of partner Darren and his daughter, Shannon, had to earn their keep. Being a member of someone's crew isn't a jolly, you have to anticipate what your athlete needs before they even know it. Water? Electrolyte drink? Jelly baby? Pizza slice?
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Anything that's going to make your athlete feel slightly more comfortable has to be at hand and Maria's crew didn't let her down.
"Your crew has got to read your mind," said Maria.
"Darren has crewed for me when I've done double and triple Ironmen but it was a baptism of fire for Shannon.
"They were both brilliant - I couldn't have done it without them. We never fell out once and they always knew when something was wrong because I would go quiet!"
Maria, who is a North Norfolk Beach Runners member, had plenty to think about in those last couple of days thanks to her knee injury. Nagging away at the back of her mind was the fact that she was also first female when the knee first started to swell up… and she wasn't about to give that up easily.
"It had taken me eight days to get into that place and I was not going to give that up without a fight. I was going to do whatever I physically could to hold on to that. I had worked really hard for that so I was going to have to grin and bear it.
"DECA has been my whole life since January - it has to be otherwise you won't complete it.
"It was only on the last marathon leg that I knew I wasn't going to lose my spot.
"There was a bit of a battle for third overall with me and a chap called Chris, who was lovely, but I managed to hold on.
"It felt like it took forever walking the marathon but I really felt like I earned my t-shirt!"
But a medal and a t-shirt wasn't the only prize on offer at the end. Upon completing the just over 160 hours of sheer effort her partner Darren had a question he wanted to ask Maria. "He went very quiet on the last loop and I thought he was in a mood with me and I thought 'oh no what have I done?' But it was because he was nervous and he was playing it in his mind what he was going to say.
"It was lovely - hand on heart I didn't know that was going to happen at all… and of course I said yes!"
After living on what Maria describes as a 'DECA bubble' for most of 2019 she has turned her thoughts to what she is planning on doing next.
"There's a continuous version of what I've just done so a 24-mile swim followed by 1,120 mile ride followed by he 262 mile run," said Maria, whose knee has settled down since the event. "You get 12 days to do that and the clock never stops - I'm going to have to do it.
"But they only do that every two years so next year I think I might do The Brutal - it's a really hard Ironman in Wales. It's iconic in my little gang so I might have to do that. They are doing a quin version which would be a beast and, because I know it's happening, I want to do it."
It might seem impossible to a lot of us… but Maria will get it done.