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Interview: World Record holder Les Bailey
Posted by: Annie Emmerson
Posted on: Friday 6th June 2008


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Normally, when most people reach their seventies, they just want to kick back, smoke a pipe, drink the odd gin and tonic, do the crossword, etc, but not Les Bailey. No, definitely not! He has the mind and body of a much, much younger person and to top it all, has just become a World Record holder! For anyone who has met Les (and if you have, you certainly won't forget him) you can't help but be totally inspired. His pace is relentless, not just in training and racing, but life in general. He has a phenomenal amount of energy (even after an Ironman) and whilst others are wilting after a tough day's racing, Les is just warming up, he'll be the last in the bar at the post race party, but he'll be the first on the ride the morning. Annie Emmerson caught up with the very remarkable Mr Bailey to find out about his very own World Record and his self-imposed ban on competing in another Ironman race.


AE You became World Record holder at last week's Ironman Lanzarote in the 70 plus category, how does that make you feel?

LB It's incredibly rewarding; especially as the over 70s plus record had stood since 2002!

AE How did you become involved in triathlon and what was your background in sport?

AE My first triathlon race was in a low key triathlon race in Bahrain almost 20 years ago, where I enjoyed a cup of soup between swim to bike and a cup of tea bike to run! I've always been sports minded, I started club cycling at thirteen years-old and did my first 10 mile TT at 14 and I guess I've not looked back since. I reached a high standard at timetrial racing, then got involved in college rugby, and club rugger for 15 years. Then followed horse riding and I developed a livery yard with up to 20 horses in stables. For almost 20 years I hunted with the local foxhounds and also rode my own point to point horses over steeplechase courses. At the same time I started running and did my first marathon, again in Bahrain, and that got me hooked on competitive running, triathlon and duathlon.

AE You’ve raced so many different events, from European and World duathlon and triathlon championships, to Ironman racing, and marathons. Which has been your favourite event?

LB My favourite race is the duathlon since swimming is my weakest discipline, despite much coaching! For the past 12 years I have competed at both World and European level for the GB age group team. I have also done many Powerman races in various parts of the world, winning gold on a few occasions. I don't really have a favourite event, I just love racing!

AE With so many championship events under your belt you must have a lot of medals hanging up at home?

LB My biggest collection of medals for the past ten years is for the British Championships, which are mainly gold ones. At World Championships I have silver and bronze with gold and silver at European championships – I must have well over 20 major medals.

AE How many Ironman races have you done?

LB Only two – 2005 in Nice and now 2008 at Ironman Lanzarote.

AE You’ve said that Lanzarote is your last Ironman, are you really sure about that?

LB Yes, I am sure, but would like to do the Ironman 70.3 series and aim for the world championship at Clearwater, Florida.

AE Is it true that you've signed a piece of paper stating the fact you'll never to another Ironman and given it to your wife!

LB No, that's not quite true, there's no written agreement, but I've certainly given her a verbal agreement.

AE Were you not tempted to take your Hawaii slot, just a little, maybe?

LB No, Hawaii doesn’t really excite me and it’s a non-wetsuit swim which wouldn’t suit me.

AE Lanzarote is renowned for being one of the toughest Ironman events that there is, talk us through your race.

LB Yes, it’s classed as the toughest Ironman race in the world and most people agree. At the start of the race and the few days before I was pretty relaxed, I don't enjoy the swim, but I knew I had to get on with that part of the race and just try to enjoy it, as much as I could. Conditions were ideal, clear water and fairly calm sea. I did have slight panic attack after five minutes and thought I would have to get out, but I did manage to overcome this after a short while. The bike course suited me, plenty of hills and with my weight of 68 kilos and good biker legs, I had a good ride and didn't have a problem with the hot weather. The run was all about survival, with three-laps to go I really wanted to call it a day, simply because it was becoming a mental strain as opposed to any physical pains. But Phil and Michelle Parsons and Kevin kept me going, which included providing a glass of beer at 30km! It was simply a relief to cross the line and to be applauded as the oldest person, at 71 years, to have done the race!

AE What’s your ideal post Ironman race drink and food?

LB Immediately after Ironman race a strong cup of sweet tea and a large chicken leg, then later good wine and a steak.

AE Which is your most memorable event?

LB The 1989 London Marathon, when I did a PB of 2:50:37 when I hadn't been expecting to beat three hours. Also my first World Triathlon Championships, in Perth, as an GB age grouper in 1997.

AE Before you rode bikes you rode horses, tell us about your work with them?

LB We developed a family livery business for hunters and point to point horses, it was a hobby which turned into a business, which we sold after 20 years. During that time I raced my own point to point horses over steeplechase courses. Occasionally I still ride out point to point horses in exercise for a local trainer.

AE How many hours per week do you generally train?

LB Not as many as I used to, but on average I train ten to twelve hours per week, plus racing, which works out at two events a month year round, but I do still keep very active and enjoy walking with Sheilah and our Jack Russell terrier, Holly. I'm doing an off-road, 31 mile charity walk in a few weeks, with my daughter Vannessa.

AE You’re good friends with Michelle Parsons and her husband Phil and go to quite a few events with them. Apart from being a lot of fun, it must be inspiring to train and race with someone who has achieved a phenomenal amount of success over the last couple of years, especially when you consider the fact she’s a full time mum and works 20 hours a week as a sports-therapist?

LB It's great fun to frequently go away racing with Michelle and Phil and during the past few years it has been wonderful to see Michelle reaching great heights as an elite duathlete. Phil has also tremendous talent, but doesn’t like to admit to his success. After races we do let our hair down and enjoy good wine and beer. Even a good Cuban cigar after a major race for me!

AE If you hadn’t chosen triathlon/duathlon as your sport what would you be doing?

LB Probably riding horses, but not competing. Also running, both road and cross country. Walking is also a must with my family and the dog.

AE Which sportsman or women do you most admire and why?

LB Ellen MacArthur – what a girl!

AE What plans do you have for the rest of 2008 and beyond?

LB I have a few standard distance local triathlons lined up, they are less demanding than duathlons. At the end of August I'm racing Powerman Austria, which will be the fifth time I've done this race – last year I won Gold there. Then in late September I'll be racing the World Duathlon Championships in Rimini, Italy. Next year, if I'm fit and well, I'll aim for Ironman 70.3 races and perhaps qualify for the World Championship in Clearwater, Florida. Also the World and European Championships at triathlon and duathlon. The most important thing is though, that whatever the event, I just love competing!


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