What You Know by Tim Lebbon

Run by James Lampard

Run by James Lampard

The old saying goes, write about what you know. Hmm. Over the past eighteen years or so I’ve had over thirty novels, dozens of novellas, and hundreds of short stories published in the horror and fantasy genres. I know very little about zombies (Coldbrook), sentient tumbleweed (Dusk), floating islands (The Island) or the end of the world (a lot of what I’ve written). That’s never really stopped me.

But of course, most of the time there’s a deeper truth to that statement. It doesn’t matter if I’ve never met a zombie (although check out the finish line at any long-distance triathlon…), I do know about fear and grief, concern for your family, and love, and things like that are what gives a novel soul.

The Hunt is my new thriller, the first non-supernatural, non-fantastical book I’ve ever written. I’m very proud of it, and I’m hoping that readers will really enjoy it. And it’s a novel that exists purely because I wanted to write about something I’ve got to know a lot more about over the past few years––endurance sports.

So here’s what happened.

Once upon a time…

… on January 1st 2011, when I was 41 years old, I weighed close to 15 stones, had never run more than a few miles, didn’t own a road bike, and couldn’t swim a length front crawl. Two and a half years later I was twelve stones and racing my first Ironman.

So how did that overweight, unfit middle-aged bloke end up running marathons and racing triathlons? There was a need to get fit that I’d felt for a long time. A general disgust with the way I’d let myself go. A fear that time was almost running out to do anything about it. But in the end, I think it was finding a sport I love, triathlon, that really turned things around.

At the start of 2011, it was meeting an old friend I hadn’t seen for some time that started the ball rolling. Pete had lost weight and got fit. Shocked by his transformation and instantly inspired, I suggested we do the National Three Peaks challenge together. He agreed on the spot, a team was formed with three other friends … and there was no going back. I had to climb Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon in 24 hours!

I’d believed all my life that a challenge way beyond what I believed I might be capable of was what I needed to get fit. I’d done all the usual things, like joining a gym, going for a few weeks, then stopping and wasting the membership. I’d played occasional squash and badminton, a bit of running, 4 or 5 miles on my mountain bike every few weeks. None of it worked because none of it as a) structured, or b) with a final, crazy aim in mind. I was doing what lots of people try to do––fitness for the sake of being fit. And like a lot of people, I was failing.

I had yet to find that challenge. But maybe this was it.

There followed five months of running and hill walking, combined with some concerted weight loss. As a group, we climbed our local mountains many times, training together once or twice each week, day and night. We got lost in the hills … dodged car crashes on the way to one night walk … learned how to map read … and on the big day itself, I almost died on Snowdon (buy me a pint one day and I’ll tell you all about it).

But we did it! I was exhausted, but immensely proud of what I’d done. And … I felt fit for the first time in my adult life.

I’ll admit, there was also some satisfaction in replying to people who said, “You did what?” Perhaps it was a bit of ego, but I quite liked the “You must be mad!” comments from friends and acquaintances when they asked what I was doing. Maybe in their eyes that was the case, but I thought differently. And who’s qualified to define ‘mad’? The grossly overweight, sedentary friend of a friend, sitting on a sofa with a bag of chocolate in one hand and saying, “You’re thinking of doing a marathon? You must be mad, people die doing that.”?

Because a marathon became the next big target. I started running some more, entered my first 10k race, then my first half marathon. I can still remember walking to the post box at midnight to post my marathon entry form and cheque. The training went well, and the race itself was … an education. A lesson hard learned––Don’t go off too fast! I spent 16 miles battling against horrific cramps, finishing eventually in 4:30. Still not too bad. Two months later I did an amazing mountain marathon in the Lake District, paced it well, and the race went a whole lot better. Job done.

Now then … what next?

That was when I became more and more interested in triathlon. Marathons are OK, but I was looking for a greater challenge, and I was keen to mix up my training. So I started learning how to swim properly, bought my first road bike, and entered my first triathlon.

I got the bug. More races followed, and as with the running, my ambitions grew way beyond my capabilities. Even before I’d race my first half-ironman, I’d signed up for the monstrous full distance.

“You’re doing what?”

2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, then a full marathon.

“How many days do you get?”

17 hours.

“You must be mad!”

Well, no. Just determined. As I tell anyone who asks me about it now, almost anyone could do an ironman if they put their mind to it.

Tim by James Lampard

Tim by James Lampard

I ran and swam all through the winter. I joined NEWT (Newport and East Wales Triathlon), my local triathlon club. My swimming was coming along okay, and I was putting the miles in on the bike. Long, cold, lonely, wet miles, through one of the worst winters in recent memory.

Sometimes, I caught my wife looking at me strangely.

In January of 2013 I started my dedicated 30 week training plan for Ironman. I trained hard … fell off my bike … almost fell off a mountain … fell off my bike again … struggled with my swimming … developed a knee injury that halted my training … but I kept positive and pushed forward towards the day. I discovered my new favourite saying: “Whether you think you can do something, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

I thought I could. I dreamed about Ironman. And on August 4th, I did it. I can safely say that the whole Ironman experience changed my life.

Since then I’ve maintained my love of triathlon. In 2014 I did several more races, including a half-ironman. This year I’ve completed two half-irons so far, and as I write this I’m 5 weeks away from my second ironman race, the mighty Outlaw. Obsessed? Maybe just a little.

All of this fed into The Hunt. I’d wanted to write a thriller for a while, and it made sense that it should be heavily informed by what I loved doing. So the main inspiration is the endurance sport I love, and the story and characters built up around that. I think it makes for a thrilling read.

I’ve always felt very lucky having got to the stage where I can make a living from my hobby. I’ve written since I was 7 or 8, and though it took until my late thirties to finally quit work and write full-time, I think that long apprenticeship was a good thing. Writing The Hunt, I was writing (my hobby-turned-into-living) about my hobby! That’s double lucky, and it’s also writing about what I know. I hope that shows through in the novel.

Although there always needs to be that final reach of imagination. I’ve done some tough races, but I’ve never once been shot at.

The Hunt is out in eBook now and is released in paperback on the 16th July.

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