We finish up our story of Bursledon Brickworks Museum volunteer Bob Palmer, with a quick…
Man on a mission.
I started playing basketball at the age of four or five …
RP: Let’s start with telling me a little bit about your background.
Phil: I was born in St Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth, in 1986, along with my twin brother Luke. All the family are based in or around the Portsmouth area. My Dad is from Gosport and my mum is from Leigh Park. I’m happily married with two young daughters, one aged six years old and the other just one.
RP: Did you go to school in Portsmouth?
Phil. I’ve lived in Portsmouth all my life. I went to Wimborne Infants and Junior schools, followed by Priory Sports and Technology College. I originally wanted to join either the police or fire service, so I took a Public Services course at Highbury College with that in mind. As part of that course, which covered police, fire, ambulance and the military, we were encouraged to attend the annual ‘Festival of the Sea’ event in Southsea. It was there that I had a change of heart and decided that I wanted to join the Royal Navy instead. At first, I thought my direction would be as a Navy pilot, but all the extra qualifications that would be required put me off.
Phil: This shows you how naive I was at the time. I went along to the Careers Office and when they asked me what I wanted to join up as, I said that I wanted to have something to do with plumbing. They said “Right, you’ll want to be an MEM (Marine Engineering Mechanic) then.” Not knowing any different, I signed on the dotted line as an MEM.
RP: LOL. How old were you?
Phil: I was seventeen at that point. I’d waited a year to make sure that I was committed about joining up, and I’d had a little bit of time to mature. I joined HMS Raleigh Training School in Cornwall, on September 15th 2003. After basic training, it was then on to (HMS Sultan in Gosport) for the 16 week MEM specialist course. I had two seagoing drafts, HMS Invincible and HMS Ark Royal, before leaving in 2008.
RP: Did the Navy not live up to your expectations then?
Phil: Far from it, I really enjoyed my time there. It was after the birth of my first daughter that everything changed. I hated being away from her, I was missing out on too much of her upbringing, so decided to leave rather than be a ‘go away’ dad.
RP: Did you finish, what I assume was a Navy apprenticeship?
Phil: Yes, I waited for a year after qualifying, so that it was not all wasted, and then left to join the big bad world of Civvy Street.
RP: Lets move over to your interest in sport. When did that all start?
Phil: I started playing basketball at the age of four or five
RP: Wow! really? That seems very early
Phil: I guess so. I don’t actually remember, unsurprisingly, how it all came about. But I played at the Mountbatten Sports Centre in Portsmouth. The training at the time was under a chap called Mick Burns, who was an ex-England coach. After about a 2 years under the belt of Mick, a man called Andy Rowlands took over who taught me for the rest of the duration, but as a sporting community everybody was still in touch with everybody else. I continued to play basketball for the next fourteen years.
NB. Mick Burns was part of what used to be the Eurobasket team. In 1981 The team was disbanded in 2005, to form what was eventually to become the GB National team, in preparation for the 2012 Olympics.
RP: That’s a serious amount of time and effort to the sport.
Phil: Yeah, I played for Hampshire and got to the point where I was on the verge of being offered trials for England.
RP: So what happened?
Phil: When I went to the Naval careers office, they said I had to decide between Sport (basketball) or the Navy. I couldn’t do both. Not the best advice as it turns out. After I’d signed up, I was then told I could have stuck with both basketball and the Royal Navy and had one of the easiest careers of my life LOL.
RP: That must have been tough, how did you deal with it?
Phil: I didn’t have a lot of choice really, but I took every opportunity to do what I was good at, basketball. I played for both ships, Invincible and the Ark Royal. As a team, we would do regular circuit training at HMS Temeraire two or three times a week. We would play local teams, Portsmouth juniors, adults, other Naval bases – anyone we could find.
RP: You were at your happiest when training.
Phil: Looking back now it seems obvious, but I didn’t realise it at the time.
RP: Making the best of what was available to you.
Phil: It wasn’t all a bed of roses though. The last year in the Navy, it all went a bit awry, I ate too much, drank too much, got lazy and put on a lot of weight. Not a pretty sight, but I guess it was because I wasn’t happy about being in the mob and away from my partner and baby daughter. It wasn’t until I left the Navy that I sorted myself out again.
RP: What was the incentive?
Phil: It was actually my cousin, Tom Fitch who, at the time, was either 15 or 16. He said that he was going to join a gym. In my head it was a case of, ‘right, he’s not going to be bigger than me’. That challenge was what I needed to give me a kick up the @rse. As it turned out, he never did actually go to the gym, but I’ve been addicted ever since.
RP: So you’re competitive by nature then?
Phil: Oh sure. I’ve always been that way. It’s why I continued to play basketball for so long.
RP: What was the aim of gym training?
Phil: Initially, the intention was to lose weight. I’d hit an all-time bloater stage at seventeen and half stone, so joining St Lukes gym was the starting point. I’d work out after work, then return later in the evening for a swimming session. I did that for about six months, losing two stone in the process. Then I got lazy again for another six months and I put the two stone back on again. In 2009, a mate bet me that I couldn’t give up smoking and drinking, at the same time, for a month.
RP: Another challenge..
Phil: Yeah, I decided that whilst I was doing that, I needed a distraction. So I took up running, with the intention of doing the Great South Run the following year. I always need a goal, and that seemed like a sensible one at the time. I gave up smoking and drinking completely, in fact, I haven’t smoked for nearly three years now.
RP: How did you take to running?
Phil: It was perfect for me at the time. The running, combined with my change in diet, brought my weight tumbling down from the original seventeen stone to a fighting weight of twelve point four.
RP: Good grief – that’s one heck of an achievement.
Phil: Unfortunately, I probably went a bit overboard on the training. I sustained a knee injury, which meant that I had to pull out of the 2010 Great South Run. I had to stop running completely for eight months, so I concentrated on the weight training and swimming under controlled conditions. Thankfully, I’m now back to running and, this year, 2012, I clocked 1hr 10 mins in the Great South Run.
RP: Are you pleased with that time?
Phil: I was aiming for anything below 1:15, so yes. My real goal was to be beat my dad’s best time. Before he had to give up running, he sustained a broken hip and needed a plate put in his leg after he was knocked off of his push bike by a motorbike, he clocked a personal best of 1:17. My quickest mile was 4.58 and my average was 7.01. Also, my brother-in-law has said that he will compete in next years event, so I had to give him something to aim for [LOL]. My brother Luke took part in the Portsmouth half marathon with me in February this year, after about ten days training. I trained all year round and he was only six minutes behind me. As I said, I’m not a natural runner, unlike Luke, more’s the pity.
RP: How did you get into cycling?
Phil: Because I work in Gosport and live in Portsmouth, I catch the Gosport ferry to and from work each day. At both ends of the journey, home to ferry and ferry to work, I needed a quick and cost effective way to travel, so I started out with a beaten up old bicycle called Sheila, may she rest in peace, LOL. One day, I saw a Triathlon on TV and something just clicked in my mind. As luck would have it, a work colleague was selling off a high spec bike cheap. So that was the push that I needed to start riding seriously. From that point on, I cycled all the way to work and back. A thirty miles round trip, instead of catching the ferry. I Leave work at 16:30, if I’m not out of Gosport by 16:56, I’m disappointed, slower today or whatever. I know I can get to the bottom of Cosham by 17:05. If I don’t get there by then, I’m thinking, I’m late, I’m late. Every journey is a race against the clock; my own personal competition. I can’t not do it.
RP: That leaves swimming then.
Phil: I was swimming as part of the my weight loss and general training routine, but it wasn’t until I signed up for my first Triathlon competition in Feb of this year (2012) that I had to get serious about it. With the triathlon you have to swim in open water, so there’s the added challenge of fighting with a current and facing my biggest fear. The one thing that gives me the hebee jeebies is not being able to touch the bottom in open water if I need to. It’s mad really. I’m a strong swimmer and have never got into any trouble, but it’s a psychological barrier for me, more than anything. The strange thing is, despite this, if I could only compete in one part of the sport, it would be the swimming.
RP: How much open water training did you do before the event?
Phil: As I said, I signed up in February, so I started started swimming in open water in March, prior to that it was in swimming pools doing drill work. Drill training consists of alternate 400m distances using either only legs, or only arms. I swim in the sea twice a week, although it’s getting a bit cold at this time of year, even with a wet suit. I’ll continue with sea swimming every Saturday with a couple of mates. The intention is to do the annual New Year’s Day swim, so we have to keep up the weekly swim to remain acclimatised.
RP: How do you pace yourself in open water training?
Phil: I give myself a simple goal to swim between two known reference points . For where I swim at Southsea, it’s usually from a buoy to the pier and back. I know that it’s roughly 3/4 mile there and 3/4 mile back again and that I can do a mile in 30 minutes, if not less, doing the front crawl. As long as I can keep a distance, it’s more about the endurance than the time. I aim for max of 45 mins per mile. If I can do 2 miles comfortably, I know that I can do a mile in a certain time. I think it’s actually more challenging to swim two or three miles in open water, than the effort required for competing at full distance in both cycling and running put together. It takes more cardiovascular effort, at least it does for me, maybe other folk are different.
RP: How did your first event go?
Phil: A heck of a lot better than I could have hoped. It was an Olympic distance triathlon with 154 competitors organised by Primera, at Bucklers Hard in the New Forest. I was a bit anxious to start with because of the swimming, which was the big unknown, as it was my first open water competition. A distance of one mile within a set time of 50 minutes. If you don’t complete the course within the time, you’re automatically disqualified from the remaining stages. I was more confident going into the cycling and running events. As it turned out, I did the swim in 25 minutes, The cycling was 25 miles, which I completed in 1hr 5 minutes. Oddly enough, the run was my worst event. I finished that, 6.2 miles, in 54 minutes, which was a bit slow for me. But in my defence, it was the last event, and the terrain was tough going as it was gravel for pretty much all of the way. Overall, I finished 97th out of a field of 150, in two and half hours. Considering I was hoping for a total of three and half, I was well chuffed. To put that in context, the winner’s time was two hrs. Of course, this means that I have to better it next year.
RP: Would you say your approach to training has changed?
Phil: Before taking up training for a Triathlon, I would just run for fun and to lose a bit of weight. But now, having taken part in my first serious competition, with more planned, my training has moved to the next level. Every time that I go out, I treat it as a competition, even though it’s only with myself. I take my friend’s dog running with me now, a gorgeous pedigree Weimaraner, on my speed days. She takes a minute off of each mile. I’ll run six minute miles, my quickest 2 miles with her is 10.38, which is great compared to my average of seven minutes on my own. It tires the dog out too. I got a text the other night from the owner saying, the dog can’t stand up, it’s got jelly legs. When she runs, she doesn’t slow down. It’s full pelt for two or three miles. All or nothing. The dog’s getting fitter as well. I watch a lot of triathlon videos to try and pick up hints and tips. From how to speed up transactions (changeovers), getting your wet suit off quicker, mental attitude, all sorts of aspects that I wouldn’t have considered. It’s become a lifestyle as much as a hobby. A passion if you will. Some might say an obsession, but obsession is a word used by the lazy to describe the dedicated. Because it’s goal related, there’s always something to aim for. The constant striving to be better, faster, stronger, mentally as well as physically. I prefer endurance type of events – more of a test for your body. I would prefer to push my own body, until I physically can’t move, and have somebody come and pick me up, than just do 100 metres and go home. That’s where I get my kick from – pushing myself to the limit of what I’m capable of, and then a bit more. A test of the limits of my mind and body.
When I go out running I’ll sometimes tell myself, I’m just going out for a gentle plod. But then after a mile, it turns into a race to better a time from the night before or something. It’s a constant battle against my own times. I’m not a natural runner though. The first mile is huffing and puffing like a mad man until I find my rhythm – then I start to enjoy it. Eventually, I’ll get to the ‘jelly leg’ stage. That’s where I have to talk to my legs to keep going, to get my second wind. The best bit is getting home and knowing that I’ve done a good run. There’s nothing worse than thinking, ahhh, I could have done a couple more miles or whatever. I like to know that I’ve pushed myself. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean full on all the time, but just that I’ve haven’t coasted or wasted the time.
RP: Do you wake up on a training day and it’s the first thing in your head?
Phil: Food’s the first thing in my head [LOL]. Wake up, teeth, food. If I’m going for a run in the evening, I’ll psych myself up all day for it. If I don’t, it’s all too easy to start out with the wrong attitude and perform, at least in my mind, badly or not as well as I should do. I’m preparing all day, drink lots of water, eating the right things etc. for that run. I’m not obsessive, but I eat as healthily as I can. Wholemeal pasta, rices. I eat every three hours rather than just snacking. It’s the only way I can control my metabolism. Although, having said that, I got to the stage when I was losing weight, that I got completely obsessed with what I was eating. I would take my own food round peoples’ houses, so that I knew what I was eating and could account for every calorie. Thankfully, I saw sense and pulled back from that. Now, as long as I’m exercising, I don’t really care what I eat. I could eat all day long, as long as it’s healthy. The average man needs 2,500 calories, you burn around 2000 naturally. I go to the gym in the morning then cycle home, so for the amount of training that I do, I should be taking in 4500 to 5000 calories a day. But cost wise, I can’t afford to keep that up. So I make up the difference with pasta and suchlike.
When I know that there’s a race or competition coming up, I like to prepare a month in advance, as far as food goes. That gives me a couple of weeks leeway to get out of the habit of eating and drinking rubbish at the weekends. For the two weeks beforehand, it will be nothing but healthy food. It’s surprising how much it affects my training. For example, if I have a Chinese meal on a Friday night, then go out for a run on the Saturday, I have no energy. There’s nothing of any nutritional value in it, so the gas tank is empty before I even start. It’s made me very aware of what I can and can’t eat prior to serious training. I didn’t notice it until I started running competitively. When I first started out, I was running five miles in an hour. As I started to get more competitive, I would do the same distance in 35 minutes. I’d go out the next time and, suddenly, I would really be struggling. Hot sweats, lactic acid, feeling sick from the exertion. I narrowed it down that the only difference was what I’d been eating the night before. Snacks and rubbish instead of slow release foods like pasta and carbohydrates.
RP: What’s your weekly routine?
Phil: When I’m not competing, it’s cycling to and from work daily. Weights on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning at the 24/7 fitness gym in Gunwharf, Portsmouth. Two evening runs a week, on a Tuesday and Thursday, for a distance of 9 to 10 miles and 6 to 7 miles respectively. Then swimming Wednesday and Saturday mornings. Sunday is a day off. Competition training changes to a full body weights session once or maybe twice a week, running Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Then extra cycling on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, with swimming the same.
RP: I’m exhausted just thinking about it
Phil: My average day is a 5:00 start and 9:30 bedtime on a weekday, with 06:00 start at weekends. As I’m sure my wife will agree, if I don’t get enough sleep when I’m training, I get snappy. Everything that I’ve read about doing the Iron Man competition says to prepare for divorce [LOL]. They say you should warn family members, it’s such a strain on the body.
RP: What would you say was your best event, performance wise?
Phil: Cycling is the strongest event of the three. I’m comfortable with my cycling and running technique, but I might take some swimming lessons to try and improve in that area. Of course there’s always room for improvement in all areas, but that is my weakest event in terms of style. The correct gear will have a part to play, whether its proper trainers to assist in the correct foot placement, or a different bike which has lighter materials etc. But all that will have to wait until I can afford such luxuries. The best way to improve in performance, especially for my running, is to train with somebody faster or fitter. That helps to raise my game and forces me to work harder. But I do like the solitude of training – it’s my ‘me time’ so it’s a tricky balancing act in that respect.
RP: What events are on the horizon?
Phil: Only one left for this year, the Santa 10K in December. Oh, and the New Year dip in the sea, but I don’t suppose you’d count that as a competition, probably more of a moment of madness really. There’s a whole bunch of things for next year though, starting with the Portsmouth half marathon in February. My brother-in-law wants to do the 2013 National Three Peaks Challenge. He’s just given up smoking so that’s given him a goal to aim for. I am planning to do it with him but, I’m very busy at the time it’s being held, so we’ll have to see on that one. He went out running for the first time in a year after giving up smoking, and did three 7:45 minute miles which is great, but also annoying when I have to work so hard for it! But I’ve always said that he’s a natural for running, just like my brother; he has the right build for it. I’d like to do it, but it’s not top of the list at the moment. There’s a couple of duathlon’s (cycle, run, cycle) around Portsmouth, a triathlon at Blenheim Palace in June. The half Iron Man in September and the Portsmouth full marathon in December.
NB. The National Three Peaks Challenge is an event in which participants attempt to climb the highest mountains of Scotland (Ben Nevis), England (Scafell Pike) and Wales (Snowdon) within 24 hours.
RP: Would you like to compete abroad?
Phil: I was looking to do the Iron Man in Australia – we have family out in Perth. But the competition is on the East coast, and family is on the West, so not sure. It only looks like a ten minute drive on the map [LOL], but obviously it’s quite a hefty flight. They have Iron Man events in Lanzerote, France etc. If I was going to do it abroad, I’d like to tie it in with a holiday. The logistics might be tricky, but it’s doable. The official Ford Iron Man is nearly £500 entry so, if I do go ahead, it will probably be an unofficial one. Maybe the same company who organised the triathlon in the New Forest this year. Just means that it won’t be recorded by Ford. But there again, I’m never going to go to the Championships. That would be nice wouldn’t it, to go out to Hawaii for the final?
RP: How about longer term?:
Phil: I quite fancy cycling John O’groats to Lands End. Ten days is normal, but I’d have a crack at doing it in six or seven days. Although cycling is not the biggest passion out of the three events to be honest. A really big one would be to swim the Channel. A big personal barrier for me is the fear factor of such deep open water. If I can’t touch, I don’t like. Not being able to put my feet on the bottom if need to, is something that I’ve got to overcome psychologically. And swimming in the dark. Not done a night swim yet, although there is a full moon swim every month with the Portsmouth Triathlon Club. Apart from overcoming personal fear, cost is a big factor. That can be around £5000. The cost is for the support team, a pilot boat and crew, and the fare back from France. So we’ll have to see on that one. But, who knows? One day. I’d start out with short distances first, something like Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight, which is about four miles. Lee On Solent to the IOW is three miles, maybe a mile and a half from the New Forest, so maybe take it in stages to, literally, test the water.
I don’t belong to any clubs at the moment. Once I get some more experience, and the correct wet suit, I’ll think about joining the Portsmouth Triathlon Club. If they’ll have me [LOL]. If I can handle the half Iron Man next year, I’d like to have a go at the real thing in 2014. I still play basketball occasionally. Luke still plays; he had trials for Hampshire and England as well as me. By the time I’m thirty, I’d like to be on the path to doing some form of basketball coaching for adults, or maybe sports physiotherapy. The trouble is, all these ideas cost money that I don’t have. So what’s new eh?
RP: I guess you don’t have time for anything else in your life, apart from family, obviously.
Phil: Well, Monday nights are for band practice.
RP: You’re a musician as well!
Phil: Yeah, I dabble a bit. I play in a band with by dad Rob (Drums), Stepfather-in-law Graham (Guitar) and a mate, Tony (Guitar). We write and perform our own music at the RMA Pub in Portsmouth. Graham has a small, purpose built, home studio where we record. It’s been about a year now and we still haven’t come up with a name. We’ll be looking to get some gigs next year. I used to sing in a covers band with my dad and Tony, the guitarist, three or four years ago. But I’ve taught myself to play guitar, so now I play guitar and sing. A very busy, hectic lifestyle.
I never want to be famous, but I would like to be able to write music. I’m happy to sit in the background, maybe be a session musician, or write an album for someone. I’d be happy to get the credit/name check, but not have to perform it. To be honest, I don’t want the scrutinity. I don’t mind the guy in the front row in the pub saying I’m rubbish and it spoiling his night. But I don’t want the papers to say I’m rubbish and it ruining my night. I’ve got family to think of, it’s too much. Music is just a distraction, a way to enjoy myself, and nothing more really. Just push myself to learn more, write more, get better as a musician. I don’t really do it for other people; it’s just for me, and the other band members of course.
RP: I’m surprised that you have time to sleep
Phil: I’m a very focused person. If I have an hour here or there, and I know that I only have an hour, it’s normally quite well used. I’ll occasionally just veg out in front of the TV, but it’s rare. If I have a day off, it tends to be quite regimented. I’m usually a bear with a sore head if a planned day doesn’t pan out as intended. I think it’s my military background that’s made me that way. My mum is just as bad. She’s a nurse, so I suppose her work life is just as organised and planned out as mine used to be in the Navy. After a while, it’s bound to make you more comfortable with that way of thinking, I suppose. If I go out for an evening, I like to know where we’re going, what time we’re going, how long we’re going to be there etc; unless somebody says we’re going out and we don’t know where we are going to end up. That’s fine, but I prefer to have a plan. I’m uncomfortable being spontaneous. At 5 o’clock, I’m going to be spontaneous, then at 6 that’s all going to stop and It’s back to the plan [LOL]. I get asked how do I fit it all in. I look at it logically and I don’t know. It just seems to work. I don’t know why or how, but it does. I reckon if I stopped to plan it all in, it wouldn’t.
RP: Anything else you’d like to mention?
Phil: Yeah. Every time I officially compete, it’s not just for me. I usually aim to raise money for charity. As a family, we’ve had some health related tragedies and some close calls recently. I don’t make a big thing of it, but every little helps. Not every competition, but every big event will probably be for Naomi House or for a Cancer related charity. Not everyone is well off, or fortunate to have good health, so if I can give something back, all to the good. It’s an added incentive when I’m competing. If I know that I have people relying on me, albeit for the money that I’ve promised, that helps to keep me going. I don’t want to let people down, even if I had to crawl, I’d finish to make sure that I keep that promise.