By Debbie James

As hundreds of athletes prepare to take on the challenge of Ironman Wales this autumn, one Pembrokeshire farmer has demonstrated that life on the farm is the perfect training ground for a long-distance endurance event.

Twenty-nine-year-old Edward Clements, who farms with his parents at Martletwy, has a natural ability to plough through choppy seas, pedal more than 100 miles on a bike and make a marathon look like a walk in the park.

His performance can perhaps be attributed to two key factors unique to farming – an inner resilience which farmers are renowned for and the unique combination of cross-training and active recovery that is part and parcel of life on the farm.

Last September, Edward completed Ironman Wales in an amazing 11 hours and 13 minutes. What really set him apart from fellow competitors was that he was back in the parlour milking his cows after allowing himself just the morning after to recover.

Not satisfied with that achievement, this year he entered Long Course Weekend Wales in Tenby, setting an ambitious target for a place in the top 20.

His sister, Laura, who will be competing in Ironman Wales this year, said a winter of training followed, mostly centred around milking 200 cows twice a day.

“This activity is excellent for developing upper body and core strength,’’ she insists.

“There was no need for Ed to formalise the training regime into a spreadsheet or modify it according to fatigue levels, it happened every day regardless. The herd did not care to hear about any tired legs or aching joints!’’

The thought of running a marathon fills most people with dread but, says Laura, when you work with livestock, long runs are part of everyday life.

“It is not uncommon for a farmer to sprint across the fields in hot pursuit of cattle heading towards a neighbours' field of newly planted grass seed!’’ she laughs.

Through the cold dark winter months, Edward supplemented this daily routine with runs, long bike rides and a swim at the local leisure centre. Most of these were done after a busy day on the farm.

As the days got longer and the cows were turned out to grass in April, there was more time for Edward to squeeze in longer rides, and even the odd run before the evening milking.

The fourth discipline in triathlon is nutrition. “Whilst some serious athletes get tied up looking at the pros and cons of gels, bars and powders, Ed would chug down a homemade smoothie after a long ride. With his cows churning out milk high in protein and butterfat, what could be better?’’ says Laura.

On the first evening of Long Course Weekend Wales, the sea was flat and Edward set off with the many hundreds of swimmers, finishing in a time of 1:05:42.

The following morning, Edward pedalled hard for 112 miles for the cycling element of the event, crossing the line in 5:32:28; this was enough to put him in seventh place overall.

Whilst most competitors went back to their hotel rooms for some well-earned rest ahead of the following day’s marathon, Edward went home to some light cow duties.

But this didn’t hold him back because the following day he crossed the finishing line in 3 hours 17 minutes, enough to place him sixth overall.

“There was just enough time for a celebratory lunch in the Tenby sunshine before it was time to get back to the farm for the afternoon work. No time to revel in his own glory and celebrate with a few beers too many!’’ says Laura.

“It was back to work and business as usual, merely three hours after crossing the finish line.’’