At last! Ira is Six Million Dollar Man
Published on: 04 Aug 2014
WHEN Ira Rainey was growing up in Downend, he believed he was bionic. In fact it was a huge blow to discover he wasn’t. But having gone from an overweight beer guzzler to a lean running machine, you can’t help wondering whether he could actually give Steve Austin a run for his money. Jayne Taylor meets the man who turned his journey to fitness into the highly acclaimed book, Fat Man to Green Man
Ira Rainey was blissfully happy. He was one of the lads. He liked eating. He liked drinking. He liked eating and drinking a lot. And he was carrying around three stone of excess weight.
It wasn’t a problem to Ira, who by his own admission was a delusional optimist. He kept himself reasonably fit by running but he was, again in his own words, lazy and apathetic. But one day he received the news that his friend and boss, Remo, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. It was to be Ira’s wake-up call.
“I thought everything was ok because I never really thought about things in any great depth,” Ira said.
“I was bumbling along doing a bit of running but then one day my boss and friend came into work, sat down, and said ‘I’ve been diagnosed with Stage 4 oesophagal cancer’. It was completely out of the blue. The guy was slim and fit and was only 56 years old. It hit me for six. I thought I need to look after myself a bit better.”
The terrible news had forced Ira to face up to his own mortality.
“All my clothes were tight and health-wise I wasn’t doing myself any favours at all. I decided to set myself a challenge in order to motivate myself a bit more.”
Ira embarked on a fitness regime which to describe as punishing would be an understatement.
“I’d run a few half marathons in the past even though I was overweight and unfit but I wanted a challenge. I signed up to a race called the Green Man Ultra, a 47-mile race which runs in a loop around Bristol, mostly through fields and woodland.”
Ira meant business this time. He sought help from specialists at the Human Performance Centre at Bath University who told Ira how best to specifically target his training.
But as Ira grew fitter and stronger, Remo battled cancer for nine months before he sadly died.
“He was such a brave, stoic person. One minute he was there, absolutely fine with a family and then he’s only got months to live. Some people could fall apart but he took it on the chin and dealt with it. It was inspiring to see how he dealt with it.”
Ira, who now lives in Kingswood, trained hard from August 2012 to the race in March the following year. He suffered plenty of setbacks including various injuries and the wettest winter on record. But he was undeterred.
“Myself and a couple of friends
of mine who were also training for
the Green Man Ultra decided the
47-mile race on a Saturday wasn’t
enough - we would also run the
Bath half Marathon the following day, making it 60 miles over two days.
“We kept thinking we were doing it because of what happened to Remo and that kept us motivated.”
Ira, who is married with two children and a step-son, kept a log of the highs and lows of training at this level and decided to use it as a basis for a book. Fat Man to Green Man was published by Tangent Books earlier this year and is a warm, humorous and poignant account of his journey from fat to fit. The book is not a marathon handbook - it touches on friendships, the loss of a dear friend and how to push yourself to achieve what you would never dream you could.
Ira drew on his life experiences to create an accomplished tome. Although he has been a software developer for 20 years, he’s also had stints as a bus driver, journalist, co-author of a Dictionary of Bristol and even a stand-up comedian.
“The story works on lots of different levels,” Ira explains.
“It’s a story of me training through and doing the ultra marathon and it’s also the story of what happened to Remo.
“One of the reviews said it was a story about mortality and what we can do as human beings to come to terms with our own mortality, which was quite interesting because that wasn’t how I wrote it but I can understand what they meant.
“The whole thing has been like a rollercoaster. As soon as the book came out I started to get lots of positive feedback. Most days I get a Tweet, email or text from someone saying they’ve finished reading it and it’s absolutely motivated them and made them laugh out loud. One guy sent me an email saying he had just finished reading the book and he was crying on the train because it’s such a tragic story at the end.”
To Ira’s amazement he was shortlisted as a finalist under the New Writer of the Year category in The British Sports Book Awards 2014 - an award which highlights the very best in sports writing. A high accolade indeed.
“I didn’t win but to be shortlisted out of thousands of books is absolutely incredible.”
Ira is enjoying his new found fame and recently attracted more than 60 people to Downend Library to hear him talk about his book.
He is continuing to take part in ultra marathons having completed a 52-mile run of the highlands earlier this year and preparations are underway this month for the Midnight Express, the same course as the Green Man Ultra Marathon but in reverse and at night.
“I’m looking forward to that. It’ll be quite fun,” he says.
Further plans include a 60-mile race around Mount Fuji in Japan next April and there could even be another book in the pipeline.
“There’s an inkling of another book but I haven’t finalised my ideas yet.”
Ira won’t be drawn on the content but says it will be “more about adventure than running”.
“What happened to Remo changed my perspective on life,” he said.
“I try to have more adventure and fun. What happened to him could happen to anyone so you should get on and live your life. Make your life feel like it counts.”
Fat Man to Green Man is available for order from www.tangentbooks.co.uk, Amazon and all other bookshops.