Back in 2011 I asked Aisling if she thought I could possibly qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Somewhat surprisingly she immediately said yes. Surprising because I had already done two Ironmans in France in 2008 and Switzerland in ’09. In both instances I placed in the bottom quarter of the field, somewhere like 1200 and 900th. To qualify would mean jumping from finishing just inside the top 1000 right up to inside the top 40-50 overall and in the top 7 in my age group. It would also mean going over an hour faster than I’d gone before and doing it on a much harder and slower course. We hadn’t a clue how to go about it. Neither of us had the faintest idea of what training was required. Naievity can sometimes be a blessing as well as a curse. Despite all of the logic that indicated that I couldn’t, wouldn’t or shouldn’t attempt it we did and just over four months later I lined up at the start of Ironman UK in Bolton, England still with no idea if I had any chance of doing it. By the end of the day I was 8th in my age group and 24th overall (excluding pros) and within 2 minutes and 1 place of getting my first Kona slot.

Some of the lessons I learned from this experience were;

  1. Just start. Action is the most important thing. I think that Winston Churchill once said that the best thing to do is the right thing, the second best thing to do was the wrong thing and that the worst thing was to do nothing. Once you have started taking steps if you discover they are wrong you can change direction but always keep on moving towards a goal. Check out this post on Chris Froome running in the Tour de France to hold onto the race lead to see the importance of keeping on moving towards a goal no matter what.
  2. Keep on going. If it’s a sporting target whether it’s to finish your first 5k, comppete an Ironman or qualify for the World Championships it’s crucial to keep on going. Consistency is one of the most powerful secrets I learned while chasing not only athletic but also business and personal goals.
  3. Get advice from someone who has done what you want to achieve or knows how to. In the beginning when Ais said that going for Kona was within my abilities (I’m not sure what she saw at that stage but I’m glad she saw it) we went and asked the only coach we knew who might have the knowledge to get me there. When we asked him if he thought it was possible he said no, not a chance. He then added that maybe if I trained for two years I might scrape in. Gutted but not detered we asked if he knew how to coach someone to get them to Kona and he answered yes of course. I immediately jumped in and asked him just to give me that program. I added that I would take responsibility if he broke me or if I failed. He agreed and we got going. Actually we had been training for a month or so already but it turned out that a lot of what I was doing was wrong but at least it was something and I wasn’t starting from scratch.
  4. Don’t limit yourself because of other peoples beliefs (or your own for that matter) I didn’t really start believing I could actually compete at the level required to get to Kona until almost two thirds of the way through that first attempt in IMUK. It was only when I pulled into T2 and saw it was almost empty that it hit me that I could actually do it. If I had have based my decision to try on my belief in my ability I never would have attempted it, it was only Aislings unwavering belief that I could do it that first of all get me started and then kept me going.
  5. Don’t let obstacles get in your way. Find a way around, through or over them. With about a month to go to my first Kona attempt I raced a local Olympic distance race and just about crached the top 100. It was my worst result for a long time. As soul destroying as it was Ais insisted that we continue, learn from it and keep on going. The best time to make mistakes and fall apart in a race is in the preparation events in the lead up to your big goal then take the lessons learned and implement them on your big day.

Along the way I’ve been lucky to learn from some of the best Irish Ironman athletes we’ve ever had and you can read my most valuable lessons here

Rob

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