One thing that kept on coming back to me over the 24 and 48 hours afterward the race was how ridiculous it seemed to be chasing tiny gains like trying a new aero helmet or a faster chain or wearing a swim skin in the hope of gaining seconds or minutes when in fact what I needed to be competitive is almost an hour. It feels like putting the cart before the horse. I’ve always said that I didn’t want to lose out on a Kona slot by seconds or minutes for the lack of investing in the best equipment I could afford. But I think I first need to be in the right ballpark before chasing those gains.

One of the first lessons I learned when I started training properly back in 2011 was that going fast comes from the training. Not the equipment. Fast kit doesn’t make you fast. Training makes you fast. Fancy kit can only make you faster.

So with that little rant and personal arse kicking over with, what did I actually learn from Ironman Fortaleza?


  1. If you’re a relatively weak swimmer don’t go to a race with a hard swim unless you’re physically prepared for a hard swim.
  2. Swim the course before race day. The differences between the beach at our hotel where we swam every day in the lead up to the race and where the Ironman swim was held was massive. Ours was a very sheltered beach, the race course wasn’t but we only found that out on race day. Had we practiced in similar conditions it would have helped. Not by fifteen minutes but it definitely would have helped. We spent the week after the race in a place called Jericoacoara, a beach resort further north along the coast. I swam there every day often in similar surfy conditions to the race and by the end of the week was coping with it a lot better.
  3. Don’t underestimate the difficulty of any race. If the times are slow it’s most likely for a good reason. There is no such thing as a soft race or an easy place to qualify.
  4. I might get away with minimal swim training if I’m in great bike and run shape AND if I do a course with an easy swim but not if the swim is as hard as this one.
  5. Don’t underestimate your competition. The Brazilians who qualified all looked like Kona people. Insanely lean, tanned, muscular, strong and fit. Regardless of what the times might look like they are doing in Fortaleza they are very fast athletes.
  6. Unless you’re in good enough shape to actually win your age group pick a race that will suit your strengths and hide not punish your weaknesses. If you are just trying to get to the level of qualifying like I am this year then you need to pick a race that really suits you.
  7. I’m just not fit enough yet. If I had gotten a crazy roll down I wouldn’t have felt like I’d earned a place in Kona. I wouldn’t have felt like a Kona person. I would have felt like an imposter.
  8. With hindsight I’ve no doubt that the swim impacted my bike and run. Adding 20+ very hard minutes onto my weakest leg right at the start of the day has to have had an impact on what I could do for the rest of the race. It’ll make me look at my swim training quite differently next year.
  9. Whatever about going into a race and making one or two mistakes you can’t afford to make ten. It’s one thing to just not be fit enough but I need my arse kicked for doing that many stupid things on top of that. One of the things I normally pride myself is over the top preparation.
  10. Out of the 40 Kona slots on offer only one rolled down. In the last two years it’s become much harder to qualify. Not that it was easy three or four years ago it just harder now. Less slots and more athletes worldwide fighting for them mean that age groups are more competitive and there is very little chance of a roll down or a fluke.
  11. Some people following the blog might think that I should add not jumping into a second Ironman two months after Mallorca to this list but this was always a bonus race on the back of the honeymoon. We were doing it first and foremost because we both enjoyed Mallorca so much. We also knew that it would be very difficult to improve from that performance given the short timescale and the fact that it was busy in between the races.

So there’s a long list of fairly basic errors. Some are lessons I’d learned before and either thought I could get away with, some were new. It’s one of the difficult things about Ironman. Every one is quite different and just as soon as you think you’ve got it figured out it hits you with something else new. It’s also difficult to learn something you only get to do once or twice a year if you’re lucky.

If you are interested in the story of how I went from smoker to qualifying for and racing in the Ironman world championships in Kona, Hawaii you can do that here. 

I’ve written a free mini book about how the most successful Iriash athletes have qualified for Kona over 30 times. Declan Doyle, Alan Ryan, Bryan Mc Crystal and more of the most successful Irish triathletes are featured. You can download it free here.

If you’re interested in following my progress chasing Kona ’17 you can do that here

If you’ve got your own Ironman dream and need help or guidance to make it happen you can talk to us about coaching here


Chasing Kona eBook available

From smoker to back of the pack triathlete to the Ironman World Championships.

Read about how I overcame all of the odds and discovered what it would take to get to the Ironman World Championships – my eBook is now available to buy on Amazon UK and Amazon US.