“Everything happens for a reason, sometimes the reason is that you’re stupid and make bad decisions”

Source: Unknown

It’s been much harder this year getting back in shape than I’d ever anticipated. Maybe I was unrealistic in my goal. Maybe I was over confident in my ability to get back to the sort of shape I needed to be in but having gotten there before I believed, obviously mistakenly, that I’d be able to do it in a single season.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and looking back now maybe it’s easy to say it was an overly ambitious target. But I don’t think so. Physically I know I have the potential to qualify having done it twice before but physical potential is only one part of the Kona jigsaw and it’s not even the biggest piece.

One of the first articles I wrote for the blog was a list of the 10 things needed to qualify and maybe this is a good place to start with a lessons learned from of a year spent chasing Kona post. How many of the boxes did I tick or not on the way?
Here’s the list from that post.

  1. Lifestyle
  2. Volume
  3. Consistency
  4. Self control in training and racing
  5. Training intensity
  6. Pacing
  7. Nutrition
  8. Being strong not fast
  9. Desire
  10. Guidance


1. Lifestyle 

Getting to Kona requires an average of 800-1000 hours training a year according to the very successful coach Alan Couzens. I’m not going to go into the numbers from my year here. I’ll deal with those in a separate post next week. But what I will say regarding lifestyle and the numbers is that if Couzens is right then 800-1000 hours averages out at between 15.5 – 20 hours a week. If you then take out ten days to two weeks after each Ironman (the qualifier and Kona) that leaves 48-49 weeks of training and now the average jumps to between 16.5 – 21 hours. Clearly fitting in what is essentially a part time job (an exceptionally physically demanding one at that) requires a very unusual lifestyle. If you have a gang of young kids, a job or business the requires you do regular 50-60 plus hour weeks or an otherwise very stressful lifestyle then averaging 20 hours a week training on top of your already difficult commitments every week is probably unrealistic.

Another key component of the lifestyle is that if you’re married or in a relationship having a supportive partner, wife or husband is crucial. I’m lucky in that Aisling is not only supportive of my training and racing but she’s also my coach. This means I’m not having to explain why I’m out for another five hour bike ride. Because she’s the one who’s put it in the plan for me.

So with all of that said how did I score on lifestyle and what lessons did I learn? 

The biggest lesson in the lifestyle regard was one I had had learned before (I hate it when I make the same mistake twice) but I thought I could work around it this time. That mistake was not picking a race that fit in with my life and work schedule.

For the most part I think I managed the balance with work fairly well during the year but fairly well isn’t good enough when faced with a target as big as getting back into qualifying shape. The summer is the hardest time of year for me as the hours in work are the longest and the work load is highest. July was particularly difficult as my work hours were at their peak and that was probably the hardest month.

Picking Ironman Mallorca which was on in September, as my target race meant that the biggest training load would coincide with my busiest season in work. This turned out to be a mistake. I thought when we chose Mallorca that my previous experience and history would make up for the difficulties work would present.
I’ll deal with items 2 and 3 from the list, volume and consistency in another separate post which will look at the years numbers next week.
What I hadn’t included in that original list of ten things needed to qualify was luck. Now, I tend to be of the belief that for the most part lots of training and really good preparation tend to make an athlete lucky. I think it was a golfer who when asked how he was so lucky answered that the more he trained the luckier he got.

There’s also a saying which ties in nicely with the idea of good or bad luck that I came across this week which read;

“Everything happens for a reason, sometimes the reason is that you’re stupid and make bad decisions”

This I can relate to quite well. Back in 2013 I was preparing for Challenge Roth and in the best shape of my life I was driving to the pool on our little Vespa scooter. While putting it onto the kickstand I lost my balance and fell over with the scooter landing on my foot, more precisely the scooter landed on my foot kickstand first.

But that’s just unlucky you might say It could happen to anyone you say, and yes I agree. That could happen to anyone. The stupid decision was to ride the scooter in shorts and flip flops. My foot was so swollen and badly cut that I couldn’t bike for almost two weeks. I couldn’t even fit a shoe on over the swelling. The bigger problem was that I couldn’t run at all in the last six weeks before the race.

So I spent the next six weeks leading into the race swimming and biking my little loaf off and not running a single step. I only wanted one thing from Roth and that was a fast time. The chance of that evaporated the second the scooter’s kickstand embedded itself into my bare foot.

This year I was careful to wear shoes any day I rode the scooter but what could possibly be considered bad luck was my “allergies” The difficulty we had was that it took from March to August to first diagnose and then find a solution that started to work. During that period I had eleven weeks that had only between 2 and 9 hours training. This also falls into the next area, consistency. I sometimes think that consistency is the single hardest thing to get right with Ironman training. Like I mentioned above I’ll cover training volume, consistency and the numbers in detail in my next post.
4. Self control in training and racing

I think on the racing front I scored fairly well here. With the exception of blowing up in the marathon in Mallorca which was at the time a calculated risk as I knew I was too far from the slots to race conservatively. My only hope was if I got lucky and had the marathon of my life. Which in fairness I hadn’t trained for. So it was no surprise that I blew up a little but I wouldn’t put it down to a lack of self control, rather a lack of fitness and an act of hopeful desperation.

However in training I still did have days where I made mistakes, one day in particular comes to mind when I got things very wrong on a long interval run. I did the intervals much harder than Ais had said to because I was feeling good. I think it was also a little bit of desperation creeping in thinking that a couple of whopper sessions would make the difference come race day. I paid for it for probably a week afterwards in missed and poor quality training.
It’s interesting that both of those examples of lack of self control stemmed from a lack of fitness. Which in turn was as a result of a lack of consistency. Maybe I get smarter the more I train…. Or maybe I just make better decisions the fitter I am as I’m not stretching for a target that’s way out of my reach.

5. Training intensity

When I added this to the list earlier this year I meant that a lot of the time we need to slow down and stay within out aerobic training zone. I think I did this fairly well most of the year but I may have taken it a step too far in the swim where I had almost no intensity changes during training. I just did almost all of my swims at Ironman race pace or slightly faster. I know I need to do harder sessions, I just got lazy here.

Next year I’ll go back to including at least one masters swim a week. The last time I did this I saw a big difference in swim speed and strength. I’ll also include different paced work every week. This is something I include in the training I give to all of my athletes. A real case of do as I say not as I do.

6. Pacing 

I really worked on this a lot this year and I think I’ve gotten a lot better at it. We designed a number of new sessions specifically aimed at teaching pacing, particularly on the bike for Ironman racing and they were really successful.

Race day pacing in Mallorca was good with the exception of the run as I mentioned above.

7. Nutrition 

Another area that I tweaked this year and I think was pretty good, particularly at Ironman Mallorca. As usual I practiced my Ironman nutrition for months before race day and picked up a couple of really good strategies from Bryan Mc Crystal and the Triathlete Physio, Cillian Moffat that made a big difference on race day. One change I got from them in particular made my nutrition work much better.

8. Being strong not fast

This is one of the areas that I didn’t quite nail. Part of the strength comes from hitting the big training volume, another part of it comes from running and biking hills every week. I didn’t get the consistency of sports specific strength work done this season. Partly laziness, partly… I could make excuses but there aren’t any. This is an area that Ais has identified to fix for next season.

9. Desire

The desire was there more or less all year but an eight month lead in to the race made it very hard to stay motivated all the way through. I was tired of training by the end. This is fairly normal but this year I think I’ll return to racing more so that I have smaller intermediate goals to hit. I think I’ll also give myself a shorter specific run into whatever race we choose.

10. Guidance 

The biggest aim here is to get better at doing what Ais tells me. It’s so hard to make good decisions when I am so emotionally invested in an outcome and when I’m often so tired that rational decisions are hard to make.

That’s why I have Ais coaching me. I know what work needs to be done so in theory I could coach myself but knowing the theory but implementing plans and making decisions rationally and with a little bit of impartiality is what’s needed. Trusting in the plan, trusting in Ais isn’t the issue. The issue is getting out of my own way and just doing what I’m told.

It’s been a harder season than I’d anticipated but I will go into next year with a bigger base than where I started last year. I also move up an age group to 45-49 which means I’ll at the best end of it. I’ll effectively be one of the youngest athletes racing against guys that are five years older which is where I was when I first qualified at 40 in the 40-45 age group.
I think that a theme that echoes through this whole post is that right from the start I overestimated my abilities and underestimated the difficulty of the challenge. I think I approached it with the idea that “I’ve done this before by doing this and this and this so if I just do those things again I’ll qualify. Easy”

I was was cocky. I was very self assured and as a result I feel more than a little stupid and chastened after a year spent learning lessons I’d already learned previously.

Making mistakes like not swimming enough. Like not taking my bike fit seriously enough (this has a whole post of it’s own coming) Like picking a race that would be difficult to qualify at just to prove that I’m not a one trick pony and only able to qualify at Ironman UK. Like thinking that being at the wrong end of the age group didn’t matter. Like thinking that the fact that there is 25% less slots in each race doesn’t matter.

Aiming to qualify for the Ironman World Champs is, with the exception of the all but the most extraordinarily talented athletes, probably the hardest thing there is to do in our sport.

Thinking that I could qualify isn’t the issue. I’ve no doubt that I can qualify. Thinking I can qualify while stacking the deck massively against myself by making a whole raft of bad choices made it a ridiculous target.

Our next attempt will be at a race that forgives my weaknesses and plays to my strengths, an easy swims hard bike and run. It will be at a time of year that suits me from a lifestyle and work schedule. It will be in a climate that suits me and not somewhere that I’m struggling in heat and humidity against athletes who live and thrive with those conditions. It will be going in quite a bit more humble and hopefully smarter.

You can follow my blog right here as I document my training as I attempt to qualify for Kona again.

You can read how I made the journey from smoker to Kona here

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