Resurrection

I want to qualify for Kona. To make that happen I need to go back to focussing on the process rather than the end result, which is exactly what I've been trying to do since the start of the season. Last year I was so caught up – border lining on obsessed - with the points chase, I lost sight of that process.

After establishing a great relationship with my previous coach over four years, the decision to move on was a tough one. However, I felt the time was right for a fresh approach – a training resurrection. Training under Ben Day has brought new challenges, which I feel I'm responding well to. We're also going into the Kona points chase this year with a different strategy.

It's March and I haven't yet raced an Ironman in this 2016 qualifying season. At this stage last year I'd already raced three and then went on to race another four in the 2015 season. In a change of direction, we've spent the early part of the season building fitness gradually and racing solely over the 70.3 distance.

Mandurah 70.3 in November highlighted my lack of fitness after a much needed break. My 11th place was extremely lacklustre, but on the back of two Ironman DNF's, crossing the finish line was a huge moment. Strange as it may seem, I needed to remember what it felt like to finish again.

By the time December rolled around I had some consistent training under my belt and was ready to race Ballarat 70.3. Something happened... I stopped thinking. Or rather, I stopped over-thinking. I raced with a confidence I had no right to have. It wasn't a standout performance, but one that I could be proud of. After a year where riding has been a weakness, having the fastest bike split was great, but holding on to 3rd place was better.

Late January and Dubai 70.3 had a hot field. I went back to thinking and raced more tactically. A bout of cramp on the run course had me lying on the ground, unsure whether I'd be able to keep going. Thankfully I could, but I had to work really hard to move into 6th place and hold on. Out of the three races, this was the performance I was most proud of. Some of my fighting spirit returned.

The first Ironman of 2016 is fast approaching – Ironman South Africa on 10th April. It will be a huge, deep field with talent everywhere I look on the start line. There's a lot riding on this, yet the pressure that I felt leading up to last year's races has turned to excitement and anticipation. I'm ready to race.

Honesty - a Year to Forget

24 hours isn't enough time to get over yesterday's events at Ironman Wales - all I want is for the ground to swallow me up. Publicly talking about this year is the last thing I want to do, but I owe it to those who have always supported me and continue to do so, through the good times and the bad.

2015 was all about chasing races and points to qualify for the Ironman World Championships - a goal which I knew would be challenging, yet believed was achievable. Such a goal comes with one of only two outcomes: success or failure. I was determined it would be the former. 4th at Ironman Wales 2014 was a decent start, so I was excited for 2015. The season opener at Geelong 70.3 was a good test and I was pleased with my performance, with everything indicating the things were on track for two Ironman's in March. However, carrying illness into Ironman New Zealand led to a DNF, as well as withdrawal from Ironman Melbourne two weeks later.  This is where the (self-inflicted) mistakes began.  

Rather than take the time to regroup, get healthy and reassess the race schedule, I bounced from race to race, looking for the nearest opportunity to get qualification points.  I didn't give myself enough time to carefully plan out the remainder of the season and get back to full fitness. Racing Ironman Taiwan in April was far too soon and a 6th place finish did little to significantly boost my points tally. Starved of points, I raced three weeks later at Ironman Australia, finishing 5th.  I'd reached the maximum amount of three scoring Ironman's, but I needed to improve on my weakest result. Desperate to secure qualification before the first July cut-off, all sense went out the window with what came next.

Four weeks later I travelled 40+ hours from Australia to Brazil for the Latin American Ironman Championships. With extra points on offer, a strong field assembled, yet a good result would clinch qualification. Expecting my body to perform at its best for the third Ironman in seven weeks was naïve, stupid, and I own that. I was flat, had a poor swim, poor bike and poor run. Pride carried me to the finish line in 13th. In seven weeks I'd put my body through hell and it did what most would... it broke. 

June brought my first injury in years, forcing time out from running. Weeks of inconsequential run volume and 10-15 minute treadmill runs was all I could handle. But I kept going - I believed the dream was still alive. For the first time all year I went back to basics. Ironman Japan fell on the last day of 2015 qualification, giving me an 8-week build. I was confident that was enough time to get where I needed to be. Finally I put together a great training block, slowly shaking the injury with the help of Star Physio. Physically I was mending, yet mentally I was breaking. The internal pressure I'd placed on myself to succeed was building... bubbling up and I was unable to control it. 24/7 all I could think about were points. There were nights where I couldn't sleep and felt nauseous because the fear of failure was creeping up on me. Failure would mean I'd let not just myself down, but my girlfriend, family and everyone who's believed in me and supported me. I wasn't going to let that happen. That fear kept me going, kept me motivated and kept me honest. I made it to Japan fit and healthy, with the best fitness I'd built all season. I was ready. One day to push my body farther than ever before and the goal would be met - I was supremely confident. 

Flatting around mile 60 was a huge setback, yet I was calm, made the repair and got going again. When the second flat came at mile 85 my heart sank. I had spares for one repair, not two. In the middle of Japanese countryside I sat, with the realisation that the dream I'd chased all year wasn't just slipping away, it had already gone. Silent, still, emotionally shut-down, I waited for close to an hour for technical support, who switched wheels for me. My race was over, but I got back on my bike and pedalled softly back to transition. Tears rolled down my face as I finally appreciated what had happened. 

To have the outcome taken out of my control was gut wrenching. Of all the races where back luck could strike, I wished it wasn't this one. Not on the day where 12 months of work would be determined as either a success or failure. That's what made it hard to take - not because it led to a DNF, but because it dictated what I'd done for the previous year, a year where I'd worked harder than ever before. There were no more chances.

I was down, but determined not to be out. The 2015 season was over, but I could still dictate how 2016 began. I signed up for Ironman Wales and made another across-the-globe trip to kick-start the 2016 campaign. When I flatted at mile 40 and saw the damage I felt sick. A 3/4 inch slice through the tyre wouldn't hold another inner tube (...I tried). Game over. 3 weeks after Japan I found myself in the same place, this time in Welsh countryside, contemplating the meaning of life. If it's a game of trials and tribulations, then I'm ready for some of the latter. Of course part of me wants to give up, walk away and play it safe in an alternate career. In the last few weeks (and especially the last 24 hours) I've thought about it. But I'll continue to take what's thrown at me, because I've got something to prove. 

It's the hard times where you need people most, so to Kate, my family, friends, sponsors and supporters, thank you for being there. 

*Being extremely particular about equipment selection, the flats at Ironman Japan and Ironman Wales weren't connected. Different tyres, inner tubes and rim tape were used at these races, all with minimal use.

Ironman Australia 2015 Report

Before the start I jumped into the water for a short warm up. To say that the water quality was poor would be putting it kindly. A deluge of rain in the days leading up to the event had turned the Hastings River brown, reducing the visibility to, well... nothing. However, the temperature was reasonable and I was excited to test my newfound swim at another Ironman race.

As the gun fired the usually frantic pace seemed benign. The opening few hundred metres – even in an Ironman – are usually an all out sprint. To my surprise I felt completely within my comfort zone for the first couple of hundred metres, surrounded by a good group of athletes. It soon started to string out and we transitioned into an orderly line, everyone trying to take advantage of a draft. Having to sight regularly because of the lack of water visibility, I could see that the guy I was following was dropping off the back of a group. Keeping tabs on the situation, the gap was growing and soon we were about ten metres behind. Without hesitation I pulled around and put in a surge to reach the feet ahead. Having more confidence in my swim has been a huge advantage in recent races and this was a good example of that. Despite my best efforts, I swallowed some water on a few occasions, but other than that the swim was uneventful. I came out with three other very accomplished swimmers: Kerin Lachlan, Peter Robertson and Brian Fuller. 48:24 (av. 1:15/100m) was a new PB.

Coming out the swim I felt great and was keen to get through T1 as smoothly as possible. A 1:57 transition time was one of the fastest of the day. After my good work in transition I let myself down at the bike mount line, wasting precious seconds. I was soon joined by Peter Robertson and we started the ride within seconds of each other. Within the first few kilometres I dropped my chain, which unfortunately knocked off my power meter magnet. Over 175km to go and my pacing plan – which was to power – had gone out the window.

Brian Fuller soon joined us and the three of us started to rotate nicely, each willing to do our fair share of work at the front. The pace felt comfortable - not easy, but sensible. As we reached the first turnaround point around 45km we saw that the leaders had four minutes on us, with Paul Ambrose not far behind them. The pace still felt comfortable, but I was struggling to keep my nutrition down. When I was behind Peter and Brian I was bringing everything back up. I tried not to do this when I was in front, as I didn't want them to see and think it was a weakness. As we approached 90km, Brian did a lot of work at the front and was clearly the stronger on the hills back into town. We managed to stay together and started the second lap with a little over four minutes to the front.

Grabbing another bottle of High5 at special needs, I had all the calories needed for the second half of the ride. Unfortunately I hadn't absorbed nearly enough calories or fluid in the first half, but my stomach was starting to settle. Buoyed by the fact that we hadn't lost any time to the leaders, I moved to the front to do “my turn”. A few minutes passed, then five, then ten. I was still at the front and sensed the possibility of a break. On one of the hills I turned around to see that a gap had emerged. It wasn't until the next turnaround that I saw the small gap had turned into a minute. Now in fourth outright, I was still just four minutes off the lead. Around 140km I passed Pete Jacobs and moved into 3rd. Little did I know, Ambrose had his foot on the gas up ahead and was putting huge time into the rest of us. My 4:46:59 split was the second fastest of the day, but I didn't know what the time splits were, so when I came into T2 I was eager to find out what the damage was. The answer - eight minutes to Ambrose in 1st and just one minute to Luke Bell in 2nd. Game on.

Coming out of T2 I was hit with a disheartening realisation – the game wasn't on. I could see Bell ahead and willed myself to run faster to bridge the gap, but I was falling back. You know those days where you fly out of transition and know that it's going to be a good day... well, this wasn't one of those days. My legs felt fine, but I was running on fumes. The lack of nutrition on the bike had caught up with me. Soon, the gap I'd worked hard to achieve on the bike was eradicated as Brian Fuller came past. We were just 6km into the run and I knew my day out would be longer than I hoped. The next 20km were seriously tough as I continued to slow. Running on empty, I did something that I haven't done since my first Ironman in 2008. I grabbed as many salt pretzels as possible, chewing on them as I walked through the aid station. By this stage the run course was more congested, which made it difficult to track where other athletes were. However, I knew Luke Martin was closing in. He came past at 38km as I was walking – and chewing – my way through an aid station. I wanted to try and stay with him, but there was nothing to give. The last 4km seemed to take an eternity, as I sneaked under 9 hours with a 3:21:11 run. Finally my body could stop.

Despite a run that was 25 minutes slower than last year's 2:56 split, I was pleased. I was willing to risk an implosion on the run for something greater than a “safe” performance and result. Last season I finished between 3rd and 5th on four occasions, but in this race I wanted more. I don't regret having ambition. On this occasion it backfired, but you never know if you don't try.

There are definitely some positives to take away from the day. A new swim PB is always nice (although this does seem to be a rather quick swim course). Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the race was the bike. I've been a little disappointed with my riding this season – which perhaps is partly due to the lack of specific riding from October to December during my swim focus last year. As I view my bike as a weakness, this was a step in the right direction.  It was of course disappointing not to prove my run on this occasion, but my 2:54 run at Ironman Taiwan three weeks prior again showed that on the day, my run is solid.

The fallout from the race is that 5th place doesn't help hugely in my chase for Kona qualification points. Having now reached my maximum of three scoring full Ironman races (at Wales, Taiwan & Australia), I'll have to try and improve on my weakest result, which is 6th at Ironman Taiwan. Two Ironman's in three weeks was tough, but the next challenge is making it three Ironman's in seven weeks. South America beckons as I'll be lining up at Ironman Brazil for my first regional championship race, an event with additional points up for grabs.  The reality of the points chase is that if you're not a Kona incumbent and on the bubble of the podium, you've got to finish three full Ironman races and perhaps two 70.3's (or two full Ironman races and three 70.3's).  If one (or more) of those aren't stellar results, then count on racing more to try and improve on them.  That's exactly what I'm doing.  At the time of writing I'm ranked 50th, but the table fluctuates with every weekend of racing that goes by.