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.

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.

Ironman New Zealand 2015 Report

I lined up towards the right hand side, ensuring I was around some of the athletes I hoped to stick with during the swim. The first light of the day was barely coming through, at which point the cannon fired and the race began. The field seemed to line out quite quickly, which perhaps wasn't surprising given the high quality of some of the swimmers in the race. A few gaps formed and I found myself in a small group with two other athletes. With the lake perfectly still, swim conditions were ideal. Nevertheless, I found it very difficult to find a rhythm and struggled with timing my breathing. I tucked in behind the other two swimmers, but regularly found myself mistiming breaths and swallowing water. The pace seemed to be decent and after we hit the turnaround point I could see another small group not too far ahead. As we approached the final 500m the pace seemed to increase slightly and we caught the group ahead with 200m to go. A 50:06 swim split had me out of the water with five other athletes, which was a solid start to the day.

Once we hit dry land I was feeling pretty ropey and the 400m run to T1 seemed to take an eternity. A lot of the guys ran pretty hard and I lost a fair amount of time at this stage. I was quick through the change tent and clawed back some time, but found myself behind the guys I'd swum with.

Right out of the gate the pace was high and I felt unable to match it. I saw athletes move further into the distance and tried to remind myself that it was a long day ahead. Within 10km I had already lost over a minute – a trend that continued for the remainder of the ride. The weather for the first 45km to the turnaround at Reporoa was very cool, with light rain and temperatures around 14 degrees. My power was fairly low and despite every effort, I just couldn't seem to hit that next gear. At the 45km point the gap to the front was approximately 8 minutes and I was just outside the top-10. After 60km of feeling low, I tried to draw on previous difficulties in races. Going through rough patches is part of Ironman racing and I promised myself that things would come good. It took a long time - close to 100km - but I was finally able to increase the effort a little. 35km later at the turnaround point my wave of energy had crashed. I made it to 170km before things took a turn for the worse. For the first time in training or racing, I started hyperventilating and was unable to control my breathing. This came completely out of the blue and I wasn't entirely sure how to deal with the situation. I eased up and tried to take deep breaths through my nose and out my mouth, which seemed to help. My breathing was back to normal for the final few kms of the ride and I hoped that would be my last experience of it. A 4:52:23 bike split gave up far more time to the leaders than I anticipated (now 14 minutes behind the front) but I was confident in my ability to run well.

Right out of T2 my breaths were short and laboured and I wasn't even moving quickly. Within the first km I was hyperventilating again – it felt as if my throat was closing up and I just couldn't get enough air in. I slowed to a walk and tried to get my breathing under control and calm myself down. I got going again, this time at jogging pace, but I just couldn't stop the short breaths. It wasn't long before I had to stop. I was just one mile into the run and the performance I'd envisaged for so long had passed me by. My day was over. I walked for a while, my mind racing with a million different thoughts, none of which were positive. I sat on the side of the road for a while and looked over the lake – never before had I felt such a feeling of failure.

A kind gentleman offered to drive me back into town, where I handed my timing chip in. The disappointment was like nothing I'd ever experienced in racing before. Going into the race with high expectations, it was a humbling experience for the day to end like it did. I was well prepared, but on the day I wasn't capable of getting myself through the race. The decision to pull out wasn't what I found difficult to take, it was the nature of the withdrawal. Even now I still can't pinpoint the cause of my difficulties on the day, which is extremely frustrating.

My emotions immediately following the race were very raw and my disappointment wasn't just for myself, but for everyone who believed in me and hoped and expected me to perform. I've been extremely fortunate to have the universal support of all of my sponsors following the race, as well as friends and family who have consoled me and reminded me that failures are a part of racing. To have such a great people around me made the days following the race far easier and I'm now trying to focus ahead rather than dwell on whats been. After some of my best performances I've said that nothing is a greater test of your character than an Ironman – I believe the same is true when the performance is poor. There's no sugarcoating it - this is the worst result and racing experience I've had, but as I've been reminded, what matters now is the next race.