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.

#2in2 - In between races

I've thought a lot about how to portray this blog post to ensure it's as informative as possible, whilst still giving an insight into what exactly I did in the 15 days between Challenge Taiwan and Ironman Australia earlier this year. Simply regurgitating my training log won't be very useful for anyone. What I can say is that this was both an experiment and a learning experience for both myself and my coach Brian. When I approached him with the idea of racing both events, he admitted that it wasn't something he'd coached an athlete to do before. With that in mind, we were both learning as we went along. If there was one word that summed up the approach in the two weeks in between races, it would be flexibility. I was emailing Brian on a daily basis giving him as much information as possible about sleep patterns, fatigue levels, any niggles, appetite, motivation, just about everything you can think of. There was no fixed plan that was set in stone, and that allowed us to make changes to the schedule when and if they were necessary. So, what did we do?

Firstly, the taper leading into Taiwan wasn't hugely different to what we'd do if I hadn't planned on Australia two weeks later. As it transpired, my performance in Taiwan was a disappointing one, which I attribute to poor race tactics and inadequate hydration on the day. That led to a sub-par run of 3:11. What I didn't know was what bearing this performance would have on my recovery in the coming two weeks, and whether under performing may allow me to bounce back and recover more quickly than I would otherwise have done.

The day after Taiwan (Sunday) I woke up and headed back to the lake for a paddle. To say I swam would be bending the truth, as the majority of the 15 minutes was spent floating on my back, with a little easy backstroke thrown in for good measure. Monday and Tuesday were scheduled days off due to flying from Taipei to Perth overnight via Kuala Lumpur. I forget the exact flight durations and stop-over times, but obviously the normal rules of flying applied – stay hydrated and get up every couple of hours to walk. As has become routine, I used Firefly Recovery (an electronic device which promotes blood circulation in the lower legs) during the flights in conjunction with compression socks, which I find beneficial in reducing swelling post flying.

Wednesday included an easy 30 minute spin on the bike and an easy swim, which unfortunately felt much worse than expected. Thursday's ride was longer than scheduled at 2h45', but again the pace was very easy and I definitely felt better for spending a bit longer in the saddle. In the evening I ran for the first time (now 5 days post-Taiwan) for 20 minutes, keeping the pace easy. During the run I noticed my footfall was heavy and my breathing was laboured. Being so soon after Taiwan it was no surprise really. Later that day I noticed early signs of a sore throat, which had worsened by Friday morning. Keeping Brian up to speed, Friday's scheduled sessions were off, but I was given the option of a 10 minute jog in the evening if I felt better. Thankfully I did, so 10 minutes was the sum of the day's activity. Now 7 days post-Taiwan, Saturday's 1h30' ride included the first bit of intensity thrown into the mix. Obviously recovery was still the priority, however we didn't want my body to go into shut-down mode. The short interval above race pace was enough to wake up the legs, although I'm not sure they appreciated it at the time! The week was rounded off with a swim on Sunday, which again felt quite awful. Having swum in a 25yd pool in the US for the last 3.5 months, looking down the barrel of a 50m pool was a shock!

As you can see, there was very little training time logged in that first week, as well as very little intensity. Crucially, I wasn't experiencing any aches or pains that were out of the ordinary and I was still extremely motivated for the upcoming races (likely heightened by a disappointing performance in Taiwan). It had been a fun week too, having the chance to catch up with friends in Perth and be sociable, I appreciated the extra free time I had as a result of the light training schedule. In short, I was in a good head space. One of the biggest challenges I found was trying to avoid overeating, but in the same breath I was conscious of eating enough and sustaining a healthy and balanced diet.

Monday and Tuesday of race week turned out to be the “big” training days, including two swims, one ride and two runs. Finally I rediscovered something resembling form in the pool, restoring my confidence that I wouldn't drown on Sunday! Tuesday's ride included a longer interval above race pace, which felt much better than it did a few days previously. I took this to be a good sign that the recovery process was taking shape. Runs on both days included some intervals faster than 5km race pace. Although the duration of the sessions were all short, the intensity level was above what I'd experience on race day.

The journey from Perth to Port Macquarie on Wednesday was simple enough, although the two domestic flights took up most of the day. Again, as it was a travel day there was no training. I biked and ran on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, but only swam on Friday at the official swim practice. If you're staying out of town without a pool nearby, I find that sometimes the logistical difficulties of swimming the day before the race can outweigh the benefit. As with earlier in the week, the duration of the sessions got progressively lower (all less than 30 minutes total), whilst the short bouts of intensity remained high. Come Sunday, I was feeling rested, revitalised and motivated. The result of that was executing a race I was proud of and one that was closer to a reflection of my fitness.

In the days following Ironman Australia there was a surprise – I felt good, far better than I did after Taiwan. I'm sure this was partly a result of better race hydration/nutrition and holding better run form throughout, but nonetheless, I was surprised. Regardless, I took the time to recover appropriately, taking a good four weeks of light and unstructured training, and taking another few weeks after that before approaching anything resembling normal training. Would I advise others to do the same? That depends. As an age-grouper, I'm not sure I personally would have had any incentive to race twice in as many weeks. However, even if that incentive existed, at no point did I previously have the fitness so safely pull it off. There's little doubt that the fitter and more athletically experienced you are, the quicker you can rebound from the effort these races take. It's taken me 8 years of consistent training (3 of which have been full-time) to get to the point where I had the confidence to do it. For those thinking of attempting it - or something similar - I would emphasise recovery above all else and erring on the side of caution, both with regard to volume and intensity in between races – remember there's little you can do to add meaningful fitness in such a short time period in between races.

My friend Ryan Waddington asked me an interesting question the week after Australia, questioning whether I could have found an extra 6 minutes (the difference to Ironman Australia winner Elliot Holtham) had I not raced in Taiwan. I doubted it – 6 minutes is a long time - but it got me thinking. My 2:56 run on the day was 6.5 minutes shy of my best run. Could I have found 6 minutes if I was racing fresh? Even with hindsight it's impossible to answer, but there's not an ounce of regret with my decision to race #2in2.