A word that lies in the middle of "Dreams" and "Reality".
In 2014 I left the Big Island of Hawaii with a clear thought in my mind that I would NOT be back. It was a once off, a privilege to say I raced on the same course as the best in the world. I'd done what I thought at the time was my best. In terms of where I was I'd given my best. I'd never worked so hard for anything in my life and the result was my fastest Ironman, on arguably one of the most challenging courses.
It was mid 2015, about 9 months later, that I realised that I could possibly do it again. I didn't just want to race on the same course, I wanted to compete. In doing so the gap between Dreams and Reality would need to shorten by some margin. I needed to set mini goals and hit those on time in order to ensure I would be competitive.
In September 2015 I missed the first goal by some margin in trying to qualify. We quickly put a plan in place to ensure that it wouldn't happen again. At the same time we placed a realistic number on qualifying so as not to just take a slot. That time was 9:15 at Ironman South Africa. Coming out of a European winter we knew this would effectively be the start of the season, with more than enough time to still build for the World Champs.
For the first time in my six years of racing Ironman I strapped on a HR Monitor, purchased a power meter and went into a lab to get a starting point with the numbers. I very quickly learnt the most important lesson in this whole new experience. This is that once you start training with numbers it's NOT possible to complete a session in a group. If you want company on a training session its going to have to be indoors on a turbo or treadmill.
Ironman South Africa ticked the first box but it was quickly back into hard work for the European season. I'd entered races, a local 70.3, Challenge Galway and Dublin 70.3. These would be training races and markers for where we were. I'd put work into my biking, my running was ticking along but there was a question still over the swim. To be competitive I needed to be able to exit the water within the top few. Some video analysis proved the key in this department. Its really hard to explain how one week you're swimming 1:30's per 100m and the next you're down to 1:22's but it was as simple as that. I have the proof on Training Peaks. If anyone was analysing this without the background they would have thought it was a different person using my watch. Just being able to use everything available to me has proved invaluable. In this case it was just a mobile phone video, nothing fancy.
So with everything ticking along nicely, training and nutrition sorted we needed to focus on recovery. The question was how do I find time to recover properly. Although I would have loved to have gone onto a half day at work that wasn't going to happen. I could have cut out more of my time with Andrea but then what was the point of being in a relationship, so the only thing left to do was reduce the amount of training. Again all this is on training peaks for anyone to reference. So down from an average of 21 hours per week to just over 15 hours. Please don't take my word for it, look up some of the top age groupers and their weekly hours. I'll give you a start, Sam Gyde, Bryan McCrystal.... Timing of recovery was also important. I felt that if I'd had a hard week at work or even a few hard sessions during the week, starting at 11 o'clock on a Saturday rather than 6 o'clock just gave the body a few more consecutive hours in bed. It also changes the routine slightly which is great for the mind. Besides you're riding alone so nobody's waiting for you. Recovery is very much about feel, if you're dragging yourself out of bed every morning you're probably tired. Getting up to train earlier than everyone else is not impressive, its counter productive. We are NOT Pro Athletes, Rise and Shine sometimes should not apply!
The idea of a 12 week block. For my first visit to Kona I trained consistently, with the same focus for almost a year. Mentally this was just not sustainable. After some reading and some of my own input I decided to give the 12 week block a go. Basically outside the block I would train but training revolved around life and work. Lucie would set out my programme and I'd move it around accordingly. If I missed a session so be it. During this period I probably got about 85-90% of the sessions done. During the 12 week block life revolved around training. Much more focus and I hit 97% of the sessions (Just on 150 sessions).
I arrived in Kona relaxed, focused and ready to compete. My swimming felt great, the bike was strong and although I would lose a lot of fluid on the runs I was comfortable. I was in the shape of my life and believed, unlike the first time, that I had a realistic chance of an age group podium. That was certainly the goal and anything less was going to be a disappointment.
Pre-race day was nothing different. Nutrition, easy sessions and sleep was the same as I have done year in year out. I was focused and knew I was ready to race.
Out of the water in 9th, all good and to be out of transition before the hour mark was more than I could have expected. Bike felt great and was moving up nicely. At around 40km in the wind picked up, I knew this was going to happen and expected it. I'd been on the island for 3 weeks and been able to do this section a number of times. The problem was it was stronger than I was expecting. Being light I was thrown around a little and it was difficult to keep a rhythm but more importantly to keep my power up. I pushed as hard as I could for the 20 or so kilometers before the start of the climb to Hawi. On the climb to Hawi everything started to feel better, I was climbing well and making up a few of the places I'd lost in the wind. Sam Gyde still managed to pass me like I was standing still but I guess that's what a 3 times age group winner does. Trying very hard to avoid the penalties that were being handed out all around me I finally got to the turn around. From Hawi I knew I had to make up some lost time so started to push without being stupid. The ride back certainly felt more like the last 6 months and was again making up a few place. I even caught and passed Sam again, to my surprise, with about 15km to go.
There is nothing I'm able to compare this race to, NOTHING. It's the ultimate challenge. I may be able to pick an easier course to try and go sub 9 on but that would just distort reality. Mark Allen described his first few attempts to win on the island as lessons from the island. Each year he came back to learn more before he was eventually able to win the race. These same lessons, along with the daily commitments that hopefully enable me to get here again, will translate into everything I do in life and hopefully make me a better person.
When I set myself a goal it's either achieved or not achieved, black or white. In this case the dream didn't match the reality. I did what I could but that wasn't good enough and herein lies the disappointment. So back to this little word patience. In 2014 I thought I was the best I could be, in 2016 I know I'm not. In 2018 I'll be back and hopefully the work I put in between now and then will ensure my Dream and Reality are even closer still. Based on the multiple learnings over the last 2 years I'm looking forward to putting a plan in place, to progress slowly and gain incrementally.
I'd like to thank everyone for all the support over the years. The one thing I'm very keen on doing is giving back. Not coaching, more just sharing the knowledge of what is and is not working. 2 more years to "play" will mean a lot of new exciting data and ideas so anyone keen on using that to help achieve their own goals are welcome to get in touch at any stage.