In my previous blog I spoke about my dilemma in accepting my slot for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. I’ve been reprimanded by many for such inexcusable despondency towards that opportunity! But get to the finish line of a 2.4mile swim, 112mile bike ride and 26mile run and immediately be told you’ve got to repeat that all over again in less than three months time; I think I can be forgiven for the lack of enthusiasm. Even more so when the following morning, signing up and handing over £500 for the pleasure of doing another Ironman is accompanied by an inability to navigate movement without excruciating pain in much of your body. There is a particularly harsh process with Kona qualification of having a one hour time slot the following morning after your race, to turn up and accept your place or it gets rolled down to the next person. I was told that many had succumbed to these justified and common sense thoughts and feelings and turned down their places, only to regret it later on. If there is one thing I don’t like to do, that is put myself in a position where I will feel regret. So I staggered and winced my way to the signing up desk and crossed my fingers that my current pain, discomfort and memories of the worst parts of the Ironman would fade away pretty quickly!
If I’m really honest about my first Ironman, I thought that I’d been granted some kind of miracle to actually make it to the finish line. With that stroke of luck I wanted to quit whilst I was ahead and not tempt fate by doing it again. Next time I wouldn’t be so lucky, all the things I thought could or would go wrong would surely happen the next time? But I have a habit of saying that about every success I’ve had in my sporting career. I’ve never quite been able to say that my win was because of my hard work or simply because of being good. I always say it must have been luck. Maybe that’s why I keep throwing myself into new challenges – to test myself again and again. However, I think that the allure of new challenges for me is probably more to do with testing my failure point rather than testing my run of luck. I’m not afraid to set out to do something then find out I can’t. I’m ecstatic that I achieved what was a very tough target in doing the Bolton Ironman, but now the bar has been lifted and I’ve chosen to accept this new challenge.
I’m not in this Ironman event with a chance of winning, so I have to look at other areas I can identify which will be my own personal winning markers. I’ve assessed the challenges of the Kona Ironman and set some personal goals for the event. I want to see if I can repeat my previous accomplishment – get across the finish line and become a 2 x Ironman finisher. This time the challenge will be intensified as I will have to deal with the notoriously harsh environmental conditions in Hawaii – intense heat, high humidity and strong winds. I want to execute a good race having prepared well and I want to execute a good race strategy to deal with these intensified conditions. I will need to have tolerance and control to overcome them rather than be overcome by them.
Because of the heat I will be adapting a nutrition and hydration strategy to cope. For example, in the heat the body uses more carbohydrates but conversely, in the heat it is harder to digest and absorb carbohydrates. Also, the increased heat will lead to an increased sweat rate and a necessity to stay adequately hydrated with sufficient electrolyte replacement. To be successful this is something I can’t afford to get wrong but it has been made difficult because I haven’t had any opportunities to trial nutrition and hydration strategies in similar conditions. Other aspects of Kona Ironman that will be an amplified challenge include the swim and the bike discipline. In my previous Ironman event the swim section went better than I’d hoped. This time however, the challenge will be taken to another level because the swim takes place in the sea and no wet-suits are allowed. This will be really testing for a weaker swimmer like me and also made especially harder as this is a World Championships with the standard of the entire field being so much higher. I will have to make sure I execute the swim at my own pace following my own plan and not get caught up in the pace of or be intimidated by faster swimmers.
Although the bike section thankfully doesn’t have the steep climbs that Bolton had, it is going to be a long draggy type out and back course. This means it will be about staying in the aero position for a long time with no technical sections to break things up and will be a fairly relentless grind along a bleak road for 56miles and back again. With the sun beating down hard, the heat rising off the lava fields and an impending marathon in the same conditions, I will be keeping my fingers crossed that the wind isn’t blowing too hard as this would significantly increase the physical and mental demand of the whole race.
So how have the last few months shaped up? After Bolton I took almost three weeks off. Amongst other things, I spent time catching up on some MSc work, had some time away in London enjoying the Olympic Games and also started making progress on some work projects and events. As well as having a busy life to get on with, I also needed to rest my body for quite a while. For starters, it was over a week till I could put proper shoes on my feet because both big toe nails had come off from the pounding I’d given them in the marathon! Ideally I would have carried on training so as to make improvements in my fitness and not lose anything but I was pretty tired and it took a while to feel normal again. It was important to make sure I was fully recovered before embarking on another Ironman push.
When I got back into training again it was tough. Fitness takes a while to gain but is quickly lost and it was apparent straight away that I’d slipped back a fair bit. With Kona not far away I quite quickly began to feel a little stressed by it. I didn’t just want to be maintaining form from Bolton; I at least wanted to make some progress, especially because the Kona Ironman is a World Class event with the best Ironman triathletes in the world. This time it was more serious and I was frustrated that I faced so little time to do be able to do much about raising my standard. This coupled with many other distractions that I had going on meant I didn’t have a great start to things. I muddled my way through to the end of August but eventually acknowledged that this wasn’t quite the way things should be. I wanted to be better for Kona, but wasn’t going about things the right way. I know the drill to fix things like this – write a detailed plan, stick to it and knuckle down to some hard work! It’s simple but should be the basis upon which any goal you’re working towards should be set. It establishes your intentions making them tangible rather than abstract and avoidable. I wrote out a life plan for the whole of September stipulating training sessions, work time, focused recovery time and a very small amount of social time! I put down exact timings for everything each day and aimed to stick to them as rigidly as I could.
Having this plan made me more organised and focused and it was a lot easier to go about life and fit everything in. I’ll probably not get this opportunity to race at Kona again so I want to make the most of it. I want to take this opportunity to learn more about the sport, learn more about myself as an athlete and push my boundaries some more. If I can avoid finding my failure point but instead achieve this new set of targets I’ve given myself, cross the finish line and maybe knock some time off my previous Ironman time, it will be a win for me. The Kona Ironman is a historic, epic event and an immense athletic challenge. Watch any video montage clip of the annual race and it fills you with a buzz of excitement, anticipation and wonder. I don’t know quite why this is but I’m honored to be in the position to find out the answer first hand!