What Qualification Means To Me
On Sunday 10th September I competed in Ironman Wales. It was truly an amazing experience and the weather conditions only made the day a little more interesting. The weather was a massive topic amongst all the competitors during race week. Is the storm going to hit us? Are we going to be blown off our bikes? What wheels should I use for the bike leg if it’s going to be so windy? How choppy is the sea because of this weather? These were just some of the questions running through our heads. However, Chrissie Wellington settled my nerves the day before race day as she said, “control the controllables.” She was so true, you can’t change the weather. You’ve just got to believe in the training you’ve done and not getting worried about what you can’t control.
So, after all the hype, the storm wasn’t as tragic as we first anticipated. Admittedly, the wind was horrendous but you just had to be careful. A lot of the sections, especially along the coast, where you would normally be able to be on your aero bars, were quite dangerous so I just sat up because I thought there was no point trying to save a few seconds to then get blown off my bike ruining my entire race. I had spent months training for this race, there was no point ruining it with a lapse of concentration.
After a tough day out, I placed 2nd in my age group gaining Kona qualification for 2018 and if you want to check my full race report, please refer to my earlier blog.
Which race to choose
I had trained months and months for Ironman Wales. I had made the decision at the end of 2016 to try and qualify for the 2018 Ironman World Championship. Choosing the race was a difficult decision. Ironman events are expensive so I thought to myself that I had one chance to qualify. I decided that I wanted to race at the back end of 2017 to give me plenty of time to prepare for Kona if I did qualify. I then narrowed it down to two events; Wales and Barcelona.
A piece of advice if you want to qualify for Kona is to play to your strengths and check the provisional slot allocation. Wales was a very hilly course with around 2400m on the bike and 550m on the run, whereas Barcelona was pretty much flat. The weather in Barcelona was more guaranteed, but you need to have trained properly for it. I had planned three weeks in August in the south of France which would helped acclimatise me to the warmer conditions. However, I am quite light with my power to weight ratio being quite good and I am also a good runner up hills. These contributed to my decision as I knew Barcelona would just require a high power output rather than a high power to weight ratio. Another thing swaying towards Wales was that there two slots for Kona in the 18-24 age group, whereas Barcelona only
had one. Therefore, Wales was the obvious choice for me.
What it means to me to qualify
After signing up in January 2017, I was even more inclined to train harder to make it to Kona. In March, I got a premium membership for TrainingPeaks and it completely changed my way of training. I was able to analyse my way of training, planning ahead and ensuring I was in peak form for races. I knew I really wanted to qualify so over the Easter break I increased my training volume to around 22 hours a week. At the time, it was a big step up but I knew in the long run it would all pay off.
I made so many sacrifices along the way. A lot of my friends and family can vouch for me when I say triathlon is my life. I would often leave events early to ensure I got enough sleep to start training early the next day. Training for an ironman can be quite antisocial at times but if you want the rewards then you have to make the necessary changes in life to get there. These sacrifices just showed how much I wanted to qualify.
Early morning starts are typical for a triathlete. However, when I was a university student, some of the hardest sessions were when I had been partying the night before and had a lack of sleep. At times it was hard to motivate myself to get up. However, TrainingPeaks changed that for me as I was able to plan my training sessions around what I was doing that week.
The pressure of exams can be very daunting, especially in your final year. As a mathematics student I had 6 exams in my final semester which ultimately took a slight affect on my training. I was very committed towards my education but also didn't want to neglect my training. I believe I found the right compromise and balance sustaining a good training volume whilst also studying hard.
Ultimately, I was racing not just for myself but in honour of my amazing sponsors. I wanted to do them proud and if it wasn’t for their continued support then I may not have qualified. The week before the race I was in dire need of a wetsuit and I’m truly grateful to Zone3 who helped deliver quickly and promptly.
It wasn't just myself that had to make sacrifices. My family are my biggest supporters and they helped me through everything. Without their support and guidance I feel I wouldn't be where I am today. They supported me at all my races this year, sometimes standing in the freezing cold waiting for me to come passed. This in itself is huge motivation. I want to make my family proud! I wanted to qualify for my family, after all they get a nice relaxing holiday in Hawaii!
The highs and lows
Every triathlete experiences difficulties on their own personal journey. Injuries are expected since Ironman is such a demanding sport and you put so much stress on your body. The hardest thing is knowing when to take it easy. It's something I am slowly learning but staying injury free is the best thing. There's no point battering yourself to get PBs only to then get injured for a month. However, there are some injuries you just can’t avoid. I fell off my bike in early February due to the icy conditions and it set me back a few weeks. There’s nothing you can do but give yourself time to recover. I was also diagnosed with minor spondylolisthesis which is where a back bone slips out of position. Repetitive physiotherapy and core training helped to overcome this though, and now I fit it into my daily routine to ensure it doesn’t come back.
Coming into May I was preparing for my first races of the season, the Battlefield Long Distance Duathlon and the Outlaw Half, both of which are stunning races. The Battlefield really does test your fitness with a challenging course. I positioned 3rd overall which gave me confidence that my preparation for Wales were going well. An age group win by almost an hour at the Outlaw Half reinforced this confidence. Everything was going to plan.
However, exam season hit me hard, but in a way it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It gave me a chance to rest and focus on my education. I ended up setting a personal best 180km bike ride a week after my exams, so it just shows the power of rest.
Spending 3 weeks in France in August helped me a lot. I was able to dedicate a lot of my time to training and recovery. I ended up completing two 70.3s around the 4:30 mark which boosted my confidence that I was going strong. My running off the bike was really strong and I just hoped that I didn’t get any injuries that would hinder my training.
Starting my first proper job was hard work. I was training around 20 hours a week which alongside a 40 hour week at work is tiring. I just had to stay focused and remind myself why I was doing this. I read a lot of articles which said you should picture yourself completing the race strongly. I just kept this in my mind and knew that the final two weeks leading up to the race would be for tapering. This would give my body the necessary rest that was required. I still have a lot to learn about tapering, but in the end I decided to make sure I was slightly more well rested than slightly too overworked. It seemed to pay off anyway.
So, throughout my journey I’ve learned a lot of things and here are just some top tips that I hope will help you:
Play to your strengths
Control the controllables
Find a balance that suits you
Plan your training
Remember why you're doing it if you’re struggling
Learn when to take it easy
Remember that rest can sometimes be the best form of training
Leading up to a race it is better to be 20% undertrained than 5% overtrained