Late in the afternoon on Sunday 29 March, I crossed the IMSA finish line in a flood of emotion. Ten hours earlier, I’d stood on the beach, knowing that today I was going all in. Why – because that’s what getting to Kona takes.
There’s no secret formula. Kona qualification is dependent on physical and mental ability, obvs, but in an arena where everyone has these abilities in equal abundance, it’s how you go about applying them, that gets the ticket to the big island stamped. This is how I went about it. If you have the same dreams, I hope my roadmap to Kona helps a little in achieving them.
Get a Coach
Without a doubt, this is the single most beneficial thing I did. Hand up, I was a sceptic for the majority of my Ironman years. I trained with friends that paid a coach, monthly, and I used to think – what a waste. I’d managed to complete a fair few quick IMs without one, so couldn’t justify the spend. I just thought, if I train more, I’ll eventually qualify. I got close, but close isn’t enough.
But here’s a twist. Don’t just get any coach. Get a coach you 100% believe in and trust (all in). How many athletes do they coach? What’s their track record? Check out their social media profiles – what vibe do they give off: airy-fairy, hot-headed, hard-as-nails? You’re about to enter into (hopefully) an intimate relationship so it’s worth knowing some of their character traits. Off the shelf training programmes help with structure and “hitting the numbers”, but largely ignore the individual dynamics of an athlete. A blog for another day will focus entirely on my experience of having Jodie Swallow as a coach, but for now, all I’ll say is that she was a game changer.
This is going to sound like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but structured training meant the rest of my life became more organised. Admittedly I didn’t have family or a partner to compete with for attention, but I managed to keep a social life. There’s no doubt I had to make sacrifices (HELLO!) and saw less of some friends, but knowing what and when I had to train allowed me to plan life around that. Importantly, I was unashamedly dedicated and transparent with people – I have a goal, I’m sorry I can’t make your event, but this is important to me. You can’t do it all and true friendship is unconditional.
I loved taking the thinking out of it. Far too often in previous years I’d find myself poolside thinking – I need to swim 3km. How should I break it up? Fast forward to this year, and more often than not, I started a swim not actually knowing how much it would add up to. I simply started the warm up and went from there, focussing on each interval written on the drenched scrap of paper. I’d imagine a swim squad would help massively here too. I managed without (it helped that Jodie’s swim sets are amazeballs).
Trust the Process
The more trust you have in your coach, the easier this will be, but even then, keep the long term goal in mind. Yes small milestones along the way are important, but remember that each session is a building block. If you have a bad session/week/race in the lead up, don’t throw your toys. Remind yourself of what’s important – a half marathon PB, or a Kona slot? The same goes when there’s the tendency to ‘smash it’. If the plan says moderate – listen. It’s easy to get carried away when confidence is sky high. Don’t let it come back to bite you.
You’re paying a coach cash Dollar, why wouldn’t you want a good ROI? This area took a lot of willpower. The majority of my friends are exercise junkies. This meant the temptation to dabble in their activities was ever present. Every week, from Thursday, the WhatsApp group messages would start – weather looks ACE for a Jonkershoek MTB ride : ) / There’s a heap of us hitting the mountain for an epic one this weekend! / We’re doing a Peninsula Loop, stopping at that rad new coffee spot…the list goes on. It’s rare to achieve goals without making sacrifices. I could see past these weekend ‘hits’, knowing they’d still be there once I’d ticked the Kona box. All in means…all in.
Being selfish doesn’t mean being anti-social. I’d often invite friends on the planned sessions I had. But I stuck to my guns. “Come along, but this is what we’re doing.” Keep your ego in check. When a group ride was included (pretty much weekly) in the programme, I didn’t throw my plan out of the window because someone thought it’d be fun to put in an interval up Chapman’s Peak. I always kept the bigger picture in mind.
(As was often the case, I did many solo sessions. I used this as motivation. Knowing that if I stuck to my schedule, I was giving myself the best possible chance to be in the shape I needed to be in.)
Rest and recovery. Possibly the two words age-groupers hate most. In our crazy heads, no training = going backwards. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Early on, Jodie struck the fear of God into me on recovery. A full recovery day means do nothing. I even took it so far as acting like a pro cyclist – I’d take the lift instead of walk. Once I grasped the value of recovery, I noticed the gains. I trained harder knowing I had a recovery day to look forward too, and felt excited for the session after the day off knowing I’d be fresh again. Far too often we go from session to session exhausted. This simply breaks down the body, leaving you open to illness and injury. Another two words very common amongst age-groupers.
If you miss a session, don’t try and force it back in somewhere or slyly add extra hours to another session. Any coached programme worth its salt, is structured in such a way that each session takes cognisance of the others. In simple terms, a lighter or rest day before a key session is planned so that the key session reaps maximum rewards. When life gets in the way (which it inevitability will), miss the session, take advantage of the extra rest, and don’t dwell on it. If it’s the key session being missed, notify your coach straight away so changes to the plan can be made. Same can be said for illness. Listen to your body. You’re better off missing a session than pushing through, waking up poorly, and missing the next few days.
Quality Over Quantity
Everyone says it, but it’s seldom practised. We age-groupers LOVE data and adding up the hours. It’s like the standard exchange two triathletes have when they meet – what are your weekly hours? Yes it’s highly unlikely you’ll quality for Kona off 5 hours a week, but your age, experience, workload, etc. will determine the totals. The biggest argument Jodie and I had (obvs I lost), centred around hours. I got caught up in the “how many hours are you doing” banter with a few Kona age-group hopefuls, and questioned whether I should be doing more. I was quickly put in my place, and rightly so. It was a valuable lesson, as more doesn’t equate to better/faster/stronger. The equation should be more focused around quality sessions, sufficient recovery, and balancing the other aspects of life such as work, family and friends.
October sees me jetting off to Hawaii. I still have to pinch myself when I say it…