Remembering why we do Ironman

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IMG_0069Humbled by Barcelona 70.3 - Remembering why we do Ironman

F4L Triathlon Coaching Triathlete John Ross describes his recent experience at Barcelona 70.3... Friend: “How you feeling about the race?” John Ross: “Feeling awesome mate, in the best shape I have ever been and better prepared than ever before.” Friend: “What time you going for?” JR: “Ah mate, no specific time but want to beat my bike split and go sub 1:36 on the run which is what I did at my last race…” The above conversation took place on several occasions with a few colleagues and friends in the week leading up to Ironman 70.3 Barcelona. Notice the use of the word race instead of Ironman, this will turn out to be a constant theme over the course of the weekend and will ultimately lead to my downfall. I learnt more from this 70.3 than any other triathlon, a triathlon that humbled me and reminded why we do Ironman and the most important factor: enjoy the journey. Let’s take a few steps back and give some context. In only my third year as a triathlete I was embarking on my third 70.3 having started off with sprints and standard distance. Having begun triathlon with a group of friends, I was soon hooked and after every event was looking for the next challenge. This lead me to Paul Jones and F4L Triathlon Coaching in September of 2012 and Paul turned me from a very average amateur to an above average amateur! My goal for 2014 is Ironman Zurich on July 27, a journey that began in November combining a fantastic weeks training at F4L Mallorca Training camp in April. Leading up to 70.3 Barcelona I was flying! Since the training camp and with starting my Training Plan back in November, I had never felt better, I was nailing swim sessions, my bike fitness was there and my run times were faster than ever before. All set to smash my times right? Wrong! With this new found fitness, there was a downside. A competitor all my life, I got caught up in my training, I started to focus on times, I started to put pressure on myself, and I started talking about my “race” and not the “half ironman”. I lost sight of the reason I started doing triathlon and worse still, I stopped having fun. If I missed a training session or if I didn’t get enough sleep I would stress, all the while driving my wife mad, almost to the point of being unbearable. Fast forward to race day, Sunday May 18 on the coast of Barcelona. A few key lessons about race prep were also learnt, always always know your course and where possible cycle the bike course. The swim and run do not need as much of a reccy but the bike is essential. Up at 3.45, very nervous and staying an hour away from the race with family was not the best idea - the most economical but not worth it, always stay as close to the start as possible. Bike check and over to the swim start but due to staying so far away I always felt like I was rushing which did not help my nerves. Wetsuit on and a very quick warm up swim in the sea, kiss the family and off to the start pen. Ready, set go! Good steady swim, felt comfortable, bilateral breathing and exited the water feeling positive and relaxed, ready to transition and get on the bike. Then came my first hiccup of the day and lesson number one: always pick your feet up running so as not to stub your toe! I managed to give my big toe a good “stubbing” on what could only have been part of the transition tent frame! Adrenalin obviously cancelled out the pain but was aware of the throbbing as soon as I was cycling on the bike. First time practising my bike mount and the tricks taught by Coach Paul in Mallorca which I executed, I wouldn’t say to perfection, but better than expected. Going into the unknown was very daunting and I knew I would live to regret it immediately. A very tough bike course, plenty of long climbing over two mountains with practically no flat until 50 KM. I focused on keeping my cadence high but could not stop looking at the time ticking away and realising this was not going to be a PB! Finally rolled into T2  and I was devastated, constantly looking at my time and baffled by how “slow” my bike split was. Then came my second and somewhat more severe error. Going for the ballerina leg dismount (also taught at F4L Training camp), I came into T2 far too fast, dismounted and then WHAM – hit the deck! It turns out I dismounted well but lost control of the bike, fortunately no damage to my bike, but cuts and grazes on knees and elbows and a very wounded pride. I was dazed, I then couldn’t find my bike rack! Finally I got my Run bag and just sat on the bench, checking my cuts and bruises and deciding whether to even bother with the run. Transition to run and I saw my wife and mum and they gave me a lift but within 100 metres of the run I wanted to stop, negative thoughts had entered my head and I was battling the demons telling me to just sit down, walk off the course, it’s not worth it! I’d like to point out that it was never a question of fitness, thanks to my coach, training plan and training, even on the bike I was never exhausted, cadence was high and on the run it was not physical issues, it was all mental. I knew I wasn’t going to beat any of my split times and PB and this is where I come back full circle to the pressure, to the racing, to acting like I was a professional and worst of all, not having fun. I slowed down, people started passing me, people were having fun and enjoying themselves and I was struggling, all I wanted to do was sit down, walk off the course and hide. I was humbled, I was beaten by my own negative thoughts. Then I made it to the turning point which was also the finish chute where Mr. Ironman announcer himself gave me a shout out, he also said what I IMG_0081needed to hear. I cannot confirm verbatim but it was to the tune of “congratulations to all the competitors here today, just being out there and setting off on this journey makes you all champions, all winners and Ironmen!” It then clicked, I realised that I had been so caught up with times, PBs and “racing” that I forgot all the reasons why I chose to do Ironman. The fact that I love to swim, bike and run, that I love to push myself in training and make my loved ones proud of me and that in itself is all the satisfaction and accolades I need. After finishing, still disappointed, my family were so proud and so happy and were shocked to hear how awful I had felt. They said I looked great, looked comfortable and though not running as fast as they know I could, that they thought I was just “cruising”. Once my wife and I had had an opportunity to look at the times, I realised how hard the bike course had been; the wind force on the run and my general state meant I ran my slowest half marathon. I realised that courses vary, that is the beauty of Ironman, it is not about the times for us age groupers, it’s about “toeing the line”, enjoying the training and savouring the moment and knowing that you are doing something incredibly challenging and rewarding, something not everyone can achieve.Above all else, always enjoy yourself and make sure to smile, it will lift you and at the same time lift someone else!