Its Sunday night, the weekend before the Busselton Ironman 70.3, and I am bolt upright with a heart rate around 150 bpm’s. I’m sweating bullets and anxious as anything. I literally cannot think of anything else, even whilst asleep, other than the 1.9km open water swim coming in just under 6 days. And its at that moment, that it dawns on me; i’ve got a real fear of the open water. But wait, i’d just done 10 of 11 weeks worth of training for this, how can this be….
Let me take you back to mid May 2017..…
I’m sitting at home all warm and comfortable, spending time with my little newborn girl and my amazing, supportive, patient wife. Neither Zwift, nor the Thursday morning EBR do it for me anymore and that thrill of achievement has become a chore. Apparently it happens to every first time dad, something that happens during a period which is called “the grind”; that period between birth and 2 years of age where you are literally in the trenches managing to just (and i mean just) keep your head above water and in a place where you have no control over anything.
This is normally coupled with less “you time” which for me was a whole lot of riding myself into the ground, in the hills surrounding Perth and at a particular cycle studio in West Perth where I had previously found solace. I took pride in the fact that i went from a Main 4 rider to a Main 1.1 rider in just under 12 months, but once your priorities change one must find a new challenge.
So on that fateful night, i looked up at wifey and stupidly, stupidly said; “hey bae, I think i’m going to do the Half Ironman in December”. Like all great wives, she looked back at me and approvingly nodded, not realizing how much our lives would change in the process. If there is one thing to take away from this story, training for an Ironman is harder on your family than it is on you. So it goes that for the next 3 months (until Mid August), I started running, swimming and funnily enough cut back on the riding.
For those of you who know me, i am by no means an endurance athlete, in fact the opposite. I can push out some watts every now and again but those watts are limited and watching me run is like watching someone repeatedly having seizures. At the beginning, I could barely string together a 5k effort and a 400 meter swim but slowly/surely those numbers painfully
increased until i was at the point where I could run 10k (very slowly) and swim 1km. Then I got handed an intermediate Ironman 70.3 plan from a mate (who himself picked it up from a Mens Health Magazine) and started to ply my way through the early weeks around early August. And I hated it, I mean I really hated it. I went from one grind at home to adding another grind which I was no where near ready for.
However, in that hate and in that suffering, I found something and even whilst I write this, I am unable to explain it exactly. Essentially, its similar to the thing that I found when I first discovered cycling but way harder. It was like a tenacity and anger coupled with a fear of failure and a small side of incremental achievement. I was getting up most mornings at 4.30am and very, very sore.
Five out of every 7 days were at the very least one of the following;
a 10 – 15 kilometer run or
a 2 to 3 kilometer swim or
a 40 – 75 kilometer cycle.
But the thing that gets you isn’t the physical efforts, its the repeated efforts being backed up day after day. Its the anxiety of not knowing if you are indeed made of what it takes. I guess that comes up for most endurance sports. Even thinking back on those early days makes me want to throw up and I thank god for those rest days. I would mentally wrestle with myself every single afternoon about the next mornings schedule and that in itself was exhausting.
Through all of that however, I also discovered a place mentally which I had never been experienced before, even during all that cycling training; I was learning to shut my mind of and essentially meditate. I was smashing out 15km runs and 2km swims, albeit very slowly, but without being in such a worked up state. And I developed my own mantra which if you ever had the privilege of seeing me during training, I would literally say out loud; “The mind breaks before the body, the mind breaks before the body”. And with that I found my groove.
So along came the day; The Busselton Half-Ironman 70.3 on December 3, 2017 and as I look back on it, the day was pretty easy in comparison to the training. The smile was ear to ear. Yes the swim was cancelled (due to sharks) but that didn’t really bother me. I had done the training and had made it to the day, the rest was simple; eat every half an hour, drink every 15 minutes, keep the electrolytes up, no coasting on the bike and no walking on the run. To be fair, id rehearsed the day in my head over a hundred times over the previous weeks and the hardest thing was trying to hold back tears in the last 3 k’s of the run when it finally dawned on me that i’d make it.
How did i deal with my fear of open water? I faced it head on and also did a whole heap of online research on how other people dealt with it. In that last week I hit the beach on three separate days, at different times and just let things be. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen wether I thought about it or not. Youtube was also really helpful and I quickly realized that most first timers had the same fear. Lets just say that i swam just that little bit faster on all three occasions than I would have in the pool.
So as I sit here about 10 days after the event, here are some tips if by the end of this article you’ve decided to take the leap:
- As cyclists, we already understand pain and know how to deal with it. We know how to shut off parts of our body and just keep on trucking. The half ironman is all about pain management.
- Cycling legs correlate directly with running legs. If you’re good at cycling, your running will come along in leaps and bounds, just get the k’s in.
- Get yourself some TT bars, just do it. And get yourself a bike fit for those bars.
- Don’t fret too much if you have an off-week here or there. Just keep on ticking those k’s over. Its consistency thats the key for your first one. Consistency breeds competence which breeds confidence.
- Find yourself a training plan that scares you. It will only motivate and take you to a place where you will grow, both mentally and physically.
- Understand and memorise why you are training. Write it down somewhere you can see it everyday. For me, it was for my little girl and to teach her that she can do absolutely anything she puts her mind to.
- Don’t be afraid to just let go and let things be. On those long training chunks, just let your thoughts come and go. You’ll eventually find solutions to issues or things that you thought were impossible to solve.
- Get a massage every two weeks and spend the money on a GOOD masseuse. Stretch every morning and every night. Emily from Regenerative Bodywork helped me heaps, sometimes on very short notice.
- Dont get too caught up in triathlon kits or wetsuit brands. No one cares on the day, as long as you are having a good time.
- AND SMILE.