The most common question I was asked post Ironman 70.3 World Champs is how does it feel to be a world champion? It felt really good for a few days for sure but I think if I was the sort of guy who rocked around satisfied with what I have achieved I would never have gotten there in the first place. It’s been a crazy year where I achieved some career long major ambitions. I’m proud, absolutely, however I’m not satisfied at all. As is typical, my ambitions just got higher. When I first started racing the goal was simply to finish the race, then finish in the top 50% and then to win my age group etc.. It’s a never ending ambition re adjustment and I’ve come to accept that I find far more joy in working hard to achieve my goals then actually achieving them. In fact, in an ironic twist, sometimes I get quite depressed soon after achieving something significant. On the contrary, if I have a disappointing result like Kona this year, I become incredibly motivated and my general mindset is often healthier.
The common theme In the congratulation messages was how it was so well deserved and no one works harder. That’s kind, but simply not true. Well, at least in the past couple of years it’s not. I know many pro athletes that train much harder and are doing it way tougher. I’m in such a fortunate position with amazing sponsor support thanks to a great manager, I’ve had some good luck (hey, everyone needs it) and a hugely supportive wife and extended family. In my mind there will always be guys more deserving but I learnt pretty early on when I turned pro and was doing it far tougher that sport, like life, isn’t always fair. The more results you get, the easier it becomes to continue getting those results as the support network grows and the level of investment you can put back into your racing increases. There are many other people hugely deserving. Sometimes super talents who overtrain to their detriment, sometimes incredible hard workers who simply don’t have the talent.
Either way, the common thought that the hardest worker wins is often not correct. In the 4 weeks between Sunshine Coast and Kona I put together some incredibly hard training and felt absolutely terrible. I had the exact same experience in Austria last year at the Ironman 70.3 world champs where I trained harder than I ever had only to have the worst power on the bike I’d had in years. Hard work, of course, is an essential ingredient, but it has to be the right amount, and that optimal amount is hugely individual and a moving target based on all the other stresses life brings.
In saying all that, I think for any person to reach the pointy end of their field in sport (or elsewhere) there has to either have been or continue to be an element of obsessive behaviour. Old friends messaged me reminders of my early years when I was working full time, would get home at 530pm, and then complete three sessions finishing up at 11pm. Or when I would finish university for the day, wash dishes til 12pm at a local restaurant, and then go running until 1am to unwind before going to bed. Ridiculous antics that I could never pull off now without suffering a prompt divorce. It wasn’t beneficial to my racing at the time as I was always beyond fatigued but I have no doubt that the huge aerobic base I built in my early twenties thanks to an obsessive nature is paying dividends now. I owe a huge thank you to Grant Giles for all his guidance early on and teaching me that the foundation of any great endurance athlete is an enormous aerobic base. Not built over weeks or months but years.
I won’t go through the play by play details of how 70.3 Worlds played out as I’ve done that in enough interviews, however I will comment on the role the Aussie crowd had in helping me keep up with Sebi. Perhaps the biggest cultural difference between the US and Australia is the unique way in which we support our athletes. In America in doesn’t matter if you’re racing terribly or winning, the crowd is invariably positive and uplifting. “You’re going great man!” or “keep it up!” or “Way to go!” are some of the Yanks favorites. While Aussies support in a much more murderous fashion. “Smash him!” or “kill him Reedy!” were common themes and all support is laden with expletives. Even the “c” bomb was thrown my way. It seems it’s rapidly becoming an Aussie term of endearment but can get you arrested in the United States.
In the closing kilometers I can honestly say that the tremendous support I received, aggressive as it was, played an enormous role in digging out absolutely everything I had. So a belated thank you to those on course. Lots of people asking my thoughts on Lionel Sanders post race comments. I think he had some very valid points and much of what he said I completely agree with and have been saying for years. Sanders is an absolute phenomenon and a great thing for our sport. His ability to train the way he does for so many races each year, frankly makes him quite unbeatable most of the time. However, I know that when I get it right once or twice a year, I can come close to matching his cycling and running and my swim is a fair way ahead. Mt Tremblant we both rode most of the ride solo and rode the same bike split. His power reading was 1 zillion watts while mine didn’t look so impressive but people often forget there is probably a 12-15 kgs difference between us, the same as if Lionel is riding with two extra bikes on his shoulder. He ran much better as I cramped my way through the final 5kms but I walked away from that race knowing that when my bike is on I can compete with this guy.
If Lionel learns to swim, all hope is probably lost over the 70.3 distance. If Lionel learns to actually ride his bike, then we are also in pretty big trouble. He has the best engine on two wheels but his skills are a little lacklustre. Guys like Kienle or Dretiz have incredible power combined with incredible skill. The few times I’ve ridden with Lionel I’m in shock with how much time he loses in every corner, descent or even dismounting his bike to get into transition. He is a clever dude though, I’m sure he’s already worked this into his plan for next year.
Kona was a slap in the face and a harsh return to reality. The dream run since July was definitely over. A stark reminder that racing is an epic roller coaster. We decided on quite a lot of training leading up to Kona, I don’t regret that decision, but I regret ignoring the signs of how worn out I was and not incorporating a bigger taper. All the over strained signs were there. Only sleeping 5-6 hrs a night and a seriously suppressed heart rate. Plenty of sessions where I would barely crack 100 bpm average. Strava follower comments thought it showed incredible fitness, and while I didn’t mind going along with that illusion, I knew it was fatigue. Leading up to Vineman I was in exactly the same place but because I know the 70.3 distance so well, I had the confidence do a very restful 14 day taper to get out of the fatigue hole I was in. I didn’t have that confidence with Kona, the distance still scares me and I didn’t make the right choice.
I appreciate the private messages from people calling me out for being weak for not finishing Kona this year. It’s a fair call. I feel Kona is the one race you should finish regardless of where you are at. I’m ashamed for not sticking it out. I was so despondent when I got on the bike and couldn’t push within 40 watts of race power that I let the negative emotion take over and made the call to get in the first car that could fit me in. I’m not sure I regret the decision but I certainly don’t want to ever DNF in Kona again.
A few quick thoughts on this years race:
– I still think that for most athletes, to have the best possible day you can in Kona, you need to be at least somewhat fatigued from the training load 4-6 weeks out. Daniela Ryf wasn’t quite as sharp as usual at the Ironman 70.3 World Champs but geez, she got it right on Saturday. Was amazing to watch.
– For those that don’t know anything about Patrick Lange, he is one of the nicest humans going around. Crazy talent, very smart. Pat will win Kona next year.
– Is Jan the greatest of all time? Hard to compare eras but it's very difficult to argue against that label.
– A lot of guys who did 2-3 Ironman events this year prior to Kona didn’t fire. I think nearly all the top 10 guys all only did 1 ironman prior.
Watching pros who are very use to being at the pointy end of races gutting it out despite not being where they would like to be. Sanders, Berkel, Dellow, Llanos, Mcmahon, Swallow, Ellis, McKenzie, Kessler just to name a few. It was dead set inspirational. I know that age group competitors face the same struggle when they are out there. However, there is not the same temptation to pull the pin and find another race to keep the bills being paid. So perhaps I’m biased, but I think it’s pretty special when pros do this in Kona.
These guys inspired me that next year even if it’s not my day, I’ll throw logic to the wind and make sure I get to that finish line.
I’m so incredibly grateful to the team behind me. Thank you Monica and our extended families, my manager Evan (BPM sport), Matt Dixon and the Purplepatch team, Saucony, Trek, Bontrager, Alaska, Roka, Flight Centre Sports and Events, Clif Bar, Budgy Smuggler, Rudy Project, Transition Cycles Ballina and Rich Tyler.