The 1st October is upon us and I find myself back home at Mum & Dad’s in New Plymouth pondering the season’s successes, failures and lessons learnt; while also pondering what my future holds; with some big decision’s to make with regards my future in the sport at the elite level.
Overview of my Performance in 2012 The year started well winning the TriNZ Champs Bronze Medal at the Tauranga Half Ironman in January. The next big race was Ironman New Zealand in March; however due to a ‘weather-bomb’ instead the full-distance we raced over the 70.3 distance. I had an ‘ok’ race placing 10th. It was good to be top-10 but I was well outside the top-6 which I had as a goal and I was gutted, along with everyone else, not to compete over the full-distance; Running down the finish-chute felt hollow; as if I had cheated. After IMNZ I sat down with my late coach Jack Ralston to plan my ‘2012 Northern Season’. We decided to race an Ironman in America since we didn’t get to race it in Taupo. It didn’t take much time to choose Ironman Canada. I had heard a lot of goods things about this race; Great volunteer and spectator support, and a course that I thought would suit me – a wetsuit swim, a bike course with it’s gradual climbs (like Battle Hill in Wellington I was told, which I had done a few times with good mates Shanon Barnett & Kyle Bridgemen), and a rolling run course that requires strength more than speed. Ironman Canada was to be my key race of the ‘2012 Northern Season’ with three Ironman 70.3s used as the build-up with a goal to win some prize-money to help fund the trip. The late NZ summer training went well, where I focused on my cycling, putting in some big miles on the bike. I did an awesome 3 day block with Carl Read & Brodie Madgwick which consisted of a 6hr ride & 30min run, a 4hr ride & 2hr run, and a 6hr ride & 30min run. It resulted in my biggest ever training week clocking over 30hours. I enjoyed a solid 200k coastal loop ride with Rob Dallimore on a windy Auckland day; that was until Rob crashed and broke his collarbone. (He’s all good now). I spent plenty of time down home in the ‘naki and clocked a few round-the-mountain rides with fellow ‘Taranaki to the marrow’ triathlete Clark Ellice; a few Tarata Loops and a spin out to TeWera. I then topped this off by escaping to coming New Zealand winter with a month of training at altitude in Boulder, where I continued to clock up some more big miles with US Pro Brad Seng. I seemed to adapt well to the altitude and was looking forward to assessing the benefits of this altitude training in the races. I did the local Loveland Lake-to-Lake Triathlon during this block of training in Colorado and was happy with my performance taking the win and a small cheque which would pay for grocery bill for a couple of weeks. This was the best block of training I had ever done and I felt the fittest I had ever been. It was the first time in a long time I felt that I was completely over the Glandular Fever/Chronic Fatigue I had been battling with the last 3 years. I departed Boulder for a month on-the-road racing; with three 70.3s and making a trip to Penticton to ride the Ironman course. I managed, through Twitter, to link up with some local age-group triathletes from Kelowna – James, Leanne and crew – to ride the IM Canada course with. It was great to have them show me the way and I enjoyed their company and the sag support from Leanne parents. The Ironman 70.3 races went well – Overall I was happy with my performances and saw a big improvement compared to last year. The first race, Muncie 70.3 was a bit of a disappointment in that the race was shortened due to severe heat. The distance change didn’t suit my strengths/weaknesses and I placed 12th; which I was happy with considering the distance change; but not what I had as a goal and well outside of the prize-money. I raced the next weekend at the Racine 70.3 where, despite feeling less than best on the bike, I found I had great running legs, and with the fastest run split of the day, took 5th place. Two weeks later I was at Calgary 70.3 with tired legs but plenty of determination to gain another top-5 placing. I had one of my best races. One of my best swims exiting the water with a good group, but I struggled a little with the fatigued legs towards the end of the bike. I ran relatively well to pass a few guys and take 6th place. But it wasn’t the top-5 and outside the cheques. However it was never going to be a top-5 placing for me as I was very much out-classed by the top-5 guys who were well ahead of me from the gun. That month was a blast; Such fun*. After the month on-the-road racing I headed back to Boulder for the final 3 weeks of training before I would head back to Penticton for the taper-week and the big race. These weeks consisted of a recovery/adaptation week and then two quality training weeks; one of which saw me do my longest ever training run – 31km @ IM race pace – and my longest ever ride – 210km up in the hills with a group that included some of the best in the sport; Craig Alexander, Cameron Brown, Greg Bennett, Miranda Carfare, Julie Dibbens, and many more stars of the sport – I felt honoured to be training with such legends. I lined up at Ironman Canada in the best shape of my life and ready for the new challenge of the ironman distance. It was a real learning experience; the Ironman is a lot different to racing a Half. I had a great race right form the gun; I swam with the leaders; biked as per the plan and ran strong to take 5th place and a cheque that would pay for the flight home. I was super stoked, and still am, with my performance. While it was crazy painful I look back on it with pride. However there were nevertheless plenty of lessons to take from the race and the big one I found was that I lacked conditioning to handle the distance. I felt that I struggled over the final miles of both the bike and the run. However this is to be expected being the first ironman I have raced and is only going to be improved through more training and experience of racing the full-distance. I’m still buzzing from this race!!!!! ; In July I was surprised to receive an email from the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC) stating:
“…please accept this invitation to the Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Las Vegas on 9/9/12”
With the 5th and a 6th placings from this year; added to my 5th & 9th from the end last year, which were in the 2012 qualifying season; I had managed to rank myself in the top-50 Pro Men in the world and qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Las Vegas; something I had never thought possible or planned for. Initially I was going to decline the invitation as the race was only two weeks after Ironman Canada and I would therefore be in no shape to race to ‘my seasons best’; which I felt was not yet worthy of a World Champs start. It would also cost me money that I didn’t have much of a chance of winning back at the race. However after seeking advice and further reflection I decided that it was to good of an opportunity to turn down. It’s not everyday that you get such an invitation. The experience of competing as an Pro at the World Championship… It would be invaluable experience if I ever return to Vegas ready to compete with the best of them. Plus it would be a super fun week rocking around in Vegas as one of the Pros… #kook. I had a very tough day as expected; with very tired arms and legs I struggled in the heat towards the back of the Pro Men field all day getting in the way of the lead women. However I wasn’t the only one struggling with the conditions, and although the leaders were destroying me, I was picking guys off on the run as the heat climbed into the 40’s and I finished in 29th place out of the 50 Pro Men starters. I was ranked 37th so all-in-all not a bad result even if I had an average day. Once again plenty to take away from this race and I look forward, God Willing, to going back to Vegas one day and really giving this race a good crack. I believe it suits my strengths. I was on a high all week while in Vegas ‘liv’n the dream’! I finished the season off by winning a little local race in South Carolina, the Kiawah Island Triathlon. It was a bit of a holiday on the island – with a triathlon added into the mix for fun – with the Borsum’s; a homestay family I had had last year, who have become good friends. It was a great to start and finish the American Season with wins in little local short-distance races. Good for the confidence. ; Thoughts and Lessons Learnt I’ve learnt that I am still very much an apprentice in this sport, especially in Ironman racing; I have plenty to learn and the body & mind need more experience before I will reach my potential. Ironman Canada was the first Ironman I have raced and therefore you could say I’m more of a beginner who is just starting his apprenticeship. During my time in Boulder I got to talk to some of the best in the sport and watch them train. I discovered that most of them have been training and racing for many years. They have built their engines over these years to the point where their bodies and minds can handle massive blocks of training. Blocks of training which would destroy me if I tried it now. I have learnt that I’m only just starting in building my engine for the Ironman distance racing. I have many years of training and racing before I will reach my peak; before I will reach my true potential. The big question I’m asking myself is if I want to do that; am I willing to make the sacrifices and to commit to a long-term plan; and if I do want to do it, then how am I’m I going make it work; financially, physically and mentally. This past ‘American Season’ cost me a lot of money – (see my blog The Financial Cost of a Kiwi Pro racing in America that has received some mixed reviews) – and I can not continue traveling to the US to compete in their season without financial support and/or by winning some big races (the two probably go together). Then I ask myself, do I chase the money to make it work; Do I choose races that will give me a better chance of winning cash or do I choose races that will give me experience to become a better athlete; like I did choosing to race in Vegas; and trust that if this is God’s Will for me then I can make it work with his help. Sadly I lost my coach, Jack Ralston, while I was overseas competing. I was racing for Jack, #4JACK, while I was in America; firstly I was praying that God would heal him and give him and his family strength; and then after he had lost the battle; when I raced I prayed for him by offering the pain up to Jesus, to be united with the pain Christ took on the cross, for Jack’s salvation. I am saddened that I can not sit down with Jack and talk the season over and get his advice on what I should do. He was a very wise man and would have given me some sound advice. Jack was more of a mentor to me than a coach as I’ve been almost un-coachable over the last few years. Un-coachable? – Over the last couple of years I have been making short-term commitments to the sport of Triathlon. I have been planning only 6 – 8 months ahead. When I made a comeback in 2010 after my time out with illness in 2009, with glandular fever and chronic fatigue, I felt that I couldn’t make to much of a long-term commitment as I wasn’t sure how my body was going to cope with the training the next day let alone the next year. In 2010 & 2011 I was a nightmare for Jack to coach, as I was actually still battling with the chronic fatigue and I was having to almost take it day-by-day with regards to the training. This year I have found that finally my body is back to 100% and I have totally recovered from the illness. It had become a mental battle to overcome more than a physical battle. I had been battling with the chronic fatigue for so long that it had become a habit; whenever I got tired, run-down or stressed, sub-consciously my brain will flick into chronic-fatigue mode resulting in a chemical reaction that would leave me feeling buggered. It took some sound sub-conscious re-programming, prayer, belief and faith over a period of time to break that habit. But that’s a whole other story. Now being 100% well again it means that I believe I can now start to make some long-term commitments with the confidence that I’m not going to be struggling with extraordinary fatigue beyond the natural fatigue of training. If I decide to stick with this game I need to make some long-term goals and build a plan around these goals. I need to look 3-5 years ahead and say “I’m going win this race in 2016” – or something like that – and build a training and racing plan that leads into peaking for that race, that prepares me for that day. It would mean that instead of just training for the next race I could spend time focusing on my weaknesses and building my strengths; (something I have neglected to do under the short-term goal focus). I could look at taking a season off from racing to focus on building a good base or working or certain disciplines. I also believe it would give me a better position from which to go to sponsors and ask for their support. With this ‘long-term plan’ I could go to them and ask “Do you want to help me achieve this? I believe I can win it and when I do I’ll do it with you, with your brand, promoting your company, product, service that helped me get there”. I’ve learnt that the word ‘professional’ in Professional Ironman Triathlete is as much about being an ‘ambassador’ and a ‘model’ for products, services, races, etc, as it is about ‘receiving money from winning races’. A Professional Ironman Triathlete is an ‘actor’; In the end of the day it’s sport, and sport is entertainment, and as the competitors of this entertainment we are actors putting on a show on the stage of triathlon. While on this stage we write the script for the show, and it’s the fastest that writes the best. While we are acting on this stage; and off stage; through our successes, fame, values & ethos; by what we do, believe or overcome; we create fans from within the watching crowd; (many of which are age-groupers who are just like the Pros, no different); fans we, at times without even knowing, promote products, services, events, training methods, nutrition plans and every else; by what we use, say, do and represent. That is how sponsorship works; the sponsor is buying into the good-will of the athlete. Prize-money alone isn’t enough to keep most triathletes going year after year; they require to be ambassadors and models promoting products and services that have helped them become the athlete they are. I maybe wrong, because what do I know, I’m only a beginner in this game and I’m still very much learning. But that’s how I’m seeing it at the moment. You may disagree. What now? So as I sit here in New Plymouth, with a little natural post-season blues pondering my future in this sport, asking myself what am I going to do now: I’m pondering the need for a new coach. I’m pondering the need for a long-term plan. I’m pondering the sacrifice needed to achieve such a plan; the unsettled lifestyle. I’m pondering the money needed to fund such a plan. I’m pondering the excitement of committing to such a plan. I’m pondering the experiences, the joys, the highs that would come from successfully executing such a plan. I’m pondering if I can do it. I’m pondering if this is what God wants me to do – That’s the main thing really as I know that if he does I don’t need to worry about anything as he’ll make it happen. I’m off to pray about it – Please say a prayer for me as I make some decisions. ; Thank you
Thank you for all those that have giving me support over the past year; – support through your prayers; – support through your words of encouragement; in person, in email, on my website, facebook & twitter; – support through your words of “thanks for the motivation you’ve giving me”, because in return you have given me motivation; – support through the products you have given me; especially John & Sam at Under Armour NZ & Avia NZ for my training gear, race kit & plenty a pair of shoes; and Brian at Rolf Prima for the deal on my race wheels and lending me some training wheels to use while I was in the US; – support through the product discounts you have giving me; especially Kent at KentBikes, Ryan & Mike at blueseventy for the wetsuit deal; and – especially thank you to all those who have opened their homes and lives to me; many of which have become friends; You know who you are. May God Bless you! Thank you. Liv’n the dream. Kia Kaha God Bless ~ Shanon * ‘Miranda’s mum’
Father, grant that I may be
a bearer of Christ Jesus, your Son.
Allow me to warm
the often cold, impersonal scene
of modern life with your burning love.
Strengthen me by your Holy Spirit
to carry out my mission of changing the world
or some definite part of it for the better.
Despite my lamentable failures,
bring home to me that my advantages
are your blessings to be shared with others.
Make me more energetic in setting right
what I find wrong with the world
instead of complaining about it.
Nourish in me a practical desire
to build up rather than tear down,
to reconcile instead of polarize,
to go out on a limb rather than crave security.
Never let me forget
that it is far better to light one candle
than to curse the darkness,
and to join my light,
one day, with yours. Amen.
- Prayer of the Christophers
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