Sunday, 12 August 2007


So here we are... four weeks in to the '50' and it's time to start getting serious. The last four weeks have seen a return to some kind of training following a three week post-Ironman recovery period and although they've been fairly 'off the cuff' and lacking in structure there's been some pretty intense sessions which have reminded me only too well how much it takes to earn the title 'Ironman'. With 46 weeks to go it's about time I had a look at where I am so as to start plotting the route to where I need to be on July the 6th 2008.

The bottom line is this... In order to give myself a chance of Hawaii qualification I'll most likely need to dip under 9 hours and 30 minutes (at least) in Frankfurt, however this would by no means guarantee me a place as in Germany this year the 'slowest' qualifier in my age group (30-34 year old men) did 9 hours 20 minutes and with the race also serving as the European Ironman Championships the standard is extremely high. At a complete guess I would hope that 9:29 would give me a close to 50% chance of qualifying. In June of this year I completed Ironman Switzerland in 9 hours and 56 minutes (slowest qualifier was 9:34) and am therefore looking to find 27 minutes (or 4.5%) over the next 46 weeks. This may seem like a lot although having set myself a target of 5% from 2005-2006 I managed 6% from Ironman Austria (10:34) to Ironman Switzerland (9:56) and feel that with the correct approach it is possible.

With the 2007 swim in Switzerland seemingly 3-5 minutes 'over distance' I would hope that even without an improvement in my swim ability I could expect a minimum of 3 minutes (0.5%) to come from an accurately measured swim course. Also, although the Swiss bike course wasn't the hardest around, three good climbs on each of three laps meant the 112 mile cycle course contained nine significant hills where my speed was severely restricted. In comparison Frankfurt has around 500 metres less climbing overall and is widely regarded as being one of the fastest bike courses in Ironman. I would expect therefore to find at least another six minutes (1%) without any improvement in my cycling ability. The run course differs very little between Switzerland and Germany and assuming they are of similar speeds I doubt the marathon will be giving me any 'free' time. Overall then I'm hoping to attribute nine minutes of my 27 to the difference in course alone. Leaving 18 more minutes or 3% still to find...

There are several areas that I can look to for these 18 minutes such as my training strategy over the next 46 weeks, race equipment (i.e. carbon disc wheel or power meter) and my race day strategy.

In both the Ironman races I have completed so far I've found myself half way through the run (21k to go) with over two hours to achieve my goal (sub-11 in IMA and sub-10 in IMCH). When you've been racing for eight to nine hours in 30+ heat and you know that as long as you just keep running you'll achieve your goal it's very difficult to push harder and take yourself truly to your limit. It would in fact be entirely the wrong thing to do as the risk of 'blowing up' increases exponentially with every minute that your goal creeps higher. If you've set yourself sub-10 and you manage to get yourself in a position where it's suddenly within touching distance why risk loosing an hour in the last 10k (very easy in Ironman) for the sake of 9:54 over 9:56? It's a bit like a formula one racing team turning the revs down on their car when they're in the lead with ten laps to go... they've won the race already so why risk an engine failure for the sake of winning by three extra seconds? This is where my problem is however... whereas in 2006 and 2007 I've know from well before the race exactly what my target was I won't be afforded this luxury in 2008. My 'real' target is to finish in the top 15 places within my age group in order to qualify for the world champs, unfortunately I'll be unaware as to my exact position until the race is over.... with 21k to go in the marathon I could be 30 seconds behind or ahead of the final qualifying slot but will have no way of telling!

This brings me to today's picture... it's time to hurt! The biggest difference in my race strategy between this year and next year's Ironman will be that, regardless of how I'm doing, with 21k of running left it will be time to turn it up, take a risk and take myself absolutely to my physical limit. On the road to Kona nothing can be left on the course and as every one of those final kilometers passes I will need to push myself to new limits of physical and mental endurance. The ability to really hurt and yet keep pushing is rare and even some of the best athletes never find their true limits, but as with most areas in life in order to progress I look to those around me for inspiration. My good friend and training partner Darren Robinson (pictured shortly after finishing the UK 70.3 Ironman - one of the toughest in the world) has what I can only describe as a 'talent' for pushing through extreme levels of physical and mental pain in order to achieve every last ounce of performance. Together we've shared many of the hardest training sessions I've ever been involved in, several of which have seen me exceed my limits and give-in mentally, but I've NEVER seen him even back it off. I've seen him push it to the point of black-out and even to tears but he's always found something extra when all around are falling down, pushed through the finish line and never fallen short! It's amazing how convincing an argument your mind can present for backing it off when the going gets tough. You may have trained twice a day for a year, made countless sacrifices and be on the verge of achieving a lifetime goal but when the going gets really tough your mind will tell you that it doesn't really matter if you quit and that the pain really isn't worth it and even if you slow it down you'll still do a 'great' time and no-one will mind. This is the point where great things can be achieved but 7,000 calories into an Ironman you need to be strong! The great Eddy Merckx once said that (and I'm paraphrasing here) 'the winner of the Tour de France is simply the man who can withstand the most pain'. Between now and July'08 I'll need to learn how to really hurt, with every race from now till then I'll be imagining the guy in front is in the final Hawaii position, I'll be pushing through the finish line and will leave nothing on the course.

Back to the bottom line... how much will this be worth? I reckon 15 seconds a mile over the final 12 miles, so around three minutes or 1%.... only 15 minutes (or 2.5%) left... more on these next week.

For those who are interested a quick low down on this week's training.... key sessions were eight fantastic two minute hill reps (including both uphill and downhill running) with Tony B and H on Tuesday, only nine seconds away from my pb (31:03 from 30:54) at the Pool Triangle on Wednesday evening, a strong bike leg (15k in 20:45) but painful run leg (5k in 19:00) at the team relays on Saturday and six consecutive days of swimming from Monday to Saturday... all in all some great 'pain training'! This week will see an increase in running, another assault on the Pool Triangle on Wednesday and a return to individual racing at Stockton Olympic Triathlon on Sunday where as I have no idea what the course is like the main goal will be to catch the person in front ;)

Before I go I'd just like to say good luck to all our friends doing Ironman UK this coming weekend... you can follow their progress here, and also to our mate Steve Haywood who around the same time will be attempting possibly the ultimate triathlon test... check out the 'Arch to Arc' here.

"There will come a point in the race, when you alone will need to decide. You will need to make a choice. Do you really want it? You will need to decide. At that point you will begin to suffer. It's a small piece of your life, but one you'll remember. Make it count."
-- Rolf Arands

See you soon,



Jevon said...

Great to see your name in 220 this month in the results section for IMCH.
Struggling to key into this 'early' start for trainng. Specially when I need to be on the bloody turbo in August !!

Tom said...

Turbo's are the way forward!! Try 4 x 5 min easy / 10 min hard followed immediately be a 30 minute tempo run... 90 minutes of pure triathlon pleasure ;)


Jevon said...

Why do I wish we'd never met !!!!!
I'll give it a whack and let you know how it goes.

Khara Mills said...

Hi Tom

Just to say this is all totally awesome and inspiring, yet way out there at the same time! I love reading your posts and although my training is completely different from yours, I still feel I can take away bits of it, more the mental attitude, and apply it to my marathon training for Dublin. Having just found out my running partner is out for at least a few weeks by the sounds of it, I have a completely new challenge on my hands this year - I know what to expect after last years training, which is great, but now it's time to see if I can do some of it on my own....
See you soon
Khara :-)