Recently I had the pleasure of training a terrific athlete (and person) for his first Ironman triathlon. Sean and I were originally teammates on the Koiled racing team. However we used to discuss triathlon as I prepared for Mooloolaba Tri post hamstring surgery, and he contemplated the idea of whether an Ironman triathlon, the beast of a 3.9km swim, 180km ride and 42.2km marathon run to top it off, was possible. Interspersed between training and triathlon conversations emerged kindred spirits- we both like to flaut authority, especially when it doesn’t make sense, and we both possess a bit of a devil-may-care attitude when we upset the proverbial apple cart. In September last year, we were discussing our next “big event”. I had been gifted the Three Peaks Challenge entry and the Ironman flame was burning strong in Sean. Except he didn’t know where to turn for coaching. So I, in the vein of Frodo Baggins, told him, “I will coach you for Ironman, even though I’ve not done it before”. With an exercise science degree, I had, of course done a lot of coaching in both the strength and endurance realms over the years, but had never put it together for an Ironman. Even knowing that my approach probably isn’t “typical tri coach”, Sean agreed, and we chose the target of Ironman Port Macquarie, in May 2017. My mantras for coaching endurance training are “consistency” and “clear head” (which comes from the confidence gained from being consistent) . We traversed a journey of challenge, achievement, physical strength, mental toughness and finish line success. To see Sean cross the finish line in less than 12 hours with a smile on his face and the loudspeaker announcing his welcome into the Ironman fold was one of my proudest coaching moments.
I’m now turning the blog over to him to share his story: take it away, brother!
Photo Credits: FinisherPix (www.finisherpix.com.au)
Who was your inspiration to complete an Ironman?
Some time ago I met a triathlete named Stuart Lines. I trained with Stu on and off for a while. Unfortunately Stu cooked himself training for an IM resulting in rhabdomyolysis (where literally the muscles “melt” and break down) . Sadly Stu passed away in 2009 from complications after the rhabdo. Stu inspired me to keep pushing.
What made you want to become an Ironman?
I was born with a congenital heart condition called tetralogy of fallot, which actually involves defects in four areas of the heart. Due to the seriousness of the condition, I was always protected by my parents and at school. After school, when I applied to join the Australian Defence Force, I was repeatedly told I couldn’t do it because of my health. Completing an Ironman proved to myself that I CAN.
What were the best aspects of the training process?
The diversity! There is SO much more to training for an Ironman than the one plain old discipline training for Crits/road races. Engaging a coach focussed on getting me to my goal and an excellent sports nutritionist showed me that the whole Ironman experience is more than just swim, ride, and run lots then turn up with a shit load of gels and expect to go OK!
What were the hardest parts of your training?
Time. Endurance triathlon training costs the brownie points bank account big time. It can be a real struggle with a young family, long work commute and work hours.
Towards the end of the journey and during some of the longer endurance blocks I needed to be up and out of bed at 0230am to be on the bike by 0300 to get my long rides in before work!
Did you worry that you weren’t going to be able to complete the event at any point?
During training, never. My coach would always reach out through my smart phone/ PC and keep me pumped throughout the journey. On the actual race day, and into Lap 2 of the marathon I came apart a little mentally. I desperately needed to see my family and was yet to see them on course. However I’m glad I kept at it because at the start of lap three there they were and, suddenly, bang, my attitude changed to, “I’ve got this!”
Did you feel well prepared going into the event?
Absolutely – again a really great relationship with my coach and support team meant I was always going to be ready for the day. We did have some minor setbacks in the closing weeks – a bike crash and minor viral illness robbed me of a few last long training sessions.
Were there any challenges to overcome along the way?
My fear of running and open water swimming… seriously I have gained a very healthy respect for endurance athletes. I’d never run much more than ten or so kilometres. if someone had told me I’d be capable of running a half marathon (sometimes twice a week) during my IM prep I’d have laughed at them! Swim 3.9km? I struggled to string much more than 400m in the pool. I’m now at a point where I consider myself a pretty handy swimmer.
What role did your coach play in all this?
My coach just kept reminding me, be consistent. Consistency, consistency, consistency!
We kept chipping away at that run, and later the swim, and consistently saw improvements in both legs and my confidence increased as a result.
What do you recommend potential athletes look for in a triathlon coach.
Look for a coach that can and will make sessions work around you and your work/family life. Find a coach that “gets you” and you, them, Understand that quite often a lot of stuff you have learned or have taught yourself over the years could very well be shite and a great coach will set you straight and back it up with evidence and science! I was extremely lucky in that Liz and I gelled from the get go, even my stupidest question was no hassle and I have taken away a heap of knowledge from the process.
Tell us a little bit about the day – swim, bike, run!
Swim: Race morning was ridiculously COLD. I started to regret my choice of sleeveless wetsuit.I chose to start in a late wave in the rolling swim start which proved to be a good move, I was swimming over people as opposed to being swum over and I pretty much had clear water throughout. Note, those puddles you see in the carpark are NOT from spilled bidons. (Coaches note: “yikes!”)
Bike: Those constant trips between Dayboro and Samford paid off as the bike leg was lumpy and on dead road. I’d prepped my bike with nutrition and hydration on board with a list of my hourly feeds as per my meal plan on my bars, everything was going spot on until I ejected a bottle of hydration and misread my own handwriting… 2 salt tabs instead of 2 Cliff shot bloks was my undoing. That hill! Mathew Flinders Drive, give that hill the respect it deserves especially at the arse end of 180kms on the bike!
Run: Heading out too fast in the opening couple of kilometres resulted in a slower marathon than I’d hoped for. I had that minor meltdown on lap two but sorted that out kicking off lap three. As far as nutrition went, while we had trained on Endura gels, race day offered up a tummy that just couldn’t deal with any further liquid carbs. I ingested more Coke than planned and dropped my prepped jam sandwich which I’d looked forward to all arvo.
How did it feel crossing that finish line?
That finish chute feeling needs to be experienced to be believed, just mind blowing!
I cried, pumped my fists in the air, laughed, looked for my family. All those early mornings, late nights, missed family events strict diet etc had all paid off. I am an Ironman!
Most importantly, when’s the next one:
Sunshine Coast 70.3 September this year and then a double next year. Port and Cairns!!
Advice for anyone wanting to get into Ironman? e.g. race nutrition, coaching, training etc
Do it. Triathlon/Ironman is seriously the best thing that has happened to me and my family. It has become a way of life in our household. Source your coach, set you A,B and C goals and plan to succeed. Get your nutrition sorted early, train it and race test it if possible. Training, enjoy it but make sure you do the hard yards when you need to. Embrace the suck and #MaintainTheRage
What an effort – so very proud of you, Sean. You are an Ironman! Love that you were smiling for all your pics!