Progress in triathlon doesn’t take a linear path, especially as an Age Group Athlete. Having spent over 20 years in the sport, I can confirm it’s been a hell of a journey. There is no better feeling than winning races, but in reality that is a very small part of the day to day commitment it takes and there are many things in life that can divert your attention… busy periods of work, starting a family… the list is pretty endless. So, what has kept me motivated all this time?
First of all I love what I do, it is a massive part of me, but what I enjoy more than anything is when I create a breakthrough performance – achieve a result I have never delivered before. This might not mean winning a race, but working hard for a result and executing it to the best of your capabilities.
I believe that to keep moving forward in this sport you have to do two things:
So as an ‘Elite Age Grouper’ why choose a plan that isn’t individually tailored and from a coach who lives 5,000 miles away in San Francisco? The answer for me is pretty simple. Matt’s credentials speak for themselves. He has had massive success with a whole host of pro-athletes, turned good age group athletes into pros and helped numerous athletes get to Kona. The key difference is that it isn’t just about following a program, but about educating the athlete on the way. I wanted exactly this. The program gives me flexibility, but I can’t just blindly follow a plan – ultimately I have to take ownership of what I do. This is delivered in a number of ways including regular ‘Meetings with Matt’ where he delivers a short educational piece on a group call allowing athletes to ask him more individual questions and an on-line library of ‘Educational Pieces’ on a wide array of topics from nutrition, to race travel to recovery.
In the first year of the program (2015) I had made significant progress with overall age group wins at IM Staffs 70.3 and IM Dublin 70.3 plus winning the European Olympic Distance Champs in my age group. In Year 2 I was looking to build on this further. By August 2016 all of the changes I talked about earlier had been executed and were starting to make a significant impact on me as an athlete so I decided to enter IM Bahrain 70.3. It ticked all the boxes, giving me enough time to put in a good solid training block, not too far to travel, good weather without being too hot, and allowing me to compete against a good pro field.
The only down-side was as a December race I would have to train in the UK Winter and whilst all my triathlon friends were finishing off their year and enjoying some down time, I had to get very friendly with indoor training. My new approach to training worked well, I wasn’t chasing the numbers or looking too far forward, I just concentrated on hitting each session. I kept being asked how training was going and on the outside I would say ‘this is hard work being stuck on my turbo and training in the cold and wet’ but inside I was gaining confidence from each session I did and genuinely loving what I was doing. I barely missed a beat throughout the block of training and by the time race day came I was confident I was in the best shape of my life.
Travelling from a cold and wet 5˚C in Manchester to 22˚C in sunny Bahrain felt fantastic. The venue was spectacular with the swim based at the Four Seasons Hotel surrounded by high rise buildings, the fast and flat bike course finishing at the Bahrain International Formula 1 Circuit, and the run through a Wildlife Park. As the IM Middle East Champs the race had attracted a stacked pro field which I was looking forward to seeing how I faired against.
The wind had been blowing hard since we had arrived and despite the swim being in a sheltered bay there was talk of it being cancelled. Luckily it went ahead but with a slightly shorter swim for the age groupers. There aren’t many triathlons where you start alongside a member of a Royal Family, but Sheik Nasser bin Hamad Khalifa is a keen triathlete and one of the key reasons for the race happening in Bahrain. Also stood for the photos on the front row of the rolling start were Mark Livesey and Paul Kaye the IM Announcer. The water was definitely choppy but I had a solid swim and came out two minutes up on the rest of the age group field in 24:30.
On to the exposed bike leg and I now got a feel of how strong the wind was – from 30 mph+ tailwinds on the highway to grinding into headwinds at barely 15 mph and then being blown sideways across the road. My power meter failed to work throughout so I just rode to feel and heart rate, but from the start I just felt good. All the turbo work had paid off and I rode solidly throughout. On a couple of out and back sections I got a chance to see how I was doing vs. the competition. I was slowly pulling away from the age group field and starting to reel in some of the female pros and a few of the pro male stragglers which gave me an added incentive.
The run was where I thought I was going to make the biggest difference on previous performances, so I headed out chasing 6 minute miles. The plan was just to hold it for as long as possible and see what happened. Again it just felt good, and although I was running scared that I may blow up at 8-9 miles, with 3 miles to go I knew I would be able to hold it, and in fact felt stronger towards the end. That doesn’t normally happen! Finishing with a 1:18 half marathon felt very good and seeing a sub 4 hour result (3:57) had made the last three months on hard training all worthwhile.
Finishing just outside the top 10 including the pros was a significant step up from anything I have done previously and definitely a ‘breakthrough performance’. There is the shorter swim course to take into consideration which I think was probably worth around 2:30 vs. the pros, but I also raced completely on my own throughout and without the benefit of any pace lines on the bike. But as I start thinking ahead to 2017, the process starts all over again. What changes am I going to make to be a better athlete next year?