I feel like I’m standing at the top of the class, or maybe an AA meeting is a more appropriate comparison. “Hi my name is Rob and I’m a triathlete. Actually I’m an Ironman triathlete”
I’m suffering from the same nerves that you might have at your first day in class, or at a new job as I stand up here and say hello and lay myself and you plans before you all.
I contacted TJ Murphy, head honcho here at Lava magazine with the idea to do a weekly blog type post about my attempt to qualify for Kona. I’m sure TJ gets this sort of approach all the time so I had to make sure I had a good hook (or a bag full of cash) In the absence of the brown bag of cash I aimed for the good hook option instead.
Lots of people try for Kona and most fail so why do I think I’ll be any different? Well that bit’s easy. I’ve done it before, twice.
“Then that’s not really much of a hook Rob” I can hear you say. “If you’ve figured it out and you’ve done it twice surely you’ll just do all the same stuff again and qualify again and there’s no entertainment or excitement there”
That’s true, but five months after my second race in Kona in October 2013 I ended up having spinal surgery. I remember at the time thinking defiantly I’d be back on the start line of an Ironman later that Summer and back in Kona in October.
It’s amazing the confidence that being really fit gives you.
Confidence and blinkers. Blinkers like the ones that you put on horses so they cant see what the reality of the world is around them.
It actually took seventeen months before I stood on the start line of my next Ironman in Bolton in the UK. Standing there I remembered being in qualifying shape and somehow thought that if things went my way I might be close again. As if the memory of being fit and history of having done it before would get me back there again.
I was nowhere near it. To this day I couldn’t even tell you how far off I was as I’ve never checked the result I was so disappointed with it. I’m pretty sure though that it was my slowest Ironman. I thought maybe I’d just had a bad day or had been sick or anything other than just not fit enough, so in a knee jerk reaction I entered Ironman Maastricht two weeks later.
Just in case I actually was fitter than I thought and IMUK was just a bad day.
It turned out that I wasn’t any fitter than I’d been two weeks earlier and not surprisingly I did not qualify, nor come close to it in Maastricht either.
I discovered in Maastricht that I really did not enjoy being much slower than I remembered and that trying to race Ironman in less than peak shape seemed to hurt a lot more and for a lot longer too.
I resolved that if I was going to do another Ironman then I would take it seriously again and train properly. I was also determined that I would get back to Kona again.
So in early 2016 I asked Aisling my wife if she thought I could get back in shape to qualify. She said yes. I then asked her if she would coach me again as she had coached me very successfully in my last couple of years racing. Again she said yes. I then suggested that I would write a weekly blog about my training and my progress. The blog would build up to my target race at Ironman Mallorca where I would race, take a Kona slot and ride off into the sunset as a fast triathlete once again.
So I did.
Write the blog.
And I did the training, mostly.
And I did race Ironman Mallorca.
But I didn’t qualify.
In the race I got off the bike about 20 minutes away from where I needed to be and ran a kamikaze marathon chasing a slot. Which in fairness was going ok and I briefly thought I might actually pull it off until inevitably the wheels started to come off at about the 25th kilometre. In the end I missed the last slot by 40 minutes.
Ever the optimist I told myself if you hadn’t run a crazy first 20k I would have only ended up about 15-20 minutes off. And that’s not so far over a 9 1/2 hour race.
You remember the bit up there about racing Maastricht two weeks after Ironman UK and how jumping into another race after a disappointing one didn’t work out so well?
You’d imagine that I’d learned my lesson that time.
Not so much.
A conversation over dinner a couple of days later turned to late season races and Ash suggested that we do another one as part of our honeymoon. We were getting married in November so we chose Ironman Brazil in December as an exotic location. We raced Brazil and it went worse than Mallorca and as a result I’ve spent a couple of months in a bit of a limbo.
I wouldn’t enter a race because of the two disappointing results last year. I still wanted Kona but I was afraid of the risk of public failure again. When people asked me over the last couple of months about what race I’m doing I would answer in a very noncommittal way and change the subject. I love Ironman and still have a huge hunger to get back to Kona. My Dad calls it having ”A fire in your belly” and I’ve had this one for years.
In April of this year I started to think to myself that maybe I’d try again. I thought that if I didn’t tell anyone this time I wouldn’t have to suffer the shame of public failure if I didn’t qualify. I think that was a big part of what I struggled with, not just the fact that I’d failed but that I’d done so in public.
I’ve run my own business for close to 20 years so I’m used to taking risks. I’m used to things going wrong and having to fix problems but overall the business is mostly modestly successful. When things do go wrong it usually happens in private and I can fix it in private and for the most part people only see the successful picture that we want to project. Standing up and publicly stating my goal and then failing to do it twice really stung. I didn’t like it and I was reluctant to do it again.
The problem with that is that it felt a lot like cheating, it felt dishonest. After setting out to do it in public it felt like I was skulking off into a corner to try and do it secretly. If I was successful then I could just pop out all “TA-DA! Look what I did! See I told you I could!”
On the other hand if I failed I could just carry on like nothing had happened “Qualify for Kona this time? Nah I was just racing for shits and giggles”
I could save face. I could avoid the embarrassment and shame of another failure.
It still felt like being a fraud. It felt like what I’d imagine getting a Kona slot in the lottery or buying one in the auction would feel like.
Kona should be earned. I’ve always felt it was a little disrespectful of the athletes who have put in the incredible amount of work required to get there that someone else could stand on that same start line by simply writing a cheque, being a famous celebrity or pulling a winning lottery winning ticket.
You don’t get to the Olympics or a world championship in any other sport by buying an entry into a lottery.
But if I’m being honest I do want Kona again.
I really want it.
I’ve a huge burning desire to get back there again.
And I want to do it in the way that I said I would. Publicly.
Kona is like no other racing experience on the planet. And when I got there the last time I was in the most unbelievable shape. And I desperately want to feel that fit, that superhuman once more.
So I was very conflicted. I enjoyed writing the blog but I was reluctant to put it out there that I was going to chase the Kona thing again. After failing to qualify twice last year a part of me was starting to doubt if I could actually still do it. I was afraid that I mightn’t make it again this year and that if I put it out publicly on the blog and failed again I’d be really gutted. I don’t enjoy feeling like a failure and I certainly didn’t want to invite that back into I my life again.
But like I said I didn’t want to go and hide it either. So, I am putting it out there once again. I’m chasing that Kona slot. I’ll live with the shame of failure if I don’t make it but I’ll feel better about myself if I’m honest and up front about it. It feels like the right way to do it.
In fact this time I’m going one step further and I’ve been given the opportunity to write for Lava Magazine. Whatever nerves I had about writing about it publicly on my own little blog I’m now putting it out there for an international magazine.
I’m a firm believer in doing things that scare you and that stretch our self imposed limits. I’m thankful to TJ and the people at Lava for the opportunity to write for them.
The race we’ve chosen to try to qualify at is Ironman Florida in November. Both myself and Aisling will hopefully race it together. I’ll update weekly and my next post will take what is my usual format with whatever training I’ve managed to fit in and how it went. I’ll try to be as honest as I can and I’d be delighted to have your company on the the journey.
If you want to go back to the start and check out my weekly blog you can do that here.