Getting to Kona, Ironman World Championship
Over the past three years (well, four, but 2014 I was injured most of the year) and pretty much since they’ve come up with the Kona Pro Ranking (KPR) and I tried to qualify, I’ve managed to get inside the Top 50 ranked athletes in the World by August and earn my slot at the World Championship. Obviously, as a professional triathlete, my reality and qualification process is a bit different from age group athletes but I believe there are a few key points that have helped me achieve the spot among the best in the World and I’m sure it may sound familiar with other athletes’ stories.
Focus on what I can do each single day, not what I can’t or didn’t do. As any endurance sport, Triathlon rewards consistency. But so often injuries appear and we can’t do one, two or even the three sports. If you can’t do one or two, you focus on the remaining. If you can’t do any of the three sports, I’m sure there’s still something you can do to improve your fitness or strength and prepare you better for the next time you are actually able to get back to any of the sports. There are many ways of improving your swim in dry land, you can improve your bike on the gym, you can run in the water, etc. Whenever I do pick up an injury, I allow myself a few donuts and maybe 24 hours to curse and feel sorry for myself but that’s it. After that I will pick it up and focus on what I can do, every single day, until I’m back at 100%. Over the years I had many injuries, some more serious than others from a tibia stress fracture to actual broken bones from crashes or soft tissue inflammation.
Accept my limitations and never use them as an excuse. I wasn’t born with fast twitches or any particular talent. I did not have an active childhood or was I ever good in sports while at high school. I accept that. And I try my very best every day to make up for it through commitment and work. Accepting it is phase 1. Phase 2 is actually putting the hard work needed to “beat” talent. I accept that my distance is Ironman and I’m focused on that and will not use it as an excuse to not absolutely give it my best and try to win every single race I enter, from super sprint distance to Ironman. Yeah, sure, short course distances are not my focus distance and I will get beat by other athletes more often than at longer distances but I don’t feel the need to justify myself to others for getting 15th at a sprint distance race or go into a race claiming I’m a long distance athlete so don’t expect much from me. Your limitations may not just be physical, you may just not have time or resources to get to certain levels of fitness. While it may be frustrating to realize this, the sooner you accept it, the better you will do with what you have.
Trusting my coach and actually listening to his advice. When I started working with Jesse Kropelnicki at QT2 Systems, I was already a fairly decent Ironman athlete. However, the Kona Pro Rankings requires a little more than being “decent”, you have to be consistent over a 12 month period and race well for about 90% of the times. I think it is very important to trust the person you choose to guide you throughout your career since a lot of times you will not want to do “what it takes”. It takes time to build trust and it took me (and still takes) a lot of questioning about the workouts over months to build such trust. I won’t assume a workout is dumb just because but I will ask why we do some workouts and what the purpose is. At the end of the day, I never assume that I know more or better than Jesse. If I ever come to think that, I will probably be better off changing coach. If you feel like you know more than the coach, why bother or spend the money on it? In most cases, you actually don’t know it better although you think you do.
Family. We are not all lucky to have our family’s support. While I do have family left in Portugal, for the past three years I’ve been lucky to have a wife that is willing to make the sacrifices needed for me to perform at my best. Either it’s driving long hours for a training location or just being willing to not go out because I need to wake up early the next day, the idea that it takes a village for one individual to perform is even more true on this grueling, demanding and time consuming sport. We rarely give any credit to how our other half has to endure the sport, letting and allowing us to race across the country, training long hours on the weekend or actually find the funding to get to Kona instead of a new vacuum cleaner. As much as we can and do control everything in our mind and around us, the other person’s will and commitment needs to be as high as ours.
Celebrate your victories but never settle. Guess what, a race never goes as you expect. Not for me, not for you, not for the first across the line, not for last place finisher. Again, you do what you can with what the day offers. While I’m never fully happy with my races, I try to remind myself of what I did actually achieve. If I felt like I did the best I could and knew on race day, I will celebrate it anyways, no matter what the outcome is. Even when I win races, I always look at ways of improving, I always think that I can go faster. I also have accepted that I will NEVER be fully happy with my races, no one ever is. I’ve learnt to give value to what I accomplish but I never settle. Unless I do win Kona. By 30 minutes.
At the end of the day, this is still a sport that rewards those that stay committed for years. Not months, not weeks, years. It’s a sport that requires a lot of time and investment but if you are willing and are available to make the effort, it will pay off. We are all different, we all have our own limitations and there is no secret training or formula that applies to all. And that’s the beauty of this sport.