The athlete who finishes in front of you hasn’t come from nowhere. We follow the journeys of three talented age-groupers.
Whether you’re a first-time triathlete or a seasoned age-grouper, everyone has goals. For some, these goals are simple: finishing your first sprint race, or even surviving your first Ironman after years as a solid Olympic-distance age-grouper. Others, though, set their sights higher, aiming for podium finishes or repeated personal bests.
There’s nothing wrong with keeping things simple, but you shouldn’t be bound by negativity. While you’re training for moderate success, others are out there striving to achieve great things, be it World Championship qualification or their first sub-two-hour time.
However unlikely these lofty ambitions may seem, it is possible to rise from zero to hero in just a year or two. All you need is a decent level of fitness to start with and an unshakeable commitment to the cause.
You don’t just have to take our word for it, though. Over the next few pages, three previously inexperienced triathletes explain how they went from weekend warriors to world-class age-groupers in a matter of months. They’ll reveal their highs and lows, explain their training regimes and show how they pulled off shock results in the biggest races of their careers. Then our coaching editor, Phil Mosley, is on hand to explain how you, too, can step up from zero to hero in 2012.
Job Office furniture sales executive
From Leeds (now based in London)
Before Football, hockey
After the London Triathlon, 2007 (sprint distance): 1:22:00; Ironman Hawaii 2011, 9:12:29
“For nearly four years, I was the epitome of a casual weekend warrior. Along with a group of drinking buddies, I’d do one or two triathlon races a year, usually sprints or Olympic-distance events. I’d almost do the races so that I could have a big night on the beers with the lads afterwards. Our preparation usually consisted of a few 20-mile bike rides with frequent stops for cakes!
In the autumn of 2010, my attitude changed. I’d enjoyed my triathlon experiences and there was a bit of kudos attached to saying you did tri, so I decided to sign up for Ironman UK 2011 in Bolton. I didn’t really know what I was doing, so I got myself a coach – Terence Collins from Tri 4 Fitness.
As soon as I started training with Terence, my lifestyle changed. Previously I’d have been out drinking several times a week, but now I was out training instead. Although I’d previously been quite lean, I had a bit of a beer belly. As soon as I got into winter training the extra weight began to drop off.
Before I got a coach, my training was pretty ad hoc – a swim or run before work if I felt like it, or the odd bike ride here and there. Terence put in place a set itinerary that I had to follow to the letter. I was doing three swims, three bike rides and three runs a week, all scheduled around work.
For the first six weeks, I was constantly knackered – even after a rest day. Eventually, though, my body started getting used to it.”
“My first race of the season was the Ballbuster Duathlon, which I won, beating an XTERRA pro athlete into second place. From that point I was hooked – I started to think I might actually be able to get a good result at Ironman UK. I returned to the Beaver Triathlon, where the year before I’d been around 30th overall. In 2011 I won the race.
By the time in got to Ironman UK in July, I felt in pretty good shape. My plan was to finish the swim in around an hour, the bike in five and a half hours, and the run in three hours. If I achieved this, it would give me a good chance of qualifying for the World Champs in Kona, Hawaii.
On the start line I was excited but nervous. It was my first long-distance race, so I had no idea whether I would even get through it in one piece.
The swim was tough. I got out of the water in just over 54 minutes, had a really good transition and hammered it on the bike. Before I knew it, I’d passed all the female pros. It was a good feeling.
By the time I got to the run, I was quietly confident I’d get a good result, because I’d planned the race down to the finest detail. I knew I could run seven-minute miles, and if I could keep up that pace I’d be fine. I’d also done a lot of bike-to-run sessions and practised my nutrition in training. I left nothing to chance.
I did fade towards the end of the run and found it very tough mentally and physically. The run is just pain from start to finish – three hours of agony. Your legs ache and you’re feeling the burn, but you just have to keep going.
It was worth the pain. I crossed the line 11th overall, including the pros. I was relieved more than anything – it meant that the eight months I’d devoted to it were worth it. I had something to show for it: a place at the Ironman World Championships.
Kona was an amazing experience – you feel like you’re part of something special. During the week-long build-up, I acted like a pro – just light training, eating well and focusing on the race. Come race day, I was very nervous. It was the worst swim I’ve experienced. Yet there was one memorable moment, where I was in clear water and could see dolphins and turtles swimming below me. Three seconds later I was cracked in the face by an elbow!
When I got on the bike, I went off hard and managed to pass a lot of people. I felt really strong, even though it was really hot. Somehow, I managed to finish the bike in 4hrs 51mins, which was fantastic.”
Just The Beginning
“By the latter stages of the run, I was struggling. In the last two miles, I was dizzy and dehydrated. Once I staggered across the finish line I was hauled into a medical tent.
I finished the race in 9:12:29, which made me the third age-group Brit to finish. I was seventh in my age group overall, which was pretty good for my first Kona experience.
I couldn’t have asked for any more. In hindsight, it was a phenomenal result. Now, I’ve set my sights on returning to Kona. Last year, my focus was just to qualify; now my goal is to edge further up the field. When I went out to Hawaii last year, I thought that would be the end of my triathlon adventure. Now, I think my tri journey has only just begun.”
Coach Mosley Says
“Sam did brilliantly at Ironman Hawaii, partly thanks to his super-fast bike split. He cycles four times per week in training, but only one of his rides is longer than one hour.
It just goes to show that you don’t need to ride for four or five hours each time to be a good long-distance cyclist.
The time he spent as a self-confessed “weekend-warrior” was more important than he may realise too. He was only doing it for a laugh but it still motivated him to keep fit and slowly build his triathlon skills and race experience. It’s all valuable stuff when you want to step up to the next level.”
This is a preview of an article from issue 38 of Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.
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