You only really know how hard you’re willing to push when your goal becomes a reality. You think you know when you set that goal or visualise that goal but when it suddenly becomes attainable ‘thinking’ must become ‘doing’.
I found myself in this position at the 2019 IM 70.3 Middle East championships.
To put things into some context, I need to go back a week. I was ill, as in I couldn’t move from a bed or a sofa for two days and have never had a head and body ache like it. Also throw in some vomiting and a cough for good measure and on the Monday/Tuesday before the race I still wasn’t sure if I’d make the start line. I was feeling well enough by Wednesday to know in my mind, I would race. I love racing.
I was still coughing stuff up the night before the race but I really backed my last training block and knew I had fitness. Nevertheless on race morning I felt awful and started to doubt how I’d get through the day. The swim is always a bit of an unknown for me, my simple goal was to just swim with good form and not gas myself out. The final 400m felt anything but good and I was a bit worried I had overcooked it for not much gain, however a PB and out not too far down meant I’d done something right.
The bike was where I knew I had legs. Training numbers have been up lately and so long as I didn’t push way over I was confident I could have a solid spin. More time spent coughing stuff up in the early stages kept me honest and stopped me going off too hard but when a large pack came past me I realised I would need to step things up or I was going to get spat further and further down the field. Drafting really is a problem at these races now, if you stick to the rules (as I do) you will simply end up being pushed further and further back to adhere to the drafting rules. There’s two ways to combat this which I’ve learnt over the years, attacking the bunch is one however that comes at a cost. I decided to do this early on to at least be at the front of the pack so the refs don’t penalise me. This usually works because the guys drafting don’t want to do any work anyway so they just tuck in and continue to cheat. You’re safe as you’re not drafting, however, you are towing 10-20 other athletes along with you. This normally gets to me when I see this at turn arounds or later into the bike when naturally your legs tire and the drafters start coming around you because they want to go faster. It’s at this time I begin the 2nd way I combat drafting, I start shouting at people. ‘If you’re going to cheat, at least do some F’ing work!’. Drafters are terrified of work, so they end up on the front and then immediately slow, letting someone else come round, they then jump on the wheel and the next guy comes through and shits himself to be doing work so try’s to slot in behind number 1 and therefore cutting up number 2. Number 2 gets pissed off now and does the same back to the guy in front and so you get a constant revolving shit show. So I ride up alongside and shout, they either laugh, swear, or cower back and I’m left alone for about 10mins before the pattern repeats itself. It’s definitely an energy cost on me but I think it’s worth it and it fires me up! Drafting is weak and it means you’re scared because you can’t run. I heard a horror story at this race, in the men’s field, an athlete who has an FTP of less than 200 rode 3mins slower than I did (an FTP of over 300). How is that possibly fair!? He’s lucky I don’t know his name or I’d call him out.
Drafting rant over.
I came off the bike ready to run, more because I just wanted the race to end. I was still feeling pretty shit. I began conservatively knowing I can run well on this course, I was told I was in 4th or 5th running out of T2, so I was content with running my best and seeing what happens. At around 10k I was told I’d moved to 2nd, this motivated the hell out of me. A few minutes later, I was told I had the lead and it was by over 1min. ‘Holy shit’ my goal here is to podium, but that was when I was feeling 100% and a podium doesn’t mean a win! I can win… and so began possibly the worst 30mins of running in my life. My legs were coming undone, I had a stitch that felt like a knife between my ribs and I was still coughing stuff up. I had to hold on. The final lap of the 3 was a complete battle with myself. I haven’t wanted to walk so badly in all my life, I really, really didn’t want to continue. Breathing hurt, every landing was painful and I couldn’t go faster. I’m trying but I’m a snail right now. There’s no way I’ve held this 1min gap, I’m 2nd now… oh well, good try Tom, you were first for a bit but you’re ill so there is your excuse.
The Boss, @mjd_smith had text me his usual pre race message. ‘Mate: No F*^king Weakness. End of’. So that was it, I want to win, I don’t want 2nd, I’m willing to go full dark here, this isn’t murder mode this is running into a hole mode. 10min of hurt left, 5min left, 2min… I’m wobbling, I’ve up chucked down myself and now I’m on the red carpet, so slow, I’ve definitely lost the lead. Finish.
All I wanted to do was collapse, which I did. I could not stand up and two women are trying to ask me to sit down. I can’t even fathom being able to do that so I just fold myself over a chair working out what is hurting the most. Thanks to Dubai racing snake Ian Farrell for checking on me, I got shipped onto the medical tent where I lay contemplating life for 40mins. The stitch went and my mouth stopped buzzing after being on a drip for a while and all was good again. Now the thoughts come back, damn I had 1st place and I let it go.
It was the winner of the female 25-29 AG, Lottie who said congrats first, then confirmed I had held on to win. I got a similar feeling on achieving a First at University, relief. Sometimes you don’t realise how much you wanted something until you get it. There’s no instant gratification either, because you aren’t racing head to head at AG level you have to wait until the others have finished to know where you have finished, much like at university waiting for your work to be marked. I had an idea I was in first but in reality I didn’t know for sure, the tracker app could have been wrong or the person telling me could be. The fact just knowing there was a chance was enough to get me to react and yes, there was some negative reactions but in the end I settled on one final answer, GO FOR IT. Why did I settle there? Because I’ve been in that scenario a thousand times in my mind before and I always visually imagine reacting how I want to, with a final kick or last ditch effort.
Don’t dismiss your day dreaming, visualising or fantasies. One day you’ll get the chance to live them and trust me, instinct will kick in so train it to be a winning one.
Want to know my pre race set up? Head here > https://www.instagram.com/tv/B5zF1FJJW_5/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
Want to know my fuelling plan? Head here > https://www.instagram.com/tv/B51Y-tspc3E/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
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Thanks for reading.
Tom Walker, Endurance Coach