On Sunday the 4th of September, I took on my hardest challenge yet, that would draw on all my resilience and training, the World Long Distance Duathlon Champs, in Zofingen, Switzerland. Competing for the 3rd time for my country was an absolute honour. This was the first time I did so at a world Champs, though. My previous two long and middle distance triathlons had been European Champs.
Before I go on, and you have this image of Alistair Brownlee in your head, let me explain, I’m pretty much an ordinary Joe tri/duathlete. Ok, so maybe I’m a little above average, particularly on the bike and run, hence the switch to Duathlon, but still, I don’t get on podiums, I finish between 20-40% of most fields. So, how did I end up racing for my country 3 times I hear you ask? Well basically because I decided I wanted to and then pursued it.
Simplistically, for long distance races the rules are you need to come within 120% for Euro or 115% for Worlds of your Age Group Winner in any Middle or Long Triathlon to be considered in the team, a fast athlete will still be picked over you, so say there are 20 slots in my age group, they take the top 20 times by %. So in May last year I entered one race, the Monster Mojo Middle in Peterborough, I had a pretty strong race and finished within 110% of the Age Group Winner. I’ve already told that story in detail before, but if you haven’t heard, I’d nearly been killed in the March of that year in a cycling accident, and had already cycled to Paris and done the Marathon when I got there.
So now fast forward to the race in Zofingen, although a slightly shorter race than the 3 Ironmans I had done, it was billed as the most brutal race. Mark Allen, one of the world’s greatest ever triathletes described it as the hardest race he had ever done. The course consists of a 10k hilly trail run, followed by a hilly 150k bike leg, then an even hillier 30k run, again on trials.
I had trained hard, though, my only concern being a recurring injury in my right thigh. If this flared up, it would be hard to manage all the hills. I completed the first 10k, a 2 times 5k loop, up out of the town into the hills and back, I followed the experienced team captain John Cowell’s advice to the T, taking it easy and letting other go for it. I was settling in for a long race. The bike was 3 50k loops with 3-4 climbs on each. 1 climb was small, 2 longer but shallow and the other, the Bodenberg was tougher. Again I took John’s advice and took it easy on the first lap, keeping my power down, and then picked it up on the run into the valley. I overtook a number of people I’d been sparring with on the hills. At the end of that lap, I was hit by the injury. It felt like someone had kneed me in the thigh and given me the biggest dead leg. I soldiered on, but all the people I had just passed came back past me and I had nothing to respond with. If I tried to push, it just hurt more. I gritted my teeth and got on with it.
Over the first gradual climb, and up in hills, the pain was getting worse and my average watts were dropping. Then came Bodenberg for the second time. I gave it all I had, but about half way up, I just couldn’t push anymore, I pulled over and got off the bike. Was this the end, had the course beaten not even half way through? Not to be deterred, I did some deep stretches and then sat down for a rest. I ate the peanut butter sandwiches from my pocket and had a drink. It seemed I’d been sitting there for ages, but probably it was about 10 minutes. This was a real test of my resilience. At that point, my good friend Jon Moorhouse passed. “Is that you Ian” I heard him shout, “It’s my leg, it’s blown up” I replied “Are you done” he replied looking at the pain in my face. “Not likely” came my retort.
I soon got back on the bike and to my amazement, the pain had subsided. Was it the stretches, was it the Ibuprofen I’d taken a little before. I don’t know, what it was, all I knew was that I was back. I caught Jon back up before the end of the climb. He looked across and said something about missing the bike cut off. With that I shot off, the third lap was a similar story, having to get off and stretch out the leg, but I managed it in 5 hours and 50 minutes, a good hour more than my target pace.
Then it was that final 30k run. I started as it started to rain, on my first ascent, I could hear the national anthem in the
town, meaning Emma Pooley must have won the elite race. She had passed me out on the course and was a long way ahead of second. I had to focus on grinding out this 300-meter climb straight up the mountain. The 30k loop was strange, up down up down, then round this man made a ticker tape maze in a park at the top, before turning around and retracing your steps, returning to town then doing it all again. I ground it out. I needed lots of coke, water, and salt, all available at regular intervals. I pushed and pushed and eventually completed the 30k in just over 3 hours and total time of 9:52, by the time I finished there were torrential rain and winds. Needless to say, I didn’t make the podium, but I did carry on where many others would have given up, in fact, many did. You see it was my grit, my inner strength that serves me well in races.
This is something I have cultivated and something I strive to help other with. You can call it grit, you can call it resilience, I call it Inner Strength. This is what makes the difference in these long races, and that’s no different to being successful in business or anything else in life. We need to find those extra reserves to see things through to the end, no matter what if we want to be successful.
I’d just like to finally thank my sponsors, Breakwater IT and Greater Gabbard Offshore Wind, who helped me make this trip possible.
I’ve decided to challenge my body in a different way next. You see I need goals and targets to drive me to success (in my personal life or work), and the end of the season usually results in me taking too much rest. So this year on the 5th of November I will take part in Tower Fitness’s Corporate Boxing tournament at Open, in which I will face an opponent for 3 2 minute rounds. This will keep me fit, build my core strength, and give me a new challenge.
Measuring your Inner Strength (Or resilience)
As Peter Drucker said, what gets measured, gets done. By measuring your Inner Strength, you can then take steps to make improvements. There are a few different scales around, but the one I like the most is Angela Lee Duckworth’s Grit Scale;
She talks about this in her Ted Talk on the subject. She says;
“Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
Her research is well founded and statistically robust.
You can complete your own grit score via Duckworth’s page here.
Once you know your Grit score, why not visit this post, to find out what to do about it.
Ian Hacon, Founder, Yellow Brick Road, Team GB Age group Tri/Duathlete, Co-founder Bite the Cherry Venture Coaching