Welcome back to part three of my seven part review of 35 years of endurance sport. Well the last blog post covering my multi-sport years and my first ever win was quite a mission. It was quite amazing as the more newspaper clippings, results and photos I looked at, the more memories that came back. Hopefully tonight’s post on the years 1988 – 1992 won’t require such an ultra effort to read!
The five year period from 1988 – 1992, out of all of the seven 5 year periods, probably contains the most changes, both within my endurance sport and within the other aspects of my life. Lets begin!
If you go back two blog posts, it finishes at the end of 1987 with my best cycling performance to date, finishing 10th overall in the Rothmans Southland Cycling Tour, where I thoroughly enjoyed racing against New Zealand’s cycling ‘big boys’! So 1988 starts and I am a cyclist, no longer a multi-sporter or a runner, simply a road cyclist. The training goes well over the summer, back home in the Hutt Valley, riding the Akas many, many times, either around 60 miles if return via Paekak Hill, or around 75 miles if return via the Gorge. Yes, when I return back to Dunedin for my final year of my Sports Science degree I was pretty cycling fit.
Whilst in my first year at PE School in Dunedin, I got to know a fellow Physedder, (that means a Physical Education(PE) Student), who was two years ahead of me at PE School, but actually a little younger than me due to the time I had spent in Wellington studying architecture. Her name was Jacqui Nelson, also from the Hutt Valley, who had a Morrison Monarch 10 speed racing bike, which she used to commute around Dunedin, to get to lectures, the leisure centre, etc. She had been a reasonable level gymnast when younger, but at that time in the eighties, female gymnasts retired at around the age of 18. So when she commenced her studies at PE School at Otago University, Dunedin, she was sport-less. Now being sport-less as a physedder was an odd occurrence. PE School at Otago, at the time was the only place in the entire country where you could train to be a PE teacher. You typically did 4 years to get the degree, then one extra year at Teachers College in Auckland or Christchurch to get the Teaching Qualification (PGCE). So being a physedder was pretty prestigious. During my three years at PE School, my current fellow physedders contained multiple New Zealand representatives in loads of different sports including an All Black captain, and the NZ Womens Hockey captain. So to be sport-less was quite unique.
Anyway although Jacqui was sport-less she was still amazingly fit! She took aerobics classes to earn some money, sometimes taking up to 15 classes per week. She would often challenge the egos of the male physedders by outdoing them in one armed press-up , chin-ups or sit-ups. I recall she could do 13 one arm press-ups, and one day did 1000 continuous sit-ups just for something to do! So she had this amazing strength, flexibility and attitude to be able to perform, but no sport to put it into practice. Then one day in 1986 I invited her to come for a bike ride with me out to MacAndrew Bay for an ice cream, about 30kilometres return. She had mentioned that she had ridden there once or twice before, as a bit of a challenge/expedition. So she joined me for a ride, then the following week, and before we knew it we were riding quite frequently for up to two hours duration.
Jacqui Nelson in 1986 with her Morrison Monarch 10 Speed Racing Bike - Frame just a little too big, and love the dynamo and lights. Note the buckled front wheel after a 'tangle' with a car at MacAndrew Bay.
I’m not really a believer in ‘natural talent’. Natural talent doesn’t really exist, well not in the way that people often think of talent. The way I see talent, is that the talent is that the person at a young or beginning age has the natural belief that they can be good, together with the strong desire and dedication to be good. It is then from the belief, desire and dedication that the so called apparent natural talent seems to appear. I raised this aspect with Matthew Syed, the author of Bounce, when he spoke to our students shortly after his excellent book was published. He is a strong advocate that talent doesn’t exist, so he didn’t really agree with my hypothesis that having the belief, desire and dedication, could be considered as being talented. Sorry, I’ve gone off track again, so much for a short post tonight!
So during 1986, as I am having a bit of a ‘lean’ year competition wise as I adapt to my new life away from home and studying sports science, I go for quite a few rides with Jacqui. Returning to the Hutt Valley over the summer break, I introduce her to my cycling mentors Cleggy and McLay and they see her amazing cycling potential. It doesn’t take long for Jacqui to latch onto the winner approach of McLay. During all her time at PE School she had wanted a sport to excel in, and now McLay was telling her that she was good enough to ride for New Zealand. So with her natural talent, i.e. her belief, desire and dedication, she puts in the necessary training, and is selected into the New Zealand Cycling Team for the 1987 Oceania Games in New Caledonia, just a little over 12 months after those first few rides to MacAndrew Bay for ice creams, and in less than 3 months from her first ever bike race! She later went on to go to two Olympic Games, 1992 and 1996, and won two Commonwealth Games medals at the 1994 Commonwealth Games. Yes, a little talent can go a long way!
Jacqui Nelson in one of my sports science books. Year unknown. Big transformation from 1986, proving that in the words of Julian Goater "Miracles Can Happen!"
So as I plan for a big cycling year in 1988, I am inspired by the achievements of Jacqui, of riding for New Zealand, something that to me, representing one’s country seemed so distant, that it was only a dream! I start thinking that perhaps it doesn’t have to remain a dream. All that is required is belief, desire and dedication. I had seen it happen in front of my very eyes! One of the key things to get across though as I reflect back 25 years is that there has to be all three components in order to have a chance of achieving the ambitious goal, the ‘dream’ or as Julian Goater described it as the miracle. Although, as I mentioned in one of my previous review posts, I don’t particularly like the term ‘miracles’, Julian Goater though does emphasise the importance of belief, of having high expectations; “Expect miracles. If you do, they may well happen. ... So believe in yourself, and expect miracles.” So one needs (i) the desire, the need to be hungry, the winning mentality aka Scott Jurek, and also Chris McCormack (I can’t remember if I have mentioned the triathlete Macca. His book, I'm Here to Win, is an excellent read!), (ii) the belief, the expectations that you can achieve what you desire, so often this is what is lacking. This in some ways is the most difficult of the three components to obtain! It can be so very hard to develop the belief, often largely related to the third component (iii) dedication. To be successful one has to be very, very dedicated to put in the necessary time and effort to carry out TOTAL training. It is usually as a result of the extensive physical training, that the belief/the expectations to perform, really develop/evolve. But it does require TOTAL training, it requires more than simply the physical training to ‘make it happen’!
Racing Hard in Dunedin
My first big race of the year takes place in April and is the two day Tamahine Tour. It has all of the top riders from the lower South Island, including the strong cycling centres of Canterbury (Christchurch) and Invercargill as well as the Otago riders. I start the event, consisting of five stages over two days, with high expectations of performing well. Brian Fowler, New Zealand’s best road cyclist at the time, (who was current silver medallist from the 1986 Commonwealth Games, where he somehow got beaten in the sprint), was the favourite. He later also got silver in the 1990 and 1994 Commonwealth Games road races. Within the first few miles of the first stage Fowler attacks, and I immediately respond and jump onto his wheel, although it was described by famous NZ poet Brian Turner, also a cyclist, in his publication of the race Tailing the Tamahine Tour, 1988 as “Fowler and the previously under-rated Stuart Mills attacked on the grind through Fairfield and half the bunch was desperately hanging on.” Anyway before I describe every aspect of the five stages in detail, I’ll go straight to the result. I finished the tour in second place overall to Fowler. Not only was I now an out an out cyclist, I was now an out an out elite cyclist! Could the dream of representing New Zealand become reality? Can miracles happen?
Text from Brian Turner's publication titled "Tailing the Tamahine Tour", 1988
During the eighties there were a few limited opportunities to ride for New Zealand as a road cyclist. The best three single stage riders would get selected for the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games every two years, and the World Champs every year. There were also the Oceania Games every two years for developing single stage riders. I was a slow twitch fibre man, so pretty poor when it came to a stage finish sprint. But in multi-day, multi-stage racing, my amazing endurance and ‘grit’ or "guts" as described by Brian Turner, enabled me to finish high up on General Classification (GC) without ever finishing within the top three for a stage finish, unless the finish happened to be at the top of a long hill climb. Each year, a five or six person team would be selected to represent NZ at the multi-day Tour of Tasmania in Australia. This tended also to be a bit of a development team, and would typically not include the best three riders that rode for NZ on the big stage. With the belief that my dream could become a reality, getting selected for this team was my target. I didn’t have to be the best in NZ, just typically somewhere in the region of 4th – 9th best rider!
To cut a long story short, I head to the National Trials taking place over two days in Hamilton and on stage one I crash amongst a small group of riders, and am out of the race! Fortunately the team isn’t being announced until three weeks later. I manage to recover from the severe ‘road rash’ and ride really well at the Wanganui 100km Grand Prix two weeks later. A chat to the one of the selectors after the 100km race confirms that I am ‘in with a shout’ as long as I have an equally good ride in the Timaru to Christchurch 100 mile Classic the following weekend, when the team will be announced shortly following the race. Due to all of the top riders in the country being in Wanganui, the next day, the Sunday after the 100km race, there is an inner city street criterium race. Although there is no necessity to race it in terms of selection, I race it simply because I love bike racing. Sprinting hard for an intermediate sprint for a bottle of wine, I get hooked, crash and break my collar bone. I am off the bike for the next 2 – 3 weeks. The end of the possibility of being selected to ride for New Zealand!
Yes, big disappointment, but I get over it. I return to the Southland Tour at the end of the year. Fowler wins again ahead of New Zealand representative riders, Steven Cox, Chris Nicholson, Blair Cox, Paul Leitch, Aaron Lauder, Michael Leahy. I finish overall in 9th place on GC, a very pleasing result behind seven NZ representatives! During 1988 I cycled a total of 11,660 miles and raced 26 times, with a multi-stage race counting as one race. I ran a grand total of 17 miles, and this included one race, an 8km (5 mile) running road race, on absolutely no run training two weeks following the Southland Tour, in a finish time of 26:34! A bit of a message there, how cross training can be effective.
I spend the summer back in the Hutt Valley training on the bike ready for another big year of cycling in 1989. At the end of January I head down to Christchurch to attend Teachers College for the year, having completed my studies at Otago University at the end of 1988. During the eighties, cycle road racing in New Zealand was a winter sport, typically from May to October, so the first big race of the year was the two day Queenstown Tour at the start of June, which tended to attract the best cyclists in the South Island. I had raced the Queenstown Tour the previous year in 1988 finishing in 5th place overall behind winner Brian Fowler and two other NZ reps. This year, I only manage a 7th place, and in addition the field wasn’t as strong, no Brian Fowler, no Chris Nicholson, etc. What was going wrong?
Earlier within this post I mentioned the importance of having all three components to be successful; the desire, the belief and the dedication. Well in 1989 in comparison to 1988, due to being extremely busy for 4 – 5 weeks at a time when on a teaching block/section in 1989, I was unable to put the same number of hours on the bike. During 1988 I never found my degree studies to take up any significant amount of time that it was a hindrance. And I didn’t really appreciate it at the time, but this lack of physical training due to time constraints, (I guess not really due to a lack of dedication, well in some ways it is, as I was also dedicating substantial time to my teacher training), anyway it really affected my self-belief, my expectations to perform. And without self belief, it makes it so much more difficult to perform. It only takes a minor mishap, a minor struggle to stay on a wheel, for the doubt, the negative to escalate. Yes, even more in cycle racing, expectations have a huge influence on performance!
Hanging on to Brian Fowler's Wheel, Canterbury1989
I continue racing my bike for the road season in Canterbury, so get to ride with Brian Fowler, Chris Nicholson and other NZ reps, week in, week out. Racing them every week also doesn't do my confidence much good. Whereas in 1988 I would only race them on the big occasions, i.e. the big tours, in total only on say 4-5 occasions during the year, so I was really able to lift myself up on each of these occasions, due to the buzz, the excitement of racing the ‘big boys’, a bit like the IAU World Ultra Trail Champs syndrome. The buzz can’t be sustained every week, so I begin to accept that I am just not as good as them. With a lack of belief, I decide not to return to the Southland Tour in October, at the end of the season. I blame it on my lack of physical training, but in reality I guess I was scared of losing my high top ten ranking from the previous two years. In some ways by not going I could retain the memory of when I was that good a cyclist. When I was able to mix it with NZ reps, beating many of them on various stages. Looking back now, the decision to not go to the 1989 Southland Tour pretty well meant the end of being an elite cyclist. I had lost my belief, I hadn’t 100% dedicated myself to the cause, and in the end I had lost the desire! All within less than a year!
So what does a ‘has-been’ elite cyclist do? He goes back to being a multi-sporter, where at the time, the standard was nowhere as high. So during October and November, I compete in five multisport triathlons, and achieve four third places and one 2nd place result in the Hamner Triathlon to a name from the past, still going strong, Roger Nevatt. Yes even with extremely limited run and kayak training, I was able to finish near the very front, and win some good prizes, which also added to the ego boost. Yes, returning to multisport was an easy way to hide, to cover my disappointment at not ‘making it’ as a cyclist! During 1989 I cycled a total of 8810 miles and raced 24 bike events, and ran a total of 212 miles and raced five multisport events. (Note, although over the years I recorded in my training diaries when and the time duration of kayaking and swimming training, I never got into the habit of trying to convert these training times to miles.)
Reviewing my training diaries in pretty well all instances has brought back many great happy memories. Yes, there have been the occasional disappointments, e.g. breaking my collar bone, but on the whole, each year has generated that warm happy glowing feeling, except the year 1990! Yes, there aren’t quite the same fond memories associated with this year. At the end of 1989, I had completed my teacher training and had managed to secure myself a job as a PE teacher at Wairarapa College, a secondary school in the small town of Masterton, which was around a 80 – 90 minute car journey, over the Rimutaka Hill from the Hutt Valley. It wasn’t really the location in New Zealand where I wanted to get my first ever proper job, at the age of 27. But it was a job, and there was a tiny, tiny part in me telling me that perhaps now was the time to do some actual work.
Back in May 1989 I also had the fortune to bump into an English back-packer at the end of a 150mile day on the bike, in the rain on the West Coast of the South Island. Yes, me and my good mate, Andy ‘Chickenman’ Dickison were cycling from Christchurch down to Dunedin for our Otago University degree graduation, but we decided to take the rather long way there, including two passes over the Southern Alps and via the West Coast. It was the end of day two, having left the township of Arthurs Pass in the morning, when we cycled into the tiny town of Franz Joseph, famous for the glacier of the same name. We see two girls walking along the street, ask them if they know where the motor camp (camping ground) is. They reply with a ‘funny’ English accent, and hence the reason why I have lived in Britain for the last twenty plus years! Yes during 1989 I get to know quite well my now wife, Frances, as she and her English travel friend extend their backpacking time in New Zealand. (Yes, my mate Andy, also gets to know Frances’ friend Angela during the same time, although, he didn't marry Angela, but actually married a Scottish lass from Aberdeen!)
Anyway I commence teaching at Wairarapa College, at the end of January when the school year commences, on pretty well the opening day of the 1990 Commonwealth Games. It had been 16 years since the 1974 Commonwealth Games, the last time there had been such a big sporting festival in New Zealand. Remember the great excitement and inspiration from Dick Taylor and John Walker! Prior to the Games starting I had been up in Auckland where they were being held, with Frances and her brother Ken who was competing in the triathlon at the Games, watching many warm-up cycling and running events, and getting to chat with not only many fellow NZ cyclists whom I knew who were competing, but also many of the British triathlon and running contingent who were friends with Ken. But the day before the Games start, I go from the absolute high of Commonwealth Games excitement in Auckland to the emptiness and loneliness of teaching PE down in Masterton. Frances stayed in Auckland to watch the Games. A brief visit down to Masterton was planned to say good-bye, before she continued her backpacking to Australia, Asia and then back to England. Yes, as I started my teaching career in Masterton, I was in a pretty sad state!
As I have come to realise over my 35 years of endurance sport, there are many, many factors that contribute to performance, and probably one of the most significant is enjoyment, being happy, being in a good place! Well during 1990, especially at the start of my time in Masterton, I was a long way away from the Mr Positivity I usually am now! Hence, there was an upward rotation of the RPE – RFE arrow, and so every race was a struggle. Although I was still trying to put in the physical training, without the spark and the joy, the training was also a real struggle. So the entire year was pretty well a ‘write-off’! In addition I didn’t know whether I was a cyclist a multi-sporter, or a runner. I start the year with a few wins in some low-key multi-sport races, where I learnt that winning only really gives you a buzz, when you know deep within that you have performed well. Wins, without performing well are pretty hollow. It is the internal challenge with one’s own targets that are most important, not specifically dependent upon the performances of others.
I then bike race for 2 – 3 months, before picking up a niggling injury, so return to running for 2 – 3 months. But I don’t’ really perform to anywhere the standard I did back in 1985 when I last competed in running events! Then after being disappointed with my running, I am back into six solid weeks of cycle training and actually ride really well, considering my lack of specific training, and hence low expectations, and finish in 24th place at the National Cycling Road Championships. Not anywhere at the level of my cycling from 1988, but I felt some sense of satisfaction. Towards the end of the year, I dabbled in a few multisport run/bike duathlons, and achieve three 6th place finishes, but my mind was really focusing on Thursday 13th December, 1990, the night I board the plane, with a one way plane ticket, a rucksack and my racing bike, as I depart for a new life in Britain! During 1990, I cycled a total of 5375miles and raced 25 cycle events, ran 183 miles, racing 4 running events, and raced 7 triathlon/multisport events.
I arrive at Heathrow, to be met by Frances, and we spend the first six months living in her brother Ken’s council maisonette within the council estate of Bettws, Newport, Gwent, in South Wales, while he was away doing summer triathlon training in New Zealand. I get a job at the local secondary school, Bettws Comprehensive, with the official job title of Girls Games Teacher! I love every minute teaching, living in Wales, meeting loads of new people, cyclists, triathletes, teachers etc. I was buzzing again, and hence my training and racing picks up again.
I distinctively recall that during this time in Wales, there was no real desire to achieve any great results, I had no long term goals, I was just training and racing for the enjoyment, meeting people, going places, the excitement of racing, the ‘puffing and blowing’ of working really hard, the sense of satisfaction of really trying hard and putting the effort in on race day. It was just really good enjoyable fun. No pressure to perform, just do one’s best on the day, and enjoy the journey. I mainly race on the bike, but also do the odd triathlon and running race, including running 72:56 for 6th place at the Sonning Common Half Marathon, and an 11th place in the Man versus Horse 22 mile trail race. Looking back now, they look pretty impressive running results, especially on pretty well only 3 runs of 3-4 miles per week! Yes endurance performance is determined by a lot more than simply physical training. Yes, a certain amount can be achieved without the need to have clear set goals or massive desire, simply relying mainly on the buzz, the enjoyment. However, to reach the next level, it is all about balancing the desire, with the enjoyment, with the belief, with being within the moment, and off course the TOTAL training.
Ken returns from New Zealand at the end of April and tells me about an Ironman taking place in Ironbridge, Shropshire which he is commentating at. Previously I had given some thought to doing an Ironman triathlon, but the 2.4 mile swim tended to put me off, as my swimming was rather weak. The appealing aspect of the 1991 Ironbridge Ironman was that the swim consisted of 1.7km swim upstream, and then a 2.1km swim downstream in the River Severn. I had competed in Oympic distance triathlons before in the mid eighties, so I knew I could manage 1.5km, so I thought that this would be the ideal race, the one opportunity to finish an Ironman. All I had to do was to get to the turnaround point, and then let the current take me to the end of the swim leg. Great, so I paid the entry fee, booked my accommodation, and now had to do some training!
Whilst teaching at Bettws Comprehensive School, I had been getting out around 3 lunch times a week for a 3-4 mile run, so the run legs were ticking over. I had been doing quite a bit of cycle training and racing, so I was pretty bike fit. But swimming, very little. I think I went to Maindee Swim Club triathlon session a couple of times, and that was it! Luckily Bettws Comp had a small swimming pool, 20 metres I think. So twice a week I would swim for around 25 minutes during lunch time. Leading up to the race, I knew it was important to have a time goal, rather than simply aiming to finish. I did some calculations and decided a sub 10 hour Ironman time was possible.
I'm sure anyone who was at the 1991 Ironbridge Ironman Triathlon will clearly remember the 6:00am start. It had gradually been getting lighter, then as six o'clock approached, it started getting darker!.. We all enter the River Severn a few minutes prior to the start, and then at exactly as the starting hooter sounds, there is an amazing thunder and lightning storm and torrential rain. I work really hard in the swimming drafting as many swimmers as I can as we head up stream, frequently being distracted by the flashes above, and the really bizarre effect of bouncing water from the persistent heavy rain. I finally manage to get to the turnaround point, with the last few hundred metres being really difficult. I turn around, and immediately know why it had been so difficult. With it being over half an hour since the start of the downpour, the water was beginning to enter the river, and the current was now really swift. I simply get swept down to transition, and exit in a few seconds under the hour. I was expecting something like around 1 hour 15 mins!
I am immediately really buzzing. There are loads of bikes still in transition, in fact there didn't look like that many had gone. I jump onto the bike and attack the 112 miles, my strongest discipline, as I had been doing loads of cycing. I have a good ride, and then start the marathon. It had been seven years since my last road marathon, the 1984 Christchurch marathon. It is a four lap course, and the first lap goes well, averaging around 7 min mile pace. Then I 'hit a wall'. So it was straight onto the coke, but I struggled for the remaining 18 miles, running I think a 3 hour 27min marathon,and ended up in 7th place overall, in my sub 10 hour time of 9:50:06. So a very pleasing result.
Then at the prizegiving I discover that I have earned myself a place at the 1991 Hawaii Ironman. Dilemma! What to do! There is a feeling of deja vu! A bit like when I started multi-sport back in the early eighties. I perform quite well, without really expecting it. Simply due to enjoying the present moment. Problem is, at the time I don't recognise that this enjoying the moment is so important to performance. And so when it comes to the big day, e.g. the 1985 National Multisport Champs, or the 1986 Coast to Coast, when I put too much pressure on myself, the goal performance just doesn't happen, and the miracle, remains just that, unlikely to happen, so just a dream! Anyway I decide that heading to Hawaii in 1991 is a bit too costly,and not enough time to fully prepare. I then make the decision, why not go to the 1992 Hawaii as being on the way to a summer in New Zealand. With the extra year's preparation, maybe this time I could achieve my goal of being an elite performer, but this time as an Ironman. So on the 7th July 1991, my goal is set for 1992. To perform at elite level at the Hawaii Ironman, scheduled to take place on the 10th October 1992.
With plenty of time available before needing to specifically prepare, I head to France and Germany, cycle touring for seven weeks. Watch 11 days of the Tour de France, then one week in Stuggart, catching up with some cycling friends at the 1991 World Track and Road championships, including Jacqui Nelson who finishes in 5th place on the track at the Worlds, and Brian Fowler from Christchurch, still New Zealand's best cyclist and Glen Thompson, who only three years earlier had been mine and fellow Otago cyclists Geoff Keogh's wheel man, mechanic, basically anything we requested man, as he 'skived' three days off school to support us for the 1988 Southland Tour. As a 14 year old at the time during the 1988 Southland Tour, Glen was totally into his cycling, and loved every aspect of it. Even at that young age he had the 'natural talent'. Yes, the importance of having the desire and dedication, i.e. the natural talent. Another example of an athlete achieving ones dreams, as long as the athlete has all of the three necessary attributes, the third, being the most important and most difficult, the self-belief. Glen later went on to win a Gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in the 50km points race on the track.
Towards the end of the year, I head to Aberdeen to live for the winter, with my mate Andy, who somehow had ended up there. During 1991 I cycled a total of 7605 miles and raced in 17 cycle races. I ran a total of 269 miles and competed in 4 running races, and also raced 5 triathlons.
So after giving up on my long term goal of achieving a 'big' performance that would make me feel that I had performed to my best, last set back in 1988 as a cyclist, 1992 was a renewed approach. I start the year with some desire, i.e. performing at Hawaii Ironman, some determination, willing to put in the hours doing physical training, and with some belief, in that I could be pretty good at this Ironamn stuff! Notice I used the word "some". Yes, I had some desire, some dedication, some belief. Perhaps I hadn't defined my goal clearly enough, or perhaps I just didn't have that 'natural talent', i.e. that massive hunger to win. I don't really know, even now over 20 years later. But I do plenty of training, more than I usually did, probably back to 1988 cycling levels. But in terms of what other full time elite athletes would be doing, I was doing nowhere enough. I however, wasn't full time, as I was teaching PE and maths probably around half time, to allow me some daylight hours to train.
Leading up to the Hawaii Ironman qualifying race at the end of May, being the very first Lanzarote Ironman, from the beginning of March I am pretty well racing either a triathlon, duathlon, cycle race or running race every weekend, and racing twice some weekends. I am performing pretty well, but as the races are simply preparation for the Ironman races later in the year, first Lanzarote, then Hawaii, there isn't any focus, any hunger, any desire to really perform, to win. I remember one Saturday I am racing a Scottish Cycling Grand Prix Road Race in the Trossachs, being 85 miles. So up against the best riders in Scotland. I think I finished in the front bunch, but still not able to sprint. Chatting in the village hall, afterwards drinking tea and eating cakes, I chat to a few of the cyclists about future races. I mention that I am racing the next day in Dundee. They sound surprised, they hadn't seen it in the cycling calendar. I then explain that it is a 10km running road race, which I manage to run in a time of 32:18. Yes, I was performing pretty well, but nothing special, mainly between 4th and 10th place, no matter what the event, but with the occasional 2nd if it was a low key event.
Posing for the camera prior to Lanzarote Ironman race day, showing of my sponsors: Cycling World Aberdeen, Specialised Cycles, Insport Clothing. Not yet an Ironman!
Lanzarote Ironman - During the Hilly and Windy Cycle Leg
Lanzarote Ironamn - Blasting the First Half of the Marathon
I finish the Lanzarote Ironman in 13th place overall, in a time of 9:57:00, after running a very hot marathon in 3:07, and qualify for Hawaii. I recall that it was a bit 'touch and go' mid way through the cycle ride, when I was feeling a bit 'woosy' in the head. I again get onto the coke, which gives me a boost until around mid-way through the marathon. I distinctively remember running out of the cycle transition in around 24th place, thinking that I better get a shift on if I wanted to qualify for Hawaii. As the qualifying spots were done in 5 year age groups. With me being in the 25 - 29 age group I estimated that I will probably need to finish around 15th - 16th place to be confident of qualifying. So 24th place wasn't much good. Reflecting back now, I can see the importance of a clear goal, which strongly matches your desire. My entire year, and return trip to New Zealand was all hinging on qualifying for Hawaii. So with this clear focus, and yes an appropriate amount of pressure, but most important I had the strong belief that I was good enough to qualify, I absolutely motor the first 13 miles in 1:27, and by then had moved up into 14th place. Mission was accomplished, I was on my way to Hawaii. Whether it was due to the benefits of the coke finally wearing off, or more likely the sense that I had achieved what I had set out to do, probably the latter, again the 'wheels fall off' and I struggle for the last 13 miles, managing to only over take one athlete. Off course, back in 1992, I assumed the rapid drop in pace, and feeling dreadful was simply 'hitting the wall', all due to nutrition, biochemistry. I never spent the time to truly reflect on what really contributed to performance! Just as a side note, my 13th place just so happened to be the last qualify slot in my age group, so my guess at needing to be 15-16th place were wrong. Good thing I didn't get content when I reached 15th place!
I am back into racing two weeks later, and again race pretty well every weekend until heading out to Hawaii at the end of September. Having achieved the first part of my goal, i.e. qualifying, I am feeling more confident, and raise my expectations. I start winning triathlons and duathlons. There is a really active Scottish Triathlon Association, and there is a National series of races, where your best four performances earn you points. I have some great battles with the other top triathletes in Scotland. The month of August really stands out. On the 2nd August I race the Scottish Marathon Champs, running 2:30:16, and win the bronze medal (apparently you only had to be resident in Scotland for 9 months to be eligible, which I had, much to the anger of the 4th place finisher!). Then two weeks later I finish in 8th place overall in the Monikie Olympic Distance Triathlon, which doubled up as the Scottish Championships, but finish 2nd Scottish to Jack Maitland (now coach to the Brownlee brothers) so win myself a silver medal. Then just one week later I am racing in the 102 mile Scottish Cycling Road Champs. Midway through the race, I am in a breakaway group of five riders. We eventually get caught by a second breakaway group to form the winning breakaway of 11 riders. Unfortunately, I am the only rider to get dropped out of this group, and am picked up by the remains of the main bunch. After 4 hours 32 minutes of high intensity racing I am sprinting for 11th place, but alas, Mr Slow Twitch, I end up 18th. So overall I am pretty pleased with my progress towards Hawaii.
I have a 65 mile bike race the following week, then the next weekend, 6th September, it is the Scottish Half Ironman Championships, consisting of a pool swim of 2500metres, 56 miles on the bike and 13 mile run. I win by over half an hour, running a 77 minute half marathon to finish with. Yes, I was 'on fire'! This is exactly 5 weeks out from Hawaii. Rather than beginning to ease off. I feel invincible, I win a Grand Prix Triathlon the following weekend, then on the Thursday bike 120 miles from Frances' parents place in Northamptonshire down to Bettws, South Wales, for the Blaenavon Triathlon. I puncture on the bike so only finish third in a very tough hilly extra long race lasting 2:45. The very next day I cycle the 120 miles back to Northamptonshire. Then the following weekend, the day before flying out to Hawaii I race probably the most prestigious race in Britain that year, the Bath Triathlon, which I think was won by Rob Barel, narrowly beating Spencer Smith, with Carol Montgomery winning the women's event. Yes some big names raced that day. I finish a rather lowly 31st place after having a really poor swim in the flooded Avon River. Well that was what I blamed it on, but in reality I was simply exhausted. My desire, dedication and belief, which for the previous 15 years since joining Hutt Valley Harriers as a 14 year old, had been lacking. In a space of a few weeks during August and September of 1992, the reverse had happened. I now felt indestructible, as if I was superman, and without realising it, I had 'over cooked' myself!
So as no doubt you have interpreted from above, Hawaii Ironman didn't quite happen for me. The swim was fine, 63 minutes, the bike was okayish at 5:01, probably around 10 minutes slower than I would have expected, but the run was a complete disaster. I was totally confident of a sub 3 hour run time. After all I had ran a 2:30 marathon in the middle of some big training, with no easing off, just back in August. But within the first mile of the run, I felt pretty dreadful. The heat, the humidity, it was pretty tough. And then instantly I went from race mode to survival mode. Yes I had the long term goal to perform as an elite Ironman, but I hadn't really defined what that meant. Was it sub 8:50, sub 9:00, or sub 9hours 10minutes? However, what was more stronger was the need to finish. I just had to finish, I could not DNF, absolutely no way! And this overriding requirement took control. I simply focused on surviving, and pretty well crept the entire 26 miles, running a 3:26 marathon, and so finished in 90th place overall in a time of 9:30:19.
Hawaii Ironman 1992. Survival mode during the run
Hawaii Ironman 1992. The disappointment due to the poor run is clearly evident!
Yet again, I didn't quite achieve what I had set out to achieve. But for the first time in my life, not due to too much pressure of needing to perform, not due to there being a lack of desire, dedication or belief, but in fact due to two reasons. Having too much belief, and over doing it in those final few weeks, due to feeling like superman. But also due to the deep down desire, the absolute need to not DNF taking control. I thought I had the desire to put it all on the line. But when it came down to it on the day, the deep inner core desire wasn't the right one. I didn't have the hunger, of Scott Jurek or Chris McCormack! Looking back at it now, I played it safe. I pretty well wimped out at the start of the run! The overall Hawaii experience was really amazing, but the actual race performance, especially the run, again was a big disappointment, especially after such a good preparation! But back then, I relied too much on the physical, and definitely nowhere enough on the non-physical, on the importance of reflecting and really trying to determine what really influences endurance performance!
The year of 1992 finishes in New Zealand, having run a total of 1284 miles and cycled 8510 miles. Which is, if you divide the cycling miles by four to equate it to run mile equivalents, my total 'run' mileage was 3411, so yes quite a bit of physical training, but still nowhere near the 100 mile a week athletes, which would equate to 5200 miles for the year. Out of my 35 years of endurance training, 1992 is my biggest year's training, with 1985, in preparation for my anticipated win at the 1986 Coast to Coast totalling 3372 'run equivalent' miles, from 1535 running and 7350 on the bike. During 1992, I raced 19 cycle events (with multi-stage events counting as one), 17 triathlons/duathlons, and 5 running races.
Well, another epic five year review. Only four to go, although I have a strong feeling that the next three five-year reviews will be quite significantly shorter as during these 15 years, not so much was happening!
So 1988 - 1992 was a period of significant change, from living in New Zealand to living in Britain. From nearly achieving as a cyclist, to a loss of positivity and identity as an endurance athlete, to nearly achieving as an Ironman. I guess in the eyes of many, what I accomplished during these five years are some quite significant achievements. But what is most important, not just as an athlete, but in terms of everything in life, is how you judge yourself. How do you match up in your eyes! And is often the case, the harshest critic of all is oneself.
Time to sign off. "The importance of reflection can not be under-estimated, however, it is important that the criteria at which you evaluate performance and judge oneself is fair and just. This is often difficult to achieve, in terms of getting the balance right. This is where communication with a respected coach could be seen as being absolutely invaluable." Stuart Mills, 2013.
Time to reflect on your reflection!