When You Think You Have Planned Everything, Think About the Rest

Posted on December 5, 2013. Filed under: Uncategorized |

Unbelievable!  No blogs for a month and then two in one week.  Living on the edge.  That is exactly how I roll.

Since I checked IM minus 30 off the calendar, I have spent a lot of time reflecting.  Why?  Well, it’s a sense that if you keep doing the same things you shouldn’t be surprised that if you get the same results and I want to be clear that I have addressed the hurdles that I hit in my first Ironman.  Let’s take a step back.  I felt as I approached Ironman Regensburg in 2011 that I was ready to race and, despite the first timer protestations of “just wanting to finish”, I fully expected that finish to be under 13 hours.

Things went wrong on the day for sure, but hey, everyone heaves, cramps and has the trots.  But if I was really on my game I would have handled them without missing a heartbeat and managed my day in close to the time I had mentally targeted.  So, what went wrong?  My conclusion is that the root of my problem was rest and it’s insidious corollary fatigue.

Coca-Cola: Relieves Fatigue

Fatigue is a bitch. She is an avoidable bitch, and the ability to avoid her is absolutely all in our control.  But unfortunately in Ironman training she is a bitch we rarely spot until she has taken her toll.  I like to think of it like the famous “boiling frog syndrome” – if you chuck a frog in a pan of boiling water it instantly jumps out but if you put it in a pan of cold water and slowly warm the pan the frog will slowly boil.  Fatigue is like that, it creeps up on you and no matter how hard you try you will never out-run it.

I can pinpoint two moments in the run up to Regensburg that I should have realised how deep the fatigue was – firstly on my last 5 mile run with my occasional training partner (and Austria co-conspirator) Shakey, I had to stop and walk a hill.  WTF – I should have been ready for an Ironman!  And secondly, I didn’t taper – I got to day 1 of taper, breathed a sigh of relief and hit the brakes.  I only rode once – the day before race day for about 10 minutes.  And I didn’t miss it.

So, after years of training my body to be ready to complete an Ironman what did I miss?  It’s simple – when we train for Ironman we focus on swim, bike, run and conditioning sessions but we neglect two important things – rest and real life.  Rest should be simple – a day off per week and a recovery week every few weeks; but inevitably real life gets in the way.

It is easy to underestimate the scope of real life – family, work, the boss, the lazy colleague, a friend’s birthday, the office night out 10 pin bowling, the Soprano box set, the garden project, the noisy neighbours.  Whatever – they all salami slice our downtime and our body’s ability to repair itself.  But we convince ourselves that it is normal and as long as we can squeeze training in we are fine.  We are not!

For example, this was normal to me.  This was my real life exactly 6 weekends before IM Regensburg.

Fri 6:30am Run 90 minutes

Fri 9:00am Arrive at office.  I am leading a major event coordinating 4000 people. Today is final planning.

Sat 2:00am Arrive home, full of cake and Haribo. Get bike ready for long ride.

Sat 5:30am Start long ride – 6 and a half hours.

Sat 2:00pm Arrive at office.  Today is the big day, prepared for whatever happens.  Shit happens.

Sun 3:00am Arrive home, full of Dominos pizza, more cake and black, black coffee.

Sun 7:30am Arrive at office.  Pick up the debris of the last two days. Adrenaline is wearing off; replaced by more Haribo and coffee.

Sun 3:00pm Pool for a 60minute swim.

That was a long slog but it’s not just about enduring real life; it’s not just about sucking up the hours.  No, the intensity takes it’s toll too – this event took an unfortunate turn and ended up on national news headlines and spent a few days in the papers – the stress of mental exertion is as energy sapping as physical exertion.  It’s taken me a long time to realise that weekend knocked me out for months, but at the time I never missed a single training session.  I was a one weekend hero.  Doh.

I mainly write my blog for me, but sometimes I write to share an experience.  As prospective ironmen approach Christmas and prepare to start their journey these are the learnings from the ghost of Ironman past.  I intend to use my past experiences to ensure that the ghost of Ironman future makes Austria my best ever Ironman.


Everyone training for an endurance event has real life snapping at their ass.  Ultimately we all march to the beat of someone else’s drum.  So, how do you avoid the meaningless macho battles to ensure that you can focus on winning the Iron war?

  • PRIORITISATION – Be honest on your priorities and are they realisitic?  When time and energy gets tight can you make the tough calls and live those prioritisations?
  • AUDIT YOUR LIFE – particularly work.  If you look dispassionately at how you spend your day and what you get involved in you will probably be surprised how inefficient you unconsciously choose to be.  If you think of it as a choice between your IM goals and whatever you are doing it sharpens the focus.
  • PLAN TO BE SPONTANEOUS – ironic? Yes, but while a spontaneous mid-afternoon Stella bender in the pub is great fun it will wreck training the day after. Fun is important, and blow-outs are essential but they need to be planned to avoid disruption.  For example, I love swimming with a hangover but I run like a chubby donkey within three days of drinking – I need to work around those realisations.
  • RUTHLESS PRIORITISATION – but I’ve said prioritisation already!!  So you think you have prioritised?  OK, now delete all the emails that you are only cc’d on!  Scared?  They stand between you and your goal, you have to be ruthless or you will spread yourself too thin and splutter over the finish line way later than you planned.


I am 42 now, and I need to look after my body since according to Ironman I am already a veteran.  For me the key things that I have to keep sacred are a rest day per week and I also cut back volume every 4th week.  Fink, Friel, Gordo and all the other IronGurus tell us this much but, beyond that, what are the essential lessons?

  • KNOW YOUR BODY – There is a vast chasm of difference between CBA syndrome and fatigue.  You need to know the difference.  If you just can’t be arsed to train you are making a bad choice towards your ultimate goal; if you are knackered then skipping a training session or rearranging a tough one might take you closer, safely towards the finishing chute.
  • BETTER A SESSION MISSED THAN A SESSION TOO FAR – I’m going to stick out my neck here and say that IM training is such a long haul you can afford to miss sessions.  But doing a hard session when fatigued or with an illness brewing could ruin your A race.
  • SLEEP WHEN YOU NEED TO – On Saturday afternoon I planned to go to the gym, but instead I fell over and slept like a baby for three hours; I’m not going to beat myself up about that.
  • DON’T TRY TO CATCH UP – if you miss a session, let it go.  Double dipping is the perfect conditions for sniffles and manflu, ebola and injury to thrive.  If you have prioritised your sessions you will only dump the least valuable.

Real life will drag you in all directions but you have a choice on some of the bullshit battles, willy waving, and messing about that take up some much of our time.  Ultimately, it is YOUR choice to get to the swim start in the sharpest shape you can possibly be in.  It is YOUR choice to look back from the exclusive Ironman area behind the finish line and say “I laid it all down out there”.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – it’s all about hitting the averages.  It is an Ironman after all and not a sprint.

Now, why have you wasted time reading this?


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9 Responses to “When You Think You Have Planned Everything, Think About the Rest”

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I feel like this is aimed at me!!!


If that hat fits my dear, then put it on your daft paddy head and wear it.


Asked myself the exact same question at the end…;0)

Ironman? I struggled with my wee jog after the bus last night…with a bellyful of curry!


It was written for you mate! Thought you were probably overdoing the endurance curry events.

Remember curry, sleep, bus, sleep. Never sleep on the bus or you’ll wake up in Peterhead.


A guy I know on twitter gives me the same advice but I never listen. Maybe he does know a thing or 2! Good blog.


Don’t believe everything you read on twitter 😉


You’ve learned the lessons, you know how to balance life (on paper at least), now the final trick – listening to yourself.


Ha! That is the difficult part!


[…] The key thing about training for Ironman is consistency.  Boom and bust training shipwrecks many a fledgling Ironman campaign.  The basics are pretty simple – long stuff is easy and essential; shorter stuff is harder; make sure you can tell the difference between hard and easy; have easy and hard days; then RECOVER. […]


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