I’m back

After an extended absence from this blog I’m back. Some things have changed (I live in Houston now) and some things haven’t (I’m still an Architect / Triathlete).

I intend to continue to use this blog to post about the various projects I have been working on recently so hopefully, my mistakes can be of use to other people.

What did I learn at the TriSutto training camp in St Moritz?

Last week I was lucky enough to attend a training camp at St Moritz hosted by Brett Sutton and the TriSutto coaches. I got to train alongside a number of triathlon professionals including many Ironman champions and an Olympic gold medalist. Even if I didn’t learn anything else last week it would have been worth the price of admission just to see them train.

The camp was a combination of training, talks and recovery with the program each day really being determined by the fickle mountain weather.

I learned a lot last week and I could go on about it for days but I really think that if you truly want to get a feel for how Brett coaches his athletes and what his training group do you should attend a camp yourself. There are a number of camps hosted each year in various locations and you don’t even need to be very fit to attend them: you’ll be able to train at your level. More information on these camps can be found here.

One of the most important messages that I took away from the week is to listen to your body. Brett doesn’t set out structured programs for his athletes in advance, rather he has an idea as to what they will do on each day and when they meet to swim in the morning he adjusts what each athlete will be doing that day based on how they feel, what they did the day before and what they will be doing the next day. When it comes to the sessions themselves Brett expects his athletes again to listen to their bodies, if they feel fresh they can push and if they are tired they can hold back. Sessions are not prescribed but rather guided – athletes get to choose what they are doing on the day within a range of options. This works because his athletes understand the purpose of each session, and they are self motivated. If the session is a bike strength session then the athlete knows to work on their strength and once they have done enough they stop. His athletes don’t blindly follow a program and end up pushing too hard when they are tired or not hard enough when they are feeling good.

This approach reminds me of something I read in a book by Arthur Lydiard. He was coaching Dick Taylor towards the 10000m in the Olympic games when a group of school pupils stopped to chat to him:

“What’s he doing”?, one asked.

“Repetitions”,  Lydiard explained.

They knew all about those. “How many is he going to do?”

“I don’t know”

“What times is he running?”

“I’m not timing him”

They exchanged looks of disbelief. Was Lydiard supposed to be coaching on of New Zealand’s best runners?

Then Lydiard asked, “How far round is this track, anyway?”

They knew then Lydiard did not know what he was talking about.

When Dick finished and joined Lydiard they asked him “How many did you do?”

“I didn’t count them” Dick said.

“What times were you running?”

“I didn’t time them”

Lydiard then decided to explain to the boys before they ran away laughing, that times and numbers were unimportant. What mattered was the effect on Taylor of what he was doing and he knew better than Lydiard what he wanted to do and when he had enough.

Running with Lydiard Paperback – 1 Jul 2001 by Arthur Lydiard (Author), Garth Gilmour (Author) Amazon

Too many of us are slaves to our Garmins, to our watches, to our programs. We chase after a “Green Week” in Training Peaks (which is where you complete every session prescribed during the week) regardless of how we feel and whether we are in good enough shape to achieve the desired outcome of the session. And in so doing, instead of getting fitter / faster we sacrifice our performance, our health and our sanity. I too have behaved that way in the past too but not any more – from now on I will be applying these lessons both to myself and to athletes I coach.


St Moritz Training Camp

I’m off to a training camp at St Moritz next week (6-11 June 2016). The camp is run by Brett Sutton who coaches some of the best triathletes in the world including Nicola Spirig who won Gold at the London Olympics, Daniela Ryf who won the Ironman World Championships last year (and the triple crown $1mil prize purse that comes with it) and Matt Trautman (2 x Ironman SA 70.3 champ amongst other things), some of whom will be at the training camp. He also coached Chrissie Wellington through multiple Ironman World Championships. Brett is one of the most notorious / enigmatic coaches around and is probably in his own way one of the greatest thinkers in the sport. I’ve got so much to learn from him.

The other thing about St Moritz is that it is at 1856m in altitude while I live at about 50m altitude so the air is going to be thinner up there. Also my swimming hasn’t been great of late so that should be interesting. See I’m already lining up the excuses 😉

The truth is the whole thing scares me a little, but it shouldn’t. I’ve been doing this stuff for long enough to know that I will be fine – actually better than that, it will be awesome and I will create memories and isn’t that what life is really about? Creating amazing memories?

Check out the St Moritz webcam here and weather here.

Why I do Ironman

I listened to a podcast the other day in which the interviewee explained that in his view people do Ironman in order to sit around the dinner table and tell others about the time they did an Ironman. They do Ironman in order to appear tough / insane / hardcore (delete as appropriate). While this may be true for some, it was so far from the truth for me that I decided to write this post.

I do Ironman because it brings out the truth in me and the people around me. There is no pretending at the 28k mark of the marathon. The masks which most of us seem to wear in our day to day lives seem to dissolve during the swim and for the rest of the day we are who we are, for better or worse. In a world of appearance and illusion there is truth to be found on the Ironman course. And that truth is better than any illusion as it shows what we can do once we drop the mask and stop pretending: we can do our impossible. Most days we seem to be surrounded by the negative side of mankind – you just need to read the papers to see this – but at an Ironman finish line you can witness mankind at it’s best: true happiness and joy, true satisfaction, true camaraderie.

The irony to me is that even those who entered the race for bragging rights are forced to drop this reason during the day, dig deep and reveal their own truth. That is why this sport is so addictive, and why I will continue to do it for as long as I can.

Where do you find your truth?

Me facing my truth at various points on various days

Dreams do come true

I remember as a kid hearing about this strange race, which happened in a far away place. The strange people in this race combined a swim, a bike and a run into one event! Like many kids in South Africa at the time I used to swim a lot and when I was not in the pool I was on my bike, but running too? Those people were strange. I remember soon after hearing about this race trying out the swim-to-bike thing around our house in Morehill, Benoni. I started with a swim in our pool then road around the neighbourhood. It is one of my earliest memories – I must have been 8 or younger at the time.

These memories are from around 1982 – well before the internet, when information was hard to come by. The only information I had was hearsay from friends and family, however, even with this lack of information this race held a strange fascination for me, it felt like something mythical, as if it only existed in a story book or another world.

Through my teenage years I swam competitively and rode my bike more and more but I never ran. After school I carried on going to gym but mostly to do weights – I didn’t believe in cardio. I still held a fascination for swimming, biking and running but didn’t actively do them myself.

This all changed one day in 2008 while sitting on an incline bench in a gym in London. I had just completed another set of incline flyes when I realized that I was bored. Spending hours in a gym every day had completely lost its charm and although I was strong, that strength felt like it had no purpose. I decided then and there to stop doing weights and enter the London triathlon. At this stage I had never run more than about 1km at a time in my life (when people asked: do you run? My standard answer was: only when chased ). The buzz / fear / doubt on entering that first race was amazing, but first I had to ease myself into running: beginning on the elliptical trainer, then the treadmill before venturing outside. I also bought my first road bike in years and began to brave the London traffic. Fortunately swimming came back to me pretty quickly. By the time that race came around I was well and truly hooked.

Commuting in London means you spend a lot of time listening to music or podcasts, and in my case with my new love of triathlon I listened to mostly triathlon related podcasts. Most of them were great and very approachable but there was one podcast where the audience was a bunch of crazy people who did something I could never hope to do: Ironman. I listened to it and heard about this crazy race in Hawaii that sounded strangely familiar and heard about “the big 4” and the “Iron-war” and “Mark & Dave” hill (where the Iron-war was decided in 1989). It dawned on me that crazy race was the same race I had heard about as a kid but now I had access to the internet so I could read a ton of information about it. The more I read, the more it seemed impossible, like something only other people could do.

I continued to train and made a deal with myself: if I was still injury free by the time we moved back to South Africa in early 2010 I would enter Ironman South Africa. January 2010 came around, the move went smoothly and now I had no excuse – I had to enter the race. I think my heart rate was in about zone 6 when I clicked the enter button– I was terrified!!

I trained for that race without really knowing what I was doing and without knowing if I could complete the race at all. In fact the day before the race I was a complete wreck. I had no idea what was going to happen the next day – could I even complete the distance? The night before the race I had a moment of clarity: in an instant I knew, that whatever happened the next day, NOTHING was going to stop me.

Each milestone on the next day felt like the finish line – the first turn buoy, the first bike lap, completing the bike then eventually knowing that I was on the run and all I had to do was keep going and it would happen – I would be an Ironman.

I eventually crossed the line in 12:37 (probably the equivalent of about 13:07 on the new course) but I had done it, I had done my impossible. After that race I needed a new goal and I immediately knew what it needed to be: that crazy race in Hawaii! There was only one problem: I was nowhere near fast enough. For the next 2 years I continued to chase this goal and made improvements but I was still over 1.5 hours from where I needed to be so I decided to get a coach. Around this time Cindy (my wife) decided she wanted to buy some muffins from the Woolworths factory shop, so I said sure, as long as we can stop at CycleLab on the way. Those were the most expensive muffins we ever bought as during that trip I met Kent, heard about MTD, bought a new mountain bike and tri bike, and also bought some muffins.

When I first met Claire my goals were clear: I wanted to go to Kona. Whether I got there by getting fast enough or through the legacy program (by completing 12 Ironmans) I was going to get there. Nothing was going to stop me. I set a new PB in my next Ironman, dropping under 11 hours for the first time (on the old, faster course) but was still well down the field.

I set my goal on qualifying for Kona in 2014. I trained hard and was in the shape of my life targeting a 10h30 race (first year on the new course) however things went horribly wrong the night before the race when I had a back spasm that meant I couldn’t walk on the morning of the race. I put in a panicked call to (physio) Jayne who met me on the grass before the swim and helped get me into some form of shape to start the swim. I decided to start the race and see how far I could go, knowing that any chance of qualifying was out the window. That was a tough day, but a thoroughly enjoyable one too as all the pressure was off.

For 2015 I decided to take the gloves off – I would do any/ everything (legal) to qualify: I would work half time for the months leading up to the race and focus on training to ensure that I would be in Hawaii in October. I had an awesome training block leading up into the race but knew it would still be tough. The field in the 2015 race was fast: 30% of the entrants were international, and I knew in my age group 20 people had PB’s of under 10 hours (at faster courses). So I knew it was going to be a tough day.

The swim went OK – I was out the water in 6th in my age group and the bike went ok too – I reached T2 in 7th but the run was another story. I did a PB for the marathon at Ironman but still got passed by 10 people – which meant I ended in 17th in my age group.

It took a lot of convincing from Cindy and Claire to get me to go to slot allocation on Monday – when I got there I was convinced that there was no chance so I was pretty relaxed. The first guy in my age group (Sam Gyde) took his slot but the second on third guy didn’t (they had already qualified at other races). Given that there were 12 slots in my age group that meant that 14th position would now be offered a slot – there was a glimmer of hope (it was around this time that Claire almost went into labour, but I’ll let her tell you that story).

They kept calling out names and the stress level around the table increased until pretty soon it was clear: 3 more people had turned down their slots and I was going to Kona!!!! When I heard Paul Kaye call my name I couldn’t believe it, all that work, all those years working towards this one moment – my name called at an Ironman World Championship slot allocation. I jumped up, hugged Cins then Claire and went off to have a lei put around my neck by Paula Newby-Fraser (8x Ironman World Champion) and accept my slot.

On 10 October 2015 I will be racing the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. I will line up with the world’s best triathletes to swim with turtles, cycle through lava fields and run down Ali’i drive. And I will have a new goal – sub 10 anyone?

I’m honoured and blessed and truly privileged to be living a dream.

Thanks to my beautiful wife / top supporter and lead sponsor Cindy Toms.

Thanks also to my coaches Claire Horner and Kent Horner and to all my fellow

My Training Day athletes. It’s been epic!


Ironman 70.3 Buffalo City 2014 Race Report

I went into this race having some of the most consistent training I have ever had behind me. For the first time in a long time I had been able to train without injury so I was able to complete what was necessary.

My goal for this race was simple: podium in my age group. The intention was to actually race this race to get in the mindset of racing others not just participating. This was a big mental step up from where I had previously been but I knew I had to do this if I was to achieve my goal of qualifying for Kona at Ironman SA.

The swim was pretty non-eventful except I probably could have gone faster. I was out of the water in second position in my wave although I had held quite a bit back. I did at one stage make a break but swam off course so I returned to join the person who was leading my age group (Sascha Braendle).

The bike was a bike of two halves. Uphill into the wind on the way out and downhill with a tailwind on the way back. My power meter had decided to die so I was riding without power, just going on feel. I cycled what I thought was a sensible leg which actually turned out to be pretty fast! I was in fourth position after the bike so I had slipped off the podium.

The run was hot as usual so I had to keep squeezing sponges over my head. I walked the aid stations to ensure I got nutrition and cooling an a little bit of Bunkers hill on the second lap but otherwise I felt reasonably in control. The wind had picked up by this stage so running back to the finishers area was pretty tough – I really felt for those (including Cindy) who were still on the bike by this time.

Overall I dropped a further 2 place on the run to finish in 6th position but did a PB for the course on what was a slow day (most people were slower than previous years). While I was not over the moon with finishing 6th I was happy with my time but it did expose my glaring weakness of running, yet again.

Race Summary

Swim: 00:28:20

Bike: 02:39:26

Run: 01:46:22


Ranking – Details

Overall Rank: 45/2243

Category Rank: 6/301

Ironman 70.3 World Championship Race Report

Mont Tremblant, in Canada, hosted this year’s Ironman 70.3 World Championship. It was the first time this race was hosted outside the U.S. and they really couldn’t have chosen a better venue. The town of Mont Tremblant is a ski resort in winter and triathlon heaven in summer. It is beautiful, with great paths for running, roads for cycling and lakes for swimming.

The days leading up to the race involved the usual taper niggles – my legs felt sore and I was completely paranoid about getting sick after having to DNF at Ironman Canada the year before (tip: Robs told me about Linctagon earlier in the year and I now swear by it – thanks Robs!). To make matters worse the weather was predicted to be cold on the day of the race, with a forecast of about 8 degrees at about the time I was due to start the swim.
On the morning of the race I felt good. I will always remember the excitement of standing on the beach prior to the start as an F15 (Canadian fighter jet) flew overhead and listening to the cannon as the pros lead off first, knowing that I was soon going to be in the same race as Gomez, Frodeno and many other great triathletes.
The start of the swim was pretty calm. Over time I have learned to keep away from the packs (in this case I kept left) and finding my own space so that I could set my own pace. Once in space I moved back towards the pack but on my terms. I exited the water after about 27 mins having felt comfortable the whole way and started the rather long run to T1.
I had decided not to wear a shirt under my wetsuit as I didn’t want to start the ride in the cold wearing a wet shirt. Big mistake. Putting on a cycling jersey while wet is not easy, so my T1 took a bit longer than planned. Eventually I managed to get the shirt on and headed out on the bike. The first 30k’s of the bike was a real draft fest with packs forming making it difficult to keep a legal distance from those around you.
The roads in Mont Tremblant are the stuff dreams are made of – they’re silky smooth and really comfortable to ride on. This meant that I could actually get in the zone and not have to worry about being bounced off my bike (unlike PE :-)). From 30 – 70k was great fun. I usually train to power but didn’t actually race to power I just tried to ride comfortably. The final 20k of the bike was pretty hilly with some rather steep gradients but nothing too bad. I finished the bike in 2:24 a bit ahead of my planned pace of 2:30 so I was pretty chuffed with that.
T2 was pretty uneventful and over with pretty quickly.
Shortly after leaving T2 I saw Xavier Gomez going the other way nearing the end of his race, it was pretty awesome to be out there on the same course as the best in the world – an experience which is unique to triathlon.
A highlight of the run for my was running past my Canadian family with my nieces and nephew (2, 3 and 4 years old) cheering go-G-go!! as I approached and for minutes after I left, all of them waving flags and ringing cow bells!
The run was 2 loops with a pretty insane hill towards the end of each loop (shorter but steeper than Bunkers in East London). While my swim and bike preparation for this race had been good my run had not as I had problems with my Achilles. This meant that I ended up walking some of the aid stations but still managed an ok run time for me of 1:45.
My total time was 4:44 which was a PB by a long way. I really want to thank my coaches and all those at MTD for all your support, but mostly I want to thank my triathlete wife Cindy, for putting up with my OCD and eventually deciding, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!

Website Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑