Setting and achieving goals is instrumental to most athletes, indeed to most people. Setting yourself a target gives you the motivation, inspiration and challenge to commit to your training and reap the rewards of your hard work. I spend a lot of time visiting schools in Scotland trying to instruct and encourage young people on how to set and achieve personal goals in all areas of their lives. I try to explain the satisfaction that is gained from achieving goals – not just the actual moment goals are realised, but also the lessons learnt and the experiences gained as you journey towards them. I often find it quite difficult to articulate to school pupils just how great it is when you do achieve something that, more often than not, seemed almost impossible when you first started thinking about it! When you are passionate about something it’s easy to be enthusiastic – transferring the enthusiasm on to an audience can be trickier. In all reality, it’s best to keep things simple. The truth is that when your plans come together and you have worked hard towards something that has become a reality then it’s pure dead brilliant!
In May 2013 I returned to competitive triathlon after a challenging 18 month break. Initially my goal was to train and race pain free and to simply enjoy doing the sport that I love. For every race I had no higher expectations than to finish and to enjoy the journey. As the season progressed I realised that I was becoming fitter and stronger and my body was coping well with training and racing. I knew that qualifying for the World Ironman Championships in Kona in 2013 was unrealistic, but 2014 was looking more achievable.
The question was: how do I qualify in the most efficient way? Slots for the World Championships are allocated on a points-based ranking system where the top 35 ranked athletes with the highest points are invited to race. The answer was to play as smart a hand as possible: get as many points as early in the season as possible to allow for uninterrupted training prior to the World Championships in October 2014. It was time to play the long game. The best opportunity to qualify was to get as many points from my three allowable 70.3 races and to do a solid mandatory qualifying ironman race.
Step 1: World Championships 70.3 Las Vegas, September 2013. A solid 4th place finish here gave me a first good set of points to start from, 2185.
Step 2: Lake Tahoe Ironman, September 2013. This was a little bit of an unknown. I knew that I was not in the best physical shape to do an Ironman. This Ironman race was one of the first opportunities to do a qualifying ironman for Kona 2014, so it was a risk worth taking. I finished 3rd, completed my mandatory ironman distance race and secured 1280 qualifying points.
Step 3: High points regional championship 70.3 races. This is where things get serendipitous. Auckland 70.3 is the first regional championship on the calendar. It’s in January, not in a European triathlete’s normal racing window. It’s also about as far away from Scotland as you can get! However, I was already booked to go to New Zealand to celebrate a very significant birthday of a good friend. It seemed silly not to race. A first place finish and 1500 points accumulated.
Step 4: Another high points regional championship 70.3 race – my third qualifying 70.3 race. Panama 70.3 in February offered the chance to race in another high point event, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to race again. I already felt as if I may be pushing things by racing so early in the season. When I got back from New Zealand I was back in the depths of Scottish winter. Consistent training was a challenge and I wasn’t sure I could maintain the fitness I had from Auckland to get through another race. Then I was concerned about getting ill after one long international flight and going into another and then I started thinking about the Panamanian heat and humidity. I could have written a book of all the reasons not to race! In the end I decided that by racing in Panama I was giving myself the best opportunity to qualify for Kona. It proved to be a good decision. The real lesson was that was that I had to really put my goal for Kona qualification at the front of my mind. I knew that I wouldn’t be quite as sharp or fit as I had been in Auckland. I always want to go into a race feeling 110% but I had to acknowledge and accept that I wasn’t as ready as I wanted to be. However, I had to believe that I was as ready as I needed to be. I fought hard, gave it what I had, and suffered when my running legs deserted me at about 2 miles from the finish line! I slipped from first place into second. Frustrating though this may have been, I was beaten by the better athlete on the day (congrats to Angela :-)). However, I did what I need to do and bagged 1275 points.
I’ve got lots of qualifying points on the board (6240) and only time will tell if I have secured a slot for the World Ironman Championships in Kona in October. Last year the qualifying points cutoff was 4740 points, but the system changed in 2014. Whatever happens, I set myself a goal and challenged myself to achieve it. I’m quietly proud and very satisfied. It really is pure dead brilliant when your plans come to fruition! I may have made it onto the invitation list to the big dance, but now I need to start working on my routine. It’s time to get goal setting again.