Andy Sloan is a personal trainer and S&C coach based in Weymouth, UK. He's trained by Will Newbery, who's another friend of Precision Fuel & Hydration and who's been featured on our blog in the past. Andy recently qualified for Kona 2017 after smashing out a sub-10 time on the tough Ironman Wales course. That was just a week after a disappointing race in his home town at Ironman Weymouth. We asked him to talk us through the toughest 7 days of his racing career and the build up to it...

What I set out to achieve

A year ago I set myself the target of qualifying for Kona by September 18th 2016. That was the date of Ironman Wales, which was a race I was planning to do as it suited my strengths more than my weaknesses – sea swim, and tough bike – ideal. Then it turned out that my home town Weymouth was set to host a full distance Ironman, so I decided to race that and to try and qualify on home turf instead.

I’d been to Kona once before, after qualifying 5th in my 25-29 AG in 2012 in Bolton. But I was determined to get back again, and do a whole lot better than last time. So this year everything was geared toward a strong race in Weymouth, and a top 3 AG finish.

How I trained to achieve it

I’d had a couple of setbacks this year training wise – a shoulder injury prevented me from swimming for a month, then a foot injury stopped me running for maybe 2 months. I run two fitness businesses, have a 3 year old son, an 8 week old baby, and a wife; so life is anything but easy, but that’s the same for most AG athletes. Despite all of this, in the 8 week lead up to Weymouth I managed to put together my best block of training yet. 

Between January and Ironman Weymouth in September, I clocked up just 11 hours training per week. There were obviously some bigger weeks in there and in the lead up to Weymouth there was a 21 hour week, a couple of 15-17’s, but mainly 12-14 hours or thereabouts.

Image credit: Louis Reed via Unsplash (copyright free).

During those last 8 weeks or so I’d typically ride long on a weekend (3-6 hours), mainly at my target race intensity factor or slightly higher. I’d normally do a brick session each week, hit the turbo for 60-75 minutes for an effort based session (often sweet spot of TH work), and try to get another 2-3 hour ride in midweek too. Over those last 8 weeks I hit a couple of 15-16 mile runs, and one 25 miler too.

Other than that, each week there were typically another 2 runs, one steady and one with some efforts in there. The run training was all about getting back to consistent running after my foot injury to be honest. My swimming was actually pretty inconsistent, but I probably averaged around 2 sea swims a week, and an occasional pool swim.

All of my rides bar maybe 1-2 were completed on the Ironman Weymouth bike route – normally a lap midweek, then anything from 1-2 laps on the weekend. I must’ve ridden on it 30-40 times. Knew every pothole. Rode it in every weather. Every wind direction. I read Andy’s blog on how he qualified for Kona recently and found it unsurprising that he did the same when he qualified for Kona at Sherborne back in 2003.

How it went on the day

Fast forward to race week and I was feeling pretty awesome, and buzzing to get going. I kept my nutrition in check and started to load up a little on electrolytes in the days before the race.

2 days out from the race I had a sachet of PH 1000 throughout the day. The day before the race I had one of the PH 1500’s to preload on sodium.  For race day my nutrition strategy was simple – pancakes for breakfast (I make these for me and my son a couple of times a week), and 500-750ml of water with a sachet of PH 1500 in it which I gradually drink between waking up and the gun going off. 

I hit a 59m swim which put me around 14th in my AG if I remember correctly. Bang on what I was hoping for. I got out on to the bike feeling good – game on. I stuck to my numbers, didn’t get too excited and kill myself over the first 20 miles, and just settled into my pacing and nutrition. 

In terms of nutrition and hydration on the bike, I concocted a bit of a special mix shall we say. I put 14 gels, a couple of scoops of energy mix and the other half sachet of PH 1500 into a bottle with around 300ml of water. Then I just have plain water in my aero bottle up front so I can dial up and down my intake according to the dictates of thirst. I chop 2-3 Powerbars in half and mainly eat them in the first half of the bike stint as and when I get hungry. Everyone’s approach is different and I’d stress that you should thoroughly test out any new mixes in training to refine the balance and iron out any GI issues!

I made my way past everyone bar one mutant rider, who I eventually passed but only as he’d had a mechanical and taken a detour too! Absolute gun. I was first off the bike into T2 (though in reality I was 2nd due to the rolling start), came out of T2 in second and started running well, on target pace.

I ran well until mile 9 or 10. Then the stomach issues started, and unfortunately they never left. That ended up crippling my run. At mile 13 I was ready to just pull out, but I gave myself a talking to and managed to finish the job.

My time was 10:10:10. A new personal best. But I had run a 3:59 rather than the 3:15-3:20 I should have been hitting relatively comfortably.

I was happy to have pushed through my GI issues and finished. But devastated at how things had gone. My stomach had been dodgy in the 2-3 days before the race, and turns out my son wasn’t too fresh that day either, which may well explain what went wrong. But, the bottom line was that I was gutted. All the work, the sacrifice, the effort and I’d ended up 10th in my AG and 22nd overall. Well outside the Kona slots.

Plan B: Another IM one week later...

Within an hour or so of finishing I said to my wife ‘I might race Wales next weekend – I can’t fail’ and she said “do what you have to do”. She’s as supportive as it gets. In fact, my first Kona outing was actually our honeymoon…she’s that good.

I decided to treat that week as if I was definitely going to race in Wales. So, on Monday I spoke to my coach. That night I spun my legs out on my turbo. On Tuesday I had an easy swim. After another chat with coach, he backed me – ‘go for it, you’ve nothing to lose but everything to gain’.

On Wednesday I took a day off, then on Thursday I made the final decision to enter the race. My legs were still pretty beaten up by this point – tired and sore, but not horrendous. We drove to Tenby on Friday, with both our kids. Where we camped. Yes, camped. Not ideal when your baby is allergic to sleep.

My nutrition and hydration strategy remained the same pre-race and on the bike. But I changed it up for the run. In Weymouth, when I started drinking coke around mile 16-17, I started perking up and my stomach started settling a little. So for my run I decided I’d have the same bottle of drink I did in Weymouth for lap 1 and 2 (with the addition of half a sachet of PH1000), then on lap 2 I’d nail 750ml of Red Bull. Then on Lap 4 I’d get the aid station to fill my bottle with coke.

Off we went. 400m into the swim I asked myself why I was doing this, and thought maybe I should sack it off. But reminded myself of why I was there – KONA.

I came out of the water in just shy of 54 minutes (it was a short swim for sure, my pace was more like a 58!)

I ran the 1km to T1, got on my bike and just started pedalling. Nice and easy, just below my normal power. I started overtaking people. Then more people. I stuck to my nutrition plan, got it all down and kept hydrated.

My body felt great for the whole ride. Ridiculous. I knew I was toward the pointy end of the field, in fact I think I came off the bike in around 18th overall. Though that was after having 5-6 riders go past me when I had to get off on the last hill for a minute or two when my hamstring just said no and cramped up really badly.

It turned out I was 5th in my AG going into T2. Typically my run, although strong in training, often gets killed off with cramp on race day. But this time it felt different. I felt strong.

Before the race I’d written ‘THEY’RE HURTING MORE’ on one arm with a red permanent marker pen and on the other arm I’d written ‘DON’T F IT UP’. Two things my coach had said to me the day before. I kept reading these every now and again as I ran.

I knocked out a strong first 2 laps, then the third got a little tougher. The fourth was quite hard work, and the final mile didn’t seem to want to end. 

But, I crossed the line in 9:57:04, after running 3:23. That was a MASSIVE IM run PB, on arguably the toughest run course on the IM circuit. Crazy. 

I’d finished 18th overall, another new high for me. And, the best bit was I’d somehow managed to finish 4th in what was a solid M30-34 age group.

With 4 slots available for the Big Island, that was job done for me. Somehow, only seven days after ten horrendous hours of racing in Weymouth, I’d smashed a faster time (on a tough course) and hit my initial target of KQ by September 18th 2016.

How was I able to do 2 Ironmans in a week and go sub-10?

Bizarrely, by Tuesday after Wales, my legs felt 95% good as new. By Wednesday, they felt like they’d not even raced. Normally I’m crippled until Friday. I think there were several key factors that contributed to this. 

  1. Consistency in training is crucial. The last 10 months had seen my best training blocks ever, despite some injury setbacks. I barely miss a session when I was fit.
  2. Having a coach. For me, this is essential. Having someone else telling me what to do, and offering support and guidance when I need it is crucial. I’m lucky to have a great relationship with (and respect for) my coach, that’s important.
  3. Knowing and practicing your nutrition strategy is obviously important. For several of my long rides I’d do my exact same nutrition as I would for race day to make sure it felt ok. But at the same time, being willing to adapt and change when things don’t quite work is necessary as well.
  4. Getting your hydration strategy right. A year or two ago I hooked up with the guys from Precision Hydration for a Sweat Test and learned some interesting things about how I sweat. They really helped me nail my hydration plan and I’ve been able to implement that successfully within my training and racing.
  5. Having the right mentality. A year ago I’d decided on my goal for 2016. I wrote it down. Everyone knew what I wanted to achieve. I would be held accountable. Knowing what you want is so important. When you know what you want, you need to be ruthlessly committed to achieving it and just put the work in.

I could’ve accepted my fate and given up after things went wrong at Weymouth. But for me, the effort I’d put into it, the sacrifice, the work, the commitment was too much to just throw away. I knew I was capable of more. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. So I took that one last shot, and now get to take my family to Hawaii next year…

Further reading