Steve McKenna takes us through his mental and physical journey in preparation for the Hervey Bay Triathlon that he ended up winning! Read his journey below.
The lead in:
2020 has been a tough year for many industries and the sporting industry has been hit hard. Triathlon has struggled without a huge amount of money or backing to assist with tackling COVID-19.
A big relief came for the top 100 ranked long course athletes when the Professional Triathlete Organisation (PTO) made a generous COVID payout to help the athletes who had lost their income and they have continued to help the sport through these trying times. Ranked #51 in the world I was lucky enough to be included in the PTO handout.
Currently building a new home and still paying rent, made it necessary for me to take on more work and university studies to make the most of the year to come. With a hobby of coaching other athletes too, I slowly realised I had taken on too much if I wanted to train and recover enough to be competitive in Pro races.
A 4th place finish at Sunshine Coast 70.3 was certainly something to be proud of considering the long weeks leading into Sunshine Coast 70.3 where I would often knock off work at 11pm or 12am and head to the 24/7 petrol station near home to finish homework or coaching before going home and inevitably waking Lauren up (fiancé).
However the 4th place did not live up to the expectations I had for 2020. Making my head space even worse was a DNF at Ironman Cairns where I could not stop vomiting after the swim.
Riding back into town I reflected on how stressed I’d been lately and said “enough is enough”.
This prompted me to review what I had going on with my life at the time, then grading each of them as follow:
University = B (up late rushing my work)
Work = B (rocking up 1minute before the shift with wet hair juggling swim bags and running shoes)
Social/family life = F (Big fail when your friends think you’ve been away – living 10minutes away)
Coaching = B (something I love doing and do not want to see as work or something I have to squeeze into everyday)
Pro athlete = B
The decision I made was to eliminate as much as I could and stop disappointing myself in five areas of life, dialling in on two or three.
I had six weeks until Hervey Bay 100 which I told myself (and Lauren) that I was going to win.
I decided to immediately quit my job and pulled back on University studies (only leaving one exam to complete in the lead up to race day). The result:
University (less of it) = A+
Coaching = A+ (the A+ is for my level of enjoyment because you will have to ask the guys if I actually do a good job :P)
Pro athlete = A+
Social/family life = C (needs work still)
With more sleep, recovery, reading and relaxing techniques added into my days I started training well day in day out and felt stronger and more positive.
The issues I had with anger, frustration or irritability were dwindling away and a life balance was starting to emerge for the first time. It is hard for me to sit on my arse and see any value in simply relaxing (aka wasting time), but I’m getting better at accepting that it’s ok to be unproductive for a minute here and there.
The cherry on top was having the energy to get out of bed early enough to re-join a swimming squad at 5am three times a week and the confidence was growing rapidly.
I was rooming with coach Tim Reed leading into Hervey Bay 100 and it was great to see how a highly successful Pro triathlete treats his race week. As such, I learnt a lot from him.
I learnt that I go to bed way too late and that going to bed at 7pm like the coach can result in feeling amazing the next day. Luckily for me, when I fall asleep I’m out until the morning, whereas Reedy needs these early nights because around 3am he’ll usually wake up and start watching repeats of Vincent Luis race wins.
I also learnt that Reedy and myself have two of the most sensitive guts in pro triathlon and simple tuna and rice meals with a side of PREPD Hydration is something we have in common the night before a race.
With a few fun days leading into Hervey Bay 100 I was feeling relaxed and confident that I would be performing to the standard I had come to expect late 2019.
As we started the swim it was clear that Trent Thorpe from New Zealand (aka the fish) wasn’t someone to chase in the swim and I reassured myself that I would catch him on the bike.
I was left leading the chase pack feeling in control of my effort and despite the choppy blue waters the body was feeling fired up for a quick transition and start to the bike.
Reedy’s advice for this race was to treat it like the Asian races last year, this meant I had to transition faster than anyone, ride the first 10km harder than anyone and then hopefully… ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
The plan almost went perfectly, I was catching Trent Thorpe and getting away from the other Pro’s (besides Lachie Kerin). Lachie is one of the strongest cyclist in every Australian race and can usually drop me on my best cycling days, but today I hung on and even helped push the pace as we passed Trent Thorpe and watched the gap grow to Simon Hearn and more (the runners).
The positive thoughts grew, and the legs continued to feel great, I kept thinking “Fully committing has paid off…. and thank god Reedy made me go to bed at 6:30pm last night”. Lachie did end up pulling away by 40seconds on the last lap and unfortunately for Reedy mechanical issues stopped him from riding up to us.
Off the bike and the lead was around 3 minutes to the chasers once I had caught and overtaken Lachie. I felt great at this stage and if I had access to a TAB and was allowed to bet on myself….. I would have bet my newly built house on getting the win (Lauren would have been fuming).
However, nothing is ever certain in these long course races. With 6km left to run I was close to death, had the horses like you would not believe and wondered whether I’d actually finish at all. I also wondered whether my new house was safe after placing that imaginary bet…. clearly losing my mind too.
Luckily the bad patch didn’t last long and a focus on positive thoughts and aid stations saved the day.
I crossed the line just under two minutes ahead of 2nd place and wasn’t overwhelmed with emotions, just happy I was back to my old self and now know what I need to do to stay there – keep it simple and get A+’s in just a few areas of life, rather than five B-‘s.
Lizard out. Steve McKenna