The Ironman : behind the scenes with Will Tennent

Will Tennent Ironman

We were lucky enough to catch up with Will Tennent, who is competing in the upcoming 2019 Ironman World Championship on the 12th October in Hawaii 🌊. An Ironman Triathlon (in case you don’t know) is a ridiculously hard event that is comprised of a series of long-distance triathlon races. It consists of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order 😱. We asked Will a few questions about his training, his mindset, his motivation and his advice (and even a little bit of rugby). Read on…

The first, and most important question. I understand you are a kiwi (like me). Do you think the All Blacks will win the rugby world cup (again)?

Well this is the easiest question of the lot as I’m sure you would agree. Of course we will, 3 in a row! I’m not quite as confident as 2011 and 2015, but nice to see England may struggle to get out of the pool matches again!

As much as we could talk rugby all day (and, yes I do agree with Will 😉)  let’s move on to the Ironman Triathlon. An Ironman is the hardest one-day endurance race in the entire world, covering a staggering 140 miles from start to finish. Many people only think about the physical aspect of competing in an extreme event, but don’t take into account the mental part. Which is the more difficult aspect of preparing for the competition, the physical or the mental? Or are they equal in difficulty?

Both of them work closely together. At the start line, the aim is to be in the best physical shape of my life. To do this, I have to push my body during training. A lot of the time though, I simply can’t be bothered. Take last night; I was at an event with friends. They kicked on drinking, but I had to go home and do an hour and a half on the spin bike. Whilst physically this pushed me, it was much more a mental battle to even start. During a race it is similar. My body is essentially screaming to stop or slow down, but you just have to push through, find comfort in this pain, have confidence that you can hold the pace and make it to the finish. Without the mental strength, regardless of fitness, you won’t perform.

What motivated you to sign up for your first triathlon and when was this?

I did my first Tri back in high school. It was only a short race, but I loved it. Coordination was never a strong point for me, so whilst I played the usual team sports, I never excelled. A big triathlon race came to my home time, so as a personal challenge I signed up, and have never looked back.

Which part of a triathlon is your strongest? Your weakest? Why?

I got into triathlon through cycling, so for years the bike was where I could pick up time on the field. I have put a lot of time into my running in recent years though. Not only was it additional time, but I became more efficient with the time I had, mixing up slow recovery runs with faster tempo sessions, and group track nights. I have seen big gains from this, and now perform strongest on the run. My weakest leg has always been the swim, the leg where technique makes the biggest difference. In the last couple of years, my swimming and technique have both improved, and I have now got to a point where I am happy with my swim. I could get faster by putting in additional hours, but with maximum input I could maybe only see maybe 5 mins improvement (over a 9-10 hour race). Having a full time job means there’s only a certain amount of hours in a day I can train, so I have to use these hours as effectively as I can across the 3 sports.

“One of the most important sessions is sleep, if I don’t get enough, I don’t recover so can’t perform the next day, so I make sure I get 8 hours a night.”

Preparation is obviously a key part of success. What is your training regime?

The training regime is not for one that favours their free time, as usually I clock up around 22 hours of training a week. Mid-week I have a couple of swim squads, track running, a short and middle distance run, then a short and middle distance bike. The weekend I clock up the long miles, with a long swim in a nearby lake, short bike (around 40 miles) followed by my long run (up to about 23miles) on Saturday, with a long bike (up to 125miles) followed by a short run on Sunday. I always take Friday off (freedom!), and at the advice of Mike have started putting Pilates into my week too. One of the most important sessions is sleep, if I don’t get enough, I don’t recover so can’t perform the next day, so I make sure I get 8 hours a night.

Mike (Technique’s owner) has told me that you are ‘really into the detail’. How does this attention to detail help you?

I love the details; gear, tech, everything! I put a stupid amount of time into making sure I am as fast as possible, I might as well put some time into making sure my gear, and race plan is also as good as it can be. Another thing is it simply reduces stress on what can be a stressful day. By having practised my transitions, by trusting in my gear, everything should go smoothly on the day. One of the more detail orientated changes I made to my bike was taking off the normal grip tape, and replacing this with heat shrink fishing rod grip tape. This ever so slightly improves the aerodynamics; every second counts!

You came in 2nd in your age group at the Bolton Ironman, and 14th overall, which is amazing! What went well in this race?

Thanks! It was good to see the training pay off. I had a good swim for me, which set me up well for the bike. As I was settling in though, my whole rear brake fell off, and was swinging by its cable (I should have been more focussed checking this detail!). Whilst this wasn’t a high point of the race, I remained calm, didn’t panic, and figured out how to fix this with minimal tools. It ended up costing me slightly under 10 minutes, and 50 or so people passed me. A highlight was I managed to stay in control, as it certainly could have cost me a lot more. My nutrition strategy went well; I stayed on top of my hydration, food and salts, and never had a low point in energy. The main highlight was how I raced; I always kept it under control, and didn’t get caught up in the hype of the race so raced on my own terms.

Are there times when you think “Why am I doing this’?

100%! It is a big time commitment, which at times means sacrificing seeing friends and being out having fun. A lot of the sessions I enjoy; I like being outside, exercising, being fit and active. When it is the 3rd session of the day though, I’m tired, it’s raining, and I really don’t want to be out running, I just have to if I want to perform. Racing, seeing my training pay off, and crossing the finish line beaming ear to ear; it makes the sacrifice worth it.

“Go out on whatever you have, see if you like it (I’m sure you will), and have fun”.

What’s your advice for someone just starting out with triathlons?

The first step is finding a race and signing up. I always like to have something on the calendar, it gives me something to be held accountable to so I do get out there and do the training. Whilst racing can seem daunting, it is always an amazing atmosphere, there will always a number of first timers, and everyone is out there on the same course equally deserving that medal. I do have a nice bike, but the reality is you don’t need one. Go out on whatever you have, see if you like it (I’m sure you will), and have fun. This isn’t my job, it’s a hobby, and I enjoy it. If you aren’t having a laugh, crossing the line being proud of your achievement, what is the point?

How has physio (with Technique 😀) helped you with your training?

It has saved me! My body would be a bit of a wreck without Mike and the Technique team, but even more so, my head space wouldn’t be the same without them. I met Mike earlier this year when I was training for a marathon. I hadn’t done any running for a while, and stupidly went from zero to maximum mileage in the space of a week, and my ankle said no! I thought I wouldn’t be able to do the race, but speaking with Mike, and having him (rather painfully) work into my calves, I slowly built my training up. When my ankle would become painful again, together we would decide to trim back my training, and take it on a week by week case. At times I wanted to cancel my race, but Mike gave me the confidence that it would get better, my training will start paying off, and I could perform. I ended up getting a personal best, and qualifying into the London Marathon, among some other races for next year. When I am doing the volume of training I do, issues are bound to happen. Having someone to firstly work into the issues is key, but chatting through the issue, learning it isn’t the end of the world, I can still train, and just alter some details; this is the main benefit for me. With the help from Mike and the Technique team, I can get to the start line of the race confident my body is healthy, and I have put in all I can to perform on the day.

We will wish Will all the best in Hawaii and will be following his progress closely.

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