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The right way to qualify for Kona

SuuntoTri — 10 October 2016

Sam Gyde competed in his seventh Kona Ironman this year and has won his age group three times. On Saturday he finished a solid third in his M40-44 age group. The 41-year-old Belgian says getting to Kona is all about having the right perspective.

Sam Gyde had no background in endurance sports before he started triathlon when he was 27. Until then, he couldn’t even swim. He completed his first Ironman in 2007, at age 32.

Since, he has competed all over the world, and won his age group at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii three times. This year, he achieved his fastest time ever (08h42m) at the Ironman Austria-Karnten.

After competing at Kona seven times, he’s well qualified to explain how to get there. He says if you have “endurance genes” it’s fully possible for busy people with families and jobs to qualify. But you have to play it smart.

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Slow and steady

Long distance triathlon is something you should build slowly. It’s important you build a very solid base and capitalise on that. It's really important to listen to your body, to track your data, to have a good coach who can be objective about your training. You could get to Kona in your first year of training, but I think in the long term it’s better to build slowly and progressively. It will help you to keep enjoying the sport.

Strength at home

The training required to qualify is intense, especially if you have to balance it with family and work. Having a balance in life and getting support from the people around you is important. You have to find mutual goals with your family; if all the sacrifices come from one side only, then it doesn’t work so well.

Don’t overdo it

My personal belief is many people overdo their training. You don’t need to train more than 20 hours a week. If you have a well-balanced training programme of around 15 hours a week, with some peak weeks, it’s enough. Volume is important, but don’t obsess about it. The right focus with the right intensity is much more important.

Focus on the right disciplines

Spend time on training whatever discipline will give the most gains. Sometimes it really pays off to focus on the things you don’t like. And some things are time consuming and offer little gains. For example, I’m a weak swimmer and it takes lots of time to go to a swimming pool.  You have to ask whether investing all of that time is worth it. These are decisions to be smart about.

Work with a coach

It’s important to have a coach who can look at things from a distance. If you’re slacking or if something happens in life and disrupts your training, a coach will stop you from panicking, and will find a work around. If things are going really well, and you have plenty of time to train, a coach will help you to hold back to avoid going into overdrive.

Go with your strengths

To choose a race to qualify at, follow your strengths. If you know you’ll lose a lot of time swimming in choppy, open water, then don’t choose a race with an ocean swim. If you’re a strong biker, go for a more challenging bike race. If you cope well with the heat, then choose a race that matches. Focus on your own strengths.

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Pick the right race

The number of qualifying slots of a race is proportionate to the number of starters. There are some races with a lot more slots than others. There are races with a very limited number of slots that are very competitive. In the US, qualifying is usually less competitive than Europe. And races early in the year are usually less competitive, but it means you have to train during winter.

Qualifying is harder for some

For some people, and some age groups, it’s very hard to qualify. It’s especially difficult for women to qualify since there are less women competing in Ironman races. Usually that means there’s only one slot available for each age group. With some male age groups there are a lot of slots. If you finish second, third or fourth, you often still qualify. Whereas, as a woman, even if you come second, you won’t.

Don’t be fooled

People look at the history of qualifications to find out what the times were for a race in the previous years, but a race with a slow qualification time this year might have a very fast qualification time next year. The best bet is to look at your own strengths and weaknesses and select a race accordingly.

Focus on one race

For ordinary working people, it’s hard to combine different races in one year with normal job and family commitments. If you find yourself in this category, the best bet is to work on your base and focus on one peak qualification race. If it works out, great, if it doesn’t, try again next year. In my first two Ironman races I failed to qualify by 30 seconds.

Click here for more information about how to qualify for the Kona Ironman.

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