We head to New York City today on this edition of The Kona Edge. Stephen Day shares his journey from the Big Apple to the Big Island with Brad Brown. We learn about his struggle to overcome inconsistency brought on by under-recovering from his training. Stephen also chats about becoming comfortable with the technical aspects of the sport and getting caught up in the gadgetry. We discover how his patience rewarded him for his efforts and how he feels about securing a Kona spot on his first Ironman attempt.
BRAD BROWN: We head to the United States now and we join up with a pretty decent athlete who has a fascinating story and I’m keen to share it today on the podcast. Steve Dey joins us. Steve welcome onto The Kona Edge.
STEVE DEY: Pleasure.
BRAD BROWN: Steve we were just chatting off-air and I saw when we booked the appointment that you live in New York so I was just presuming that you were American but you don’t have an American accent. You’re British originally. You’ve been living in the big apple for close on 7 years now. I don’t associate a big city like New York with triathlon but there’s a pretty strong triathlon scene there, isn’t it.
STEVE DEY: That’s right Brad. I came originally from Yorkshire via London and then arrived in US in 2009 but you’re right. There’s a very vibrant tri-scene. Just off the top of my head there’s probably 5 or 6 pretty good, pretty large, pretty competitive and social tri-scene. So the scene is pretty good. Everyone knows everyone, to be honest.
BRAD BROWN: That’s amazing.
STEVE DEY: Yea, it’s a good place to train to be honest.
Training in the Big Apple
BRAD BROWN: I love that. You would think for someone who doesn’t, me personally, I live in Cape Town which is probably a big city but we live in the suburbs. We’ve got amazing places to train but I think for a lot of the people they think big city like New York and they think gee, that must be terrible, there’s nowhere to train. But I guess it’s what you make of it.
STEVE DEY: Yes. I’d say it’s pretty good. If you can get into the park in the morning, as we were saying off-line, it’s pretty busy and then on the weekends you can go over the George Washington bridge and there’s some very good cycling. Very busy kind of cycle routes on the 9W so it’s surprisingly good.
The swim is less so good, it’s not easy to get pool time. That’s probably the most challenging piece of trying to train in the city. But the biking and the running is pretty good.
BRAD BROWN: I was going to say there’s a very big running scene in New York.
STEVE DEY: Yes, there are just so many running teams just kind of based around the park, kind of virtual teams really and some pretty big runs. It’s very, very competitive. We have a lot of east Africans that live up in West Chester and up in the Bronx so yes, we have a lot of the 10km in the park and they’re in 28/29 minutes so they’re very quick, very quick indeed.
BRAD BROWN: And let’s not forget there’s that little marathon that happens once a year in November too.
STEVE DEY: Indeed, yes. Now the running scene is, I mean the tri-scene is pretty good, but the running scene is exceptional for sure.
BRAD BROWN: You’re originally a runner. You didn’t start out as a triathlete when you moved to the big apple. Were you out and out a runner and only took on triathlon then or was triathlon on your radar before you moved to New York?
STEVE DEY: Not really – I’m trying to think as we were chatting offline, I think I did a sprint with my wife out in Mont Aux which is on Long Island but I was predominantly a runner. I wasn’t really training particularly hard and I think I was getting a little bored with it and I just picked up a lot of injuries which is why I started, before I moved over I started doing a bit of mountain biking, because I had an Achilles and planta fasciitis combination for at least two to two-and-a-half years so that kind of took me out of running for a while. So I was looking for something new and tri seemed interesting so I just kind of happened to fall into that scene.
BRAD BROWN: We’ll dig into that in a bit more detail now, but as a runner were you any good, were you pretty competitive?
STEVE DEY: Yes I was pretty good. You know I was sub 15 for 5km on the track so I was pretty decent. I wasn’t really a distance runner. My preference was kind of 800m and 1500m. I trained with some very, very good runners when I was younger. I ran for the county, I did about 3:55 for 1500. So I was pretty decent but there were still people quicker than I was, for sure.
BRAD BROWN: It’s a big step up from a 1500 to an Ironman. I mean those are almost total opposite ends of the scale.
Learn the technical aspects of Ironman
STEVE DEY: Yes completely. As I say in 2009 I did the sprint and in 2010 I thought this is fun. So I think I did a sprint, an Olympic and a half in the same year. But there’s no way I would even at that point contemplated doing an Ironman. I’m sorry, it’s a stupid distance to be honest. No interest whatsoever and then in 2012 I did, 2011 and 2012, I did a few more halves and then took the plunge to do Lake Placid in 2013.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about it being a stupid distance and for a lot of us we go into this thing where I think ignorance is bliss where you go oh, that looks good and you pay the registration fee. You don’t actually really think about what you’re doing. I was like that. I’d never done a triathlon before I entered an Ironman and for you obviously it was the other way around. You built up slow to it. Do you think that’s the better way to go, sometimes just jump in and see how you go?
STEVE DEY: I have my own view. I have helped a few people and my advice would have been don’t jump into Ironman. Just build up and get a feel for the sport. Learn the technical aspects of it and then slowly build up because being out for 10 hours plus
and obviously the endurance part of it. So I certainly wouldn’t recommend what you did Brad, that’s for sure.
BRAD BROWN: There’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity.
STEVE DEY: Very fine, yes for sure.
BRAD BROWN: I’ve definitely crossed it a few times I can tell you that much. Steve for you, having that slowish build up do you think it’s, where you said you came from a running background where you’re getting quite bored. Do you think that’s really sparked your interest in the sport and slowly introduced you to it over time?
Getting hooked on gadgets to help your Ironman training
STEVE DEY: Yes definitely. You know hindsight’s great and I really wish I’d found triathlon at a much younger age. You know I still love running. I think it’s probably still my favorite sport. You know it’s just so simple. You can throw in a pair of sneakers and trainers and just head out the door. Just in terms of simplicity I think it’s great. In terms of watching the sport, I still love to watch athletics and track and field. But you know after a while it becomes same old, same old so I was just looking to do something new and I just love all the technical aspects of the triathlon and the data and the equipment. I was one of those that said I will never fall into the trap of buying the next gadget but of course pretty quickly you do. I’m just fascinated by it – a big student to the school, albeit a little late to the party.
BRAD BROWN: What’s the one gadget that you think has just absolutely revolutionized what you do?
STEVE DEY: A power meter for me, definitely.
almost cheating. I think it just enables you to kind of balance your efforts. Particularly steady power will always lead to a much stronger run so a power meter which I think I first bought in 2013.
BRAD BROWN: Would you really suggest to someone if they’re even half serious about the sport, to get themselves one?
BRAD BROWN: Steve, you talk of the gadgets. Is there one thing that you’ve bought that you think has really just changed things?
STEVE DEY: Yes sure. The power meter which I bought in 2013 was the one gadget which added a different dimension to my training for sure. Before I’d gone with heart rate and perceived exertion but in 2013 I took the plunge and bought the power meter. I just kind of really focused on the training. I spend a lot of time on the trainer and it just means that you, provided you do the training that’s been set, there’s no waste of time but also mainly on race day it pays real dividends. It’s kind of cheating really. Just being able to watch that number and keep the balance stiffer and flatten that course as they say, I think is super helpful particularly on a hillier course, I know all of them that I’ve been on so far have been pretty hilly, so definitely the power meter for me.
BRAD BROWN: Do you reckon anyone who’s half serious about the sport should get one?
STEVE DEY: I think ultimately my advice would be yes. Certainly if you’re new to the sport I’d probably say no. I think dialing in your sense of perceived exertion and just understanding heart rate is probably more important. I mean ultimately on race day you’re using all 3, for sure. So I’d say for a beginner probably not, but for someone who’s more experienced and looking to really compete, then absolutely. I mean they’re not cheap but certainly a worthwhile investment for sure.
BRAD BROWN: You make a very important point there too about the perceived exertion and that’s one thing a lot of triathletes when they first start out if they do get caught up in all the gadgetry and the power meters, they almost forget what it feels like from a natural perspective within your body and that sometimes, you really do want to learn that, because there will be times where your gear might fail you on race day and if you don’t know how you’re feeling, you’re almost dead in the water, essentially.
STEVE DEY: Yes I’ve done that myself as well. You have a number in your head and you stick to that number when naturally your body’s telling you something else and if your body’s telling you something else then it’s time to reduce the power and reduce the speed for sure. I’ll give you an example. On a hot day you just not going to hit the same power numbers. So if you go in thinking X watts is where you need to be but it’s super-hot and windy, like Kona, you’re going to be walking. So I think just understanding all 3, particularly perceived exertion and the heart rate and using power is where you should also want to be.
BRAD BROWN: For you, numbers wise, what are you chasing now? What are you really pushing towards, what are the goals?
STEVE DEY: You mean in terms of what do I ride on an Ironman?
BRAD BROWN: Yes, pretty much power output that you would be pushing the numbers you’re pushing in training as hard as you can and then obviously the numbers on race day.
STEVE DEY: I took on a new coach this year and we never tested for FTP, functional power. We just never did it. He’s experienced enough to, I guess, just look at the numbers and look at the training that he sets me and be guided by that. That said, come race day, like in Lake Placid my goal was 230 watts and in Kona my goal was 220 watts. Again, just factoring in that additional heat and wind and just the general conditions. So I’m not the heaviest, weighing around 156 or 70kg on race day so those are the numbers that I go with.
BRAD BROWN: Steve, in the last year what’s been your biggest struggle? What’s been your biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
Overcoming the consistency hurdle
STEVE DEY: I think consistency. I probably piqued a little bit too soon in 2013. So my first Ironman I qualified for Kona within the first year. But then I had just 2 bad years. In 2014 I DNF’d, I didn’t finish the classic with hypothermia and I just seemed to have no consistency at all. That followed into 2015 where I perhaps over trained a little bit. Again had no consistency, had a lot of hip tightness and injuries to contend with. So 2016 I just wanted to be healthy and just discover some consistency and that’s what my new coach brought me to be honest. Day in day out, nothing crazy, crazy hard, not many rest days actually or complete rest days but a lot of easier sessions built into an ongoing schedule. So that was my biggest goal to be honest. Just to be consistent and ultimately that pays dividends at the end.
BRAD BROWN: Consistency is really underrated isn’t it? I’m sitting in the same boat at the moment where all of sudden I’ve had, for 2 months already, have been running consistently and that’s amazing like you say it’s not necessarily pushing hard or doing massive volume it’s just doing it and you end up building on that. It’s incredible what can happen.
STEVE DEY: Yes, it’s huge. I don’t do crazy hours at all. Over the winter I was probably averaging maybe 11 or 12 hours a week. And then in the summer, even in the biggest weeks I don’t think I’m doing more than kind of 70 hours a week which sounds a lot but it’s not compared to what other people do. But it was day in, day out. I was one of those guys, particularly as I’m 46 at the end of this month where it was kind of drilled into me that I need to take a day off every week and every 4th week would be recovery week. My coach just had a completely different approach to that. He just built in easier recovery sessions within my overall training schedule and I literally barely missed a day in the whole of 2016 that wasn’t planned.
And particularly on the running, coming from a running background I was a little perhaps arrogant thinking no one can tell me anything about running and he just kept it so simple. We probably run 5 or 6 days every week just day in day out, nothing crazy just lots of steady zone 2 and tempo work. Just really simple but just a lot of shorter, more frequent running and that was a huge improvement for me in 2016. I always felt that on the round particularly, on the long course before, given my pretty decent running background but I think just finding that consistency helped bring that out on race day.
BRAD BROWN: Steve you talk about those 2 years where you struggled and the inconsistency there. What brought about that inconsistency? Was it injury, was it illness?
Over trained or under recovered?
STEVE DEY: I think again, it was injury basically, and a bit of illness as well really. Just not recovering. I wouldn’t say I was really over-trained but I was more under-recovered and my tendency is just to go hard. I think that goes back to my track marine days, I think. Where we just went hard all the time and I still enjoy going really hard, either running or biking. So my coach saved me from myself really and just slowed me down so that the easy days were easier as opposed to getting in that grey zone 3, neither here nor there pace when you don’t recover but there’s no adhoctation either. So yes, consistency is huge. Far better to be consistent all year than not do a lot over the winter and then just have some massive months. Certainly for me that kind of far level approach was more beneficial.
BRAD BROWN: I could not agree more and you’re the first person that I’ve spoken to that’s really articulated the under-recovery as opposed to over-training and I think that’s something a lot of triathletes miss and I’m guilty of that because I had that exact thing happen to me this year where it was because of injury and it’s almost once you’ve done a few of these things you become mentally tougher. You don’t always have to do so much training to do one of these things because you’re mentally there. But what that does is it pushes your body and then it breaks down again and you get sick. And it’s just stop start, stop start and before you know it, its race day and you’re not getting the results you want but that’s exactly why.
Consistency builds strength
STEVE DEY: Yes exactly. I’m not inhuman, I did get sick but it would be the odd cold and it would last for a day and then I’d be back on it. Whereas before I would’ve probably just pushed through it and said well you know I’ve got a cold but it’s not in my legs. Instead of doing 12 miles I’ll run 8 miles instead. Whereas the first sign of illness now my coach says you’re doing nothing for 2 days. And I listen to him. I have a huge respect for what he says and I feel quite accountable to him so I listen to his advice, take the 2 days off and then I’m straight back on it 2 days later.
BRAD BROWN: And the truth of the matter is you’re not going to lose any fitness in 2 days. Long term you’re better off taking those 2 days off.
STEVE DEY: Exactly and it doesn’t stop me feeling basically quite frustrated and thinking you know, everyone else is training, I should be training. Particularly if in those 2 days you were meant to have a pretty big set. But again my coach always points out just go back to your training. Look at what you’ve done. Look at that consistency and as I say at the end of the day, 2016 for me was just incredibly strong as a result of that.
BRAD BROWN: And that’s funnily enough, we’ve been doing these podcasts for just over a year now and that’s the one thing that comes up time and time and time again is consistency trumps all. So I’m glad we’re getting it from you too. One thing you said to me a short while ago is that you wish you’d got into the sport sooner. Tell me a bit about the thinking about that. Do you think you could’ve performed better, you could’ve done more? What’s the reasoning for that statement?
STEVE DEY: Yes you always wonder how good you could have been. I’m 45/46 now so the battle is not to slow down rather than keep improving. Although I do, what’s great about the sport is that you can’t keep improving. The older you get, you just keep banking that endurance. Even though I was a track runner, it’s still an endurance sport and I’ve been doing that since I was 9 years old so I’ve obviously got a huge base in there. So yes, you always wonder how good you could have been. I don’t recover anywhere near as well as what I used to when I was running a lot. So had I been doing this in my late 20’s and 30’s, it’s just a question of how good could I have been. I was effectively an adult on-set swimmer, my first triathlon I think I did half of it in breaststroke and half of it in freestyle so certainly those years could have been spent learning how to swim properly. So they’re the reasons why I wish I had started earlier and just because I love the sport more than anything.
BRAD BROWN: What’s been your biggest achievement? What are you most proud of in your triathlon career?
STEVE DEY: Probably my 2 Ironman’s in 2016 actually. I would say my qualifying at Lake Placid. I won my age group I was 6th overall and then going to Kona this year. I used the phrase before; it was kind of like my best, worst race. I felt awful. From mile 80 on the bike onwards I just felt awful. I wanted to quit about five thousand times but you just keep going and I just kind of proved that mentally I can just keep doing that. I’m not saying that’s a good thing but I think that’s what I’m probably most proud of.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about digging ourselves out of those holes because everyone goes through patches on race day where they question their sanity and they ask themselves why am I here? And by the sounds of it you had a few of those moments on the Big Island in 2016. What do you do to dig yourself out of a place like that where your mind is just going ‘you know what I don’t want to do, this sucks and I want to go home’?
STEVE DEY: I guess two things. One is, I’m very competitive as far as sport is concerned. I don’t like to lose. I’d set myself a goal of finishing top ten in my age group. I didn’t know whether I was top ten but that kind of drove me on in the moment and how I forced myself. I find a lot of people like the more positive mantras you know of looking back at all the training you’ve done, all the self-talk of ‘you know you can do it’. I go the opposite way of, this is going to sound a bit strange but I like the self-abuse. Having a word with yourself, you know man up that type of thing perhaps with some more thoughtful language. That’s kind of the way I go on race day.
BRAD BROWN: That’s awesome. As far as making the step up to a full Ironman you mentioned that you built up slowly towards it. Was it daunting once you’d done a couple of halves, was it still as daunting as it is for most of us or had you done the work and went you know what I’m ready. Now is the time, I’m going to do this thing?
STEVE DEY: You know I wasn’t really nervous about it to be honest when I think back. When I look back there were a few of us who all signed up at the same time so I think that really helped as well. We’d done a lot of the long rides together so I was confident of competing. I had no idea how I would do. I had a time in my mind. You know Lake Placid is a slow course but I still thought well maybe I can do this on the swim; I can do this on the bike and maybe I can do this on the run but I wasn’t really nervous to be honest. I think as long you’ve put in some, 5 or 6 big weeks then as long as you execute on the day and don’t do anything stupid; then as I say personally I wasn’t particularly nervous, to be honest.
BRAD BROWN: Did you go into that first one hoping to qualify for Kona or was the goal just not to die?
Nailing your Kona spot first time
STEVE DEY: Well you know obviously not to die, I had thought about it but what was obviously immediately aware to me when I started to talk to people that were very good athletes, is the step up is really big from a half to full because it’s not about necessarily fitness. Well it is about fitness but there are so many other things you have to get right. You know you have to get your pacing really nailed down. You have to really nail down your nutrition as well. You need a bit of luck and I think that’s the big difference when you make the move up. So I kind of thought well If I do all of those things then maybe I’ll grab a spot and as it happened I took the very last spot, so a bit of luck as it were but yes I was very excited to do it first time round that’s for sure.
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you say that too where you talk about the step up from a half to a full and speed isn’t the limiting factor. As you say it’s a whole bunch of other things and if you’ve been able to string that together, in golf they call that course management, and knowing exactly how it all pieces together that is the key to being good at this thing.
STEVE DEY: Yes absolutely. Patience is king for sure and when I was out on the course this year in Lake Placid I remember going round the second lap and there was this guy, I’d say maybe in his twenties and I saw this guy absolutely hammering one of the hills and I just said to him look just be patient, just kind of slow down and do yourself some favors. He just completely ignored me and I saw him walking the first loop of the run course so you just got to be so patient in an Ironman. It’s got to feel pretty easy on the bike. Any time that you feel like you’re working really hard on the bike then you just got to slow down and it takes time to learn that for sure. It’s very different to the half where you feel like you’re working all the time.
BRAD BROWN: What’s been the biggest life lesson Ironman has taught you?
Patience brings reward
STEVE DEY: I’m not sure I’ve thought about it so deeply but probably patience and hard work pays off. If you want to draw comparisons with life in general I would say patience and hard work. And ultimately if you work hard and you’re consistent and you’re patient then the reward will be there.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about life in general and getting that balance right and the juggle and coping with that juggle of work and family and getting the training in. You said that you’re not the biggest of mileage and hours type of guy but you still need to do the work in order to compete so how do you get that balance right? What’s the key and the secret to it?
STEVE DEY: I’m pretty lucky. I work from home a lot so I moved over with, our work is a tax and accounting firm so I work from home a lot. That means I can train in the morning, work all day, you know get my head down but then finish relatively early, I’m not wasting two hours a day commuting. And those are the two hours I will go out and train. So I’m very lucky with that. We’re married but have no children so again, we don’t have that burden either. And my wife is not only understanding but she’s also a pretty fine sports woman as well and very interested in the sport so she’s very supportive. But at the same time I’m not one of these people who just want to train and do nothing. We have a healthy and active social life as well and a lot of friends so I do like to get that balance which is why I don’t want to do the crazy hours. I don’t want to do 25 hours a week, I don’t want to be wrecked you know every week from training. So I’m able to find the balance because I work from home most of the time. I have to travel from time to time but you know largely I’m home based and I’ve got a very supportive wife as well.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant. Steve what do you still want to achieve in the sport?
Pushing to improve your performance
STEVE DEY: I just want to keep improving to be honest. As I say if I was younger I’d have perhaps bigger goals but ultimately the clock is ticking as it were. I want to work at my swim because my swim is still pretty crap to be honest. I think I have more to do, more to come on the bike. My runs are still pretty strong. I want to run a really quick Ironman marathon. I’d like to get close to 3 hours on a flatter course if I could. They are my goals really, just to keep on improving. I’m kind of less bothered by times other than as I say I’d like to get close to 3 hours on the Ironman marathon. I want to go back to Kona. I’m certainly not going back in 2017. I’ve taken a decision if I’m doing an Ironman I’m going to do one late enough that qualifies for 2018. If I go to Kona I’d like to go top ten.
BRAD BROWN: I guess that’s one of the positives and one of the negatives of the sport. There’s always room for improvement isn’t there? You never quite have a perfect race.
STEVE DEY: Absolutely, absolutely. I think Lake Placid was probably, there was nothing in that race that I think I could have done better. I could probably have done a little quicker on the run. I was pretty conservative towards the end at aid stations etc. but that was a very good race for me. I consider as far as Kona is concerned I’m sure I can go quicker and finish stronger and I learnt a lot this year for sure.
BRAD BROWN: If you could go back and start your career over knowing what you know now, what would you do differently? What would you tell yourself to do?
STEVE DEY: I’d probably invest a little more time in my swim. I would have taken on a coach much earlier. I’ve been doing the sport for six years so it’s hardly a long career but I think I would have taken a coach much earlier in my career for sure, someone that can then guide me. I think because I came from a sporting background I made the mistake of thinking well you know I’ll just replicá what I did with my running training, I’ll do the same for swimming and biking. It just doesn’t work that way at all. You’ve got to be able to find the balance between the three sports. Swimming is super technical. You know I could swim four times a day and it probably wouldn’t add that much until I take the time out and I work on that technique. Biking probably has a few comparisons. The more you bike the stronger you’ll get but definitely I think a coach for sure.
BRAD BROWN: Well I think that’s a great place to leave it. I look forward to getting you back on to chat a little bit about your swim but we’ll save that for another day. Thanks for your time today Steve.
STEVE DEY: Good. All right, cheers Brad.
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