On today’s episode of The Kona Edge, Brad Brown chats to Tom Ward who has risen up to Ironman World Championship ranks in a very short time. Tom takes us through the journey of his Ironman training to what his aspirations were and how he was able to race the Ironman World Championships on the big island of Kona, Hawaii.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge, we head to Tottenham in England and it’s a great pleasure to welcome Tom Ward onto the show, Tom, welcome, nice to catch up.
TOM WARD: Good morning Brad.
BRAD BROWN: Tom, it’s good to have you on, you’ve recently returned from your first Ironman World Championships Kona experience and we’re going to delve deep into that today and first up, how’s the body feeling after a few weeks post Ironman World Championships?
TOM WARD: Yeah, I’m still feeling pretty tired Brad, perhaps a bit more tired than expected, still quite tired.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s take a good few steps back and let’s delve into how you got started in triathlon and where your journey into the sport began. Growing up, were you an active kid, I mean were you running and biking as a kid or did this start later in life?
TOM WARD: The running and biking started later in life for me Brad. My background, I was a field hockey player for nearly 20 years, I played top level club hockey in the UK from the age of 15 through to my retirement at 35. Interspersed in my hockey I did the odd running race because I was reasonably fit and I’d swim a little in my early teens, but nothing serious.
So, when I retired from club hockey, I was perhaps a little bit too late, people that may have played with me in the last few years would probably say, but when I retired from club hockey, my step father in law had been pestering me to take part in either a marathon or some sort of triathlon for years and I’d promised him that when I retired I would do that and as I made the decision to retire, he reminded me of that promise and asked me what it was that I was going to do and I said, well, I’ve done a bit of mountain biking, I can run a bit, I’ve swum in the past, why don’t we do a triathlon, it seems logical.
Being overly confident that I am, and typical male bravado I said, he said which one do you want to do, and I said, which is the hardest and said, well, an Ironman. I said that sounds like a good idea, let’s have a crack at those, what’s the hardest Ironman. He said, Lanzarote, I said fine, let’s do that then. We literally made the decision like that, in a matter of minutes, both of us signed up that week, this is back in 2011 and at that point I’d never ridden a road bike.
Ironman Training – The key to getting the Kona Edge
So, back in 2011 I made that impulsive decision, which I tend to do, signed up and that’s where it all started.
BRAD BROWN: How long before the race did you sign up, how much time did you have to prepare for that one?
TOM WARD: Well, we gave ourselves plenty of time, we signed up in the June of 2011, the race was in May of 2012, so I had 11 months basically from deciding that I fancied having a go, to being on the start line.
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting that that’s the way it happened. You had not done a triathlon, whether it be a sprint or Olympic distance in the build up to that. Obviously you came from a field hockey background, where you were pretty competitive, did you decide you were going to go do that Ironman in Lanzarote just to make up the numbers or in the back of your head did you go, you know what, I want to smash this thing?
TOM WARD: Okay, I guess when you do your first Ironman, especially if you’ve never done any endurance sports, like I hadn’t run a marathon before I turned up at Ironman Lanzarote. So Ironman Lanzarote was my first marathon as well and so you know, Ironman is a very intimidating thing, if you haven’t got a background in that sport and the goal was always to finish, always to finish. I did know that I was capable of doing something reasonably respectable on the day if I had a good day and I raced sensibly. I knew I could swim reasonably well and I would be sort of competitive in the swim. The bike was probably my weakest area and I knew that I could run again reasonably competitively. In the back of my mind, despite finishing being my goal, yes, I did have an idea that I would like to do reasonably well, it wasn’t just about swim/bike/walk, it was about going round and doing something respectable for myself.
Are you really prepared for your first Ironman?
BRAD BROWN: Was it harder than you thought it was going to be? Signing up for your first one, I think we’re all in that boat, I was exactly the same, I was like yeah, I’m going to do a triathlon, why not do an Ironman, was it as hard as you thought it was going to be, or was it easier than you thought it was going to be?
TOM WARD: Honestly Brad, I think it was harder. I say to people, I wasn’t really able to prepare myself. I knew I’d probably, I kind of knew how hard it would be, but I guess the last 10 miles of the run, it’s the psychological fatigue and the psychological challenge that you face at the end of an Ironman which is very difficult to prepare for. Again, it’s very hard in training to take yourself to a place where you experience that and again, having never done any endurance sport myself, I perhaps wasn’t ready for that. I did cope with it fine, but that was a bit of a shock. I found that sensation of literally every part of your body telling you to stop and sit down and almost sleep, as it were, was something I hadn’t perhaps expected and it hit me quite hard in the last 10 miles, but I battled through it and now I experience it more often.
The ironman bike was a lot easier than I expected, but that’s probably because I took it extremely easy on my first race because I was so nervous about, you get a lot of nervousness about blowing out on the run because you hear so many horror stories, but yeah, I think all in all, that last 10 miles of the run was something that I hadn’t, deep down I had hoped it wouldn’t happen, I hadn’t really expected and people tell you, but you can never really know until you’ve experienced it.
BRAD BROWN: Tom, I speak to a lot of age groupers who come from one of the disciplines, before they headed into triathlon, so either they were a competitive road cyclist or a competitive runner, you didn’t. The sport you came from is very different to, particularly the endurance stuff. In a shorter burst, it’s high intensity, it’s one match, do you think that was to your advantage or disadvantage? Obviously you know what it’s like to go really hard for short periods, how do you factor that into what you’ve achieved?
TOM WARD: I wouldn’t say it was either a disadvantage or an advantage, I think the thing that, probably the advantage I gained was that I was lucky enough to play very high level hockey and over the years had been involved either playing for, or working alongside some very, very high level sports coaches and what that helped, what that did is it allowed me to coach myself. I’ve always coached myself and I’ve been able to apply all the coaching principles that I’ve learnt over the years to triathlon and that was probably the biggest advantage, but from a physiological point of view, I would say it was potentially a disadvantage because it’s interesting, in 2012, not long after I completed Ironman Lanzarote, I decided to carry on in the sport and went to the Gatorade Institute at Loughborough University for some fitness testing and the guy that tested me was a hockey player himself and knew I was a hockey player, but didn’t know I was a triathlete or I’d given up hockey to take up triathlon and the results came back and the report was extremely positive in terms of how fit I was for a hockey player. Unfortunately, obviously, my aspirations were to become a triathlete, so that was a little disappointing.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about the getting into the sport and I find it interesting too that you self-coach yourself, you’re one of the few age groupers that I’ve spoken to that’s done that, would you advise somebody, obviously you’ve got a bit of a background in sport and playing top level sport, would you advise someone who is aiming to get to the Ironman World Championships in Kona to go and seek help?
TOM WARD: It’s a very good question that Brad and one that I get asked a lot by athletes myself because obviously they know I’m self-coached and I do a little private coaching now. You can’t answer that question. I don’t want to dodge it, but I think it very much depends on the individual because, I asked my wife about this the other day because I sometimes find it difficult to understand why people do find it so hard to coach themselves and the way that she put it was, if you take it from a cooking point of view, some people you can give a set of ingredients to and they can go and make a wonderful meal, a wonderful dish, something fantastic. Some people do it because they’ve been taught how to do it, some people do it because they’ve just got an innate ability to be able to create something from the ingredients. Other people, like myself, from a cooking perspective, you could give me a load of ingredients and the best I could probably manage is to put it all in the liquidizer and turn it into a shake.
I think that that’s the same with something like triathlon. If you’re not capable of taking all of the ingredients, all of the elements and putting them together in a way that’s going to create an effective outcome for you, then you should look for a coach. If you’re finding that hard to do, or you really don’t know where to start, then finding somebody who can help you is definitely a good idea. However, there are a lot of people out there who have a really great performance coach and a really great sports mind and if you fall into that category, then I would say, be brave, you can coach yourself and sometimes, no disrespect to some coaches that are out there, but there are a lot of coaches out there and it can be kind of hard to find the right one, cause for me it was very difficult to know what I was looking for. As a hockey player. I knew exactly what to look for in a great coach, as a triathlete I had no idea, so I wouldn’t have known whether I was getting a good or a bad coach and as a hockey player again, I experienced playing for some world class coaches, but I experienced playing for some other coaches that were very highly qualified, that really couldn’t coach very well at all and I didn’t want to fall into that trap, so I decided that I would take the challenge on myself.
Going back to your question, I think it very much depends on the individual and where they’re coming from, from a conceptual understanding of sport and performance coaching.
BRAD BROWN: I think that pretty much sums things up for the entire sport as well. There’s no one size fits all, what works for you to get you to the Ironman World Championships in Kona is not going to work for someone else. As far as Kona itself, you’ve done your first Ironman now, when did you start looking into going, you know what, there’s a World Championships for this sport, I could possibly qualify, when did that seed get planted?
Ironman Race Strategy – How to get the Kona Edge
TOM WARD: After I did Ironman Lanzarote the first year, 2012, when I came home, the buzz of finishing that Ironman was unbelievable and I had never, I didn’t expect to feel the way I did after I had finished. I turned into the biggest triathlon shopper in the world for a week. I didn’t want to take my medal and my finisher T shirt off, and I wanted to continue to experience that. I entered Ironman UK 70.3 when I got home, which was just a few weeks later, raced there and I was lucky enough, cause it was a better distance for me, I was lucky enough to be able to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 World’s in Vegas that year.
So I went to race the Ironman 70.3 World’s and I guess at that point you kind of begin to think, if I’ve got here, I’ve got a chance, a slight chance of going to Hawaii. If I’m honest Brad, I’d planned to qualify for my 2016 season because I’d just gone up an age group, or I will go up an age group on the first of January, so I’d always thought that that would be a better way, it would give me more time to improve and it would generally, the higher age group, if you look at the times, the results, it tends to be a fraction slower and that would give me a better chance. So, I always had half an eye on that and I always felt I would be borderline, in terms of qualifying, so I also had half an eye on the legacy program. I was looking at those options.
I turned up to, I just wanted to race a lot, gain lots of experience, learn about myself as an athlete and practice refining what I was doing until my goal season and then give it a crack, but in 2014 I turned up at Ironman Wales, having had actually a very traumatic time personally in the buildup and not feeling ready at all and I just had one of those unusually good days. I had a fantastic day for me. The weather conditions were perfect for me and the whole thing played into my hands, I qualified completely unexpectedly. So, when I did qualify, it wasn’t something I was specifically aiming for then, no.
BRAD BROWN: So you messed it up, got it a season or so ahead of time, when did you realize, hang on a sec, I’ve done it and I can now go to Hawaii, talk to me about that feeling. Obviously if that was your goal and you were working towards it, but it wasn’t, it must have been a nice, pleasant surprise.
TOM WARD: Yeah, it was amazing. It was actually quite a difficult emotional experience to deal with because when I came off the bike in that race, that qualifying race, I was so far up the field, way, way further up the field than I had expected to be and my wife got very excited and that kind of rubbed off and I suddenly realized that, I guess at that point I realized that I could qualify and that was a real experience, running a whole marathon running that if you didn’t get it completely wrong, you were going to qualify. However, ironically, when I crossed the line and I knew that I had finished in a qualifying position, it was a little bit of mixed emotions for me because I’d already made a commitment that I wasn’t going to go to Hawaii until 2016 because of lots of personal reasons and I actually crossed the line that evening and went to dinner with no plans to go to the awards ceremony the next morning to collect my slot and take my place.
It was actually my mother and my wife that stepped in and decided that as I’d qualified outright and it was such a massive opportunity that I should take my place and they called me into a room and I was feeling fairly philosophical about it, all the time, but they called me into the bedroom and chatted to me and effectively told me that they had decided on my behalf, and you don’t argue with your mother and your wife, they decided on my behalf that I was going to take my slot and we went to the awards ceremony the next day and I accepted it. I was elated, I mean I went from fairly philosophical, pleased with myself, that I knew I had managed to achieve qualifying to then suddenly realizing that I was actually going to go and it was overwhelming.
BRAD BROWN: You had also made other commitments from the season building up to the Ironman World Championships in Kona for other races, Kona was added onto it, it wasn’t that that was going to be your goal race, am I right in saying that?
TOM WARD: Yeah, so for the season I raced, the Ironman World Championships in Kona, you’re right, cause I hadn’t planned to go and because I do like racing and I still wanted to learn a lot about myself as an athlete, I had made a lot of commitments to race this year, so 2015 and those commitments were already signed up and paid for. I had already signed up to race four races, Ironman Lanzarote in May, Staffordshire Ironman 70.3 and UK Ironman 70.3 in June and then Ironman Wales four weeks out from Hawaii, cause Ironman had offered some early registration, so I’d already signed up prior to racing Ironman Wales in 2014. Yeah, I was faced with an interesting year ahead. As I took my slot for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, I suddenly realized that I now had a 5th race, a third Ironman for 2015 and Ironman Kona was only going to be four weeks after Ironman Wales and I had made some commitments for other people.
Not losing momentum in the build-up to Ironman Kona
BRAD BROWN: And it didn’t end there because you ended up racing Ironman Wales and then you decided a week later you were going to do Ironman 70.3 Lanzarote as well, so it was a really busy buildup to the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
TOM WARD: Yeah, it was crazy and everybody told me I was mad and I did wonder myself a few times, but you know, I’d made commitments to other athletes who were racing Ironman Wales, people who were really good friends of mine and who had decided to sign up as a result of following my last few years as an athlete. One was a teacher from my previous school, one was a friend of mine I’d gone to school with and I really didn’t feel I wanted to let them down. I really felt like I wanted to honour that commitment we’d all made together to go and race Ironman Wales and I’d always intended that Hawaii was going to be about experience for me because I’d qualified so much earlier than expected and didn’t want to put myself under pressure, the pressure of putting a performance in, in Hawaii because I wanted to enjoy it. I had decided to stick with my agreement to race Wales, although tried to race sensibly. You’re right, I don’t know why, I got in the car the Monday morning after Ironman Wales and I got about halfway home and I turned round to my wife and I said, you know what, I feel all right. I wonder if I can get a last minute slot to Lanzarote 70.3 on Saturday.
In the car on the way home she sent a couple of emails for me, one to WTC, one to the owners of my race team out in Lanzarote to arrange to stay with them and I said, look, hopefully we’ll get a ‘no’ and I won’t go and they both came back and said, yes, you can race. I just thought, what the hell, let’s give it a go. I feel like I know my body well, I think, again, being self-coached allows you to make those decisions, because you learn a lot about who you are and what you’re like. I kind of knew the Lanzarote course, 70.3 course would suit me, the conditions would suit me, so I was confident I could back it up, so thought I’d go and give it a try, so I did. Six days after Ironman Wales I raced Lanz 70.3 and I was lucky enough to win my age group that day, so it made it a good decision and then yeah, 10 days later I flew out to Hawaii to prepare for theIronman World Championships in Kona.
BRAD BROWN: There’s lots of folklore around the Ironman World Championships in Kona and the experience of being on the big island, if I say the word ‘Kona’, what do you think?
TOM WARD: Just, it’s like Olympics isn’t it, I guess for a triathlete. I guess it’s a bit like Disneyland when you’re a kid. When you’re a kid you kind of dream about going to Disneyland, you heard about it, you’ve seen it on television, but it isn’t necessarily somewhere that you’re ever actually going to get to go to. It’s an aspiration, something that maybe, one day, hopefully will happen for you, but if not, you just enjoy thinking about what Disneyland is all about. I think, for me, that was what it was like. It was like finding out that I was going to go to Disneyland and when you say the word ‘Kona’, that’s what it’s like for me. It might sound a bit geeky to those endurance athletes who have been around a long time, but for me, yeah, coming into the sport, it was the ultimate, the pinnacle of the sport. As a hockey player, I never went to the Olympic Games, as a triathlete, going to the Ironman World Championships in Kona was like that and yeah, it’s just awesome and anybody considering it, anybody in any doubt as to whether it’s worth going, it is worth it and more, it was amazing.
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about touchdown. It’s one thing thinking about going to the Disneyland of triathlon, but what does it actually feel like when you’re there?
TOM WARD: It is as good as people think it’s going to be. You hear lots of mixed stories about Kona and I guess it’s not everybody’s cup of tea, but for me, I loved it. It is a bit overwhelming again, because I don’t have a background in endurance sports, I still get a little overwhelmed in a normal Ironman race and going to Kona is very overwhelming. You know that everybody is fast, everybody looks fast, so you know, it’s not like an Ironman, a normal Ironman that you enter where you do get quite a lot of mixtures of shapes and sizes, Kona, everybody is tanned and ripped, so everybody looks good and looks fast. There’s a lot of WTC bashing that goes on out there at the moment, it’s fair play to them, they do put on a good show and from the Saturday before the race, the buildup and the experience, the atmosphere is absolutely fabulous and it really does feel like being a professional athlete for a week. If you’ve never been a professional athlete, it must be what it feels like. Everything about the town is geared towards the athletes and it’s a wonderful experience and for the most part, everybody is so friendly and inviting and welcoming, it’s brilliant, I loved it.
BRAD BROWN: Tom, it’s interesting, you talk about the show because often with WTC and the Ironman races it is, it’s an experience. The race is there, but I think that’s what keeps people coming back. Around the Ironman World Championships in Kona, there’s lots of side shows, there’s no two ways about it. You mentioned what it’s like and the experience. Did you find it was difficult, and even though you were going to just experience the race, that’s what you were saying, but you probably wanted to perform to the best of your ability, did you find it was difficult to focus on the race with all the stuff that was going on on the periphery?
TOM WARD: Yes Brad, but because I’d made the decision and I was comfortable with the decision that I had made to not go out and put myself under pressure because I had gone out there with the explicit purpose of finishing and enjoying it. I wanted to enjoy all of the race, I wanted to be out on the bike and even when I was tired, not forget I was at theIronman World Championships in Kona and I was in this special place that 99% or 98% of triathletes never manage to get to. I was privileged to be there, so yes, it was difficult because there is a lot going on and I think, I am pleased with the decision I made. I desperately want to go back, don’t get me wrong and I want to go back and I want to race it properly and I want to roll the dice and test myself there against the world’s best because I feel like I can do better, but because I’d set myself the objective of finishing the race, it allowed me to relax a little bit more in the buildup and enjoy all of the other things that were going on and absorb them and take them in and go back with what was a wonderful experience and a memory of a wonderful week.
What is your Pre Ironman Race Routine?
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about what you do to get yourself into the zone, what do you do the night before a race, what do you do the morning of Kona to make sure that you’re ready to race?
TOM WARD: Okay, so, unfortunately for my wife, I have a habit of watching the same movie –
BRAD BROWN: Is it a good movie at least?
TOM WARD: I would say so, it’s my favourite movie, it’s a film called Warrior. It’s got Tom Hardy and Joel Edgerton in. On the face of it, it’s about UFC and cage fighting, but it’s actually not, it’s actually about brotherhood and family and love and it’s very inspiring and I’ve yet to watch it without shedding a tear at the end, despite having watched it maybe 15 times. I watch that the night before, which my wife doesn’t enjoy much, she tends to disappear and make dinner whilst I’m watching that and I do try to get myself into bed quite early because I find that if I don’t, I get a little anxious about my sleep and if I get into bed early, I feel relaxed and not so anxious about that.
Depending on where I’m racing, my race morning preparation is quite simple. I just get up with a couple of hours, 2-3 hours before the race, depending on whether I’ve got to travel down to race start, have some porridge, listen to a little bit of music and then just get myself dressed and slowly but surely, yeah, just buildup to the race. I don’t tend to over think it, I tend to try to relax, spend as much time as I can with my wife before the race starts, so I tend to go to the race start as late as I can, so I’m with her for as long as I can and then yeah, I guess off I go. I don’t tend to make too much of a big deal about it. I think that comes from years of perhaps preparing for big hockey matches week in and week out. I feel quite comfortable the night before and on the race morning.
BRAD BROWN: As far as playlist and the music goes, are you into something that relaxes you or are you into something that fires you up?
TOM WARD: I’m terribly into my 80’s camp disco. There’s a lot of 80’s music, a lot of Duran Duran and Cindi Lauper going on in the morning before a race.
BRAD BROWN: I love it and then talk to me about the experience of racing at the Ironman World Championships in Kona. It must feel incredible getting into that water for the swim, the pier, it’s like racing in paradise isn’t it?
TOM WARD: Yeah, I mean yeah, especially when you’re from the UK. When you’re from the UK and you can hardly put your feet in the water in most races because it’s so cold and it hurts, it’s wonderful. Again, the buildup to the race in the morning, again, fair play to WTC, it is so well organized at Kona, it really is. It’s a well-oiled machine and you never feel rushed or under pressure, you never feel like you don’t know what’s going on, they really are well organized, they look after you well and yeah, when you get into the water, what’s important I think is to, especially your first time at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, is to try to just look around you and think about where you are for a second and remember that this is the race that you’ve watched on the internet year after year after year and just take your time to absorb the fact that you are where everybody wants to be. Every other triathlete in the world is sitting at home watching that on the internet or on television and you’re lucky enough to be there and I think it’s easy to forget that and you’ve got to just take a moment to remember and that’s a lovely feeling. A little overwhelming and yeah, the sea is beautiful, the crowds are massive, the atmosphere is fantastic and it’s just a beautiful place to start a race.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me a little about your race. You mentioned the water in the UK and it’s difficult to put your feet in it in most races, what you’ve trained in, and it’s not just the water, but just weather conditions, very different in the UK to what you experienced in Hawaii. Did you struggle with the heat and the humidity, was that difficult to deal with?
TOM WARD: You’re probably asking the wrong person this question Brad because I love the heat. I hate the cold and I love being hot!
BRAD BROWN: You live in the wrong place Tom, I hate to break it to you!
TOM WARD: Absolutely, I totally live in the wrong place! I don’t know why I like the heat so much, but I do. I get ribbed at training because I always turn up to cycle training with the most ridiculous amount of clothes on and gloves and boot covers and all kinds of things. I invariably race in the UK in at least a base layer and a tri-suit, if not, a coat as well and at swimming training, if the water is not 30 degrees, I’m moaning. I do like the heat and the heat, yeah, it is notorious and people talk about it a lot and if you look at race reports from this year’s Hawaii, there’s a lot of talk about how hot it was on the run, but personally, I found it okay. When I raced in Vegas, it was much, much hotter and much more difficult to deal with. It was unmanageable the heat in Vegas. I’ve been hotter in Lanzarote and I found Kona was manageable. It is very hot and if you don’t like the heat it would be challenging, but I found it very manageable and in fact, I’d even add that I think I may be the only person in the history of Kona to have got a little bit chilly on the bike.
BRAD BROWN: I love that. Talk to me about the crowds and just the experience. We’ve mentioned the swim, the swim often is a very sort of solitary place to be, but when you get out of T1 and you’re heading out, same thing on the run out of T2, is it a case of almost pinching yourself that you go, I can’t believe I’m here?
TOM WARD: Yeah, definitely, I guess when you watch the race on the internet, the moment you really start to notice the race heating up is when everyone comes out of T1 onto their bikes. Comes off the carpet and round those little shikanes coming out of T1 onto the bike course and when I got to there, I think that’s when it really hit home, oh my God, I’m in Kona, I really am. I recognize this, I’ve watched people doing what I’m doing now, mounting their bike and the crowds, the noise really builds up, it’s a big crescendo and people are going crazy for you as you come out onto the bike course. That first 10 miles of the bike is wonderful, the crowds are fantastic, the atmosphere is absolutely buzzing, you go past Hot Corner, basically a couple of times, up Palani and yeah, it is amazing and it’s very easy to get very caught up in it and get a bit carried away.
BRAD BROWN: It’s probably very similar to do the same on the run, you mentioned in your first Ironman you struggled the last 10 miles, the last 10 miles in Kona must be pretty special and particularly the final stretch onto that carpet.
TOM WARD: Yeah, it is, it’s a little interesting actually. You say that Brad, because atmosphere-wise, the first 10-12 miles at Kona is one of the best parts because you run along a Ali’’i and back and that’s where all the hotels are, a lot of the merchandizing is along there and I found the crowd atmosphere really great going out there, all the way back to town and to Hot Corner and Palani but once you get to the top of Palani and you hit the Queen K and you head out towards the energy lab, that part of the run is actually quite tough going and people do talk about it and it’s unusually lonely because Kona is quite unique in that the run is effectively one lap. There aren’t many one lap races in the world and because of that, there are some sections where it is quite quiet and it can be quite tough.
There’s a lot more athletes around you, of course, because everybody is quick, but I did actually ask the question. I guess there’s lots of reasons why, but I do wonder why maybe the last, the run course isn’t in reverse because the last 10 miles along Ali’’i would be amazing. Having said that, as you come back along the Queen K, to the top of Palani, you can actually hear the crowd noise start to increase and then when you come down Palani towards Hot Corner and Paul Kaye is standing on the corner giving everybody a big shout out, which is awesome, you don’t get that in any other races really, a mile from home and you turn left at Hot Corner, back towards the drop down towards Ali’’i, the atmosphere then is incredible. The feeling is amazing and the last bit along Ali’’i, it’s hard not to get a little bit emotional because you can’t believe you’re there, you’ve just dreamt of being there for so many years.
BRAD BROWN: Everyone’s first Ironman finish is truly memorable, it doesn’t matter how hard that race is, you’ll never forget that first time, how would you compare the finish in Kona, your finish and how you felt compared to finishing your first one?
TOM WARD: The same, I feel pretty much the same every time Brad. I feel privileged to cross the line every time. An Ironman is so challenging. I think every time you put your toe on the start line, there’s always the chance you won’t finish. There’s always a chance you won’t finish the race, so I feel relieved and privileged every time I finish and lucky every single time I finish a race.
I would say, I don’t want to sound cliché’d or corny, genuinely, I feel overwhelmed every time I do finish and amazed that I’ve managed to achieve and so pleased that I am physically fit enough to do so. At the finish line in Kona, it was wonderful. The atmosphere is pumping, and I managed to spot my wife, which I haven’t managed at every race and I got the opportunity to stop for a moment and give her a kiss and a hug and just thank her for her support and then run across the line. Yeah, it is a great feeling, but they all are great, they’re all great.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned the feeling of wanting to go to Kona, like being a kid wanting to go to Disneyland, you’ve described what it was like when you arrived, did it live up to that expectation for you once it was done?
Does Ironman Kona live up to the hype?
TOM WARD: Once I’d finished, yeah, absolutely. I wasn’t disappointed with anything at all Brad, it was what I expected, I think it was better than I expected, the place was much better or much nicer than I expected, I had never been to that part of the world before. I’ve spent a lot of time in places like Spain and the Canary Islands and Pacific Islands like Hawaii, are completely different.
The island is beautiful, the people are fantastic, I do love the States generally and the way that you get treated in the States and Hawaii was just a step up again from that. There was nothing that I look back on and think, I wasn’t happy about that, it was everything I expected, amazing place to go.
BRAD BROWN: Tom for age groupers it’s tough to get the balance right and for many of them that’s probably one of the biggest things that they do struggle with, particularly getting the training balance, with work and personal life balance, how do you personally handle that? Something is going to take strain, how do you get that juggle right?
TOM WARD: I won’t say I’m lucky not to have children, don’t misunderstand me, but I don’t have children and that does mean it’s easier for me to train because it’s just myself and my wife, we don’t have pets, we don’t have children, so that helps cause I don’t have to worry about those commitments. When I worked for the bank I had to be very organized.
I used to commute on my bike, so my commute was 25 miles there, 25 miles back, so I just had to be organized. I’d take my clothes for the week in on a Monday, leave them at work and then cycle in the rest of the week etc. That was a good way of fitting lots of training in. You have to be able to be dynamic and adaptive, if the weather, cause obviously the UK, unfortunately the weather can affect things quite a lot, again, one of the benefits of being self-coached is that I didn’t have to fit a strict training regime and I had a conceptual understanding of what I should be achieving through the week. If I had to change a session, that was easy for me to do, so I was able to adapt my sessions to gain the benefits I wanted to around the weather and around work commitments. So that helped and is a benefit to being self-coached, there’s no doubt about that.
Being organized and having an understanding of what you’re trying to achieve does help quite a bit, but you definitely have to face up to the fact and I was asked this week by an athlete, what is the commitment like and I think it’s important to be honest with yourself and honest with other people who ask you the question before anyone takes on the challenge about what it is going to be because it is a big commitment and in the buildup to a race, it can be work/train/eat/sleep.
BRAD BROWN: It’s also important, with that, and the commitment, is what you want to get out of the race itself. It’s one of thing just going to an Ironman to finish it, but it’s another thing wanting to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona and do your best in Kona.
TOM WARD: Absolutely, for somebody who is reasonably fit, who has got a reasonable athletic background, getting round an Ironman is something you can achieve and it’s very easy to fit in that, well not very easy, but it’s much easier to fit in that training, even with a very busy personal and professional life. If you do want to qualify for Kona and if you want to do well at Kona, you do have to be, your commitment is going to be significantly increased and people do need to be prepared for that. There’s a lot of people that would like to go to Kona and tell you that it’s their dream, but when it actually comes down to committing to what it’s going to take, they’re not really prepared to do it.
BRAD BROWN: I guess that doesn’t just apply to Kona, that applies to many things in their lives. Lots of people should have, could have, would have and want to do things, but they’re not willing to do the hard work that it takes. Tom, what’s the one thing that you’ve learnt about yourself through your journey in triathlon, I don’t want to say that surprised you, but that you didn’t know about yourself. Obviously when you go through hardships and tough times, you learn a lot about yourself.
Lessons learned on the Ironman journey
TOM WARD: I’ve learnt that I can be a lot more giving actually Brad, without boring everybody and going into it, I had a very difficult childhood, which is one of the reasons that my, on the business side now, it’s what I do, it’s one of the reasons why I do what I do now, and it taught me to behave in a way that perhaps I wasn’t always proud of. The work that I did in the financial service industry was a very, it’s a very narcissistic environment, a very competitive environment, very profit driven, performance driven and the hockey world, unfortunately for me, because of the level that I played at, was very competitive and it was a kind of win at all cost approach.
Triathlon changed me in that the thing that really captured me about triathlon was the sense of inclusiveness, the supportive culture, the sense of achievement that people get and how much everybody is prepared to give back to other athletes, how supportive people can be. Everybody wants to share and I found that I got a lot of enjoyment myself out of doing the same and sharing my experiences and sharing my knowledge and my passion with other people and I think from my perspective, I found that I can be a much more giving person than I had been in the past and yeah, that’s certainly what I discovered about myself.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about your new career path and what you’re doing now, I think you’re doing some amazing stuff and I’d love to give it a bit of a punt and just tell people what you’re doing. I think what you’re doing is incredible.
TOM WARD: Thanks Brad. So, I’m in the process, I’ve just launched a company that offers coaching, athletic and sports coaching for anybody really, we do offer coaching, personal training to sportsmen or any individuals, I’m triathlon coaching to anybody right from beginners all the way up to elite athletes, but the main goal from the business Brad is that we offer fitness coaching to victims of domestic abuse and the idea is to support those victims of abuse and survivors of abuse, to help rebuild their lives through building up their confidence, by getting them into exercise in different ways. We’re in the process of sourcing a property to set up a studio to give them a private and relaxed environment to train in and running some seminars and some talks for support groups so that we can give an insight into how we can help. We’ve got a few, I run a race team alongside the business and some of the athletes in the race team have been victims of abuse themselves, I have myself and so we’ve got a lot of experience within the business of people who can really empathize with those others.
BRAD BROWN: It’s incredible Tom, if people want to find out more about what you do, where can they get hold of you online and that sort of thing, to read up more?
TOM WARD: So the easiest way to get hold of me at the moment is through my Facebook page, I guess. There’s two pages, there’s a page Passion Fit, which is community page and another page called Team Passion Fit, which is the race team and obviously Tom Ward as well, which is my personal Facebook page, that’s all available and the Twitter account is @PassionFitLtd. So if anyone wants to get hold of me at the moment, there will be a website up and running soon, or people can email me on email@example.com and yeah, by all means, anyone who is interested to find out about what we do, then just contact.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant, I’ll pop those links into the show notes as well. Tom, thank you so much for your time here on The Kona Edge. I’m keen to touch base with you just with regards to the different disciplines and what you do and that sort of thing, but we’ll save that for another day. Thank you so much for joining us.
TOM WARD: No problem, Brad, thanks very much, it’s been a pleasure.