Getting started is what it takes to get to Ironman Kona – The Rob Cummins Ironman Story
On this very special edition of The Kona Edge, we meet an amazing athlete. Having lived a life of heavy smoking and drinking, Rob Cummins reveals how he turned his life around and what it takes to get to Ironman Kona.
He shares the start of his racing days of coming stone last, to that of managing to qualify and get to Ironman Kona twice.
Swim faster without spending more time in the water
Discover the 4 most common swim killers and how to fix them so that you can shave minutes off your swim time.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge and it’s a pretty special edition of The Kona Edge today. I can’t believe it, episode 300, that’s right, three zero zero, who would have thought! We’ve been putting these things out pretty much every day and 300, I love it. I didn’t plan it this way, but today’s interview is an absolute cracker. It is, I can safely say, and I’ve chatted to some incredible athletes over the time that we’ve been doing this podcast. And I say it quite often that that was my favourite one, or this one was my favourite one, but there’s no doubt that today’s interview is so far, out of the 300 episodes of The Kona Edge that I’ve published, my favourite, and you’re going to see why when we get into the story today.
It is just so inspirational. If you don’t believe that you can qualify and race on the Big Island in Kona after today’s episode of The Kona Edge, I can’t help you. I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do to make you believe. But you’re going to know exactly what I’m talking about once you’ve listened to this story. Fantastic, fantastic story.
Before we get into it let me just tell you once again if you haven’t joined our private Facebook community all you have to do is head over to thekonaedge.com/facebook. Get on there, come say hi and hang out with some of the coolest triathletes on the planet. It’s thekonaedge.com/facebook. But without further ado, we head to Dublin in Ireland today to catch up with Rob Cummins.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome to The Kona Edge, we head to Dublin in Ireland and it’s a great pleasure to touch base with Rob Cummins. Rob welcome onto The Kona Edge. Thanks for joining us.
ROB CUMMINS: Thanks Brad. Thanks for having me.
BRAD BROWN: Rob, your life is all triathlon. You work in the industry, you obviously partake in the sport. It’s a big part of your life, isn’t it?
Working and sporting all things triathlon
ROB CUMMINS: It is yes, absolutely. I run a bike and triathlon store in Dublin with my wife and the 2 of us run a small coaching business as well and Aislings’ an ultra-runner by trade. She keeps me company on the triathlons and I’ve been doing Ironman for about 9 years now.
BRAD BROWN: Have you always been pretty sporty? I mean before triathlon was there anything else or was this your first sort of exposure to it?
ROB CUMMINS: No, I never did any sport as a kid and smoked very heavily and went off the rails a little bit for a few years, drinking and partying and getting in trouble. I opened my first bike shop in 1998 and had been trying for a long time to get off the cigarettes, I smoked very heavily at the time. I was smoking probably 3 packs a day and was really unhealthy and was always sick. About 6 months after I opened the store I managed to get off cigarettes and as an incentive to stay off, or I suppose as a reward to myself for staying off, I bought a mountain bike, and went out with a young lad that was working for me at the time, and he brought me up mountain biking.
For the first, we were going up the climb and I had stop every minute, every 2 minutes, I was getting off the bike and I was coughing up all sorts of muck from years of smoking, and about three quarters way up I just got sick of it and I said this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. I’m going home. And he said, come on, we’ll go a little bit further and we’ll go back down the single track. We went up and we came back down the single track and as soon as we tore down onto the trails, I really enjoyed it. I got a huge pause when we got to the bottom and I got him to bring me back up again. And I think at that stage I sort of, I started to get a little bit bitten by the bug. That was back in 1999. I was dreadfully unfit and it took me years of going out and doing events and doing races and coming in last and all that sort of stuff before I discovered triathlon then in 2003.
A South African guy actually, was living here at the time and I cycled with him for a couple of years and he was into triathlon and he brought me out and convinced me to do the Dublin City Triathlon in 2003. But I wouldn’t have had a very auspicious start I suppose. I was 2nd last out of the water after doing the entire swim breaststroke, I couldn’t really swim at the time. I was biking reasonably well, I had done a little bit of bike racing and I probably got off the bike in the top 10 after getting out of the water at about 150th think, and then proceeded to be passed by everybody else on the run. So I might have finished 80th or 90th but I loved the fact that even finishing just under 3 hours, that there was still crowds of people there to welcome you in and there was a great sense of camaraderie and I was absolutely hooked from that moment on. But I never had any ideas that I would do anything other than doing it just for fun really. I was semi-competitive in my head but I had no illusions as to the fact that I’d never be winning races or anything like that.
BRAD BROWN: Rob I love that. That has got to be one of the coolest stories that I’ve heard with regards to this podcast and the reason I say that is because my background is very similar too; that I also was a heavy smoker, I used to work in nightclubs, I was a DJ for many, many years and just lived it up. And I loved the fact that you, like me, if that makes sense, not that I’m a great athlete, but you’ve got a background. I think that’s the cool thing about this show. We get to chat to so many different people. It doesn’t matter what your background is we all get into the sport on different paths, and it’s what we make of the opportunity that’s in front of us right now that dictates where we go in the future.
ROB CUMMINS: Yea, absolutely.
BRAD BROWN: Rob, when did you realise you had a bit of ability? That first triathlon on the bike, you sound like an absolute monster on the bike, but when did you realise you were actually pretty good at this thing?
A seed is planted
ROB CUMMINS: It was 2008 before I did an Ironman. I’d seen Ironman Hawaii on TV back when I was a smoker. Way before I ever got involved in the sport and I just thought it was the most incredible thing. And I suppose it was always in the back of my head. When I saw it and I was sitting there as a smoker I sort of thought, I’ll do that someday. Not having any idea really what that meant you know, not just to complete an Ironman but to do Hawaii. In 2008 I eventually plucked up the courage to do Ironman France.
So, I trained quite hard, well for the level that I was at then, I trained quite hard and I went out, to be honest I was more afraid of not finishing than anything else. I didn’t know if I could do the distance and that was the biggest fear for me in France. I got through it okay and had an incredible experience and finished, from memory, somewhere around 1200th place out of maybe 1500 athletes. So, I was very much back of the field. I think what changed me that year was, I discovered an absolute love of being an athlete, albeit a very slow one. I loved the lifestyle, I loved the training and the discipline and all of that went with going from being somebody who trained 2 or 3 times a week, one swim, one bike, one run, to somebody who had this regular 6 or 7 training sessions a week and started to live the life of an athlete at a very small level. I really loved that and I enjoyed it and I think that was where my real love affair with Ironman came, started.
I had a tough year personally that year; I separated from my wife, I think a lot of people call it an Ironman divorce, so the Ironman thing probably contributed but I think it had been on the cards for a long time and not long after I met and got together with the lady that I’m married to now, Aisling, and we’ve been together since then. But she’s an athlete and I think living with an athlete and falling in love with that lifestyle, it made becoming an athlete much easier so in 2009. The following year, I decided I’d have a go at Ironman Switzerland, and I guess I always had this idea in the back of my head that because I wasn’t a million miles off each individual sport, you know if I’d swam as hard as I could for 3.8k, I was maybe 10 or 15 minutes off what I needed to be doing for a Kona slot and if I went out and biked hard for 180k I was close to the other guys on the bike.
The running I wasn’t great, but I was still only 20 or 30 minutes off. That being said, that’s if I went out doing each of those individually absolutely flat out and I was sort of kidding myself and saying you know if you just add all of those together you probably wouldn’t slow down too much. So, I went and I trained really hard for Switzerland and I didn’t say anything to anybody that I sort of got this idea that I’d like to do a fast and see how close I can get to Kona. But I went and I trained really hard and I did the race and I moved up a grand total of about 200 places, I just barely broke the top 1000. And I think for a long time after that I sort of decided that that was the level of athlete that I was. That I was never going to improve much more above that and we opened a big new business in 2010 and in 2011 our life had sort of settled down a little bit after the craziness of the first year of the business. And I said it to Aisling, and she’d coached people for a few years and she’d been involved in sport at an elite level, and she’s a member of Irish Fest and she’s a mountain runner and an ultra runner, and she raced at a very high level. But there’s no messing with her, there’s no BS. So I asked her what did she think about the idea of could I possibly try and chase a Kona slot and did she think it was realistic. And her immediate reaction was yes. I was a bit surprised to be honest, but I immediately grasped onto that and I thought ok well if Aisling thinks it’s possible then I’ll take that and we’ll have a go at it.
So, we didn’t really know what to do next so she suggested that we contact the coach that we both knew, the next pro-athlete who was coaching people. And we reckoned he was a pretty good coach and we contacted him a week or 2 weeks later and asked him what did he think about chasing a Kona slot. And he sort of looked at me and said yea, no I don’t think so that’s not going to happen you know. Maybe if you spent the next 2 years of your life training like crazy you could, but realistically no, you’re not a Kona athlete. And in fairness he was only looking at what he’d seen me do before.
Winning has little to do with the equipment
So, I was a little bit disappointed and quite offended when we were chatting to him and I sort of came back to him a couple of minutes later and I said well do you know how to coach somebody to get to Kona, and he said yea, of course I do. And I said okay, well give me that program then. Just coach me like it doesn’t matter what you believe or don’t believe, give me the program. If you break me or injure me or if I don’t do it, it’s not your fault. I’ll take responsibility for whatever happens or doesn’t happen and I think he was pretty sceptical but he agreed. That was 2011, that would have been about late March 2011 and up to then I’d sort of been training probably 6, 8 maybe 9 hours a week, 10 hours would have been a big week but on average 6 to 8 hours a week.
In the first 8 days with the new coach I think I hit about 40 hours and on the last day of the first week I did a race, a sprint race with about 28 or 29 hours training in my legs already that week which was a whole months training for me up to that point. I’d never done anything like that before. I was just gobsmacked that I could even manage 40 hours training. And I did a race, a sprint race, and I came 3rd, and I’d never been 3rd in any race in my life, and this is at the back end of a massive week of training. And I won my age group. So, it was a real light bulb moment going off for me. You know, I realised that getting fast as much as I hate to say it, being the person who sells you the nice bike, it has very little to do with the equipment. It has very little to do with all the fluff and rubbish you read in the magazines. You just do an awful lot of training and 90% of the improvement comes from that.
So, over the next couple of months, we picked Ironman Florida as being the target and Peter, the coach, said listen Florida is not going to suit you. It’s flat, it’s a big power riders course. I’m relatively small and light and about 67/68 kilos, and he said you need a course that is hilly and hard. He says, you do well on the hills. So we picked Ironman UK, the only problem with that was it was on 5, less than 5 months. So I was looking at going from sort of back of the pack to try and qualify for Kona in less than 5 months. And the only way that Peter could do it was I think to literally just give me the biggest volume that I could handle and he sort of kept me on this red line of absolutely on the limit of what I could cope with and very often I just went over it. Like I’d have weeks of 25 and 27 and 28 hours training and I had a couple of training camps where we hit 40 plus hours in a week. And I’d be floored for 10 days afterwards and hardly able to get out of bed. And I raced a few times in the lead up to UK and they went dreadfully.
Setting the bar high
You know I’d be out on the bike and training and I’d be doing 140k time trials and 57/58 minutes and then I’d go out and race and I’d be doing them in an hour 15, and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. But it was obviously just a huge level of fatigue where the body was just up and down. So, I ramped up to Ironman UK after about 5 months and I finished I think including the course, I think I finished 46th and including, out of the age groupers I was 26th and I was I think 7th in my age group. And I missed a Kona slot by 2 minutes. So, to be honest missing the Kona slot wasn’t the big disappointment that I thought it would be because all of a sudden I felt like a Kona athlete. I knew what to do. the fact that it was 2 minutes was negligible. I’d gone much faster than any of the Kona slots had been gotten in the year before. It was just that year everybody went quick. I’d go 10 hours on a very hard course and I had a, you know it was a big pivot for me in terms of I now felt like a fast athlete. I felt like a Kona person so we raced Florida and again I came quite close a couple of months later and in 2012 then, it’s funny as the coach had said you need 2 years, he wasn’t far off. With about 18 months training in me I rebelled and I qualified the following year. Again, in the UK, the conditions and the course had to suit me and I qualified there on a roll down the 4th time and again in [inaudible] I went back and I qualified a straight qualification the 3rd time.
BRAD BROWN: I’m sitting here grinning, I have to tell you Rob, because that’s amazing and I think a lot of people look, like you say the flashy, fast bikes and the gadgets and the tools but it’s 90% hard work and I think the other 10% is all in the head. You need to believe that you can do it.
ROB CUMMINS: Yea, and even with the belief, was something in the first year to be honest I never believed it for a minute Brad, I didn’t feel it. You know from the start Aisling said to me yes, we’re going to do this and I think you can do this, and everybody else was looking at me going, you’re off your head, you’re crazy. They might not have said it quite in those words but I could see it, you know. And actually, one of the things I don’t think I mentioned was as part of the trying to get to Kona I came up with this idea that we’d try and tie it into marketing with the shop as well. So, I knew a friend who was an editor for one of the big outdoor sports magazines in Ireland and I approached her with the idea that I’d write a series in the magazine following the progress from back of the pack to see if I could do it. I thought she’d laugh at me when I said it, but she thought it was a great idea. I think she was sort of thinking there’s no way you’re going to do it but people would be interested.
So, I had this series of articles in a national magazine going, following me. So there was always this huge sense of pressure to try and do it. It wasn’t like I just told 3 people and we worked on it quietly among ourselves. I had a blog and we had a big mailing list in the shop and it was going out to 15 000 people a week and then it was going out in the national magazine every 6 weeks. So, there was quite a big following in a very, very small sense in a very small sport. I was reasonably well known so lots of people would be coming into the shop and asking how things are going. But I could see people were all very sceptical about it. Like I said, I’d never done anything that would make anybody else think that it’s possible. And as a result, I think I never really believed it.
To be honest the moment that I sort of realised that it was actually happening was, I got out of the swim and I raced that day without a watch because I didn’t want to get out of the swim 3 or 4 or 5 minutes, or any amount of time slower than I’d hoped to do and have that affect my head for the day. So, I did the swim, got out, got onto the bike and I wouldn’t be a great swimmer, but I started biking through and as I got through the field it starts to thin out and I was passing less and less people but I had no idea where I was. You know yourself, you’re in an Ironman, you could be 1000th place, you could be in 150th. You’ve no idea. The people change slightly as you get forward towards the front of the field but you still have no idea. You could be 100th, you could be 50th, you could be 300th you know.
They all look fast, they’re all on tri-bikes, they’ve all got aero helmets and near the end of the bike I come around the corner and there was a female athlete, I think it might have been Desiree Flicker at the time, anyway she was an American athlete and she’d been in the media during the week as being the favourite for the woman’s race and I came around the corner and passed her. And all of a sudden I realised, you’re right up at the pointy end of the field. You’re actually doing what you’ve been dreaming about and talking about for the last 5 months. It’s actually happening and that was the first time that it became real for me and that I really believed it. And about 6 or 7k later I rolled into transition and it was empty. And that had never happened to me before. Normally I roll into transition and there’s a thousand bikes in it. I got into transition and there were about 50 bikes in it, and the place was empty.
It was just, all of a sudden it became very, very real for me and I realised you’re actually doing what you set out to do. And I think it’s important for people to know that you don’t need to believe in something in the beginning to make it happen. You don’t need to believe that it’s possible for you to get to Kona or to do something that you think is impossible for you. You just need to start taking steps and get somebody who knows what they’re able to teach you. And for me that’s all it was. I had Aisling with a belief, I had a coach in Peter who knew how to get me there. And I was just willing to do the work. I had a huge drive and then I put a gun to my head by sticking it into a national magazine so that if I failed I was going to look like a real clown.
BRAD BROWN: Rob I think that’s unbelievable advice and it’s because, and even if you don’t want to qualify for Kona, you mentioned your first Ironman or one of them you thought I’d like to do that but I don’t know if I can finish those distances. And that I think for everyone who’s training for their first Ironman is probably the biggest concern is, will I be able to finish this thing. And like you say you don’t believe it when you first start, you probably don’t believe it until you’ve done it. But you’ve just got to start, that’s what it boils down to and so few people in life, it doesn’t matter what sphere you’re in, don’t start. They think something will be cool but they just don’t do it.
ROB CUMMINS: Yea, absolutely. The starting is the most important thing. Just taking action, like I’d had it in my head for a couple of months before I spoke to Aisling about it. So, I started to train just a little bit and I was reading stuff online, and you know yourself, you go onto Google and you ask Google a question and 4 million answers come back so I had people saying they qualified for Kona on 6 hours training a week and I had other people saying you needed to qualify with 40 hours a week, and I didn’t really know what the hell I was doing, but I had started. And even the fact that I was doing the wrong thing I at least had 2 months of very basic training before I started with a coach.
So, it wasn’t coming from 2 months of inactivity. Like because we’re both involved with sport we’re always doing something. So there’s always a level of, in the off season we run every day or whatever. So I would have been relatively fit but I wasn’t in Ironman shape or anything like it you know. It was a couple of years since I done one, we’d had a really crazy year with the shop. But you just need to start. You take a step and if you need to change direction, it’s easy to change direction when you’re moving but if you don’t start you don’t know if you’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing and you’re never going to get there.
BRAD BROWN: If you could go back and do this journey all over again around the training, is there anything you would change, is there anything you would do differently?
Listen to your coach – they know what they’re doing
ROB CUMMINS: No, I don’t think so and that’s not to say that I did everything right, I didn’t. I make lots of mistakes but I think I probably learnt an awful lot from the mistakes that make me a much, I’d like to think, makes me a much better athlete now and it helps a lot with the coaching. Because I’m better able to teach people, I can see thing coming that are going to cause problems a little bit further down the road for me and for other people because I suppose I’ve made so many mistakes over the years. I don’t think I would change an awful lot of it, I really like the journey, like I said, not getting that Kona slot the first time was difficult because I didn’t get it and I came so close, but it wasn’t difficult because I came so close. It meant that the biggest part of the journey was done for me. I knew it was a case of ok, you rock up next year and you do the same with a years’ more fitness, you’re going to do it. At that stage I believed in it completely, 100%. So, getting to that stage was enough that day. Like there’s stupid things that I’ve done in training, I had a session with that coach not long after Ironman UK and I [inaudible] UK with such a huge level of confidence and belief that I started to do things that I wasn’t supposed to do on training.
So, we had a couple of weeks easy and about a month after UK I started to get in really, really form, like I’d never felt anything like it. And the coach had me down for 5 hour bike ride with some interval walking it and I think a 10k off it and he had me down by 3 x 1 hour at Ironman race pace so I went out and very quickly the average speed was quite high and I sort of thought maybe I’d just keep going a little bit more than the hour and see how long can I hang onto this and about an hour and a half I was sitting at 36/37k an hour average and I kept on going and I didn’t recover between the intervals and I just kept on going and I got to 5 hours and I sort of thought let’s keep going, we’ll aim for 190 or 200k and I went through 180k in about 5:03 or 5:04 which I think is about 36k an hour average which for me would be crazy fast in training you know. It’s race day bike split for me. I’d be comfortable, I’d be around low fives or thereabouts and here I am doing this in training against the coach’s orders just because I felt great. And I had this incredible bike ride. I think I did close to 200k about 36k an hour. Got into the house and the run was to be an easy 10k run off it, and where we were living at the time, as you come out of the house it was downhill onto the run loop that I was going to do. And I went through the first kilometre at about 4 minutes and again I’m looking at the numbers thinking geez, this is incredible. So, I thought let’s see how long you can hang onto 4-minute k’s for, which again I’m not, I know you talk to people like I was listening to Martin Muldoon’s interview the other day and Martin’s got this huge run pedigree. You know 4-minute k’s for Martin are slow but 4-minute k’s off a bike ride for me is nearly what I’d be doing a 10k in standalone, I’m not a fast runner. I just don’t tend to slow down a huge amount off the bike. But I went through the 10k in about 40 minutes and I thought I was superman. You know I’ve done this 200k bike and a 10k run in a time that I couldn’t do in a race 6 weeks before and I thought I’m going to cram in another 5 or 6 days of training after this because I had a few days off work. And I couldn’t get out of bed the next morning and I dragged myself up and I got on the bike and I lasted about an hour and I went back home and I slept for most of the day. And it took me about 5 or 6 weeks I’d say, to recover from that.
Now the thing about that was both the coach and Aisling had been saying to me in the previous week that they were obviously looking at signs that I was starting to come to a peak but that I was also getting very tired. I was on that red line of getting close to over training.
And I wouldn’t listen to them because I was good in training. I was setting PB’s every time I got in the pool and I was going faster on the bike and I thought I knew best. So I disregarded what the coach and what Aisling were saying and I went out and I did the bike ride much harder. I did the run much harder and that tipped me over the edge. It took me about 6 weeks to recover from that. I was in training for another Ironman, we were going straight into Ironman Florida. And it meant that I didn’t get a Kona slot in Florida either, so it was a really good lesson to learn that when things look they’re at their best, very often that’s when you need to be really careful in training. That’s the time you’re going to be most tempted to push and push and push to try and get that extra tiny little bit and conversely in the run up to the UK when I was doing races and expecting to be top 10 or 15 and I was coming in 90th.
When things are at their worst it’s just because your training load maybe is very high or that you’re tired and you can’t always just look at something and go ok well 6 weeks before Ironman UK I can’t even break the top 10 in a small local race, I’m 90th. So the idea of trying to qualify is ridiculous. It wasn’t, it was just part of the training. There was no taper so things don’t always, it doesn’t always equal what you see so if you feel great the obvious answer might be ok well keep on training while you feeling great. While it’s really sometimes you should just back off and bank that and allow the body to absolve it and then go again. And for me that was the biggest lesson that year was to not keep on pushing when things seem to be going well.
BRAD BROWN: Rob, looking at going into that first Kona, your belief as you mentioned, was sky high. Coming from someone who was the real back of the packer to bagging a Kona slot, you must have felt in that first one that you could walk on water. How do you approach a race like Kona knowing that the level of competitions’ not taking just one more step up but that this is huge, and you going into this thing? How did you approach it?
The mindset approaching Kona
ROB CUMMINS: To be honest, when I qualified for Kona there was, the realisation actually hit me that I had do another Ironman because I think you’re so focused on the act of qualifying you don’t realise, actually I’ve now got to go and do a race that’s much harder and much more competitive. And that penny dropped for me the day I got the Kona slot. It’s like ugh, I’ve got to go and train for a race now and it’s a much harder one. And when I got to Kona I felt like a complete imposter. I spent the week walking around waiting for somebody to tap me on the shoulder and say, actually you’re not really meant to be here. This is for fast people, I don’t know how you got a slot. And I went into it really just wanting to have the experience of being there. You know we did the underpants run, we did everything. I broke all the rules that you have going into any race. I spent the whole week on my feet, we were in the expo every day. Every time there was a pro talk or something on we went to it and we met, Mark Allen and Dave Scott and we were down at the coffee boat swim every day and we went very much for the experience the first year. And the race was going to be a bonus. And I had no illusions as to where I stood in the pecking order on that day.
I didn’t really expect to be in any way competitive. I was in good shape going into it, probably the best shape in my life. So, there was a part of me thinking you’ll have a good race. You’re not going to be competitive with the people over there. You can have a good day for yourself but oh, it’s such a hard race. I had a real, the race really took me down a peg or two I think it sort of put matters on me. The swim was hard and slow. I went through the fourth 90k on the bike too hard and really blew up. The worst blow up I’ve had in any race at that stage. I think I was two and a half hours to the half-way point, and three fifteen for the second half, so I really blew up. And I had 20-year-old girls biking past me on the bike, where I’m normally passing the female pros, I’m even catching some of the male pros on the bike and it was a real eye opener.
I’d never seen so many strong people in my life. I got onto the road and I was hanging from very early on. I got to about 10 miles ok, I got into town, got up Pulani hill and I’m looking at all these people who are walking and shuffling up Pulani hill and I thought ugh, I don’t walk up hills, I don’t jog up hills, and I ran up hard and I got onto the Queen K and within about 30 seconds I was walking that bit. I could see Arthur was looking back where everybody slows down so much on Pulani because your temperature just rises and that was it. It was game over for me so I had the long journey out on Queen K and back in was jog, walk, shuffle, a little bit of puking and I’m trying to just enjoy the experience as much as I can, as I could as I was getting passed by everybody else. But the first experience was very humbling. I think the field that you’re racing against is just unbelievable. Even just being on the island you’ve got 10 000 of the fittest people you’ve ever seen. It’s like landing on a different planet. It’s unlike anything I’d ever experienced.
BRAD BROWN: And going back the second time, did you manage to put some of those demons to bed from that first experience?
ROB CUMMINS: It got a little bit better. I was in really good shape. Aisling was coaching me by the time I went back the second time and again, at that stage I probably had close to 4 years training so I’m a big believer in the accumulative effect of just being consistent and after 3 or 4 years of consistent training I was in reasonably good shape going out. And I took, I think I took about 10 or 11 minutes off the swim, I think I was about 1:07 or 1:08 for the swim versus nearly 1:90 the previous year. I had a decent enough bike, I was just over 5 hours. In fairness, it wasn’t the hardest bike conditions that year. It was really hot but the wind wasn’t as crazy as the previous year. I got off the bike and had a reasonable run and managed to get all the way to the, coming out of the Energy Lab, I passed Kenny Glau and I got a bit giddy I think at passing somebody like Kenny Glau who’s been out there I think 29 or 30 times and probably went a little bit too hard on the climb up out of the Energy Lab but I was obviously right on the red line already, and blew up and had another little puke at the top of the Energy Lab and shuffled in. It was certainly better than the previous year but Kona’s the hardest race I’ve ever been at to execute. Not just that it’s hard conditions, it’s really, really hard to execute right. The heat is just so extreme, the heat and the humidity and once you lose control of it, if you allow yourself to overheat there really isn’t any coming back from that, you can’t cool down. You know you’ve seen pictures of the race leader sticking their head into the big drums of ice water and you just can’t recover. You can’t cool down once you overheat there. So, I think it’s the guys who are good at controlling themselves and not getting excited and doing stupid things racing somebody who doesn’t know you exist and not pushing too hard at any stage. The second one was better but I can see there’s still a lot to do. I could see myself improving if I could figure out the conditions a bit better.
BRAD BROWN: Obviously training in Dublin is slightly different to the racing conditions in Kona. Climate vastly different.
Getting prepared for Kona conditions
ROB CUMMINS: Oh yea, and certainly the time of year it’s completely different. We have sort of a gym set-up in the house here with the bikes and the treadmill and we have a heater in there to try and replicate being warm. But I don’t think we can get the temperature more than 26 or 27 degrees, versus the 40 degrees that you have in Kona, and obviously you don’t have the humidity. So, it’s almost impossible to replicate it. But that being said, Ireland doesn’t tend to send out an awful lot of athletes each year. We’ll have anything from 5 or 6 to 12 or 15 but there’s 7 or 8 of the guys that go out there are really competitive. You’ve got the likes of Ivan O’Gorman who runs, he runs a 2:52 or 2:53 marathon in Kona. There’s Martin Muldoon and Owen Martin that, I know you’ve talked to Martin Muldoon, I don’t know if you’ve met Owen Martin but they’d be fast runners out there as well. So it can be done. The pale parties can figure out how to run in the heat. Allen Ryan, a good friend of mine, has been on the podium twice in Kona and again he’s living in Ireland and he’s figured out how to do it. So I’ve no doubt we can do it, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to train properly for it.
BRAD BROWN: You’ve obviously got unfinished business on that island. You’re going back aren’t you?
ROB CUMMINS: Yea, after 2013, I had a back injury early 2013 so when I was out in Kona I was carrying a bit of a back injury and that got really bad when I came back afterwards and I had spinal surgery in January or February 2014. So I was about 18 months out of the sport and came back and did a couple of Ironmans, really as it turned out just for fun. I wasn’t in great shape. In 2015, I did 2 of them quite close together. I did Ironman UK and Maastricht and they went ok but I was quite a bit off where I would have been a few years ago, so I decided in 2016 I was going to try and qualify again. And again, I decided I would do it as part of sort of a marketing thing for the shop. So I kept the blog all year of my training and racing and I figured if I’d done it before and gotten very close in 5 or 6 months, if I gave myself 8 or 9 months last year, I’d get there. So we entered Ironman Majorca and I think I probably would have been able to qualify had everything gone well all year and then I had a good race day. But I had a lot of difficulties during the year that I hadn’t really anticipated. Just normal life stuff that I think if I had 18 months training done, you’d manage to juggle difficulties like work, and I got sick a couple of times but when I was trying to compress everything into a really short time frame it was too much to ask. So I raced in Majorca and didn’t qualify, but I was close enough that I could see it. It’ll happen this year so I think we’re going to go back to Florida this year and race there and chase a slot for next year.
BRAD BROWN: Awesome. Well Rob, if people want to get in touch with you, I know you’ve got the coaching and you’ve got the shop as well, how can they reach out to you? I’ll put the links to the blog as well on the show notes, but tell us a little bit about the business itself.
ROB CUMMINS: The business is Wheelworx Bike and Tri Shop in Dublin in Ireland. We tend to deal mostly for the local Irish market. We don’t really do mail order or internet stuff and the coaching is tricoach.ie and we tend to keep that quite small, we don’t take on a whole lot of athletes. That’s more a passion thing for us really, it’s something we’re very passionate about. Myself and Aisling both really enjoy the coaching and we get a huge kick out of seeing athletes do well so we keep the numbers small and we tend to have quite good personal relationships with everybody we coach.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant. I’ll pop those links in. If people want to check it out they’re more than welcome to. Thank you so much for your time today. I look forward to catching up and chatting about the other disciplines but we’ll save that for another time. Thanks for your time today Rob.
ROB CUMMINS: Thanks Brad. Thanks for having me.
Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).
Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.
He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.
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