We talk breakfast shows on this episode of The Kona Edge with morning radio producer James Wilson. James shares his journey with us from racing motocross to racing against the best triathletes in the world at the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge and we head to the UK and someone who is, I think, very similar to me from a career perspective and what he does for a living and it’s a great pleasure to welcome James Wilson on. James, welcome, thanks for joining us today.
JAMES WILSON: Thanks for having me on Brad, cheers.
BRAD BROWN: James, I’m super stoked to be able to chat to you because we, funnily enough, started chatting online prior to your Kona experience and I said: All right, here’s the deal, you go race, when you get back we’ll chat and that’s what we’re doing now. Let’s touch on Kona 2016 if we can, before we dig a bit deeper. It was a tough day out wasn’t it?
Kona can finish you off right there!
JAMES WILSON: It was, it was something I’ve never experienced before, it was incredible the minute we touched down in Kona from leaving again, it was fantastic. But the race itself was just as hard and as brutal as everyone makes out it to be. Beautiful in its own right, the swim and the scenery, everything around it, but it definitely took a chunk out of me and spat me out the other side!
BRAD BROWN: So much so, do you want to go back or have you had enough of that now?
JAMES WILSON: I think that box is ticked. I think I’ve scratched the itch and all the other clichés that come with it. I left it all out there, I blew up, but I left it all out. I couldn’t have done any more than what I did leading up to it and in the race, so I’ve kind of satisfied my need to do it and I know that the mentality around this whole sport is I could have done this better, I could have done that better, I’m going to go back and have another go, but I genuinely think I’ve left it all out there and can’t have done any better.
BRAD BROWN: It’s five weeks post, you’ve been hanging out on the dark side essentially for the last five weeks, slowly getting back into it. That’s needed isn’t it? To take a bit of a break, especially after a big buildup and a tough race, you need to be able to switch off and almost go back to normal for a while.
Have a good wind down after your big race
JAMES WILSON: Certainly. I did a Challenge Weymouth last October, 2015, and then all of a sudden the buildup to that and then the buildup to Ironman UK in Bolton, I’ve almost trained for a year solid and then once I qualified at Ironman UK in July it was all of a sudden, well, there’s another 8 weeks now on top of what I thought was going to be my endpoint. Yeah, training was so important for me to consciously take four weeks off and do nothing, hang out on the dark side, say yes to everything, whatever is put in front of me I’ll eat it, whatever is put in front of me I’ll drink it and there’s a famous boxer in the UK called Ricky Hatton and someone described me as going full Ricky Hatton. He likes to have a good wind down after each fight, so yeah, it’s been so important just to rest up, take four weeks off and enjoy just doing things that I’ve been sacrificing in this entire lead up.
BRAD BROWN: I always joke, I go on a see-food diet. If I see food, I eat it!
JAMES WILSON: Not much left, I’m still on training portions, that’s the problem.
BRAD BROWN: I’m fascinated by what you do for a living and this whole journey because you’re in radio. You’re a producer for a breakfast show where you live and those hours we can chat about in a moment as well, but traditionally radio has been, if you look over the years, it’s been this coffee drinking, cigarette smoking, it’s not the healthiest of lifestyles. How did you end up radio and Ironmanning? In my mind it doesn’t go together.
JAMES WILSON: No, especially breakfast radio when all of a sudden, about 7:00 someone says: Bacon butty and everyone is on board. I had so much free time in the afternoon by myself because it was breakfast radio, you finish by 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon and all your friends are still at work and there’s a lot of down time, I thought I’ve got to do something with this. I started out, I’ve always been into mountain biking, so I used to pop out on the mountain bike for an hour and then thought I’ll have a little run here and there as well. I just literally was trying to fill the time in the afternoons until someone got home that I could hang around with.
Career choices can affect your Ironman training
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you say that because people must be listening to this and going: Gee, that’s amazing, I’m going to get myself a job in radio. Breakfast radio sounds like a winner because as you say, you’re done by 2:00 but you forgot to tell us that you actually get up at 3:30 to go to work and where a lot of people are going and training at 4:00 or 5:00 before work, you’re getting up to go to work, so it’s not like you can get a session in before work. It’s not that easy, as great as it sounds. That over time does build up a bit of fatigue and particularly long-term, you always feel tired when you wake up at that time of the morning to go to work.
JAMES WILSON: Certainly, I’ve been doing breakfast radio for ten years and getting up at 3:30 is no easy task really, it’s hard. You live in jetlag for the entire time, so you get home, you’re still getting your 8 or 9 hour workday in, like everybody else. And then when you get home from work, that’s kind of like everyone else getting home at 6:30 I suppose, and thinking about training, thinking about having dinner after a long day at work. It’s exactly the same, I’m just kind of living my life probably 3-4 hours ahead of everyone else.
BRAD BROWN: It’s like living in a different time zone.
JAMES WILSON: Yeah, sometimes it’s nice if you get home in time to have a little afternoon nap, you can sneak a little hour in here and there, but they’re very few and far between those ones.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about your athletic endeavors. You mentioned you used to potter around on a mountain bike, where did the thought of triathlon first come into your mind?
JAMES WILSON: I grew up racing Motocross and mountain biking. We got to an all right standard of that and used to love that. Again, another individual sport which I think is the common theme in a lot of these journeys, but I’d signed up for Manchester Marathon in 2012, completely on a whim, never really done anything like that before. Just thought it was a challenge to take on and I had a few of those new to running injuries, struggled with my IT band and I went to see a physio and we got chatting away on the table, as you do, and he mentioned he was doing Ironman UK in a few months’ time. So I popped out and watched there, went to go see him a few times and got to know him, so I’d pop out and watch the Ironman thing he told me about, absolutely fascinated by it and signed up the next day for Ironman 2013 and that was it really. I got my head down, followed the plans that he was sending me and I didn’t tell anyone I was actually doing the race until about 5 weeks before the race because I wasn’t still sure if I was going to make it. I’d signed up for it and trained, but no one knew, apart from me and my coach!
BRAD BROWN: I love that. Was the first one and the buildup to it harder than you thought it was going to be, when you first signed up or did you go: Hey, that doesn’t look too hard, I can do that and it turned out to be a lot tougher along the way?
Can the adrenalin rush bring you through
JAMES WILSON: I was fascinated by the, not just the physical things I was seeing going on, just the raw emotion of the entire day, of seeing people crossing the line at various different states and I was like: I want a piece of that. It was tough, I’m lucky enough to live about 15 miles from the Ironman UK course, so I did manage to get a couple of nice rides in, so the course wasn’t too overwhelming by the time race day came around. But again, my history of running niggles, I hadn’t run more than 12 miles in the buildup to that race and then all of sudden you’re getting through this huge event, purely on adrenalin and just grate your teeth and get around.
It was as hard, I couldn’t move for days after that race and I loved that feeling of it. It was something I’d never experienced before, just the whole nervousness around that week before and I’d never put that much effort into anything! In the sessions going up to it, I was pretty new to swimming and the mountain biking had always been there in my legs over the years, so I’ve always been a decent biker, but I was just trying to fill in the gaps around that.
BRAD BROWN: As far as that first experience, was it a case of once it’s done, you mentioned that Kona, the box is ticked, did you have that feeling or did you think, you know what, this is cool, I want to keep doing this?
JAMES WILSON: Yeah, exactly that. I’d again taken a couple of weeks off after that first Ironman and I think my coach that I was working with, a guy called Paul Savage, he was sitting by the phone waiting for me to say what’s next then. I wasn’t just going to be a one and done, I don’t think, and I didn’t really know much about this entire sport, so it’s not really been my lifelong dream to get to Kona. I’d only discovered this three years ago, but when I went to the awards the next day and I saw these people getting called up on stage and being told they qualified for Kona, I was like, wow, that’s where I want to be, I think. I decided there and then, one day I’ll get there and it just kind of manifested from there. It was a bit of a niggle, I got around, I’d completed and now I wanted to go out and actually have a good go at it and see what I possibly could do.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about doing Motocross and that growing up, the competitiveness there, do you think that came from that, that it’s one thing just doing one and finishing it, but when you do have a bit of a competitive bone in your body, you always feel that you could do things different and Ironman is a great canvas to do that because it’s so long and there’s so many different aspects to it that you always feel there’s something you could do better.
Doing all you can on the day
JAMES WILSON: Yeah, the variables that go into it, you’ll always feel something didn’t go right on the day here or something didn’t go right there, not many people have the perfect day but harping back to the old Motocross days, it was just me and my old man, heading off around the country and we loved it. Again, it’s like an individual sport out there, but there is a bit of a team behind each individual and we worked our way up there and again, it’s just a kind of racing mentality I suppose, you’re as good as your last game and we wanted to get better each time. It’s got to be in there somewhere in each and every Ironman that tows the line, there’s a kind of want to better yourself from last week or last year or every time.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned Paul, we’ve had him here on The Kona Edge before as well and you mentioned straight up that he’s sending you programs. Did it ever cross your mind that you want to try and figure this out on your own or has it been, tell me what to do and I’ll do it and we’ll take it from there?
JAMES WILSON: Paul was a massive help, getting Paul on board, well him taking me on board more than anything. Again, it’s a pretty risky situation, I was pretty green, didn’t know anything about the sport. I remember one of the things that rings true, Paul was saying, become a student of Ironman and just learn about the sport outside of doing the sport as well. The plans he was sending me were brilliant and really pushing me and taking me out of my comfort zone and starting me almost from scratch, I hadn’t done much swimming, I’d never had a swimming lesson in any capacity or any kind of structured bike sessions, I was just kind of heading out on my bike, that was all I ever knew and just running and adding a mile here and adding a mile there, it really added that structure and that science behind why you were doing it as well as getting out there and just doing it.
BRAD BROWN: Do you reckon that’s the way to go, for someone who is listening to this, that starting their journey and I’m on the other end of the coin. When I started, I was, like you say, totally green and I tried to figure this thing out on my own for years before I went and looked for help and I’m not sure I would change that because for me that was good. In your mind do you think it’s important to get help upfront?
JAMES WILSON: Yeah, on an individual basis it really was for me because I just, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I’ve asked the stupidest questions over those first few weeks, about equipment, about rules, regulations, everything. It was really helpful to me and I don’t think I necessarily would have figured it out and again, I was on my own, I was still doing breakfast radio at that time, so it was quite nice to have someone to share the experience with as well, kind of going from complete novice to complete, I had no time goal in that first one, it was just get around and when I finished it was like, well, you know, that’s not too bad, that’s not too bad, all of a sudden I became a starting point rather than me completing it, it was like my Launchpad to go on and have another go.
BRAD BROWN: What’s the biggest lesson that Ironman and this journey has taught you about yourself?
The fine balance of time management
JAMES WILSON: I’ve been able to just find out so much more about what I’m capable of and what I’m willing to give up to make something happen. A lot of people that I used to go to school with, for example, that I still speak to, they’re like, I can’t believe you’re doing this, your dedication is amazing and after a while it doesn’t feel like it is dedication, it just feels like it’s [inaudible 0.15.65], I’ll pop over and meet you for a drink later but I’ve just got to do this hour bike session or whatever, it’s kind of non-negotiable really. This is what’s in the plan, this is what’s happening and I’ve just learnt to manage my time a lot better and what I am actually capable of.
I’m always kicking myself, if I’d have put this much effort into the Motocross, I could have done a few better things there as well. Yeah, it’s never been a question of getting the sessions done, I don’t know, in five or six years ago version of me, it might have just been, oh, I’m going out at night, I’m doing this instead. It’s been a complete kind of shift in my entire way of life really.
BRAD BROWN: It becomes a bit of a new normal and you mentioned time management, I think that’s a big thing that a lot of age groupers struggle with. Particularly ones that are working fulltime and even though your hours are different, you have a fulltime job. You have a life outside of work and triathlon, you’re in a relationship. How do you juggle that?
You spoke about sacrifice and what goes into particularly competing and being able to qualify to race on the Big Island, you’ve got to give things up and how do you decide what’s important and what’s not?
JAMES WILSON: That’s not always my decision when having a relationship, so I have to kind of fit in around, my partner works usual hours, so she’s home at 6:00 at night and she’ll want to have dinner or go and see some friends or go to the cinema and because I’m up so early at 3:30, I love to go to bed around 9:00, so there’s a short window there. So I try and get all my training done before 6:00 and I’m showered and ready for her, coming back as though nothing has ever happened.
It’s just fitting it all in around that and then weekends are always a tough sell when you’ve got to go out and hit a five hour ride and you’ve not seen her all week. Again, that’s up at 5:00 or 6:00 to make sure you can get that training in before the middle part of the day. Once you have a lie-in, you get past 9:00 or 10:00, that’s the entire day spent on what she considers going out and just enjoying yourself on the bike.
It’s a very fine balance between, I think I’m relatively lucky to be able to do that, I think if it was the other way around, I’d be getting home from work and then training and then seeing her whereas I’m lucky enough to get it out of the way, if I can do before she gets in. We try and do a lot together as well, I sometimes try and get her out on the bike, riding alongside me while I’m having a run and try and kind of spend time together that way, but that’s a bit of a tough sell!
BRAD BROWN: Exactly! Tell me about what’s next, you mentioned ticking the box of Kona, in order to get yourself out and train however many hours a week you need to train, you do need goals, have you given it much thought about what you want to attempt next?
JAMES WILSON: Certainly. The absence of a goal has made just getting out of the door, putting the trainers on, just so much more difficult. You feel all of a sudden you’re back from this epic achievement and then there’s loads of time on your hands which you would normally have spent training, all of a sudden it becomes this huge void. Yeah, I’ve signed up for a marathon for next year, just to try and get me out of the door and start running now, I’ve got 6 months to build to that, I’d really like to have a good go at a nice marathon time, just off the back of pure marathon training, I suppose. I’ll probably look at doing a lot of time trial events on the bike and a few more cycle specific races.
I’ve always hated swimming, so I’m happy to just hang up that for the minute, I’ll probably start getting back in the pool and doing more specific sessions maybe just after the New Year, just to tick over. It’s always good for fitness and a bit of conditioning to keep up the swimming, but they were getting harder and harder to hit those sessions. I’m just kind of genuinely doing the things that I enjoy, again, riding on the weekend with some friends of mine that have always been into cycling and wanted to go out, but I’ve been, oh, I can’t this weekend because today I’ve got to do this specific ride at this specific pace and this route and things, but now it’s nice to just be able to say: Right, let’s meet at 8:00 or 9:00, we’ll do two or three hours, have a chat, catch up, just doing the things I genuinely enjoy doing that happen to be training rather than specific training.
BRAD BROWN: What’s the one piece of tech that you’ve picked up over the years that you think has given you the biggest advantage that you could not live without?
JAMES WILSON: The biggest bit of tech? I live a fairly simple life to be honest, I’ve not got Power meters, heart rate monitors, I’m just pretty organic in the way I go, when I started to look at taking it a little bit more seriously, I did look into the aerodynamics of everything a little bit more and a few tweaks to equipment here, so getting a bike fit down was again, just one of the biggest things, it was a great idea. Race wheels, helmet, all these things that make you go faster rather than tell you how fast you’re going is where I’ve always decided to put the hard earned money, so a Power meter will tell me how fast I’m going but I’m not sure it’s actually going to make me go any quicker. I’ve not really got too much tech, I’m a bit boring on that front.
BRAD BROWN: I actually find it really interesting, to be dead honest. I think so many people get caught up in that, I need the latest gadget and I need the latest kit and it’s easy to get caught up in that and not actually do the work on the bike, for example, that’s going to make all that gadgetry actually come to life. I find it interesting you haven’t got caught up in that. Not that everyone gets caught up in it, but I think everyone does have, or everyone I’ve spoken to, has a fairly big interest in it and you’re like, you know what? It’s cool, not for me.
JAMES WILSON: My turbo trainer was given to me about five years ago and it’s [inaudible 0.22.52] piece of kit, but it adds resistance to the bike, that’s all I need. I don’t need anything too fancy, it’s a fairly simple life.
BRAD BROWN: I love that. I can’t remember who it was, I spoke to someone, it was a couple of years ago, a really good age grouper from Australia and I’d just got to the point where I was asking people: What Power meter do you use and he’s like no mate, don’t have a Power meter, he said: I don’t even have a speedo on my bike and I find that really interesting. Sometimes when you are caught up in all of this you forget the signs that your body is trying to tell you that gee, my heart is popping out of my throat and maybe I should back off a little bit. You stop learning the signs that your body is sending you.
Going it alone calls for mental strength
JAMES WILSON: That’s it, I’ve always raced on feel, I don’t know anything different to be honest and I’m always a bit wary of having a race of anything dictated to me by a heart rate monitor, I know this is a race situation, this isn’t training, I need to go harder to catch him or I need to back it off because I’m going too hard, you can just tell that in your own legs I think.
BRAD BROWN: If you started your triathlon journey over again now, knowing what you know now, what would you tell yourself?
JAMES WILSON: That’s a tough question because I’ve only been doing it for a few years. What would I tell myself? Maybe to get some swimming lessons. I don’t think YouTube is enough or just following the guy who is next to you in the pool that happens to be going a bit quicker. I wish I’d have got some swimming lessons and just worked on that technique. I hit a plateau of getting any quicker, so I switched my focus to getting fitter. I wish I’d had someone telling me what to do rather than me just kind of making it up as I go along and thinking, hmm, he looks like he’s going faster, I’ll do what he does. It doesn’t always work like that because you forget that by the next length!
BRAD BROWN: That’s fantastic. You mentioned standalone marathons, what’s the goals? I’m guessing you want to try and run them as quick as you can and it must be quite an interesting thing that, running a marathon without all that other cycling and swimming rubbish before it.
JAMES WILSON: Yeah, it’s an odd mentality the Ironman, where you get off the bike and you’re relieved you’ve only got a marathon to do, just this and I’m done! Yeah, I’ve done a couple before, but this year, I think it’s nice to have a go at something a bit more relatable as well.
A lot of guys I talk to can’t really relate to the Ironman and what it’s all about and they don’t know what’s a good time and what’s a good performance, I suppose. Yeah, I think a marathon, I’ve been looking to give it a real good go, maybe go sub three hours if I can and then also pick another one to just do with some friends and enjoy the training leading up to it. So do some local 10km races, local half marathons where my friends who don’t want to run the marathon, we can have a plod around together and just get the social aspect of everything back that has been absent for me for the last year or two years, while I’ve been getting my head down, doing my own thing and no one has been getting in the way of me doing my own thing. If someone has been wanting to go out on a bike ride, again like I say, it’s been afraid not, this is my bike ride today, it’s six laps of a flat course, no scenery. It’s not the typical Sunday ride.
BRAD BROWN: It’s tough that, the solitude of it and sometimes doing all that training on your own does make you stronger when it comes to race day but how have you dealt with it? Obviously you’ve decided you want to go more into the social side of things, but to stay motivated, knowing that you’ve got to go out on your own, it’s possibly not, as you say, the most scenic route. But this is what’s on the program, it’s got to be done so let’s go and do it. How do you gear yourself up to get out there and just do it?
JAMES WILSON: Yeah, I’ve never really known anything different to be honest. I’ve always kind of done it on my own, so it’s never been, I’ve always worked off my own time scale. I get everything laid out the night before and just get up and go the next day. I’ve never really been too troubled with the solitude of it because I’ve never known anything different.
There’s a little route around here that’s got three left turns on it, it’s a flat road with no traffic lights and no roundabouts and if you do six laps of it it’s a hundred miles and it’s the most boring, dullest route in the world, but it’s a great test that you can do, every six weeks just to see where you’re at. That takes some going, to do six laps of the same, of three left turns and you’re on the aero bars for the entire time, that’s just as mentally tough a workout as physical.
When work controls your training times
Yeah, I’ve never really missed doing anything with anyone else, my Saturday morning used to go and run with some guys, but again, it always comes back to the hours that I work. There was no point in me joining a triathlon club for example because they start their sessions at 7:00 at night until 8:30 and that’s when I’m going to bed. Or swim sessions in the morning at 6:00 or 6:30 and that’s when I’m at work. Joining a tri club has never been on the cards for me, it’s always been, you’ve got to do it by yourself.
BRAD BROWN: I can sympathize with that because that’s exactly my situation. Out of the three disciplines which would you say is your best, which is your worst? I’m guessing the swim is your worst, out of the other two, which is your best?
JAMES WILSON: I’m a cyclist, I’ve always loved it and always had that as a bit of a secret weapon. I can happily stay on my bike most days and so Ironman UK, that bike leg got me to Kona pretty much. I came out the water in my usual time, but again, like I said, I was trying to get fitter rather than faster, so I came out of it a lot fresher than I ever had done and just got my head down and axed the bike as much as I can and yeah, definitely a strong cyclist.
BRAD BROWN: We’ll save the chat about the individual disciplines for next time. James, thanks for your time here on The Kona Edge today, much appreciated. We look forward to delving into what you’ve done in those individual disciplines to get better over the period you’ve been in the sport, but we’ll chat next time. Thanks for your time today.
JAMES WILSON: Great, cheers Brad, speak soon.
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