On this edition of The Kona Edge, Aida Wasilewsky shares her Ironman journey. Coming from a running background, she tells about her decision to turn from running marathons to chasing Ironman achievements. We learn how she was encouraged to get into triathlon because of the running injuries she was experiencing. This is her story about how she fell in love with the sport.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto The Kona Edge. I’m Brad Brown, it’s awesome to have you with us and I hope you had a great New Year’s celebration and the dust has settled and you’re raring to go in 2017. I’ve had a pretty good one. Managed to get some good training in over the festive season. Didn’t take much time off from work if I have to be honest but did get to spend some time with family, got to spend some time training which is amazing. Weather has been phenomenal here in Cape Town. I love summer in this city, it’s the best place in the world to train. If you’ve never been to the mother city you are missing out. Put it onto your list, you have to come and when you do, bring your shoes, bring your bike and bring your wetsuit cause it is triathlete heaven I can tell you that much.
Today’s podcast, I get to share another brilliant story and I hope you’re going to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed chatting to her and again I get asked and requested by lots of athletes from various age groups and I think this is one you’re going to really enjoy and if you know anyone who you think would be a good fit who has raced on the Big Island please pop me an e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org it’s as simple as that and I look forward to reaching out to you. If you’ve got any questions be in touch as well. The e-mail again email@example.com. Let’s get straight into today’s podcast and a great pleasure to welcome Aida Wasilewski onto the podcast.
Welcome onto The Kona Edge and we head to the US, to California to catch up with our next guest, Aida Wasilewski. Aida welcome onto The Kona Edge, thanks for joining us today.
AIDA WASILEWSKI: Thank you, I’m excited to be here.
BRAD BROWN: I’m pretty chuffed to chat to you because I’m sitting in Cape Town, you’re sitting in California but you made it out to South Africa earlier this year to take part in Ironman South Africa. You got to see Cape Town as well. A pleasant enough experience?
AIDA WASILEWSKI: Absolutely, absolutely. Loved every moment of it. I just would rather have done my race first then gone onto Cape Town to vacation because it is spectacular. I loved Cape Town.
BRAD BROWN: Before we even get into your journey, that’s a good travel tip. If you are travelling a long way for an Ironman, it’s probably best to get it out of the way and you can enjoy the rest of the trip as opposed to doing the Ironman at the end of the trip.
AIDA WASILEWSKY: That’s right.
BRAD BROWN: Aida let’s talk about your journey into the sport and where it all began for you. Where did your love for Ironman come from?
I fell in love with triathlon
AIDA WASILEWSKY: Actually I was a runner, I was not a triathlete. I’ve been doing a lot of marathons and I’ve had a couple of injuries and my husband at the time said “You know you would make a really good triathlete because you can swim” and I used to spin, do spin classes “and you can bike” I had done some mountain biking “and then you’re a good runner. You should try doing triathlons”. He actually signed me up for my first triathlon which was in Maine. He’s originally from Maine, the Shipbuilders triathlon, it’s just a 10k, and I did it and just fell in love with it. It’s a tough course, the Shipbuilders and I did it on my mountain bike, I didn’t have a road bike. I hadn’t actually been on a road bike.
Then a friend of mine found out about it, that I had done it and said you know another mom in our school she’s getting ready to do a half Ironman and I said what’s that? I didn’t know about Ironman and she said yes, she’s going to be doing it for Team and Training and you should meet her, she’s an amazing athlete and I thought oh wow, so I kept wanting to meet her and finally I met her and she said yes, we’re going to do another one and you should really sign up. I thought wow, asked her what’s the distance again of a half Ironman? She told me and I thought whoa, that sounds just huge and she said no, do it with Team and Training. They will help you, coach you and so I thought ok, let’s do this and do some good with it also. I though just marathoning was a little bit selfish and you spend so much time on your own but Ironman is a whole different um, talk about selfish…
BRAD BROWN: It takes selfish to a whole different level, doesn’t it?
AIDA WASILEWSKY: So, I did sign up for a half Ironman with Team and Training and had an amazing coach. My first real coach. He really made it fun. I felt like a child playing outdoors because there was so much time spent outdoors training for an Ironman and I seriously felt like I was cheating somehow, cause I’m a full-grown adult. A mother of 4 children and they’re full grown and I had the time that’s why I signed up. I thought oh, to spend so much time outdoors, I seriously felt like I was cheating. I ended up 2 weeks prior to my first Ironman falling and hurting myself really bad so I didn’t end up doing my first half Ironman that I trained for which was Big Kahuna. I went there and cheered the team on and then went on to do Wildflower as my first half Ironman.
Mistakes made, learned a lot, came away thinking ah I can do better on this. So, I did a few more half Ironman’s and the same friend that got me into Team and Training to do a half Ironman said let’s do an Ironman. So, I signed up and trained for my first Ironman with Team and Training. It was Vineman and literally the week of race day my mother had a heart attack and I was in the hospital on race day with her so I missed my first Ironman. That was a tough one because I had trained so hard and so long and just couldn’t wait for it and the team that I was training with all went to the race and all of them had success. We were a small group, I think there was about 8 of us training together for the Ironman distance and it took me a whole month to stop thinking about the fact that I’d missed my first Ironman. It was really a loss for me. My mom was fine and it took a month of taking care of her and she was okay so I decided to do Ironman Arizona. That was 2008.
BRAD BROWN: And the rest as they say is history. When did you realize you’re actually pretty good at this?
Ordinary people can achieve Kona
AIDA WASILEWSKY: My first coach for Team and Training who trained me for both Big Kahuna as well as Vineman said to me you know if you really wanted you could qualify for Kona. And I said what’s Kona? I didn’t know about Kona and that year I watched the championships when it was televised and I literally sat there, by the end of it I was crying. It was so moving to me, to see people finish. It was just an amazing experience and to me, I honestly thought that that was just for people who are special, who are real athletes. I had no business even thinking about Ironman. I’m just a mother of 4 children, I’ve raised 4 kids, I’m not an athlete. I did do athletics when I was in school, not here in the US, I’m not born raised from the United States. So, I seriously felt that was for special people not for just the ordinary person that wants to be an athlete and does these things for fun.
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you say that because I think a lot of age groupers struggle with the belief side of it, exactly how you described it there. It’s almost that imposter syndrome where you feel well I’m not good enough but in order to qualify you have to believe it. How do you get that belief as an athlete?
AIDA WASILEWSKY: My coach really put that in my head and from there after watching, I questioned him. I said do you really think I can qualify? He said yes, you have the goods but you have to want it. And I thought well let’s go, let’s do this. It wasn’t that simple, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it takes a lot of patience. I was not a swimmer, I am not a swimmer. I still am not good at swimming I just get through the swimming. I still work very very hard at it. I’m not really that good a biker, I’ve had to work really hard on the biking but I’ve always been a runner so the running comes to me much easier, mentally and physically than the other 2 disciplines. It’s having the patience to learn and be a student of each of those sports.
I just enjoy the process so much, the training for it. I enjoy the races and I really don’t take myself that seriously. I just feel I just want to get better. I just want to do better today than I did yesterday. I just followed my training plan and when I did my first Ironman I just knew my goal was for that one to finish and not to walk on the run and I achieved it and I though ok, the next race I can do better.
It just went from there and then I started comparing myself to the rest of my age group and I thought ok you know, I do know I can do better here I just have to work a little harder or learn to do it better and it was just ever so gradually training then I changed coached and I literally found my next coach, online. I had read his story, contacted him. He had qualified and done Kona so I got with him and told him that I really want to qualify for Kona. At this point I had done a few races and I’d actually won an Ironman, it was not a real Ironman as they say because it wasn’t a sanctioned Ironman distance and it was just the process of gradually being able to wrap my head around it that I could do it.
Patience to learn the sport
BRAD BROWN: You speak about the patience and funnily enough that’s one of the things that pops up here on the podcast is consistency and building on foundations that you’ve built and it takes time and it makes me think, I got an email yesterday from somebody asking about getting guests on who qualified at their first attempt and my gut feel is that’s not the norm. This is a long-term project getting to the Big Island.
AIDA WASILEWSKY: Yes, unless you’re a college athlete and you are really gifted in a couple of the disciplines. I think for very few that can happen that they can qualify the first time around but for just the regular person that loves to do triathlon and has that desire to get to Kona, it takes patience, yes. A lot of nailing the basics, learning how to do each one of the disciplines well, being patient with yourself and just being purely consistent at it.
BRAD BROWN: Aida, you’ve had some disappointments throughout your triathlon career. You mention your first half and your first full that you ended up missing for circumstances out of your control but you’ve also had a crash on the bike. Kona I think was it last year where you had a crash? Things like this do get put in your path and curveballs do get thrown. How do you deal with disappointment and when things don’t go according to plan?
Ironman leaves you wanting more
AIDA WASILEWSKY: Yes, I’ve had my fair share of crashes I would say. I’ve actually crashed and broken my pelvis during training for Ironman France. Like I said I have crashed while training for Kona and broke my clavicle. Honestly for me, it’s a step back but it only fuels my love for the sport more because while I’m recovering the whole time I study. I study the sport, I read as much as I can. I plan. I focus on my next race and I come back from it wanting it even more. I just love this sport and I love the everyday training. That’s to me more important than even just being able to qualify for Kona and to do Kona. I love being out there every single day and I love seeing how I can get better.
I’m not a competitive person really, the woman that I compete with in my age group are amazing and some and that’s one of the things I got to know. Who am I competing against? I was like wow, to even have the audacity to think that I could compete against x pro’s, x Olympic marathoners, x ideal world champions. These are the people that are in my age group that I have to compete with. There’s a lady who’s honestly a legend in the ultra world, in ultra running, they’re phenomenal women and it just like makes me feel, if anything, like so incredibly blessed that I can actually be out there with them and think that I could do what they’re doing. That’s what I also love about being in Kona that we can actually race with the pros.
BRAD BROWN: I think that is a unique thing, getting to race the same course as the best in the world not just in your age group but across the board. You mentioned some of the people you get to race against within your age group but you made it onto the podium, Kona 2016 so it’s all good and well saying that you’re there to just sort of experience it but you’re mixing it up with the best in the world that must be something you’re pretty proud of.
Believe in yourself – your coach does
AIDA WASILEWSKY: I truly am and honestly, I to this day, to this moment, I can’t believe that I achieved that. My coach completely believed in me that I could do it, I could make the podium. It’s hard for me to go; Really? I’m actually capable of doing that? You think I’m that good or have that ability? He says to me all the time, it’s not just having the goods just don’t even think that way. Just follow the plan. Keep it simple. I’m going to give you the plan just do the plan. Just train. Even before the race people ask me do you know who you’re racing against? And I say no I don’t even look at the list of women because there’s so many impressive women in my age group that’s just going to be a negative in my head because I’m not an x any athlete, I’m just the mom of 4 children, that’s raised 4 children. That’s what I’ve been doing.
So, I don’t look at that list and I don’t try and compare myself to them. I just know what I’ve done for training and I’m just going to go out there and implement what I have trained for. And I don’t get on the course, when I see these women it doesn’t actually, now I’ve met them at different races, I’ve done 16 Ironman’s so I’ve gotten to know a lot of my age group ladies, they’re amazing people but they’re amazing also when I meet them also as individuals. When I see them on the course it’s never a negative in my head “oh she passed me” or “whoa, I see them on the way back as I’m still going out”. It doesn’t get to me in a negative way because I believe on the day I can only do what I have trained for and I just do what I’m capable of doing.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned your coach a few times and you’ve changed coaches too. Was it something you knew that if you were going to take this on you had to do it with the help of someone else and what do you look for in a coach and with the switch was it a case of looking for someone who could get you to Kona who had done it before? Tell me the thought process that goes into that.
Chose your coach with care
AIDA WASILEWSKY: Yes, I’ve had 3 coaches. The initial one that got me started with Team and Training, then onto the, who is actually now my life partner, my second coach who I found who had qualified and done Kona himself and he got me to Kona twice with training and then it was ok I have gotten better, I’m doing good but I want more. I want to get better and I then found Matt Dickson. He’s my coach and he, I went to a training camp and I’d met another athlete at another camp, a running camp, and she had talked to me about trying to find a new coach and I love my coach who now is my life partner who said, you know you really have to connect. You’ve got to be on the same wavelength as far as philosophy, just life, not just training and how, because we are not pro’s, we have other things going on in our lives plus trying to train and so you’ve got to find someone that considers all of that. So, you have to feel good when you’re talking with them like whatever they say you can relate to it.
That’s what I was looking for and she found Matt Dickson and in communicating told me how much she liked him and said there’s a training camp coming up for just women by him. I signed up and when I went to the training camp, everything he said just, I completely could relate to because in his, no matter what he talked about he added what effect just life stress has on us for training. That’s what I needed again being a mother of 4 children and grown children who I’m very involved with, I can’t just focus on training to get to Kona and to get to the podium. I just really related to him and just loved the philosophy that he has behind training and for the first time someone talking about being patient in training and doing exactly what you’re told. That’s a hard one to hold me back because every time I went out for training I would go give it all and come back and realized that I’m not supposed to do that. He got me to back off and work more on the basics and in a different way work harder at something. He truly believed I could get to the podium but even before I could get there I was asked by a friend, so your coach he trains you like you’re a pro. I said well no, he trains me for me because it’s very individual and I think that’s the coach you want who trains you for you, who you are.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, I think that is vital and funnily enough that’s one of the things that pops up quite often on the podcast is the time management side of things and getting the balance right between training, work, your career and your family life. How do you juggle it? How do you keep the balls in the air when sometimes it almost feels like it’s impossible I’m sure?
AIDA WASILEWSKY: Yes, very well put. You mention Kona 2016 I made the podium and yet it was 2016 that I became a brand-new grandmother. I have a grandson. I had to fly to Costa Rica and be with my daughter for the birth and I was there for 3 weeks. She had the baby in July and I was like I have all this training to do. I am trying to get to Kona injury free and as fit as I can be and I am going to be in Costa Rica, I don’t know for how long, and not be really able to train and have that as my priority. But my coach kept saying you’re good, go do it and you will be fine. It’s hard it really is and doubting yourself. Doubting that you’re doing the right thing.
The balancing act is super hard but you know what I think the end for someone especially I think you know we always say triathletes are mostly the A-type personalities. We just like to do everything just head-on and we’re like channel visioned. We just see that and have a hard time with everything else but I think being a mom has forced me to keep it all in balance. I can’t just think about myself. Again, 4 children very involved in their lives and always forced to, they keep me down to earth. It can’t just be “oh I have to go train” 3 hours a day. Things come up, I go priority, you know family is priority.
BRAD BROWN: Aida I’m also sitting here doing the math and trying to work out how long you’ve been in the sport and how many full Ironman distance races you’ve done and I’m getting on average 2 or 3 a year since you started out around there. How many of these things do you think you’ve got in your body as you get older as well and how many do you think is the right amount to be doing in a year?
How many is enough in a year
AIDA WASILEWSKY: I think that is so incredibly individual and I truly believe it’s what your goals are for each one of them. I definitely know and I’ve talked to other triathletes who feel every time they go to a race they’re there to race and they’re there to take first place. I’m not one of those athletes. Like I say I really, really enjoy the process.
I love racing even though I’m not competitive so for me, I enjoy doing races and I like doing many races so I have done quite a few years. I have done 2 and 3 Ironman’s along with 2/3 half Ironman’s along with 2/3 ultra’s and a couple marathon but like I said I don’t go at each one of them and just do the very best that I can do. There’s a build up for me for these things.
This year I did 3 Ironman’s and for me it was to try and qualify for Kona so I had to actually bring my A-game to each one of them. The first one being South Africa I didn’t make it. I came 2nd. We had one slot so 4 weeks later, I’m sorry 5 weeks later, I did Ironman Texas and you know, fuel was burning there for me so that was the motivation and I went out there and I was scared. I was seriously scared and my coach said you know what you don’t have to enjoy every one of them. Go do the job, get the job done.
Today is the day where you are the pro and you are going to go out there and you have a job to do and you do it. He knows me that I first and foremost enjoy my races so if you see someone running with a big smile on their face during a marathon, that’s me. I’m actually happy to be on my 2 feet. I’m done with the swim and the bike and I’m running now so he said you know go get the job done and it got me through. I had a terrible experience in the swim and then just got on the bike and moved on and just stayed at it and achieved my goal. And I knew the only way was I would have to take first place to qualify for Kona. Did that and then I had a little break by going to Costa Rica to see my grand-baby be born and it was an amazing, sorry it gets me emotional, it was an amazing experience and then I came back and it was actually the best break for me and I then started training. So, August and September I was heavy duty training and I was ready there in October to do whatever the day had for me and it was a huge surprise.
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you talk about the break and going to Costa Rica and having that time to almost switch off and we spoke about the consistency and patience earlier on but it’s also important to take breaks like that to come back refreshed that you’re not always, your heads not always in the game, sometimes you do need to take some time off, don’t you?
Rest will benefit your performance
AIDA WASILEWSKY: Oh yes, absolutely even though your head will play games with you and every so many days I would text my coach and say ‘Am I going to be okay?’ and he would say you’re doing just fine. This is good for you ok. So, then I would just calm down and enjoy my time with my daughter and grand-baby and I thought ok when I got back it was time to work really. I found myself instead of feeling really burned out at the end with intensity of the training, I was eager to keep training. That break really worked for me and I at the time couldn’t see that, but I trusted in my coach and did what he told me to do. Some of the communication that we have which he has been so good for me is he keeps telling me keep it simple, keep it simple just do what’s on your plan.
BRAD BROWN: Absolutely. Well Aida I’m going to end it there from just chatting about your story. We’ll get you on next time round to chat a little bit about the swim and the other disciplines but we’ll save that for another time. Thanks for your time today here on The Kona Edge.
AIDA WASILEWSKY: Thank you so much for having me.
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