The Ironman World Championships with Aled Smith – The Kona Dream
On this edition of The Kona Edge Brad Brown caught up with Aled Smith. Aled shares some of his trials and tribulations on his road to the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
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BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto The Kona Edge, all the way in Wales today, Aled Smith, Aled, welcome, nice to catch up and thanks for joining us.
ALED SMITH: Thanks for having me, it’s a pleasure.
BRAD BROWN: Aled, before we get into your Ironman World Championships journey, we’re in the southern tip of Africa at the moment, absolute scorcher as we record this, how are things in Wales, as we speak?
ALED SMITH: It’s very grey and wet over here, so probably about 12 degrees with a bit of rain and a lot of wind, unfortunately, it’s not great.
BRAD BROWN: It doesn’t sound like the greatest days and that’s one of the things I wanted to chat to you about, but we’ll get to that later on, is training for a race like theIronman World Championships in Kona in those conditions.
Aled, where did your journey into triathlon start, where did it all begin for you?
Every Ironman World Championships journey starts somewhere
ALED SMITH: So, I sort of started cycling when I was about 18. I got a bike for my 18th birthday and did a bit of cycling. Then Ironman Wales came to Tenby, which is my home town, so I volunteered 2011/2012. That inspired me quite a lot and I thought I can do this.
So then 2013 I signed up. Idid the training, which included learning how to swim and learning how to run.
BRAD BROWN: Aled I love that. So often these Ironman races are dependent on the volunteers. It’s hard work volunteering at an Ironman. I’ve worked at a few Ironman and half Ironman races I’ve announced it at Ironman South Africa, so I’ve seen that side of it.
I’ve also races a few Ironman and half Ironman races myself. Did you know what an Ironman was when you signed up? Obviously you see this Ironman race is coming and Tenby is not the hugest of places.
When something as big as Ironman comes to the town everyone knows, but did you know what you were getting yourself into when you signed up to volunteer for that race?
Volunteering is where Ironman starts for a lot of people
ALED SMITH: Not at all. Through volunteering you see all sizes and shapes doing it. I think it makes you feel, if they can do it, then surely I’m in a good position to be able to try and do it.
From there it makes it a lot easier to get the training done really.
BRAD BROWN: Ironman Wales, traditionally it’s a tough course, it’s not one of the easiest. Over the years there have been some horrific weather conditions that athletes have had to endure. It took you a couple of years to finally take the plunge.
Can you remember that time when you went, this is it, I’m going to do it, I’m going to press the ‘enter’ button on my keyboard and submit my entry, I’m going to do this thing, can you remember the thought process that led up to that?
ALED SMITH: I was at university at the time. All I remember was sitting in my room on the laptop. As soon I pressed the button and this fear went through my body, oh no, what have I done.
Then at the same time it was excitement. What’s going to be next? What’s the journey going to be like? And that was really exciting. It was a mix of emotions of, oh now, what have I done and then right, we can do this, let’s crack on with it.
Pulling the Ironman trigger
BRAD BROWN: You talk about the inspiration and seeing other people doing it and you think, if they can do it, I can do it. Was there any one person in particular that you saw in those years that you were volunteering that you thought, man alive, I’ve got absolutely no excuse, I should be doing this.
ALED SMITH: Not really, no, because when I first started, I hosted Scott in Adderley who Ironman Wales. He really inspired me through the way he trained through work.
He was racing at the top end of the level really and that was more of an inspiration to me. Being able to compete that highly, whilst working sort of similar hours that I would be working eventually. It was more a higher level than people who were just about getting around sort of thing.
BRAD BROWN: Looking at the working alongside training for a race like an Ironman, and that’s why I love speaking to age groupers. It’s one thing being a professional and that’s what you do. You’re able to recover.
I’ve got the biggest amount of respect for age groupers who work a full day’s work, Monday through Friday, possibly sometimes even weekends, they’ve got family life to juggle, but they manage to find the time to put in to train for a race like Ironman.
Getting the balance right when training for the Ironman World Championships
For many of them, it’s not just training, but to push themselves and see how far they can go. Was that something you struggled with, to start out with, was getting the balance between work, family life and training right?
ALED SMITH: Yeah, definitely. It took a good while getting into it, but I think when you get into a routine, things fall into place. Things are a lot easier if you’ve got the right support around you.
With that support group, it’s no problem why you can’t really put in the training and have a family life as well as be successful at work.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me a little about that first Ironman, once it was entered, the training was being done. The race itself. Tell us a little about the race, for folks who don’t know about Ironman Wales. It’s not one of the easiest ones and fastest and flattest Ironman course around, is it?
ALED SMITH: By no means, Ironman Wales is probably one of the toughest Ironman races that you’ll ever do.
The swim is in the north beach, so it’s an ocean swim. Its always been very rough. There’s not been a single year when it’s been calm. Then you head into the countryside for a lot of climbing on the bike. It’s sort of 8 000 foot over 112 miles and very technical. You then enter town for the marathon, which is four loops out of town and then that’s covering about 3 000 foot of elevation.
The Ironman Wales course is tough
Ironman Wales is a very tough and hilly route, but it’s one of the best supported Ironman races that I’ve ever raced. That’s what makes Ironman wales so special. The whole town just gets really into it and you wouldn’t be disappointed if you came to race it, that’s for sure.
BRAD BROWN: Something you forgot to mention was the second run, it’s a bit of a trek from the beach up to T1 to get onto the bike, I speak under correction, but I think you have a run bag after the swim to be able to get back to T1.
ALED SMITH: Yeah, so you finish the swim and then you’ve got your trainers wrapped up and then it’s a kilometer run up into transition. It’s not just a casual run, from the swim. There’s no blood in your legs and you’re straight up these zigzags. From there it’s through town and into transition. Yeah, it’s mean, but it’s good fun.
BRAD BROWN: It’s a swim, run, bike run sort of Ironman.
ALED SMITH: Exactly, yeah.
Your first Ironman is always special
BRAD BROWN: Aled, tell me a little bit about your first one, how did that go? You obviously worked hard and you’d done the work. Did it go according to plan time-wise? What were you hoping for and what did you end up achieving?
ALED SMITH: So for my first one I didn’t have any expectations. I pretty much went in just to complete it and it was tough, it was harder than I imagined. It doesn’t help doing it on a course like Ironman Wales.
It was just really tough and you learn a lot about yourself. You learn how to deal with certain situations when you’re really struggling. It was different, but yeah, one special day for me, definitely.
BRAD BROWN: As far as time goes, I always like to find out from age groupers who have qualified for the Ironman World Championships and raced at Ironman Kona, what their first experience was like.
Just to give the rest of us hope that sometimes you don’t have to go and win your age group first time out, it’s a progression. What did you do that first outing?
ALED SMITH: So my first Ironman I did a 12:40 and came 17th in my age group.
BRAD BROWN: So a great performance, particularly on that course. That’s a fantastic time. There’s a huge competitive nature amongst the Ironman age groupers and wanting to get to the Ironman World Championships.
When did you sort of become acutely aware of that and the possibility of racing at the Ironman World Championships if you performed well enough within your age group?
Planting the Ironman World Championships seed
ALED SMITH: Okay, so at Ironman Wales in 2014 I came 4th in my age group. I did 11:30 then, missed out on an Ironman World Championships slot by 15 minutes I think.
At the time I was all set to go to the army, with a potential army officer career ahead of me. It was then then That I committed to Ironman Kona really from there. I thought it’s not too far out of reach. If I work for it now, get a job, be able to afford to pay for everything and then work from there That was when I put everything into it really, that’s where it went from.
BRAD BROWN: The word you used is ‘committed’ and I think that’s a fine line. Often people think, if you’re doing Ironman’s you need to be committed at some stage. But you talk about that commitment and making the decision, that’s essentially what it boils down to. Making a decision.
What did you change? You mentioned getting a job, but were there things, as far as your preparation goes that you changed? Did you go out and find a coach? What did you really change to enable you to chase the Ironman World Championships dream?
Get a coach if you want to get to the Ironman World Championships
ALED SMITH: First thing I did before I decided to make the commitment was to get a coach. Joe Beer was my guy. He’s quite well known in the triathlon industry. I got him as a coach and then sat down everything from there.
I made sure I got into a routine and a structure. A good structure really does got a long way in your training. That’s what I did to ensure that I got everywhere.
BRAD BROWN: In those first experiences, did you just wing it without a coach or did you have a coach and then you switched to Joe?
ALED SMITH: No, exactly as you said, I just winged it, did what I knew I needed to do, but no, didn’t really work out that well, so when I got a coach, it was very much different, it was well worth it.
BRAD BROWN: It’s funny Aled, I chat to a lot of Ironman and half Ironman age groupers. For most of them, that is the turning point. It is when they decide to take this Ironman thing seriously. From there they go and get help. I think a lot of people get stuck thinking they don’t need help. That they can do this on their own.
It takes an Ironman team
Truthfully, if you want to get to a race like theIronman World Championships in Kona as an age grouper, you need help. You need to find someone who has not necessarily been there before, but knows what it takes.
ALED SMITH: Yeah, it just takes the guess work out and you know you’re doing the right thing. You’re not doing these aimless sessions where you’re not really getting any benefit.
You’re just getting the miles in, where there’s no benefit from it and you’re not gaining anything. Definitely a coach is a good investment if you want to get to the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
BRAD BROWN: You said something else too that pops up so often. Empty miles or junk miles. When you’re training for an Ironman on your own, you think I need to prepare on the bike.
I’m going to go out and just ride 5 hours .There’s no real output or significant idea of what you want to get out of that session.
It sounds like, particularly when you’re working full time, you really need to be structured. You know exactly what you want to get out of each and every single one of the work outs that you’re putting in.
Make your Ironman training sessions count
ALED SMITH: Yeah, you need to make sure that the time that you do have spare, you’re utilizing. That you’re making the most of it.
Ensuring you’re getting all the benefits that you can in that small amount of time that you’ve got to train. It’s about making the most of your time and getting as much from the training as you can.
BRAD BROWN: Aled, what it was like once you had that structure in place? You knew you had so many hours a week to train. Then you sat down with a coach and worked out what that plan was going to look like.
Did you struggle with, not just the amount that you needed to do, but also the intensity? Were you doing a lot less than when you moved over to the coach or was it an easy transition for you?
ALED SMITH: It was an easy transition for me because I was sort of doing the same hours. The quality of the training sessions changed though. I always had a similar amount of time to train, but it was the sessions that changed and the intensity. From there but no, it didn’t take me long at all.
After a few weeks I was loving the training. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel and the progression I was going to be making throughout the season, that really did help.
An Ironman World Championships training program
BRAD BROWN: Lets look at those training sessions. Obviously at different stages within your training, the weeks look slightly different, but what would an average week look like for you? What sessions were you doing and how many of each discipline?
ALED SMITH: I would never go over 18 hours really, throughout the week. I’d do a lot of my sessions over the weekend. I’m a weekend warrior. So I’d back them up, probably do 2-3 sessions on a Saturday and then two Sunday sessions.
Through the week it would just be very much one day, one session. That’s all I could really get done through the working week. That was the only problem with working 7:30 to 5:00. It’s very hard to get up in the morning and then do another session after. I’d always leave it until the end, cause I’m not a very good morning person!
BRAD BROWN: Let’s also touch on the conditions. Truthfully, Wales is probably not the most outdoorsy of places. The weather is not the greatest at the best of times, was that something that bugged you? You look at some of the guys you’re competing against at the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
Training for Ironman Kona in difficult conditions
For example and I think of where I’m from here in South Africa, weather conditions are just so conducive to being outdoorsy and training for something like this. That’s another challenge that someone like you in Wales has to overcome and deal with.
ALED SMITH: Yeah, I think it makes us suffer a bit, that’s for sure. We don’t mind the rain and the wet and the wind. But when you want to get a good, long session done and you wake up and it’s hammering down with rain, it really gets to you. You think, why can’t it just be a nice day for a 100 mile bike ride instead of 2 degrees and chucking down with rain?
It’s one of those things, you just have to get it done. I’ve been fortunate enough during the winter months to shoot off to Lanzarote for some better training. That really helps, just breaking up the season. Or the winter training with a nice block of sunshine and some decent training.
The Build Up To The Ironman World Championships
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about that season in the build up to you qualifying for Kona, were there major differences that you sort of discovered in yourself from a racing perspective?
Did you go out and just try and race everything you could or were you really strategic about what you were racing?
ALED SMITH: No, so before the Ironman World Championships in Kona I was very much aiming to qualify. I targeted Ironman Lanzarote as my qualification race where I wasn’t successful. I then headed to Ironman 70.3, the ITU World Championships and then Ironman UK. That was my last chance to qualify.
I was very much strategic in that point of view that I was just aiming to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, I wasn’t racing. So, if I qualified straight away, then I wouldn’t have raced up until Kona. But I was forced into a position where I just had to keep on racing. It was just about racing smartly and not doing myself too much damage throughout the season.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me about your qualifying race. Going into that, particularly like you say, you missed qualification at Ironman Lanzarote and then had to do Ironman UK. The pressure going into a race like that where you’ve almost put all your eggs in one basket in one season. The Ironman World Championships in Kona was the goal and that was your last chance to qualify, did that weigh on you?
The pressure of trying to qualify for Ironman Kona
ALED SMITH: Yeah, very much so. But not as much as Ironman Lanzarote I don’t think. I sort of had in my mind that it was my last chance. It had to be this year otherwise I’d have had to have given up hope. The pressure was different.
It was do or die, but it didn’t feel like that. I just wanted to go out and enjoy it. If I had a good race, then so be it. I had a good fun year trying to qualify for the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
it’s been a good challenge and I haven’t succeeded, but it take my mind into some dark places. It did put a lot of pressure on me getting into that race.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk the race itself. At what stage in that race do you know you’ve qualified for the Ironman World Championships? I’ve never won an age group or qualified for the Ironman World Championships myself, but on the road, do you know where you’re at? Do you know where you’re sitting in your age group at the time or is it a case of, go as hard as you can, if that’s good enough to win on the day, then that’s good enough to win?
How do you know if you’re in the lead or not?
ALED SMITH: Yeah, pretty much, so when you’re racing, you don’t really know where you are. Unless you’ve got a really switched on support group and they know where you are, giving you positions and what-not.
I’m not a very good swimmer, so I usually come from the back end and bike my way through. You tend to overtake people in your age group.
You have a sort of rough idea where you are, but never the exact position. I knew I had a good run, the bike was okay. My Ironman run was really good of 3:14. I ran my way through the main field and it wasn’t until I was in the transition tent afterwards that I realized I’d qualified for the Ironman World Championships.
Through the day I was pretty much blind as to where I was in the race. I think that plays better with you because you’re not under pressure if you’re actually in a bad place. You just go with the flow and you race as hard as you can. If that’s good enough on the day, then there you go.
Hanging out in dark places during an Ironman
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about those dark places. We all go through them at some stage or another during an Ironman, the good news is they don’t last forever, the bad news is the good patches don’t last forever either. How do you get yourself out of those bad dark, dark patches?
ALED SMITH: I pretty much know exactly when I’m going to go through a bad place. It’s about 70 miles onto the Ironman bike. That’s where I go through a bad patch. Then on the run, it’s at about 20 miles that I go through a bad patch.
It’s pretty much exactly when I know it’s going to happen, so I just go with it. I try and keep as positive as I can, know that it’s not going to go on forever. You’re going to come out of it and you’ve just got to go with it. Know that it’s not the end of the world.
You just have to think about the positives and think about the finish line and the red carpet and how good that’ll be pretty much.
What does it feel like to qualify for the Ironman World Championships?
BRAD BROWN: Describe the feeling itting in that transition tent afterwards, when you realize you’ve achieved your goal. You’ve qualified for the Ironman World Championships. Can you describe that feeling?
ALED SMITH: I was emotionless, it didn’t faze me. I was like, oh, there you are then. It’s such a strange feeling cause I’d worked so hard for it all year. Then when it actually happened it was like, okay, this is it. But then afterwards, it was the day after the roll down ceremony and the awards ceremony where it sunk in.
I’ve actually done this. I’ve qualified for the Ironman World Championships. I’m going to Ironman Kona in October, to race against the best in the world. That’s when it really kicked in.
BRAD BROWN: Aled, if I say the word ‘Kona’, what do you think?
ALED SMITH: Best race. Best race in the world. The hardest, the most prestigious race. There’s a lot of things you can describe Kona as, it’s an incredible place.
Do you change things once you’ve qualified for the Ironman World Championships?
BRAD BROWN: Going into the Ironman World Championships in 2015, did you change much? Did you try anything new or was it a case of, you know what, you’re going to stick with what got you to qualify for the Ironman World Championships?
ALED SMITH: No, I very much stuck with what I knew, but I added in a few race specific sessions. So I got into the hot room on the serious sessions, doing some race pace intervals. Then also going into the sauna, trying to acclimatize as best as you can.
There’s no way a Welshman, going from 15 degree heat, to a 35 degree heat and 80% humidity can cope with that transition straight away. That was the best I could do at the time.
BRAD BROWN: That’s something a lot of age groupers, particularly from Europe and specifically the UK struggle with. The change in temperature and conditions and climate. It’s a huge thing.
You mentioned that the training in the horrible weather and in the rain, when it’s chucking down, makes you mentally stronger. Even though it’s totally different conditions, you obviously prepare for the worst.
Mentally, you’re pretty tough to deal with tough conditions, do you think that helps in a race like Ironman Kona when you have to deal with the weather conditions you do have to deal with in Wales?
Make sure you’re mentally ready for Ironman Kona
ALED SMITH: Yeah, I think the adverse conditions do cross boards, but the heat is a different ball game. I think physiologically you either are able to adapt to the heat well or you’re not.
It’s not one of those things where, okay, you go out for a long period of time and you’ll sort of get acclimatized to it.
Some people struggle with the heat and I’m one of those. I’m very pale. As soon as it gets hot I start sweating and my heart rate goes through the roof. It’s just about being calm in those situations and not letting it get to you. The heat can fluster you massively and it can be dangerous. It’s all about just keeping calm and controlled through that. It’s not too dissimilar to going out in the rain and the wet, it’s just the extremes of conditions I guess.
BRAD BROWN: Going into the Ironman World Championships in Kona, have worked out in your mind what you wanted to achieve? What the game plan going into it? What was your thinking going into the race?
All bets are off going into the Ironman World Championships in Kona
ALED SMITH: I didn’t want any pressure on myself going into the race. There were no expectations to finish in the top ten or whatever in my age group. I’d done all the hard work throughout the season and getting to Ironman Kona was the goal.
Racing in the Ironman World Championships was just the bonus. The icing on the cake.
I was there very much just to enjoy the experience, live it up and obviously race well. But if I didn’t race well, it wasn’t the end of the world. I wasn’t there to compete, so I wanted to have a good performance. Not to say that I didn’t give it everything, I did, but my mindset was very much different to what I had been racing at Ironman Lanzarote and Ironman UK throughout the season.
BRAD BROWN: Touchdown on the big island, everyone I’ve spoken to who has been to The Ironman World Championships has just described that experience as almost surreal. It’s the best athletes in the world in the same place at the same time.
When you landed and arrived in Hawaii, was it intimidating? You look around and it’s all these lean bodies and racing snakes, did it freak you out at all?
Feeling overwhelmed at Ironman Kona
ALED SMITH: Yeah, massively, exactly as you say. You’re walking around, they’re all ripped, tanned, veins pumping through their body, never been in better shape in their lives. Then you turn up and you never felt like such a mediocre average Joe-athlete in your life.
It’s incredible and it’s something you have to experience to have any thoughts on it. It was quite intimidating but you know that you’ve done the hard work and you deserve to be there yourself. I think that’s what you have to keep reiterating to yourself as you go through the journey at Kona is that you deserve to be there. You’ve done the hard work and so, yeah, it’s daunting there for sure.
BRAD BROWN: The scary thing is it’s probably a case of everyone else looking at you and thinking exactly the same. I think everyone goes through that.
ALED SMITH: Probably not so much of me, but yeah.
BRAD BROWN: Aled, talk to me about the side shows of the Ironman World Championships. Obviously the race is big, but there’s so many other things going on. You talk about the best athletes in the world being there and they’re ripped and they’re tanned.
But it’s also an opportunity for all the manufacturers to showcase what they’ve got. There’s a lot to distract you ahead of race day. If you think of the underpants run, there’s so many things going on. There are so many traditions, that you almost want to be a part of. You’ve heard about all the folklore.
Getting sucked into the Ironman Kona side shows
Did you struggle with that, to get the balance between, hey, we’re here to race, but we’re also here to enjoy the experience?
ALED SMITH: Yeah, there was so much going on, it was incredible. Breakfast with Bob, where you go down and watch all the professional athletes who are potentially going to win, be interviewed. As you say, the underpants run. The expo where you can just go around and walk around all day, grabbing your freebies.
It’s very hard to pull yourself away from it and remember that you’re actually there to race. You could be on your feet all day, right up until the day before the race and you have to realize you are there to race. At the same time, you want to take in the whole race and that’s what it has to offer. So, you want to make the most of it, but not hamper your chances of having a good race at the same time.
BRAD BROWN: How long before race day did you actually arrive?
ALED SMITH: I was there 14 days before the race, so plenty of time to get settled into the Hawaiian lifestyle, for sure.
Racing in the Ironman World Championships
BRAD BROWN: As far as the race itself, let’s talk about your experience. What it’s like waking up on race morning. It’s the Ironman World Championships, that must be a weird feeling too. The buildup has been long and you’ve worked hard to get here, but when it actually arrives, it must be surreal.
ALED SMITH: Yeah, it’s like no other feeling I’ve experienced before. I always wake up on race day morning and think, oh crikey, ” what am I doing?”. I think “what am I going to put myself through, through these hours of pain and racing and suffering?”.
This was just on a larger scale, racing against the best in a hot country far, far away from home. It was incredible.
You then roll down to transition and then it’s very much what you’ve seen on the YouTube videos I’d been watching for the past few months. I realized that I’m going to be there. It’s incredible, everything is just on a bigger scale in Hawaii compared to your local Ironman races.
I think that’s what sets it apart from the rest. Everything is just twice the size as it is at the other Ironman events, it really is incredible.
The Ironman Kona swim
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about your race itself, the cannon goes, that water is just magnificent, it’s nice to mess around in, but it must be amazing to do a 3.8km swim in, tell me about the swim itself, how did yours go?
ALED SMITH: I’m not a great swimmer anyway as it is and the non-wetsuit swim. You’re just in your swimsuit and it’s a continuous swim. It’s 3.8km and there’s no two loops. You can’t get out for a little rest, you’re swimming for the whole 3.8km.
At the Ironman World Championships in Kona, you’re lined up alongside the pier. You very much make your race or your swim as rushed as you want it to be. If you want to get in the masses, probably a bit of a scrap, then you can. If you want a more relaxed and chilled out swim, then you can too. There’s plenty of options to have a swim that you desire in Kona.
BRAD BROWN: Time-wise, you mentioned you’re not the best swimmer, I was reading your race report, I think you dipped just under an hour twenty for that swim.
ALED SMITH: Yeah, I was quite happy with that, but still a million miles from where my potential could be, but I took that and it could have been a lot worse on the day.
The Ironman Kona Bike
BRAD BROWN: The Ironman Kona bike is tough. There’s no two ways about it. It gets hot and it gets lonely out on that bike. By what you’ve told me, biking is one of your big strengths. How did you approach the Ironman Kona bike? Getting out of the water, you’re in to T1, how do you approach the bike in Kona?
ALED SMITH: So, I’ve always raced the power, especially this season going through qualification for the Ironman World Championships. I’ve had a power meter and I’ve stuck to that. It’s enabled me to have a good run afterwards but as soon as I got onto the bike in Kona, I looked down to my numbers to see how I was doing and it wasn’t there.
So I very much had to make it up on the spot and just go by feel really and heart rate and hope that I wasn’t pushing too hard. That was the only problem.
I did feel a little lost, you didn’t have that comforter. Knowing your numbers and knowing that pace. That power will see you through. No, it worked out okay in the end.
BRAD BROWN: The Ironman World Championships bike course is hot. Particularly like you say, coming from Wales and you’ve trained in very different adverse conditions. Did you struggle with the heat out on the bike at Ironman Kona?
Beat the heat at Ironman Kona
ALED SMITH: Yeah I did towards the latter part of the race. To be honest, the aid stations on the bike were also fantastic for the most part. So you’re not cycling more than 5-6 miles without getting some cold water, some Gatorade or some Coca Cola. You always have the opportunity to cool yourself down.
You don’t often get the chance to let your body temperature climb too high, so the aid stations there are really good.
BRAD BROWN: You get off the bike and then it’s the run, the famous marathon in Kona. The vibe, just by what I’ve seen on the video feeds, looks absolutely incredible. Was that one of the best experiences coming out of T2? Starting that run and just experiencing that vibe at the Ironman World Championships?
ALED SMITH: It was incredible. I was in a bad place coming off the bike. I had sort of over pushed it a bit and so I got a bit hot. When I was out of T2 it was just a matter of keeping calm and not letting things get to me. But you can’t help it when you’re running through town and onto Ali’i Drive.
The crowds are incredible and you realize that this is where history has been made before. You think of the caliber of athletes that are on the road ahead of you. So it’s a very surreal feeling to know that you’re racing on the same day, on the same course as Jan Frodeno who goes on to win the race or Seb Kienle from last year.
There’s a lot of history and prestige in that race and that’s when you start to feel it. When you know you’re racing those sorts of people.
Overcoming the darkness at the Ironman World Championships
BRAD BROWN: Looking at that run, you mentioned when you got off the bike you were in a dark place, there must have been a few of them on the run as well?
ALED SMITH: Oh plenty of them on the run. It’s just so hard and for me, I struggled with the heat. My pace very much stayed consistent throughout the race but I couldn’t go that one level extra. That’s where I really wanted to be and I just couldn’t get into that gear.
Unfortunately it was just the heat and the circumstances I was under at the time. It was never about my own personal performance, but very much conditions that surrounded me at the time.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned earlier on the feeling and visualizing what it would be like to run down that finishers carpet. Was that something you visualized lots? Was it finishing Ironman Kona and running down that famous carpet in that famous finish shoot?
ALED SMITH: Yeah, it always goes through your mind. I’ve always watched the Ironman Kona for the last 2-3 years on live feed. So you’re up until the early hours watching them come over the line. Then it’s Mike Riley, the announcer, calling you over.
The role of vizualisation in Ironman
It’s always going through your mind. As soon as I qualified, that’s what you dream of and that’s where you switch your attention too. It was a very incredible experience and something that will stay with me for a very, very long time, that’s for sure.
BRAD BROWN: Often we visualized what it would be like and when it actually happens, we almost feel a bit let down, did that finish live up to expectations?
ALED SMITH: More, even more than I had envisaged, it’s hard to put into words, it’s something you have to experience to really appreciate. It was spectacular.
Do you need to go back
BRAD BROWN: The Ironman World Championships in Kona’s impacted you and what you do from a sporting perspective. You’ve achieved it, you experienced it now, are you going back?
ALED SMITH: Not any time soon. I hope to, well, I’ve already committed to saying that I will go back, I’m not sure when, maybe in the next age group above, 25-29.
I can’t leave that island the way I did and yeah, I’ve got to go back for a bit of revenge or for a better race, but I also want to go back cause I enjoyed the experience so much. Yeah, I’ll definitely be back on the big island, that’s for definite.
BRAD BROWN: Other goals, that’s on the back burner for now, but triathlon’s obviously become such a part of your life and from that first volunteering experience at Ironman Wales, what else do you want to achieve? What you’ve done is incredible in such a short space of time, but what do you still want to do?
Other bucket list Ironman races
ALED SMITH: So, I’m pretty much set on getting my army career sorted at the moment. If time allows then I want to try a faster course. I’ve never done a fast course, so I’d like to go somewhere like Challenge Roth, Ironman Frankfurt or Ironman Copenhagen. Somewhere like that and just have a really fast race.
I want to see what I can push myself to. Go there with no expectations of qualifying for Kona or anything like that. Just go and have a very quick day.
That’s something I’ve got in my mind for my next challenge, but yeah, we’ll see where it goes from there.
BRAD BROWN: All in all, how many full Ironman’s have you done up to now Aled?
ALED SMITH: That was my 5th Ironman.
BRAD BROWN: Timing-wise, PB, what are we looking at at the moment?
ALED SMITH: 10:25 is my personal best and that’s my qualifying race in Ironman UK, so not a very quick course by any means.
BRAD BROWN: I was going to say, it’s also important to note, Ironman Wales is a toughie, but Ironman UK is not the easiest either.
Choosing courses that suit you when qualifying for the Ironman World Championships
ALED SMITH: No, it’s not your sort of flat races where you’re pushing 9:30 for qualification in some age groups. I think I survive better on tougher courses, I think I’m made for the tougher courses.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant stuff. Aled, thank you so much for joining us on this edition of The Kona Edge. I look forward to catching up again soon. I’m keen to pick your brain a little bit about some of the disciplines. What you’ve done and what you’ve learnt in your time in triathlon if that’s good?
If people want to find out more about you,where can people touch base with you?, I know you’ve blogged about your Ironman world championships race experience.
ALED SMITH: So, I’m on Aled’s Ironman Journey, which is a blog spot and I’m under Twitter with Aled Smith, you’ll find me on there.
BRAD BROWN: What I’ll do, I’ll pop the links in the show notes as well to that, so if people want to read up more about your race report and the journey and what it took to get to Kona in 2015, they’re more than welcome to do that. Thank you so much for your time, much appreciated.
ALED SMITH: Thanks for having me, it’s been a pleasure.
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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