The return to Ironman World Championships with Dean Edwards
We head to the United Kingdom to touch base with Ironman triathlete and Ironman Kona qualifier Dean Edwards. On this podcast we chat to Dean about what it takes to qualify for and to race at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
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BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge and joining us all the way from Wolverhampton in the Midlands of the United Kingdom, a great pleasure to welcome Dean Edwards. Dean, welcome, thanks for joining us tonight.
DEAN EDWARDS: No problem Brad thank you.
BRAD BROWN: Dean, the dust has settled, it’s a short while after Ironman Kona 2105, before we get into any of the details, how’s the body feeling after that incredible effort?
DEAN EDWARDS: Well, I had three weeks off training after Ironman Kona and about two weeks back to training quite hard already, so I have to say, it’s actually a little bit sore from all the training again.
BRAD BROWN: What are you working towards that you’re back in training so hard?
DEAN EDWARDS: I’ve got Ironman Texas booked up for next May, Outlaw, which is a full distance in Nottingham. Then obviously depending on how I do at Ironman Texas, hopefully Ironman Kona again.
BRAD BROWN: I love it, that’s fighting talk and a great way to start as well. Let’s touch on your Ironman Kona experience. It was your first visit, if I recall correctly, 2015 was the first time?
DEAN EDWARDS: No, I actually qualified and raced there last year as well.
BRAD BROWN: Oh did you? So second time out, was second time as special as the first one?
What does Ironman Kona mean to you?
DEAN EDWARDS: I actually enjoyed it more the second time, to be honest because I knew what it was all about, I’d gained quite a lot of experience the first year and I did treat it as more of a race really this year whereas at the Ironman World Championships in 2014 I was a lot more nervous.
BRAD BROWN: If I say the word ‘Kona’, what do you think?
DEAN EDWARDS: Just the usual things that you’ve probably already heard before, heat, humidity, amazing talent and it’s a tough day, but it’s a beautiful island and obviously I’d like to go back next year, so yeah, I absolutely love it.
BRAD BROWN: Where did the triathlon seed first get planted for you? What sort of sporting background do you come from as a kid, were you pretty sporty growing up?
DEAN EDWARDS: I’ve always enjoyed taking part in some sort of sport, but it wasn’t really until about when I was 23 that I started running. I competed in our local marathon, the Wolverhampton Marathon and then the following year I started doing triathlon.
First taste of triathlon success
I did a sprint distance in May 2012 and actually managed to finish 3rd overall, which was a real shock. Then the following month I did a half Ironman and on the September the same year I did Ironman Wales. That was my first Ironman. It was actually my dad that did an Ironman first. So I guess you could say that he inspired me to take up Ironman triathlon.
BRAD BROWN: I love that, it’s fantastic and it’s funny how that so often happens. My brother and I, just on an aside, obviously have done quite a few between us. This year my Dad decided to do his first one at 67 and he finished.
It’s amazing how often you do get sucked in by family members and you’ve been sucked in good and proper. This is now really part of what you do.
DEAN EDWARDS: Yeah, definitely, I suppose it’s taken over my life in a way. I mean every spare second is taken up with training for an Ironman. I’ve got a little boy who obviously I have to take care of and a full time job. But then at the end of every week I email my coach, I tell her how much time is available the following week. That time just completely gets filled with swim, bike and run.
Getting the Ironman training balance right
BRAD BROWN: Dean, you work in a family business. So it’s not that you can shirk the responsibility. You can’t clock in at whatever time and you clock out whenever. Obviously there’s stuff that needs to be done. Sometimes working with family comes with its own challenges.
How do you get the balance right between work, family life and training for an Ironman or half Ironman. It’s not just training, but training as hard as you need to do to compete for Ironman Kona qualification slots?
Do you need a coach for a full or half Ironman?
DEAN EDWARDS: Well, that’s easy really. It’s definitely having a coach that helps me strike the right balance. Before I had a coach, I was constantly second guessing what I should or shouldn’t be doing. Which recovery I needed, which training was too much or too little.
I used to do some daft things really, off the back of my own training. Stupid things like going out on a Tuesday night and running 18 miles and then working the following and then running another 18 miles the following day. I didn’t know any different. I’ve learnt a lot really since getting a coach and that really helped.
BRAD BROWN: As far as finding that triathlon coach, taking that step is a big step. I think a lot of guys and girls get involved in the sport and they try and self-coach themselves.
Then to make that decision to actually get some help. It’s a big step to take. What were you looking for in a coach when you decided you needed help training for an Ironman or half Ironman?
What should you look for in an Ironman or half Ironman coach
DEAN EDWARDS: Definitely somebody with experience. I mean first of all, I admire anyone that can self-coach because it must be such a difficult thing to do and it must take incredible discipline. But I don’t think that’s for me.
What I was looking for was somebody with experience. Somebody that had been there and done it themselves. When I heard that Bella Bayliss had retired from long distance triathlon and she was going into coaching, I sent her an email and it went from there.
BRAD BROWN: Have you stuck with Bella since the start? Is she still coaching you?
DEAN EDWARDS: Yeah, it’s been 2 years now and I’ve improved since I’ve started with Bella. I went over there last winter for a week’s training. She’s based in Lanzarote with her husband Steven at a resort called Sands Beach.
They’ve got a little triathlon team called Triactive for kids and adults. They run swim, bike and run sessions from there every day. I’m going over again this January and I can’t wait.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant! You mentioned your first Ironman, you picked one of the toughies, Ironman Wales. It’s one of the hardest out there. You must be scared of nothing?
My first Ironman experience
DEAN EDWARDS: Yeah, I’m a bit mad I think. It’s a bit hilly for me really. I’m quite a heavy athlete, I race at over 13 stone. I’m quite tall and I don’t climb very well, but I still kept going back to Ironman Wales.
I started the race three times now, including last year which was only four weeks before Ironman Kona. It’s a cracking race, I really recommend that one to anyone.
BRAD BROWN: You say you don’t like climbing much, the climb from the swim to T1 is pretty hectic.
DEAN EDWARDS: Yeah it’s one of the longer transitions I think, you have to run up five lots of steps and then you have to run about a mile to the car park to find your bike.
BRAD BROWN: Talk to me about that first Ironman experience, Ironman Wales. You’d done a sprint and a half Ironman. You’d obviously been exposed to the Ironman brand in the buildup to that as well. Tell me about your first experience of running down that finish shoot.
Felling the magic red Ironman carpet
Heading down that carpet and just knowing that you’ve done something incredible. Something that the vast majority of the population can never imagine doing, never mind actually completing.
DEAN EDWARDS: It’s absolutely magical. Probably from about to like 41km you can barely put one foot in front of the other. Then as soon as you see that red carpet.
Coming round the corner, when I saw my finishing time and it was under 11 hours I was absolutely over the moon. My family were there going mad, cause they’re obviously so keen as well, my mom does Ironman as well. It was just really special. I’ve been addicted ever since I think.
BRAD BROWN: There’s a lot of folklore around Ironman Kona and the stories and the history behind it. When did the thought of possibly qualifying for the Ironman World Championships first enter your mind?
What makes the Ironman World Championships in Kona special?
DEAN EDWARDS: To be honest, probably straight away. I was in the 18-24 category in my first Ironman. I actually thought that that was going to be my only real shot at qualifying for the Ironman World Championships because I’d noticed the 25-29 category was a lot faster.
The qualifying times were a lot faster, but it wasn’t to be on my first Ironman.It probably would have been asking a bit too much really. I thought I’d give it another shot and I competed in Ironman Wales the following year.
In 2013 in the 25-29 group I was 42 minutes away from qualifying with a time of 11:19. By that point I started to think, can I really put myself through all that training for nothing basically? I’ve never been interested to race for the sake of racing and completing. I want to be as competitive as I can.
So the only real option for me from there was to get a coach. I got a coach in that winter, 2013 and the plan was to go back to Ironman Wales the third time and try and qualify there.
I started to get fitter and fitter, training on holiday at Christmas and everything. My training was going well and in about May or June there became 100 more spaces available for Ironman UK, which had been sold-out.
So I asked my coach if she thought I’d be ready for it and she said, yeah, definitely. I entered and 7 months after starting with Bella I qualified with the time of 10:03 at Ironman UK in Bolton.
Horses for Ironman courses
BRAD BROWN: That’s incredible. Ironman Wales is tough, but the Ironman UK in Bolton is pretty tough as well. It’s also not one of the easiest Ironman courses around.
I find it interesting that you say you’re not a great climber. Obviously being at the heavier end for age groupers, what would you say is your sweet spot? Have you raced many flat courses?
DEAN EDWARDS: No, not really. Ironman World Championships in Kona is probably the flattest bike course that I’ve done. That’s one of the reasons I’ve entered Ironman Texas for next year and the Outlaw. They’re supposed to be quite fast courses.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about the training from where you’re based in Wolverhampton compared to what you’ve experienced at Ironman Kona.
You said you love the race. You’re obviously also very dedicated to training and you train through the holidays, through Christmas and that sort of thing. That time of the year in the UK is not really conducive to putting in tons of miles. How do you get your body and mind in the right space to get out when the weather is poor and possibly it’s just easier to sit indoors and not do anything?
Obviously come rain or shine, you’re not a fair weather athlete, you’ll get out there?
Training for and Ironman or half Ironman takes dedication
DEAN EDWARDS: No, I am willing to train in whatever weather really. As long as it’s not too dangerous. I actually do a lot of training indoors, I spend a lot of time on my turbo trainer. The running machine was a big part of my Ironman training last year as well.
I didn’t go outside riding my bike for probably about 3 months last winter from January to March. All my cycling was indoors, in our garage at home on the turbo trainer.
I was averaging about 10 hours a week on the turbo, all structured sets, but working really hard from start to finish. There wasn’t really any occasion that I was just jumping on and going through the motions and spinning my legs, it all had to be quality stuff.
Speed and strength training for Ironman
BRAD BROWN: Dean, as far as the big difference of having a coach and having Bella helping you out. What would you say has been the biggest change in what you’ve been doing from when you were doing it on your own to having a coach now? As well as the improvement that it’s helped you achieve?
DEAN EDWARDS: We do a lot of strength and speed work all year round. We don’t just do strength in the winter and then try and have speed later on. We do it all year round.
That’s one of the reasons why I’ve never really picked up any serious injuries that have stopped me from training. Obviously you build a strong body by doing things like paddle work in the pool and hill repeats for the run.
That’s probably the biggest thing really, the strength work, week in and week out.
Ironman Kona Qualification
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about when you qualified for Ironman Kona at Ironman UK in Bolton. That feeling of knowing that you’ve set this goal. One that wasn’t really on your race calendar and you were going to give it a bash.
When did you realize you were in an Ironman Kona qualification position? Was it out on the course or was it once you had finished that you realized that you had the Ironman Kona slot?
DEAN EDWARDS: I’m trying to recall what happened there really. I got out the swim and I was about 100th position and I knew bike was my strength. The bike is just something that I seem to have taken a bit more naturally to. I was just overtaking really for the entire 180km and I worked my up to about 23rd overall.
Coming into transition at the same time as the leading female I knew that was kind of level I needed to be at, where the leading pro female was, in order to qualify.
My family told me that I was in second position. I knew there’d be about 3-4 slots in my age group and I knew if I just carried on on the run and kept going that there was a good chance that I’d finish in a slot.
BRAD BROWN: And having that slot and knowing that once the race was done you were going to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, describe that feeling to me.
The emotional effects of bagging an Ironman Kona qualification slot
DEAN EDWARDS: Emotional, I crossed the line and I think I jumped over the barrier to where my mom and dad were. It’s kind of always been my dad’s dream to qualify for Ironman Kona. So it felt really, really special to not do it for him, but to do it as his son and make him proud. I think I cried and I think he cried and my mom was crying as well, just surreal, to be honest.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant, well, let’s talk about the big island. The first time you head over to the Ironman world Championships In Kona is daunting, to say the least. There’s racing snakes as far as the eye can see, what was your first impressions of the big island, when you first landed?
DEAN EDWARDS: This year or last year?
BRAD BROWN: Last year, your first one.
The Ironman Kona experience
DEAN EDWARDS: First one, I was blown away by the heat, to be honest. I actually went over there with my friend Jason who lives in Lanzarote. We went out on the bike the first day. We only went out for an hour, easy, immediately I noticed that my heart rate was just through the roof. It was probably like 30 beats too many times than it was back home. To be honest, I was really worried, about the race and you see all these athletes running up and down Alii Drive and they’re all in amazing shape.
I was just worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish, to be honest, the first year, but I did. I did come away from that racing knowing that I could do a lot better, which I have done this year, to be honest, I’m really proud of that.
BRAD BROWN: What did you do differently in the build up to year number two as opposed to your first Ironman Kona?
DEAN EDWARDS: I mentioned earlier that I did Ironman Wales 2014 before Ironman Kona. That was only a four week gap. I actually messed it up really. I ended up blowing up at the end of the bike and not doing the run.But it meant I lost a couple of weeks training in way because I had to recover from that and then I had like a little freshen up week before Ironman Wales.
This year, when I qualified in Bolton it was 12 weeks. I decided that I just wanted to put a really big block of training in and concentrate fully on Ironman Kona and not do so many races.
Suffer in training to make Ironman Kona a breeze
I also visited a heat chamber, took my bike along with me and my turbo and I did four sessions in there. Some of them were up to 2 hours. We set the temperature up to about 38 degrees and 70% humidity.
That is hotter really than what we experienced on the day. It was an absolute nightmare in there, to be honest. It actually made the Ironman Kona bike feel relatively easy compared to what I put myself through in the training.
BRAD BROWN: Do you think that’s from a physical perspective or from a mental perspective? At the best of times on a turbo trainer it can be quite challenging from a mental perspective. When you change the environmental conditions as well, on top of that, it must make you really mentally tough.
Knowing that you’ve been through that, so come race day, whatever gets thrown at you, you’re pretty comfortable to handle.
DEAN EDWARDS: Yeah, I mean the second time I visited the heat chamber I was supposed to do a run straight after the bike. It was an interval room then I did one set of three minutes and then I literally had to turn the running machine off and just lie down on the belt on the machine. I felt so terrible.
Blowing up in the heat when training for Ironman Kona
I completely overheated. I worked too hard and it made me realize that you can’t allow your core temperature to get too high on the race day. Once it gets too high, you’ll never get it back down. It’s a bit like when a car overheats. You just have to pull over, lift the bonnet up and just stop.
I don’t think it was just what I learnt mentally. There were definite physiological benefits from going in there and training in that heat as well. One being my heart rate this year was a lot lower. It was probably only about the same as what it would be training back here in the UK.
BRAD BROWN: As far as keeping that core body temperature down, what do you do to keep it as low as possible, not just in the heat chamber, but at Ironman Kona as well?
DEAN EDWARDS: I wore a long sleeved, tight fitting white skin top. It was really good because I could pour water over myself at ever aid station. The water would stay in the material and keep me cool until the next aid station and obviously taking on board loads of ice during the run section, loads of water, cold sponges, that’s all you can do really.
Ironman Kona race day
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk race day, Ironman World Championships 2015. You’d been there before and you’d obviously come with a different set of expectations this time around. Describe to me the feeling of being in the water, waiting for that cannon to go off, knowing that you’re going to be in the hurt box for the next 10 hours or just less than 10 hours if all goes according to plan?
DEAN EDWARDS: That’s probably the longest part of the day, to be honest. The waiting around when you’re treading water at the start.
You’re only there treading water for about 10 minutes, but you can hear the helicopters flying above. You know your parents are probably back at home watching the live feed and obviously like you say, it’s going to be a long day.
That 10 minutes probably feels like 10 hours. Then the gun goes off. It seems like ages before anyone moves and then before you know it, you’re just in this big washing machine for an hour or so.
Pacing your Ironman bike
BRAD BROWN: Getting out of the water into T1 and then heading out on the bike. You mention that the Ironman bike has become your strong point and you realize you can make up a lot of time.
How do you approach a Ironman bike knowing that that is your strength, but knowing that if you overcook it, you’re going to suffer on the run. How do you approach that bike at Ironman Kona?
DEAN EDWARDS: Well, I pace it, just by feel really and I will use my heart rate as a guide, but only as a guide. I do pace it mainly on just how I feel. I train to feel as well, so I think that makes you a lot more in tune with your body.
You become used to knowing how hard you can afford to push for certain lengths of time. Back at home, on the turbo trainer, if I’ve got a two hour set and I’ve got about 15 sets.
I know that I can’t afford to absolutely annihilate myself on the first set and it’s no different to pacing 180km on the bike really. I know a lot of people train to Power, I don’t. I’m interested by Power, but it’s not something that I’d like to rely on.
Racing and training for an Ironman to feel
BRAD BROWN: That’s pretty interesting. A lot of the age groupers that I do chat to, do train to power, but training to feel, I’m interested that that’s the way you do it. It does mean really understanding your body and how you react to things and that takes time, that doesn’t develop overnight.
DEAN EDWARDS: No, definitely not. Obviously it can still go wrong but I’ve only ever did in one Ironman and that was the one before Ironman Kona last year, the Ironman Wales. It Wasn’t such an important race really for me. I’ve always managed to run the marathon from start to finish. It’s just something that works and I just think it’s if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
BRAD BROWN: What’s the biggest lesson you learnt out of that Ironman Wales that you blew up in?
DEAN EDWARDS: I think I over to be honest, so I put a jacket on in T1, which I think cooked me a bit and I just went off far too hard. It was the first Ironman since Ironman UK where I qualified for Ironman Kona.
Maybe I went into it a little bit confidence, a little bit cocky and I just didn’t pace it properly. I mean especially in Ironman Wales where most of the hills are in the second half of the race.
Ironman teaches you important lessons
You’re just not going to get away with doing that. It definitely learnt me a big lesson. You’ve still got to respect the distance and that’s what I love about Ironman. It doesn’t matter how quick you are, and even the top guys will tell you that they’ve still got that Fear Factor about it.
BRAD BROWN: There’s nowhere to hide. It’s a brutal race at the best of times and when things go wrong, they can go horribly wrong. But when things go right, they’re magnificent. You had a pretty good 2015, 9:45 I think was your time at Ironman Kona. Going into the race, what was the goal, what were you aiming for? Did you end up exceeding those expectations on race day?
DEAN EDWARDS: I don’t really like to set goals in terms of overall finish times because it’s such a long day and the conditions, especially at Ironman Kona are subject to change.
You can ride out and have a head wind one way, turn around and come back and you’ve got a head wind on the way home. I definitely wanted to get out, I know I’m contradicting myself there, but I did feel that I could go a sub 10. I just wanted a big improvement on my previous years’ time which was 10:38 and I don’t think I expected to knock 53 minutes off my time, I’m absolutely delighted with that.
A fast Ironman swim helps
BRAD BROWN: 53 minutes in any Ironman is fantastic, but to do that at the Ironman World Championships against the best in the world, you must be pretty chuffed.
DEAN EDWARDS: Yeah, I was over the moon to be fair and I was a lot higher up in the overall rankings. I think I was about 80th in my age group last year and I broke into the top 25 this year which was really pleasing. I’m ranked number 1 in the UK for my age group now according to Ironman.
Big Ironman fish in a small pond
BRAD BROWN: Dean, how humbling is that? You talk about being ranked number one in the UK, but you get onto the stage like Ironman Kona and you realize, you’ve just done a 53 minute Kona PB from the previous year and you’re not even in the top 20, there’s some incredible athletes that do this sport.
DEAN EDWARDS: Amazing yeah. To be honest, I mean it’s humbling, but I’m not going to beat myself up because I didn’t break into the top twenty because a lot of the people that you speak to over there have got more favorable circumstances than myself. I work full time, I’ve got a little boy, most of the people that you speak to out there, they’ve got all day, every day to train.
Even the age groupers, they train a lot. So I am really proud of what I’ve achieved. I think it would be asking a lot to break into the top ten, but I’m going to give it a go.
Going back to Ironman Kona
BRAD BROWN: I love it, that’s definitely fighting talk and I mean the way you’re talking, 2016 is on the cards, you’re going to hope to go back in that year? What other races are on your, I don’t want to say Bucket List, but what are some of the other races and other things you want to achieve in the sport?
DEAN EDWARDS: I think you can only take it one year at a time, to be honest. You’re basically committing your whole life to it really. Whilst you’re training that many hours a week, everything else is on hold, financially as well really. It’s an expensive game. I’m definitely going to give it my everything next year, but any further than that, I’m really not sure, to be honest.
BRAD BROWN: It’s a very expensive little habit we have. Dean Edwards, thank you so much for joining us here on The Kona Edge. I’m going to get you on on another edition just to chat about a couple of the disciplines and what you’ve done to improve on those. Thank you for sharing your story with us here today and we look forward to sharing it with our listeners, thank you.
DEAN EDWARDS: No problem, thanks Brad.
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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