Kona Commitment – Garron Mosley’s Ironman World Champs Journey
On this edition of The Kona Edge we head to Dublin, Ireland to catch up with Garron Mosley. Garron reveals what it took for him to make his Ironman World Champs dream in Kona a reality.
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BRAD BROWN: Welcome back to this edition of The Kona Edge and we’re off to Dublin, Ireland today and it’s a great pleasure to welcome onto the show Garron Mosley. Garron, welcome, nice to catch up.
GARRON MOSLEY: Thanks Brad, nice to be on the show.
BRAD BROWN: Garron, that’s not an Irish accent, that’s a South African accent, you’ve transplanted yourself into Ireland at the moment and as we speak, you’re heading into winter and how are you coping with a lot less sun than in South Africa?
GARRON MOSLEY: Yeah, it’s been a big change. I think you need to realise that there’s certain changes you need to make to your Ironman world champs training. I certainly found that out this year when I arrived back at Ironman 70.3 South Afica in no shape at all.
It’s challenging to get out in the mornings. The roads are icy, I had a nice fall to remind me of that in December last year, but yes, adapting and hopefully we can have better Ironman world champs training through winter this season.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s take a few steps back and before we get into your journey to Ironman Kona, let’s talk about how you got started in triathlon. Where did your triathlon journey begin Garron?
Where the journey to the Ironman world champs started
GARRON MOSLEY: Triathlon began in 2009 for myself. I did a 70.3 distance in the Vaal, I think it was the Premier event. It was my first triathlon. I had come from one or two Comrades Marathons at that stage. Basically I’d say about at 30 I decided my life wasn’t going in the direction it should be and made a few changes around diet.
I also starting to get fit again. At that stage, what I thought I was good at, was running. It was a long road back. Someone introduced me into the triathlon scene and as I said, did my first race in 2009, loved it and from there it’s kind of just grown.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned the Comrades Marathon. For people who aren’t from South Africa, it’s a 56 mile or 89km Ultra Marathon here in SA and it’s pretty tough.
Garron, you mentioned you come from a running background and you thought you were quite strong in that sense. Growing up, were you always a runner, were you always athletic or is this something you’ve discovered about yourself later on in life?
Started as a swimmer and moved to running
GARRON MOSLEY: Yeah, I started at school, swimming was my sport at school. I was never great at it, but I was competitive, or tried to be competitive.
I did a lot of work in the pool. A lot of early morning and afternoon sessions. I was never the best at it, but continued to be competitive. I then got into running in high school, cross country, middle distance type things. Unfortunately I think my first year of university, I had a knee op that was meant to be fairly straight forward but left me kind of sidelined for 6-9 months.
Six to nine months in a university situation isn’t the greatest thing because there’s obviously other influences. The party scene and the social scene that is, so I never really got back into it from there.
I then tried to build a career, but trying to get back to it at 30 was a challenge. I was 30kg heavier than when I left school, so it was a long road. There was Comrades in the family, so that was the next step.
BRAD BROWN: As a kid growing up in high school, you mentioned the swimming and the running, were you any good? Was there some ability back then?
The spiritual side of running
GARRON MOSLEY: I assume I was okay. I got a scroll at school for the athletics and my cross country. I think it was more that I enjoyed it so much and I always have enjoyed running.
It’s my escape from the world, I call it my religion. I enjoy the cross country and the trails. Simply being out there, pushing the body probably too hard at times, that’s my ultimate love.
BRAD BROWN: 2009 you did your first triathlon, tell me about that experience. Was it love at first sight or did you think “this is crazy, why would anybody want to do three sports in one”?
GARRON MOSLEY: I think it was firstly a challenge. My bike was never that good. It never has been good. I had no base on a bicycle. I think 90km, let alone 180km, was just a psychological hurdle that I needed to get over.
Once I’d done that, I think yes, it became a love. Certainly from that stage I went and found things like swim coaches, run and cycle coaches. I joined a guy by the name of Terence Reed.
I think all that progressed from the first one and yeah, other than the three laps of the run, I loved the whole thing.
The Ironman seed is planted
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about the progression from that race to your first Ironman. Can you remember the decision, what it took to make that decision to not just enter your first Ironman but to actually train and do it?
GARRON MOSLEY: The entry process was slightly different. Obviously Ironman has grown over the last couple of years, so you need to enter a year in advance for all these events.
I’d actually entered the Ironman 70.3, the East London Ironman 70.3 before that. I pulled my first wetsuit, got my first tri-suit and I was really keen for the whole thing.
Over time I had done a bit of additional swim training and a bit more work on the bike for the Ironman 70.3. Everyone turned around after the Ironman 70.3 and kind of said Ironman South Africa is actually easier, or it’s an easier course.
When you decide to go big…
They said you should cope with that. I looked at it and I actually entered for the full Ironman, I think 2-3 weeks after the Ironman 70.3, which I don’t think you can do these days anymore.
That was the decision and then I joined up with MAD Multisport. Mike took me through my first 220km bike ride 2-3 weeks before, and I think the first one was obviously an experience. It’s still the best one I’ve done. I had a fantastic day. All the emotions around finishing.
You can’t replace that first time you run down the red carpet, it’ll never be the same. There’s nothing like it. I did what I wanted to do, so yeah, from then on, I think the passion just grew.
BRAD BROWN: When did the seed get planted that you thought, you know what, Kona would be a great goal.
GARRON MOSLEY: It’s interesting. For my first Ironman, I was so nervous and so focused on trying to get over that one event. I didn’t know anything about Ironman, I didn’t know where it started, I hadn’t done the research, everyone was walking around pointing pros at the event.
An Ironman World Champs dream is born
None of the names were familiar to me. I was just there to finish the event. Then afterwards there was more focus into it. I started looking at the other events around the world. But realistically I didn’t think that I could get down to the level of the Ironman world champs in Kona.
When 2011 rolled around, I had put in a bit more training, but there wasn’t much improvement around the actual results. It was only at the end of 2011 that I made a decision to put some effort in. To see if it was possible to get a qualifying slot for the Ironman world champs.
BRAD BROWN: It’s one thing training for an Ironman, just to finish. Training to better your personal best. It’s a totally different thing when the goal is to qualify and get a slot for the Ironman world champs.
What were some of the things you changed? Obviously you had done a couple before the decision to try and qualify for the Ironman world champs was made.
What were some of the things that you changed from your first couple of Ironman races to when you became serious about qualifying for the Ironman world champs in Kona?
What do you change to get to the Ironman world champs?
GARRON MOSLEY: I think it was a mindset change. I got rid of all the peripherals. I think Gwen Jorgensen has a very good comment on it. She says focus on the process and not the outcome. The Ironman world champs in Kona just seemed too big.
The only way I was going to get to it was to make sure that every session that I did was done to the best I could. That even meant the long, slow runs, the recovery sessions. When I joined Lucie Zelenkova, my current coach, the one thing she did for me was actually slow me down.
It made no sense really. In terms of my training and my recovery, the ability to go and train every day, to do two or three sessions sometimes a day, she had to actually slow me down.
I haven’t trained with a heart rate monitor or a watch or anything like that for, I would say the last 2-3 years, purely because every time I trained, it was to try and improve what I was doing.
I think I started listening to my body more than anything else. We focused on exactly what I needed to do in the sessions. You spend an awful amount of time training and you might as well do it correctly.
How important is getting a coach?
BRAD BROWN: Garron, I’m fascinated and I’ve chatted to a lot of athletes who have qualified for the Ironman world champs in Kona. I don’t think there is one who hasn’t looked for help. Who thought, you know what, I’m good, I can do this on my own.
Every single one has had, and it’s not just a coach, but multiple coaches along the way. It’s like that across the board for all three disciplines. For swimming, a lot of them have picked up specialist swim coaches, specialist bike coaches and run coaches.
Would you say that’s one of the big things that has helped you get to the Ironman world champs? How important is it to find not just a coach, but the correct coach for you? We’re all different and you need to find someone who clicks and gels with you as an athlete.
GARRON MOSLEY: Yeah, it’s essential and more so because it’s not my specialty. I certainly did have the experience, although I don’t understand the science. My first coach Terence brought a lot to my training.
Coaching comes down to relationships
He showed me what training was. I do think that you come to a stage where you both realize that you do need to move forward. You look at that through the pro athletes and the top age groupers, you do kind of get to a base where you both have to accept that you need to move forward.
The logical step was then to Lucie. Lucie spent a lot of time and asked lot of questions on making sure that there would be a fit. Lucie wasn’t going to just take me on as an athlete to finish Ironman. She did want me to be competitive and thought I could be competitive. One thing she did also put down realistic timelines.
No promises were made in the first three months about getting to the Ironman world champs, but she did say, if I gave her 18 months, she would get me there. Funnily enough it was literally spot on 18 months, that we qualified for the Ironman world champs.
Again, it was the process. The belief in her, the working together with her, she took time out to adapt my program, which suited me.
You need 100% buy in to get to Ironman Kona
I’m busy and I travel a lot. We have a very good relationship. It’s a lifestyle change you’re making and your coach has to understand that lifestyle. I’ve been lucky with both my coaches so far.
BRAD BROWN: How important is it to really sell out to a coach? Is it a case of, you know what, I’m hiring you as my coach and I need to trust your judgment. Do you admit that it’s a case of, if coach says to me, this is what I need to do today, I might not agree with it, but the coach knows better.
How important is it to sell out 110% to your coach?
GARRON MOSLEY: That’s the only reason I got to the Ironman world champs in Kona. I made the decision and look, trust is built and for the first 6 months.
It was up and down and at time I wasn’t sure if was correct. After the 6 months, seeing the progress the belief was there. Literally, I don’t think I did anything outside of what she said for the year leading up to the Ironman world champs.
Sell out to get to the Ironman world champs
I missed probably 2 or 3 sessions out of the 300 sessions that were on the program. We really did work together to make sure that I wasn’t injured. I never got sick and touch wood, I had no issues like that over that year leading up to the Ironman world champs qualification.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about that year and qualifying for the Ironman world champs. You’re now doing the work with your coach Lucie Zelenkova, what were some of the challenges you had to overcome? What did you struggle with in that year?
You qualified at Ironman South Africa in Port Elizabeth, what were some of the things you had to overcome?
GARRON MOSLEY: Time. Time was the biggest issue. I read something from Jodie Swallow a couple of months ago and she was saying that her sleeping was up to 10-11 hours a day.
As an age group athlete, we just don’t have that luxury. We do have to work during the day and I would love to have been able to take a nap between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon, for example and get up and go do another session.
The struggles of getting to Ironman Kona
Unfortunately there are work commitments and that sort of thing. Getting up at 4:00 in the morning to have an hour run before you meet the group of runners you’re scheduled to run with.
You then run with them for another hour. After that you rush home, have a shower and off to work. I think that was the biggest challenge.
You also seem to be playing catch-up with work all the time. I won’t lie, work did suffer and there were certainly some questions around me not being in the office all the time. Thankfully the guys were understanding, they also knew what I was trying to do.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned that balance. The training and work balance. I think for a lot of age groupers who qualify for the Ironman world champs in Kona, that is one of the things they grapple with.
Getting that balance right and it’s not just a work training, but it’s also a personal life and relationship balance. How do you get that balance right Garron?
GARRON MOSLEY: Again, it’s give and take. Unfortunately you are giving up certain hours of sleep and rest so that you can spend time with friends and family. They were also all very understanding. Even the year after Kona, my girlfriend has been more than understanding around training times.
There is the additional time you then spend with them. I try and make time for all my friends. They would understand that I had a cycle on a Saturday morning for a few hours, so had to leave the party by 11:00 or 12:00.
Qualifying for the Ironman world champs
Again, it’s the sacrifices you make. Those sacrifices were obviously worth it and I think it’s about planning your life properly. There’s not too much that I regret or I’ve lost out on in that amount of time.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about the actual race, where you did qualified at Ironman South Africa. Talk me through that day. Did everything going according to plan? Or did they not quite work out the way you wanted them to? Was there a Plan B? How did things go for you on that day?
GARRON MOSLEY: It was a perfect day. I got out of the swim, just below the hour mark. That is a mental boost that you’re all on track. The transitions were normal.
I tend to warm up on the bike. I knew where I had to be. The plan was to get to the Ironman world champs in Kona. It wasn’t to do well or brilliantly in the Ironman South Africa.
All I needed was a top five position. Anything above that was a bonus. I was waiting for a few people on the actual cycle to kind of see where I was or judge what position I was in.
Unfortunately didn’t see them, but then everything changes on the run. You can start seeing people and see where they are in relation to you. I was fairly relaxed on the run. I think I came into the run in about 6th position in my age group.
Winning your AG to get to the Ironman world champs
Lucie, unfortunately didn’t finish that year, so I think that helped me because she was on the side of the road. She kept telling me to relax, everything was going to plan. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.
The win in the age group was obviously a bonus. The main focus was the qualification slot. I think once I realized it was fairly secure I was very relaxed. Anything can happen in an endurance event like Ironman.
I literally have hit walls where a kilometer will take you 10-15 minutes, but luckily nothing like that happened, Lucie was encouraging me to actually slow down and make sure that I was getting in enough nutrition.
I think because I was so relaxed for the last 14km, it just ended up a perfect day.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me what it feels like when that penny drops and you realize that you’ve got this in the bag. When all the hard work and the sacrifice that you’ve put in and the weeks, the months, of training has paid off.
Let’s be honest, when it comes to Ironman, the day is tough, but the training that you have to put in is ridiculously hard. Explain to me that feeling when you realize, I’ve done it, I’m going to be going to the Ironman world champs.
The race is won, I’ve done what I needed to do, I’m going.
When your Kona qualifier is in the bag
GARRON MOSLEY: I think I was sitting on a chair just after the finish and the race director, Paul Wolff, was walking past and I just hugged him. I simply thanked him for providing me a race that I could qualify.
That’s when it hit me. It was like I am going to the Ironman world champs in Kona. That was pretty much it. It’s a difficult thing to explain, it is an awesome feeling. One of relief and one of satisfaction.
You’ve been thinking about this for 3 to 4 years and it was an amazing feeling.
BRAD BROWN: It’s one thing qualifying, but you actually having to go and do the work all over again. In order to race on a big island you have to do it again.
Did you think that was the easy part? Now getting to and competing at the Ironman world champs is actually what matters?
GARRON MOSLEY: After the celebrations and the the prize giving t I realized I may as well give it a full go. Within that week I was onto the coach, back in Johannesburg, focus had changed again.
Moving from qualifying for to racing in the Ironman world champs
It was all about making sure that when I got to Ironman Kona, I was in the best shape that I could be. I was happy enough to be going, but it was almost a reality that I didn’t think would happen. As soon as it had happened, it was right, now we’re back and we need to start focusing again.
BRAD BROWN: Did you change in the buildup to the Ironman world champs in Kona, from what you did for that qualification race at Ironman South Africa? Was it very similar or did you adjust your training? The course in Kona and the weather conditions in Kona are slightly different to what you experienced in SA, how much did you change?
GARRON MOSLEY: I don’t believe we changed too much. Lucie would be able to give you the exact details on that, but I think we increased the volume slightly. It was more about consistency.
We wanted to go there in good shape, but if we changed anything, we would have been changing a formula that was working.
Don’t change much on the way to Ironman Kona
If we changed anything drastically, there was the chance of injury. There was the chance of just being exhausted or anything like that. I think there was a gradual increase in the number of hours, but nothing totally different.
The one thing I did do was in about, I think it was halfway through May I made the call that I needed to get to Europe, to do Two Islands to actually train through the summer.
It was starting to get cold in South Africa so I made the call. Everyone said to me, summer in Ireland, you’ve got two choices, it’s either going to rain or you’re going to have a good summer.
Fortunately for me, it was a good summer. So yes, I was able to train in Europe in summer and I think that made a huge difference to having stayed in South Africa and train through winter.
BRAD BROWN: You mentioned with your first Ironman you hadn’t done any research or reading up about the race itself and the history of it.
By the time you got to the Ironman world champs in Kona, you had bought into the idea of what the Ironman world champs were all about.
Touch down on the big island
Tell me about when you touched down in Hawaii for the first time and knowing that you’re here, the best athletes in the world are there with you, what did that feel like?
GARRON MOSLEY: I was fortunate enough to spend 4 weeks before the race in Kona itself. I was able to acclimatize pretty well. I touched down at about 3:00 in the morning and all I can remember was it was really hot.
Lugging a bike bag around and trying to find a place to rent a car. By the time I eventually got into the car I was sopping wet.
There was a guy on the plane with me who had done it once or twice. He was also out there for a few weeks. He was saying how hot it was, hot and humid, so again, happy enough to be there.
I think the mind focused fairly quickly that this is a task that we need to adapt to. I needed to get the liquids in. Again, everything was around preparation and that was fairly quick. I knew I was there to race the Ironman World Champs and I needed to make sure I was in the best form I could be.
BRAD BROWN: Talk me through the race itself and the experience of racing at the Ironman World Champs.
The Kona experience
GARRON MOSLEY: My experience of Kona, obviously the race was awesome, but my experience of Kona was the lead-up.
The rides with the pros, behind the pros, the pros passing you. When you arrive at the pool and Sebastian Kienle is swimming his set. You finish a one hour twenty or one hour thirty set and Sebastian is still in the pool. S
That was what changed my view on professional athletes. I’ve never been involved in that type of setup, but those guys are unbelievable.
The respect I have for them, for the intensity and the endurance that they put in their training. That’s why they are the best in the world. It was a phenomenal experience, again. They would be humble enough to have a chat on the bike for 5 minutes and then move on.
That was my experience of the Ironman world champs in Kona.
The race itself was pretty much like Ironman South Africa. I can’t say anything went wrong on the day. I was expecting a slightly faster swim, but I think it was just over an hour in Kona.
The bike was lovely. I had a really good bike and then the run was hot, but the crowds, the place, I think that just lifts you. You are running with some of the best athletes in the world.
There are people passing you on the run. It’s phenomenal what the age groupers can also do. I was happy enough with the end result and as I say, it’s an experience that I’ll never forget.
Hanging out in dark places in an Ironman
BRAD BROWN: Garron, I haven’t actually touched on it, but even when races do go well, there’s patches in races where you feel great and there’s patches in races where you feel absolutely terrible.
What do you do to get out of those dark places and the dark patches, to lift yourself to a happy place again where you’re feeling better?
GARRON MOSLEY: I think with endurance background of doing ultra-distance running has helped. There’s always going to be, as you say, those dark patches, the first 2km of a run. I think again, it’s understanding that the body knows how to do an Ironman.
Your body knows how to do a marathon and it’s the belief in your own body that you’ve got your nutrition correct. It’s just a period, you’ve been through so many before and it will come right. I’m not one to push through those periods, I will slow down.
You need to realize that the body is lacking something in its nutrition or the absorption hasn’t taken place. It might take a kay or 5 minutes on the bike to pull through.
I think I’ve learnt not to panic. It’s the realization that this happens. It does happen every race and it’s going to go in cycles. In the next 2km I will feel on top of the world again and it’s just the belief that yes, this is going to change, so it’s just the moment in endurance racing.
BRAD BROWN: You’ve experienced Kona once, are you going back?
When the itch is there to race the Ironman world champs again
GARRON MOSLEY: I’d like to. I’ve committed to myself, I do want to qualify in Europe. To be competitive if I do go back to Kona, I’d like to qualify somewhere like Ironman Frankfurt or Ironman Mallorca.
I have a lot of work to do in order to do that. Anyone looking to go to Kona for the experience and that there, I do believe there are races you can pick to qualify in. But I’ve experienced the one race in Kona.
It’s a bit like Ironman or my first Ironman, you’ll only experience it once, so the next time I go, I would like to be competitive. Maybe compete for a top 10 spot, but there’s a lot of work to be done in order to do that.
BRAD BROWN: Garron, to wrap things up. If I say the word ‘Kona’, what do you think?
What does Kona mean to you?
GARRON MOSLEY: Now you’ve got me, I suppose because I have no words. I can tell people about the experience I’ve been through at the Ironman world champs. But that word ‘Kona’, there’s so many emotions around it, happy, sad, yeah, sorry, it’s a hugely personal thing.
A big achievement that I’m proud of in my life. A lot of people will say they’re proud of you.
My parents have been proud of me for what I’ve done in my life, but the Ironman world champs in Kona is one of those things that I can really say that I’m proud of the achievements. .Just getting to and competing at Ironman Kona.
BRAD BROWN: I love that, that’s amazing and I get goose-bumps just with you saying that. It’s one thing to finish an Ironman and people, like you say, are proud of you, but only you know, deep down, what it took for you to get there. I think that’s incredible. Garron, thank you so much for your time on The Kona Edge today, much appreciated and we look forward to catching up again soon.
GARRON MOSLEY: Thanks very much 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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