On this edition of The Kona Edge we meet Roger Hastie and chat about the challenges of making a come back in Ironman. Roger was out of the sport for about 2 decades and because the Ironman challenge is in your blood it didn’t take much convincing to get back into training and being competitive. He chats about the importance of a support structure which helps him focus and achieve his goals. We find out if it is any easier training for an Ironman being 20 years older and he shares his lessons through life and how to approach his Ironman training differently.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto this edition of The Kona Edge, it’s off to Singapore we go now and it’s the first time we’ve spoken to someone in Singapore. Although he’s not a national of Singapore, he’s Australian, it’s a great pleasure to welcome Roger Hastie onto the podcast. Roger, welcome, thanks for joining us.
ROGER HASTIE: Good day Brad, great to be here.
BRAD BROWN: Roger, your story is phenomenal and I can’t wait to delve into it because you took quite a long break from the sport and you’re back now and back with a vengeance. You’re getting some great performances in, but your life as a banker, you’re pretty busy, how do you manage to get time to do everything you need to do from a work perspective, from a family perspective and then from a training and racing perspective too?
ROGER HASTIE: That’s an interesting one Brad. It’s a lot of juggling, first and foremost, I’ve got a very supportive family, wife and daughter are key there, on top of that, just a lot of planning and prioritization. It’s obviously a very demanding sport and one that is selfish but you can make it work by working with your family, your support crew and having those around you who are like-minded, or appreciate what you’re doing.
BRAD BROWN: Roger, one thing you mentioned to me in our email chat prior to this recording is you said to me you took quite a long break off from the sport. You were active and then really didn’t do anything for almost close to two decades, it’s an incredible break and now you’re back. What was the reason for the break, were you just disillusioned or did life get in the way and you got busy?
Where the journey began…
ROGER HASTIE: Yeah, a combination of a couple of things. I found my way into triathlon, tried golf of all sports. I was a reasonably competitive golfer, low single figures as a couple of guys in the club were and one of those disciplines was a bit of swimming. So I decided to start swimming a bit and I’d always run, since high school and did a bit of athletics when I was younger, so I had a bit of a running background.
But decided I wanted to improve my fitness at golf and started to swim a bit more and used to do a paper run when I was a kid, so I rode a bike around the streets for some time. Hardly triathlon type training but enough for a simulation to sort of whet the appetite on top of what you wanted with the sport.
That’s sort of how I started to get the interest or the inspiration. From there one thing led to another and I started to do a bit more training but unfortunately I ended up with what we call chronic fatigue and as you said before, life got in the way. So as part of the recovery I had some additional work responsibility, so I sort of went down that path, but I wasn’t inactive during those couple of decades. I got back to running again after about ten years and since just progressed into half marathons and marathons and then all of a sudden I got the inspiration to, when I came to Singapore, to have another crack at triathlon.
BRAD BROWN: Roger in those early days, before you took that time off, what sort of distances, from a triathlon perspective were you doing? Were you doing the long stuff or was it the shorter stuff?
ROGER HASTIE: I started with the sprint distance, did quite a few of those. It was a steep learning curve; in early races I was just about last out of the water and struggled to find the run legs despite being a bit of a runner, I guess backing myself on that discipline but persistence paid off there. I just sort of graduated on the long course and ended up doing quite a few long courses and actually entered two Ironman’s, but actually never started. I got injured, one preparation and then the other one I was sick on the last week of the race, so had to pull out. A bit of trial and error and missed opportunity perhaps, or that’s a saving grace, I don’t know.
BRAD BROWN: Do you reckon that’s one of the things that brought you back to the sport is knowing that you had some unfinished business?
ROGER HASTIE: I think that’s one element, I’m one of these people who never say never, so I won’t. But I’m always one of these people that wants to turn up and do their best and that was one of the elements that’s sort of tricky but in my own mind for doing Ironman. It’s a commitment, you have to have the right environment and space and support for that. It’s about discipline and consistency ultimately, so that was one element. I think the other was just the inspiration of watching guys like Craig Alexander and Simon Whitfield and Greg Bennett and others from that early era of mine, watch those guys go on to finish and win that sort of, I always get an interest in the sport, so seeing those guys do so well at the highest level, the flame was always there.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about the chronic fatigue and I’d like to dig into that a bit because it’s funny, I had coffee with a mate of mine the other day and she was saying to me, she’s also, funnily enough, a previous Kona qualifier, she’s raced on the Big Island and she was just saying, she’s feeling so burnt out and so tired. She’s training, but she’s really struggling with that and I think that’s something that a lot of triathletes battle with. Has it been something you’ve had to be really mindful of, on the comeback, that you don’t end up down that road again?
Know your limits in your Ironman training
ROGER HASTIE: Absolutely, absolutely. It’s a day to day proposition in terms of just balancing the training requirements to the lifestyle requirements and particularly recovery and trying to get that right, the right balance amongst all those conflicting priorities or events in your life. It’s about juggling hard, it’s about also being intuitive or knowing where limits may or may not be. From a training, but also a health perspective. Just being able to predict those warning signs and just being prepared to take a little bit of time off. Or miss a session, takes a bit of, it’s a bitter pill to swallow at times, but you’ve got to back yourself and take those calls all the way.
BRAD BROWN: Roger, does that come with age, that sort of wisdom? When we’re young and in our 20’s, we think we’re invincible and we can flog ourselves to death and as we get older we start realizing, hang on a sec, we’re writing cheques our bodies can’t cash. Is age, getting older, does that make things a big easier or does it make it harder?
ROGER HASTIE: It’s a mixed bag to be honest Brad. I think first and foremost, I’ve got a fair few grey hairs, so I guess you get a bit wiser and you learn to respect yourself a bit more if you get older. I think going a bull in a gate at every training session, like I once tried to, certainly contributed to my demise back when I was younger, so you’ve got to be smart enough to learn from those experiences and I guess the attitude I have is, the smarter I train, the stronger I get, so just having that at the back of my mind rather than going down another path that might not be as supportive of what you’re trying to achieve.
BRAD BROWN: Roger, what’s the number one thing you’re struggling with right now, from a triathlon perspective?
ROGER HASTIE: Fatigue, mental fatigue.
BRAD BROWN: It’s interesting you say that, do you think that’s something that’s exclusive to you or is it something that you think a lot of triathletes struggle with?
ROGER HASTIE: I think it’s part of the sport. I think we’re trying to juggle a number of disciplines, plus all the other components to the sport and for me, I think you’re typically on the edge more often than not and [inaudible 0.09.30] build phase for a major race. Just striking that balance between doing too much and tipping yourself over that edge or doing enough to push the needle to get the adaptations that you need. It’s a fine line and clearly nutrition and lifestyle and getting that right, that sleep piece of recovery right is the key part to that.
BRAD BROWN: Have you ever had a nap on your office floor?
ROGER HASTIE: I’ll have to admit I have but that was in my younger days. I have to admit, yes, in the first tilt at the sport, yes. This round, no I haven’t, but I do have the occasional kip in the afternoon, so after a long ride.
Knowing and trusting yourself
BRAD BROWN: You’re obviously doing something right. Something you mentioned to me as well is that you are self-coached and I find that quite interesting. Obviously I chat to a lot of age groupers, the decision to do things on your own?
ROGER HASTIE: I was self-coached in my journey to qualifying for Kona, but about twelve months ago I actually did join up with Christian from Tri Pacific, so I’ve been working closely with him for the last twelve months, so in the final work up to Kona, in the races I’ve done subsequent to that, but the journey getting to that point, that was interesting.
It was a little bit of a textbook lesson cause I stumbled across a book by Joe Friel, called Your Best Triathlon, I think it was called and followed that blueprint plan that he had and sort of just adapted and juggled things to suit, given work commitments and travel and the like and on the way stumbled onto a couple of other pretty heavy triathletes here in Singapore and formed a little training group and kicked a few ideas around.
It was kind of a, sort of a fun exercise and one that came together relatively well. I think the key thing in any lesson, it goes back a little bit about talking about, it’s about the formula and knowing yourself and knowing the type of person and type of athlete you are and being willing and prepared to validate those sort of thoughts or fears but then be prepared to challenge them as well. It’s really important I think. I’m not the biggest and most powerful guy in the world, but I’ve got my own strengths that I believe in and I use those and back my own formula when it comes to racing and also training.
BRAD BROWN: I find that interesting, cause that, I think is a key point, that often people want to be the best at everything and I love the fact that you found the things that you’re good at and you realised that and you played to your strengths. What would you say your strengths are?
ROGER HASTIE: My strengths in triathlon, funnily enough, is I don’t consider I have a real weakness. I’m pretty consistent on all three disciplines. I guess the one percenters that do come up, I mean the key to that for me is preparation. If you’re striving to do your best or get a Kona slot, ultimately every second counts and there’s no such thing as being over prepared, in my mind. It’s really your best chance to improve the odds of success, so that’s sort of how I approach it.
BRAD BROWN: In your opinion, what does success look like for you in triathlon?
ROGER HASTIE: Sorry I missed that Brad?
BRAD BROWN: In your opinion, what does success look like for you?
ROGER HASTIE: Getting the best out of myself on a day. That doesn’t have to be a PB and it doesn’t have to be a qualifier or a podium place. It’s just knowing you’ve turned up and got the best, you’ve played your cards the best you can with what you’ve got on that day.
BRAD BROWN: As far as playing to your strength and course selection, how do you look at what races you want to race. Is it purely looking at the calendar, or is it also looking at the terrain and what it has to offer?
ROGER HASTIE: It’s a combination for me. I’ve done three Ironman Western Australia’s, principally because it’s an easy race for us to get to, the same time zone. In terms of course competition, it’s quite a flat course, which intuitively wouldn’t be my first choice, cause I’m a fairly light guy, so how wide did I go down that path, the timing in the calendar works.
The temperature, typical temperature race day, I mean it can be variable, but it being a warmer side, so that sort of plays to my environment that I do train in. That does resonate with me in selection and then I think one that has the interest or surrounds and environment that you’re comfortable with. To be honest, that’s one part of the board I absolutely love, it’s just amazing terrain, it’s very similar to what I experienced in South Africa earlier this year as well.
That’s sort my selection piece. I mean Kona qualifier spots do form part of the puzzle, but not exclusively.
BRAD BROWN: Roger, as far as looking at the Kona slots and I think Busselton in particular, Western Australia, towards the end of the year. It’s normally first or second week in December, which can get quite hot as well, so we’ll touch on that too and using that for getting your mind and body right for Kona.
But it’s a long way out from a Kona, it’s almost a year until Kona rolls around, so picking up a slot at Western Australia, is that advantageous or is it not so much? I chat to a lot of age groupers who almost want to try and qualify in their buildup to Kona, so they’re banking that they’re going to get a slot, but they’re using their qualifying race as a buildup to Kona. Whereas Busselton’s almost too far out to be able to do that.
Imagine having continuous summers
ROGER HASTIE: Yeah, I think you are right there, it is a bit in no-man’s land in terms of Kona, there are quite a few guys that back up to Busselton after doing Kona, in the hope to just carrying that form over and hoping to tick the box.
For a Southern hemisphere athlete, it’s certainly at the beginning of the season, so that creates a little bit of a challenge and would require two big builds to Kona. For us here in Singapore, there’s no season, it’s just continuous summer, heat and humidity, so you need to sort of factor in that level of periodization through your year if you can find the windows of work that work best. For me, my first Ironman Western Australia was just opportunistic and appealed to me.
The second one, my aspiration was to race it and improve on the first round performance and the Kona slot was a bonus at the end of the day, having been through a subsequent waiting period through to Kona in ’15, I tend to say it’s not optimal, but I don’t think you can be choosy with Kona, so you’ve got to value every one and if you can get one, I certainly wouldn’t knock it back.
BRAD BROWN: I was going to say, a Kona slot is a Kona slot, I don’t care when I get it, that’s my opinion. It’s interesting, you talk about the heat and the humidity and I mentioned Busselton, December Busselton can get brutally hot, but as you rightly say, Singapore is nowhere close to one of the poles, it must be interesting training in those conditions year round?
ROGER HASTIE: Yeah, it is a challenge and I guess that also links back to the fatigue factor. Training in 24-25 degrees at 4:30 or 5:00am in the morning is very different from getting out there when it’s low teens or even single digits. You’ve got to sort of look at the exertion level and effort required for each and every session and I think that’s one element that I’m getting better at. When I’m supposed to go easy, I go easy and when I need to go harder, I’ll go harder, but you really cannot afford to be going hard all the time, otherwise it will creep up on you.
It’s really an accumulation factor and I think the other element there that I had this year is I do now a lot more indoor type training, just to lessen the impact. You still need to get out on the road to harden the body up, but the treadmill is certainly a good tool that can be used effectively and the same, I have an indoor cycling trainer called a Red Box which I absolutely love and that’s also an effective way to get some quality in whilst I’m managing that overall exertion level when you’re outside as well.
BRAD BROWN: Roger, tell me a little bit about the triathlon scene in Singapore? I don’t know much about the country as a whole, but triathlon, is it growing as much as the sport is growing globally?
ROGER HASTIE: Absolutely, in the Asia Pacific region there’s more races popping up all the time. In terms of Singapore itself, it’s typically sprint and Olympic distances, no longer stuff here, but there are quite a few 70.3’s in the vicinity and there are a couple of Ironman in regions. In terms of the caliber of athlete here in Singapore, we had at least 10, probably 15 athletes in Kona last year, so there’s obviously quite a few heavy athletes within the vicinity here.
Kona – alluring, surreal, amazing
BRAD BROWN: That’s interesting. Talk to me about your experience in Kona and getting there, knowing that you had taken such a long break and you had followed the sport and seen what some of, like you said, Craig Alexander, what those guys had done, it must have been an incredible experience?
ROGER HASTIE: Totally amazing, absolutely surreal, the whole experience. I mean I went there with not expecting the world personally, but with a focus on making the most of it because you never know if you’re going to get back again, that’s always the aim, but you never know. It’s just one of those life experiences that’s put before you and you want to make the most of it.
So, I ended up heading over about ten days before, enjoyed the quietness in town for a couple of days and then the travelling circus came through, so that was certainly an eye opening experience. Just the whole theatrics, the lava fields, the climb to Hawi, the rough water out from the pier, Alii Drive and the like, all exceeded expectations.
BRAD BROWN: I love the fact that you say you never know if you are going to go back or not, so you need to make the most of it. Now that you’ve experienced it, is it one of those experiences where you go, okay, cool, I’ve ticked the box, I can move onto something else now or once Kona is in your blood, it’s in your blood and you just want to keep going back?
ROGER HASTIE: It’s a good one, to me, I absolutely want to go back. I had a great experience, but I didn’t feel like I had my best day. In a perverse way I actually feel like the place and the course actually suits me, so I think I can do it better and smarter next time. That inspires me to try and have another go at it, but equally, once I’ve done it again, when that happens, undoubtedly I’ll probably want to go back again. It’s just an alluring place, just to have the qualities of people and just the history before you, when you’re there, it’s so inspiring.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, it seems like an incredible place. Roger, what’s the biggest lesson or life lesson that triathlon has taught you?
ROGER HASTIE: It’s patience and keeping calm, I think, to be honest, patience from the point of view that you don’t achieve overnight, it does take time, there will be a bit of a rollercoaster. My coach keeps saying that progression is not linear, the key thing is what you learn from each and every experience you have with session to session and race to race. Calmness from the point of view, just finding your own space, your own way of doing things and such that it’s not intrusive on others around you, that way you can really focus on what it is you need to do in preparation and also in that final push into any sort of race.
BRAD BROWN: If you could go back and start your entire triathlon career again, is there anything you’d do differently?
ROGER HASTIE: I feel I’m lucky to have what I have and have achieved, so hindsight, 20/20, for me is really about making the most of what opportunities present. Ultimately things happen for a reason, so for me, I think, to be honest, I’ve no regrets. I’m just fortunate to have had the opportunity to do what we do, so that’s my position.
BRAD BROWN: One thing I love about triathletes Roger, is they’re just so willing to share information and help out others. We’ve got a lot of age groupers that listen to this that are trying to qualify and are trying to get better and get to Kona. But we’ve also got a lot of athletes who are starting out in the sport and are contemplating their first Ironman, what advice would you give to the newbies.
Someone who is thinking about doing an Ironman, what would you tell them, what would you tell yourself if you were starting out again?
Your support structure is vital in Ironman training
ROGER HASTIE: I think a few things come to mind there. First of all, you cannot do Ironman on a half-baked approach. I think you really need to commit to a program or to a level of training. I think that’s almost absolutely essential and part of that is having the support of family, friends, or club mates or the like in that.
It is a particularly lonely sport in its own way. If you find that formula that is sustainable, there’s no point in trying to commit to doing 25 hours a week training when you’ve realistically only got 15, which would also be adequate to achieve, equally, you’ve got to balance it. I think just that initial building block, I think is really important and I think when starting off, we need to be realistic.
That way you will do, have a greater chance of doing what the sport is all about and that’s enjoy the experience. My first Ironman experience was just unforgettable, it was just a great celebration of preparation and getting to the line and getting through a long day at the office. I think trying to do too much or being something more than what you really are, at a point in time, can detract from the experience and that, I have seen that turn some away or turn some off stepping up to the next level in terms of distance. So yeah, that’s my thoughts there.
BRAD BROWN: I love the fact that you use the word ‘celebration’ Roger because that, for me is, my first one was exactly that. Training for an Ironman is tough, there’s no two ways about it, particularly if you have a fulltime job and if you have a family. I, like you, have a family, I’ve got kids myself and it’s difficult, but that’s what it is. It’s however long it takes you and if it takes you 17 hours, it takes you 17 hours, but think of it as that. It’s a 17 hour celebration of all the hard work you’ve put in over the last 6-12 months.
ROGER HASTIE: Absolutely, absolutely. I mean for me it was emotional. I still remember being on the starting line in Busselton and having a tear in the eye because actually making it to the start line is a major effort. With the chance of injury or disruption or illness and the like, but also you don’t do it alone, as I’ve said before and appreciate every volunteer at the aid stations and appreciate your fellow competitors that are going through the same thing. That’s a really unique bond that does exist in Ironman. That certainly brings me back year after year.
It keeps you coming back again and again
BRAD BROWN: And sadly, the first one is always the best one and even if you achieve things later on and like you, you get to race at Kona, that first one, it’s very difficult to replicate that feeling of that first one.
ROGER HASTIE: Absolutely, absolutely.
BRAD BROWN: Unfortunately, I should say because that’s what keeps us coming back!
ROGER HASTIE: Yes indeed, indeed.
BRAD BROWN: Roger, for you, what do you still want to achieve in the sport?
ROGER HASTIE: I do want to get back to Kona. I still feel like I haven’t had my most satisfying day in an Ironman. I feel I can get the balance right between the three better and I would love to have a slot on a podium somewhere, in an Ironman, in age group, that would be amazing if I could achieve that. And I think just feeling what we do people don’t appreciate, is how it actually resonates or impacts on others and just continuing to do that, maybe not so much inspire people, but just get people to think about lifestyle and looking at what can be done rather than what can’t be done.
BRAD BROWN: You’re spot on, the human body is incredible.
Roger, thank you very much for sharing your story with us. I look forward to getting you back on to chat about the individual disciplines and some of the things that you’ve done there, but I think your story is incredible.
Well done on the comeback and congratulations on that Kona slot and I know you are chasing another one and best of luck in your quest.
ROGER HASTIE: Thanks Brad, great to speak to you.