Friday, 6 September 2013

the chase for Kona 2013....over

So, with my stated year’s goal being to qualify for Kona via the KPR system and the final cut off date passed, I spent a couple of days feeling really pretty depressed. The fact that this feeling of depression coincided with the first few days of caffeine fast and the end of a big week of training (high level of fatigue)  are probably not coincidence, but truly I felt there was reason to feel upset. Failure is no fun, especially when accompanied by a sense that there were many things that I could– should- have done differently or –let’s be honest - better.

The Points Rankings system was introduced by the WTC in 2011. There are clear commercial interests at work in creating this incentive for pros to race more Ironman races (that is both having to choose WTC owned Ironman Series races rather than the other attractive races put on by competing organizations, and having to do more of them).  However, existing was a situation where was that it  was relatively easy for female Pros to get a start at the World Championship race based on a top placing (or a roll-down) at just one race in the qualifying year.
For example, in 2010 I qualified with a 3rd place finish at Ironman UK in a time of 10hr 16. With a (then) small number of women with a WTC pro license and about 30 (at the time) races on the circuit, probabilities played a significant part. Anyone who was willing to travel, do more races and/or race closer to Kona had a decent chance, and certain races offered significantly better odds for qualification than others based on their location, prizes purse or timing in the calendar. 
 So the points system addresses this – now everyone has all year to collect points, and points are given based on finish positions in up to 5 races. The top 35 women (50 men) holding WTC annual licenses, plus one or two pre-qualifying world champions, based on points standings at the end of the summer will go to Kona. With an increasing number of professional athletes, and an increasing level of performance from the best of those, I feel that the new system is designed to achieve the creation of a World Championships event which features only the professional athletes of a truly elite standard. 

So whilst my poor mother, devastated at having her autumn Hawaiin vacation cancelled, considers the system which favours  “top-tier athletes” very unfair…I need to remind her that creating a greater separation between our professional and amateur athletes is a positive for the sport.

And really this has been my motivation throughout this whole season – an effort to qualify for Kona in this new climate and able to count myself as a “legitimate” part of the elite field.

For me, generally posting finishing times a little either side of 10 hours, I knew that it would require good performances at the maximum number of counting races (5) and being somewhat strategic about which races I picked. What I don’t possess in speed on the course, is made up for in someway by an ability to handle high load – and I know that 5 races in the year is something I am able to do. I have also learned however, that I am prone to over fatiguing, and so my training and scheduling of races would have to be considered carefully in order to achieve the “good performances” component. I think the details and outcomes of my year a it unfolded will be the topic of another post, but after the first round off qualifications in July when the first 31 spots were given, I was sitting in the 30s…with my last race to go. I had a very good race at UK, bumping me up a nice few places. We held our Kona hotel reservations, but was far from certain because Ironman UK is amongst the lowest scoring races in the series, and there were other races around the world through the month of august.  I’d picked my events, raced 5 Ironman and had no more chances – it really would be down to luck. 

My final ranking on the 25th August  - the final cut off date – is 47th
Four places and about 500 points below the final qualifying position.  And, as I said at the start of this post - Failure is no fun, especially when accompanied by a sense that there were many things that I could have done differently. 

First off, two out of my 5 races were frankly pretty poor results. Obviously this was disappointing at the time,  but in retrospect even more so. Considering that even on a bad day I should run in around 3.5 hours – that’s just a question of keeping going. It feels like shit at the time, and there barely seems any point in raising the degree of suffering even the slightest when the wheels have truly fallen off and the race for prize money has disappeared into the distance. But had I thought then that the two places that a 3:29 marathon would have gained me  in both of those races could have made all the difference to how I spent October, I’d have found that motivation for sure!
My big race for the year was to be the European Ironman Champs in Frankfurt – a race I love, and carrying big points. I had a good day there, however I hadn’t counted on such a stacked field, and my 15th place finish was lower than I had hoped for.  The North American Championships at Mont Tremblant would have been a better pick for my big points race…my second error being insufficiently inform to make good the strategic selection. Once my season was planned in my mind, I had not been reading my news close enough and was only aware of the increased standing of this race long after I’d committed to Ironman UK and spent out my races travel budget.

But that’s the way it goes. Of course, feeling that I got so close, missing out through redeemable errors, I want to have another crack at it next year.

However, recently announced refinements to the points ranking system will be in place – these are heavily weighted for podium finishes, and intended to reduce the number of races that athletes have to do in order to qualify. This makes it less of a realistic prospect for “workhorse” athletes like myself.  Again, I see this as a positive change for the sport – a further separation of the Elite from just those with a Pro License. 

Since I find myself on the start line for Ironman Wales this Sunday, I guess I’m not quite ready to assign myself to the latter category just yet! 

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