John Ferguson triathlete & Kona Qualifier

Although I had been a swimmer and a triathlon weekend warrior in my younger days, back in 2011 I was an Aussie living in London who’d been doing basically no exercise and eating and drinking my way around the UK and Europe. Decided enough was enough and started getting fit by replacing the tube commute with running and riding and decided that I would like to tick the box on doing a longer distance triathlon. Had never gone past Olympic distance or run past 10k in my life. In turn I had no idea what sort of training I should be doing when looking at going long.

I met Neil before the London marathon in 2012 (Neil running not me). This was the start of a great partnership and journey. In summary, in partnership with Neil, I went on to complete my first middle distance triathlon in Bala 2012. It went a bit better than expected and decided to push on and fulfil a dream of completing an ironman. In September 2012 I completed Challenge Henley which again went bit better than expected and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Decided to continue to push on and try to get to Kona in 2013. Went to Ironman Texas in May 2013 and missed qualifying by 1 place, backed up at Ironman UK in August and was fortunate enough to qualify there. Then achieved my goal of racing in Kona Oct 2013, finishing in the top third of my age group. All sounds pretty simple and straight forward when you summarise it in a couple of sentences but the reality is the journey was anything but and Neil was a big part of this.

Although I’m not sure I recognised it at the time it really is a partnership and to get the most out of the coach / athlete relationship I really think it’s important to view it that way. Needless to say Neil was a great partner in helping me achieve so much in a relatively short timeframe. I’ve thought quite a bit about why it worked, so here goes.

From our first meeting the ‘scientist’ in Neil was evident. I could tell he had an enormous amount of knowledge and a thirst to continue to add to that with new research, techniques, etc, but what I also liked is that this was evidence based, rather than what is the latest trend, what the newest magazine said, etc. I on the other hand fully recognised and appreciated that when it came to endurance training and racing I had no idea where to start. That said I like to learn particularly when committing myself to a goal. Specifically I want to understand why I’m doing things. Think this formed the basis as to why our partnership worked so well. Again, perhaps more in hindsight rather a conscious understanding at the time, Neil in his role as coach does a terrific job of giving you the framework and the rules of the road if you like. In my book that is the coaches half of the partnership. The athlete’s half of the partnership is to commit to taking all of this on-board, learning and understanding, but also importantly taking full responsibility of the day to day. In my view as an athlete you have to take full responsibility of driving the bus. In practical terms this means sticking to the framework and rules of the road given to you by Neil, but tailoring the specifics to make sure they work for you and your life. Also being prepared, and brave enough, to modify as and when obstacles present themselves e.g. injury, sickness or just when your body needs a rest day. These will undoubtedly happen and although you take responsibility for them Neil’s experience and understanding provides great support, keeping you focused on the end goal and recognising all is not lost because you’ve had to miss a session or whatever.

As someone who likes to learn and understand as I go along needless to say I had plenty of questions and this is one area Neil excels in. Would always give me a very comprehensive answer, but also often recommend other books, etc if I wanted to learn more. I lapped this up!

So in summary Neil’s and my ‘partnership’ was extraordinarily successful, not only in regard to results but also the journey, and I can’t thank Neil enough.

No reason it can’t be the same for you!