Last year EC athlete, Dan Dungan (Dan-O), qualified for Kona after racing Ironmans for 15 years. Dan-O is always a fan favorite at camps and races and seeing him succeed brought a lot of joy to our team and to his long time friend and coach, Gordo Byrn. Interestingly, most people (myself included) were very surprised to find out this was his first qualification because he always seemed very fast.
And he was/is. It’s just that qualifying for Kona is challenging. (You can hear more about Dan’s story and training on this Triathlete Training Podcast).
This leads us to this article about Ray Picard. Ray is an athlete in the M30-34 age group, who lives and trains in Hong Kong. This year, Ray qualified for Kona at Ironman Japan in August and then raced Kona 7 weeks later finishing in a very speedy, 9:54. Ray and I have been working together since early 2012 and, like Dan, he was always a solid athlete, but it took us almost four years to get that Kona qualification.
There are a lot of articles that have been written about how to get to Kona. You don’t even need to go to Google, you can find plenty right here on the EC website in our library. However, sometimes we can learn a lot by just looking at one athlete and what it took for them to get to Kona.
- Ray’s median training week entails about 14-16 hours in total in the meat of the season. Sometimes, there can be a slight bump by extending one weekday ride by 1.5-2 hours, but this is not sustained for more than a few weeks at a time. What makes Ray successful is his week to week, month to month and year to year consistency.
- Weekly Day Off. Ray routinely takes Sunday off from training. Not only that, his long ride on Saturday usually starts early which mean he is finished with all weekend training before noon. This leaves a lot of extra time off on the weekend to recover and spend time with his family.
- Training Camps. Typically, Ray has 2-3 high volume blocks per year that last about 6 days on average (a few a little longer) where his training volume nearly doubles, mostly through cycling volume. This year, he did a cycling camp in France during the Tour which saw an extreme amount of cycling for one week (40+ hours), but very little swim or run volume. This was an exception to his normal overloads which are more moderate and balanced in nature.
- Extended “Low Season.” I believe Brady DeHoust first used the term “Low Season” to describe a time of year that Off Season did not seem to adequately describe. I really like this term as I see it as a time of year when an athlete is still training, but not as hard as they could. Ray’s company is based in Mexico (he is originally from there) and he typically returns there for about 8-10 weeks each winter. During this time, he rarely trains more than 7 hours/week or about 40-50% of what he might normally do. I believe this moderated time of year really helps him to regroup and handle the more challenging training later in the year.
- Training Response Time. Alan Couzens has written articles on the EC website about athlete types and Ray would qualify as a “ Quick Responder” (even more info on that topic on Alan’s personal blog). What I found with Ray was that he would start to get very fit, very quickly when I cranked up the intensity in his training. Initially, I gave Ray qualitative training blocks that turned out to essentially be far too long. Over time, I learned that we could (and should) hold off on making a training ‘push’ until he got closer to his key event. While being a quick responder has a lot of advantages, it can also be detrimental when athletes hit it too hard, too soon.
- Heat Tolerance. Doing well in Kona certainly requires this, but qualifying for Kona might not, as the race where an athlete might qualify could have temperate conditions. However, in Ray’s case, the weather in Hong Kong is hot and humid for most of the year which means he has to be able to train in these conditions, not just race in them. Ray has an exceptional ability to not only train, but train well, and recover in hot and humid weather.
- Positive Attitude. Ray always seems to have a positive outlook on life, training, etc. A bad training session never seems to linger with him.
Race Selection and Execution
Earlier this year, Ray and I discussed him racing Ironman Malaysia because we felt he would have an edge over the competition because of a hot and humid marathon. However, this summer he did a major cycling camp in France in July (mentioned above) and we felt that his fitness had improved dramatically because of it. With this in mind, we looked at Ironman Japan at the end of August. Japan was a unique race because it had almost 2400m of climbing and an extremely difficult marathon with a lot of vertical in the opening 10K (check out the course profile). We also believed that his swim fitness was a bit below where we wanted it to be, but that would be less crucial in a race where the bike and run would be so difficult and take so long.
Ray ended up finishing as the 3rd Overall amateur in his race, but this also amounted to 3rd in his age group and there were only three slots in his age group. Even with an exceptional race, he was still on the fine line of making it to Kona. Late in the run he found himself in 4th place (in his AG) and knew he would have to make a push if he wanted to qualify. All that training and all that prep came down to the final moments of a race where he had to find something extra in himself if he wanted to succeed. Great training and great fitness only give an athlete the opportunity for success, not the guarantee of it. They have to want it and fight for it.
I have learned a lot from Ray over the last four years and it has been a real pleasure to help him in his athletic progression. I expect there is much more to learn from him and I look forward to doing so.