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Focus, determination & mental strength - Morgan Millington's incredible ironman journey to kona qualification
I think it’s safe to say my journey is incredibly similar to many who have ventured down the Ironman path. It began with a crack at a bucket list item goal of completing a triathlon to catching the ‘bug’ and suddenly an entire day of exercise is the ‘norm’.
The main reason to give an Ironman a go was to learn what it’s all about, to see if my partner Luke and I were those foolish folks that enjoyed an entire day of absolute punishment. Turns out we are, 3 down and no doubt soon to be planning the next one.
Safe to say it wasn’t all smooth sailing for Ironman number one, two or three. But what is an Ironman journey without a few rough days at sea? What do we take out of each time is experience, lessons and fun that we won’t forget. I am writing to share my experiences and maybe you are bordering on entering an Ironman for the first time or after years of experience you really relate to the ride we have been on.
In our eyes the first step when looking to do an Ironman is to engage a coach from an Ironman background, by chance I happened to meet another triathlon ‘freak’ Steve who hooked us up with Rich. It’s been a few years now and we are so stoked to call him our coach as well as be a part of the culture and crew that is T-Zero. Rich might have other things to say about coaching us, it’s never an easy task to coach a couple who request to be nearly joint at the hip but are of different abilities, for us, it works and he makes it work.
We chose Ironman Australia as our first stop. The first one was all about getting our bodies used to the miles that come with the long distance. That wasn’t without its hiccups, Ironman training is never an easy ask with full time work as many I am sure, can relate. The main obstacle that was thrown my way was Achilles Tendonitis greeting me with 4 weeks until the race. After some serious down time for the 4 weeks I had reached a point where the medical advice was positive enough for me to line up on race day.
Race day was a new experience, there was that sense of complete unknown ahead of us, and on top of that I had in the back of my mind how on earth will I get through this, four weeks of no weight bearing running (subbed in some water running) I have to run a marathon. That little back of the mind voice had to be silenced. The mindset was so important that day, my mind turned to the previous six months and the training I went through, I found confidence in that and kept positive.
As the race went on I was perfectly positioned on the bike and was rolling back into town with about 8km left, only to hear something go terribly wrong, I look back to find an entire de-railer hanging, while I was prepared for all things flat tyres and chains off, can’t say I travelled the course with a spare de-railer! Eight kilometres from home it was time to get my hiking boots on. I kept strong, it was just a hurdle, one I had to jump over and keep moving. Lucky as I was on my walk the mechanic turned up and 20 minutes later I found myself on a fixie bike and 7km of hills. What happened was completely out of my control, what I could do, nothing but accept and find a way to make the best out of a bad situation. I was there for the experience and accepted this was part of the experience. I managed to pull off a really strong run, with my Achilles issue I was stoked, I knew I could do it. The overall result was unexpectedly close to punching a ticket to the ultimate Ironman World Champs at Kona with the 20 or so minutes on the side of the road with a mechanical being the difference. That certainly wasn’t within my control and knowing that left me comfortable with where I was with my ability and gave me drive to continue the Ironman journey.
What next was always going to be on the cards, it was an incredible experience and we were ready to improve.
Ironman Texas was the decision. We caught the bug but wanted to expand our horizons outside Asia Pacific. The build was near on perfect and our goal for the race was to better ourselves in the sport we chose, this is important for me especially, Rich has taught me, the goal is the best out of myself on the day, my square metre, my race, my goals and that will lead me to do what I deserve. This lead to a solid day out for me but not what I knew was my full potential. An opportunity for a Kona spot a whisker away, a mere 2 minutes over 9 hours 30, but because that wasn’t my end goal it was easy enough to accept. That Kona spot would come when I have my best day and the external uncontrollable fall my way. I took my learnings and spent the next 12 months finding that continuous improvement and enjoying the adventure.
Next back on home soil we decided we were all in for Ironman Cairns, our own personal goals were set. We were all in, as mad as our friends and family thought we were this was ‘fun’. It was all going to plan until….
Four weeks before the race in the best form I had ever been in, 28km into my 32km run I tripped over, I am a clumsy person and it wasn’t rare for the odd trip over but this one was different, it was at pace and getting up something didn’t feel ‘right’. Turns out I fractured my elbow. The next 4 weeks was a mind battle but as the coach said, there was no time for a pity party race was on and we would get through it. At the time I wanted a pity party, but looking back he was setting me up for success. There was no time for me to be upset or stress over what was happening, it happened and I couldn’t take it back, we get on with it and remind ourselves what this is all about, our goal to get the best out of ourselves and to enjoy the process whatever is thrown our way.
Race day came, the arm, while it had not fully healed, I had the tick of approval from medical professionals that it was ok to give the race a crack. Swimming training had been non-existent, running was short and sweet and a nagging hip was sending a few signals to me, but it was on.
Talking to Rich pre-race, mentally it was all about the path I chose to take was going to lead to either success or disappointment. The easy path was “tough race, tough conditions, I have a fractured arm, everyone will understand when I pull the pin” or “get on with it, pain is temporary and my arm is strong enough to get through this”. The day wasn’t without its twists and turns, the swim was a long way but I created my own path and stayed away from others, last thing my arm needed was to end up in a washing machine situation. The ride was amazing, that coastal road are just so beautiful the whole way and the run was full of on course support. Essentially throughout the day the path I chose allowed me to get on with the job. In this circumstance the mind helped the body achieve.
That resulted in my body giving me all it could on the day, 2nd in my Age Group and 3rd overall female age grouper and the big island. What a dream!
Things have since taken a twist, that sore hip, was a little more than just a sore hip. One week later I had an MRI which has resulted in finding out I have a bone stress injury. Us triathletes really know how to push the boundaries with our bodies, unfortunately in this case the body has told me to pull back.
The Ironman ride continues, what path it takes, not sure right now, crutches and couch time are my current situation. The plan is let the body heal properly re-set and go again.
Each time we learn more about the sport of triathlon, specifically Ironman, and the drive is there to strive for more, by more I don’t necessarily mean more training, or higher placings in my age group, or faster times. It’s about getting the process right through the entire journey, finding the perfect balance and most importantly have fun while doing it!
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