Qualifying for Kona – An Update 

Here we are just over 3 weeks out from race day so I thought it would be a good opportunity to give an update on how I am progressing.  I’ve asked the three people I’m accountable to, Sally Garrard from Apple to Zucchini Nutrition, good friend and coach Craig Percival and my wife Suz to provide a short comment on where they think I’m at.

Firstly I wanted to take the opportunity to thank people for the words of support after my previous blog.  It was also great to have some people contact me saying they had also suffered similar experiences and they appreciated me sharing my experiences.

If nothing else I think it is healthy to be able to bring these issues out in the open.  We are human after all and regardless of what anyone says there are struggles in life at times.


For the most part I am training well and feeling good most of the time.  I have only missed the odd session due to the demands of ‘life’. On some occasions I have had to change sessions due to coaching/work commitments and time restraints but that is completely normal for just about any athlete.  Last year I missed a lot of sessions through fatigue and honestly being a bit lazy.

Compared to last year’s preparation where I averaged 10-15 hrs per week with 2 weeks close to 20hrs this year I am averaging 15-20hrs per week with some weeks over 20hrs.   I have been working hard on my improving my swim and bike endurance as this was lacking last year.   From a training perspective I am happy with how things are progressing.

I consider Craig Percival to be one of the best coaches in Australia.  Along with being a great athlete he is someone who has a wealth of experience in triathlon and we have been good friends for a number of years now.  I send Craig my training every couple of weeks and he will give me some feedback on what he thinks and where I might need to consider some changes.

As an example after sending through last week’s sessions he felt I needed to do some more threshold running and a couple of double run days.

Mark only narrowly missed qualifying for Hawaii last year. This year he has left no stone unturned. I was wrapped when he asked to cast an eye over his prep from week to week.  This allows me to check that he’s doing all the essentials and gives him a piece of mind that he’s not missing something. It also adds further accountability to that he puts on himself.

Craig Percival

Port Macquarie IronmanI did Port Macquarie 70.3 three weeks ago after a big training week prior including our training camp at Noosa. After a few easy days I felt okay and ready to race.  I was hopeful of pushing for a 70.3 World spot but with only 2 spots in my age group I knew I would have to be at my absolute best.

The swim and ride was solid without being outstanding.  However with my run due to a repeat of the reflux vomiting on the bike that has been an issue in last few long course events I started the run feeling less than ideal.  I pushed through as hard as I could but ran a good 15 minutes slower than what I should have to finish 12th in my age group and well outside getting a spot for Worlds.

Then to finish things off I ended up in the medical tent on a drip with a body temp of 39.9 degrees.

Race Nutrition Plan and Weight Loss

 This is where Sally from Apple to Zuchinni has been so good.  As much as I might try and replicate a nutrition plan in training it is only in races that you can really test things. And in my last few long course events I have suffered from this reflux vomiting. Depending on the severity of it, the outcome of the race is affected and in Port the vomiting started at about 40km.

My heart rate average for the bike was just above 75% of max so I was within the right pacing but I spent the last half of the bike bringing back up anything I put down and the same in the run.  

Since solving his severe cramping issue some years ago, Mark’s body clearly felt he was having far too good a run on the triathlon scene, and so decided to throw a bit of reflux vomiting to keep life interesting! In sports nutrition, this is not a particularly common issue, but not unheard of either. The cause tends to be related to how concentrated your fuel source is.

Some lucky athletes can down a gel with only a mouthful of water, and have no repercussions. Others need a few decent swigs of water, otherwise the guts will churn. But then we have Mark – whose body seemingly rejects it outright as soon as the fuel looks like being over a magic threshold concentration.

Mark can tolerate a good amount of fuel while racing, so it is a matter of making sure that any fuel coming in is dilute to the right concentration, that his body won’t reject it. For every gel – add 500mL of water. For every 200mL Coke – another 150mL water. Don’t even look sideways at solid food as it is too risky! A few other things we are changing are dropping nutrition from transitions as this can impact gut function, and doing away with electrolyte loading in the days preceding the race. The evidence shows that the additional electrolytes here are simply accounted for by the kidneys – and excreted – therefore there is NO improvement to hydration status. Instead, Mark will look to his pee for the answer – pale/straw coloured will indicate a good hydration status. Clear pee indicates over-hydration and is of no benefit, and potentially some disadvantage as those 2am loo stops are not conducive to a restful night sleep!

Sally Garrad

Last weekend we had a structured swim, bike run session at Redcliffe that I did at a race pace type intensity and focus. Again I had some issues but not as bad as previous. As a result we have tweaked things a little more and I will do another swim, bike race pace session this weekend at Noosa as part of the Noosa Winter festival.

In terms of my weight loss as of I am down to 74kg from 80kg and body fat has dropped from 80ml to 62ml.  The goal is to drop the body fat down to low 50’s. In the last 5- 6 years my lowest has been 50ml/73kg and my lowest all time was 45 ml and 68kg in umpiring days. 

I have had some days where I have gone off track a bit and not been as diligent as I should have with diet.  But for the most part I am just trying to cut down on sugars, bad fats and take out the snacks of poor nutritional value. So far it is working but I still hate being hungry. Sally reminds me that is my body burning fat that I don’t need on race day! 

Attention to Detail Bike fit before and after

After seeing a picture of myself on the bike at Luke Harrop triathlon in April I realized I wasn’t in an ideal aerodynamic position.  So I had a fit with Michael Baker from Custom Bike Fit and we made some big changes that have me in a much more aerodynamic position.

You can see from the photos of how my frontal resistance has reduced and this will mean less drag and a faster bike time.  That along with spending more time in the aero position when riding.

 Balance and Life on the Home Front 

Like most men I can be a little slow on the uptake on the home front. Especially if I get a little too focused on a goal.  I have to say that my wife Suzanne is amazingly supportive and very understanding. However she had to rightly give me a reminder the other day that I was probably taking her for granted a bit too much.

And she was 100% right. Being 34 weeks pregnant we have moved house just recently and being the trooper she is, without complaining she pretty much coordinated and packed everything over the last few weeks in preparation for the move.

Between my coaching, my job at the AFL and my own training I did get a little lost in losing sight of the fact that I could have done more to help.  So note to self, take the wife out to dinner asap!

Since completing his 3 Ironman in 3 days’ event in 2008 Mark has battled with fatigue and his body not allowing him to complete the level of training he would like. After 8 years it has been refreshing and exciting to see him be able to put in the training hours and all going to plan fulfill his dream of going to Kona.

I have loved seeing him be able to complete back to back sessions and at worst complaining of sore legs. Sore legs haven’t been a problem in the past as his body wouldn’t even let him get to that level! I think it is hard to appreciate what true fatigue feels like when you haven’t been there yourself. There is a very big difference in being fatigued and just being tired.

Even though we will be less than 3 weeks from baby’s due date in Cairns this is a race I wouldn’t miss watching for the world. Let’s just hope we don’t have any surprises come race day!

Suzanne McCarthy