Super North Star
Us Compass for Life navigators love to hear about people’s Super North Star and their journey towards it. When I hear the magic words “I want to do an Ironman” it is like music to my ears. This month’s blog follows my own and two other’s journeys towards the Super North Star of completing an Ironman.
An ironman or long distance triathlon is made up of a 2.5 mile open water swim, 112 mile bike ride and finishes with a 26.2 mile marathon. In most instances you are given between 15-17 hours to complete this.
Meet the first timers
The British Army Headquarters Initial Training Group (HQ ITG) is responsible for the training of up to 7000 new recruits annually and Compass for Life delivers a five phase programme, predominantly to the instructors who train these new recruits. During our delivery with HQ ITG over the last few years we have had the pleasure of meeting Liam and Frank. Who told us that their Super North Star was to complete a long distance triathlon!
Liam McEvoy, Land Warfare Centre (Larkhill Garrison) jumped at the chance to attend the initial Army Compass for Life programme back in 2019. Liam had previously read Elite, by Compass for Life’s CEO Floyd Woodrow and so attending the programme would add to his knowledge of how to utilise the Compass model. Liam shared with us that his Super North Star was to complete the Bolton Ironman on July 3rd 2022.
Frank Culverwell, 2nd Army Training Regiment (Pirbright), told me that he had been pondering on a Super North Star for a while. He had been inspired by Marcus Child’s key note speech at the British Army Training Excellence Symposium, and channelling my Ironman achievements he decided that he wanted to learn new skills and complete something hugely challenging.
Having always wanted to complete a triathlon Frank had previously been put off by being a weak swimmer, but his new inspiration meant he set his sights on completing an iron distance triathlon which would really challenge him, given it involves a 2.5mile swim. To make the Super North Star big enough to scare himself, he didn’t just want to complete it, he wanted to complete it in less than 11.30hrs making it a hugely significant challenge.
As Marcus always advocates, setting a Super North Star that you know you can achieve will not make your palms sweat or panic set in. That’s why you need to add to it to make it something that scares you.
So, committed to his Super North Star, Frank booked the Outlaw Long Distance triathlon in Nottingham on July 24th. A race coincidentally that I had also entered as part of my race calendar.
To move us towards any Super North Star we need a strategy, link here for a previous blog on why strategy, whilst often overlooked, is the most important aspect. Strategy is our South cardinal and needs to be a real focus because a goal without a plan is just a dream.
Your strategy pulls together your plan for success, it highlights the milestones that you want/need to achieve along the way. It gives you your chance to shine on your strengths whilst also highlighting areas where improvement would be beneficial. For this blog strategy isn’t just about the physical training needed, but many other things. The equipment required needs to be considered (bike, wetsuit, trisuit, trainers, helmet etc). Entering some other shorter races to gain experience is vital. But equally important is to focus on your West cardinal, which is your Warrior spirit. This includes both mental and physical resilience. Consideration needs giving to nutrition, hydration, focussing on sleep and rest.
To help with our strategy Liam and I both worked with a triathlon coach who was responsible for setting our physical training plan, whilst Frank opted to follow the Don and Mel Fink’s Be Ironfit plan. Liam and I both agreed that having a coach gives a certain level of accountability to ensure we are keeping on top of the sessions and completing them.
The bumps along the way – remember your values
Liam had a couple of swerve balls in the months leading up to his race. First was covid, which set his training back a bit, then when he was back on track he tore his medial meniscus 3 weeks before race day.
For me my training was going great until one week out from race day, I came off my bike on a sharp corner. Landing heavily on my left side, I took a bash to the head, picking up a bit of whiplash and my ribs took the rest of the impact.
For Frank, the big obstacle he had was learning to swim and building up to the distance required. So six months out he started this part of his journey and had many early mornings in the pool at Pirbright. Frank then started transitioning to open water swimming in late April (very brave in my opinion as it’s cold)! He built up nicely to the distance needed on race day so initial obstacle overcome!
Race day obstacles
Race day is always a culmination of emotions, external factors and mindset. Some of these we can control and others we can’t. Out of our control on race day is the weather, bike mechanics and those little niggles in our minds and bodies which crop up. This is why having a strategy which include plans which focus on the “what if’s” is really important . This gives us a confidence going into the race, knowing that we have the plan to deal with our “what if’s”.
Liam’s what if’s came under the area of energy and how a lack of nutrition will have a big impact on this. Pre-race nerves or anxiety meant he was finding it very difficult to eat to maintain good levels of blood sugar for his energy. This started the night before and carried on into the race.
Frank hit his bump at mile 90 on the bike (quite literally) when he got a puncture. Whilst the change may not have been quite up to Formula 1 pit stop speed he thankfully had a spare inner tube and the tools needed. Back on the road and a second puncture came a few miles later. Now with no spares, he enlisted the help of a local and between them started knocking on doors until thankfully someone had a spare and a pump!
For me my mindset and focus was my obstacle on the run, and at mile 12 (ish) I gave in to a little walk. Something I know is not a good idea as once you walk it is like giving the green light to keep doing it. It is amazing how quick the minutes start to tick by once you include walking. In hindsight I realised I didn’t actually have a Super North Star for my race. I knew I could complete it as I have done it 5 times before. But there was no fire in my belly for this race.
What gets us over the obstacles?
The East cardinal is our ethos and is made up of our values. Values are principles that guide our thinking and our behavior, they signal what is important to us.
Liam’s values include:
Honesty with self
Ultimately living by his mantra of “getting the job done”!
Frank’s values include:
Efficiency – especially with time
My values include:
Being responsible for my own actions
My mantra when racing is “don’t be weak”
If you take the obstacles that we all encountered before and on race day, we all got over them and carried on moving forward towards our Super North Star. This was because of the values that underpin our thinking and behaviors.
Trust me when I say that completing an Ironman is one of the most physically and mentally toughest things we can do, and on our chosen races we all did get over that finish line. We may not have skipped over it in the time we ideally wanted, but we kept moving forward towards our Super North Star, and this is why the compass map is such a fantastic tool to keep us going.
What did we learn?
Sport is a great teacher. After the race, Liam, Frank and I reflected that we all learnt a lot from our journey about ourselves.
My key learnings from this race was just how important mental preparation and focus is. I don’t feel this is something I gave enough commitment to for this race. Maybe because of the bike accident, or maybe because I just didn’t want it enough. I have another race coming up in mid-September in Italy, and I feel grateful that I have the opportunity to improve on this. So for me, September’s Super North Star is to go for a personal best which means under 10:53 (by telling you I am saying it out loud!) – watch this space.
Commitment was the key learning from Frank, not just to triathlon training but to work and spending time with his children. A key lesson he learnt was to become highly efficient with time and make the most of opportunities to sneak in training around other higher priority commitments. It was only ever going to be one iron distance for Frank, although there is already thoughts for next year as he wants the 11.30 hours, so watch this space!
Getting the job done was Liam’s mantra and this is exactly what he did. His reflections highlighted how pivotal accountability has been in his journey. To himself, but also to those around him who believed in him. Like Frank, Liam had to start from scratch with his swimming, and he joined a local triathlon club. The people he met there who believed in him and supported him throughout highlighted a true moment in time for Liam. He is now having a bit of time off but definitely sounded keen to keep up his triathlon journey in 2023, so again watch this space.
Remember if your goals don’t scare you they are probably not big enough!