Jim Dion Wins Age Group and Qualifies for 2023 Kona at IronMan Waco!!
At IronMan Waco, in 100 degree weather and 15-20 mph winds, Jim Dion won his Age Group, placed 19th overall, and punched his ticket to the 2023 IronMan World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing someone that you have been working with as a coach and/or training partner achieve their goals and that is what Jim did.
I met Jim several years ago while open water swimming up at a lake in NJ. After the swim, my wife (Chris) and I were planning to do a fast seven mile post-swim transition run, and we asked if anyone wanted to join. As we were in peak form with a big race only a few weeks out, we assumed no one would want to run the pace we were going to do, but Jim said he'd go. I hadn't met him at that time, but recalled his name as a mutual friend had said that, after a ride with him, as Jim was new to cycling and triathlon, that he wouldn't be riding with the group for long as he was going to get so much faster.
A year later, just before another big race, I posted another really hard workout (i.e., Multi-Bike/Run Set) that I was planning to do on the local tri club, MAPSO, listserv and, to my surprise, Jim came along. It was a really tough workout and after, as I was curious as to why he would come out for such a hard workout when he had no other races on the calendar through the end of the season, he said that he just wanted to see what "hard training was like".
That comment always stuck with me as there is an inflection point in your mentality and approach to training when you go from being a triathlon "participant" to a "racer" and it was clear to me that Jim wanted to become a competitor.
After getting my USA Triathlon Coaching Certification, initially I wanted to work with a couple of athletes to test out my training philosophy and approach in an effort to, honestly, see if the Training Program actually worked and helped folks move from the middle/back of the pack to podium contention at races. So, I needed people who would be willing to adhere to all the work that was prescribed, and Jim (and Anthony Booth) were the first two folks I called.
From the get go, Jim was consistent and persistent in following the program and he had a solid 2021 season that ended with him placing in the Top 10 in his age group at IronMan Waco and qualified him for the IronMan World Championships that would be held in St George, Utah in May, 2022. Further, very fittingly, he rightfully earned the MAPSO "Warrior" award at the annual MAPSYs event.
His persistent issue was over exuberance in training and races and he needed to get "smarter" in how he was strategically approaching the race courses. EVery workout was plagued with power and pace falloffs at the latter part of the workouts. He listened. His2022 training was superb and he came into his own at that race in St George where he "had his race" and finished in the top 15% of his age group in a World Championship race and missed qualifying for Kona by a mere 6 slots. Having performed so well, he set his sights on IronMan Wisconsin where his goal was to podium and obtain his Kona Qualification. Throughout the summer, he was dedicated to putting the effort in to do well and he was as ready for a race as anyone I've ever come across in this sport. Jim's running capability has always been stellar, however, his swimming and biking had leveled off and he seemed to have reached a plateau. There is an inflection point in training where you really need to train with others that force you to swim, bike, and run at someone else's pace. as it causes you to become more strategic in how you approach a particular course and makes you a better racer. As an example, you go on a "drop" ride with a bunch of cyclists and, after a few rides where you limp home alone after getting tossed off the back of the group, you really start to pay attention to your strengths and weaknesses in your capabilities and be more thoughtful and calculated as to effort exertion. That thinking then manifests itself across the various disciplines and, ultimately, you become a better racer.
Unfortunately, at IronMan Wisconsin, the awful rainy, windy, sub-50 degree weather left Jim, given his two percent body ratio, hypothermic at Mile 20 of the bike and he had to DNF. I knew how disappointed he was in the result and the next day I told him that he needed to sign up for another IronMan before the 2022 season ended as there was no way that he should waste the best fitness of his life. He was in too good of shape to let it go. He hemmed and hawed for a couple of days and then, of course, shared that he signed up for IronMan Waco. He was a bit distressed that Waco was only 4 weeks away and that, in the midst of it all, he was going on a 10 day vacation to France when he would need to be re-ramping up for the race. We came up with a plan that involved heavy running in France and followed up with a heavy, alternating swim and bike training plan upon his return. Frankly, he was in such good shape, he needed some recovery from the training he put into Wisconsin, regardless of whether he raced or not, and that the forced rest did him good.
Every 70.3 and iron distance race that Jim has done has been plagued with awful weather conditions and, as mentioned, Waco was no different. I kept reminding him that he was built to race in hot weather and, due to the effort he put in, was going to have a great day if he just went out and enjoyed himself. You have to train to be competitive in IronMan. Anyone can do the bare minimum to be a participant, but if you really want to race it, you need to prepare. Jim was prepared. I reminded him that he is a good racer, he is ready, and that he just needs to enjoy the day. He simply needs to swim as fast as he can, ride smartly, then run the marathon in such a way that he could finish the final 10K strong.
Key to his success that day was his wife, Dorothy, who was there spectating. Athletes often don't realize the importance of spectators. It is not about being there as a "supporter" and telling their athlete "you look great", but spectators play a critical role in motivating an athlete to battle against the darkness demons that are telling them to give up by providing important information during their very brief interactions by letting them know how they are doing versus their competitive set and what paces they need to achieve to meet their goals. Dorothy was on text with his training partner, Anthony Booth, and myself who with the Tracker in hand were conveying what she needed to tell him during those critical few seconds she'd have.
Jim swam a 1:18 which was 10 minutes off his expected time. Due to the river current, the entire field was 10-15% slower, so Dorothy conveying that to him kept him motivated.
On the miserable bike, plagued by crushing heat and heavy winds, it was made more difficult as Jim hit a traffic cone and crashed at Mile 56 and at Mile 106 had a flat tire which left him rolling in on his rim for the final 6 miles (he opted not to change the tube as he felt the stop would take longer than the time lost riding in on his rim -- so maybe tube change is a skill we need to work on :) ) As he "walked" out of transition assuming his goals were unachievable, Dorothy let him know he was well in the mix as he was a mere 9 minutes out off podium (5th place) and 30 minutes back of the leaders which sparked him to get moving.
At Mile 7, she gave him the information which, I think was the turning point, and that was he simply had to "run 8:13's" to get his Kona slot (Funny as we said 8:30's was all that was needed, but he heard 8:13... :) ) We knew that the front end of the field cooked themselves on the bike and would come back to him as they imploded if he just kept moving at a consistent pace. After that, he ran his own race at a pace he could easily manage and at Mile 22 had virtually overtaken the leader in his age group and was in first place. Of interest, at Mile 20 of the run, over 15% of his age group had yet to get off the bike.
The final exclamation point of the day came a mile 26 of the Marathon, where, with 2 miles to go, where he passed an individual who subsequently sped up and passed him again with about 100 yards to go to the Finish Line. As Jim knew he won his age group, all he had left to do was have a fantastic finisher picture and it was going to get screwed up as this guy was going to run in front of him. Jim sped and crossed the line in front of that person who, come to find out, was the guy who took 2nd in his age group and Jim had been, due to the rolling start, been chasing all day long. So, fitting to see that person behind him in the finisher chute in that final picture.
I cannot say how glad I am to have had the opportunity to work with Jim and so glad to see someone set goals, work to achieve them, and conquer!
Relentless Forward Motion