“What Keeps me Going” – A Chat to Sam Courty

After an interesting few weeks training and racing I found myself really wondering what motivates me, why I train/race and what the real motivators are. By just finding the answers these questions you find you can really push yourself to the next level, because you understand what makes you tick.

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me & mum shortly before ITU worlds – relaxing the nerves.

I’ve also always been driven by self improvement. I’ve always loved sport but there’s something extra about pushing my body and mind to the limits of what I think are possible, and then realising that they’re not actually the limits at all. It’s a never ending cycle of breaking through the ceiling, and falling through the floor – in an endless quest for excellence.

All these questions have been ticking over in my head since the ironman, and though many people see that as almost impossible to achieve – there are so many parallels to be drawn with real life.

Jobs, relationships, sport at any level – all require time, effort and motivation. If it’s not valuable to you, you’re probably not going to be prepared to work for it. But if it truly means something to you – you’ll stop at nothing to make it work. And it’s these kind of motivations that really interest me.

Feeling very under prepared to talk about a lot of these subjects – I decided to bring in a close friend of mine to talk the topic through. I spoke to Sam Courty – an Olympic hopeful who’s been rowing for the GB squad for a number of years.

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Me and Sam longer ago than I’d like to admit.

I was at uni with Sam and she’s been a solid inspiration for me throughout my athletic career – including when she was rowing.

I find the way she conducts herself in and out of sport exceptional – she makes a great role model. So I wanted to know just what makes her tick!

What makes you do sport in the first place?

I have always been a very sporty person and from a young age all my friends have come through different sport clubs and teams, so it has always been my social circle. It probably also helped that my Mum and Dad were still playing sport when I was young, so it was a big part of my life growing up. The main reason why I have continued though is because I absolutely love what I do. The daily challenge, the highs, the lows, life is never boring and that is something I have become addicted to.

It’s clear that sports a huge part of your life, but rowing is a vicious sport. From my short time in the sport I found it amazing just how hard you guys push yourself day in day out. And that clearly takes its toll on you physically and mentally. What motivates you when its hard and you’re really up against it?

11813353_10155828311185117_3928497400602636717_nThe simple answer is: the good days. Those days when finally, everything falls into place. But I strongly believe those days aren’t down to luck but hard work and perseverance. If you put the effort in you will be rewarded at some point.

 It might not be as soon as you hope but one day it will be your day. However, that is a very “big picture” way to look at things. To help with motivation day to day I find goal setting really helps me. This was invaluable while I was injured as you can lose a lot of motivation during this time. For the first week my goal was to be able to sit down for 10mins, so I could sit on the plane for take-off and landing. I learnt through this that you must be flexible with your goals as things change and adapt them. Being able to sit down was never a goal at the beginning of the season but it was a vital one, part way through!

Do you think that this can be applied to people at any level? Should people break down a bigger picture into much more manageable chunks and remember just why they’re doing it? I know this definitely works for me – there are always days when I look at my to do list and think “not a chance!” – but just get stuck in step by step.

I think this can apply at any level and also not just in sport. I remember at university when I was writing essays and I really did struggle with motivating myself to get them done. As soon as I stopped looking at the essay as a 2000 word limit and broke it into the intro, method etc suddenly it didn’t seem so daunting. If I wrote 500 words a day then in four days it would be done and that really didn’t seem so bad.

When it’s really tough, and you’re absolutely up against it why do you endure? Why don’t you just stop?

11731683_10155797536610405_5218525799290027215_oWhat would I achieve? From memory I can’t ever remember stopping. I’ve slowed down, I’ve had the thoughts about stopping, I’ve most certainly complained but I’ve never put the handle down on the rowing machine or stopped the boat and given in. Training doesn’t just make you physically fitter it also gives you the opportunity to train your mental fitness. At the elite level there is often little that separates athletes physically, there are only so many hours you can train, and most nations now are on similar programmes with similar sport science support. So, when you’re neck and neck with another boat, how is it decided who’s going to win? The crew that stopped once in training when it got hard or the crew that pushed through when everything inside of them was telling them to stop.

 

Do you think that people often stop too easily? When a few more minutes/days/weeks sticking with it could really help them? I’ve often found that social media adds a rose tinted view to life-  it’s easy to take the view that it comes easy to a lot of people – and they barely work for it. I know this is absolutely not the case.

13321747_1014809555269854_6389838155764939099_nI do think social media and the media in general has a way of portraying many things as ‘perfect’. People who post on social media don’t want to publicise the hard days because you don’t want to give anything away; especially if you think your competition is watching. You want them to believe that it comes so much easier to you than them. I love reading sporting autobiographies as I find this is the next best thing to being able to ask my sporting heroes all the questions I have.

You get a real insight into their lives and the struggles they have faced but more importantly how they overcame them. And I am yet to read one where it has been plain sailing and believe me I have read a few! So coming back to your question of ‘do I think people stop too easily’ then yes, I guess people do but if you’re willing to stop then I guess you have fallen out of love or just not enjoying what you are doing anymore and that is absolutely fine because I couldn’t do something I didn’t love and the most important thing in life is being happy.

What advice would you give to someone that feels like they might give up? Or maybe someone that can’t quite make it past a milestone they’ve been trying to break for a while?

Rowing-trials-Sam-Courty-and-Emily-Ford-Peter-Spurrier-Intersport-Images-e1432125038850If the feelings are during a hard session or race, then it’s your mind taking over and just finish. It doesn’t matter how or in what state, but the feeling of finishing will be better than the feeling of quitting. If it’s a decision that’s been playing on your mind for a while, then firstly I would write down the positives and negatives of carrying on and the same for giving up. If one clearly outweighs the other, then you know what to do and remember that quitting isn’t always the easy way out, it takes just as much confidence and bravery as carrying on.

When it comes to reaching milestones I’m afraid that is just the nature of sport. If everyone had a perfect linear rate of improvement everyone with a gold medal around their necks would be the same age. However, the youngest Olympic gold medallist is 13 years and 268 days and the oldest is 64 years 258 days so their paths to Olympic success clearly were very different. Your time will come, if you can’t question the effort you are putting in and you have done everything in your control then you have to wait your turn and be patient.

How do you find that extra gear when you’re hurting?

Your head will always tell you stop before your body gives in, its human nature. But have you ever wondered what it takes to make your body stop? I have and its yet to happen, so I guess there are probably more gears than we think, and if everyone is looking for the ‘extra gear’ we should aim to find an extra two…. just to make sure we cross the line first.

If you want to follow Sam you can get her on instagram at: @samcourty93 or twitter @samcourty

It’s definitely worth your time!

Ironman Maastricht – Race Report

Where to start?! From start to finish it was the race I’ve dreamed of since I decided to pursue ironman. Granted my swim massively let me down – but to overturn a 1:10 swim to finish top 10 overall is something I’d not quite imagined possible!

The boring bit will follow – but the race panned out pretty much how I expected it to.

2_m-100832874-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2235_000572-19178161One things for certain – I’m absolutely overwhelmed with the amazing messages from everyone supporting. I’ve always said that one of the main reasons I manage to perform is because of the phenomenal team I have around me. Sponsors, family, friends, acquaintances. I’ve never been one to race for people that doubt me – I left it all on the course for every single person that’s believed in me over the past year. And when I was really up against it – it was the support that got me through.

As per usual – I was wide awake when the 4:30 alarm buzzed. The lack of sleep doesn’t worry me any more – in fact I think I’d be more scared if I slept well the night before the race.

A decently sized breakfast preparing myself for a long day of nothing but energy gels, coke and electrolytes – I knew I’d have to make the most of the real food.

As we bumbled down to the start I was finally beginning to get my head around what I was in for. People spend years training to finish an Ironman, and I was about to try and complete another. Yet again in 30 plus degrees of sun.

The announcement was made 1 hour before the race – no wetsuit swim. Never ideal but everyone had to do it. I managed to forget my water bottles on the way to the start – but a quick trip back to the car quickly solved that – and we were up and running.

7_m-100832874-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2235_006432-19178166Though I was nervous – I was also very relaxed. I only made it out of the portaloo queue 8 minutes before the start of the race – and I still had to sort my special needs bags and drop my dry kit off – but I knew I had time. A quick photo stop with TPS and we made it down to the start.

The swim was good – I felt smooth, comfortable, confident. Probably because I wasn’t swimming that fast at all. But on a day where a lot of people added 3/4 minutes – I was happy to take an Ironman distance PB. Equalling what I did in the Kona practice swim. I picked good lines and good feet – and although there is so much work to do in this area of my race – I was happy I didn’t completely throw it away.

On to the bike and I was quickly making ground on the rest of the field. The surfacing was awful and it was a very very technical bike course. It took me a long while to get into any form of rhythm and through the technical descents I was losing a lot of time. This really highlighted to me the importance of checking the bike course before the race!

Despite the awful surfaces I managed to stick to my nutrition plan to the letter – and not lose the bottle on the bumps!

32_m-100832874-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2235_025566-19178191I stuck to the game plan and slowly picked people off one by one. The first half of the bike loop were where the hills were – and the second half was pan flat – so I knew this was where I’d make my time. Having a great battle with the eventual winner of the AG – we were back and forth for the whole second 90km of the bike – it was a real battle.

My legs started to feel the pinch in the last 30km so I let the power come down but kept working and ticking over knowing I’d still be putting time into a lot of the field. I knew I’d have to stay resilient and stick to the plan – no matter what.

Coming off the bike and it was a super warm day – at 30 degrees from the moment I stepped onto that run course, I could feel it. I knew I was in for a long one.

Laura told me I was off the bike in 5th, but I was confident in my ability to run a couple down. The legs were good and I was up for the suffering.

69_m-100832874-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-2235_049633-19178228One by one I ticked people off – but I was overheating fast. There was a real lack of aid stations on the course and I hadn’t planned my run nutrition. A mistake I really paid for. Every opportunity I took ice and sponges – doing everything to keep the core temperature down and keep the legs ticking.

Unfortunately the lack of aid station from KM 30 – 34 absolutely ruined me. Then I took on far too much fluid to even contemplate holding the pace of the winner when he came through me. No wonder I was so ill when I crossed the line.

I’d fully come to terms with the fact that finishing 4th was a phenomenal result, so to find out I was actually second was an amazing result.

After coming out of the water barely in the top 200 to move through the field and into the top 10 is a race I’ll never forget. I’m gaining more and more confidence race by race and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season and the future hold.

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Ironman Maastricht #99 – Straight back at it.

It’s barely been 3 weeks since the ITU world champs and I’m straight back in at the deep end – an Ironman. 

It’s a strange feeling when you spend your whole time preparing for an event, for it to be out of the way and your focus has to instantly shift to the next one. 

With my next big goal being Ironman Barcelona it’s been very hard for me to focus in on this event – or even comprehend what I’m about to put my body through. 38444815_262771104324519_5349182369016315904_n

I’ve not applied myself with the same discipline I normally do leading into a big event – but I’m not worried about that. 

We’re in for a very warm day on Sunday, pushing 30 degrees which won’t benefit a slightly over weight version of me. I’m up 2kg since Denmark, though that has certainly helped recovery and training through the last 2 and a half weeks, it won’t help me on that marathon. But when have I ever made weight? 

My recovery has been good – I’ve managed to shift most of the issues I carried into Denmark and my training has been consistent and strong. 

I’ve just gently ticked over – with a few big sessions in the mix, nothing out of the ordinary.

So how does the race look? 

Well – I suppose the obvious thing is this race will be a lot longer. Denmark took me a little over 6 hours to complete, whereas here I’m hoping for a little over 9. 

And where is that time coming from?

38404522_1470977033004164_1671550307521265664_nWell, luckily not the swim!

The swim is meant to be 800m longer – which means it could be anywhere from 600 to 1200… but even on a bad day, that’s only an extra 15 minutes. 

I should be on the bike an extra 90 minutes – 2 hours – plenty of time to make ground on the rest of the field. A hilly course doesn’t benefit me in my current condition – although I’m sure there’ll be plenty for me to get stuck into. 

Then there’s the case of the marathon. If I held my Denmark pace it would take me and extra hour, and I have much more faith in my legs after some really strong run sessions in the last 2 weeks. 

As always – the real tell will be nutrition, and who can hold themselves together at the end of a long day. 

So obviously the old motto of “don’t try anything new” on race day applies…. right? No?

Of course, that would be far too sensible.

20180520_11141So this time we’re going to completely revamp my nutrition plan. And going to do the whole race on only energy gels, no “real food”.

Yeah it probably sounds as crazy to you as it does to me. So we’ve done the maths, and at my current weight I’ll need 28 energy gels to get me through the day, what’s the worst that can happen?

There is plenty of method to the madness of course – and if my body can stomach them then I think it could be the solution I’ve been searching for.

And if not – I’ll probably leave my stomach somewhere between mile 15 and 20 of the marathon. 

Hopefully the day won’t look too dissimilar to anything I’ve done in the past:

Shocking swim.

Very strong bike. 

See how much ground I can make on the run.

I’ve had plenty of mishaps this season – so I’m not worried about that happening again, I can only control myself and my effort, so that’s what I’ll do. If I get a mechanical or find myself in difficulty – I’ll adapt and react appropriately. This is where the experience is slowly starting to show. 

I’m number 99, first time down in double digits has to count for something right? 

It’s super easy to track on the Ironman app – or their website if you’re old school and my sister will be fuelling the social media hype.

So for now I’ll get my head down, rest up, eat more pastries than I should and see you all on the start line. 

And from the moment I come out of that river – I’ll be on the hunt.