How I became a Triathlete - Steve McKenna
Updated: Jul 19, 2019
A young love for running and endurance
In primary school, running (and chicks) was all that mattered to me. I was Craig Mottrams biggest fan, a huge advocate of The Mona Fartlek running session and at times even slept in my running clothes (clean) so i could get up early and run before school. I raced and trained with a ton of heart and constantly reminded myself that when it started to hurt, that's when I'd get the most out of it. With this mentality it became a regular occurrence for me to end up in an ambulance instead of making it to the finishing line. Mum and Dad would routinely write my name, address and phone number on all my race bibs, in case of an emergency. This ability to push hard proved to be both a strength and a weakness. However, I suppose my biggest weakness back then was the fact that I was pre-pubescent racing against giants (my age) who had hit puberty a lot earlier than me!
Can you love running too much??
Despite my body resembling that of a 12yo girl, I always went into junior National Champs with competitive times but rarely performed to the standard that was expected of me. Running and the dream of one day winning nationals was so important to me that the pre-race nerves started 1-2 weeks out from the races, rather than 1-2 days. I was completely drained and it was common for me to catch a cold the week of the Australian National Cross-Country Champs. The final straw for me was the 2008 Pacific School Games where I was 15 years old coming into the race with the 2nd fastest 2km Steeple chase qualifying time of 6.12. I was once again a nervous wreck and under performed, however this time my under performance still had me in 2nd place with 150m left to run, and only 2 jumps left. For the last two laps I felt that familiar feeling coming on and thought I might just make it to the finish line upright if I kept pushing. Approaching the last water jump I was barely able to put one foot in front of the other and what happened next was caught on camera and posted on YouTube... giving my mates lots of pleasure over the years.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YL4Rt7Loebo - Steeplechase stack
Dizzy and confused, with a lump on my head, I stumbled through the last 100m with my eyes closed and ran into the final steeple. I then climbed the steeple and was over taken by two runners on the line, coming 4th overall. Classic McKenna!
Bitterly exiting the sport
I certainly see the funny side to the steeple chase stack video and have always laughed along with my mates who play it on repeat 50-100 times and post it on my Facebook wall. However, it was a heartbreaking moment for me and one that contributed to my decision to leave running, taking a break until I was able to enjoy it again, without the added pressure I put on myself.
Growing up and gaining perspective
Perspective is a great thing and the time away from the sport made me realise that running isn't everything, but also that I missed it more than anything. It took a long time to get over my anger towards running but fast forward 5 years to 2014 and I was half way through the footy season playing for the Rostrevor Old Collegians (ROCS). It was a great lifestyle/culture and I will forever treasure the memories of playing for the ROCS every Saturday with a community of mates that I now have for life, but there was a big part of me missing. I had been running 2-3 times a week outside of footy training and was starting to really enjoy it again. In my 50th game for the ROCS I broke my leg and tore multiple ligaments in my ankle. After the loud crack of my leg breaking, I grabbed handfuls of grass to relieve the pain and the only thing I could think of was not being able to run the City-Bay Fun Run in 2 weeks’ time. At this very moment I was sure that I would only play 50 games for the ROCS and that I would be picking up where I left off with my running. A close friend told me that everything happens for a reason and although I shrugged this comment off at the time, it turns out breaking my leg was the best thing that ever happened to me. That close friend was also my boss, Andrew Bachman, a wise and handsome man and as we landscaped each day his continual encouragement to do what I truly loved was the reason he lost one of his workers to Triathlon, but he couldn’t have been happier. Now that I think of it, maybe I was useless, and he just wanted me off his work site as soon as possible?!
A big moment of realisation
With two surgeries,14 weeks on crutches and no weight baring I had plenty of time on my hands and it’s fair to say I read more in that 3.5 months than I had in my entire life, working wonders for my University GPA. However, the best read during that period had nothing to do with my Law/Marketing Degree and was instead an article by Dan-Jervis Bardy - "Richard just wants to run". Dan interviewed Richard Everest who was South Australia's and arguably one of Australia's most talented junior runners. At 19 years old Richard had a heart breaking and career ending injury that he is still desperately trying to get over years and years later. Dan quoted Richard who said ‘Once I got injured, I finally figured out how much I did want it. You don’t know what you’re missing until it’s gone’. Richard was injured, but he knew what he wanted. He wanted to be great.
This article upset me a fair bit as Richard was an old mate and it had a lasting impression, as I realised I was taking for granted something that meant the world to Richard who would give anything to have a temporarily injured leg. I also wanted to be great and couldn't wait any longer, so I started doing everything I could to get as fit as possible, without weight baring of course! According to the Lord of rehabilitation and physiotherapy, Wahib from Kinetic R&P, this meant learning how to ride a bike and to swim without kicking. Thankfully, Dr. Cabot from Orthopaedics SA did such a good job fixing my leg that I was able to get started without a single issue and I enjoyed the rehabilitation far too much to just go back to running, making Triathlon the obvious choice for me!
'Richard just wants to run', by Dan Jervis-Bardy:
So if I do Triathlon I need to train all day?!?.... Where do I sign???
Early 2015 I decided I would do my first Triathlon and knew I needed help being completely clueless as we all are when we start out. I did my research and contacted one of the best Triathlete's South Australia has produced, Matty White, and told him of my big plans to become a Professional. The first thing he did was put me through a 20 minute Functional Threshold Power Test on the bike. Five minutes into the test my heart rate had already maxed out around 185-90bpm and Matty left the room to get a drink shaking his head at an unrealistic 330 average watts so far. I was in big trouble already but saw proving myself to Matty as vital to my goal and for the next 15 minutes I suffered as much as I possibly could. I ended up with an average power of 325 watts, a lactate reading of 18mmol and an average heart rate of around 190bpm. So from here we got to work on making me a professional triathlete!
Starting out with a bumpy ride
My first few triathlons started with some success locally but again I had a poor gauge of how much pain was too much pain. Failing to make finish lines and passing out was a regular occurrence. After my first attempt at Olympic distance I was flown back to Adelaide by the Royal Flying Doctors Service and spent three days in hospital. An ambulance was also required for my first Ironman 70.3 attempt in Geelong early in 2016. I wanted my Pro license in a hurry and as an age grouper at the 14km mark on the run I had myself placed 11th overall, ahead of more than half of the 30 Professionals racing. It was here that I learnt how quickly things can change over the course of a four hour race and that when you go to dark places you can't remember anything! After the race my Dad filled me in on what had happened, it turns out that I had been running in circles for a few minutes with my eyes shut and dark blue lips, desperate to finish the race. When a spectator lay me down and asked what my name was I said "McKenna, McKenna, McKenna" for around 3 minutes, yet another thing my mates like to continuously remind me of.
^^^ Ironman 70.3 Geelong in 2016 borrowing Matty Whites everything!! ^^^
The harder the struggle, the more glorious the triumph
It's been bloody tough pulling back on work and University to chase a dream, but I am determined to not be left thinking 'what if?'. I may be driving around with my windows taped up, sacrificing time with family and friends and possibly breaking the world record for longest time spent on a double degree, but I wouldn't change a thing. Whether the reward from all of this hard work/sacrifice is a successful and prosperous career in Triathlon or simply having grown as a person with resilience and determination to last a life time and take into my next career, I'll be happy. Life is good and my constant search for a life balance socially is currently a big focus of mine!
The support I have received locally in South Australia and most of all from my family, close mates and my partner has been incredible. I am no longer training under Matty White but we are still close and I hope one day to pay him back for everything he's done for me. It’s been the more experienced professionals like himself, Tim Reed and Luke Bell who have been so generous with their time, knowledge and advice that make me also give back to other athletes in the sport. Triathlon is a tough profession, so once I am considered an experience and seasoned professional, I aspire to mimic how these guys treat the developing talent they come across.
A rapid progression through total dedication
I've now been in this sport exactly 4 years and although that is not a huge amount of time I have gained a truck load of experience and fast tracked my knowledge and progression as an athlete by throwing everything at Triathlon and my love for endurance. I gained my Professional long course license 12 months after doing my first Triathlon, I was then "talent identified" by Triathlon Australia (TA) to race short course under the Head Coach of TA and in recent times discovered that my true passion lies back with long course racing.
The Triathlon community <3
Although this first blog has been all about me and my discovery of Triathlon, I hope it has been useful, motivating or inspiring to others in and outside of the sport. I am huge on following your dreams and love helping others realise their true calling as well. Luckily Triathlon is a community based sport and through my heavy involvement I have been able to help and encourage many to also finding a better, healthier life through either triathlon, running, cycling or swimming. I have loved nothing more than racing every weekend locally, interstate and internationally and sharing that natural high and sense of achievement we all get after any event, training session or random conversation where people with a common interest froth out!!
For anyone interested, my next blog will be on the current training block I am tackling and how PREPD Hydration has helped in getting the long hours done! I will try to make this as informative as I can with all the training numbers, hours and feelings I can use to describe the benefits of this hydration and performance enhancing product. Leigh Mosel of Radiology SA and myself have done a huge amount of testing with PREPD on our biggest training and race days to ensure it wasn't simply a placebo effect and I would love to share the results.
No longer being a confused Triathlete, it's finally full steam ahead into the longest and most challenging training block I have ever completed, and it's started very positively in teaming up with Titan Performance Group, helping me take on my next challenges.
RACES COMING UP:
My next two races that I am building towards wouldn't have been possible without the support of Radiology SA.
30th June - Challenge Korea
14th July - Challenge Vietnam