The Road to the Kona Podium: Kyle Buckingham and Sam Gyde
To race the Ironman World Championships is a dream for many age group athletes. For a select few, that dream goes further -- some hope to stand on the podium in Kona. It takes focus, discipline and some creativity to put in the work needed to meet these goals, but South African Kyle Buckingham (M30-34) and Belgian Sam Gyde (M35-39) dreamed big and made it happen in 2013. Buckingham won the amateur race overall in Kona this year and broke the age group course record. Gyde broke the age group bike course record and came in third age grouper overall.
Like many, Gyde came to triathlon just to stay in shape. A former smoker, Gyde began running when he kicked the habit. He then got a bike and the next logical step was triathlon, all while maintaining his job as a full-time firefighter. South African Kyle Buckingham has a similar story. Working in London as an electrician, he began following a friend that was training for an Ironman and then decided to give it a try himself. Both men had quick results.
Buckingham’s first triathlon ever was Ironman South Africa in 2009 where he posted a very strong 10:29 initially using a free online program. He started to work with a coach on TrainingPeaks, professional triathlete and fellow South African Raynard Tissink, and over the next two years progressed with a 9:24 in 2010 and an amazing 8:56 in 2011 at Ironman Regensburg. In his first attempt at Kona in 2011, Buckingham raced to a 9:20, then hit 9:19 in 2012.
Gyde’s first Ironman was Ironman Austria in 2007, where he finished in 9:29:09. After a couple years of unstructured training, in 2009 Gyde began working with a coach, Loic Helin on TrainingPeaks. That year he took on Ironman Frankfurt finishing in a stunning 9:06:56. This time qualified him for Kona that year, where he finished in 9:29:16. He skipped Kona in 2010 to build, then won the 35-39 age group in 2011 going 8:50:09 and repeated in 2012 with 9:06:09.
While it’s obvious both men are extremely talented, they also put a lot of work into the sport while still balancing everyday life. Buckingham works at a gym and as a qualified electrician he does much of the maintenance as well. Gyde is an officer in a large professional fire service and is responsible for dispatching, communication and IT. While neither is married, Gyde has a girlfriend and Buckingham is engaged. So how do they fit in the training hours needed to rise to the top?
“I do 90 percent of my training indoors,” says Gyde. “That is very time efficient. I have a busy full time job and most of my bike rides are at night, which helps building mental toughness too.”
Buckingham also has to be creative with fitting his training in during the early morning hours, going out before anyone else’s day has begun. “I train early mornings, then I get ready for work. Then I’m home at a reasonable time so I can spend time with my fiancee having dinner and chatting about our day,” says Buckingham. “On the weekend I get my training done early before everyone wakes up and by the time I get home everyone is ready to enjoy a full day out.”
Of course this year Kona was the main goal for both men. Doing everything to be ready for race day, Buckingham and Gyde worked with their coaches and put a plan in place. For his build to Kona Buckingham had four to five swims per week, each 4- to 5k in length. Of his four rides per week, two were longer rides with a lot of extended race pace intervals. Wanting to bring up his run, Buckingham did a few short runs in the week, added some track sessions and his long Sunday run included race pace intervals.
Gyde focused on Kona for seven weeks after racing Ironman Mt. Tremblant. Showing how serious he was about meeting his goal, he spent three weeks in Kona getting ready for race day with shorter, intense efforts. But unlike many, his taper period is very short. “I did two weeks of peak training with lots of race pace efforts and lots of volume,” says Gyde. “ The taper period was one week with short but intense workouts. My coach has applied this strategy for three years now and it seems to work very well.” Experimenting and finding what works best for you is another element of being a successful athlete.
When you’ve been at the top of the amateur ranks, the obvious goal is to win, but that can be a daunting task. Both Gyde and Buckingham set specific goals and weren’t afraid to put them out there. “Setting time goals in Kona is hard because it depends so much on the weather conditions,” says Gyde. “I was aiming for a sub-9, a 270-plus watt bike ride and a sub-3 marathon, and hoped to extend my age group title.”
One for planning, Gyde had very specific goal wattages and paces for race day. “My race plan was pretty simple,” he says. “Survive the swim, which remains a very weak point for me. Bike around 280 watts on the flats, 320 watts on the climbs and stay above 200 watts on the downhills. Run the marathon at 4:10/km pace but I felt at the start that that was not going to be feasible and decided to go for a three hour marathon.”
Buckingham set the lofty goal of being the top amateur and on the flight over he went as far as to predict his times. “The plan was to go around 290to 300 watts on the bike,” recalls Buckingham. “I guess it was a little too much and I ended up hurting a bit at 120km. So the plan then was to relax and sit in the group that came past and save some energy. On the run I made sure I didn’t go too hard in the opening 10km and held a steady 4-min/km, and that was the pace I was aiming to go for the whole marathon.” His 56:09 swim, 4:40:07 bike and 2:56:50 run shows his tremendous balance across all three disciplines.
Not only did both men meet their goals, they both set new records in the process. Buckingham’s 8:37 (just two minutes over what he predicted) set an overall age group course record while Gyde’s amazing 4:29 bike split set the age group bike course record.
When asked the single most important element to their training, Gyde and Buckingham had different answers. For Buckingham it was pretty simple. “Training my mind to be stronger than my body, and training on my own seems to help a lot too,” he says.
For Gyde it’s all about the everyday work over time. “In terms of training approach the most important thing is consistency all year long. I have a very short break from training after Kona but I train consistently all year long,” he commented.
While not everyone can set the goal of winning in Kona, the process of meeting any goal is the same whether you’re an elite or a beginner. It takes hard work and sacrifice, and that’s what makes the journey as rewarding as the result. Follow the example of these two elite athletes, and you’ll find yourself achieving your own goals in 2014.
This athlete story is part of our November "Dreaming Season" series. Read more about Dreaming Season here.