Book Review – ‘Iron War’ by Matt Fitzgerald

I’d never heard of Dave Scott or Mark Allen until I started my own project of becoming an Ironman. It’s not that I didn’t hear because of ignorance or lack of publicity, I just hadn’t been exposed to them. At the end of the day, this stupid idea of Ironman is still a minority sport. People are in the general ‘know’ of what it is – a massive event of swimming, cycling and running. People still ask what order it is in. I did up until 2 years ago. As part of my own training, I have also had to become somewhat of a student of Ironman. I began listening to podcasts and at every waking moment I am not training I am reading. ‘Iron War’ by Matt Fitzgerald has been an incredible read, and actually very inspirational and educating for my own goals.

Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald

Iron War by Matt Fitzgerald

I’m sure you are all aware of the what’s, why’s, when’s of the book and the epic battle between Dave Scott and Mark Allen back in Kona in 1989 – ‘The Greatest Race of All Time’.

I raced through this book myself, it was gripping. I deliberately skipped the photos as I didn’t want to see what Dave or Mark looked like. I had my own minds eye and vision of who I was reading about. This is what makes a great book – you’re own imagination. When I finished the book, I youtube’d the race footage to put it in some kind of real life terms – it became a movie in itself after reading about it. Like when people say about Lord of The Rings, or The Davinci Code – ‘ah the book is better’. The book in this case is a backed up and definitive piece of information about why this race happened. It had been building for years and this was the end game.

First of all the legend Dave Scott argues that his own hard work will fend off any natural talent that his competitors bring ‘(Dave Scott) held the belief that his hard work could trump any others talent. He believed he could be the best by being the man who never quit’.

This is more a desire not to quit that beats natural talent and who can argue with Dave Scott, he’s a winner. It does ring bells of Mathew Syed’s book ‘The Myth of Talent’ (no link because I don’t want to encourage buying it!) a book by a former Table Tennis international who argues that practice, practice, practice will beat anyone – talent doesn’t exist. Syed never won Olympic Gold. Did he not want it enough,? Could he have practiced more? No – the other guy had more talent. Natural talent does exist, it has to. For Dave Scott, his natural talent was in his mind and this meant he turn that in fitness, endurance and speed. I’ll leave it there on Mathew Syed, his argument falls down at every hurdle.

Like I mentioned, ‘Iron War’ doesn’t just list a sequence of events that took place in 1989. The rich content of why and how it all happened was an insight in to how we work as endurance athletes in our own right.

Fitzgerald references the work of Samuel Marcora, who conducted an interesting study in fatigue and why we let it happen fatigue is voluntary and occurs as a response to an intolerable level of suffering.’

He talks about the ‘Psychobiological model of exercise tolerance – which understands challenging tasks are determined by a weighing up of cost and reward’. In Mark Allen’s case in 1989, the cost of winning Kona was greater than the cost of any suffering.

Also Marcora does a test on the affects of mental fatigue on physical performance. (I also heard a recent topic being discussed on IMTalk with Nortin Hadler – Episode 348).

Marcora tested the effort of athletes before and after some intellectual stress and found that physical performance can be reduced by up to 15% if we are having cogs turning in our heads before we train. This is directly related to us – the age grouper!

Work Hard, Train Hard

Work Hard, Train Hard

We work, we have jobs! Personally I have had to make changes to my work and training time management because I do get mentally exhausted from work. I get home from work at 1pm maybe even 2pm after a 4:30am start and I can’t then hop straight on the turbo and get a beneficial session. If I put a one hour nap or menial task like washing or a food shop between my working life and my training life I get so much more from my training sessions. I want to do them more, now my mind is clear form the work related pain that has just had the last 10 hours dedicated to it.

This book is so much more than a book about a race. The science, the research and the connections we can all make to ourselves is massive. There is a little bit of Dave Scott and Mark Allen in all of us. Matt Fitzgerald gives a great account of why ‘The Greatest Race of All Time’ even existed. How it happened and traces back to the when the seed was dropped for fate to bring these two incredible athletes together in Kona when they did.


About James Wilson

Trying to get to Kona over a 3 year period. Starting from scratch, to targeting the Big Island in 2016

Posted on February 13, 2013, in Cycling, news, reading, running, swimming, Training, Useful and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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