*** many thanks to Craig Jordan for this race report ***
Looking out of the plane window as we touched down it looked more like we had arrived in Perth in my native Scotland rather than Perth Australia. The sky was cold and grey with a promise of rain to come and from the way the flags on the terminal building were flapping around there was clearly a brisk wind at play as well. I wasn’t too worried about it though, I had checked the 5 day forecast before leaving Dubai and the first couple of days were not looking so good but gradually brightening up through to race day.
I had travelled to Oz with Jeroen Van Caughwenberghe for the race or Capt J as he is better known. J and I both started doing triathlon around the same time and are a similar standard in all three disciplines so he was a natural training partner leading up to the race. Although we are both reasonably experienced in doing major internationals races this was J’s fourth full Ironman whereas it was my first so I was happy to sharing the trip with him and taking as much advice from his previous experiences as possible.
Bussleton is a small seaside resort and there is very limited accommodation within the town itself so J had come up with the idea of renting an RV and booking into the campsite just a couple of hundred metres from the start line. I have to say this was an inspired idea on several fronts, first it was simply a good laugh and took me back to my teenage years camping out for events so had a very grass roots feel to it, secondly we were in the thick of the action in the days leading up to the race and able to really soak up the atmosphere and most importantly after the finish of the race we only had a short stagger back the comfort of the RV and crashing out. Although we may differ in some of the finer details both J and I have a very similar approach to race preparation with sorting out our kit and final spin sessions just to get the legs moving so it all went like clockwork certainly from my perspective and allowed me to really just relax and enjoy myself and not get too keyed up about the event itself.
We met up with the majority of the rest of the Dubai troop at various points in the days before the race. The conversation seemed to focus mainly on the weather which had gone from grey when we arrived to downright shitty with high winds and heavy rain for a couple of days before gradually clearing up. I knew that race day was forecast to be sunny but also windy so when the wind picked up to 30kph+ on Friday it was a bit of a concern but by the evening it had started to calm down again although it never fully went away and the wind was, for me at least, one of the big factors on race day itself.
Bussleton is one of the more popular Ironman races and has a history of selling out very quickly. A few of my old team mates in Tri2Aspire had done the race in 2010 and 2011 and from the reports we got back it seemed like an excellent event and a good choice for a first full IM so as soon as the race entry open I duly signed up giving me one full year to prepare.
Although I had been relatively sporty in my twenties the usual mix of kids and work meant that for a period of around 15 years I was more couch potato than rock star triathlete so started cycling simply as a way to get fit again in late 2009. I did my first ever triathlon in Al Ain at the end of October 2009 and was immediately hooked. The date the Bussleton race was almost exactly three years since I had taken up the sport so you could certainly say it took me a while to prepare for it! I appreciate that it is a personal choice and people come into the sport with differing levels of fitness but I do think there is a tendency for people to get caught up in the whole distance thing and push themselves into an ironman a bit too early. It is a huge distance and you definitely need a long time to properly prepare for it. Whether it is a local 8km run at Jumeirah Beach Hotel or the a full Ironman to me they all matter and I respect each distance as much as the other so waiting to do a full didn’t worry me, I wasn’t in any rush to do it before I was ready.
Over my three years in the sport I had completed ten 70.3’s so had good experience to fall back on and gradually been building up my endurance base. At the start of 2012 my swim was gradually improving and my running was reasonable my biking was still pretty woeful. I didn’t have the power to pull the skin off custard never mind race 180km. At the point I signed up for Bussleton my longest ever ride was 120km and even that nearly killed me. Going into the year I decided that 2012 had to be the year of the bike and really focus on getting as many good quality miles in during the year as possible. I was also fortunate that my work offered me a four month sabbatical over the summer so used this time back home in Scotland just to ride the hills as much as possible. The net result is during 2012 I have ridden over 3000km more than I managed in 2011 and generally much higher quality miles so I knew my form on the bike was starting to come good. Despite this though I still found my final 180km training rides exceptionally hard and tiring and never once managed to do a run off the bike in training so it would be fair to say I went into the race more than a bit anxious how it would all come together.
The bottom line though is 2012 was an excellent injury free training year for me and although I was scared of the distance I was going to Australia as well prepared as I possibly could be, the rest was in the hands of fate.
The physical part of race preparation is fairly straight forward you get out there and train and so long as you do the work the rewards will come. One of the things I really love about triathlon though and especially the longer distances is the mental preparation and race planning. I find putting it all together a bit of a jigsaw, the decision how you will set your bike up, studying course profiles, watching YouTube videos of the swim start, previous race reports etc. I have Tony Hchaime and Ben Walton to thank for their detailed race reports from 2011, both of them were full of excellent detail that helped a lot on the day. An example of this that might seem innocuous is Tony mentioned in his report that when he hit the swim turnaround the sun was suddenly shining brightly in his eyes all the way to the swim exit. That’s nearly 2km or forty minutes of being dazzled which could easily give you a headache before even getting on the bike. Thanks to Tony’s report though I was well prepared with very dark polarised goggles and sure enough at the turnaround the sun started hitting my eyes and I said a silent thanks to Tony for his report.
“Geez it was rough out there, I had to chunder in the water!” heard from an Australian athlete on the run from swim exit to transition
In the days leading up to the race although not wild the sea was certainly extremely choppy with a good metre of swell. J and I had done a recce on Thursday to check out the conditions and the famed clear waters of Bussleton were anything but. Although the wind and the swell did settle down a bit for race day the water was still pretty lively; think of Dubai with around a 60% January swell and you get the picture. The bad news though was because the swim is relatively shallow the whole way we never actually got out of rough waters at any point.
I had watched the video of last year’s swim and decided the best place to start was way off to the left hand side of the group. The distance to the end of the pier was the same as standing in the middle of the washing machine but with the advantage of not getting your goggle accidently knocked off or punched in the face at the start. It is funny how we carry the scars of our previous races with us. Last year in Taiwan I simply got myself in the worst possible position at the swim start and at the time I genuinely thought I was going to drown. I got my head kicked in by what felt like a million marauding Chinamen who were quite happy to run straight over the top of me. Since then although my swimming has got stronger I still tend to avoid the mêlée at the start by going wide.
The strategy worked perfectly and in the end I had a very clear incident free swim but in hindsight I know think this was a bit of an error. I got myself so comfortable in the swim just enjoying the experience that I never really got my adrenalin going so although I had a decent swim it definitely lacked a bit of zip that a good old argy bargy at the beginning gives you. I think for my next race I’ll head more towards the centre although maybe not quite the epicentre!
Although there was plenty of chop to throw you off course and slow you down for me at least it was more or less incident free. As mentioned the swell continued with us the whole way out to the end of the jetty just over 1.8km. Speaking to other athletes at the end we all had the same experience, going out it was tough and we were fighting the swell the whole way so expecting and looking forward to the tow back in that we would surely get. There was a bit of a false dawn at the end turnaround. It is basically a very narrow out and back course so the turnaround is between two buoys placed about 30-40m apart before heading directly in shore again. At the first buoy I felt the water pick me and sweep me full tilt towards the second buoy......”here we go, nice fast swim into shore now” I thought to myself. Imagine the disappointment when the swell heading back in actually worked more against us than the swell going out. We were in a cross current which helped us at the buoys but that was it, the rest of the swim was a bit of fight to stop swallowing water with every wave trough and not get pushed of course, frustrating!
The jetty in Bussleton is apparently the longest wooden jetty in the southern hemisphere (a great claim to fame in my book) and it felt like it on the homeward leg but at least it made sighting relatively easy and despite the currents best attempts you never really went badly of course until the last 500m when the jetty turned and people seemed to be all over the place. After an age of sighting this wonderful man made wooden wonder I eventually saw the swim exit and started mentally preparing for the bike ride ahead.
At 1 hour 24 minutes this certainly wasn’t my best swim but I had enjoyed it the whole way round if anything I was too comfortable and felt more like I was out for a nice long training swim but at least I had avoided any disasters and was still smiling on the way to T1
Although my swim time was a good few minutes slower than planned I wasn’t too disappointed until I picked up my transition bag and noticed how many had already gone. The disappointment didn’t last long though, on entering the change tent the place was absolutely packed, it was actually quite funny. Bearing in mind we had separate male and female changing facilities I think about half the field must have been in the tents at the same time as me.
One of the things that struck me was the whole atmosphere in the change tent. It was much more friendly and relaxed than I’ve experienced before with people milling around and taking a minute or two to have a chit chat. In sprints and Olympic distances races the transitions are so rapid you don’t really notice them, in 70.3 there is almost an atmosphere of panic but in the full people are obviously of the mind it’s a long day so why go mental for a few seconds when you can enjoy the whole event. This fit in well with my own plan which was to take it easy in the transition without stopping for a shower and shave. In the end I took 6 minutes from swim exit to mounting my bike which wasn’t bad but also allowed me enough time to make sure everything was done properly ready to hit the bike.
“These are hard yards mate, hard yards!” quote from an Ozzy athlete on a long headwind drag through the forest.
If the wind made the swim choppy its impact on the bike course even more significant. The bike course was 3 x 60km loop out of town and back the first 30km of which were more or less directly into the headwind. It wasn’t the type of wind to blow you off your bike but you certainly had to dig in and grind against it. The course has a few twists and turns though so at least you got a little respite at some points as well as some shelter through a forest plantation so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been and of course the advantage was we had a tailwind for much of the trek back into town.
I set off a decent pace that I thought was sustainable for the full 180km. As a slow swimmer I had expected to be passing quite a few people on the bike but after about 10km I was beginning to wonder if maybe I was over cooking it as no one around seemed to be going anywhere near the pace I was on. This is when the mental games kick in and I was wondering if the people I was passing as experienced ironman athletes knew more about what was to come than I did as a first timer and were simply conserving energy better for the long day to come. Nonetheless I was feeling good and riding well within my comfort zone so decided to hold my pace at least for the first couple of hours then re-evaluate from there.
I don’t consider myself a strong biker in anyway especially going into the wind which I always reckon suits the big power riders and smaller guys like me tend to get blown around all over the place. Despite this though I continued comfortably passing through the field into the wind thanking all those sessions riding into our own headwinds here in Dubai either at the camel track or out at Ghantoot. I did a lot of my later training at the camel track and the headwind as you go down the long back straight there can be a bit horrible at times but it turned out to be perfect training conditions for this races and the hours spent there paid back big time.
The bike loop without being spectacular turned out to be very nice with coastal and forest sections to negotiate as well as the start\finish kilometres into town. There was quite good support out on the course given how far out of town we were; it amazes me how people spend the whole day out there cheering you on. Although not brilliantly spaced there were also plenty of aid stations so like the swim there were no real dramas on the bike. It was also one of the fairer races drafting wise I’ve done with people generally obeying the 12m draft rule. The exception to this was some of the Asian athletes who had come down for the race. Maybe a bit unfair singling them out but there were certainly plenty of comments at the end about them working together in small draft packs and also having terrible lane discipline so generally being a danger on the course at times. Most of the races I’ve done have been in Asia so this was no great surprise to me, my last 70.3 in the Philippines was quite simply a draft fest with huge packs forming absolutely shamelessly and some of that had obviously spilled over to Busso. Still I don’t really care what others do on race day, I was in my own world and enjoying myself.
My long rides in preparation for this race had without exception been real grind and not something I had particularly enjoyed. During the race though the kilometres simply flew by and before I knew it I was on the home stretch into town and more importantly still feeling really good, time to bring on the run.
I got off the bike in 5 hours 30 minutes. I had hoped to go about 10 minutes faster but that was assuming no wind so given the conditions I was very pleased with this effort and even more so when I found out later I was in the top 25 of my age group out of 190 starters....result!
My only “major” incident of the race happened in T2. As we got off the bike there were catchers to take the bike of us so we could run straight into the change area. A guy dismounted directly in front of me handing his bike to the catcher a couple of seconds before me. As I handed my bike over I thanked the catcher and turned to run into the change area only to find the guy in front had stopped in the middle of the bike catching area to unclip his shoes and I went straight over the top of him. Luckily we were on the grass so no harm done and he realised he was being a bit stupid and sheepishly hobbled to the side to finish getting out his shoes and we had a bit of a giggle about it all in the change tent.
Other than that T2 was totally unremarkable, again I just took my time and made sure everything was correctly in place before going for the world’s longest pee then off on the run. Including the pee total time in T2 was 5 minutes.
“That same guy plays f****** crap music ever year” quote from an Ozzy athlete as we passed the house of a local resident blasting out such classic running tune artists as The Smiths, Dido and Bob Dylan
The run course was a nice fast flat 4 lap affair along the coast with the finish in the middle and plenty of support the whole way. My plan was to start at 5min/km pace for the first 10km then drop to 4:50’s and see how far I could get aiming for a run time around 3 hours 30 minutes. It all went well for the first couple of kilometres holding on to 4:55 pace and feeling very comfortable. In fact the problem was I simply felt too good. At the first turnaround point around 1.5km into the run I noticed one of the volunteers was Scots so we had a quick exchange before she told me to get on my way. We had a last laugh as I set off but now puffed up and if truth be told doing the boy-showing-off-to-girl thing I quickly headed out and before I knew it was running at 4:30 pace but still feeling tremendously good.
At that point a young Kiwi athlete started running stride for stride with me. It turned out he was on his third lap and in twelfth place overall but struggling to hold his pace. Feeling good and thoroughly enjoying the pace we had a chat and I offered to pace him round the next lap at on his target pace of 4:20’s As we ran we exchanged stories for the day and I laughed saying running with him was blowing my pacing plan out the water but I really didn’t care at this point, I knew even although I would inevitably slow down and suffer a little because of how fast I was running at this point I was still confident of finishing in a decent time. In the event we ran around 8km together and I got the first 10km done in 45:01 and still felt like a million dollars.
On the second lap for the first time since the swim start I saw J out on the course along with Piers C, Tim H and the Tipp Tornado all looking good. J and I had a bit of an unspoken private race going on but at this point I didn’t know if he was half a lap behind me or half a lap in front of me. Either way it was all good fun and he was looking damn fast!
The second lap went well enough and I got to the half marathon point around 1 hour 40 minutes but was now slowing noticeably paying for my early pace but I still felt reasonably good. The third lap was more of the same with my pace dropping off to 5:40min/km but by the end of this lap I had managed to have a quick nod and a wave with the whole Dubai crew and psychologically knew the worst was over and I was definitely going to finish.
As I got further into the last lap I started to rally and pick up my pace again. At the aid station were the Scottish girl was I stopped for a final drink and chat with her and she gave me a peck on the cheek to send me on my way, a nice gesture that had me smiling. As I ran past the dancing nurses for the last time again I put a spring in my step knowing I was now into the last 5km....on and on to the next aid station past the house with the f***** crap music and even that didn’t slow me although with The Doors playing this time it was even more depressing than the previous laps but just then an Ozzy guy running past me made the comment quoted at the start of this section which gave me a good laugh.
Final turn around and although it was hot and humid I didn’t notice it now, just the final 3km and home that was all that was on my mind. On that final stretch I passed Ahmed and Lisa from Oman giving them both a pat on the back and glad to see them both still smiling. On the final two kilometres my pace had really picked up again and I was back down to 4:30’s quickly heading for the finish line when I caught up with Chris McVicar who gave me a final push to get over the line.
I’m not normally a particularly emotional person at finish lines but as I sprinted (yes sprinted!) down the last 100m of the finish chute I couldn’t stop a huge grin spreading over my face as finally after three years of training I heard the word “Craig Jordan, you are an Iron Man!”
Words of Thanks
I have found doing an Iron Man a truly humbling experience and looking back over the last three years it has taken me to get here you realise that although this may be an individual sport that without the support, help and companionship of so many people the journey here would be so much less pleasant at best and maybe even impossible at worst. I have trained, raced and bantered with dozens of team mates and training partners over these three years making more genuine friends during this period than at any other time in my life.
Sometimes the smallest things that people do can have an impact and help carry you that extra yard. A good example of this happened at a local aquathlon race at Jumeirah beach just a few weeks before the race. I met Takamasa Makita who some of you may know at that race. Although Taka and I were in the Tri2Aspire team at the same time we didn’t really know each other well other than the odd chat. On the day of the aquathlon race we spoke a bit about what we had coming up etc in the next few weeks and I mentioned Bussleton. During the race itself we past each other on the run course giving a quick nod of encouragement as we past. At the finish Taka had to head out quickly, as he was doing the sprint and me the longer distance when I got back he was already gone. Later when I went to pick up my running shoes i found a note from Taka inside wishing me luck for Bussleton. He had obviously gone to the trouble of finding a pen and paper and thought to write the note. A small gesture but one I think captures the spirit of the majority of people I’ve met on this journey and all those little kindnesses and fun and games went with me to Australia.
It’s hard to pick out individuals but there are always obviously one or two standouts. First to Jason Metters who coached me for two years taking me from a complete novice to a reasonably experienced athlete capable of planning a full IM programme; Dan Brown my current coach who has built on the foundation put in place giving me an extra edge and confidence; all of the team members at T2A during those two years who I shared a lot of pain and fun with as well as some great race adventures around the world; the West Lothian Triathlon club who adopted me (for a small membership fee) during my summer back home in Scotland and introduced me to the pleasure of swimming in freezing cold Scottish lochs to HTFU; Capt J, Marie O’Neill, Tim Hawes who I did the majority of my long training rides with in the last few weeks leading up to the race, without these guys and others it simply would have been soul destroying; my long suffering wife who despite thinking I’m a complete idiot for doing these races still washes my smelly kit and feeds me when I’m starving after a long ride with a smile on her face; my sons who keep it real by constantly taking the piss out of me for being a tri geek and finally everyone else who even in the smallest way have shared an amazing journey with me and made my life richer along the way :)