*** many thanks to Kenneth Heney for this race report ***
There really is something indescribably magnetic about Ironman triathlon. The months and months of preparation ignite the early morning atmosphere at the start line, prior to each individual punishing the physical and mental limits of the human body for up to 17 hours, each supported by patient and equally devoted family and friends. The energy and persistence of every single finisher, conquers each of the 226kms one by one as the enormity of this achievement is tattooed onto the lifeline of an Ironman.
I had swam a good fifty percent of the course the day before and really struggled with sighting because of the swell, however this morning the water was much calmer so I was hopeful of a fast time.
The start was in waste deep water where I was surprisingly able to get a spot very near Frankston Pier with relatively few other athletes, relative only to the area further to my left where the majority of competitors were assembling. I was having a great chat with one of the volunteers holding the tape, when before I knew it the tape was being removed and the sound of the Nissan’s horn signaled the start of the 2014 Ironman Asia Pacific Championships. This is what I have trained for.
The eerie underwater gurgle rhythmically entwined with the sounds of thrashing arms and legs above the water is frighteningly special as I swim as hard as I can to see what if any clear water I can claim for my own. I have never been a drafter in the swim, despite the proven advantages; I much prefer the clear line of sight and open water. I am able to find some on the inside line of the pack and hammer out the first 850m to the first of 6 turning buoys, where the inevitable churn whips you round topped off with a foot in the face and a fist in the back.
I always try and stay on the edges of the white water pack, irrespective of the inside or outside line, as it is where I feel most comfortable and often when I can then find my own pace to execute my own race plan. Flirting with the feet and torsos of others, as either I struggle to swim straight or they did, I pummeled my way round the course, where in the last 800 meter stretch I was starting to cramp in my legs. Never quite understood why, as I’m not a kicker saving my legs for the bike and the run, but I have on several occasions suffered leg cramps during the swim. I stopped briefly twice to stretch these out, and continued on. As we swam into the shore, the waters get shallow some way out from the beach, and people were standing to wade in. I’m a huge believer in swimming until the waters are too shallow to allow this, and continued for a good 50m further than most, weaving between legs of wading athletes, until I stood, steadied myself and ran out and up the beach.
I heard my family screaming and saw my cousin as I ran up the beach under the fresh water shower, which was a real treat as I have done a number of these events solo. I can’t over emphasize what a difference it is having support, whether from family or friends, as it can have a huge positive impact on your mental state. The run into the transition tent, required my dodging strong swimmers, not carved by their training into a runners physic but built to be strong in the water, until I easily spot and collect my transition bag and move through to the changing area. I knew it would be cold, relative to Dubai, so pulled on the Tri Dubai ‘Ride for Roy’ cycle top and a set of arm warmers, before the customary helmet and Oakleys. I trotted out to quickly find my bike, put my shoes on at the bike, and wheel out over the mount line. I really put the power into the cranks straight away and let out a verbal shout of self-encouragement as I moved into the bike phase. Always familiarize yourself with the transition area infinite detail. It will pay off, not only in time, but psychologically: Getting quickly and smoothly through transition is satisfying, but getting it wrong will play on your mind for 180km.
This was a fast course. The Eastlink is a freeway from Frankston to the North East of Melbourne, which is an excellent smooth tarmacked surface with a degree of undulation most noticeable at a tunnel at the Melbourne end. The wind was light on Sunday, but what was present was a South Easterly pushing you up the freeway for 45km until you ‘U’ turned to come back the same way you had come. The fast route suited the strong bikers, whom were able to maintain high speeds into the wind together with achieving excellent splits with the wind assistance. I pushed hard from start to finish, using my pre-planned nutrition strategy as bullet points to break up the monotony. Gatorade and water only until 30km, where I broke out the first half SIS energy bar. I would then have half an SIS energy bar every 15km until 105km, where I would have a 60 gram SIS gel. The final half energy bar was endured at 120km, with gels every 15km from then on until the end of the bike. Fueling on the bike is important and the main opportunity to get vital calories into your body. Plan this and execute it well, and it will pay off on the run.
Drafting was rife out on the freeway and very difficult to avoid. The temptation to sit on the back of pelotons that came past was enormous, but each time I would insist to myself that I would not cheat and I would play out my own plan. Incredibly difficult to avoid and supper frustrating, but I take zero satisfaction from completing anything by cheating, so each time I would let them go, or complete the passing as per the WTA and Ironman stipulated rules for this course, where I best could.
I reached the half-way point at circa 2hours 32 and was pleased, but aware that my target of 5 hour was going to be difficult. I put my head down and worked onwards, feeling stronger in the 3rd quarter and tiring in the final push back, but I would just have to run faster.
At 120km I achieved the art of peeing oneself while cycling at 38km/h down the freeway, a skill which takes a large degree of mind over matter as it’s just wrong, and one that I never train to achieve. I discovered that I was a little light on the Vaseline in the morning, as there was clearly a bit of chaffing which the addition of urine to, creates a little sting. Water at the next aid station, soon sorted that out.
At the end of the bike, I rolled into Frankston, performed the practiced dismount onto a set of jellied eels in place of my legs, and worked them into a running formation as the bike catcher took away my girl. She had done me proud, and in return I had peed all over her and discarded her into the hands of a stranger, while at that moment not caring if I ever saw her again.
A forced mechanical running style took me into the tent to find my transition bag, while removing my cycle top and arm warmers. White is for right I recited as I pulled on the customary red and white runners, as part of an uneventful clean transition. After a short visit to the porta loo for pee two, I then headed off onto the board walk at Frankston Beach.
I started out on a 4min km pace, squeezing past people on the wooden planks of the beachside board walk feeling very good. I heard shouts for me as I hit the turn point, which I later learned was my cousin again, and a group of Tri Specify, but with my name plastered across my crotch on my number belt, I didn’t think anything of it and pushed confidently on off the boardwalk and onto the roads on the marathon up to St Kilda.
I was passing a lot of people, and feeling very good with a comfortable quick pace. A pace that I desperately wanted to maintain, but in the back of my mind I knew that this was a sub 3 hour marathon pace, and achieving that marathon time in an Ironman would be professional. The crowds were cheering names at all the runners, from cafes, bars and their own gardens along the route, willing us all up to St Kilda, and with the wind behind all the way this could just be possible.
It began to get harder and harder and I was slowing, and even with the gels at every 8km I couldn’t hold the pace. I was dropping off the Kona placings, and as I reached half way in about 1hour 36min I knew I was looking at a slower second half. But I wasn’t going to give up and put down all I had on the route up to the finish. Around 25km my right leg disappeared into a numbness of ‘pins and needles’ as it felt I was moving a tree trunk hinged at my hip forward every alternate step. The feeling in my leg started to come back about 3km later, but I was now fighting a physical and very mental battle. Age group athletes in my category were coming past me frequently, denoted by a tattooed letter ‘I’ on their calves, and I was now working to finish well. I chose to use a tactic employed before in Lanzarote most recently, and walk through the aid stations to get sufficient water, cola and Gatorade into me, and run between them, for the last 10km. At every 2km, this aid station tactic gave me the calories to hit a quicker pace when running between the stations, and the mental punctuation to achieve my 7th Ironman finish in my now personal best time.
There always is a lost gear which re-presents itself on the last km which I engaged, and seeing my cousin again and her husband, I hit the high fives and worked that finish straight. All the pain, discomfort and mental doubts gone, right there and them, as I am euphoric, caught by a volunteer, wrapped in a finishers towel and hooped with the priceless Ironman medal.
I put everything I had out there, and I didn’t achieve a Kona spot. But I achieved what I can only describe as complete satisfaction in knowing that for every second of the 9hours 41 minutes, I used the many months of hard work and training that I put into this event. Everything I had I gave to Ironman Melbourne, and this time my reward is completion, closure of a chapter, and the end of a very successful period in triathlon my life. Kona can wait.
Every time I do these, I experience a plethora of emotions, physical pain and discomfort. But this really is a drug and I can’t get enough of. I never understand how you can so very quickly dismiss the difficult moments and considerable pain. Melbourne and Victoria have embraced this event and very quickly it has become one of the best on the ever increasing program of Ironman events. I don’t typically do the same event twice, because a great deal of the pleasure of doing this sport is traveling to different places across the globe, but this was a special event for me, as I have family in Melbourne, whom supported me throughout the entire time I was in Australia. That is something that you can’t buy, and sharing these experiences with people you love and whom want to be part of the experience, is what brought me to sign up for next year without hesitation on the following day. This event is an absolute must for Ironman baggers out there.