Another autumn rolls around and ‘daylight savings’ ends. All of a sudden the nights are longer and cooler and the triathlon season is pretty much over – hang on a minute, I’ve still got an Ironman to race.
This was to be the big result, the year that I showed my domination of the ultimate test of triathletes: the 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run that is known as the Ironman triathlon. My training since July had been solid and I had fully recovered from last year’s race and subsequent hernia operation. Early season form had been good, PBs (Personal Bests) in a number of races and all indications were that I had moved to a new level of performance.
Warning: when you’ve arranged to drive a mate 13 hours to a race and he arrives at your house with a bad head cold – tell him to take a taxi . . . We arrived in Forster Wednesday lunchtime and immediately noticed the humidity. This was unusual for the time of year, it was more like the weather in late spring-early summer. I had raced a half-ironman distance event at Forster 2 years ago in November and the humidity was a killer. This Ironman race was going to be interesting if the weather didn’t change.
After a few days of acclimatising, light training and eating, it was race-eve and over coffee with some friends I got the first indication that something was wrong. Just a vague feeling of not being 100% – I was hoping it was just pre-race nerves but a couple of hours later was suffering from a rapidly deteriorating cold.
The alarm went off at 4am. I had a headache, sore throat and serious sinus issues . . . and an Ironman to get through. Normally you wake up on this morning with a mix of dread and excitement but all I had was dread mixed with apathy. I had lost all motivation to do the race and didn’t know if I was going to be able to finish but I made that my main aim. I must thank the friends who assisted me before the start – people gave me pills (of the legal variety), pumped my tires up, looked concerned (I didn’t really need those looks). It’s amazing how fellow competitors/friends become so helpful when you are no longer a threat to their race objectives (-;
The unseasonal weather had made an impact, water temperature was 25 degrees and wetsuits had been banned. I wasn’t worried about this 24 hours earlier, I’d been swimming well and thought of it as just another challenge. On race day though I really didn’t need additional challenges. I walked into the water like a prisoner on his way to the gallows, not in the best frame of mind but trying to snap out of it. Suddenly the race was under way and the usual kick/punch-fest commenced. At least I didn’t have time to worry about how I felt for the next hour or so.
The swim seemed to be over pretty quickly (must have been the drugs I’d been taking) and except for a mid swim vomit (glad I wasn’t swimming behind me) had got through it ok if very slow – 1 hour 11 minutes and a new PW (Personal Worst).
I was quickly through the swim/bike transition (on the bright side – no wetsuit to struggle out of) and onto the bike for 180ks of sightseeing, catering included. This was the first chance for me to gauge how my body was reacting to being sick and racing at the same time. My heart rate was quite low for a short time, which is rare at this point of the event and it gave me confidence that I might get through the day.
The whole bike section of the triathlon was pretty uneventful actually. Because I was ill it was easy to keep my heart rate up to the desired level (it can be a struggle often for me in the 2nd half of the bike). The only problem was that I was riding slower than usual for that effort – end result 5 hours 36 minutes (not quite a PW but I tried).
Leading up to this race my training had been going well. I knew that if I was off the bike with 6 hours 30 minutes or less of elapsed time (very achievable – I thought) I would be on track for a sub-10 hour result, which is a major milestone in an Ironman triathlon, bit like a sub-3 hour marathon. Well there’s always next year . . . 6 hours 48 minutes was on the clock but I was happy to get to this point of the race and pretty much knew I would be able to finish – all I had to do was run 42 kms.
I also knew that the best I could achieve is an overall time PB for the race. I was happy that I’d gone faster each year at Forster and with a time of 10 hours 24 minutes last year I had to run ‘with winged feet’ this time to achieve another best time at my fourth attempt.
As with last year, I felt very fresh starting the run and flew over the first few kms before settling into a rhythm and starting to tick off 4 minute 45 second kms. I passed some friends out on the course who had come up to watch (I think they have big plans for their toddler and wanted to expose him to the atmosphere prior to trying it next year as the youngest ever competitor). I was told how well I was running – I responded with how unwell I was feeling (I won’t repeat it here). I was surprised though that my cold didn’t seem to be slowing me down too much and apart from a couple of flat spots, I was going ok – until the 39km mark. 3 kms to go and I started to fall apart – I got a killer stitch (like other years but it seemed crueller at this late point of the race). People (and worse still – friends) that I had passed a while ago started to re-pass me. This was not good but I focussed on just trying to keep running.
Owing to being emotionally scarred from my first attempt at an Ironman (when I had to walk for 14 kms), I now had a fierce determination (driven by fear) that I would never walk during the Ironman marathon again. This can be really annoying when all you feel like doing is slowing to a walk and instantly easing the pain. The pay off is when you run through the pain and finish strongly without losing too much time – and that was my reward. The last kilometre was easy(ish) and I ran over the finish line with the clock showing 10 hours 22 minutes and 38 seconds! A 1 ½ minute PB – I didn’t aim to cut it that fine but you do what you have to do I guess.
To wrap up – very satisfied with the result given the circumstances, very pissed off with the timing of the cold and very motivated to return yet again with the hope of a bit more luck on the day – and the day before!