“Get a Balanced Life” is the name of an initiative in the company I work for, designed to improve your health and well-being through lifestyle. After this triathlon season I was beginning to think that my life had got way out of balance and a lot less exercise and a lot more time being a couch potato would be the way to a healthier life.
The season was one of illness and injury including a horror race at the first running of Ironman Western Australia in Busselton, where I collapsed after racing for 9 hours and didn’t finish. On top of that, back-to-back viruses leading up to key races and some shin-splints mid-season as a reminder that the triathlon lifestyle is not always a healthy one. With the season coming to an end but buoyed by our team’s solid showing in the BRW Corporate Tri in March, I turned my focus to the final preparation for the Australian Championships Ironman held on the Central NSW Coast each year and my main focus this season. A good result there could salvage an otherwise disastrous year . . .
I arrived in Forster on Wednesday before the race and was greeted with hot, sunny conditions – great for the beach but not ideal for us poor Melbourne triathletes leaving our poor excuse for a summer and heading north to race over a 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42km run course. (The Queenslanders were smiling though). Forecast was for hotter weather on the weekend too – but I wasn’t too worried, for an ex-Pommy Melburnite I now handle the heat in races ok.
The morning of the race and the alarm ringing at 3.30am started what would be a pretty full-on day. The first thing I did was check to see if I felt normal – no headache, sore throat, temperature – I was actually feeling healthy on the day of a race for the first time all season!
Swim 3.8km – 1:01:59
The Forster swim course is known for being calm, fast and a bit of a punch-fest. Some people might be daunted at swimming nearly 4km. Doing that while getting punched and kicked in the head as 1600 swimmers try to find a bit of ‘personal space’ is another challenge again. I was lucky though – the gun went off and I had 200-300 metres of swimming in clear water before the pack converged on me and the fun began. This enabled me to find a bit of rhythm with my swim stroke early on and assisted in me doing a PB by 3 minutes for the swim.
Bike 180km – 5:31:41
2 laps of a pot-holed, rough bitumen bike course through the less scenic parts of the ‘Great Lakes’ district of NSW. Hot and strengthening wind (headwind on the return into Forster) made for a challenging bike leg of the triathlon, especially for the competitors who rode a bit too hard on the first lap and struggled on the last section into town. I rode patiently, trying to ignore the masses riding past me for the first lap and hoping I would catch them later on – during the run if not the bike. This ended up being a smart move on a day like this one where any mistakes made with pacing or nutrition and hydration would come back to punish you during the run. To take my mind off the feeling that I was the slowest rider out there, I focussed on drinking a lot and eating and preparing for the fun that is called the Ironman marathon! End result for the bike was a 3 minute PB on this course and a chance of a sub-10 hour overall time and a place in the World Champs in Hawaii in October – if I could run well.
Run 42km – 3:39:08
Do the math – no sub-10 for the day but gave it a shot. Very tough day for a run, temperature got to 32c with no cloud cover at all but I guess if it was easy there would be no point in doing the race . . . The last few Ironman triathlons I’ve done have been similar – after riding conservatively have run the first half of the marathon very comfortably – then fell apart a bit during the second half. This race was different in that the run never felt easy. There was some comfort in seeing a lot of other people out there doing it tougher than me (it’s a mean sport) but I struggled to keep in the game mentally and push myself to the finish. I managed to remain focussed however and while my pace dropped off from sub 5 minute kms for the first half to 5 & 1/2 minute kms, I was able finish the race off reasonably strongly despite cramps threatening my quad muscles for the last 6 kms. I crossed the finish line in 210th place out of 1500+ finishers with 10:12:48 on the clock, a new Ironman PB by 10 minutes and a very hard-earned one.
My legs gave in to the ever-threatening cramps as soon as I was in the hands of the finish line volunteers and I received the full VIP treatment – a wheelchair ride to the medical tent while they tried to keep me conscious. All I wanted to do was go to sleep there and then (or maybe throw up as well) but was not allowed to! Didn’t they realise I’d been awake since 3:30am? An hour (and 2 intravenous bags of saline solution) later I was back in the wheelchair for the ride to the massage tent, being pushed past the queue of 50 triathletes waiting patiently and straight onto a table for a welcome rub-down. Now that’s service – but no happy ending (missed a spot in Hawaii by 3 minutes – there’s always next year).
2 days after the race I was at the doctor getting some antibiotics for an infected toe, then the next day I came down with a bad cold – much better than getting sick before the race though. But I still tell people to get into triathlon as a sport – a great way to get into a healthy lifestyle!!!