Race Report

IM Australia 2005

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Happy to finish – the usual state of mind for competitors in the Australian Ironman Triathlon, held for the last time at Forster/ Tuncurry after 20 years

“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).

P.S.

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!!!

Race Report

IM Australia 2004

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Start of the bike leg, mouth open, trying to breathe

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 (-;

Swim

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).

Bike

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).

Run

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!

Race Report

Alpine Classic 2004

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Looking across the valley towards Mt Beauty and Falls Creek – beautiful landscape to explore, car recommended . . .

After the 2003 Alpine Classic was cancelled due to bushfires, the day had come to enjoy another pleasant spin in the Vic. Alps.

Preparation had been non-existent as far as ‘killer 200k training rides with Mt Donna Buang thrown in’ goes but had been doing a few Dandenongs rides in the last few months and also been taming those killer cols along Kew Boulevard. Overall fitness and leanness was excellent after some pretty consistent disciplined tri-training so I was looking forward to seeing if I could ‘sub 8hr’ the Classic after going 8.55 last time.

Alas, Friday morning swim squad was an ordeal and halfway through I had to crawl out of the pool, feeling like death and face the fact that I was seriously sick and the whole Alpine thing may not happen. After going straight home to bed instead of work I slept for a few hours and took my resting heart rate (16 above normal).

Saturday morning, HR still 12 above normal and feeling really tired but a touch better. I pulled the plug on the planned 2hr plus run and enjoyed a bit of a sleep in before heading off to Bright with Di (I couldn’t really not go, she would have killed me). We stopped at the Ovens Hotel just before Bright for a pint of Guiness (medicinal purposes only of course) and arrived at the homestead in time for a quick reconnoitre of Mt Buffalo in the car (probably a bad idea (-;)

So it was finally Sunday, I still wasn’t sure I would be riding the thing but thought I’d see what the HR was doing up the first climb and make the decision to continue or not at that point. (I could always stop back at Bright after 130ks like a lot of people do anyway). The morning was cool but clear and as usual met a lot of roadies I know at the 6.20am start line, had a chat and then headed off at a sensible but solid pace in the first bunch towards Tawonga Gap.

I always like this climb, probably something to do with it being at the 10k point of the 200ks. The heart rate was behaving and I started to think that I might make the distance. Settled into a comfortable intensity (87% of max hr) and cruised over the climb, down the other side and into the valley below, catching some others and sitting in the bunch until the Falls Creek climb.

There’s something about this climb I also really like. It is 33ks long but probably 10ks of that is flat or downhill. When you get to the checkpoint at the top it feels like you are at a decent altitude and I guess you are. At this point your legs are still ok and you then get to do the awesome descent of the top 6ks which is a consistently steep stretch of road with some killer bends. I flew past the girls at one point and heard them call out. I gave them a wave (it is unusual to recognise anyone climbing as your heading back down due to the speed, everything’s a bit of a blur – perhaps they were rolling backwards??)

Back into the valley and riding through Mt Beauty I suddenly noticed how hot the sun was getting. The return climb back over Tawonga Gap was coming up which faces north and cops a lot of sun. This was going to be fun. I felt ok though and was reasonably strong apart from stopping at the fresh spring 2ks from the top to grab some water (best water in the world if you ask me).

The descent on the Bright side of Tawonga is a hero’s delight – consistent gradient, bends, surface and you can fly down without touching the brakes. Back into Bright and the second last checkpoint. Felt fine at this stage,perhaps reminiscent of Macca while winning at Forster Ironman in 2002 – first 21ks of the run he was thinking
‘how easy is this’, second 21ks he was thinking ‘I am never doing this again’. I didn’t even think about pulling out so the body was obviously coping well and I started to focus on the final climb of the day – the Mt Buffalo challenge!

Mt Buffalo is an incredible mountain. As you approach it on the road from Porepunka it’s granite outcrops rear up above you, almost blocking out the sun. It really is awe-inspiring, especially when you are riding towards it with 140km-old legs and struggling to hold a wheel in a bunch riding at 36kph toward the commencement of the climb. I reckon it was 1k into the climb that I blew and dropped from the pack, cursing and muttering to myself. I basically went from hero to zero in that 1k.

I had forgotten that the first few ks are pretty steep and then the gradient eases slightly before steepening again at the halfway mark. My suffering was continuous until the 9k mark of the climb where there is a water tanker positioned for riders to fill bottles for the last 9ks. At this point I had one bidon of water left, no sports drink but instead of stopping and refilling I suddenly felt great, declined the offer of water from the volunteers and flew up the next few switch-backs out of the saddle ‘Pantani-style’. As I did this I looked contemptously down below at the softies stopping for a drink and started dreaming of mountain top Tour de France stage wins.

Of course, there was some foolishness in my actions. I still had 9ks of climbing to go, the trees get sparse on the top half of the climb and the sun was getting vicious. I think it was about 3ks later that my world crumbled. I was out of water, I was wobbling all over the bike and had started to hold onto the brake-hoods instead of the tops of the handlebars because it seemed like I was less likely to fall off in this position.

After ‘botting’ some water off another rider I finally got to the checkpoint at the top, after a newly added section of climb that was the worst thing I have ever had to endure. Stumbling off the bike, I felt dizzy, nauseous and pissed-off all at the same time. After 2 bits of fruit cake, 4 orange quarters, a bidon of cordial, a bidon of water and filling another bidon with water and some electrolyte powder I felt together enough to start the final descent back down the monstrosity.

I must admit, this descent was almost worth the suffering to get to the top (not really but I’m trying to be positive). 18ks of non-stop fun and before long you’re back onto the valley floor and the flat ride back to Bright.

This felt so much harder than 2 years ago. I have never suffered as much on the bike as I did up most of Buffalo. But I felt pretty good at the finish, reasonably coherent and was lifted by my personal cheer squad as well – the girls had just done 130ks themselves but made sure they were around for my finish – top effort and much appreciated.

I ended up doing 8hrs 40mins total, 15mins faster than last time but a hotter day and tougher course up Buffalo – and despite what I was saying for most of the final climb, I am intending to do the classic again next year.

Race Report

IM Australia 2003

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I was asking myself the question – what is harder and more painful, doing an Ironman triathlon or having a hernia operation? The reason I was pondering this is the diagnosis one month before the Ironman that I had a hernia and it had to be fixed, sooner, rather than later.

Photo: An awesome sight, the Forster swim course and swim/bike transition area

But I can’t, I told the surgeon, I’m doing Ironman! He looked at me strangely so I explained what an Ironman triathlon was (A refreshing swim in a saltwater lake with some friends, a pedal around Forster enjoying the scenery of the northern NSW coast, and a run through town where you get to wave to the locals and get free drinks every couple of kilometres). I hoped he would be understanding (he seemed to be when he was examining me – I told him to be gentle, it was my first time). I shouldn’t have worried, he said “no probs, we can book it in just after the race, you shouldn’t do too much further damage”.

Great, the race was back on the agenda (although I had visions of running along with my hands holding in my intestines, while my supporters got annoyed that I wasn’t waving to them) and I had some surgery to look forward to when I’d finished!!

Last year I was driven by the goal of running the whole marathon, something I couldn’t manage in my first attempt in 2000 and had been pretty pissed off about. Having achieved that, I was now facing the prospect of facing what is known as the toughest one-day test of endurance in sport, but without the motivation of previous years’ races. When you think about it though, there is always something to drive you: wanting to go faster than before, not wasting the months of training and preparation, even just enjoying being tested and challenged.

SWIM 3.8k (2 laps of 1.9k)

At 6.15am the gun goes off to start the race and you suddenly realise how great this is, all the preparation and focus to get to the start line and now it is actually happening. A split second later when someone hits you in the head and rips off your goggles you remember that this isn’t all that spiritual an occasion. When 1500 people start a swim together you expect a bit of congestion. When you’ve swum 3kms and the race has been going for 45 minutes you would expect it to get a bit easier as people spread out. Not this time.

I swear that I was in a mass of about 20 triathletes for the whole swim whose main goal was to hit, kick and elbow me at every opportunity while the other 1480 competitors cruised along with plenty of room. Anyway, this day isn’t meant to be easy so might as well begin the toughening up stage early.

End result for the swim – 1 hour 4 minutes 21 seconds, 30 seconds faster than last year.

BIKE 180.2k (2 laps of 90.1k)

It was cold, the sky was grey, the roads were wet, it was windy, it rained off and on the whole way. I loved it!!! One thing that slows me down in a race is heat, humidity and direct sun. It looked like I didn’t need to worry too much today. My strategy was to ride to heart rate the whole bike leg (approx 140bpm). That means I wouldn’t be trying to ride at a certain speed but at a certain heart rate instead and given the windy conditions on the day it meant I didn’t go harder, just slower.

Nearing the half way point, I was ok one minute and suddenly not ok. I felt tired, sore, weak and didn’t want to be there – and this feeling lasted for about 20 km. At the end of the first lap you ride back into town and there are crowds lining the barricades, cheering and yelling and it usually lifts your spirits and makes you feel like a hero . . . usually. This year I felt so bad that I wanted to be on my own instead of the focus of thousands of people’s attention. The funny thing was that as soon as I rode back out of town on the second lap, straight into a headwind, I started to feel good again and was fine for the rest of the ride. It’s amazing the impact of your nutrition and hydration in an Ironman race – if you don’t get it spot on you ride a rollercoaster of highs and lows, probably reflecting the peaks and troughs of your blood sugar levels. The good thing about the race at this stage though was that I finished the 180kms more strongly than I started it – hopefully this was a good omen for the run.

End result of the bike – 5 hours 39 minutes – 6 minutes slower than last year but a windier day.

RUN 42.2k (2 laps of 21.1k)

Into the bike/run transition tent, off with my helmet, on with my shoes and socks, grab my flask of carbohydrate gel and I’m out of here.

Yet again this year, as I run the first few hundred metres the arch of my right foot is cramping and I’m limping along, looking like I’m going to drop at any moment. The good thing with doing a few of these races over the years is that you learn from experience, and you begin to feel like you know what you are doing. I knew the cramp would go within a few minutes and I wasn’t wrong. And then I realised how awesome I felt – but also that I still had 40kms to run and the feeling wouldn’t last.

An Ironman day isn’t a comfortable day. You get beaten up in the swim for over an hour. You spend 5 ½ hours on your behind on the bike, riding over pot holes and urinating down your leg. Then you run for 42kms, 35 of those kilometres covered in sticky carbohydrate gel because you didn’t close the lid properly on your gel flask early in the marathon. Brilliant, not only uncomfortable but facing a major bonk (sugar low) if I didn’t get enough carbohydrates now I’d lost most of my gel.

The good news was I started to get a stitch. This was good only because it meant I couldn’t stomach more gel anyway so that problem was solved. The problem I was left with was having to keep on running while trying to avoid a full-on stitch and drinking enough coke and electrolyte drink at the aid stations to provide my body with enough carbs to get me to the finish line.

I can’t say I successfully managed to do this. I kept running, I kept getting slower, I kept getting passed by people in the last few kilometres. But I got to that @#$%ing finish line and looked up at the finish clock – 10.24.05 – a 13 minute improvement on 2002. Hey, I think I ran pretty quick (3hours 39 minutes – 20 minutes faster than last year) was all that went through my mind, apart from the relief that I could now stop racing. Now, which way to the massage tent??

Hernia Surgery ($$$$)

One week after the race, the muscle soreness has faded, the pain of trying to sit down, get up, walk, etc. that lasts for a few days after the race but it’s a nice pain, a bit like a medal of honour. It’s proof of how hard you pushed in the Ironman.

I’m now in hospital, I’ve just come out of the general anaesthetic, I’m groggy but I can feel it, the pain is back, it hurts trying to sit down, get up, walk, cough, sneeze, laugh. Yeah, great, this isn’t a nice pain, there’s no satisfaction in it. And I’m basically sick of hurting now.

Nurse, get me some Pethadine!!!!

Race Report

IM Australia 2002

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Two years of waiting, one aborted qualifying preparation last season, one successful ½ Ironman qualifier race this season and months of intensive preparation and here I was back in Forster – on the start line for the big come-back Ironman.

Photo thanks to Xtri.com: Macca running to his first Ironman win at Forster 2002 – I was a touch further back . . .

Having lived with the pain of dissatisfaction and self-doubt regarding my mental strength, if not my physical strength since April 2000, I was very focussed, quietly confident and ULTRA determined to give it 110% this day. 2 years ago my main goals were to run the whole marathon, finish in daylight and I thought I could do somewhere around 10 ½ to 11 hours. This time my goals hadn’t really changed – run the whole marathon, definitely finish in daylight and maybe achieve a 10.15 to 10.30 time. The main difference this year was knowing what to expect, how hard it would be and having confidence from coping with doing more training much better than I coped with the less training I did for my first IM.

It was more fun this year, there were four of us from work competing and a few others I knew: training buddies, people from swim squad, etc. to trash-talk with in the race lead-up, keep an eye on during the race and exchange “war stories” with afterwards.

Anyway the race start was approaching fast, I was attired in work-logoed speedos and singlet under my wettie (flying the corporate flag even though the only viewing the speedos would get is for 2 seconds in the transition tent before they are ripped off and replaced by work-logoed bike shorts – maybe a tattoo on my ass would have been better). I was determined to tear through 2 fast transitions this year because in 2000 I took about 7 minutes for each. So I was dressed like it was a sprint distance race and ready to rock…..

SWIM 3.8k (2 laps of 1.9k)

6.15am the gun goes off (not really a gun, just some strange noise and everyone looks at each other and then the race announcer says something which I took to mean “what are you waiting for, the race has already started”) and suddenly I am in the thick of it, battling for swimming space.

I had a good strategy in the swim: whenever someone hits you or swims over your legs – relax, smile and kick/swing hard to make sure they don’t go anywhere near you again. It seemed to work too as I had a reasonably clear swim, went a bit wide early but was on the buoy line for the second lap and apart from a stitch at the 2k mark everything went to plan and I was out of the water in 1.04.55 (3mins faster than 2000).

Caroline was standing near the swim exit cheering and I was pretty pumped (I enjoy a morning of stroke work with 1400 friends), grinning from ear to ear and happy with how I felt at this stage of the race.

BIKE 180.2k (2 laps of 90.1k)

As planned I raced through transition so fast that by the time Caro had got to the bike enclosure fence I was gone (that will have to be a regular goal from now on for future IM races…). Mounting the steed, I was quickly into a rhythm and the new 42 tooth chain ring I put on a week before was going to get a good workout. My bike strategy was firstly not to get pinged for drafting, then drink heaps so I need a first AND second lap piss and finally to stay in the small ring for at least the first lap (excluding the long downhills) to ensure I don’t ruin my legs for the second lap and the run. Well it felt so good I decided to use it for the 2nd lap also (soft!!).

Back into town to end the first lap I got a boost when passing my cheer squad and the bike speedo showed an average speed of 35kph – great, 5.15 bike split here I come – and was suddenly back out of town for the 2nd lap – straight into a headwind… The wind was light but I just couldn’t maintain the earlier pace and this started to get to me.

I was carrying 2 gel flasks on the bike along with a PowerBar stuck to the top tube in bits and the remaining carbs I was going to get from the sports drink. I had worked out my energy requirements down to the gram and knew this would be perfect….and it would have been if I hadn’t lost a full flask at some stage. I was a bit worried but thought if I drink more High 5 drink and have a dodgy aid-station banana I will survive OK. Another bout of stitch and my back was getting a bit stiff but otherwise all was well. I passed team-mate Dennis with 40ks to go, spotted a FULL gel flask on his bike, asked for some compassion (and gel) but got neither (something to do with an incident at Forster ½ IM in November – although the excuse is he thought I was joking – ha ha).

So I rode onwards to the bike/run transition and back into town I checked the speedo and was down to 33.5kph, same as 2 years ago and pretty weak but on the bright side I was feeling OK and looking forward to the run!?! 5hrs 33min was a bit slow and my Hawaii dreams had all but evaporated but there were more important fish to fry.

RUN 42.2k (2 laps of 21.1k)

It’s funny how for weeks you do your long runs at 5 minute per k pace (easily), talk about how you’ll do 5 min k pace in the race because you’ll be so motivated and then you get off the bike, put your shoes on and, heading out on the run, start laughing at how stupid you were thinking that you could do anywhere near that pace. The hardest thing in any triathlon is running strongly off the bike. The impossible thing in an Ironman triathlon is running strongly after the 180k bike leg.

I shuffled along for the first few ks, recovering from my usual foot cramps I get after a long or hard bike ride and then got into a sort of rhythm and began the long haul to the finish line. My first goal was to get past the 14km mark (the point that I started my 14k walk in 2000). This didn’t seem to take too long, I was running through the aid stations and up the hills, determined not to walk even one stride. I won’t say I was comfortable but it was a lot easier than last time. My next goal was to keep running for the whole first lap (they give you a coloured scrunchy at the end of the first lap to show who is on which lap, not for your ponytail but for your wrist/arm).

Back past the finish line to end the first lap (very cruel run course), I was handed the scrunchy and mentally ticked off another goal met. My watch was playing up all race so I couldn’t check my run pace but it seemed close to 5min k pace the first lap and then the wheels started to fall off. I had started hitting the coke at the aid stations by the 10k mark (it gives you a real boost but you feel flat quickly afterwards so once your on it, you stay on it). After guzzling a couple of colas at the 23k mark I started to feel tight in the guts and suddenly my friend the stitch returned but this time in earnest. I was holding my side, trying to keep running, trying numerous breathing exercises and thinking that if I can keep running it will go away. This was definitely the low point of my race and I came VERY close to walking at this point.

My memory of what happened after that is a bit dim, the stitch went away after a few kms, I couldn’t regain my earlier pace but I was still running and getting closer to the finish with every stride (shuffle). 1 km to go, 3 or 4 people ran past me and I couldn’t respond, just had nothing left to increase my speed and was hoping I wouldn’t cramp up so close to the finish.

The last 600 metres is dead straight, downhill and ends with the famous Australian Ironman finish shute with hundreds of spectators lining the whole straight. A few people noticed my scrunchy and realised I was one of the minority running past that was about to finish – and I got a lot of support. I high-fived a couple of people but nearly got knocked over by the impact (I was pretty weak at this stage) and thought better of it. Then I was over the line, arms raised in triumph, sun glaring in my eyes (yes, it was still daylight) and then I was being held up by the volunteers, being asked my name (took me a while to remember) and that was it – all over for my 2nd Ironman effort.

And not that long after finishing I remember thinking “hey, I’ve actually RAN my first marathon” (ended up breaking 4 hours with a 3.58 run split.) Overall time was 10.37.28. No Hawaii, no sub 10.30 or 10.15 but ran the whole marathon, finished in sunshine, gave it 100% (and more – at least during the run) in the process exploring the absolute depths of my mental fortitude and ended up qualifying for next year’s Ironman Australia.

I think I have now learnt what the whole Ironman game is about, it’s not breaking 11 hours, or 10 or 9. It’s not qualifying for the World championships in Hawaii, or doing a personal best. It’s about getting to the run after pushing yourself for 6-7 hours and then fighting through the inevitable lows and leaving everything you have out on the course so you know at the finish and the next day and the next year and perhaps for ever that you gave it everything you had.

So let’s do it all again in 2003!!!