Race Report

Kona 2013

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My first Ironman in Kona was back in the day and my bike reflected that – an alloy Cervelo P3 (The Silver Bullet). I still miss that bike.

Since then I have been aboard my trusty steed, Black & White Carbon P3 (I’d call it The Magpie but that has unfortunate football connotations). Very nice bike, very fast and fitted me like a carbon glove.

Until 2013 that is! My Hawaii campaign this year was a chance to unleash my new Cervelo P5-Six on the smooth but hot tarmac that is the Queen K highway. I had been training on the P5 for just a couple of months prior to flying over to the Big Island but knew from these rides that the P5 was a special machine, one that I was looking forward to racing on. The Ironman World Champs was going to be my P5 race debut.

In order to ensure my bike split was given appropriate respect I thought I’d better start the day with a better than usual swim – also given my coach Julie Tedde had finally made the effort to come over and watch the race this year (and she has always been critical of my swim performances in Hawaii…) Out of the water with a new Kona swim PB so first box ticked off!

Onto the bike, my legs felt pretty good right from the start and the P5 was making the fast early pace (with tailwind assistance) seem pedestrian given how smooth and stable it rides. Coming back from Hawi and the long highway stretch from Kawaihae to Kona was into a cross/headwind but my legs still felt good and I dismounted with a new Kona bike PB – Anthony reckoned it was all because of the P5 but given I averaged 10 watts more than previous years I’ll claim part of the improvement! (ed note. i think you were just trying to impress your coach….did you sit down at all on the bike course?)

With the race having gone to plan so far, I started running only thinking about what I had to do to not stuff things up and run a solid marathon to top off a solid day. The gods were definitely with me this year as the sky clouded over as I was transitioning onto the run so I was met with close to perfect (for Kona) run conditions for the duration of the 42kms. I felt really good and my km splits reflected this, right up until the infamous Energy Lab. Having charged downhill into the Energy Lab Road I turned right to head toward the final turnaround and my wheels fell off well and truly. From this point on until the finish (12kms) I struggled to maintain my pace and rhythm and even in the last kilometre didn’t get a lift from the crowd or from knowing it was almost over. It just hurt.

I’m very satisfied with the end result which was a 20 minute PB in Hawaii, and even a PB for the Ironman distance. Thanks to Anthony, Tosh and Miguel for putting up with my demands in the lead up to my departure and ensuring that the P5 was tuned to the max and ready to go on race day. What can I say, nice bike and a worthy replacement!

Race Report

IM New Zealand 2012

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The short of the long of it – infamous IM NZ 2012

Glad it was over – in no time! Finish line shot showing a bit of relief

Well what can I say, NZ was an interesting challenge. As if Ironman wasn’t a tough enough race, try adding an element of uncertainty whether there’d be ANY race in NZ for 2012, then add an extra day to ponder (and carbo load) before tackling a race half the distance of what you’d trained all those months for. I guess Ironman wasn’t meant to be easy and this edition had a large dose of the emotional roller coaster added to the mix.

 

After being informed the evening before that the IM was off and replaced by a 70.3 race the day after, we awoke Saturday morning (originally race day) with some relief to see that the weather was as predicted and pretty much impossible to hold a race in. It wasn’t wet but it was WINDY and even I with my ample mass would have struggled to keep my bike from getting airborne – the disk wheel probably wouldn’t have helped much . . .
The new race day on Sunday was much better and the race director had made the right call. A choppy swim, moderate wind on the bike and a dry and sometimes sunny day meant good racing conditions. To be honest I wasn’t relishing having to smash myself over the half IM distance to try and achieve my objective – Hawaii qualification – but knew it would be a chance to prove my worth as more than just an Ironman specialist. A 2nd place in the Australian Long Course champs at Falls Creek 3 weeks earlier also gave me a bit of confidence that I had some speed left in my sad old legs.
So the race went ok for me, a strong swim (for once) let me control the bike intensity early and allow some of my main A/G threats to catch up as I dosed out my effort. I rode hard after the Reparoa turnaround, catching and passing many as I rode to a negative split. After a fast transition I took
off on the run in a bid to make up some places and get into the pointy end of the field. Passing 5 or 6 in the A/G in the first 14ks, I was then running scared as it was hard to fully drop anyone over the short distance and I guess not many out there were going to blow up after training for the longer event. The legend that is Kenny Glah was one that I passed, only to see him (and a few other threats) tenaciously clinging on about 50 metres behind as I went around the last turnaround with 5ks left to run. In future I won’t sit in the condo with my crew watching old Hawaii Ironman DVDs to kill time before the race – watching Ken come 5th in 8hrs 30mins in an early nineties race didn’t do my confidence a lot on raceday that I could maintain my lead over him!
 Into the finish chute and I was finally able to step off the gas as I checked behind and saw noone. End result: 4th place and a spot in Hawaii in October. But give me a full Ironman qualifier any day over the pressure and intensity of racing for Kona slots in a Half Ironman.
Race Report

Kona 2011

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I’ve written a few race reports over the years (ok, a lot) and the hardest to write has always been the Hawaii Ironman report. Many, many words have been put to paper by many, many authors, describing in detail every nuance of the place, the race, the history and all the clichés that seem to be mandatory in any story regarding Kona in October.

So I’ll try to keep this concise, original (as far as humanly possible) and, if not funny, then maybe a bit interesting.

Scene 1:

Wednesday, 10 days before race day. The day of departure from cold, wet Melbourne into the warm embrace of Kona, Hawaii. After 8 hours hanging around the airport with the whole damn place being closed (twice) due to storms, our flight to Sydney to connect with the Honolulu flight was finally cancelled. We drove back home. F*&k.

Scene 2:

Friday, 8 days before race day. The new day of departure from cold, wet Melbourne given we could not get seats on the fully booked Thursday plane to Honolulu. Despite some nervous moments and a delayed flight to Sydney due to strikes and work stoppages at the airport, we finally got on the plane to Hawaii. Arriving in Honolulu, a plane full of triathletes collected a plane-hold full of bike bags and rushed to get the connecting flight to Kona – except one – me – whose bike bag was not apparently on our flight from Sydney. F*&k.

Scene 3:

Sunday, 6 days before race day. My bike arrived last night! It was delivered to the pub (Humpy’s) where I happened to be drowning my sorrows and I finally have my bike, my runners and the other essentials that will finally allow me to do some exercise! A swim at Dig Me Beach and a run through the Energy Lab section of the marathon course with Luke Bell and all is suddenly good in the world. It’s hard to stay mad when you’re hanging out in such a beautiful place. Aloha.

Scene 4:

Thursday, 2 days before race day. My buddies Jodie and Lance got married. Awesome service and reception at Royal Kona Resort. Shame about the timing though, that open bar looked VERY tempting. Nice to focus on something meaningful in the midst of the building pressure of the impending race though. Congrats guys, Mahalo.

Scene 5:

Saturday, race day. To avoid monotony, I’ll skip to 2 hours after I crossed the finish, I’ve had a massage, I’ve caught up with Caroline and I’m lying on the grass under some palm trees and I can’t move. I’m wondering how the hell I can get the energy to go and pick up my gear and bike and ride back to the condo. I feel . . . f*&ked.

Scene 6:

Sunday, the day after. Time to reflect, time to wonder what went wrong and why, and what went right and why. Or maybe leave that for a later time when I’m thinking straight.

Stats: Swim 1:12:51, Bike 5:21:53, Run 3:26:24, Total 10:09:21

So after 3.8kms of swimming, 180kms of biking and 42.2kms of running I was 43 seconds slower than last year. On a day that Crowie beat the 15 year old course record. F*&k. But hey, it beats cold, wet Melbourne . . .

Race Report

IM Port Macquarie 2011

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Thought I’d let you know how things went up at Port Mac. It was my 10th finish of arguably Australia’s most prestigious triathlon, making things nice and even with 5 each of the old Forster course and now 5 in Port Macquarie (not mentioning the infamous 2006 race at Port and that speed hump that was determined to take me out of the game early).

Beyond chalking up my 10th IMA finish, my main goal was to qualify for Kona and put myself in a position to finally rid myself of equal standing with that old dog (but top bloke) Dave Kaye’s 4 Ironman Hawaii finishes. A challenging task this year with only 40 Kona slots and a tough age group field (I reckon a number of the fast guys saw my result from last year and thought they’d show up and take the candy from the baby).

It was a bonus to have Antho up at Port giving my machine a once over on race eve (and he also fine-tuned the bike. . .). His encouraging words always instil a bit of confidence, quote: “so by the look of that rear tyre, this is only a ‘B’ race for you Rob”. Nothing a bit of tyre sealant couldn’t fix though.

I won’t bore you with the details of the day, but yes the swim conditions were slow, it was windy on the bike and even a tough headwind on the run! The end result was me shuffling to the finish of a very badly executed marathon in 3rd place in the category, ten minutes slower than the previous 2 years but very satisfied to achieve a long term goal (and luckily no punctures).

Of course I’m not yet at the finish on Ali’i Drive and have a little bit of training to do in the depths of Melbourne’s winter to get ready for the big day. Fuelled by espressos courtesy of Pellegrini’s and with a bit of help from that bike shop just up the road, it should be a lot of fun. Not as much fun as landing in Kona and finally getting warm again!

 

Race Report

Kona 2010

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Hawaii One-0

I’ll remember the 2010 Ironman World Championship in Hawaii for the harsh winter in Melbourne, Australia preparing for the race as much as the race itself. Against all odds, this was my fourth go at Ironman Hawaii in four years and another chance to nail a race on the most iconic of courses in triathlon.

The seven year drought in Melbourne finally broke in 2010 and this coincided with my need to do long hours in the saddle of my Cervelo P3 bike to get ready for the race of my life in Kona on 9 October. Over the three months of winter I got at least ten punctures, destroyed four tires, had to replace my wheel bearings (again) and wore out the chain in half the usual time.

This was the coldest, wettest winter I could remember. There was one upside however. After skipping my yearly ski trip since 2007 due to racing in Hawaii and not having any spare leave (or money), I interrupted my training in August to head up to Perisher in New South Wales for a week of skiing with a good mate. And what a week it was – fresh, light snow and a few too many beers and red wine while sitting around the fireplace in the lodge each night. Maybe not the best preparation for Kona physically but I’m sure it was spiritually.

To finally escape the cold and land in Kona on the Big Island was a relief as well as a pleasure. The weather was bit milder than usual with only one really hot day in the week and a half leading up to race day. My main worry was that race day would be oppressive and I would not have properly acclimatised.

I don’t think you can ever get tired of being in Kona, all it takes is the first swim at the pier to feel like a million dollars and fully appreciate the luck of being there again. Running into a pod of dolphins during that swim helps also! It’s a magic place, especially in the week before race week when things are reasonably quiet.

A few days later I did a training run on the Energy Lab road with Aussie pro triathlete Luke Bell and the Tri Travel guys. Despite sitting on a pace slightly above my intended race pace (4 min per km pace vs. 4 min 50 sec pace) I felt great and didn’t back off – until Lukey announced he was going to pick it up a bit for the last few kilometres and I and the other boys let him get on with it. It’s always nice to be reminded of the difference in class between a top pro (like Lukey) and your typical amateur hack (like me)!

Race day started with a 3:30am alarm and a few seconds of dread when I realise that today I’m not getting out of bed to go and practice for the race like I have for the previous months, today I get up and go do the actual racing. This always entails putting your ego on the line, your reputation as well, and facing fears that anyone who races will have (e.g. I will perform poorly and it will be my fault). Of course, the other side of the coin is the chance that you will perform at a level above what you expect, or above what you thought possible – that’s a pretty strong motivator to get you out there and giving it a go!

If I have a weakness in this sport (and I do), it is my swim. Despite being able to swim 57 minutes in an Ironman swim – with wetsuit – the Hawaii Ironman always presents a challenge for me and I just haven’t put together a solid swim result without being able to put on 5mm of neoprene-based speed. My coach JT had fired me up before I left Australia and gave me just one instruction – attack the swim. Which I did, getting out of the water in 1 hour 14 minutes something for my worst result so far in and Ironman (making it my worst in 16 attempts!) So maybe I thought I attacked it.

Onto the bike and quickly putting the swim result out of my mind, I focussed on settling into a rhythm, my Cervelo pimped and primed thanks to CBD Cycles. By the time I reached Kawaihae and the turn off the Queen K Hwy to start the Hawi climb (not far from the halfway point of the 180km bike course), I noticed how harmless the wind had been and wondered what it would be like heading back after the turnaround at Hawi. Not long after, the infamous cross winds hit which are common in this part of the route. Last year they were non-existent and the previous couple of years they were pretty bad but this year was out of control! As I climbed, the leading pro guys started coming past on the descent and I couldn’t help but notice how scared some of them looked.

Once I reached the turnaround at the top of the climb, I strapped myself in and prepared to meet my maker (or at least be blown around a bit) during the high speed downhill. Descending on the bike is definitely my strength and I was determined to take advantage of this part of the bike leg by staying on the aero bars and pushing my biggest gear to try and keep stable. It felt like I was sailing a boat, keeping my weight over the side to stop capsizing. Halfway down I saw a girl lying on the road and not moving, fortunately a police car pulled up to help her out. One of many victims of the wind gusts this day. Once I made it back onto the highway for the long trip back to transition, the winds were more cross/tail which, surprisingly, led to some very fast overall bike splits on the day. End result for me was 5 hours 19 minutes, a 12 minute improvement on my best split here.

If I have a strength in this sport (and I’m not sure that I do) it is my run. Heading out of transition to start the marathon with my Newtons strapped to my feet, I was feeling good. My PowerBar-fuelled nutrition strategy had gone well on the bike and I was ready to do some damage (hopefully not just to myself) in the next 42.2km. I was still wearing my 2XU compression top and arm coolers that I put on before the bike – no point getting sunburnt and ruining some solid poolside time post-race! But despite over-dressing to impress, I didn’t feel hot and was able to keep ticking off the kilometres at a reasonable pace, helped by a bit of cloud cover that was timed to perfection. Eventually I made it onto the Queen K Hwy for the stretch to the Energy Lab and back, at which point a guy who I think was Spanish ran up to me and tried to tell me that he wanted to run with me to the finish (or maybe he was saying that he just wanted me – my attire was pretty impressive). Eventually we reached some sort of understanding and ran side-by-side until a minute later we reached an aid station where I promptly charged through in my usual manner and dropped him, never to be seen again. I’m not certain the 5 minutes of negotiation and translation was really worth it . . .

The rest of the marathon was a mix of highlights and lowlights.

Highlights like seeing some of the guys from the Epic ‘Length of New Zealand’ training camp including Scotty, loving being out in the lava fields 22 years after winning the thing; and Lordy, hobbling out of the Energy Lab wearing his Vibram ‘Five Fingers’ shoes and telling me that his feet were “a bit sore”.

Lowlights like every Ironman triathlete experiences during the run, where you just want it to end. It was also sad seeing Lukey not having a great day but pushing on to finish anyway.

And eventually it did end, in 3 hours 24 minutes, like my bike split a 12 minute PR on the course and the satisfaction of being able to maintain my planned average of 4 minute 50 second kilometre pace. My race time was 10 hours and 8 minutes on a day of some very fast times, beating my previous best at Kona by 22 minutes – despite me ‘attacking’ the swim.

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!!!