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!!!!