THE SHORT VERSION
Swim: 1:11:29, Bike: 6:21:59, Run: 5:29:13, Total: 13:11:26
My first (and hopefully not last) Ironman completed despite injury troubles.
THE LONG VERSION
Here’s a warning – This is definitely the long version, if you’re only curious about some of the race, head to the previous post.
Lead-up To The Race
The start of the story is really about a year ago when I signed up to do the race. Triathlons and especially Ironmans are very popular nowadays and what that means is that the race filled up in a matter of hours, luckily I was able to grab a spot. So, I had the race planned a full twelve months out and when I was injured building up for the new york city marathon, instead of pushing through and doing that race I decided to rehab and try to get healthy for Ironman Australia which was a bigger goal of mine. So like the dutiful husband that I am, I cheered Chunnie through it and she did it! That was 6 hours and 4 minutes of constant motion and the biggest race so far for her. We’ll revisit that later in this…
The rehab seemed to go well with plenty of physio and slowly building up the run mileage but then a month or so out from the race it came back. More doctor visits, an MRI and still more physio let me at least get to the start line in Port Macquarie although I knew that I didn’t have a chance of actually running the marathon. With all the training I had put in for the swim and the bike including endless Changi Coastal loops, this was a huge relief.
The hotel we had booked was extremely near the start and finish lines which meant that I didn’t have to wake up excessively early which was great! But, since the hotel wasn’t officially part of the race (as it had been for the Ironman 70.3 Philippines) that meant there wasn’t any breakfast provided. So instead, we had gone to the supermarket to get provisions. My breakfast consisted of two slices of raisin/cinnamon bread with margarine, a banana, a vanilla powerbar and a bottle of fruit punch gatorade. All of that was eaten while sitting in the toilet since I had woken up at like 4am and wanted to let Chunnie sleep more since she was also going to have a long day! Love ya dear!
After brekkie I got dressed into my race attire and strangely this morning it included my street shoes since my running shoes had been checked-in to transition in my run bag the day before. At 5.15 we headed to the lobby of the hotel to meet Matt and Beatrice, the little plastic bags you see with me above are the “special needs” bags which you can access on the bike and on the run. I put some energy bars and spare tubes in my bike bag and gels in my run bag.
When we got to transition, I first filled up my water bottles. Conveniently, there is an aid station in transition where they will give you the same flavor of gatorade that is available on the bike leg to put into your bottles. That was good news since then I wouldn’t have some weird mix of flavors. During all the prep, it was a bit strange for me because I actually felt quite calm. I didn’t have any expectations for the race and was mentally prepared to have to walk the marathon and I guess that helped me relax. After getting all that ready I went back out to meet Chunnie and put on my wetsuit. I had just been in shorts and t-shirt and luckily it wasn’t too cold and even more importantly it was not raining! It had been raining a lot the past couple days and the carbo-loading dinner had been cancelled because the venue was water-logged.
After a final kiss from the wife, I headed off to the start and to get into the water for the deep-water start.
Although I knew that my swim had improved a lot, I also knew that in general I was still a lot slower than most of the competitors. So for that reason I decided to wait a while and to be towards the rear when getting into the water which also meant I would have to tread water less. At the time I figured that saving that energy would be a good idea. Once I did get into the water, I realized that with my wetsuit on I didn’t even have to move in order to float! Excellent. While I was bobbing in the water I noticed the chopper that was flying above and saw how the banks of the water were lined with people. It really makes it feel like a big event, it made me excited and got the blood pumping for the start.
You know how in all the television shows and Olympics and things there’s an announcer that counts down till the start? Well, I was bobbing in the water looking around when I heard huge BOOOOM from some guns or cannon or something. OOPS! That was the start!! I frantically started my watch and got to swimming.
Usually in races I try to draft people so that I save energy for later, but in this case since there were a thousand of us starting out at exactly the same time there was pretty much no point looking for a specific person to draft since there was a mass of humanity right in front of me and no matter where I went I was drafting somebody. In general, although there were so many of us swimming at once, I didn’t find it too much of a “washing machine” which I’ve often heard the ironman swim described as. Not only was it not as rough as I was expecting, but the cool water was refreshing. The swim was actually in a river, but at the point where it meets the ocean so the water was salty but there were river banks on either side that I could see when I breathed. On one side I was even able to watch the sunrise. 🙂
My only quibble with the swim is that the swim buoys were pretty small so I did have trouble seeing them until I was relatively close to them. Because of that, on the second lap of the swim I think i went of course a bit because at one point I found myself swimming alone. But despite that when I got out of the water, my swim time was 1:11 which is an amazing time for me! If I think back to when I did my first Ironman 70.3 in 2008, I took almost 50 minutes to do 1.9K but today I had managed to go twice as far in only 20min more. Thanks SeaMonsta!
Swim Time: 1:11:29 – 92 (out of 108) in Men 30-34
After getting out of the water, I immediately stripped the wetsuit down to about my waste and grabbed my bike bag (which was neatly hanging on the racks) and headed into the change tent. Inside the tent I dump my stuff out onto a spare chair and tried to start taking off my wetsuit. I say tried because I think blood rushed out of my head after having been horizontal for so long that I stumbled a bit and almost fell over. I then thought I’d better sit down. At about the same time, one of the volunteers came over and helped me to pull off my wetsuit. He also handed me stuff that I needed to put on like my bike shoes and sunglasses. Such good service!
Then I ran over to Bennie and put on my helmet and arm coolers. The arm coolers were brand new and I got them because I was worried about cycling for so long with my arms exposed to the sun. Given the weather (rain and more rain) the past couple days I was also glad I had them to keep me warm in case the sun didn’t come out!
T1 Time: 4:25
As I started out on the bike, I felt really good. It almost felt like I hadn’t done more than an hour of swimming. Heading out of town, I saw Chunnie for the first time cheering and ringing her cowbell which gave me a warm fuzzy feeling. I wouldn’t see her again for another three hours.
The initial portion of the bike heading out of town was relatively hilly (for me) and I had to keep telling myself to take it easy because I could feel myself pushing a bit too hard and making my legs tired. Thankfully we had driven the course in preparation so the hills were not a surprise. We also headed down the infamous Matthew Flinders Drive (MFD) which really lets you build up some speed heading downwards which I suppose is quite ominous since I needed to cycle up it twice (at 80K and 170K).
The scenery along the route was quite amazing, the waves were crashing onto shore and the sky was clear with the sun shining down. There was tons of support with people cheering us on even at the remote locations along the course. It really keeps your mind occupied if you have scenery to look at. Between that and keeping to my nutrition plan the time seemed to pass quite quickly. I had a 5-hour bottle of Perpetuem, 3 SIS energy bars, salt stick salt capsules and whatever gatorade I could drink as my source of nutrition.
One thing that I really enjoyed at this race was how well run the aid stations were. At each station they had distinct tables set up at least 10m apart with the different offerings (water, gatorade, powerbars, etc.). Whenever you called for something, the person at the table would run with you for a few metres so that the handoff to you was smooth. In other races I have done the aid station volunteer would just stand there and if you are going too fast the impact of your hand on the bottle would knock it down and you’d miss it. They also seemed to be located at intelligent locations, like at the top of hills where you are going relatively slowly and also they were so frequent I was never really left desperately waiting for an aid station.
Once we got to the far end of the course, there was a section around a small lake and here I really felt like I was moving. There were trees sheltering us on the sides whereas earlier in the ride there was a slight headwind (more on that later). I was motoring along, feeling strong and really enjoying doing an Ironman! There was even a kangaroo sighting! It actually hopped across the road in front of a few participants who had to do emergency stops, but I think because of the novelty they weren’t too upset.
Towards the end of the first lap, it was time to attempt MFD. I tried to build up as much speed as possible and then dropped into my easiest gear and climbed. I could see people lining the sides and hear them cheering us on. “come on 161… looking good… keep up that cadence…” At this point I think most people made it up, albeit slowly. I chugged along and just as I reached the top I could feel my quads seizing up and cramping. Luckily I got to the top and managed to ride through it. Phew… 3 hours for the first lap. Another Chunnie sighting and a smile and blown kiss for her as I headed out again. It gave me a boost and I would need that for this lap…
This time, the wind had picked up. There was a long straight 15K section which had an insane headwind! According to somebody I would chat with later in the race, he said it was the worst he had seen in the past 5 years of him doing the race. The headwind came at a completely flat section but that didn’t matter. Couple the wind with the fact that the road was really bumpy and it made for a torturous section of road where I was struggling to hold 23km/h. I purposely tried to stay behind other riders (at the legal 12m distance) to gain whatever draft advantage I could get. For some reason, even when we reached the section that I thought was sheltered the previous lap, there seemed to be a headwind now. Was I hitting the wall already? Hopefully not… On the way back, I was feeling a bit tired and mostly bored of all the food I had been eating so I slacked off a bit and ate less. Luckily this wouldn’t come back to bite me.
The second time around, as I headed back into town I was half feeling happy to almost be done with the bike but also I knew I’d need to go up MFD again. If i cramped after only 80K then how would my body react after 170K? That incidentally was the longest ride I did in training. As I approached MFD, I tried to repeat what I did the last time and up until about 10m from the top, it worked. No cramps as well! But my legs didn’t have as much power as before and I had to swerve left and right just to stay upright. Behind me I could hear people cheering and also stuff like “we’ve got a walker!”. I’m happy to say that I did make it up without any walking!
Bike Time: 6:21:59 – 91 (out of 108) in Men 30-34
As I got off the bike and got into transition I handed my bike off to one of the bike catchers. That was a first for me, since I’ve always had to rack my bike myself. i enjoyed the service, got to tell ya!
I jogged easily into the change tent grabbing my run bag along the way. I sat down again, but this time I actually felt quite good. A volunteer asked if I needed any help and I told him that I was fine and could manage. When I got off the bike I had done a “flying dismount” meaning I left my bike shoes on the bike and just ran in my socks. That wasn’t the best move since the carpeting in transition was wet from the rain overnight. Luckily I had had the foresight to put a spare pair of sucks in my transition bag!
Now with my fresh dry socks and running shoes on I got up but didn’t head out yet. Based on my physio’s advice, I spent the next minute or so just doing some stretches especially on my IT band. After that, I headed out into the sun and some kind volunteers slapped more sunblock onto the exposed areas of my back.
T2 Time: 4:17
Here I was, starting the “run”. I knew that this was going to painful and I had prepared myself mentally that my knee would start to hurt and that I would have to walk the entire way. It could be as bad as 2 hours per 10K lap is what I had told myself. Because of that, my “stretch target” was actually to beat Chunnie’s NYC Marathon time of 6:04. Chunnie was NOT impressed by me trying to do that, which I think gave me some motivation hee hee hee. 🙂
Despite being in motion about seven and a half hours I actually felt quite fresh as I jogged along. I looked at my watch and I was actually clicking away at 5:30 pace. Given my knee I had to restrain myself but also the fact that this was an Ironman and I was trying to run a marathon, who knows what the repercussions of running that pace could be…
My plan for the marathon (even if the knee did not start hurting) was to walk/run the entire way. This was basically because I was hoping to delay the onset of pain and also to conserve energy since I had not been training nearly enough to run a proper marathon. So initially what I did would be to run one or two kilometres and then to walk for a few minutes. Also, I made sure to walk through every aid station so that I could grab as much of whatever I wanted. I grabbed gatorade, powerbar gels and ice cold water. But those are boring “standard” stuff. The aid station goodies that I really enjoyed were vegemite (which is fantastically salty after hours of sweet drinks), watermelon (which is just a refreshing water source) and cookies (just something fun/different to chomp on).
The support from the crowd on the run was AMAZING! They really cheered you and there were people all over the place. Little kids would ask for high-fives along the way, people would yell my name (since it was on my bib). It was at these crowded areas that I almost felt guilty walking. People would see me walking and put in an extra effort to motivate me since they thought I was in trouble, but actually at this point I felt fine but was forcing myself to walk. In fact the first couple times I went by Chunnie I happened to be at a run section of my run/walk and she thought I was feeling so good that I was actually running the entire time! But walking isn’t always slow, in fact when going up the only steep hill on the run course I actually overtook somebody who was “running” along. They were obviously suffering but had refused to walk up the hill.
At about the 17K mark though… That is when I started to feel it. The knee was starting to hurt and instead of being able to run long segments and walk short ones, the ratio started to shift in the other direction. I eventually started just using time to determine my run/walk intervals, at its worst, I walked five minutes and ran only two minutes. When the knee started to hurt I think it coincided with Matt passing me. I’m not sure what lap he was on, but as he went by I was walking along and he patted me on the back. I’m not sure what exactly he meant by it but I took it to mean something like “keep it up, I feel your pain, you can do it.” That I guess should have motivated me but it kind of made me sad since I was struggling along with my knee hurting but I had really wanted to be running along. A little while later I saw Chunnie again and I couldn’t really say anything to her other than nod when she asked if the knee was hurting.
As I headed away from town (to settlement point) on the section of the run course that is quite isolated, the sun was starting to set. At the aid station they handed out glow sticks which we were supposed to wear because we were running along the side of the road with traffic still using the roads on the other side of some orange cones. Although, with this being a small town there wasn’t much traffic at all. As the sun continued to set and full-on darkness set in, this section reminded me of the videos of the Hawaii Ironman where you see people trudging along in the dark. But this time it was me.
The third lap was the slowest because of the increased walking, but strangely as I came to the forth (and final) lap of the run course I felt slightly better. I was able to improve the ratio of walk to run. It must just be the adrenaline and the fact that I knew that the end was near and I’d get to run down the finish chute. As I got nearer to the finish (and I could hear the music and cheering in the distance) I even started to run completely, the walking was gone. At the end of each lap you would be given a black bracelet to mark how many laps you had completed. After the last lap thought you’d get a green one. It was the golden ticket to get to run down the finishing chute. As I ran past the volunteer handing out bracelets I happily yelled “green!” and it was just a few hundred meters more to go. I could hear people yelling “Almost there! Looking stong! You’re going to be an Ironman!” and that just spurred me on. I think the final kilometre was something like 4:00 pace!
When I did make the final turn into the finish chute the feeling was fantastic. The crowd was cheering there were people stretching their arms out for high-fives along both sides. I obliged them going from side to side giving high-fives, smiling huge. I saw Chunnie at the side (honestly, I almost missed her in the excitement). I smiled at her but I kept going. Speeding along, I heard Mike Reilly say my name and tell me, “You are an Ironman!”
Oh yes… And i beat my stretch target for the run with 30minutes to spare. 😛
Run Time: 5:29:13 – 92 (out of 108) in Men 30-34
Total Time: 13:11:26
After the race I got a massage, headed back to the hotel for a shower and then came back to the finish. It was just as exciting cheering in the folks coming in after 16 hours as i’m sure it was to cheer in Pete Jacobs who won the race in almost half that time.