“Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly” – JFK
The short version:
“I wound up, swung as hard as I could, connected but got caught in the outer field…!”
The longer version:
It is always tough to write race reports, especially when the race had so much riding on it for me personally and didn’t go to plan. It takes a few weeks or longer usually for things to ‘wash over’ and most importantly of all to learn from, which is one reason why this has taken a little bit to put pen to paper!
A bit over seven years ago, after my brother passed away I decided I needed to get back into triathlon after a few years off in order to steer myself in the right direction and so I decided to enter Ironman Australia and thought I would just do ‘one more’ and just do it for fun and not care about time. At the presentation after the race I saw one of the leaders who I knew that went under 9 hours on the tough course and at the time thought to myself
‘ I wonder what is MY limit’ or ‘What I could achieve if I put my head down for a few years’… And ‘ Do you think you could ever get close to 9 hours?’ – which my immediate answer was NO WAY…
At this time my whole mind changed about it being my last Ironman, not worrying about time to me starting to dream and think about progression and where I thought I might be able to get to – which is obviously an arbitrary or moving target based on many factors.
Since then I have just been in love with the sport and the day to day lifestyle it has offered me. In saying that, there has barely been a day go past when I haven’t thought of the ‘dream’ that has slowly progressed into a goal, which has been to break the 9 hour ‘barrier’. For me this has always been the only real goal of mine, with Kona and podiums etc just being stepping stones towards this mark. Most people don’t ‘get it’ when I tell them how important it is, but I guess that’s the beauty of having something YOU strive for, it only has to be important to you….
So with my shot at it at Melbourne Ironman off the radar after it being cancelled, I thought my next feasible option that worked well (or so I thought) with work and family being Barcelona Ironman, being potentially a fast course if the conditions were right.
However, what I didn’t account for was how big my year of travel, work, family change (new bub on the way in a few weeks..) and other commitments were going to be.
In the lead up to Port Macquarie Ironman this year, where I went 9:09 and won my AG, I was able to have a steady and consistent 3 months of training leading in and even though I was still quite busy I was able to achieve some great consistency – which I believe to be perhaps the number one factor in terms of a really great performance.
My three months didn’t go quite to plan for me in the lead up to Barcelona, with this being a part of the picture;
- Calf tear 12 weeks out which kept me off bike/run for 3+ weeks,
- Travel back from Spain where I was working with the team,
- In the 2 ½ weeks in between this trip and that to the Olympics I had a chest and sinus infection and could barely train
- Rio for 2 ½ weeks (which was some of the greatest memories I have) where I didn’t have a bike
- Then on returning from Rio I had 2 ½ weeks until I left for the race to try to ‘get fit’…..
So, after the first big session back where I thought I’d test things out and see where I was at, I came home with my tail firmly between my legs and given I knew where I was at before Port in terms of power/pace/HR etc and how far off I was in this session I was very close to deciding that I wasn’t going to travel to Barcelona because I was almost certain I wasn’t going to able to achieve the only goal of going all the way over to the other side of the world = to break 9 hours. But, after thinking about it, I was certain. And I thought to myself then, “if you don’t go and ‘give up’ you will then always be asking yourself “what if”…. And so after thinking about it for a long time, I knew it’d be far worse asking myself “what if you did have a go, could you have done it” than going over there and falling short of the goal.
So then I decide the only option was to have a huge 3 weeks of training, which was unconventional but I worked out it was the only way I stood a chance. I got through what I had set for myself and to be honest was surprised with how my body responded and in the end travelled with some confidence and also with a heap of desire to get the job done.
I was lucky enough to have my dad come over with me, which was awesome as my folks still live in country South Oz where I grew up and we don’t get to spend a heap of time together these days, so it was a great opportunity!
Where the race is situated is about 50km north of Barcelona, in a small town called Calella, a gorgeous spot directly on the Mediterranean! We had a perfect little apartment overlooking the water as well! We travelled over a week in advance and had a nice week, which all went pretty smooth. I had good mate Luke Jefferey there to support as well, who was fresh off his cracking race at the Mallorca Ironman the week before.
I was feeling pretty good come race day and ready to have a good hit. I felt like I had my best swim I have had despite a relatively slow time of 53min, with only a couple of AG’ers coming in before me (and fastest pro of the day going 49min) and headed out on the bike for the 45km out and back two lap course. Everything was very focused on time, so I had my dad and Luke yell out exact times out of T1 – “ALEX – 55 MINUTES” the old man was screaming! Followed by something that isn’t for this blog!
The first lap I was feeling pretty good and relaxed and moved up through some of the pro’s and then into into the first AG positon. While this didn’t really bother me and I was only focused on time, I must admit I do love being towards the front of the race…
I decided to be a little conservative and hold about, 255 watts, which was about 5+ less on average than I did at Port Mac to account for what I thought was a ‘bit’ less fitness… After the 90km mark, where Luke and my old man again almost blew some gaskets with their supporting, I started to feel a little flat as the temperature began to ride a bit. At this point I decided to ease right back for the second lap in order with the plan to be able to run as well as I could.. However, I was hoping I would ‘come good’ at some stage, but unfortunately I didn’t. The nutrition wasn’t going down as it usually does and the watts were not coming easily at all. And while I tried not to think of it, at Port Mac I felt like I just got stronger and stronger as the ride went on….
As I came into transition I was feeling very average, but as I am always a huge believer of, it is essential to continue positive thoughts and affirmation especially when it is not coming easily.. So starting the run I had almost 3hrs and 30min to achieve the goal – which would normally be quite routine. So, I started by running just under the pace I needed to hold, as I knew this was all that would do. I had no concern for anything else in or to do with the race at this point.
In this race they don’t have any special needs areas, but instead a friend can hand you things at aid stations, so given that the water they had on course was actually HOT – yep, they were keeping pallets of water bottles on the hot pavement, without any cooling and there was no ice (each of which obviously wouldn’t have changed my race, but along with having 3000 athletes on the course = horrendous packs/drafting in much of the field) was pretty disappointing… Thus, it was It was about at the 10km mark when I knew I was in real trouble – I had asked Luke to get me some cold water from a shop and he was waiting at an aid station, which was the point I pulled up and vomited everything I had tried to get down for the first part of the race. Sorry Luke… But lucky I had some water to wash the mouth out I guess! Hmmm….
From then on, things went sharply down hill. I wasn’t keeping anything down, still trying to run at the pace required while trying to stay positive and convince myself of the obviously very unlikely scenario that any minute I’d come good. I took a few patches where I stopped to try to cool down and recoup, but to no avail. And just like that at about 18km I literally hit the deck at an aid station taking some skin off and alarming some poor volunteers who tried to catch me. And while I kinda knew it before I fell over, that was the point everything closed in a bit and I realised I was not going reach my goal of sub 9 hours. Hundreds and hundreds of hours in the prep, so much toil and sacrifice, a lot of money to get across the world and perhaps most ‘costly’ for me is the investment that my family makes into me achieving my goals and I came up short. It is obviously a very tough pill to swallow and a tough outcome to accept, but that is the sport. Nothing is assured and especially in Ironman, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done before all that matters is that one day and you only have one shot at it!!!
I couldn’t chase these goals without the amazing and selfless support of my wife Megan, who I owe a LOT to. A huge thank you to my Dad for traveling all the way to support me and although I didn’t reach the goal spending a week with him prior to the race for the first time almost ever was very special and something I’ll always remember! Also to Luke for the awesome support on the day and helping to drown the sorrows after the race! I am also very fortunate to have a great team of companies who support me, which make a huge difference and are all gold standard in their fields;
- Torq Nutrition Australia
- Titan Performance Group
- Hoka One One Australia
- X-Terra Wetsuits, Premax
- Caden Carbon Wheels
- Nimble Wear
- Simple Cycles!
For now I am enjoying some down time, while still keeping fit. I am excited to put some more time into my family and also into all things coaching/AP10 and physio. The sub 9 goal continues to burn bright, but will have to wait for a for now while we have our second child any day now!!!
“Only those who dare to fail greatly can achieve greatly” – JFK