Wow, what an experience this whole ironman has been. Many times throughout the training I thought about documenting some of my feelings but found that either I didn’t have enough spare time, or I was too tired! So now that the race is done…here goes!
I’d been a professional spectator of ironman for the last few years and when I signed up to this ironman 12 months ago I was still in awe of the athletes that complete it. I guess I didn’t really know what I was in for but I knew it was going to be tough and I knew I’d have to challenge myself day after day. In the midst of the long sessions and hard training of the past few months however, it all began to feel like quite a normal part of life. I often had to remind myself that what I was training for was a pretty big deal and something that I used to watch and think: “These people are amazing, I could NEVER do this!”
I’m definitely now a believer that anything is possible. To briefly explain a bit about me & exercise – I haven’t always done it. I was a reasonably fit child, but had no confidence in my own abilities and that always held me back from achieving much. When I was in my early 20’s I was lucky if I walked my dogs regularly, let alone did any swimming, cycling or running. While I’ve never had a problem with my weight, I was definitely not fit! After returning from Europe in 2006 I started regularly run/walking to shed some holiday kg’s. Gradually I progressed through the Fitness Five, City2Surf and the Sydney Half Marathon as well as my first Sprint triathlon. With each step my confidence grew and I loved challenging myself to go further.
In 2010 I ran my first marathon and also had my first experience with Alex as a coach. At the time, Alex & I were friends and I asked for his help and advice with a marathon program. The conversation went something like this:
M: “So, I really want to do a marathon and was wondering if you’d help me?”
A: “Hmmm, I don’t want you wasting my time. You’re going to have to strengthen your glutes or you’ll get shin splints.”
M: “How do I do that?”
A: (demonstration of clams) “If you can do those 3 times every day for a month then maybe I will write you a program.”
So I went away and religiously did my clams 3 times every day. Alex was right, they helped. From then on I listened to everything he told me, trained consistently and loved every one of those 42kms come race day!
Fast forward a couple more years, the addition of a bike, some successful half-ironmans and I was doing my first full ironman! I’m unbiased when I say that I could not have done this without Alex by my side as both my partner and coach. His constant motivation, advice, knowledge and understanding during all those months of training were essential and I put 100% trust in the programs he gave me. I also had the added benefit of being in the same bed as him (the most motivated person I know) when the alarm went off at 5am each morning! The biggest thing I learnt from my ironman training was the importance of consistency. I’d be lying if I said I was motivated and full of energy for every single session, but I’d get it done anyway, week after week. I had the company and support of the other AP10 guys; Alex, Ed, Michael, Shannon, Justin, Simone, Kellie & Sam during many of the sessions which was so valuable for motivation. Much of the training I did on my own though, and I’ve grown even more confidence in my own ability and mental toughness from these times.
Once the bulk of the training was done and we were 4 weeks out from the race, the long sessions eased off and there were a couple of complete rest days. I again realised the value of having Alex as a coach as during this time I started to get nervous and I now understand how easy it would be to panic and over-train during this time if there wasn’t someone guiding you. Once again I put my trust in Alex and his processes and rested despite some usual first-timer doubts. During this time we did some very specific race-like sessions that not only gave me confidence at the time but also on race day.
I can now safely say that all my doubts about my ability to do this race were unfounded. As a first timer of this event I’m sure its normal to doubt yourself and your ability to actually cover the distance, but I need not have worried. I should have known that Alex would not have let me line up if I was under-prepared.
When race morning finally arrived I was surprisingly calm as well as being really excited to ‘get the show on the road’. The most amazing morning greeted us at the swim start and it was so nice for Alex and I to be able to get into the water together. During the swim I tried not to let my mind drift off. Instead I focused on my strokes and tried to stay relaxed but strong. I’d estimated a swim time of 1:15 so when I got to the exit and saw 1:09 I was pretty surprised and happy. Good start to the day, one leg down!
It was good to get onto the bike and get the 180kms started! This was the part I was most worried about as riding has never been my strength, but I felt great! I had a nutrition plan to follow on the bike (Dextro gels, bars and some vegemite sandwiches) so I concentrated on having my specified amount each hour and the time seemed to fly. I was also enjoying the amazing views and the support of the spectators and volunteers out on the entire course, I was so happy to be out there! As I turned for home on the second lap I was still amazed at how good I was feeling. So much better that I’d envisaged. As I rode past the sign marking the 165km mark I had a little chuckle to myself. Having vowed only to do one ironman I saw this sign and thought: “How inconvenient, I think I’ve just found my favourite distance!” I’d never felt so comfortable in a race!
I hadn’t really been too worried about my time during the day but as I rode into T2 I knew I was ahead of schedule…and I was having a ball! Two legs down!
With a big smile on my face I headed out to begin my marathon. I was able to get an update on Alex’s progress and see him out on the run course. That gave me a lift as I knew he was having a great day! My run started really well. I was able to take in some more gels and get into a good rhythm. I knew that I’d probably hit a wall at some point so I thought I’d ‘make hay while the sun shines’ and get as many km’s done as I could. At the end of my second 10km lap I found the wall! I think this is the moment where my friends that were tracking me online would have let out a collective “uh oh!” as they watched my times blow-out. I knew I had time to walk the next 20kms if that’s what it came to, so I found the next aid station and fueled myself up on some Anzac cookies and vegemite sandwiches. My body was obviously starting to hurt but what bothered me most was that I’d become a bit disorientated. The last thing I wanted was to feel like that at the finish. I’d waited 12 months for that finish chute! Slowly the food started to help and even though each step was agony in those final two laps I smiled and kept running. The last lap was particularly special. It was pitch black by then but there were still so many spectators out on the course cheering everyone on. At one point I looked up a long stretch of road to see a line of glow sticks with every person running. I found it so inspiring that ALL these people who’d been at it all day could still find something inside them that was making them run. I was on my last lap so could taste home, but many were still on their second or third lap. The atmosphere out there was amazing. I was able to share my last lap with some of the Wollongong guys, Mark Simmo, Darran & Burgo and it was so nice to have friends out there. As I turned with 5kms to go a man who had been perched on his deck chair all afternoon cheering people on, looked at my 3 arm bands and said: “Well done darlin, you’re going home!” I sure was!
I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face as I finally approached the finishing chute. It was such a blur of faces and a lot of cheers. Absolutely amazing! Alex had been hobbling around the course cheering me on for the last part of my run so I knew where to find him in the chute. As I stopped to kiss him I looked up at my time and saw 12.39! I couldn’t believe I was seeing a 12 up there – what a day! After hugging my parents and Alex’s parents I crossed the line, still with the huge smile on my face.
As I reflect now on the race day I know it was not luck that made me have a great day. I had obviously prepared and trained well and I had an exact plan for the day that I was able to execute. I cannot begin to thank Alex enough for that. Mostly importantly though I want to thank him for believing in me every single step of the way. Throughout training or racing he has never told me, or indicated, that anything was beyond me. For someone like me that is huge!
Such an important part of race day is the support you get along the way from spectators. Each time I was finished a leg or a lap I knew I’d be coming in to see the AP10 cheer squad as well as all the other Illawarra supporters. Spectating ironman is an endurance sport in itself and I want to say a HUGE thank you to my Mum, Graeme, Dad, Alan & Louise Price, Alan & Sue Gregory, Jackie & Rob, Robyn, John & Linda Elvy, Kellie & Lisa who endured the entire race with me and absolutely made my day!
After vowing the whole time that ‘I’m only doing one ironman’ I’ve found myself entered for Port Mac 2013! The best way that I can describe it is through the below quote that my good friend Mary-Anne sent me just before the race:
The greatest battle is not physical, but psychological.
The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good.
They must always be answered by the quiet steady dignity that simply refuses to give in.
Courage. We all suffer. Keep going.
– Graeme Fife