I’m not sure how far back to start this story because I can imagine with all Ironman races, there is an extensive training period with many highs and lows and tales to tell. The preparation had been extensive, with awesome very close attention to detail (thanks to Alex, as I am a pretty ‘casual’ she’ll be right sort of bloke!). But to save this piece becoming a novel I’ll begin from when my wife Samantha and I arrived in Perth for the 2014 Bussleton Ironman.
After arriving in Perth we picked up our camper van which Samantha generously rented as a birthday present… and gee wiz wasn’t she a sexy thing (see photo). Down to Busso we drove with the beats blazing. The athletes manual stipulated we had to be in Busso on the Thursday or Friday to check in, so that’s exactly what we did. We arrived on the Friday to the bustling town of Bussleton. That might be why it’s called Bussleton? I checked in and got my wristband and transition bags and headed to the van park to rebuild my bike and prepare.
I was unaware that in an Ironman race you HAD to get your T1 and T2 bags ready the day before the race. You are unable to access them on race morning which meant Saturday was filled with me going through mentally, about 100 times what I needed in each bag. I still felt like I had forgotten something even after countless checks. I also found out on the Saturday that there would be a ‘mass start’ to the swim. This freaked me out as my swimming training, especially open water was not where I wanted. Plus, I typically hate the start of any triathlon due to the hustle and bustle. A phone call from Alex reassured me that the swim isn’t too bad, due to the width you are given at the start line. He explained “nah mate, the swim isn’t that bad, you just ride it out, there are hundreds of people in the race, just get on their feet and they will pull you”. He half reassured me… 2000 people floundering about still seemed unnerving.
Race morning arrived and as usual, I was pretty nervous. Mostly just worried I had forgot something important in a transition bag. I taped some gels to my bike, pumped my tires up, vaso’d up and importantly put my ‘special needs’ bags in the ute. Now, if anyone hasn’t done an Ironman, don’t make the same mistake as me. Every time I read something about ‘special needs’ in the athlete program, I skipped it. I thought it meant people needing special assistance as they were competing with a disability. Ignorant I know, but it’s what I thought (special needs is the aid stations you access with bags you have filled with any food or drink you may require in addition to the aid stations on course).
Surprisingly, when they were announcing and introducing the pros, and I knew I only had minutes before I took to the water, the nerves were calm. I had done the work, I knew my plan and I knew how to execute it. Just before the starting gun, a helicopter flew overhead and there was some sort of inspiring music playing. Man it felt good! I was 2nd from the front and ready to “get my hands dirty”.
Boom – the gun went and I was away. Alex had told me to go hard at the beginning to get on the feet of some of the quicker guys. I did this, at least I think I did this…. There was a lot happening. Like he had said, it wasn’t as bad as some of the shorter triathlons I had done. Swimming in Busso is great. It’s an out and back swim along the jetty. All was going really well and I checked the watch at the 1.9 km mark (or the end of the Jetty) – 29:30 Perfect. I was hoping to finish in about an hour. All I had to do was keep on swimming. Unfortunately I lost feet on the way in and swam solo the whole way back to shore. The swim was great except I found my goggles were too tight and I developed an absolutely thumping head and eye ache. I was desperate for the swim to be over to get some relief from the goggles. In the end it was extremely tough… not because of the actual swim… but because of the tightness of my goggles! Lesson learnt.
Onto the bike, and boy did I feel spritely. Alex had forewarned me about not going to hard too early on the bike so I was content for the time being to hold the effort very controlled. Many people passed, but I knew it was a long day and hopefully I would ride past them later, but in the mean time needed to keep patient! I found myself struggling to find a group who was going at a similar intensity to me. I was either going too hard and getting close to the red zone trying to keep up, or finding other groups real slow. Eventually a found a girl who was at the same level. I asked what time she was aiming for and she replied “I usually ride just under 5 hrs”. A little faster than I was aiming for but it seemed to be going well at this stage. I worked with her for about 60kms. It was really disheartening to see large groups clearly drafting. I could have jumped on some of these larger ‘drafting’ groups, but obviously wouldn’t go down that line!
After the 1st lap (1 of 2) I rode past the special needs station. I had no idea how this worked so I pulled up beside it and quoted my number. A minute or two later and I got my bag filled with vegemite sandwiches. This was a critical mistake as I lost the group I had been working with and it left me isolated. After looking back at my splits, this was by far the slowest split and an area to improve (31kph). Apparently there is someone with a radio a few hundred meters beforehand who radios the special need station to retrieve your bag. Another lesson learnt!
I continued solo for most of the second lap. At about 140km two things happened. Firstly, my legs started to really feel the pinch and I wanted to get off the bike. The prospect of running my first marathon in the condition I felt was daunting. But I just focused on getting to the next aid station, which happened to be my mantra for the whole race…. Just get to the next aid station. Secondly, after a plethora of issues with my bottle mount leading up to the race, it snapped and fell off leaving me in a pickle. My plan was to smash back the fluid at the final 2 drink stations to prepare for the run, but this did not happen.
Finally the bike leg was over and I stumbled trying to run. Man was I wobbly and did not know how I was going to run 42.2kms. Thankfully this only lasted for 50m until the change tent. A man slopped some sunscreen on, while I changed shoes. Again, just like Alex had told me I would feel great in the first few kms. It was really an effort to keep the kms above 4:30min/km. I knew I might hit the wall later so it was important to keep the kms at a reasonable pace early. Due to my fluid intake I changed my plan and decided to walk through every single drink station and had a water, Gatorade or both. I did not want to get dehydrated after putting in such a big effort. The drink bottle incident was almost a blessing as I almost was forced to stop at every single run aid station for a drink as I knew my fluids were probably lower than ideal. This was extremely motivating. Aid stations were every 2.5kms so it really felt like I was getting the food and fluid in but above all, damn it was motivating to think…. OK, just 2 more kms and you get a little break and ice down the suit. This worked up until approx 30kms when it got hard and the pace started to creep above 5min/km pace. But still, breaking it down mentally to 2.5kms got me through and I was at 40km before even realising. Looking back at my HR data my HR sat between 156 and 159 the whole run which I was extremely happy with.
With just 1km to go, I imagined myself crossing the line and becoming an ironman. I had played this mental image over and over in the months leading up to the IM and had almost cried numerous times just thinking about this in training. With the actual realisation I was about to achieve the goal, there was no sign of tears. Instead, I just thought about the journey, and all the people who had helped me get here. I thought about the hours I had put in, the sleep I missed, the friends I made and the lessons I had learnt. I mostly thought about how selfless and supportive my wife Samantha had been over the past 7 months. All these thoughts made me immensely happy and I lapped up the final kilometre as the pain seemed to disappear. 9:51:52 – I was an ironman. To sum the feeling up in three words; firstly relief, then pure exhaustion followed by more relief and pure happiness!
Minutes and hours after the event I swore I would never do another IM, I was smashed physically and mentally. However, the next day I was already looking at dates for upcoming IM events. The hard work and effort you put in definitely pays off and in my opinion, make the reward of finishing that much sweeter.
Thanks to Alex and everyone at AP10 for making the journey so enjoyable (well mostly….. I am almost as excited about not seeing the stretch of road between Helensburg and Sublime Point for a while, as what I was about actually finishing the Ironman)! I have no doubt that I would have finished in a time that I would not have been happy with without Alex’s amazing guidance and training. Also a special thanks to Bec Lewis and Nic Taylor for getting me onto the AP10 group, you guys are legends!
See you in March in Melbourne!!!