Becoming An Ironman

Melbourne Ironman
Well, after months and months of preparation, over 220 training sessions, 260 hours and more than 4,000kms worth of swimming, riding and running, I have finally completed my first Ironman.

All of that preparation went into getting ready for one big day at Ironman Melbourne 2013, with a 3.8km swim, 180km cycle and 42.2km run. 

The day didn’t start off in the best of circumstances with high winds, choppy seas and strong currents  to the swim being cut short.  Rather than the 3.8km swim that we had all been preparing for, the event organisers decided to reduce the swim distance to 1.5km. Although disappointed, I realize they had to look after the safety of all competitors and made the right call on the day. I have heard reports of people pulling out of the swim while still in waist high water and witnessed 1 person having to be rescued by lifeguards.

Although if you want to get the attention of 2000 triathletes quickly, telling them you are changing their race course is a pretty good way. I’ve never heard so many people go so quiet so quickly. You could have heard a pin drop on the other side of Frankston.

With the change in the swim course came a 45 minute delay in the race start time which meant more time for nerves, excitement and anticipation to kick in and I just wanted to get started already! I knew once I got started I would be fine but all the waiting around was killing me.

About 30 minutes before the new start time I began to get ready; wetsuit, sunscreen, googles, swim cap. I dumped all my gear with my trustee assistant for the day Luke and I was ready to go, and I made my way down to the water for a warm up swim. Wow, if that 200m swim was anything to go by this was going to be tough!

As the 2000 competitors waited on the beach ready to start, I looked around and wondered how this start was going to work. I’d never been involved in a mass start this big and looking at the sea of people awaiting the starter’s horn this was going to be chaotic.

Ironman Melbourne Swim

I wasn’t wrong, the starters horn went off and all that nervous energy was gone. There was no time to be nervous with the sea of red caps converging into a bottle neck to get around the pier, you weren’t even worried about the conditions, it was more about working out how to keep moving in the washing machine of arms, legs, elbows and bodies. It wasn’t until we reached the turn around the buoy that was about 700m out that the field started to thin out a little and I could actually start to swim. As I made my way back in, the swell and curr

ent were helping out, giving me a push along, and before I knew it, in just under 30 minutes, the shortened 1.5km swim was over and I was rushing towards the tent to get out of my wetsuit and into my cycle gear. 

I got lucky with my bike being positioned right at the end of the first row, easy to find and I was on my way to starting the 180km journey up and down Eastlink from Frankston – Ringwood…. Twice.

The first time heading out didn’t seem all that bad as there was a head wind and the course went slightly uphill all along, but with the shortened swim the field was pretty close together so there was plenty of passing and being passed to keep me entertained. I was averaging about 29-30km/h and feeling pretty comfortable. After about an hour I was approaching the Mulla Mulla tunnel which I had been warned was a big downhill that can get a little scary. So the first time going through I took it easy used the brakes a little and stayed pretty comfortable. But the unfortunate thing with going downhill into a tunnel is you generally have to go back up the other side and by not picking up enough speed before hand it meant I would have to work even harder to get back up. Big mistake! But one I wouldn’t make again. So as I am struggling uphill to get out of the tunnel who do I see? The only damn photographer I’d seen out on course to that point. Needless to say there are some good photos of me looking like I’m about to pass out – you can check those out a little later. About 2km after that was the 1st turn around point for the bike. I breathe a sigh of relief, that’s 1/4 of the bike done. I change my bottles over at the aid station and focus on that damn tunnel again. This time I try to get as much speed up as I can to help slingshot me back up. About 1/3 of the way down my Garmin GPS computer loses reception so I’m not sure just how fast I ended up going but it was at 55km/h when it cut out so I’m guessing 70-75km/h+ wouldn’t be far off. And it worked – as I made it up to the top of the tunnel a lot easier than the first attempt.

Ironman Melbourne BikeOnce out of the tunnel the previous uphill ride into the headwind was now downhill with the wind at my back. Life had never been so easy. I was getting up to speeds of 40km/h without even trying, so the trip back to Frankston seemed to fly especially as the spectators started to build along the side of the road encouraging everyone as they went past. Before I knew it I was back in Frankston riding through the crowd at the next turn around point; half way through the bike leg and making pretty good progress, well ahead of my anticipated time.This Ironman thing ain’t so bad after all…. How wrong I was. After making my way through the 3km or so to get out of Frankston and onto the freeway again I realised that either the wind had picked up or I had it too easy the last hour with it at my back and my legs were not liking this hard work. After a few km’s on the freeway, the hills started and the struggle on the bike began both physically and mentally. The legs were getting tired and wanted to just take it easy and after nearly 3 hours the mental focus was starting to disappear. I had to start breaking the ride down one kilometer at a time, just aiming to finish each one. Then there was my fueling intervals; I had been having an energy gel every 45 minutes and a power bar every hour, so my focus shifted to how long until the next time I get to eat.

After what seemed like an eternity I finally made it to the tunnel this time and picked up as much speed as I could and used the rest of the descent to stretch my legs and have a little rest before making my way up the hill to get out of the tunnel. After struggling to the top of the hill I started getting excited almost at the turn around where I would be back on easy street again. The ride back was again a breeze, working half as hard and going much faster than I was on the way out against the wind, I used the opportunity to rest my legs in preparation for the run so while not letting the speed drop down to much, just making sure I wasn’t working too hard either. A luxury that apparently not everyone had, many people who came in on the bike after me have said that the wind turned on them throughout the last lap of the ride so 3 out of 4 sections were done against the wind…Ouch!

Making it back into Frankston was a milestone on its own, the 180km bike ride was nearly over. There were some mixed emotions; relief that the ride was over but then very nervous about what my first 42.2km marathon would be like…. after a 180km bike ride. 

But fortunately there was no time left to worry to much about it, I just had to get off the bike get out of my bike gear, into my running clothes and get started with the run,  which would turn out to be the hardest part of the whole day. To make matters worse, as if like it was some kind of cruel joke by the race organisers, as you head out of the change tent and onto the run course, you start off heading in the wrong direction for about a kilometre…Very funny! Then as you reach that turn around point and start heading in the right direction you can look across the bay to see the amazing view of Melbourne’s sky line. A picture perfect moment until it dawns on you that you have to run all the way there. 

My plan of attack was first of all to get through the run in one piece but to break it down into roughly 4 x 10km having a stretch, going to the toilet and walking for a minute or so at the end of each 10km. I had some bottles attached to my belt and would drink whenever I needed to. as well as carrying my energy gels which I would have every 45 minutes. Then at the aid stations I would have some water or Gatorade as well as some lollies, banana or Vegemite to keep my carbohydrate intake up. This was all working well for the first 10km, I was feeling good and managing to keep to just under the 5:30min/km pace I had planned.

Ironman Melbourne RunOver the next 10km the legs started getting very heavy and tired, as a result I started to slow down and was really looking forward to making it to the special needs station at the 19km mark to get hold of some extra food and degassed cola I had packed. So I just kept focusing on getting there, pinning my hopes on that food to help me make it through. Eventually I made it there and used that opportunity as my walk / stretch break, as well as using it to eat the ‘Bonk Breaker’ bar I had waiting for me. 

From there I kept on chugging along and not long after that I passed the 20km marker, which was also a bit of a kick in guts. On one had; Yay! I was essentially half way there, made it to another mini milestone and was heading towards the home stretch. But then on the other hand: Holy Shit! I’ve come all this way, busted my arse and I’m not even half way. Still 22km left to run. How the hell am I going to get through this? Then to make matters worse the ‘Bonk Breaker’ that I was hoping would pick me up and get me through, did the opposite. That, combined with the lollies I was having at most aid stations, and I had over done it on the food and was getting some serious pains in the gut and was feeling like I needed to throw up. 

I had 2 options – slow down and take it easy to wait for this feeling to pass, or just let it go throw it all up and get it out so I could get on with it. As much as I wanted to get rid of this feeling and not lose any time, I decided to slow down and use the aid stations to have just water and walk through them (every 2km). Although in the short term bringing the food back up may have made me feel better, I still had over 20km’s to run and losing all that fluid and food that I had taken on board over the last few hours could leave me further dehydrated and depleted of energy. A state I really didn’t want to be in. So the strategy worked over the next 7-8km’s the pain and discomfort slowly went away. Although my average pace for that section blew out to 6:18min/km, which was much slower than I would have liked.

Having kept that extra energy on board also came in handy over the last 10km. As I felt pretty comfortable running at a slightly quicker pace, and still walking through the aid stations, which meant my average pace for that last 9km split was the same as the 9-18km split,  which isn’t bad at the end of a long day.

The atmosphere along the run course was great – all throughout the 42.2km there we people everywhere cheering you on and helping to get you through. The first time I heard someone cheering my name I had to spend about a minute trying to remember if I knew them or not. Maybe I was that buggered and depleted that I was already starting to lose it? Then another person called out my name, it suddenly dawned on me that the race number I was wearing had my name on it. Duh!

Ironman Melbourne FinishThe last 2km of the run was probably the most enjoyable part of the day, there were thousands of people lining the path encouraging everyone along, and knowing that the finish line was well with reach and this ordeal was almost over was a great feeling. With about 500m to go and cramp starting to kick in I could see the finish line (which again cruelly you had to run past and double back to). As I made my way through the crowd and started to see some familiar faces; my partner Nicole, mum & dad, friends and colleagues, I got another little wind and felt amazing. I took my time down the finishing chute, high fiving the crowd and soaking up the fantastic atmosphere. Upon hearing Mike Riley (the voice of Ironman) call out your name and tell you that “your an Ironman”, and finally crossing the finish line after nearly ten and a half hours,  the feeling of elation and joy is indescribable. All the long hours of training, early mornings, late nights and hard work was all worth it for that moment when you can finally stop and contemplate all that you have worked to overcome and achieve.

There was also a couple of other things that helped get me through that long run; Leon whoever you are; your supporters who took the time to write encouragement and jokes on signs and the pavement every few hundred metres really helped to keep my mind off the pain I was going through and gave me a laugh along the way, so thank you. And the volunteers who made the day possible were amazing, very encouraging, helpful and dedicated – so a big thank you to all of you.

All up the race took me 10:28:40 which was 29:49 for the shortened 1.5km swim, 5:34:57 for the 180km cycle, and 4:09:13 for the 42.2km marathon to finish off with. A time that I was extremely happy with, especially when you think I was aiming to do it in 11:30:00. So even if the swim was the full length theoretically I still would have achieved that goal. 

Although prior to the event I told myself this would be the only Ironman I do, the excitement on the day has gotten me hooked, and since I technically haven’t done the whole distance due to the shortened swim I guess I will have to do another. It is an amazing experience and individual achievement. Should you ever get the opportunity I would encourage everyone to have a go. Make sure you put in the preparation and it is definitely well worth it on the day.

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