Ironman World Championships Kailua Kona 12 Oct 19
First things first, the experience of travelling to the Big Island of Hawaii and being part of the build up to and conduct of the most iconic race in the sport of triathlon was nothing short of amazing. It was an experience that I will not soon forget and hope to have again before I leave the sport behind.
We arrived in Kona on the 4th of October as I wanted some time to acclimatise but also wanted to enjoy the atmosphere pre-race. The first thing I noticed, it was hot, not a surprise but still! Coming out of winter in the Shoalhaven the heat was always going to be a thing. When we got into the hotel I messaged a mate I had met in China last year and met up with him for a quick swim, which after a solid 16 hrs of travelling was just what the doctor ordered. The water temp, clarity and sea life were awesome and a highlight of the trip.
The lead up week was awesome. I had Nathans pre-race program to stick to which was good as there were people doing some big miles close to the race. I had a bike brick on one day and ran past this dude who had just ridden 150k…? I did want to do the 3.8k ocean swim the week before, while I was not battling Brownlee for the win I the conditions were perfect and I swam a 56min which was a massive confidence boost 6 days out from race day.
The atmosphere was great, Beck and the girls were great at supporting what I was doing, between training and all the activities it was quite busy. I did find I was missing my tri peeps. While the atmosphere was awesome it was also pretty intense and easy to get lost in. I was extremely lucky to have a couple of key people I had linked up with keeping things on the rails. A bloke I met in China last year Clint Rowlings, one of his athletes Leighton Rogan as well as Kephryn Izzard and Nathan Fitzakerley from the Infinit Crew. Having a group around me that were sending the same messages as Nathan, Matt and the rest of the lads from home was a godsend. Also with Clint having been before was always a great source of information and advice. I realised over the last period leading up to going and just before race start what a team effort this whole expedition had been.
I had messaged Nathan wanting to talk race day, he wrote back saying we would leave that for later and over the course of the week to focus on being grateful. Was really good advice and actually became important on race day. Managed to squeeze some ‘touristy’ stuff in along the way, one night went swimming with the manta rays which was amazing.
I went along to the welcome dinner and race brief. The race brief was a bit of a hoot, it was the first year they did wave starts and were clearly concerned with people not being in the right place at the right time and seemed to spend a significant amount of time describing the various ways to be disqualified prior to race start, it kind of reminded me of an episode of the Simpsons when the old dude was explaining the various range of offences that would result in a ‘paddling’. The dinner was an experience, a bit of a laugh as an Aussie when we are all standing up holding hands saying ‘Aloha’..
All in all a very special week. Loved every minute of it.
The night before I slept like a log. Couldn’t believe it. Alarm went off at 4 am, got up had a feed, grabbed my stuff and off to meet up with Clint, Leighton and Keff. We headed off to race check in, body marking and transition set up. All was happening smoothly, I was grateful (again) to have Clint and Keph who had done all this before. Again I had issues getting my tyres to the right pressure as had happened at the Sunny Coast 70.3, this time it was Keph to the rescue, and again as I checked that I had closed the valve I managed to unscrew it and the tyre deflated….. I screwed the valve back in and reinflated the tyre and wandered off to the waiting area for my wave, cognisant of the race briefing and making sure I avoided one of the twenty different ways to get disqualified prior to the start. Clint and Keph were off first, I was in wave two and then Leighton in wave 3, we said our goodbyes and good lucks and waited. When it was our turn to enter the water I decided to go to the far left of the course to stay as far out of the fight as I could. The wait was quite short which was good and off we went. My attempts to avoid the fight were in vain, oh well. There was a decent swell running (for the first time since I had been in Kona) so swim conditions were pretty challenging. I actually prefer it that way. Eventually as the field started to stream out I thought cool time to get into a rhythm… then we caught the tail end of the preceding wave and fight started again! I got out of the water in 60 mins, about 3 or so minutes slower than the week before which was reasonably consistent with everyone else I spoke to. No wetty, crowded swim and challenging water, pretty happy with that.
T1. Less than ideal is how I would describe this one! I grabbed my bag and for some reason decided not to touch my swim skin until I got in the change tent. I am usually very organised and efficient in transitions, but for some reason in Ironman racing when you include a bag and change tent I turn it into some sort of conference. At least I know where I can gain a couple of minutes for free next time. I got organised (slowly) and headed off toward my bike. While I had taken the time to wack on some sunscreen in the tent I was thinking I would grab some more if anyone had any for the back of my neck. I was trotting along the carpet half looking for my bike and half looking for some sunscreen. This was the first race I had done where they used those wooden box things to put your bike in and not the racks I was used to, not concentrating on where I was going I tripped over one of these wooden bike holders which no longer had a bike. I have lost count of how many times I have told my children to watch where they were going or they will trip and hurt themselves, well I picked this day as a good one to illustrate to them what I meant. I hit the asphalt nice and hard, it firkin hurt. After laying for a bit I got my feet and hobbled off to my bike. I had landed hard on my left hip and elbow but was grateful, in line with what coach had told me to focus on, that I was able to jump on the bike and get going.
Bike. The first part of the bike course heads South it was a gentle climb, I was really struggling to get comfortable and into a rhythm. I decided to just focus on the numbers I had talked to Miller about. The change from the mass start to wave starts was supposed to remove the big groups of drafters, now there was just one long line! There were people really hooking in, I wondered if they realised when we headed back into town that we had to keep going all the way to Hawi... As we headed back into town I was starting to feel a little better and by the time I hit the Queen K was feeling ok. Then something started biting me! I undid the zip on the tri suit to get what felt like an ant of some sort out. Found it and gave it the flick. Then I couldn’t do the dam tri suit up and had to pull over and zip it up! Off I went again and started chugging along at a decent rate. HR was a touch high but was happy enough. I then decided to undo my zip a little to increase the airflow and the dam thing went all the way to the bottom again! This time I decided to suck it up till the turn at Hawi. I was pretty happy with how I was going, the drafting was manic. I managed to ignore most of it until this Euro moved up on my right (noting all passing was on the left in the US) and got stuck as we hit a hill and closed on the rider in front. I really did not want to get out of his way as he had done the wrong thing. If I stayed where I was, he clearly had no intention of backing off and going around the right way, it was a matter of time before we all got done for drafting. Miller had told me not to let any of this get to me as this energy was required for the run, at this point I failed. Anyway I moved, he went, I advised him of the error of his ways and got back to work. The climb to Hawi was much longer than I had anticipated, and the cross winds… well they were brutal. I consider myself a decent enough bike rider from a skills point of view and at some points in those cross winds I was sh#tting myself! Just prior to the climb into Hawi I saw Keph up ahead. When I caught him I downloaded my tripping story, my ant story and my tri suit story. I was amazed how much better I felt just talking about it with someone who I know. He laughed, pointed out I had some claret coming off my elbow (I had seen the blood through my tri suit from the hip, but didn’t know about the elbow), I laughed and that was that. About 5 or so minutes from Hawi I saw the familiar face of the Fitz (Nathan Fitzackerly from the Infinit Crew) heading down the hill looking strong and thought that would be the last I would see of him until post-race. As I hit the turn at Hawi I pulled over to zip up the tri suit again, the spectators must have thought I had a significant problem as when I got going again there was much rejoicing in the village. Given Hawi is a village I am pretty stoked to be able to use that saying with accuracy. The trip back from Hawi to Kailua was reasonably uneventful. The crosswinds were brutal and the last 30k headwind was a challenge. It wasn’t until the last 40 k or so that I found a decent group to work (legally) with. Although in hindsight I probably should have managed this better earlier, if there was a time to work with others it was that last bit home into the wind.
T2. Another sh#t show of a transition by Haydn. I had wondered given my discomfort on the bike after my tumble in T1 how I would feel when it was time to run. I got off the bike and as I went around the transition area I honestly wondered how I was going to run 42 k… I won’t bore you with the details of T2, but there was time for a haircut and a pedicure. I met up with Keph on the way out of T2 who had clearly not taken the beauty treatment options as part of the bike to run split…
Run. I ran out of T2 feeling pretty ordinary. It was really hot and the first part of the run heads South along Ali’i Drive which was a bit like a sauna as it is protected from the wind. There were heaps of people around and I knew that I would see my family as I ran past our accommodation which was only 1 k or so down the road which was a welcome distraction. I was feeling like I was going backwards. I had been told to expect to see masses of people walking from about 1 km into the run. This did not eventuate, and combined with being around 20 sec per km slower than I had planned for at my target HR I was struggling a bit mentally. What if I hadn’t tripped over etc.. and I was at this point preparing myself for a long day out on the run course. I made it to the first aid station and just focused on sponges and drinks. I had crammed enough gels in my tri suit to last 3hrs 30 mins so the focus on each aid station could be on cooling and hydration. I had also spoken with Miller pre-race about walking every second aid station to ensure I was getting enough stuff down my neck. I made it to the hotel and saw the family, it was great to see them especially as I was feeling a bit low. They appeared and disappeared too quickly but the crowd for the whole of the Ali’i Drive section was great. I also had Keff’s partner Rooster as company on her bike for a bit which was awesome. From here I just focused on running, get to the turn around. HR at 150 BPM, if it got higher I slowed down, if it got lower I sped up, pretty simple. I had managed to come to peace with the fact that my run was going to be slow and concentrate on gratitude, I refocused on the fact that I would just keep running. No walking the aid stations, just run. Got to the turn and headed back toward Kailua, back past the Fam and headed to Palani, now this is a hill. I slowed to a shuffle up Palani but managed to keep running which was actually a big morale boost for me at this point, got to the top and turned left onto the Queen K to head out of town to the Energy Lab. The Pros were all heading in at this time so that was kind of cool, gave all the Aussies a shout as Tim Reid, Tim Van Berkel and Sarah Crowley came past (I had missed to top dudes). To be fair before heading up Palani the run is quite flat but from here it was reasonably undulating. The other thing is from here you leave town. No crowd, just a bunch of people struggling through the lava fields. It was pretty lonely to be honest, lots of people around but lonely. The hardest part of the race for me mentally I think was along the highway out to the Energy Lab. It seemed to go on forever. It was hot, I was still feeling really uncomfortable running which was also quite annoying as I had been feeling great on my long runs and runs off the bike leading up. I just focused on running, no walking. I got to the Energy Lab and could smell the turn around. I had managed to keep running so far. I had stuck to water, Gatorade and sponges through the aid stations and been smashing gels every 30 mins. I was actually dreading the gels by this point, but every 30 mins opened one up and crammed it down. As the turn approached I saw Keph heading the other way, he told me after the race I looked like I was moving really well and he was thinking I would catch him by the finish.. looks can be deceiving! Fake it till ya make it I guess! The great thing about the turnaround was I was heading home. I wasn’t going anywhere new. I hadn’t ridden the bike course very far out of town, or run the Energy Lab so it was all new for me on race day. It was nice to know where I was going from here till the finish. There was a random dude on a bike out there supporting someone, I asked him who had won, he wanted me to guess. I wanted to punch him in the throat. He eventually told me the top 5 from the pros. The whole exchange took up a few hundred metres, good news really. I made it to the top end of the Energy Lab and turned right back on to the Queen K to head back into town. I still had managed to not walk, I know this may not seem like much but for me it was a morale booster, especially given there was this dude who was running way faster than me but walking through each aid station in a similar manner to how I managed my transitions and we were back and forth the whole way to the finish. He should have put 7 or so minutes into me. So that old attitude of running slowly beats walking had served me pretty well at this point! The time had however unfortunately come for me to focus on getting maximum fluids down. But the aid stations were huge so I would only walk a table while drinking and then run again between tables within the aid station, and there were only a couple of aid stations to go. If could run I was running. I think over all I would have ended up walking 4 or five times for 10 or so seconds each and had 2 pauses to dunk my head in the ice bucket. Mill had spoken about the last 10 k and emptying the tank. My run had been a struggle. A struggle around transition to the tent and from that moment on. I just kept running. I was starting to see more familiar sights now which meant the finish was getting closer. As I was approaching Mark and Dave Hill I saw what looked like the Fitz up ahead. It was great to have some company for the last couple of K, and the 2 fastest ks of the day, what the hell I let the heart rate governor off! It was great to share the Ali’i Drive experience with a familiar face. As I ran past the Beck, Heidi and Rachel the pain (particularly of the last 4 hrs) was not really an issue! Crossing that line was awesome. I turned back and looked down the road to soak it all in… and the volunteer said we have to keep moving. Hello and goodbye to Ali’i Drive.
It was an amazing experience. To have finished felt kind of surreal. A big lead up, heaps of work, and just like that we were done. How did I feel about the performance? Honestly, initially a little disappointed in the run. After a solid swim – bike I felt that the run result did not reflect my preparation or my form. Then reflection. I ran ok. It was tough, and I executed a plan as best I could on 12 Oct 19. Things happen in Ironman, and small things can have large impacts. A small lapse in focus and concentration led to a fall which had an impact, the sad part about that one is there is only one person to blame. What I guess I am most proud of is how I reacted through the rest of the race. I could have very easily convinced myself it was ok to walk and blown my race out to 11hrs plus. I can categorically say I gave my all until the finish line. Swim – 60mins. Bike 5hr15mins Run 3 hr 50mins (transitions omitted for the sake of my ego).
As always acknowledging the team that was part of this, Nathan who got me in shape. After spending much of the year on the injured list with a bad calf I don’t think I could have been better prepared. Matt, Zac, Rob, Gray, Clint, Seb, Keph and Jase, the friendship advice and support was the best and reminds me of why I love this sport so much. Of course Beck, Heidi and Rachel who supported me pursuing a very selfish life goal, they put up with long absences fatigue and a short fuse!