Last race of 2015 – number 6 (!) – in the bag and done. I’ve run the race, I’ve got the t-shirt, the medal, the sunburn and the towel, and now I’m writing the race report.
This may end up being the longest ‘pre-race’ I ever write, simply because of the volume of stuff that happened pre-race. It all adds to the flavour of what happened on the day though.
We took off from Heathrow on Wednesday evening bound for Melbourne via Abu Dhabi, with The Lady and Tin Girl in tow. I spent the days leading up equally petrified about forgetting triathlon gear, and at the prospect of 24 hours in a metal tube with a four year old and no escape. Fortunately on both parts, there was no real worry to be had. The Tin Girl was remarkably good on the plane, with one minor meltdown to speak of (which The Lady rescued me from – she’s amazing), but in the meantime adorably saying ‘Abu Dhabi’ to the delight of surrounding people. I even managed to get in a viewing of ‘Bridge of Spies’ while she slept, however as you can guess, I was pretty exhausted by the time we touched down in Melbourne at 7am on the following Friday morning. In fact, exhausted is putting it mildly – I was shattered.
We had another couple of Tin Girl meltdowns in the next day or so, as she adjusts not only to the different timezones, but to different surroundings. I guess I had forgotten about how different everything was going to be for the poor thing, but I think we all handled it pretty well. We were greeted with open arms by the Tin Parents and Tin Sister (and soon to be Tin Brother-In-Law), who have been nothing but understanding at our immense level of exhaustion since we arrived from London. To complicate matters further – I didn’t have a bike yet! The couriers hadn’t dropped it off, but I went into my usual panic mode of course, until the bike arrived at my parents house, and we put it together (I say we, it was mainly my Dad – thanks Dad!)
In what would turn out to be one of the great logistical favours of all time, the Tin Dad also offered to lend us his car for the weekend, rather than us taking two trains to get to Ballarat and walking around. This would later save us immensely, as the distance between the hotel and the race was much further than I had anticipated. If nothing else, I am amazingly grateful that I didn’t have to walk from the race to the train station (about 1 hour) after the finish on Sunday. That would have hurt a lot.
So I dropped the Tin Girl at her grandparents place (her Mum was arriving later on the Saturday) came back to load the car, and started the two hour drive to Ballarat.
We got to Ballarat in pretty good time; so we checked in the hotel and headed out to the expo to get registered and have a look around. In my first experience with an Ironman company race, the registration was easy, and everything was pretty slick. I watched the safety briefing and bought a couple of bits (a bag and and a hat), but then ran afoul of a volunteer who got a bit snarky with me because I couldn’t understand the process for transition gear. Unfortunately that tainted a lot of my initial experience with the race, as I am an anxious racer at the best of times, and like to know exactly what I need to do. This will ease with experience I am sure. Eventually she told me I needed to bring my kit the next morning, and so we headed back to the hotel for some dinner and to collapse into bed. At around 8:30pm, I promptly passed out and had broken sleep (excitement!) until 4:45am the next morning when I started getting ready.
This was a bonus of jet lag to be honest, as waking at 4:45am was not a problem! I got my kit organised and we drove down early to get a parking space near the race for ease. We managed to get one right next to the swim start, so the day felt like a win already. Transition ended up being a matter of leaving your gear next to your bike, which if I had have known would have meant me bringing a towel. Oh well. I also had a moment of hilarity though when I spoke with the bike technicians in transition. I asked them to have a quick look at the bike I had borrowed, as I wasn’t sure of the tyre pressures I had achieved with the hand pump I had. The guy told me that good tyres are at around 100psi, but mine were at 30! I’m glad I spoke to him before I left the bike behind! With that sorted, The Lady and I wandered about with a coffee passing the time until swim start.
It was a bit chilly at this stage, but the water in the lake felt amazingly warm when I dipped my hand in it. It felt like it was going to be a good day. I headed down to the entry point in my wetsuit, ready to get my big day underway. I just had to remind myself – swim hard, bike easy and then see how the run feels. It was due to be a (relatively) hot one, with a temperature of around 28 degrees – how would I handle that?
Swim (39:09, ranked 736th out of 949)
Dipping my toes into Lake Wendouree was great; it was warm and not choppy at all (take that Weymouth Bay!) and I just felt nice and relaxed by the start of the race. I had made it finally. The horn sounded quickly for us to start, and I settled into a nice consistent rhythm on the outside of the main pack that took off in our orange swim caps. The problem with swimming slightly away from other bodies is that you then have to make sure your sighting of turn buoys is spot on – no following feet. I’m sure that I probably ended up swimming further than needed because of this, but a review of the Garmin tells me that I only swam 1.62km! Nonetheless, I’m sure I swam further than everyone else, because I definitely didn’t take the shortest route around. I did panic a little bit a couple of times when I got tangled up with people, but on the whole it was a pretty relaxed swim – not a bad rhythm in the stroke, and my breathing was excellent – mainly because I didn’t have waves crashing into me this time! I came into the race wanting to do a PB for the swim, and though my rank might not show it – I actually smashed my personal best for this leg. At Eton Dorney I swam a 46:17, so to come out of the water 7 minutes earlier and feeling good was an amazing start to the day. It was great to feel that the slight increase in swim training had had such a big impact on things, and I’m frankly surprised that my ranking is as bad as it is – though I guess that is because Australians tend to just be pretty strong swimmers? Who knows. Anyway, I toddled off into T1 to get changed into bike gear, and annoyingly my Garmin strap broke, so I wasted a bit of time fixing that before I headed out on to the bike course to see if I had the discipline to stick to my heart rate goal.
Bike (3:09:50, ranked 810th out of 949)
The short answer to the heart rate question is – sort of. I had said to myself that 125bpm was the goal, and at the risk of giving away the story early, I averaged 131bpm on the bike. I should have gone easier, but in early retrospect, I think 131bpm isn’t too bad. The bike course was good fun, though I have to admit that I was glad to be finished it when I did. The difficulty that I had on the bike was that I wanted so badly to focus on my speed rather than my heart rate, when that would have simply been a disaster. So staying within myself, which will be absolutely critical when Bolton comes around next year, was a really good lesson to learn during this race.
The course started off on the main highway before ducking into a beautiful big park, followed by a long, long stretch of the smoothest highway road I am ever likely to ride on. It was rather windy, but all in all quite pleasant, and I really wanted to focus on heart rate and nutrition. I had to make a quick nature stop early on though, which was weird because I didn’t even think I’d had that much to drink! It enabled me to get back to focusing on turning the pedals though, even as I watched bike after bike fly by me. The further difficulty here was that I wasn’t riding a bike made for triathlon, and I could feel it in my shoulders and neck as I tried to turn a bigger gear. I’m not saying that riding my bike would have made much of a difference, but the comfort factor (ie. my own saddle) was definitely there. That being said, the bike I had borrowed (thanks Sebs!) had a much smoother gear change, so that was a massive plus.
Anyway, the road was flat for most of the way and I simply stayed within myself for the bike as much as I could, cursing myself when my heart rate got above 140bpm. I knew I wasn’t going to ride a PB, but I did start to calculate early in the second lap that I could go sub-6 hours again if I ran a sub-2 hour half marathon. It felt easily achievable, so I settled on the bike and tried to limit the time damage to keep it within reach.
As I came back into town for the final transition though, I saw an image that won’t easily be removed. I had been asked to slow down as there was a rider down, and sure enough, with a group of people huddled by her, there was a female rider down on the course. What was shocking to me was the amount of blood coming from her head – she must have taken one heck of a tumble. It just reminded me though that we are supposed to be doing this for fun, and that any risk of injury or serious hurt is simply not worth it. I’m not sure if she is ok, but I sincerely hope she is, as it looked rather nasty.
I rolled into T2 feeling pretty good in the legs, and a bit fatigued, but not overwhelmed. It was hot, and I was ready to hit the run. I even managed to see The Lady on the way back in, which gave me a big smile as you can see here:
I unfortunately faffed in transition again; messing about with sunscreen (ironically in retrospect). When I got out though, I had run out without my hat, and didn’t realise that I had done so until about 800m into the run. Idiot.
Run (2:12:17, 690th out of 949)
Hatless, I continued running around the first couple of kilometres, until thankfully I saw The Lady and ruined photos she was taking of me by shouting ‘Hat! I need a hat!’. She had noticed the same thing, and had wisely avoided pointing out my stupidity, but rather dashed off to acquire one of the two extra hats that I had miraculously brought with me. I made a real conscious effort to stay within myself on the run early on (‘do not hare out of T2 you idiot!’ were words I actually said to myself) and kept my stride short and my shoulders relaxed. It was a three lap course of the lake, and so I would get to see The Lady a couple of times going around which was awesome. I almost immediately started to hit trouble though, as my stomach started to feel quite painful, and I had trouble taking on water or food at the aid stations.
Ironman rules explicitly state that no outside assistance is allowed on the course. That means you can’t have a friend give you a chocolate bar, or a spare tyre, or give you a ride on the bike course in their car. It just can’t be done. So it was surprising that at around 5km into the first lap, I miraculously came across two hats just sitting under a tree near where The Lady was sitting. What a touch of luck! What can I say, real girlfriends help their boyfriends somewhat cheat during distance races! And to be fair, if I was pulled up on it, my argument would be something along the lines of – it wasn’t exactly performance enhancing was it; I just didn’t want to get sunburned.
So I came through my first lap in around 41 minutes, but my stomach was hurting pretty badly. I was feeling rather rough; I just wanted to vomit. I’m not sure if it was the heat, or something else, but I do need to get to the bottom of this nutrition thing. Anyway, I trudged on around the course with my head down, not frankly enjoying this particular section of the day. I saw The Lady again at around the 12km mark, and took a seat on a park bench just for a chat. My legs felt ok, and my cardio was fine, but it was just my stomach that was the problem. She urged me on to finish, proving yet again how amazing a supporter she is. After finishing the second lap in around 46 minutes, the sub 6-hours was gone, but the finish was still there.
The third lap was actually pretty great. I had a bit of a dry-reach, which cleared my stomach up a bit, and settled into a nice rhythm, feeling much better. I even had a guy tag on with me for a few kilometres, and we talked about London, the race-day and his job. I need to remember this for Bolton – running companions make a massive difference in helping the kilometres tick over. I also noticed though that taking on water made my stomach sick again, so that is something to note for future reference – I have to research over-hydration perhaps.
I came into the finishing chute with a faster third lap than a second one (around 43 minutes this time), and a big smile on my face. The run had been hard, but I made it. I have to admit that I had only just looked at my ranking when I wrote this, and I am stunned that I ran such a relatively quick time, as I felt shocking on the run – I could have gone so much faster. Anyway, I got over the line; got my medal and towel, as well as getting a couple of photos taken, and made my way out to the loving arms of The Lady – I had done it again.
So, inital thoughts then? Look, a 6:10:31 and 751st out of 949 wasn’t exactly what I was looking for; but then when I review my initial goals, I wasn’t too far off it. I swam a PB, kept my biking (more or less) within check and apparently ran a good run. Cannot ask for much more, especially given that I was super jet-lagged and in hot conditions that I am not used to. The nutrition bit is concerning, as I will need to make sure that is sorted before Bolton. I also need to take better care of myself and pay attention to easy details – I have a slightly sunburned head, and pretty badly burned legs, along with some wind burn on my lips – all of which could have been avoided. I mean, check out my legs:
But all in all, it was a great experience and I am super happy with the day. I learned a ton about race logistics (bring a car; always bring a car), pacing and nutrition; and this is all part of the learning process before Bolton. The Ironman show, as propaganda-y as it was, was a slick production that I really enjoyed. I’m not convinced yet it is worth the price difference, but perhaps I’ll do a few more and see how I go. Right now though, I have so much on that I don’t think I’ll have time for much. I’ve got to see my PhD supervisor, see Star Wars (yippee!), prep for and attend a wedding, and oh – Christmas is soon as well. Time to enjoy this holiday, I think I’ve earned it.