A First Time for Everything:
The last month has certainly been an exciting and exhausting period filled with spectacular highs and painful lows. My last race for this year was Ironman Western Australia which came just 4 weeks after the ITU Long course world championships. Following the long course race I had a period of 2 weeks where training was minimal. I had intended to have an easy week and then get back into the swing of things for IM WA but the race left me incapacitated for longer than I would have liked. My enforced layoff left me with 1 week to both build my training and throw in some hard work before a week of tapering. Needless to say I had doubts as to whether I should toe the start line for my first Ironman. A week before the race I finally decided I would head over if only to test my ability to back up from a big race. I figure that if I ever have a crack at the professional life, having the ability to back up race after race will make or break you. As if to confirm this line of thought I ended up travelling to Busselton with the enigmatic professional triathlete Petr Vabrousek from the Czech Republic. A professional since the 80’s he switched to long course 13 years ago and has racked up an unbelievable 126 Ironman finishes with no injuries. In the end I simply couldn’t pass up the opportunity to hear the most famous catch phrase in triathlon. Whilst the race was not all I had hoped for at least I can say I am an Ironman!
The only thing more unnatural than setting your alarm for 3:30am is being wide awake before it goes off. It is an almost supernatural ability that many athletes seem to acquire on race morning. As amazing an ability that it is I’d really rather sleep soundly but that doesn’t seem likely so I will have to settle for marvelling at the body’s internal alarm clock. I always find transition a stressful place and on race morning this was no different. The whole time I’m counting minutes till I have to be at the start and trying to estimate how long I’m going to spend standing on the port-a-loo queue. I actually found myself the least stressed I had been all month with 5 minutes to race start. I was standing waist deep in the ocean next to the iconic Busselton Jetty with the sun rising behind me; it was quite peaceful, the calm before the storm as they say.
The swim was pretty clean with only the odd elbow going astray. I settled into a reasonable rhythm but with one goggle filling with salt water and energy conservation on my mind I thought it best to sit on someone’s feet and hope that the overall time wasn’t too slow. It was quite a relief to get back to shore in an acceptable time of 57. After swimming with one eye closed for an hour getting on the bike seemed like a much more pleasant place to be. Out on the bike course my main problem was salt water from the swim. I’d obviously ingested a fair bit and couldn’t keep any nutrition down. I figured that if my body didn’t want it there was no point forcing it down. I postponed the original nutrition plan and just took small sips of water for the next hour. It wasn’t until 3 hours in that the intense pain in my stomach finally subsided. The only upside was that it left me feeling relatively good going into the final lap. I found the monotony of a flat course quite tiring so I was quite excited to approach the final turnaround point at the 167km mark. It was at that point that the rear wheel decided to come free from the stays – talk about unsettling. Luckily I had moved out of aero moments earlier in order to take the 180 degree turn. The wheel held on only because the chain twisted locking the whole thing. The wheel jammed against the rear seat stays and brought me to a grinding halt. On a day that had not been going to quite to plan it was actually a nice wake up call. As they say you don’t realise what you have until it's nearly gone, it really made me appreciate how much I just wanted to finish regardless of the time and position.
Figure : About time, I can finally re-open my right eye!
I hit T2 feeling pretty positive and flew out onto the run course. I had decided that I would pace the run evenly rather than my normal plan of starting hard and hanging on. I spent much of the bike leg looking forward to the first half of the marathon as it would surely be a walk in the park at a paced effort. After spending the first 4km trying to slow myself down I finally hit my target pace and proceeded to hold that... for all of 2km. Each km split was a few seconds slower than the last but that’s okay, it’s still pretty close right? Unfortunately it was the start of a slippery slope and before you knew it you were 20 and then 30 seconds slower than your original pace. I went through halfway 2-3 minutes slower than planned and was still not too worried but the trend continued and before I knew it I had been reduced to a glorified shuffle. Those last two laps were the longest of my running career but I kept looking forward to breaking the 30km mark (the furthest I had previously run). I have a friend back home who told me at the 30k mark to think of him smile and enjoy the rest of it. That smile lasted all of instant, as soon as I hit the 30k mark the cramps and spasms took hold. I was quietly confident that my special needs bag just 2km up the road would have the cure so I soldiered on.
Figure : Modelling the naked look on Forest Beach road
Now here is where I’d like to dispel a sporting myth. Apparently gherkin juice has a mystery substance in its make up that cures cramps and related issues all but instantly. This is not a crazy hunch of mine, its supported by various bits and pieces of anecdotal evidence easily found on the all knowing Google. With this in mind I grabbed my bottle of gherkin juice (not literally juice squeezed from a gherkin but the strange watery substance that preserves them in the jar) and started sipping. The overwhelmingly tangy and basically foul taste of warm gherkin juice is a hard one to swallow but it was all for the greater good. Shockingly the cramps continued so I went all in downing a half bottle of the stuff with my body protesting the whole time. Needless to say I was left feeling like I had just thrown up a spicy curry. Whilst there is “evidence” out there of gherkin juices all conquering power, I rate its effectiveness below that of yelling “BOO” to cure a bout of hiccups.
I finished up the run (which I did actually run) managing the bouts of cramps and unsettling spasms by taking one step after the other. I was passed for 3rd in my age group by Amos Gollach in the final kilometres. This suddenly makes you regret every toilet stop and extra moment spent chilling out in transition. Watching someone blow by me at 5 minute kilometre pace was something that, as a former runner, I hang my head in shame... but the Ironman marathon just ain’t a cross country race. Within the 18-24 category the day belonged to Nick Baldwin from Seychelles who won in 9:10 and local triathlete Andy Tyack who was second after putting together an awesome overall race and a great Ironman debut. It was great spending time with both these guys. In the end, I held onto 4th with a 9:41:59 time.
Figure 3: After managing a tedious internal dialog for 9:41.59 I was an Ironman
When I look back at my year there seems like there has been a first time for everything, so I figured I’d pop in an abridged list of those to finish this off and then I’ll be back to blog in the new year.
First time... Competing in a triathlon, buying a time trial bike, riding interstate, wearing Speedos in public, finding sponsorship (A shout out to SIS who have provided me with racing fuel and gear), donning the green and gold, competing overseas, doing an Ironman and of course, first time drinking gherkin juice.
I feel as though instead of my standard happy training sign off a different phrase is needed for the Christmas period. So enjoy the festivities have a happy new year and don’t forget to rest hard.