10:57:29 as 1:02:41/T1-4:42/5:52:33/T2-1:34/3:55:59
2nd M55-59 (by 17 seconds)
The day dawned clear and crisp at 4am, with the promise of a beautiful day and great racing. With nearly 2,500 competitors, it would be a big day.
Essential carbo-loading supplies
The water temperature in Lake Coeur d’Alene had done a see-saw. From a face-numbing 54F (12C) when I arrived, it had over the course of a week risen to a promising 60F (16C), only for winds to stir-up the Lake the day before and temperatures fall back to around 55F (13C) on race day.
My swim was without significant incident, if you discount the usual punch to the eye, kick in the jaw, tangle of arms, people swimming over your legs, or the odd lapped swimmer on the 2-lap course doing leisurely breast stroke on their back and bringing you to an abrupt stop when you come upon them. There was huge congestion around the buoys encouraging close relationships amongst the entangling throng.
I managed a PWWSR (personal-worst wetsuit swim record) by almost 6 minutes in 1:02, but was immensely relieved to exit the water alive, with air in lungs and extremities still attached to arms and legs. But it was not until half-way in the bike leg that feeling returned to my feet and I could confirm that I had not left these feet in the Lake, or in my wetsuit after the “strippers” had deftly de-wet-suited me.
A tough swim for a tropical creature like me. Photo courtesy of Dave Erickson, swimbikerunvideos.com
I was in second place in my age after the swim, behind John Weston from Missoula MT ,no doubt a turbo-charged Arctic duck, clocking a respectable 55minutes.
The bike leg started kindly, if not a bit cold, with a 10k/6 mile spin out along the Lake, with hundreds, nay, thousands, of enthusiastic cheerees spurring you on to great achievement. There was even a Scottish pipe band, piping the momentary glory of your passage up the hill. On the return back down Bagpipe Hill it was pretty funny, as the Doppler-effect ratcheted up the key as I sped down to them, whereupon it went badly off-key as the band receded behind.
The return to town saw you cheered on by even more crowds, before heading north up to and around Hayden Lake, brilliant scenery, and on to what the locals call “the wall”, a modest hill that takes 5 or 6 minutes of effort for the likes of me to crest. This is followed by “the rollers”, a series of 3 hills/downhills in succession that provide a bit of excitement/effort in that order.
Surprisingly on the first lap of the bike I was passed by less riders than I had anticipated, although in the early stages there were some biking-studs who had the dual-depressing skill of riding past me at great speed, and with an ultra-low cadence. This gave me the feeling that I was not only slow, but also something of a weakling. Something to work on.
Parts of the bike were quite technical. Photo courtesy of Dave Erickson, swimbikerunvideos.com
A highlight of the second lap was a low-pass by what I think was an F111 jet. It came up noisily behind, banked just behind me to make even more noise, then passed cacophonically on my right side not far above the tree tops. I put in a short surge to outwit the pilot, but it seems he/she was unaware of the grand effort on my behalf.
An eventful moment on the ride included being passed by a bloke/guy with “60” on his calf, meaning he was in the M60-64 age group and me yelling in Australian “… go old bloke!”, then I re-passed the old bloke minutes later on a hill. This was a fun game of leap-frog that occupied our time for some hours on the ride, knowing that I had a short 18 months before being elevated to M60-64 old bloke category myself.
The “old bloke” actually introduced himself to me at the presentation the following day, saying “I am the old bloke”, before he went on to collect his prize for winning his age group. Well done “old bloke”, W. Mitch Hungate from Lake Tapps WA.
A most welcome BIG banana at The Rollers bike aid station
The final highlight on the bike course was finishing. I could at last stop being neurotic about puncturing, having a technical breakdown, crashing, or of being passed by yet more riders. My relief was palpable, and not unhappy with my 5:52, given that it was quite a hilly course, and windy on the return leg. I was in sixth place in my age off the bike.
Palpable relief was almost immediately replaced with comic relief as I tried to run in to T2. The legs refused to work in any sensible fashion and probably looked more like the efforts of a cartoon animator who had failed Walt Disney 1.01. Forward progress was painful, awkward and totally uncoordinated.
Fun on the run in the sun
With the unco-T2-episode quickly fading into embarrassing memory, I experienced a new phenomenon – passing other competitors, in this case runners. This builds on itself, because the pleasure of passing one then encourages you to seek more, a sort of short-term gratification like eating a fine chocolate, then making excuses for another, then another.
Us old blokes are very supportive of one another, and I offered encouragement to my peers as I met them. I was rewarded with the same, plus some tips like “… there is a 57 year old just up front”, and “you are running third”. This was helpful to a point, but compression socks and faint/absent numbers made picking my opposition nearly impossible, and in truth I had no idea where I was placed in my category.
But I ran as if possessed, always thinking that the next person in front was in my age group, and waging a private and growing battle between my mind and my body, which was increasingly reluctant to deliver what I was asking.
The second run leg out on the two lap course was agony. My body was in revolt, I felt revolting, I had too far to go, and had not gone far enough. The bike ride seemed like a distant memory now. The finish line as distant again. Things dragged, and it was difficult to focus.
I tried to concentrate on externalities to block out the blindingly obvious. Next aid station, the view, other competitors, funny faces, cheering fans, words that someone yells that ring around inside your head. “Goin’ good! Goin’ good! Goin’ good! Good goin!” My head became an echo-chamber.
I lengthen my stride. An aid station approaches. More sugar. Congestion. Aid station passes. I wave and cheer a fellow Timex Team member.
The crowds start to grow and I think that the finish cannot be too far now. Gotta be less than 15 minutes. Just 15 minutes. Maybe 10? Maybe 9? Maybe 8? Maybe maybe maybe. Will I cramp? I fight off some suggestions from a muscle that it wants to cramp. No cramping I order. I slap the offending muscle pointlessly to reinforce my instruction.
Isn't there some cunning loop inserted here just to prolong the agony?
I turn a corner into town. Is that really the finish down there? Is this a downhill finish? Isn’t there some cunning loop inserted here just to prolong the agony? My mind plays tricks. Everyone is running a bit faster. Must be the finish. Time to run fast, I instruct body. I pass others in my photon. A burst of speed, a clock, outstretched hands, cheering, blur, an arch; I am still.
I am still. My head spins. I am still. The body cannot comprehend stillness. A catcher loops my arm around their neck; I pass my exhausted body to their care. Faulting images impinge my conscious. People are asking questions, expecting answers. What size shirt? Is that your timing chip? Questions. I am in shock, and mute. The agony is over. Nothing matters.
My catcher walks me over to wife Ali on the other side of the barrier, issuing congratulations on my race. She embraces my smelly, sweaty self. I put my head on her shoulder and sob, and sob and sob. I can let all the tension out, the pain, the nausea; now I can bask in total exhaustion, mental and physical. I am again an Ironman, #10.
The big bloke at presentation, 3rd from right
A big thank you to the thousands of volunteers in Coeur d’Alene, without which this race would not be possible. Another big thank you to all the spectators, for your cheering and support. Thanks to Timex Team bike mechanic Doug Berner for immaculate preparation of my bike, to Timex Team Manager Tristan Brown for bringing it all together, and to coach/wife/personal physio Ali, for getting me to the start in one piece ready to race.
And finally, a big thank you to our hosts Katie and Paul Burke, from Burke Mountain, Coeur d’Alene, for your exceptional hospitality and support.