So it finally arrived. All the training, all the long hours on the bike, in the pool and on the run culminated on 9th December. Officially race day for Ironman WA!
But before the race actually started we had a practice day on the Friday morning before the race. And I have to say it was horrific. Any confidence I had evaporated with 60kmh winds, rolling breakers, a huge swell, spray crashing over the jetty and life savers stood up surfing on their rescue boards.
Not the sort of welcome I was expecting for my first Ironman. Though, nothing ventured, nothing gained, it was into the maelstrom for a ‘gentle’ swim to get the arms turning over after the long flight from Melbourne. H’m, ‘gentle’ is such a relative term as it was was nothing of the sort. I’ve done a lot of ocean swimming in the past 2 years, in quite rough conditions at times, but this was way beyond my capabilities. I managed about 200m out to sea before it was time to turn around and surf back to the shore.
So much for a nice confidence building swim. Rather than feeling relaxed I was suddenly terrified. How on earth would I do a full 3.8km swim in those conditions. In fact it knocked my confidence so much that even though Saturday was pegged as a rest day. I had to go back into the fire to have another go, just to try and settle my nerves.
I needn’t of worried though. Sunday 9th December. Ironman WA ‘D-Day’ dawned beautifully.
The storms of the past couple of days had blown through and all that was left was a clear sky and a light easterly wind.
Not that the nerves had settled much. Ironman is quite a step up from the Half Ironman’s I’ve been doing in every respect. The organisation is better, people look much fitter and everyone’s gear is top notch. In fact the thought that kept going through my mind besides ‘What the hell have I gotten myself into’ is ‘This is a different league and I’m really playing with the big boys (and girls) now’
One of the great things though is the camaraderie. Everyone is in the same position. Everyone is nervous and everyone is friendly and out to give encouragement to those around them.
So as 5:30am dawned, with helicopters hovering overhead, aircraft circling, music blaring and a huge crowd cheering as the pro’s hit the water and were off.
Then it was our turn, 1500 age group athletes entered the water for a mass deepwater start.
Funnily though, my nerves disappeared as I entered the water, once I was out at the start line I just laid back in the water and took it all in.
This was what I’d been training for.
This is what I’d signed up for.
I wasn’t thinking about the bike or the run.
Just a nice easy swim around the jetty.
Then at precisely 5.45am, the gun went off.
This time I took a different approach than I had with all of my previous Half Ironman swims and went off the front. With all the training I’ve been putting in, I’m a more confident swimmer and fast enough to hold my own. And this time I didn’t want to have to swim past people and get kicked.
This time I’d let others worry about my feet.
And funnily enough it seemed to work. Even though it was a mass start with 1500 athletes trying to share the same bit of water, it seemed that there was a lot more room than on the 70.3’s. Yes there was traffic and a bit of pushing and shoving, but people seemed to know what they were doing and I escaped pretty much without a scratch.
One of the fun things about Busselton Jetty is that it is LONG (it is the longest wooden jetty in the Southern hemisphere) and whilst we had some protection from the waves inshore, as we moved out to sea, the conditions did start to deteriorate. Nothing too difficult but it seemed to get quite choppy about a third of the way out and then the swell/chop started. Again nothing too difficult and nothing like Friday’s training swim, but I did have trouble getting my right arm out of the water on a couple of occasions as the swell and the chop came over me.
The order of business at this stage of the swim was just to sit back and relax. In my mind I kept telling myself to slow down and conserve energy. ‘It’s going to be a long day!’.
Then before I knew it I was at the end and at the blue marker buoys indicating half way (1900m) and the turnaround point.
I have to admit at about this point the shoreline looked a long long way off!
Of course heading back inshore brought a new set of challenges, the sun was directly in my eyes (I breathe left) and the waves/wind were pushing me away from the jetty.
At first I started to get annoyed and worried as I seemed to be getting carried further away from the jetty even though I felt I was swimming at it. However, once I remembered that the jetty is curved and curving away from me, I stopped worrying about the wind/tide action and relaxed.
And once I relaxed I started to take in some of the under water scenery. Geographe Bay is shallow and clear and I could see lots of schools of fish swimming below us. (Though thankfully no sharks)
Then before I knew it, it was into swim exit.
Out of the water in approx 1hr 12min.
I’d hoped for 1hr 16min based on my previous swim times and had expected 1hr 20min given the conditions.
Swim transition was chaos. A huge tent filled with bodies.
For me it was a complete strip down and change into bike gear. This is a departure from what I would normally do in 70.3’s where you use the same gear (a tri suit) for the whole race, but given the circumstances I thought it would be a good idea to have proper bike gear on given that I’d never ridden 180km before. Then before I knew it, I was out of transition, lathered in sunscreen and onto the bike.
Ironman WA is famous for it’s headwinds and this year’s race was no exception. Within minutes it was straight into a fierce headwind. Somehow I knew immediately that it was going to be a tough ride. But thankfully I’ve done lots of windy rides on the flat over the past few weeks so it was into the small chain ring and a cadence of 90-95rpm which gave me a consistent 2min6sec-2min10sec per kilometre pace. Exactly what I’ve done all my recent long distance training rides at home.
As a side note I kept this pace consistently for the whole ride with my worst km split being 2min 20sec, though if you look at the official split times it seems there was a problem with the timing mats as it was showing me doing half that speed for 10km then twice the speed for the next 10km. I was oblivious to this but it did give my support crew reason to worry when they saw my splits drop so dramatically.
After the first hour (30km) of grinding into the headwind I was certainly looking forward to the turnaround and getting some much needed assistance from a tailwind. Though as is normal with Longden’s law, the headwind didn’t become a tailwind but another headwind again. So it was another 30km of grinding it out, though I have to admit it did seem to get a bit easier.
Lot’s of bikes came past me, but whereas it used to worry me, it didn’t this time, I simply held to my plan and my pace.
As a second side note, I am constantly amazed at the amount of people having flats and the amount of equipment on the road. Flats you can’t do much about providing your tires are in good conditions but I could have made a killing and almost built a new bike (not quite) from the gear spread around. Tighten those screws people!!!
Then before I knew it, I was at the 60km mark and back in town with the crowd’s and the cheering (in a bit over 2hours then) straight back into the headwind for another hour of grinding.
It’s amazing the different perspective an Ironman gives you. Three weeks ago at the Shepparton Half Ironman, 90km seemed like a long way to race, I was tired and aching by the end of three hours. However, this time it was only a checkpoint on the way to double that distance and before I knew it I’d sailed past 90km and into the heat.
Busselton IM is not only known for the wind but also for the heat. Race day was predicted to be 32C+ and by the second lap it was all of that as it really started to heat up.
And I knew it was hot. In my recent training I’ve been riding (and even at Shepp) comfortably on 1/2 bidon water per hour. This time I was going through 3-4bidons per hour and nothing was coming out of the other end!
While on the subject of nutrition and hydration. I’ve found that I tend to get an upset stomach and feel sick on the Gatorades/Powerades etc. Whilst I haven’t been formally tested, when combined with the fact that I’m highly allergic to Garlic/Onions and Apples tend to make me bloat, we’re pretty sure that I’m Fructose intolerant. So, to keep my Electrolytes in order I’ve been training on Coconut Water. I was able to carry two bottles on the bike and had two additional frozen bottles at the aid station that I could pickup during the race. And that seemed to be enough to take care of my electrolytes.
But the real winner was Coke! WOW!!!!! What a training aid! They say that you shouldn’t try anything new in a race, but given by chocolate fruit and nut bars became a brown, molten soggy mess in the heat and my Yoghurt covered muesli bars weren’t much more appetising, I thought I’d give it a go.
WOW! Rocket fuel is all I can say.
So this became the order of my ride at each aid station
One bidon of water for cooling and thirst and one bidon of coke for energy.
When my coconut water did eventually run out, I tried a Gatorade, immediately felt sick and changed to two bidons of water and one of coke for the remainder of the ride.
Towards the end of the second lap, I also had the opportunity to pick up my special needs. On most of my training rides I’ve been craving ham sandwiches at the four hour mark, so I thought I’d be prepared and have a couple waiting for me as a treat.
Though the differences between my dreams and reality were stark. Coming into the aid station I was dreaming of beautiful ham off the bone.
What I got though was a hot ugly mess. Ham sandwiches that have sat in the sun at 30C+ for 5 or 6 hours just don’t do it for me. And the extra energy bars I had stashed were melted mush. I had frozen two bottles of coconut water with them in order to keep everything cool, but one of those bottles had leaked. So it really was a wet soggy, unappetizing mess. Even the volunteer laughed as I was grabbing for calories. But at this stage I needed the calories so just grabbed two sandwiches and forced one down, then threw the rest away.
Then the aches and pains started.
Despite my new seat, my bum was starting to hurt after 120km and my feet were really numb and sore. This seemed to be a problem for the rest of the ride and at one stage I had to stop, get off the bike, take my shoes off and run with the bike on the road in my socks just to get some circulation going again. I’ll need to sort this out when I get home as it is obviously a shoe fit issue and most uncomfortable.
I took a couple of voltaren at about this stage and that seemed to help (a bit) and by about 140km my quads were starting to get a niggle. Nothing major, but just enough to let me know if I pushed too hard they would cramp on me. (Thankfully they never did) Each time I started to feel uncomfortable I’d drop a few gears and get out of the saddle to exercise a few different muscles as Brian had suggested.
The third lap was just more of the same. Pain from bum, pain from shoes, pain from quads, pain from back, pain from neck. Actually it is probably best to summarise the third lap as PAIN! Though nothing intolerable, just the body telling me that 5hours (at that stage) on the bike is a bit too long for any normal person.
Then at the 150km mark I had my first technical issue in a race. My Garmin race watch. The only one guaranteed to last an entire Ironman turned itself off.
First I thought the battery had died, but I hit the power button and it immediately came back on.
Perhaps it had just had enough and decided to go to sleep (I know I wanted to). I’ll never know.
What it did though was to force me to do maths calculations in my head for the rest of the race. I knew at that point I still had about 1hour to go on the bike, which would have put me at about 6.5hours for the 180km. I’d done 1hr12min on the swim and probably would have about 15min transition. That would give me how much for the run? I don’t know how many of you have exercised hard and done maths in your head at the same time, but it probably took me about 2 hours to do that calculation. Funnily enough, even after I finished I didn’t know what time I’d done and in fact didn’t find out my splits and times until the next day.
With the Garmin issue under control, it was back to grinding out the bike and for the last 30km it seemed that the temperature just kept getting hotter and the winds stronger.
I promise here and now that I will never complain about a half ironman bike again!
Then in a little after 6.5hours it was back into transition. Bike catchers were at the ready and it was off the bike and into transition. I was laughing with another guy at the time (who had apparently been racing me, though I was completely ignorant) and we tried to enter the ladies change tent. Though for some unknown reason they wouldn’t let two smelly blokes in there! Not sure why.
Transition this time was a little more sedate. I’d lost a lot of positions on the ride so it wasn’t too frantic, but the ones that were there looked completely shagged. Maybe I looked the same, but whilst I was a little sore I felt fine.
Then reality set in and I was reminded that there is a 10min curfew and I needed to get my backside moving ‘literally’ (Actually I don’t think there is such a curfew, but the volunteers were just making sure I kept moving). Actually though, 10min was just enough time for another change of clothes, a quick sit down and time to tape my feet for the ‘bit of a run’ I had in front of me.
Now I was completely into uncharted waters. The most I’d ever ridden before IMWA was 140km, so I had no idea what was in store or how my body would react.
In fact in all my preparation I hadn’t thought about the marathon at all. My only thought was getting started and then doing the first lap.
So then it was out onto the run and after the bike WOW! did it feel good to be out and running. I knew I’d banked enough time with my swim/bike so I could walk the marathon if needed but the idea of another 6hours on my feet didn’t exactly fill me with joy.
But again, that was way ahead of me.
The first order of business was to find a rhythm. I started just trying to run, but with the heat I found that I was overheating rapidly and felt both sick and like I was going to faint.
So I dropped back to a 5min run/1min walk to see if that would work.
Again though, I was getting seriously heat stressed so I dropped back to a 1min run/1min walk. This I could manage and in fact was a bit too easy so for the remainder of the first lap I settled into a 2min run/1min walk combination.
But it was hot. As the saying from the movie Good Morning Vietnam goes, ‘It’s hot, damn hot, hotter than a …..”. The temperature was well into the 30’sC, we were on concrete and there was no shade. No matter what I did I kept overheating and feeling like I was going to pass out.
So at the next aid station I grabbed a couple of cups of ice, put one under my hat, started sucking on the other and dropped back into a fast power walk of around 9min/km.
I obviously I wasn’t the only one hurting, it seemed that almost everyone was walking. Yes there was the odd one jogging but the majority were walking. This surprised me as I had expected everyone to be still running at this point and in fact what really surprised me was that my power walk pace was actually faster than some of the people that were running. Go figure!
After the first lap, things started to settle into a rhythm. I knew I could keep the pace up indefinitely and things felt good. I also managed to do some more mental mathematical gymnastics and figured out that with 4 laps and lapping at 1hr30min per lap. With my swim/bike and a 6 hour marathon, I still had a couple of hours up my sleeve providing I didn’t do anything stupid, collapse or hurt myself.
To be honest, it felt really good walking, which is bizarre given the time I’d already spent on my legs this day. Brian’s coaching has obviously paid off magnificently.
And now I was walking I started to have some time and the opportunity to talk to those around me. One of the things that is great when everyone is hurting so much is that there is no pretense. You are happy to share your worst/grossest pain with those around you and generally you get a laugh.
We did have one guy seriously complaining that his run time would be at least 30min slower than expected due to the amount of fly’s he was carrying (they were disgusting all day). We on the other hand thought he should be disqualified due to outside assistance. Obviously the number of extra wings he had lifting him off the ground were giving him an unfair advantage.
It seemed funny at the time!
By the third lap (30km+), things were starting to look a little like a war zone. Lot’s of people were hurting. One guy stopped in front of me and couldn’t move another step. Two of us carried him to a nearby seat, made sure he was ok (ok that is a relative term), then left him to the volunteers. His day was done.
Then I was chatting to another guy from Malaysia and he suddenly screamed out and collapsed into my arms. Now that would be frightening on most days but after 10hours on my feet, taking not only my body weight but his as well almost sent my quads into convulsions. Thankfully I didn’t collapse.
Then to top it off a little later I was walking along chatting to a guy from Singapore and he just dropped at the side of me and started screaming.
One collapse would be interesting, two collapses was starting to get worrying, but by the third I was seriously worried that people were screaming and collapsing just so they didn’t have to talk to me anymore.
In this case though, it wasn’t a put on and the poor guy was obviously in agony. We (myself and another stunned runner) tried to get him on his feet, but getting up again certainly wasn’t something on his agenda. The poor guys was screaming and writhing on the floor in agony. The only coherent word we could get from him was ‘Ambulance’ and without a doubt I was in full agreement. We left him with a chaperone and I took off at a full run and got some of the volunteers (about 50m up the road) to come back and take care of him. I know they called the ambulance and he wasn’t there when I came back around the loop an hour later, but I would say that his day was done as well.
By the middle of the fourth lap (around 36km), I was starting to get a niggle in my right calf. I was still ok to walk, but it would start to seriously complain if I tried to run. So given the finish was not that far away. It was more powerwalking.
It was around this point that Janette, spotted me and walked with me for a little while but she was having to run to keep up and eventually I had to say goodbye as I powered along on my last lap. Despite me only being able to fast walk, I was consistent all day with the pace and it felt comfortable. In fact at around the 40km mark one volunteer commented that I still seemed to have a spring in my step as I was flying past stragglers and I have to admit that it felt great!
Then before I knew it I was at the finish line. I had dreamed of this moment all year. I’d imagined being the only one coming down the chute with the crowds cheering.
And you know it was better than I imagined. The crowd was cheering. The cacophony of sound was amazing. There were hand slaps and hoots from everyone as I came home.
All I could see was the bright lights at the end, a bit like what they say crossing over is like.
Before I knew it I was at the finish line. High fiving the announcer as he was saying
Scotty Longden ‘You are an IRONMAN!’
And it was done!
14hrs 24min 11sec
The catchers (as were all the volunteers all day) were fantastic. Before I knew it I had my towel and my finishers medal around my neck and was being shepherded to the back of the stage and some seats.
Then my body shutdown. I can say I’ve never fainted before, but my legs just gave up. I felt very sick and woozy. I was quickly sat down with my head between my legs and promptly vomitted for 5 minutes straight. Not exactly what I’d expected for my first few minutes as an Ironman.
The little run at the end had obviously been a little too much!
But not just for me, it was like a war zone, there were quite a few people passed out and being wheeled away in wheelchairs. So, all in all my little episode was mild by comparison to others. In fact Bruce (thank you Bruce) was obviously happy with me as he went back to the finish line to repeat the process with the next happy finisher (who came in incoherent wrapped in a space blanket apparently).
So, what went right!
1. I finished
2. I finished
3. I finished etc etc
Seriously though my pacing was great all day
My experience in Singapore earlier this year meant that I recognised the problem with heat stress early and dropped back to a walk to conserve energy
Nutrition seemed to be a bit off, but I managed to adapt and it worked really well given the circumstances of heat etc
My gear (even with last minute changes) worked perfectly
My shoes and feet were no problems at all
My recovery was excellent and even found myself going out for a swim Monday morning.
Areas for improvement
Weight needs to come off. I am still too heavy to cycle and run and I am sure this was also a major issue with me in the heat. This will be the next major focus for me over the next couple of weeks.
I must thank my dedicated support crew. Janette, Daniel, Emma, Susan, Kate, Kate and Wyn. Without their help, support and constant encouragement on what was a very long and tiring day, I’m not sure that I would have made it!