Port Macquarie Half Ironman 2011

Well ‘Oh my Goodness’ wasn’t quite what I was saying during the Port Macquarie Half. Perhaps other words are more apt, but this is a family friendly blog so I’ll try to refrain. Without a doubt the race was the toughest thing I’ve ever done and it has taken me all week to recover.

But as with anything that is hard, it has also been extremely rewarding and looking back it was well worth the effort.

Backing up a bit. The past couple of weeks have been a bit torturous, injuring myself 3 weeks out didn’t do much for the confidence and I have to say, despite a brave face to most around me, I was seriously worried as to whether my foot and calf would hold up. Especially worrying was that after a DNF at Falls Creek, I didn’t want to follow up with a second DNF. So whilst I had nothing but support from all the wonderful people around me, that little voice in the back of my head and the self doubts was going overboard all last week. At times like these though it is wonderful to have a support group and a coach to keep you level. Brian’s wise words “Keep your focus – deal with the controllables and ignore the rest”, really helped me keep the focus.

Onto Port Macquarie, what a beautiful spot. Perched on the NSW mid north coast, it like a large holiday town. When Ironman moves into town, it’s not just a holiday town but a party town. The local support and organisation was amazing. The only thing of concern is that the weather wasn’t playing ball. In fact the rain had been torrential all week and the winds were gale force.

Come race day though. The day opened crisp and clear. 467, Half Ironman competitors lined up ready to rock and roll. Before starting we had to wait until the last Ironman competitor left the water. (Both the Ironman and Half Ironman races were being run at the same time) Now that was AWE INSPIRING. The last competitor to leave the water after a 3.8km swim before the cutoff was a lady in her mid/late 60’s. The support for her was amazing. The crowd errupted with cheers and claps. I hope I’m still as fit and competitive in a few years time. For me I got goose pimples seeing her trot off to complete her 180km bike ride and a 42.2km run.

The 1.9km Swim
Back to our little race, all 467 competitors were herded down the ramp and into the water. Thankfully I’d swam part of the course on Saturday morning so I was prepared for the current and water temperature. If you can imagine 467 competitors all crammed into an area the size of a netball pitch you get an idea of how packed it was. No wave starts for us, except for letting the professionals go 5 minutes early. The gun went off and so did we in a single mass aqua rugby group. Previously I’ve been worried about the swim starts. Maybe I’m getting used to them. Maybe I’m becoming just a little crazier and confident, but I actually enjoyed the swim. The beginning of the swim is akin to being thrown into a washing machine, being kicked, punched, pushed under and swum over all at the same time. That said, providing you keep your cool, defend your space and watch out for errant, feet, legs, fists and arms, it isn’t all that bad. (Though the bruises the next day told a different story) Once the race gets going the field spreads a little and you can settle into a good stroke.

For me the three biggest frustrations for the swim were

  • Swimmers who couldn’t swim straight and weaved in front of me, each time almost kicking me in the head
  • The current was strong on the way out and made the first half of the swim a bit of a grind. Came back like Flipper though
  • For some reason my wetsuit filled with water with about 100m to go. At first I thought I’d ripped the right arm off my wetsuit, though on reflection and due to the fact my wetsuit was in one piece on exiting the water, it is highly likely that the zip came slightly undone at the back. Not a big issue but did slow me down slightly.

The end of the 1.9km swim was a bit of a challenge as we had to fight a strong current for the last 200m and I made it out of the water in 36:28. A full 5 seconds faster than at Gold Coast six months ago. After all the training I’d done I was hoping for a better improvement, however

a) I was alive
b) I’d used way less energy than at Gold Coast

The 90km Bike

H’m the bike. Somewhere in the brochure I’m sure I read, slight undulations out of Port Macquarie, a long flat section and a couple of bumps in the area of Bonnie Hills. I can definitely say that I wouldn’t like to see that writer’s definition of what he/she thinks hills are. I also suspect that the writer didn’t get out of the luxury of a leather seated 4wd. I regularly train in the hillier areas of Victoria and can I say the brochure should have read. Short lung busting hills out of Port Macquarie, then lots of bigger hills, then some even bigger hills, then more hills, followed by a very short flattish bit where we’ll add a 40kmh head wind so if you stop pedalling you’ll be blown backwards. Then more bloody hills in Bonnie Hills (note even the town name has HILLS in it), followed by a gentle ride around the coast into more headwinds. At the 45km turnaround point we have then organised for the wind to change direction so that you have to repeat the whole process in reverse without the benefit of a tailwind. Yep I’m sure that is closer to the description I’d have in my brochure. Perhaps they were worried that if they used mine no one would turn up.

So the bike was what I like to term ‘Interesting!’ Without having done a proper reconnissence of what I was getting myself into I went out WAY too hard. Though for the first half I made excellent progress. Averaging 29kmh, even with the hills. (For the Australians amongst us Tony Abbott averaged 27.5kmh but he did the thing twice. I must take my hat off to him) The only real highlight on the way out was when I got a bit peeved with a woman on her $12000 Argon bike who made a snide remark as she came past me because I’d overtaken her a few minutes before. (I think that she was a bit annoyed that someone on a $1000 special had left her behind) It’s rare that I get upset over these things as it is so unnecessary. In every other instance I’ve felt nothing but support from every other competitor in the race. It’s part of the bond that makes doing long distance Tri’s so fantastic and fabulous. But for once I let the blood boil a bit and I chased her down. I was very pleasant as I passed her again, left her behind and never saw her again. Whilst the satisfaction was good (actually really good 🙂 ), I shouldn’t have let it worry me and stayed with my race plan.

The way back was a different story however. Unfortunately the tail wind seemed to evaporate and it was just a hard slog. Emotions run hot on a long distance event such as this. Sometimes you get incredible highs and incredible lows and you can rise and crash repeatedly within the space of a few minutes. Emotionally I was a wreck and tears hit on a couple of occasions. That being said, I gathered strength from remembering why I’m doing this, not just for myself but to help the kids with VCFS. I just had to think of Emma and strength came anew.

For the whole ride my Nutrition and were hydration good, though I did feel a bit light headed and shaky at times. Thankfully aid stations were reasonably regular and I have to say all of the volunteers were fantastic. There were over 2500 volunteers out on the course, giving their time so that we could succeed. Absolutely amazing.

Then Mathew Flinders Drive arrived! In the book it says a little hill before you come back into Port Macquarie. I drove up it on Saturday, just to check it out. For the RAV4 I was driving, it was no problem. Simply change down a few gears and push on the accelerator.

On a pushbike, after the ride I’d had, I’m sad to report that the wheels fell off completely. Well actually if the wheels had fallen off my bike it would have been way more pleasant. I was taken by surprise by how steep this hill actually was. Half way up both of my legs cramped and left me in the ‘Oh shit’ position. Stop pedalling and roll backwards and fall off or push and cramp. At the same time there seemed like about a thousand spectators standing at the side of the road screaming and cheering. It was just like you see on TV at the Tour deFrance. So the choices, stop and fall off in front of a thousand people or let ego rain and push through the cramps. WOW THAT HURT. I have no idea now how I made it to the top, but I do remember a world of PAIN!

Thankfully things levelled out a bit at the top and moving into my small chain ring it was time to spin and give my legs a chance to recover (They didn’t). Then, before I knew it I was back in Port Macquarie coming down the hill topping 65+kmh with thousands of spectators lining the sides of the street cheering, ringing cowbells and generally shouting encouragement. Really though I was spent, I have no idea how the full Ironmen/women go back and do that course a second time. It did make me realise how long the journey is going to be.

The 21.1km Run

A world of pain

Back into Transition and change the bike gear for running gear. Calf guards went on to protect the injury and off at a sprint. Well actually…. no! 🙂 Not a sprint, more fear, trepidation and a Cliff Young shuffle (for those of you that don’t know Cliff Young was an ultra runner in his 60’s who trained by shuffling along in Wellingtons/Gum Boots.) I do remember not wanting to start, but knew I just had to. Out of transition my Quads cramped immediately I tried to run. So I tried a stretch. Perhaps not the most sensible thing I could have done as my Hamstrings melted down as well. Walking was no good because my foot hurt.

After a few minutes I did find a sort of jogging/shuffle that seemed to work. Whilst my Quads cramped with each footstep, I could still run. Yes it hurt, but it was bearable. That was until the 5km mark when my calf decided to join the party and cramp as well. By this stage it was tears again, but again I gained strength by thinking of the VCFS kids and almost immediately the low point lifted.

The run was two laps of Port Macquarie (the Ironmen do four), but by this stage nearly everyone was in some world of hurt. The camaraderie at this point in a race is amazing. The encouragement for those that are struggling limitless. I can’t remember the slaps on the back I gave people saying ‘Come on you can do it’ nor remember how many I received myself. For some reason I had to chuckle when about 10km into the run I heard someone singing ‘Run Rabbit, Run Rabbit, Run, Run, Run’ and everyone joined in. Perhaps in the future I’ll use that as a motto!

By the end of the second lap, we were allowed to finish. Despite all the pain, all the adversity, everything disappeared when the finish chute arrived. There is a picture of me running with a smile on my face. In this case a picture definitely says a thousand words!

Finish time 6hours 8min 26sec.

Am I happy with the result.

In two words

YES ECSTATIC

By every measure I’ve improved over the last six months. Working with Brian has been a Godsend. Despite a much tougher course, my swim time was faster, my bike time faster (3min) and my run time was faster (17min). My average heart rate has fallen by 10 beats and calories expended has dropped from 6181 to 4600 for the session.

What it has made me realise though is that there still is a long way to go to achieve a full Ironman next year. I am in absolute AWE and INSPIRED those that completed the Ironman last week. Seeing them come down the Ironman finish chute (some of them 17hours after starting) was absolutely amazing to see. But perhaps that is for another post.