Saturday, 17 January 2009

Ironman Western Australia

Race Week: We flew to Sydney a week before the race to give me enough time to adjust to the time change and see some of Sydney as well. It took about 2 nights to get on track and get use to Australian time, and by Wednesday, it was if Australia time was my normal time. The flight to Sydney was ok, and we had a nearly empty plane from London to Singapore, so we stretched out and got some good rest. The only issue with the transportation was that I locked my bike case, and the Qantas people wanted to inspect it, so we spent a stressful 30+ minutes trying to find the right person to give the key to for the inspection. I was surprisingly calm, but Angie had her moments, and in the end, the bike made it on the plane and arrived with no other problems.
Once we got checked into the hotel, I put on my running kit and did a short easy run on the park that leads to the harbor next to our hotel. The run was pretty uneventful until I stepped off the curb and into an oncoming car…policeman no less. The collision was not bad, except for the car, which had lots of big dents from my shoulder, elbow and hip. On my end, the only injury I seemed to receive was a bruise to my forearm from the mirror and a bruised toe. The policeman made me sit down for a minute, as he thought I might be really hurt and just oblivious, but nothing changed, and I headed back to the hotel where I shared my little adventure… I guess the lesson there is to be extra careful and follow all traffic laws when running in a strange city after being awake for the better part of 36 hours. After that day, there were no more collisions and the week went along smoothly with a nice run the next morning, and a good short swim in the nearby 50meter pool (one of many in Sydney…compared to the one in all of London…arghh!).

The next day started off with another run, and then we made our way to Biondi beach, where I swam in the saltwater pool that sits on the ocean (such a cool pool!) with the waves crashing into the pool at times. After some more time in the sun (super powerful sun that it was under that ozoneless sky!), we fought our way onto what seemed to be the one bus of the day back to central Sydney and had a nice dinner. Speaking of dinner, eating was an issue for me, as I managed to get my weight down to a fairly lean 61.5kg before we left London, but during the time in Sydney, I am sure I put on a solid kilogram, if not more.

Overall, Sydney was fantastic, and the harbor is truly spectacular, and the beaches and pools are amazing. So, with that experience behind us (an in my ever growing belly), we caught our next flight to the west coast of Australia. We landed in Perth, got our bags (no bike issues!), picked up our car (what a nice lady at the Hertz desk!) and proceeded to get lost immediately upon leaving the airport. I guess years of using GPS has left us a bit too confident in our abilities to take a map that was the scale that showed about 3 roads in Perth and find our way to Busselton…not likely! Anyway, after some lunch and a new map, we found our way to the right highway and made our way south.

Upon arriving in Busselton, we found the city to be really excited about the race (with all the signs and banners) and there were loads of lean fit people walking around, creeping me out. The first thing we did was drive to the pier, and wow, is that thing long! From the beach it looks like it goes out 3-4 miles (actually about 1.2miles), and the water could not be clearer or more inviting…which made for a strange feeling of trepidation and anticipation all at once. We then stopped in to register, which was a pleasant experience and also got my energy pumping to see the transition area and finishing chute. Of course our map issue rejoined the conversation and we spent the next ½ hour looking for our little beach B&B, which is hard to believe as Busselton is pretty small and probably doesn’t have enough roads or size to fill up an hour of driving, which says something about our directional efficiency…

The B&B was just off the beach about 5km north of transition, and on the bike course and we were met by our host, Jane, upon arrival. I quickly went to work on getting my bike together (no problems ) and then did a one hour ride on the course with some FTP efforts followed by a short transition run along the beach. On the ride, I saw many others out training and my power was flowing a bit too hot with more juice going into my FTP efforts (more like V02) than a smart man would allow. Oh well, they were short and I was off the bike before I knew it. Run was so short, there wasn’t much to notice other than the endless beach and fantastic ocean. The evening ended with the most disappointing meal of the whole trip (except airplane food). The next day was Friday and two days before the race, so my game face started to appear at breakfast, which was not good…after another hour long ride on the course with some FTP/V02 efforts I stretched and made my way to breakfast where I felt the blood start pumping…see our B&B hosted several IM athletes and we all had breakfast together, which put me on edge as there were a couple of guys that looked to be potential competitors and hence my game face issue. Anyway, not much was said that morning and we quickly ate and made our way to the pier for a nice open water swim (first swim in my wetsuit since Zurich in July…not really great, but swimming in the bogs around London is not enticing). Anyway, to the swim, which was amazing and I felt really good, so who needs to practice OW swimming in a wetsuit!

I saw thousands of fish just under me and even a nice and big stingray, which was far enough under me that I just enjoyed looking at it as I passed and it kept its distance from me. The swim ended with me swimming in to the swim finish chute to get a feel for the sun angle and details of the water exit. Ok, no problems there. Saturday started with another short ride to confirm that, yes, my back tire would not hold air long enough to give me confidence of completing the race…so, I decided to do the most dreaded thing and replace my rear tubular tire the day before the race….I took extra care, and thankfully my spare was fully stretched and pre-glued, so I just had to prep the rim, let it set…then on it went. Long story short there, no issues on race day with the tire, so I avoided the curse I guess. Dinner Saturday night was a pizza and some pasta, which was excellent (specifically the pizza…love Gena’s pizza!) Sleep did not come easily, but once it did, I slept sound and woke up feeling good.

Race Day: Got up around 4am (ouch), and quickly got dressed and had a better breakfast than in Zurich. I avoided the muffins and pastries, and had some juice, banana, yoghurt w/muesli and some toast. Coffee as well, shocker! Made our way to the transition area around 5am, and found it a hive of activity. Since I had already dropped of my bike and T1/T2 bags, I only needed to check the placing of my T1 bag, then set up my SRM on the bike, get the tires topped off (always a bit nerve racking to have to wait for someone to lend their pump…everyone always seems so tense…not sure why J). Once the bike was happy and my nutrition was in place (I had two bottles of water, one of Powerade, 6 or so gels, and a Powerbar on the bike, along with a gel in my race top, and I had a special needs bag with more gels, and another bar for midway through the bike). From there, it was time to drop off my street clothes for post race pick up (kind of felt like an assembly line, which is good and everything went so smooth!), then put on the wetsuit and head to the water.

Swim: We had colored caps to seed us on the swim based on our own predicted swim time. I chose a cap that put me in the 2nd group, and so I was right up near the front and somehow dead center by the time the gun went off. We went off from a deep water start, so there was no race from the beach and the chaos that involves, but there was plenty of foam and flying arms over, on and around me for much of the way out. I started a bit fast, but quickly settled into a steady groove, with quite a few interruptions as I chose a path that was fairly popular. I noticed pretty early on that the self seeding system was not too accurate as I passed loads of the ‘fast swimmers’ in white caps (good feeling), but got passed by many of the swimmers in the groups behind me (not a great feeling). As noted in my swim earlier in the week, the jetty is loooooooooong and it seemed like far more than 30min getting to the end, but I got there in just under 29min (I think at least, since I only just glanced at my watch)…but right after a congested turn, disaster struck and my right calf seized up like a holy terror. I immediately stopped swimming and grabbed my leg, thankfully the wetsuit and salt water kept me afloat or I would have been in a real crap situation….needless to say, and massaging the muscle and slowly kicking and loosening up my ankles and feet, it gave away and I was able to get moving again. I am not sure how long I waded there, but when I got moving there were hardly any of the cap colors from my group or the fast group around me, and lots of the later groups colors were present…oh well, what is a couple of minutes I suppose. Off I swam and settled back into a nice rhythm, passing a few people and swimming on the feet of a couple others for some time. I noticed a girl walking on jetty heading back to the shore, and she was walking the same speed as I was swimming as I saw her nearly the whole way back. It was strange, and yet, comforting for some reason. The comfort didn’t last long, as my left calf seized up about half way back, and I went through the same process to free it up, but had to be even more careful as my right calf was still very tense and so by the time I got going I was seriously disappointed and concerned why this issue was happening as my swim prep was good with the exception of OW swims in the wetsuit (might that be something to consider????)
T1: I did make it to the shore, and up the ramp through the showers (to rinse off the saltwater…very nice feeling), grabbed my T1 bag, then into the tent a quick change. A very helpful volunteer stripped my wetsuit off and stuffed all my swim gear in the bag, and all I had to do was put on my socks, shoes, number, and helmet and I was off and running for my bike. As is usual, I took a very brief survey of the bikes still in transition and noticed about 50% or more seemed to be in place, but I also sensed something new and quickly decided a pit stop would be wise….that over, grabbed the bike, did a nice flying mount and off I went for 180km under a beautiful calm sunny morning sky.
Bike: The one thing about the bike is that it is so long, that much of it fades into oblivion as there is so much that is repetitive throughout (drink, eat a gel, drink, eat a banana, stretch back, drink, eat, etc.) Mentally, I was focused on my power, cadence and keeping aero for 95% of the time, stretching only in the corners or turnarounds. I felt really good on the bike, and passed loads of people and soon saw the leading two groups of top AG riders (just before each turn around…they were about 10-20min ahead of me I would guess) and the gap stabilized on the 2nd lap. I missed my special needs bag on the 2nd lap, but still had gels, and was enjoying lots of bananas, so no real worries came about, but I would definitely need to get that bag on the third lap. I also lost the speed signal to my computer and had to calculate my speed using km markers over the last 70 odd kilometers. As I mentioned above, the weather was lovely, and seemed to be nice and mild, not to hot, nor windy, but in the last hour or so saw the winds pick up and start to put a bit of a hurt on my speed. I am glad I was off the bike course in the time I was, as the winds got worse and those out there for 6+ hours really had a challenge in their rides. Overall, the bike course was good, and I rode it well, right on plan, but an ominous sign appeared with about 20km left, as both of my quads starting to cramp up and fatigue was starting to be very noticeable. I knew that my quads would likely loosen up if I gave them a few minutes of easy effort, and they did. I also knew at that point that running a 7min/mile pace would be unlikely do to my fried quads. I got very low at that moment and really tried to think positively about the possibility of improving in the marathon.

T2: I got into transition nice and smooth with an easy jog into the tent (I love handing my bike off and just cruising to the tent, without having to rack the bike!)…a quick change with a manhandling effort by two volunteers to put sunscreen on me, and off I went.

Run: I quickly felt my stomach seize up in the familiar pain I had from my first year of triathlons, and was beside myself with the idea of running a marathon on fried quads with a stomach that felt like it was tearing in half with every step. The run course was a three loop affair that had a long out and back portion that was exposed along the beach. It was flat and had lots of people on most the course with some interesting entertainment (sign calling a tiny 1meter lump in the trail called Mount Everest!) and lots of music at places. I even overheard two ladies discussing the male runners as they went by with comments like, ‘oh yeah, I’ll take him home tonight’, and ‘he would be a keeper or perhaps a nice boy toy…’ Anyways, fun aside, I was in agony and could not believe I had 42k or 26.2miles to run… Once I got to the long turn around point on the first lap, I had decided that was it, I was done. I was so low on myself at that moment as my goals and dreams were getting crushed and the prospect of running for 4, or 5 or possibly 6 hours lay ahead of me. I decided I would try to continue until I got back to the transition area where I would find a race official and quit. Once I got back to the transition area, I stopped and walked for a bit, then sat down and searched my soul for the strength to carry on, and not let myself, Angie or any of my friends and family, who were following my progress, down. I gave in, and looked up for an official, I was done. Funny thing is, there aren’t that many actual race officials, only lots of volunteers, and I told myself if I was going to quit, then I would have to say it to a race official…kept running a bit, still no official in sight… well, just keep running until you see one, I told myself. I did, and the next thing I knew it, I was a third of the way through my second lap when I saw Angie. I was still hurting with every step and my progress was in fits and when I saw her, all the emotions of the day came flooding through me. She told me to be strong and if I really was hurt, then I should quit, but that I should try to see how it felt if I could keep going, she started chanting strong mind, strong legs, strong will. We agreed that I would run out to the far out turn around, and then I would look for her on the way back and take stock there. Once I committed to that, I began to feel better…at least my stomach eased up and the pain diminished. I started to run fairly strong, and felt good again, but my legs never had anything really, and even when I overcame the stomach cramping, my running speed never really returned. I was also beginning to really feel tired and started to walk the aid stations, with increasing casualness…but I did keep going, and eventually finished the second lap, and made it back to the near turn around where I saw some of those runners who were just coming onto the run course and were already walking (I felt for them, as that would be a tough place to be with all the wind on the bike, then faced with a scorching, windy marathon….yikes). Very glad I was on the last mile at that point, and I decided to put my head down and run it properly, dead legs or not. I crossed the line elated and exhausted and immediately collapsed into the arms of two gracious volunteers. The quickly escorted me into the medical tent where a doc took a look at me and asked me how I was doing….I really didn’t know how to answer that and thought the question was a bit off track considering that doing an Ironman is hard on the body, soul, and mind and most people are exhausted or worse when they finish. I don’t think anyone at that moment really feels good physically. Nonetheless, I said I was fine, just a bit tired and would be happy to just rest for a while…

Post Race: Angie was quickly by my side and helped me, she also photographed me some and I eventually got cleaned up and we made our way back to the B&B. As in Zurich, my stomach was a mess after the race, and food was not an option, so I just crawled into the bed and took a nice 3-4 hour nap. Once I got back up, I felt much better and the hunger from the many thousands of calorie deficit I had ran that day made its presence felt. We decided to get another pizza and pick up my bike and kit from the transition area. Once we returned, there were some of the others back from their races and we compared days and experiences. Sleep came easily that night!
Hindsight 20/20 thoughts: So, I did the race in 9 hours and 48 minutes, which was nearly 45 minutes slower than my goal. I knew going into the race, that 9hours would be the time I needed to qualify for Kona, and my plan was to try to do the race in these times: Swim – 1 hour, Bike – 4:45 hours, Run - 3:15 hours including transitions. I actually did the swim in 1:06, the bike in 4:53, and the run in 3:43. The swim was likely not too far off of my goal time, considering the two stops I made, and the bike was close, but the winds made the last hour much slower. The big problem was the run, and really my overall fitness. Going into Switzerland, I was very fit and had the fitness to go much faster than I did, but because of the conditions, I could not get enough calories to run near my potential. In Busselton, my fitness was significantly lower and it showed on the run as I was able to get in the energy to support my needs, but just did not have the fitness to ride the speed I did on the bike and then run a good marathon. The key to a fast IM time is to come off the bike feeling good and strong. That requires good pacing on the bike and for a fast time; it requires excellent bike fitness and power. Cycling is my sport, so I am quite disappointed that my bike fitness is what really let me down, or should I say, my dedication to training on the bike really let me down. I guess the good news is that I have done two Ironman races and both were sub 10 hours, which most people would consider the number of significance. I know I have it in me to go under 9 hours (that is a huge thing to say, but I believe I can get there), and will see how close I can come in 2009.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome report Jack. Once again the drama of the race and your reporting keeps me on the edge of my seat. What an amazing coach Angie is--my favorite part of the story. I remember my first Tri (Cap Tex Triathlon "First Tri") which was infinitesimal compared to an Ironman, my coach was there cheering me on in the last mile of the run. What a difference it made. To this day I'm surprised how another person's words can give another person power when they are at their most depleted. Very strange/scary/amazing.

    By the way, that coach was Desiree, who had come in first for women in the 2005 Cap Tex Tri. Cool.

    Awesome job--I know you can hit your numerous goals this year! Can't wait to read/hear more stories.