Well this was the A race of the season and I was confident that it would be a good race. Known as a one of the fastest races on the official Ironman-race circuit for it’s wet suit swim in calm ocean waters up one side of a 1.8m jetty and down the other, a flat bike course on top quality “hot-seal” roads and a flat coastal run. As I’ve progressed as a triathlete I’ve come to realise that with a non-existent kick in the swim, wet suit swims are good for me and a heavy frame flat courses are better on the bike and cooler weather is the key for the run (not that you get many of those in Asian or Australian triathlons), but the only times I’ve run well is in cool weather.
Pre-race I’d spent the past month in Australia, in Sydney and the Hunter Valley catching up with family and training. New South Wales had its hottest November in years with many days in excess of 40 degrees, which made it tough for training. I was keeping a close eye in the weather in Perth the whole time and it was consistently much cooler – almost daily 23-25 degrees “Perfect” I thought. Then the Tuesday before the race while watching the late night News they were doing the forward forecast and predicted “23 in Perth for Wednesday and Thursday, before a high pressure hits from the East and temperature will rise to 30 on Friday and 37 on Saturday”. “Nooooooooo…..” I said in slow motion, stopped in my tracks while heading to brush my teeth. We flew out the next day to cool weather in Perth and drove the 2 ½ hours south to the race town of Busselton, a very pretty coastal town, with very friendly locals, all excited about the race and justifiably proud of their town. The next couple of days consisted of the usual registration, carbo loading party and a town full of extremely fit looking people checking each other out and fighting for seats in restaurants and cafes.
The day before the race we had a carbo-loading plan from our online coach Alun Woodward from Ironguides who suggested we eat two 200grams bars of pure chocolate and wash it down with a litre or more of soft drink. Given I’d probably never bought a bar of pure chocolate in my life and had not drunk full sugar soft drink in years this was something different, but might as well trust the experts we are paying for so Vanessa and I gave it our best and tuckered in. We had to finish eating by 2pm and we then went in to check in our bikes and race day change bags (after brushing our teeth). It was quite fun to eat this stuff as a novelty. We went to pre-race ‘weigh-in’ as instructed in the race office and with my thongs and light shorts on I hit a hefty 88.7kgs – feeling decidedly fat I flicked through the sheets of competitors and saw past winner Jason Shortis and another Pro who does an Ironman every other weekend Petr Vabrousek also above 88kg, which made me feel slightly better. Still had the nagging thought that hot races are not my go, but was determined to give it my best.
We got up in good time and as I drove out of our hotel 6kms south of Busso we pulled out directly behind a NSW plated Carolla with a number plate that read “MDOT” (used to describe the Ironman brand logo) – no doubt Busselton was Ironman town for this week- but I had a sneaking suspicion that this bloke might live in Wankerville as the car had a 1.2litre engine and he had driven it all the way from NSW - I wondered if he drove it just to show the plate of around town. We went on and picked up my parent’s who’d come from Sydney for the race, which was great and for once made it to the swim start in plenty of time.
Swim 57 minutes
Despite the predicted scorching temperatures, the mornings and evenings here were very cool, and the water was a slightly chilly 20 degrees. They had a mass swim start with the 1300 or-so competitors seeded according to their predicted swim time on entry forms. I couldn’t remember what I’d written but I was in the fastest section (blue caps) in front of the whites, then yellow and orange.The start line was too deep to stand at, so after a quick swim out to warm up I went back to the white cap area to stand up for two minutes before the start, as soon as I put my foot down I felt a sharp bite on my big toe, unmistakably a crab. I checked the toe – no blood – so I took it as a good sign something to fire me up before the race. The starts separated by age group are generally less rough swims, but there were 120 Singaporeans here for the race, and I’d overheard a group of them talking in their mix of Chinese and English and I understood little except that they’d used the word ‘breaststroke’ several times – taking me back to the Singapore half Ironman that has several start waves separated by 5 minutes which saw you run into about 100 Singaporeans breast stroking four or five wide from the previous wave start and getting frog-kicked to kingdom-come fort the whole swim. So I was happy with the mass start to avoid those problems again.
I lined up on the right; as I breathe to the left (as per coach Alun’s instructions) and started pretty well, feeling fluid and quick right from the get go. It was a rough swim, and I was getting bumped, kicked and hit all over the place. Every time I tried to get on someone’s feet to draft, someone else was already there and they shooed me off like the alpha-male seagull that got to the chip first. The water was crystal clear; unfortunately the jetty was being refurbished as I hear spectators normally line the whole length of the jetty cheering you on. It seemed like this jetty was custom made for a triathlon, as the length was perfect. My mind was wandering late in the way out and I found myself surrounded by white caps, which was probably not a good sign. “Better concentrate a bit more,” I thought and I put the hammer down for a bit and moved up into the middle of the blue-caps. For all the swimming theories when it comes down to it you there’s no escaping that you just have to pull bloody hard under the water to go fast. I turned and headed home and was in a great mood - thinking how lucky I was to be out here in this beautiful ocean, doing what I love in a great country with a great wife who I love so much on a great day – there are so many people going through very tough times and you never no what is around the corner - not that I think you should go through life patting yourself on the back but it's nice to stand back and be content sometimes and it just so happened that I really felt appreciative for how lucky I was during this swim - a lovely moment.I made one more move late on in the swim as my shoulders felt good – As I came out of the water, I was almost sorry the swim was over, I was enjoying it so much.
Into transition area 1 and I had these bladdy long compression socks to get on, which took ages – especially as one was inside-out – after my Mum always said for years we should turn our socks the right way before washing I had a wry smile and thought Mum – that’s mistake number one today. I ran out and straight past my bike – (mistake number 2), but soon enough was out on the road.
The bike is a three 60km lap course and this day the winds were up from the get-go and never let up. I was soon contorting my body out of the wind behind the aero-bars and got into a nice rhythm. I was under instructions not to go hard in the first 40kms and try to come home hard. I had one guy pass me early on doing about 42kms into the wind - I’d become a pretty good time-trial cyclist in the last 8 months, and it’d been a while since I’d been passed on the flat so I had to tell myself to calm down and let him go – thinking that there are going to be some of the best Aussie time-trialist here and I was going to be getting passed a few times today. As we reached the first turn around point I saw I was about 2 minutes behind the lead pack – a massive pace line of about 30 cyclists. As I was pretty much riding by myself I though jeez I wish I was in that line – doing it easy at 39kph without ever having to have your nose into the wind. Eventually another bloke came up to me and we worked together for the first lap taking 5 minute turns in the lead – but we were both good about staying the legal 7 metres behind. We still couldn’t bridge the gap to the lead group despite a few strong efforts,that took a bit out of both of us. Late on the first lap my buddy tossed his empty bidon approaching the aid station, but not far from his bike and it rolled on an arc right into my path. I already had one hand out to get my drink, but just got it back onto the handle bars before it went straight into my path and under both wheels – phew the volunteers at the aid station all gasped – that could have been ugly.
I had my aero helmet and visor with air-cooling cap, top and arm-sleeves to do my best to stay cool and the temprature was really heating up. 2XU is my favourite brand but them and most of the Aussie tri-gear manufacturers (Scody, Cannibal, Jaggad) have been too occupied with making race clothes that go through water quickly and not how cool they keep you – crazy when most races are in warm weather and you wear a wet suit in the swim. The Americans (De Soto) and Danish (Craft) have led the innovations in cooling clothes, but judging by all the white race gear and arm sleeves I saw on the day, the Aussies will catch on soon. I picked up water at every aid station and wet my front and sleeves and tried to find the hole in the helmet with the bidon to get water on the skullcap. Problem was if you missed with your first stab at the hole it’d close the nozzle and nothing would come out when you finally found it and squeezed. This caused me to spend way to long sitting up after aid stations and was slowing me down, so I tried to squeeze under my visor from the front of the helmet but this was pretty tough too. Eventually I saw somwone wet form the back and adopted that more successful tactic from then on – mistake No. 3….
Onto the second lap and a 195cm 100kg muscle bound unit (No. 411 from Kagoshima Japan as I later found out) came up us and went straight by – my buddy and I tried to hold on thinking he could drag us to the lead pack, but I realised it was using too much juice and backed off. He did get onto them but I later saw him walking most of the marathon. My riding partner held onto him for longer than me, so I was back to smashing away in the strong wind by myself unable to bridge the gap and to make matters worse another massive pack had formed 3 minutes behind me – I was in no-man’s land with big packs 3minutes in front and behind, promising myself to swim more often and forget about the compression socks so I wouldn’t miss the lead-pack. It was like an Olympic distance draft-legal race in that regard – miss the lead pack on the bike and your day is done.
Onto the last lap and I caught Charlotte Paul, the women’s pro who was one of the pre-race favourites and past winner who I met at a Noosa tri camp her husband ran- a great girl who I wanted to win so encourage her to tack on behind me, which she did until the last 4kms. I’d worked pretty hard on the bike, certainly much harder than that bloody lead peleton that never broke up, but my take is if riding is your strength there’s no point in riding like a pussy in hope it’ll magically make you a better runner.
I knew this was going to be a tough day from here on. The heat was brutal at this stage, over 43 under foot apparently and it did not relent the whole time I was on the run. The run was a three x 14km run up and down the coast on a narrow concrete path. The locals were out in force having parties along the path and giving plenty of encouragement by name (that was written on the race numbers), this was great as the heat was really oppressive and many of them were out all afternoon in it with us together. There was even an outdoor wedding that went on right next to the race, with smelly triathletes peeing on themselves almost part of the guest-list. The first lap was tough and I was consistently passed and feeling pretty crap. I was trying to run the whole race today (albeit slowly) and shuffled through the first 14kms at about 10 km/h. I was taking a lot of salt tabs and drinking coke at every aid station, wetting everywhere I could with water and shoving ice wherever I could. The second lap I felt a bit better and was able to run faster and was passing a few people for a change. I was on target for about 9.50, which I though was not too bad considering the wind and heat. The third lap I thought I was close enough to the end to not worry as much about the salt tabs and was running through every second aid station, but the cups of coke were getting smaller and I was feeling rougher and rougher. I was down to aiming for less than 10 hours and with 12kms to go I just had to do 6minute k’s to make it, which I thought was possible. I felt a rumble in my bowels with 8kms to go and thought I could hold on to the finish, but 6kms out realised that was not possible and I wanted to enjoy the finish chute, so stopped at the port-a-loo. With 4kms to go I was still just on target, running 6 minutes per k, but all of sudden felt really terrible and had to walk. After going 10.00:53 in Vineman I'd wanted to rewind the clock to the last 5kms of the run many times to tell myslef to go harder, and here I was again - The stereotypical moment of truth I'd wished for and I was walking. The run is such a mind game – and the usual thoughts of “why am I bothering with this – costs a fortune, so many sacrifices, never going to be a world beater, what’s the point, wishing it was over etc etc made it tough. Am I really struggling because of exhaustion/hydration/lack of salt or am I just mentally weak? Bloody mind-games.
I got a boost from some of the pathside parties playing dance music that I’d been boogying to on previous laps and they could see I was doing it tough and got me back running by offering me beers and telling me to keep dancing a couple of hundred metres before the finishing chute. In hindsight I realise my problems in the end weren't mental, but I’d become dehydrated by switching of the nutrition, salt and hydration too soon thinking I had enough in the tank to get me home. Mistake No. 4 and probably my biggest mistake of the day.
Once I crossed the line I must have looked pretty bad as they helped me through to the rest / triage area, where I sat down and guzzled two can of Sunkist soft drink and then laid down on the grass. They were thinking about sending me into the medical tent when I got up and had to vomit, I almost went in a large flip top wheely bin, but realised it was full of bottled water and ice, not garbage at the last minute and luckily pivoted and found one that looked the same from the outside, but was actually a rubbish bin – a classic bright orange power-spew that everyone in the room had a great view of. That caused my helpers to cancel the call for the doctor and start looking for an Exorcist. I stood up and had pretty bad shaking and difficulty walking so went into the med-tent and the weighed me – 84kgs with shoes and wet clothes, so I’d lost probably 5kgs. The nurse told me most others that had lost that much were on IV drips. But after 30 minutes lying and chatting with some lovely local volunteers I felt better and managed to get out and greet Mum and Dad. Vanessa had a great race and just got stronger and stronger the whole run, and her previously weak cycle and swim had both gone very well too. A top first IM and she was unlucklly that her age group was so strong as she was 9th– the 35-39 women she would have been 3rd. She’s so mentally tough and had massive blister problems on the run and a hip problem that has not gone away all year, both of those and slow transitions cost her a lot of time.
All in all it was a great event, although the conditions were very tough, only two age-groupers went under 9 hours and normally it’s about 20, the locals said it had been the hottest day they could remember. The droput rate was 12% bigger than Hawaii and double to normal for the same race. My feet were (are) literally burnt from the run as my shoes cooked. I just can’t seem to get my mojo going on the run in the heat. I read an article recently on a study that showed 10 degrees Celsius was the optimum temp for a marathon and times went down some percentile per minute from there. and this is especially true for me. I had smashed a few long runs at 10 degrees in Niseko before leaving with my No. 2 training partner Jess Ripper and also my Franch buddy from Tokyo Eric where we were hammering 3.40 km’s one and a half hours into it and it felt pretty easy, but when I tried the same session in Oz in 40 degrees heat I needed to hail a passing car to get me home. To make matters worse the temp herehas been cool for the last month and is back to 23 degrees on Monday! Still it’s done now and onto another busy winter in Niseko, hopefully keep training for Saipan, and maybe the new Toya 70.3.