Friday, December 16, 2011

Ironman West Australia

This was the biggest race of the year, back to Busselton, and I’d have to say IMWA is my favourite triathlon race. Sorry Challenge Roth, Phuket,Vineman, Copenhagen, me and you are good - we're tight and all that, but me and IMWA and I are BFF. I get pumped up as soon as I arrive in the town.

The course is terrific, the crowd support typical Aussie style with locals having BBQs, with PA systems shouting encouragement, wearing crazy costumes and playing cool music along the whole of the run. It has one of the best swims you could wish for, and the local community really embrace the event and you can feel it from the enthusiasm of the volunteers, who are the best of any race I've done. The local people in Busselton are so friendly, and of course it's in ‘Straya mate so it must be good! I have had a pretty crappy 2011, with both of my other ‘A’ races, Roth and Regensburg, being scuppered by a crash and a puncture/over-nutrition. Of the B races, I’d done reasonably in Ishigaki, Beijing and Cairns, and had another shocker in Murakami. I did have this race in the back of mind the whole time as the one that I wanted to do well in so it kept me training through the ups and downs. I’d had an episode of bad lower back pain and a subsequent shitty race in Taiwan with a depressing run where I couldn’t get under 5 min k pace and had promised myself during the run that I needed a rest and should not even start in WA. I had some encouraging messages from Woody and Jess that made me believe I could do OK in Busso after all and I know you should never listen to any promises you make during a race (unless its to train more consistently).

Was I smoked? Cooked, kaput, trained-off or just plain....

We had a block of four weeks in Australia before the race, and planned on going to Ness’s dads house in the Hunter Valley for a training block but Ness got an injury and couldn’t train for that week, so we decided to stay in Sydney. I think this was a blessing in disguise as we were staying mostly in Karl and Sally's sweet pad in Wollhara next to Centennial park, and I ended up doing all my cycling there. It’s a 3.8km loop, pancake flat with no stopping at all. It’s pretty boring, but great specific training for Busselton, and there are always some other cyclists to reel-in to keep you focused. I used to think the cyclists there were a pest and now I'm one of 'em.....funny how personal experience can change your opinion on things. One session I did 5 hours - 40 laps (150kms) in the cold and constant rain.

Sometimes the training is fun, sometimes it's bladdy miserable, but you get it done for the rewards on race day.

What's that ladies? No, I'm not  really that hardcore, it's all in a day's work.
 I’d put in a bit of a run focus before and after Taiwan, including two triple run days two weeks before WA one Tuesday and Thursday, with a total 72 kms covered all around 4.40k pace or faster. We had a less than ideal race week (from a performance perspective) as we had Ness’s sister’s Sally and Karl's unrool wedding Friday night and then had to fly out Saturday at 8am, arriving in Perth at 10am (clocks went backwards thankfully), drive 3.5 hours and we had to be registered, build bikes and check bike and run bags in by 4pm. We got special permission to register late as normally it closes Friday. We missed the welcome party which is always awesome in Busso, so that was a shame, but we were lucky to be able to race at all. We got it all done with about 30 minutes to spare and went back to Mum and Dad’s pad that we were staying in (they had come over on the train for the third year in a row) - to mix up some cocktails (4 parts carbo and electrolyte powder and 3 parts water) – that shit has a kick on it like an angry mule I tells ya!
We got some good sleep which is unusual the night before a big race as the lack of training and nerves usually keep you up and we were up at 3am for a record early 5.45 start. Just before the race I was queuing for some port-a-loos, when word broke out of some unoccupied ones around the corner (a platinum-rated asset on race morning) and when I broke into a stride it just felt great to run and like I could go on all day, 'It could be my day' I thought. I saw my mate Jamie Slaymaker from Tokyo at the dunny and he said quickly ‘mate you’ve had a lot of bad luck this year – today’s going to be your day’. I had been telling myself the exact same thing but it was nice to hear it from someone else. I decided while making deposits that that would be my mantra for the day – or more specifically ‘It’s my farken day’.

I learned from my days in Kathmandu studying under Flowering Willowbrook (above) that chanting positive mantras can be very powerful. Thanks Flowdie!
  Swim 3.8km (59.45) 16th in AG

My swim had been pretty reliable this season, despite having shockers on both the bike and the run at various times.Not that I'm a top swimmer, but I had been getting out of the water exactly where I expected or better every race. There is a saying that you can't win the race in the swim, but you can lose I just about did. I lined up to the right on the swim and got a pretty good start. It was really wavy but I thought that would calm down once we got out a little. After 600m or so I realised the whole swim would be like that and was enjoying the open water style of swimming in waves, where you come off the crest of a wave and your stroke is ¾ of the way through before your hand enters the water with a karate chop. I had a few looks up and could not see anyone in front of our little group. I was on the feet of two others and I though we were leading the Age Group (AG= punter/amateur) race. I was trying to calm myself down but was pretty stoked that finally I would be in the lead pack on the bike in this race, which would make a massive difference to my day, and something I’d be aiming for with two years of focused swim training. When we all came together around the end of the jetty at 1.9kms in I was mid-way through the first pack, coming about tenth overall. Straight after the turn for home, I put my head down and took a dozen or so strong strokes without sighting, but when I looked up I realised I’d gone in the wrong direction and was waay out to the right as that was the direction the waves were going, and the jetty cuts away from the inside to the left, so you should turn a sharper left turn at the last buoy.
Always had trouble with 3 point turns.

 I tried to cut back towards the jetty but I never seemed to make much distance up. Every time I looked I was way off to the right and the only company I had was guys on cayaks looking nervously at me. I then started to get pretty sea sick from the chop and was quite disheartened that I was going to be looking at the bladdy lead bike pack go the other way at the ‘500m to turning point’ signs all day again – or even worse if I didn’t start to head left. I got more and more queasy and had less and less power in my stroke. I think the last 600m must have taken 15 minutes as I was barely pulling at all on the water, considering dropping out and even did a few stints of breast-stroking which I had not done in a race probably since my first ever triathlon six years ago. I just keep telling myself that it would be over soon. I appreciated how easy it is to drown when thrown overboard in the ocean, you would just give up and accept your fate, which I was just about ready to do. When I hit the shore I was massively relieved and did a couple of dry-reeches / borderline vomiting. I hear a lot of people had similar issues. I also heard a guy got swept all the way right to almost Dunsborough (next beach down) so it wasn't just me.

Glad that is over (time is for pros who started 15 minutes ahead).

Bike 180kms 4.53 (4th in AG)

It was good to finally get on the bike but I was still feeling sick as a dog for the first half hour.  Although I felt really sick it did not affect my power on the bike like it did in the water and I was passing quite a few (as you would expect with a shitty swim time). I did hear Matthew Illingsworth name called out just in front of me exiting the swim – he is an ex-pro bike rider who holds the AG bike course record in IMWA of 4.19, only one minute less than the overall course record. If I had my game-face on I would have pushed extra hard through transitions to grab onto his wake on the bike, but I was feeling sorry for myself and queasy and never got hold of him. Pity as his time this year was not as stellar as in the past (all times were slower because of wind but his even more so), so I probably could have held onto him. Once again I’d forgotten my Garmin, so I did the whole ride without any information at all apart from my stopwatch. I do like racing this way, but it makes it a bit more boring. I’d decided to try a bit of a new fueling plan; starting on a ham and cheese sandwich with loads of butter and then onto 100% maltodexterin gels then onto the 2:1 fructose/sucrose gels towards the end of the bike and just coke on the run. So using Macca’s recommended formula of more refined carbs as the day goes on. The sandwich first up went down pretty well, and so did the first bit of the gel.

At the end of the  first lap I was feeling good and had a riding buddy – an Irish bloke who didn’t seem to know much about racing at the pointy end and taking turns in front in a pace line. I gave him some polite education on this after he was sitting on me for 20 minutes ‘Yeah but I wasn’t drafting though’ – he said ‘mate I could not give a shit if you were or weren’t - just do your time up front’. We were doing ten minutes stints through most of the second lap, the wind had picked up and we were more than the 1km down on the bike lead pace line.
Hide from the wind, jeez my chest is aero...Hide from the.....

At the end of the second lap my stomach decided it wasn’t so happy about the gel I had just delivered to it and I did a big vomit at 40kms/h that mostly went down my right sleeve. My top now looked like one of those shirts that have tattooed sleeves printed on them, except mine was bright orange paint-splash-style tattoo. 

Never was much of an Ed Hardy fan
It was a very windy, hot and drying bike, the toughest conditions I’d experienced here in three years, and it was hard to drink enough and to stay cool. I was aiming for thee bottles at every aid station, one water bottle first I’d slide down the front of my shirt, then one bottle of Gatorade for the cage and a third water bottle to soak my head, sleeves and back to stay cool that I’d toss as soon as I could while still in the rubbish zone.
I was pretty stoked that the water bottle down my front was ballooning away from my torso as the cooling fabric of my shirt was quite light and making an aerodynamic looking barrel chest inserts that some guys use when making land-speed record attempts on bikes.

After I was sick I lost a lot of power and me and the Irish guy were joined by two others. I was pedaling squares and became a massive hypocrite by sitting at the back of the four for the rest of the last lap. I kept getting dropped off and then just worked hard enough to tag back on. I picked up some coke instead of Gatorade at one drink station by mistake, the first bit went down well , but a subsequent lager dosage become my second tattooed sleeve down my left side with a black and white image the ink of choice this time. Drinking Coke in a race is a way one street - you can't go back when you start -as they say in the US 'Once you go black....
C'mon stomach, be good to me baby

RUN 42.2kms 3.34  (13th in AG)

It was good to finally get off the bike and start running. I still felt a bit sick but was able to start at a decent pace. The run course is 4x10km loops with plenty of crowd support, right along the coast without much shade. We had some cloud cover for most of the first 25kms and even two little showers, but it got to around 35 after that. I was watching my pace closely trying to keep it around the 4.30 – 4.35 pace for the first 10kms. After about 5kms I was joined by a guy who had just stopped for a pee, running a very similar pace to me and we started running together for a bit. We ended up running the next 25kms shoulder to shoulder and helping each other reach our respective goals. I looked at his number and said – ‘You’re not in 35-39 are you mate?’. ‘No’ he said, and I said ‘OK we can be friends then’. He said ‘I just squeaked into the 40-44’ I though he meant he was about to turn 45 next year, so I said – ‘I'll be aging up too - we can be friends for life!’. Turns out he meant he had just turned 40, but for today, we were besties.
My new BFF Gav with me just behind.

We chatted a fair bit on the first lap I told him I lived in Japan, but don’t ask me about the nuclear crap because I’m not in the mood to talk about that now. He was cool as you like and we got on great. After having had all kinds of run-ins with competitors this year, including giving a bloke a one metre deep head dunk in the swim after he grabbed and pulled my calf 500m in in Ishigaki, having a deliberate snotting-on-each-other stoush on the bike with a cranky Austrian in Beijing, bollocking a guy for drafting and not going near the front on the bike in Taiwan, it was nice to have an interaction during the race that was more bonding than confrontational.

Anyway we went onto the second lap and were just ticking off the kms. Gavin had his Garmin set to beep every km and would update me every km on our pace – which was usually 4.38 or thereabouts. I was making sure we were fueling adequately – after each aid station checking that he had gotten his coke down and planning for each one as they came, getting as much salt pills, coke and watermelon into me as I could..

Fuel of champions! (Well at least fuel of 7th place in the male 35-39 category in 2011 IMWA)
 We kept ticking off the sub 5 minute k’s through the third lap. I told him briefly about my crappy year of racing and that my mantra was ‘it's my farken day’. Which then became ‘It’s our farken day’ as I would say when we passed some people or got some good feedback from the spectators. It was great to keep us both focused and in a positive frame of mind. I mentioned to him that I thought he was in a Kona position, but I was probably borderline. We both wanted to qualify. He was even getting his big collection of supporters to cheer for me too which was great, and they kept it up even after he dropped me. Onto the 4th lap and I started to slow a bit and was stepping into the hurt-locker and closing the door behind me. Gavin ended up running into third in his age group and getting a Kona slot easily. I was stoked to see him up on stage getting his slot and medal. There was another course cutting accusation with the guy who finished 4th in the 40-44 (on the bike this time) and the investigation into that is still on-going. I slowed down quite a bit in the last 4 kms, I think I stopped taking enough salt and coke, or just ran out of fitness / to the limits of my ability on the day.

Grunting out the k's

I could not see anyone in my AG in front or behind in the final stretch and my quads had turned to rock, so I run/walked it home the last 2kms in about 6min + ks, to make it 3.34 and 9.34. It would have been good to keep up the pace and do a sub 3.30/9.30, but I was happy all the same. It was a slow tough day all round with no AG going under 9 hours. So although my time was about the same as last year, my performance was much much better and I was pretty stoked.

Gavin posted his Garmin file which is the same as me up until the 32k mark, when he kept up the low 5min ks and I didn't...
You beauty.
  After the race I was a bit of a gibberer – went into the med tent vomitted a bit and had a litre of IV saline drip - which made me feel so much better. I saw my weight was 83kgs, so I'd only lost 2kgs during the race as pre-race was 85kgs. I noticed my toes had been smashed to smithereens on the run. I need to get a half size smaller shoes for next time. 
Parental guidance recommended

Overall I was happy with my result after the poor swim and sickness on the bike and I had mentioned to some friends before the race that I was after 7th in my AG as I thought that would pretty much guarantee me a Kona slot (last year 10th was good enough). The slot allocations were a bit dodgy this year, despite 35-39 being the largest AG with over 200 starters, we only got 4 slots before roll down, last year it was 6 before it rolled to 10th (roll down = someone does not want to race in Hawaii so it goes to the next guy to finish) and in Melbourne they have 75 total for the race so it will probably be 10-11 before roll-down. The slots from the 70+ AG come down to the largest group when they are not taken, but two out of the three Japanese guys who raced in those AGs took those slots so there was none left to roll down at all. A real bummer and Ness’s AG had 4 slots pre-roll down (a bit dodgy if you ask me as there were only 40 in her AG with the same No. of slots as mine with 200+) and she was 5th but they were all taken too. We now have to work out how we can train for Ironman Melbourne while working 70 hours a week, snowboarding and not being able to do any training outside. It will be interesting!

Me and my new mate Gav after the race


  1. Great grace, great report - respect on the result.
    Do get new shoes or cut your toes off § it 's scary every time!
    In time, you both will get your slots.
    (they just reduced the number of slots from 100 to 75...)

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