Friday, 9 December 2011

Ironman Western Australia 2011 - Race Report

Apologies in advance that this is a little long so settle in...


Travel to Busso all went to plan and before I knew it we were at the carbo dinner on the Friday night. This was a little disappointing, great set up but the content was a little slow, was good to hear from a few of the pros including Pete Jacobs (2nd in World Champs this year). They showed some of the footage of his race in Kona; Pete had caught and passed Andreas Realert, then been passed again and as he fought back and once again went past Raelert as the big German was struggling through an aid station, the camera captured Pete giving a little fist pump as he only had a few k to go and obviously felt that 2nd place was in the bag.

The next clip showed PJ heading through an aid station, clearly blowing to pieces, in the space of 20m he probably took 15 cups of water/Gatorade/coke etc from the volunteers and looked in all sorts of trouble. Then in a classic moment, an American guy watching from a car just in front of Pete screams out: “EAT THE PAIN PETE, EAT THE PAIN!!!” priceless moment, and certainly the mantra for all the competitors on the day in Busso.

Race morning

A 3.10am alarm call (!!!) and a quick breakfast before heading down to transition. It still warm from the day before (Saturday had been 34 degrees) and there was a steady North-Easterly breeze, very different from the year before where it had been fairly cool in the morning and completely still.

Ironman set up is pretty simple given that you check in bike and transition bags the day before so a quick stop at the bike to pump up tyres and put drinks on then off to chill out a bit before getting the wetsuit on and heading to the swim start.

Swim (1.04.26)
My plan here was to start close to the front and get the benefit of some faster feet, I was happy to have a few people swim over me if it avoided me having to pass too many others, as the final countdown came to the 5.45am start(!) a few people crept away from the start line, I stayed where I could still stand about shoulder deep but soon enough we were away. I had a great start, after a minute of swimming reasonably solidly to establish a position, I settled in for the long haul.

The swim was pretty uneventful (just how I want it to be!), following the jetty for 1.8km should be easy but somehow I found myself getting pushed around a bit by the water and felt like I took a longer route out than ideal. As I got towards the aquarium at the end of the pier the swell was pretty significant, big rolling waves rather than ugly choppy stuff so not too difficult to swim in but did make me start to feel a little sea-sick!

The swim back seems twice as long!! After a few hundred meters a guy slowly overtook me and I managed to jump in behind him and sit on his feet for most of the way in (minor apologies to the guy who was following his feet who I ‘moved’ out of the way!), he had a nice solid kick producing plenty of bubbles so was easy to follow, after a few looks up to check on our bearings, I decided he was pretty good at swimming straight so just tried to relax and follow him in. About half way back my swim cap popped off my head, no real issue but they are always quite a nice souvenir so that was a shame!!

Finally the beach started to actually seem to get closer, I still felt like I had loads of energy and although the swim felt a little slow, it was mission accomplished in terms of getting out feeling a bit fresher. A reasonably purposeful run up the beach to see 1.04.26 on the clock (time in the picture is for the pro's who start 15 mins earlier), similar to last year I thought and with the weather forecast ahead, I had already put aside any expectations of a sub 10 hour race. That was fine though, you can only deal with what is put in front of you on the day and I got through the chaos of T1 as quickly as I could then grabbed the bike and was on my way.

(My swim was actually 1 second slower than my time last year – although you can tell conditions were slower as I was 137 places higher (241st) in the field this year coming out of the swim compared to 2010.)


Lap 1 of bike (original front tyre and spares attached)

This year was the first time I had trained and raced with a power meter so I was confident that I knew exactly what I was aiming for in terms of pacing. The target for the race was 210-215Watts, and after a nice solid start, quickly settled into that pace, which when fresh, feels relatively easy. Trouble came fairly quickly though, I was about 17k into the race when the bike started making a very unhappy noise. I pulled over to find a flat front wheel, bugger!! A quick check of the wheel and I found that the valve was slightly undone, I therefore hoped that it was just a slow leak so quickly used a CO2 canister to put some air in it and hopped back on. Another km or so down the road though and it was clear that it was a ‘proper’ puncture.

End of lap 1 - 120km to go!
No idea why I need to stick my tongue out.

I didn’t panic too much although it was frustrating watching all that time just drift away and heaps of people ride past, I managed to get the tyre off without too much trouble (was using tubulars which thankfully had been glued on with a triathlete in mind – i.e. not too much glue) and fiddled around with the spare a little but that went on ok and I managed to get some decent pressure in it with the one remaining gas canister that I had (I do also carry a small pump just in case). Looking back after the race, I think the puncture fixing cost me about 10 minutes all up so not as fast as it could have been but not the end of the world.

Onto lap 2 - good thing I was taking salt tablets
- plenty being sweated out. No spares
left now, getting hotter!

Back on the road and I was conscious not to try and make up time and ride hard, it was going to be a long day! This was reinforced by Brendan as I caught back up to him, wise words helped keep me in check. So it was back to goal pace. That went fine until about 50-60km where I started to feel the heat a little. This just got worse over the next couple of hours, there was a bit of a headwind on the first part of the lap but having done lots of training around the bay in Melbourne where there is generally plenty of wind, that wasn’t bothering me too much, but on the longer out an back section on lap 2 (out of 3) I was really suffering with the heat, my legs had pretty much no power and to be honest all I felt like doing was going to sleep! I’ve never felt so bad, so early in a ride and was really worried about how the rest of the day was going to go. This bad patch seemed to go on forever, I just got slower and slower, power was non-existent and I was seriously uncomfortable with the heat. (Looking back at my data from the day you can see that this was the hottest part of the ride with the temperature climbing up to 36 degrees at about the 110km mark).

At each aid station, in addition to grabbing my drinks for the actual ride, I was grabbing 2 spares of water and throwing the whole of those over every part of me to try and cool down. This was nice for about 2 minutes until I just got hot again!!

It was a bit of a relief to be on the last lap, although I knew that my time was not going to be close to what I wanted, power was still nowhere to be seen and at times I was almost hoping for another puncture to give me a reason to pull out (I had no more spares). Knowing that Brendan was not far behind me I knew that this was a flawed strategy though as I could guarantee that he would have offered me his spare had he seen me stranded on the side of the road!!

About 145k in to the ride a little cloud cover came over and took a bit of the sting out of the temperature and on the last 11k section into the wind my legs seemed to start to come back to me. From there on in, things went fairly well, and my spirits lifted a little as I was motoring past a good number of other athletes.


Into T2 and a quick change and I was on my way, given the temperatures, I was pretty nervous about the conditions, my ideal race would have seen me run around the 3.35-3.40 mark and so I headed out onto the run and settled into about 5 min/km pace and waited to see how the body felt. After a couple of km I needed a toilet stop which was at least a sign that I had not got myself too dehydrated to that point, The first toilet was at the turn around point after about 2.5km but they had put the toilet about 20m past the turning point, there was no way I was adding an extra 40m on to my run so I decided to hold on until the next one which was right on the course!!

almost half way
- suffering is really kicking in now

I felt ok for the first 5k and with a race plan to try and run well when my legs felt ok, I tried to concentrate on holding my effort over that initial section. I got to 10k in about 52 mins which, with a toilet stop was not too bad, first wrist band taken and then out for lap 2 (of 4). There was still a bit of cloud cover at this point so although I was hot and covering myself in water at each aid station and filling my clothes with ice I felt relatively ok. Towards the end of that second lap though I started to struggle, legs were failing me and those damn clouds had decided to give way to sunshine, I remember going through half way on the marathon and looking at my watch, 1.54 was already on the clock, my legs were really starting to struggle and I was thinking this could be a long trip home!

As I went past the finish area and onto my third lap, 9 hours was on the clock and I heard the commentator say that this year only 9 people (including the pros) had gone under 9 hours compared to more than 30 last year so I at least had some reassurance that it was a tough day for most.

Lap 3 is a bit of a blur, I had caught Greg, who was one of the ‘originals’ at Tri-alliance when I first started the sport a few years back. I was a lap up on Greg but now being forced into walking breaks was now regularly swapping places with him and it was great to get some encouragement. I was moving pretty slowly at this point and was grateful that Erika was also able to find me regularly and was a great help to keep me going.

Finally on to the last lap but I was really suffering, I normally like to say a big thank you to all the volunteers at the aid stations on the way round the last lap but most of my focus was on staying upright so I probably didn’t give them as much as I would have liked. Once into the final 7k I thought I would be able to jog home but my body was completely toasted, fingers and face were tingling and I felt like I was going to pass out so I had a long walking section, probably 5 or 10 minutes, at one point and older lady walked past me and I couldn’t even keep up with her walk!!

A feeling of relief more than anything
was pleased to still be in one piece!
I got out near the turnaround point where Erika had decorated the course with chalk writing the day before and decided that I should listen to the “EAT THE PAIN” message and force myself back to a slow jog to the far turnaround aid station. It was at this point that I actually overtook last years winner, Courtney Ogden who had been forced to walk most of the marathon (I had also un-lapped myself once from Leon Griffin and Luke McKenzie earlier in the race!)

Once through that aid station I managed to slowly jog the lasts few km all the way back into town and pick up my final wrist band before heading into the finish chute, high 5’s all the way down and thankfully picked out Erika before heading over the line to be caught by 2 volunteers and sent into the medical tent for a few ice packs!


It certainly wasn’t close to the race that I wanted to have but I sign up to these things because of the challenge and it certainly ticked that box with bells on. I’m not sure doing a race in those temperatures is something I will be jumping at doing again anytime soon but am pleased that I have experienced it and made it through. I’ve never suffered for as long as I did in this race, from about 2 hours into the ride I was starting to struggle and it only went downhill from there.

I’ll put this one down to experience and move on to the next challenge, Ironman New Zealand on 3rd March. A couple of weeks of rest and recovery, both physical and mental are in order first but then it will be back into it to see if I can’t bring that pb from last year down a little.

NZ is unlikely to be anything like as hot as WA, although last year they had torrential rain all day to contend with so conditions could still be a factor!!


This Ironman caper cannot be done alone and I want to say thanks to a few people, firstly Erika. Living with someone who is training for this sort of event is pretty challenging, for the last 6 months my alarm has been going off before 5am most days, and more often than not I’ll be pretty shattered in the evenings, can sometimes have a tendency to get grumpy when hungry (which is basically 24/7 for me – hungry that is not grumpy!!). And after all of that she is quite simply the best Ironman race day supporter ever, will put a garmin on her next time to see how much distance she travels on a race day!!

To all those people who have trained with me at some point over the journey (you know who you are), which includes more recently the MTC / Fluid movements crew and in the past the group at Tri-Alliance. It’s great having so many different people to call on to share the training and makes the tough sessions all the better when you are constantly seeing people out on the road who you know.

Thanks to Sean Foster whose program I have followed for this attempt. I certainly didn’t quite pull off the race that I know I was well prepared for; with a bit of good fortune and some more hard work NZ will be my redemption! Also to Ben Street, I joined Ben’s swim squad back in May and I think I am still mentally traumatised by the first few weeks!! The memories of not having enough left in my arms and shoulders to get myself out of the pool at the end of each session are still there!! Progress has been great though and the development of the sessions over that 6 months has allowed me to keep improving and be in great shape for race day, and full of confidence standing on that start line. I almost don’t hate swimming anymore!!

Also thanks to Miranda and Emma, the two people who are always happy (I think!) to be bored by the tales of my training and racing, always happy to give their views and opinions when asked (and even when not asked sometimes!) and constantly inspire me to keep working at it and improving. Training with these two over the years has also helped in managing the male ego when the women keep streaming past you in races, I’ve certainly had plenty of practice with this!