A Chance Of A Lifetime
I never thought I would get the opportunity to enter an Ironman after looking at the costs involved & the extra training to finish the swim, ride & run. It all changed because of volunteering for the local event several times over the years as lead MTB showing where the lead runner is positioned or directing runners from their final lap into the finishing shoot. The local organising committee decided in 2018 that at the volunteers thanks dinner they would draw a name from a hat with the opportunity to enter the 2019 Port Macquarie Ironman with assistance in training from Coach Mel for one lucky volunteer & with all my normal bad luck I was in shock when they called my name.
Still shocked that I had won the entry, I was interviewed on stage & my mind was blank with my responses to winning the entry over all the other volunteers. The event has over 2000 volunteers.
I once called myself a runner when I was was younger winning many 1500m races in track & field & had been lucky enough to get on the start line with some of the world's best runner in events like the City to Surf in Sydney but it had been years since I took running seriously & it was time to get the muscles, bones & joints back into shape for running. Although I could run a fast 1500m I was never able to run a good marathon & I had only attempted one before where I found myself struggling to finish after the 32 km mark in the 2002 Sydney Marathon.
Because I had been cycling so many km's over the years my calf tendons had shortened & I found myself straining my calf muscles when running at any sort of speed, no matter the distance. Lucky enough I am supported by a great bunch of people at Enriched Health Care assisted my with strengthening my calfs & with further research at uni I was able to find some supporting documents to even further assist me with getting my tendons in the calf area back to there normal supple working length by doing weighted heal drops & repetitive bounding. Before to long I was able to run a fast 5k at parkrun & a full marathon distance in training.
The riding was mostly in idle mode for the majority of my training in the last 6 months leading up to Ironman because I had to concentrate on the other two disciplines that I needed to be able to finish in the event & I did not have enough time to put in the long hours needed on the bike with university study as a third year exercise & sports science undergraduate at CSU, my job as an event director & coach at Trial Terra & family life that was on the brink of collapse.
One thing I had learned from studying as a sports scientist is the importance of advancements in sporting equipment & I knew that competing an Ironman on a MTB would not keep me fresh enough to finish the marathon afterward. Lucky enough for me I had a lovely lady, Trish Davies give me a road bike that she no longer used & another good friend of mine Rod Packer loan me some bolt on TT bars that dramatically increased my speed on the road. The hardest part about training on the bike was getting my muscles use to being in a more aero position using muscles I was not use to using on a MTB & pushing constant power for long periods rather that coasting down hills on single track & using my bike skills to maintain speed.
I joined the local triathlon club to help with getting use to transitions from one discipline to the other & also a bit of speed work through all three disciplines at the same time. Although it was a little unfortunate that I only got to race a couple of times before Ironman came around.
Mel put together a few great training block sessions where as a group we were able to complete full half
Ironman distances in the middle of the summer heat & over easter a four day block consisting of an Olympic distance triathlon in each of the four days on parts of the Ironman course & because it was just after buying my first ever triathlon wetsuit I was keen to try it out. The training sessions went great. I was swimming so much faster with a wetsuit & so much quicker on the bike from the TT bars that I felt great in the run. After day four & still feeling fresh I knew I was ready for Ironman come race day in a few weeks.
I also did a big nutrition order back at the beginning of my training & again before the event to keep me full of energy & cramp free.
I had done a couple of sports psychology subjects at uni in my course & tried to draw upon them to continue with accomplishing my goal. I found this extremely hard to grasp though as I was self diagnosing my problems & trying to deal with them in a positive manner. One day out from race day I broke down with all the negative thoughts running through my head & half my dreams shattered.
Out of confusion & desperation for answers I posted a pole on Facebook to answer my thoughts & maybe others thoughts on whether they made the right decision.
I had tons of private messages & phone calls from friends I never thought cared about me, my sport, my dreams, my passion & family, all encouraging me to lift my chin up & get the job done that I had set out to do. All this was of course backed up by me not wanting to let down those that gave me the opportunity to enter Ironman & show other volunteers that they can also achieve their dreams of becoming an Ironman. All this drive from others & self talk was enough to keep me positive & get me to the start line even though in the back of my mind I wanted to hide under a rock & never be seen again. For the first time in my life in a long time I was afraid to be seen by others.
Ironman Race weekend
I'm going to try & keep this short as I don't want to bore you with all the thoughts in my head.
I had seen all the excitement everyone had toward race day & for the first time in my life I was not nervous about what was going to unfold & how I was going to get through the race. I had no expectations on finishing in a good time or if anything was to go wrong. I was just focusing on showing others that it could be done no matter who you are or what is going on in your life.
I only decided that I would stand on the start line & race three hours before the bike compound closed the day before the race so I got my crap together & began to organise & pack what I needed to get the job done. Late Saturday afternoon I dropped my bike & transition gear off near the start line with no clue on what I was doing or if I was doing it right but the volunteers were awesome & explained to my the process.
Race day morning I woke at 3 am with memories of the past & I laid there awake trying to focus on the job ahead until my alarm went off at 5 am. The day started with 4 Weetbix for breakfast & a couple of cups of orange juice before grabbing my street bag & special needs bags for the bike & run leg that contained more nutrition while out on course. I know that there would be nutrition out on course but take it from a coach, don't change anything on race day & keep sticking to your plan.
My nutrition plan was simple. Carb load & hydrate with Heed before the event. Hydrate with Fizz electrolytes during the event. refuel with Perpetuem solids every 20 minutes & top up with Hammer Gels at least once an hour. I also had a hammer bar during each transition & kept the caffeine gels till last in the run along with smashing a few bananas & watermelon because they were a trustworthy source of nutrition along with my Hammer nutrition.
The swim start was cold & they announced that the water temp was only 19 deg. I had been completing at least one river swim a week & the water had been hovering around 22 deg so this was a bit of a shock to hear but I was extremely happy to be swimming with a wetsuit. I placed myself in the second start group with an expected time between 1hr & 1hr 6 min. The start was so slow compared to a 24 hour MTB race & I quickly settled into a steady rhythm going past swimmer after swimmer as I was thinking to myself that I should have started in the 1st wave of athletes. I managed to stay clear by weaving in & out of most swimmers & by keeping slightly to one side. By the time I got to the first weir crossing I was in a great position with not many swimmers around me. Taking a glance before re-entering the water through my slightly fogged goggles I thought I seen the swimmers turning at the next boy before returning back to the second weir crossing, So negotiated around the boy, cutting across the canal, but to my surprise was stopped a good 100m latter by a volunteer letting me know that I had taken the turn to early. Annoyed with myself I B lined to the boy I was meant to turn around giving me an extra 150m I had to swim on the course. By the time I made it back into the line of swimmers I was now a lot further back in the pack & the water was crowded. I got kicked in the nose & moved to the right to avoid another kick before being kicked hard in the right thigh that caused me to cramp in the leg straight away. Swimming through the pain I began to swim past swimmers as we headed back toward where we had started from. Exiting the water in 1hr 6min I took the time to wash all the salt water from my face before getting changed in transition. I once again kept calm & took my time to make sure my feet were dry & Hammer seat saver was applied to my friction area's while keeping an eye on my watch to be out of there in 5 min.
The bike leg was going to be hard knowing that a southerly had come overnight & the wind was expected to pick up throughout the day. I found myself going past riders on the hills & them going past me on the flats with their TT bikes aerodynamically cutting into the wind but I tried to keep calm knowing that I had 180 km to ride & a marathon to complete once I had finished. The return trip back to Port with the wind behind me was much more suited to toward the bike I was riding & I started to reel back a lot of riders before they passed me again on the second lap back into the now stronger headwind. I seen a bit of drafting out on course & it was tempting to join in the train, but I'm not one to cheat & stuck to the rules of no drafting in triathlon. Once again on the return trip back to Port Macquarie, I was going past riders with the wind. The whole time during the ride my right quad was hurting from the kick in the swim & I was trying to compensate with my left leg but this caused both quads to be quiet stiff before I got to the run. I finished the bike leg in just over 6 hours wich was only 30 minutes slower than I was expecting. I was in & out of transition within 4:30 min & onto the run.
What could I have done better? I would have liked to put in a lot more hours training on the bike & in the gym to build more strength in the legs, but in the end I still paid the price while trying to work, study at uni & juggle family life.
Would I do it again? probably not but I would like to do a half Ironman.
Was it worth it? If I was not a little selfish I would say no, but given that no matter what endurance sport or any sport for that matter you train for you have to be a little selfish to succeed & after all you only live life once & it's yours & nobody else's.
Mike Reid & the local organising committee for the opportunity to be part of an epic event & to call myself an Ironman.
Mel Cockshut at HerCoach-HisCoach for the awesome guidance in triathlon & many hours of swim coaching, stroke correction & encouragement along the way. It was the highlight of my race along with seeing my kids supporting me along the run course, being greeted by Mel as I crossed the finish line.
David Williams from Hammer Nutrition Australia for providing me with some awesome triathlon clothing & the best endurance nutrition on the planet. Not once was I low on energy.
Trish Davies for providing me with a bike to be able to be training & racing on the road.
Rod Packer for providing me with aero bars that helped me immensely into that crazy wind on course.
Simon Turnbull from Enriched Health Care for looking after my broken old body, giving me a pep talk the day before race start & pointing me in the direction of Mel Turner that got me ready for the event. I will be using the Alter G treadmill at Enriched Health Care for recovery this week. You have to check it out!
My Family & children for supporting me during the event & putting up with me on my frustrated days during training. Like I mentioned earlier athletes can come across as very selfish & they need dedicated support from family to keep the mind & body healthy to perform at their best. You find it twice as hard to complete in ultra endurance event on low self esteem, take it from me.
All my friends out on course, all the volunteers, all the strangers I did not know, you all got me over the finish line with a tear in my eye & a smile on my face I really hope that this year's volunteer that had their name drawn out of a hat finishes just like I did & I hope I have inspired some of you to follow your dreams of also becoming an Ironman.