I’ve finally done it. After three long course races, for the first time since I was a child I can lay claim to the big I word. After a year and a half of training to masquerade as a triathlete I have finally achieved it. Yep, by all reports Mike Reilly said “You are an Ironman” as I ran hard to the finish line, but my big breakthrough came at the start of the second bike lap – with less fanfare – but it would have been fun to have a huge announcement “Craig Benson… You are Incontinent”. Having been unable to relieve bladder pressure through all my practice races I came into today confident that I should break 10 hours, but uncertain of how I would cope without wasting valuable minutes on personal hygiene stops while still maintaining hydration for a 10 hour race. The relief of that warm trickle through my timing chip into my bike shoe was a load off my mind and marked my initiation into the hallowed halls of Ironman racing.
At the start of this Ironman journey I thoughts I would turn up and complete an Ironman in about 12 hours. I recruited three mates who I thought could do about the same, or perhaps a little slower. However as my training progressed I realized I would be closer to 10 hours, so set that as a target and freely told anyone who would listen.
We went for a practice swim the day before the race, and swim conditions were great. The water was clear and you could see the sand and seagrass on the bottom, as well as easily sight the jetty – both to the side, and the end way out ahead. I also picked a reference on shore for the return leg for my mates, which came in handy for all of us on race day. Busselton is well set up for this race, as it was for the half back in May. The ride is flat on quite good road surfaces, with wind the only potential enemy. The run is likewise flat up and back on the foreshore – four laps ensure a good spectator coverage, and you run through the main spectator area 8 times in total.
Having been regaled with tales of the chaos that is an Ironman swim, I found the swim start was remarkably clear. As a middle of pack swimmer (on a good day) I let a few rows go ahead, but lots of people hung well back. The swimming was tight with limited movement and taking care to protect my face from other athletes feet for maybe a minute, then spread out nicely. The swim goes out to the end of the jetty, left turns around the buoys at the end, and then back on the other side. This makes for a straight swim, with easy navigation. It did get a bit more congested as we passed each of the marker buoys on the way out. On reaching the end turn buoys it was very busy, and I ended up in the middle of a rugby team as we started back to the beach. I slowly drifted to the right, to get on the outside on the pack and then finally swam in the clear all the way back to the beach. The clear water and shallow bottom made it easy to swim straight, each time I sighted I could see the end of the row of pine trees dead ahead – very, very slowly getting larger. About half way back I could feel a wetsuit kiss developing, but ignored it. The water is so shallow that I spent several minutes near the end thinking, right, we’ll be standing up any moment. After another few hundred meters my hand finally hit the sand and I stood up for the jog to T1. Our support crew (4 wives and 9 kids) were apparently cheering us on, but as I wasn’t expecting them until later in the day I didn’t see them. My mind was set on the activity flow I needed for a fast transition.
At Husky long course I spent a total of 7:03 in transition. Today I spent 5:28 total (3:13 & 2:16), in spite of the large transition distances. Into the tent, grab my gear bag from the lower rack and under a (from my experience) surprising number of bags still there. Stay standing in the change area, tread out of wetsuit, grab helmet, sunnies and (almost forgot) Garmin watch. There were no sunscreen helpers inside, so wetsuit into bag, drop the bag over the barrier and jog outside to be sunscreened on my way to my bike. OK, there are no sunscreen helpers outside either. I’m in race mode so I resign myself to a bit of sunburn, but reconcile myself that I’ll be off the bike around lunchtime. Putting on helmet, sunnies and watch on the way to my bike I get good news. My mate Jon who put six minutes into me in the Port Macquarie half IM swim is also jogging to his bike, level with me, and glancing at my watch I realize it is me who is ahead of schedule, not Jon behind. It is still a couple of minutes before 7am (race time <75 minutes) as we mount and start the bike.
Spin up to speed, then slide my feet into shoes and monitor power on the way out of town. I had ‘invested’ in a power meter long before I got a good bike. I can’t talk highly enough of how good they are. From every workout I have done I could gauge my ability to drive my bike, and especially from the Port half I knew what power levels corresponded to what speed in race gear. I have a spreadsheet with power vs speed markers sourced from www.kreuzotter.de. I had found that those numbers matched the Normalised Power figures from the Kona bike (found on the web), with an offset of 10 Watts (ie Actual Normalised Power is the calculated steady state figure plus 10 Watts). These matched my average power numbers from the flatter sections of the Port half IM ride, so give or take the wind I knew where things were at, and expected to ride 5:22, perhaps 5:15 if I pushed.
Heading out on the first lap I was hovering around 174 Watts so I needed to push a bit harder, but try as I might, my body just wanted to give my this power level. I hoped I would be able to put down more power later in the ride. However this was not to be, during the ride (and after) I reflected on my training has been lacking in steady state rides. All my power during training is generated in hill climbs and the occasional surge on the flat. In retrospect I did the same thing at Port Macquarie, although I did 217 Watts Normalised Power, this was all on the hills, my average power on the flats was down around 170 Watts as well. With no hills in Busso, I couldn’t generate the power I should have. I must do lots more steady state (flat) rides at 200+Watts before Cairns IM in June. My other breakthrough on the bike was transferring the contents of my bladder to my left bike shoe, which was really hard the first time, a little easier the second, and then became an addiction for episodes 3 through 12. It became so easy that I feared I would need to invest in a rubber sheet for my mattress at home.
I leap-frogged with my mate Jon for the first bike lap before he fell a couple of minutes behind over the later two laps. On the first lap we also passed my mate Marty, who is the fastest swimmer, and he was visible at most of the double backs on the course. Geoff came out of the water last, and we didn’t see him on the first few double backs and wondered what had happened. It turns out we just missed him and he was riding solidly. I rode 5:32, and all the rest of the team rode 5:45 or better. Even allowing for varying swim and ride times we were all onto the run within 30 minutes of each other.
Getting off the bike in a race time of 6:45 I knew I was almost guaranteed a time under 10 hours. I was expecting to run around 3 hours flat for the marathon, which sounds ambitious, but I felt it was realistic. I did see one runner on the course in my favorite Vibram five-fingers, but opted for racing flats myself. These are both easier to get on (faster transition), and provide some padding if I get tired and slap my feet down. Vibrams are ruthlessly unforgiving of bad form. The run was cruisy for the first 30km, I focused on slowing myself down, but was still running 4:07/km. The aid stations were nice and long, so I always got the items I wanted – normally water to swig and splash, a swig of Gatorade, then water to rinse and splash again. I also took ice on about every second station to put in my hat. I hit a rough patch just after 30km (more reminiscent of a normal marathon), and jogged a few slow k’s and walked 2 aid stations. At the second I took coke (well 3 cokes), and without thinking transferred my bladder to my shoes. This worked a treat (I think it was the coke not the wee), and I crept back up to a respectable pace again. Within a few k’s I was back to calculating the maths on finishing time and run split. I was back on track for under 9:50 total finish time, but by my estimate was back at about 3:02:30 for the marathon split. I resolved to give my all to try and get the run down under 3 hours. The remaining km splits fell down towards 4:00/km and I chipped away most of the deficit. With 1.2km to go I worked out I was likely to fall about 30 seconds short of my goal, but all I could do was run my best and hope the timing matt locations worked to my favour.
I was still conscious enough to shove my hat down the back of my pants and push up my sunnies for the finish photo, but left gels in the sides of my tri pants and looked a picture of pain in the finishing chute as I kept up the effort all the way to the line. In retrospect I should have eased up and given high-5’s and smiled, but at the time I was committed to driving myself through the pain to my target and couldn’t risk missing my goal by the few seconds it would have taken. Apparently Mike Reilly did his normal “Craig Benson from Cam-Berra, you are an Ironman”, but I don’t remember that, or where my support crew were and was a bit surprised when my finishers photos showed me jumping as I crossed the line in 9:48:19. I missed my 3 hour run split target (3:00:32), but could reconcile myself that it was still the 8th fastest run split of the day, and I had gone well under the magic 10 hours. I had also pulled myself back together quickly and well to recover from my bad patch.
The timing chip lady was wisely wearing surgical gloves. I did the recovery thing – “What would you like to drink?” - “Anything except orange Gatorade!”, grabbed a massage after my first plate of pizza, then more pizza, heard my sisters mate Rupert finish so dropped over to say hello, then out to meet the supporters squad and cheer on the rest of my mates on the run course.
The race was followed by a welcome family and friends holiday in WA for a week and a half (and to write this). On reflection I am happy with my race, disappointed only that I didn’t delive the power I should have on the bike, and threw a couple of minutes in my dark spot on the run. All round a great race to lose my virginity on, and I haven’t needed the mattress liner after all (fingers crossed).