Sometimes you can get with away being superficial. On the surface you look the
real-deal and might even put a few runs on the board, but deep down you’re not
really worthy. Sometimes you get caught out. Yesterday I discovered you can’t
fake an Ironman.
I’ve been a slack bastard. I worked pretty hard for about 18 months to turn
myself into a triathlete and race Busselton Ironman last December. Since then,
beers have outnumbered training sessions by a considerable margin, and I
haven’t been an alcoholic.
It all started when I broke my foot in a swimming pool the week after Busso and
couldn’t run until March. Running keeps me motivated, so without regular runs I
fell into a semi-depressed, drifting along state. Riding is fun, but isn’t a substitute
for running, and I have to confess swimming is just a chore. Couple this with the
post-Ironman come down and I blew off more than a few training sessions. A lot
more than once I substituted a morning ride or commute for a 5-minute spin on
the wind trainer in the evening. None of this is excuses – I’ve been slack and I
own that completely.
For a lot of events, like a 5k race the difference between fit and unfit is a couple
of finishing positions, and a whole lot more pain. I’ve always found that my body
remembers how fast it should be going (used to go), and does it’s best to deliver
it – just with substantial pain. Thus I’ve always been able to ‘fake it’ even when
I’m not actually very fit. This even worked for Boston Marathon back in April,
where coming off 12 weeks of injury induced lay-off I held it together with only
1 long run (ANU Inward Bound div 7, where we ran 45k), a few gentle runs and
2 Bilby’s interval sessions. My training was deliberately low-key to ensure I
arrived at the start-line in Boston uninjured.
My #1 requirement for any race is
to arrive healthy, only once that is achieved should fitness be a priority.
The forecast for race day in Cairns was wet and a little windy. My brief swim
at T1 the day before was uninspiring – in a word – slop. So I set my goal for
the swim as just to remain composed, in spite of the mass start to a close turn
buoy in what were likely to be challenging conditions. I woke on race day to the
sound of solid rain on the roof, so solid that I didn’t bother to wear anything over
my race outfit, or even try to take ‘dry’ street gear. Once we got to Palm Cove,
T1 was already a quagmire, so we rigged our bikes and huddled in the Pulman
resort for the hour and a half prior to start – a long wait because they send all the
70.3 waves off first, but we share a transition area, so they lock it early.
The swim started in not too rough conditions, certainly not smooth or calm, but
better than yesterday. It was a close-packed swim out to the first turn buoy, then
thinned out. I helped matters here by slewing to the left (outside) of the course.
We did one and a half loops, and every marker I ended up way left, even though
I sighted and stayed pointing at the buoy’s all the time. I think I must crab
sideways when I swim! With all the sighting and my sub-par swim technique I
had a lovely wet-suit kiss developing. I had my neck taped, and the tape worked,
but I chaffed around it. The slop built up on the second lap – I hate it how the
faster swimmers get better conditions! I got onto the beach about 100m left of
the exit gate, and jogged up the beach to reach it. Goal achieved, fully composed
for the whole (long) swim. Transition was uneventful, although noting the 90
minute race time I was disappointed if not surprised with my swim. I was 20
minutes slower than Busso – a much bigger performance drop than for the good
swimmers. I was shooting for an overall time in the low ten’s, having noticed
that nobody good seems to do this race, and the last couple of years 40-44’s have
qualified for Kona with 10:12 and 10:05 respectively. I only entered this race as
a backup in case I couldn’t do Busso, so figured I might as well bike fairly hard
and see where I ended up.
The bike starts with about a dozen eco friendly speed humps, being normal
speed humps with large rocks embedded in them. The organisers put carpet
over them, but this really didn’t cut it – lots of people lost nutrition off their
bikes here. Out onto the highway to Port Douglas and the roads were really
quite good. Still raining, it rained non-stop all day, but hardly any corners that
you needed to slow down for. I rode the rollers fairly aggressively and blew
over many of the smaller dips pedaling hard downhill to gain speed to trade for
height on the next rise. Having the confidence to stay aero and fast on the wet
downhills (especially on the second lap) was well rewarded.
For the first four hours of the bike I thought this might be my first incontinence
free ironman. I tried to pee in the main street of Port Douglas the second time
(no joy), but coming back south through some other town I finally managed it –
with a nice lady on the side of the road clapping enthusiastically. I’ve never felt
like such a clever boy.
I held a good Normalised Power through the hills, which dropped a bit on the
flats, overall I was much happier with this bike than Busso. My overall TSS was
273, which is on the lower end of Joe Freil’s guidelines (270-286). I was a bit
tired in the last hour of the bike, and in retrospect this was my lack of fitness
coming home to roost. I was cunning and swapped my electrolyte bottle for
plain water at the last aid station, and then took this into the T2 change tent to
wash the mud off my feet as I changed into running shoes – it worked – clean feet
into socks and then racing flats. I don’t think I made the mush that was the floor
of the change tent any worse.
I held about 4:10-4:20 per km for the early stages of the very wet run, and
quickly realized I was in between the first and second placed pro men. Tim
van Berkel’s bike escort passed me at one stage, but Tim never caught me. My
“never been overtaken in an Ironman run” sheet was still clean. As I slowed to
5:00 or slower over the next 2 laps I did get passed by a couple of guys who were
running in the low 4’s, so my bragging rights are gone. At 38k I cranked down
the pace, back towards 4:00 and flew into the finishing straight for a 10:32:28.
I was cleared to go for food and a massage by my catcher, but in the massage
tent went into mild shock. Shivering badly, so the medico’s gave me food and a
space blanket and made me stay in there for a while. I had no clothes to change
into – a wise move because my ‘street bag’ was sodden anyway, so once I was
well enough I walked barefoot (couldn’t get my shoes back on) 5 blocks back to
my hotel and arrived feeling rather ill again. With all the little chafes and rubs
after an Ironman a warm shower is just not the relaxing reward it should be. It
is more like a form of mild torture that you have to steel yourself for in order
to get clean (and warm). On Monday morning it was still raining, so I went out
for a big bacon rich breakfast (in compliance with the BBC), took an easy run
and collected my bike. I made the mistake of wearing my only pair of non-race
shoes in to collect my bike and they came out saturated and covered in mud. I
write this in the Qantas club (waiting for the bar to open at noon) in soaking wet
vibrams. But my other two pairs of shoes (bike and run) are also wet and both
smell vaguely of wee-wee for some reason. Everything is so wet that I bagged
my clean dry things when packing, rather than the wet things. Rolling my bike
back to my room you could hear water sloshing in all sorts of little cavities – at
least carbon doesn’t rust.
Farewell Cairns, it’s been a nice race. The race logistics are a bit tricky with T1
30k north of town, but there is a great vibe, honest race conditions and a town
full of athletes and I would do it again. I’ve also learned a humbling lesson ... you
actually have to train to race an Ironman.