The qualifying process:-
It was a character building process, however looking back I was stoked to qualify for my first Hawaii at Ironman Australia and have so many people around to share the experience with, the amount of texts, calls and “well done mate stoked for you” type correspondence was very warming. Equally it added to the self-induced pressure that I really wanted to perform admirably come October.
My training was consistent, I changed little aspects of my build from Port Ironman and went about the first couple of months work by kind of telling myself “I’ll start specifically next week,” all the while logging solid base work. I really only did 10 weeks of structured work, however once I take the time to look through my training logs it will tell me a grossly different story.
I always had these grand plans that “when I qualified for Kona” I would do all this crazy stuff to reinvent myself, however I fast found out that there is only a certain amount of stress you can put yourself under before it becomes counter-productive, so I stuck to my relatively simple weekly plans and kept trucking through the work/ training/other commitments while what was once 14 weeks away soon became 8, then 6, then a month then two weeks until fly out... and then it was go time.
Pre-race in Kona:-
we arrived 9 days early and settled quickly. My bike didn’t arrive on the plane as it was apparently full, so after a swim that afternoon to try and wake up, myself and Reedy went out and picked the bikes up. Although only spending half a day with Tim, at that point in the trip it was amazing how much a brief time with someone who’s thoughts you value so much, can settle whatever slight nerves or second guessing very quickly.
I don’t get nervous before these types of events, I do however get pretty quiet and spent a lot of my week pre-race running through my day, the scenarios that could eventuate, the reason I am where I am and my checklist for a smooth day.
Any training time on the Island was rather subdued, the first few days I rode 2 hours, ran 60mins, swam neally everyday but nothing over 2km (except for the training day over the course a week out) and during the last week I would have trained a total of 7-8 hours, just moving every day, trying to avoid the heat of the day and sitting on the balcony watching lots of foolish folk leave their best on Alii Drive the week before.
Registration Tuesday, breakfast with the ANZAC crew Wednesday, Parade of Nations, bike check-in, briefing dinner etc etc and all of a sudden it’s the night before the race.
Ironman, weather training, racing or recovering is a step by step process, and the closer the race got the more I just ran through the steps to be ready, so come 7pm Friday the next step was to think about going to bed... probably the worst of the many steps, as you know once you get to sleep and wake up it’s the biggest step of them all.
The alarm was set for 4am, by 3:30 I was already enjoying my first of several sits on the toilet pre-race. Breakfast on race morning is always a tough process, no one likes to get up at 3:30 and chow down heaps of calories but it’s something that, when doing these events, is necessary.
Sunscreen applied, suit on, run through the checklist one last time and it’s time to walk down to race start.
One thing I was made aware of several months before the event was the fact that on race morning you leave your family pre body marking etc and you don’t see them again until post race, this was something I never really got my head around, as before other Ironmans this is one of the experiences I enjoy most, just before you go and treat your body like a rental car there is a lot of nerves in the air, your nearest and dearest know the effort that has gone into what’s about to happen so it’s a big deal and it’s a great chance to thank them for the help along the way, to have to say thanks/love you/make sure you enjoy the day too etc well before race day was tough but still one thing I will remember, walking away from the oldies and Emma slightly teary but knowing in my head it was just me and my thoughts for the rest of the day, was very motivating. Through body marking, weighed, tyres pumped, bottles and GPS added to my bike, toilet and I was ready... only 90 minutes until go time.
I found a quiet spot, grabbed a chair and waited for Dave Clark, He appeared about 30mins later and it was time to suit up, drop our bags off at the tent, grab a quick selfie and get to the race entrance.
Some of the guys who have raced here multiple times had warned us to be ready to enter the water as soon as the pro women started, so we lined up early and as soon as the cannon fired for the ladies to take off we were ushered towards the stairs and into the water
- For anyone that has watched Kona there is one thing that really stands out, the sight of the cannon firing and 1500 odd super fit males going as hard as they can to get some clear space!
This was one of the only thoughts that I wasn’t confident in “where the hell do I start?” I had semi decided to go out wide and swim a little further hoping for clear water however after talking to the other guys from Australia it was soon decided that we were front row right in the middle! My end thoughts were “well at least if I get beat up I can say I started right in the middle of the dance floor!”
We swam out together and took poll position, myself, Dave, Scotty Hobson and Josh Minogue starting together and after a bit of a pre- race pump up from Joshy we were ready to go, that’s when one of the officials on a paddle board comes past and says “stay calm guys you have 21 minutes until race start”... “TWENTY ONE MINUTES OF TREADING WATER!!!!!!!” Sub-optimal but everyone is in the same boat right?
Through the next 21minutes I tried to stay relaxed, enjoy the best view I have ever seen of the thousands and thousands of spectators lined around the bay and before we knew it BOOM the cannon fired and it was on!
I took 20 of the most solid strokes, grabbed a quick breath, about another 10 strokes and looked up aiming to grab Dave’s feet but instead I was met with a flurry of kicks to the head, a few stray strokes in the back, a couple of foot tugs and some dislodged goggles... pretty much what I expected.
The next 3800m was much the same, I didn’t get clear water for longer than 100m at a time, always fighting with someone to hold a line but 55 minutes later it was all over and the day was about to start.
In the months leading up to Kona I picked a lot of knowledgeable brains about their previous experiences and the unanimous response you get was “I rode far too hard in the first hour because I was excited and it effected the rest of my day,” so the plan was to not follow the same route. Ironman is a lot more
mental than most will ever realise, that is, if you don’t win the battle inside your head then it’s inevitable that your day will turn for the worst soon enough!
You need to have a checklist in your mind that runs on repeat and if you get a little distracted then it’s easy to stop the repetition. My checklist on the bike is similar at most Ironman events and is normally written on my bottle between my arms to remind me constantly throughout the day, I did however add a couple of extras for this race, it’s as follows
NO EGO- Reminds me that I’m capable of riding with most of the “over excited” guys who come past during the bike but I really believe the guys who run the best in Ironman are the ones who control their ego then and stick to THEIR plan.
HR- In hotter racing it is especially important to keep the heart rate in the right zone, it’s all well and good to have power numbers that you’ve worked to at home but when the temps are 15-20 degree hotter your heart rate is effected considerably and the longer your day goes the harder it is to get your core temp down once your heart rate goes a little high. So although having a power figure I was looking at riding to, I was certainly governed by my HR.
30 MINS- I always try to think 30mins ahead and that involves thinking about your previous 30mins. Yes I might be sailing smoothly now but how will I feel in 30mins? What have I taken in during the previous 30? It’s a pretty simple process that is constantly on repeat.
P.I.A.S- A little alternate but it stands for Pain Is A Story, I got this one from Pete Jacobs and felt it was perfect for my day as I had wanted to toe this start line for 20 odd years, I couldn’t let it hurt too early otherwise I wouldn’t enjoy the day... Pain is only a thought and If you don’t “tell yourself the story” then it won’t be there.... a little alternate but it sure works.
SUPPORT- The support to race day from everyone at home was immense. I was acutely aware of the amount of people who sit at home and watch the GPS and can see your current progress, so I wrote “Support” to remind myself that everyone was watching, but in a weird way that made me feel like everyone was there with me, so the support was something I wanted to remember all day.
Out onto the bike and it was all surreal, Pete Murray giving me words of encouragement, the crowds going crazy, riding on the Queen K it’s easy to see how everyone gets excited, however after about 10km I found myself pretty much alone. I was sticking to numbers perfectly and not having any worries, I guess I was kind of in no man’s land, somewhere between the “uber swimmers” and the “average joes” so I trudged along thinking “where is all this drafting they speak of?” and then it came... solid groups of guys being led by normally one or two extremely strong guys followed by a dozen or so in tow, literally!
It’s something that I could write another essay on but if you look at the simple numbers on the course it’s hard to avoid, most try to keep it as fair as possible and I’m happy to say I did see several of the people not playing fair be given penalties.
It was very congested from Waikoloa to almost Hawi but once the turn was made it strung out enough.
The whole ride was spent waiting for the winds to pick up and sort the men from the boys, however it never eventuated. It was as good of conditions I have seen on race day and made for some really fast bike times.
I went in with the plan of being cautious, allowing for a headwind the last hour and riding 5 hours, however the normal headwind was replaced with a slight cross/tail wind to town and I was off the bike with a 4:50 feeling good and clear headed which is a really good sign.
Lathered in sunscreen I am off and running! The plan was to try and run the first 10km easy, get to Palani hill, not let my heart rate go sky high (most likely walk a little) then settle into cadence and heart rate running along the highway.
The first kilometre felt amazing, I thought I was conservative, HR was low and my legs felt great! As I click over the first Km in 4:20 I have a laugh to myself and try to slow down, however it’s at this point I go past Emma and the Olds, I give them a smile and let them know it’s all going well and keep cracking... next kilometre 4:15... ok superhero it’s time to settle and run at your goal pace!
The out and back along Alii went past without a hitch, I settled into a good rhythm and was ticking off 4:30 without issue, at the far turn around I got to see where the other guys were and get a gauge on how the day was looking. I was happy to be close enough to the guys who I thought, If I run well I would be getting close to later in the run.
Once I’m back past the support crew it’s around a few more turns and time for Palani hill, not overly steep but drags on and the European spectators feel the urge to get all “tour de France” on the runners and scream at you to run if you happen to be sticking to your plan! I walked probably 150m when my HR got too high, it came straight back down which I was pleased to see so away I went again!
The trip out to the Energy Lab is mind numbing, it the perfect time to turn your brain off, dumb it down, talk to yourself about your run form and mentally go over your checklist.
The negative of calm conditions was that the cooling breezes were non-existent, the run from about 22km on consisted of aid station to aid station running well but once I got to the aid stations it was a process of
- ditch previous aid stations now warm sponges
- scream at some poor innocent aid station worker for “sponges” and once they tried to hand me two, grab their other handful also
- grab 2-4 cups of ice for down my front - drink Coke
- drink Gatorade
- throw water over my face
- more ice and away we go!
Looking back on my run split, the second half of the marathon was a case of 5:05- 5:15km through the aid station followed by a 4:35-4:45 between aid stations!
Once we entered the Energy Lab it’s the only section where you see the guys you know, it was great to see how well some guys were doing but equally as motivating to see some other looking pretty shabby and possibly paying the price for their egos not being kept in check! The Energy Lab came and went, I knew that once back on the highway it was a case of “under an hour” and I could just repeat that over and over in my head! That saying was repeated dozens of times until I hit the 36km mark, then it changes to “inside 30” and before I knew it I could see the turn up ahead to Kona Commons, it was a labour up “Mark and Dave” hill then a turn downhill for a mile home.
As I got towards the bottom of the hill with 1500m to go Mum and Dad were standing there, It kind of caught me by surprise as I expected them to be near the finish line and at the time I was screaming at myself inside my head to “run smooth” so I’m unsure if I even said much!
A couple of quick turns and it was onto the greatest 800m of any sporting event worldwide! It was something I hadn’t allowed myself to think about too much because it meant a lot more to me than anyone would know! The feeling of running along Alii Drive will be something that gets me through tough times for the rest of my life, It’s indescribable to be at the finish of not just a one day event but a 20-year dream! I zipped up my suit, tried to not look terrible and smiled the whole way down the chute!
Emma was screaming like a shark attack victim about 50m from the finish line, got across the line, turned and took the mental snapshots I always do to give me something to reminisce on over the years... I can safely say looking back from the finish line to Emma smiling, the crowds cheering and the sun in the background was the best mental snapshot I could ever ask for!
After a quick sleep and trash talk with the other Aussie boys I thought it was time to go see the family, I hobbled out to a very proud partner, Mum and Dad..... job done I guess.
Post race thoughts:- If you have read this far I applaud you, once I release version 1.1 and a year or two down the track version 2.0 I expect you to read them also.
Hawaii Ironman has always meant more than just a race to me. Hawaii has always been more than just another holiday destination for Emma, myself and My Olds, we all love the place and I certainly feel connected to the big island especially.
In 2000 I watched a seemingly invincible human have the hardest day in sport he would ever have, he put his long service at work on the line, trained himself harder than ever before, turned up to the island fit as you could ever be and finished one busted up individual! I think that was the first time I felt the urge to race in Hawaii, an event that could be that tough must be worth the experience right?
Well I can now say YES it’s sure worth the experience however post Kona I have come to realise that “the experience” isn’t only about that one day, it’s about the years prior that shape the person you are, it’s about the bonds you build with people when you train with them week in- week out, it’s about learning from the days that don’t go right and adapting to be better, it’s about the choices you (and your significant other) have to make in order to make the day happen, it’s about one day being able to affect your thoughts for years to come!
It was a far-fetched goal that I wanted to achieve, to be on the start line with the fittest 2000 people on the planet and find out where I stand.
I was hoping the Itch would be scratched, but I’m starting to learn that it’s not just a single goal it’s the process that I (and I think Emma) enjoy!
Anyone who has chosen to do an event of this nature with any form of goal in mind knows the effect that the training and racing has not only yourself but your significant others, it’s a selfish sport and without someone who is supportive the end result wouldn’t be close to what it was. I appreciate the support no end.
9hours 15mins for a self coached rookie........... ill take that. Thanks for reading and SORRY for blabbering on!