Ironman WA Race Report
Firstly a caveat about this report, it’s the first time I am penning my race experience down onto paper and in doing so I’m hoping to be able to give some insight into the Ironman experience, also I am well into my 3rd Singapore Sling enjoying the comforts that SIA offers.
Ironman WA was my 2nd full Ironman, having completed my first last year in Frankfurt. This was a race which I had spectated a number of times for various friends and having grown up for much of my life in Perth it was also my old stomping ground before I moved to Singapore years ago.
The Busselton district is 230km south of Perth and is a small town which contains mostly those who are retired or working in the various agriculture and tourism businesses in the area. It is one of the bigger towns in the region and is surrounded by vineyards and dairy farms…. Wine, cheese and chocolate – bliss!
Our IronProject group arrived in a few waves, but we headed down in a convoy on Thursday afternoon having hired two Rav4’s which were filled to the gills with our bikes and all the other rubbish we were carrying. Our accommodation was just north of the town on the bike route and with just a road between us and the beach. It was stunning, we spent the first night getting our supplies and then building up the bikes.
Nothing beats a cider or beer whilst setting up for the days to follow. It was slowly starting to dawn on us just how close the race was… Friday was our day to get tagged at the race check in and our support crew from Singapore and Perth had also arrived.
The Friday morning was our wetsuit swim check and so instead of going down to the jetty we decided that the beach across from the house was a much better choice… So after a few photos we popped over and jumped into the Indian Ocean, 1.4km done and the wetsuits felt good… I grappled a few of the others to make it a bit more “realistic” and then in a moment of stupidity decided to wrestle with a blue manner crab that I saw around 1m below on the sand. As you can see from the photos, I did get the crab, however she also got a few good rounds in on me!
Any race isn’t really “real” until the check in, they give you number tags, they give you wrist band and then they weigh us… Almost like checking into an army camp, but this one is our own doing!
For any Ironman, the race expo is often the highlight of the day, but just like the race bag given at check in, it was quite the let down… We did buy a few items, some souvenir shirts and a few last minute items for the race itself. Unlike the european races, they don’t give you any race haversack, they also went rather cheap on the sponsor items… Quite honestly it was disappointing but I guess the small tub of lip balm will come in handy, perhaps I have been in Singapore too long but freebees to excite me 🙂
In the afternoon we decided to go for a test ride, heading out north from the house along the coastal route and the Tuart Drive, to sum it up.. “WTH”… The wind was gusty and variable in direction so it made it a little harder, given that you could have a cross, head and tailwind on the same section of road.
The temperature, to a creature of the tropics like myself felt like the arctic breath from a snow queen… We got back to the house, I tried to defrost under a hot shower and then we went about our business getting all of the race numbers and transition bags together.
I also had another look at the weather forecasts for the Sunday and it still wasn’t looking great. There was a strong wind warning valid as well as showers forecast, the temperature range was a chilly 11 – 21 degrees… Fantastic!
We decided to stay in the house and cook up a carbo dinner instead of going to the pre race dinner, given the weather and our amazing view, I think it was the right decision, a buffet spread and many drinks were enjoyed by all. The whole point of these races and holidays is to have fun, so its always best to try enjoy a festive mood
For IMWA the bike check in was on the Saturday and we decided to do this after a good sleep and a hearty breakfast of beer, eggs and lots of carb!!
As Anthony will confirm, beer is definitely an Ironman staple.
The cars were loaded and it was down to the transition. IMWA is a one location transition so that means the T1 (Swim / Bike) and T2 (Bike / Run) are located together. This makes it easy as the bags and bikes are all dropped together.
Given the high winds forecast, they didn’t allow us to use any bike covers, so I left Papa Smurf with a small bag covering the DI2 junction box and told him that I would see him tomorrow. The “oh shit just got real” feeling is about the time that you walk out of the transition and look back at the bikes and the bags… 18 hours until the race start… Wow!!
Up until this part it’s been mostly a regurgitation of the logistics behind a race, and as you might have noticed a recap of the fact our group drank a lot of beer (and for Jessy and I, cider)… Travelling for an Ironman is never an easy feat, and combing it with a holiday is a good way to maximise the value of distance travelled, however it is quite a logistical feat. It’s good to make sure that you get this all done early to avoid any last minute stress. Also be sure to have some kind of travel insurance, none of them cover bikes, BUT the medical expenses could be very high if you needed treatment….
Anyway back to the race… The night before any race is a blur… Making sure everything is packed, eating a meal which won’t cause you harm the next day and then of course trying to get some sleep… Well given my insomnia even a sleeping tablet couldn’t help me get more than 4 hours of sleep, so up at 3am to SSS and have a few crumpets with peanut butter (coaches favourite) and an up & go.
Given the fact it was sub arctic outside we all decided that wearing our wetsuits at half kilt was a good idea so we got dressed and ready in the house. Brad drove the 4 of us down to the Transition area and Ian followed with all of the other spectators… For me this it the time which I tend to get the pre race jitters… Not the time, but always what happens! I made a quick stop to the ports loo… Which I gotta tell you smelt like the arse end of waste treatment plant, however beggars can’t be choosers!
The transition on race morning reminds me of a group of Mainland Chinese at a outlet mall… A flurry of bags and people running in every direction. It was time to put my Garmin and helmet on the bike and fill up the Shiv’s Fuelcell with nutrition and top up the Fueluslage with my Pure Nutrition Pineapple electrolytes.
This race I was carrying just one additional bottle to my in built hydration, but given the cool temperatures as well as the 20km intervals between aid stations I wasn’t too worried.
We all made our way down towards the race start which was to the north of the Jetty, IMWA is still following the old mass start format. Ironman is slowly changing to a new self seeded start which has shown to be a bit safer for all involved.
The Swim… The Swim…. The Swim…. Where shall I start, 5:50am – air horn goes off and it’s on like donkey kong! For me this is the point where the nerves go and its time to get down to business… The way out was nice, the ocean was a reasonable temperature around 20 degrees and with the wind blowing from the south west the water was protected by the jetty. I was averaging a nice steady 1:30 pace and had a good rhythm without interruption from anyone else….
Well to say this shit hit the fan when I turned at the end of the jetty would be the understatement of the year… The wind had picked up in the 30 minutes since the start, blowing up a huge swell and a lot of chop. It was also pushing us towards the jetty, it was at this point that I realised my target time was not going to achievable and it was slowly turning into sea water drinking party… No matter which side I would breathe from I seemed to get a mouth full of salt water, more on that later…
Finally after what now seemed like an eternity I saw the finish line and was able to grapple my way out and onto dry land, I think Ian could see the disappointment in my eyes when I saw that the garmin showed a 1:08 for the swim, but like any race you move on and I gotta say the supporters and volunteers at IMWA were amazing, cheering you on as you headed into the transition.
The salt water sadly was now wreaking havoc on my gut leading to a longer than wanted T1, having to visit the Porte-loo which thankfully smelt much better than the one earlier in the morning. Out of transition and it was then I realized just how tough a morning this was going to be. I was beyond cold and this really was going to be the other struggle of my morning, beyond the upset tummy.
The ride plan for me was around a 190 watt power average with a buffet of nutrition to try and hit around 1300 calories over the 180km. I’d been hoping to be able to do a no stop ride, however the tummy issues continued to persist and looking at the Q’s for some of the porte-loo’s I wasn’t the only one who literally had the shits with the salt water from the swim.
The wind was variable and gusting between 30-55km/hr throughout the ride, the biggest problem with variable winds is you can’t just “set an forget”, the bike tends to become a bit of a sail and so you are constantly having to make tracking adjustments. But then again it does make the time “sail” by. The IMWA bike course is now a 2 loop course up through the forests to the North of Busselton. It is quite picturesque and has a large amount of shade over many areas, which normally would be wonderful… But given the cloud and light drizzle, the tree’s canopy provided further inability to warm up beyond a semi thawed state.
The spectators tend to camp in 6 areas, namely the 3 U-Turns and the other two big junctions. They have to drive out from town and walk quite a way to be able to cheer us on, so it was amazing to see all of our cheer squad stationed at the 3/4 way mark of the bike lap… They provided awesome encouragement and the IronProject Chicken was probably enough to bring a big grin to my otherwise frozen face!
I found that I was able to maintain a good power output with my expected heart rate sitting around 130 so the plan seemed to be working, however with the winds the speed was all over the place and whilst I had hoped to have an average above 33km/hr in the end I had to settle with 32 as the end figure. Which all things considered I was still happy with… At some points I was pushing 240+ watts and barely reaching 27km/hr, mother nature certainly had her beans and lentils for dinner the night before!
Coming back into town would always be the highlight of IMWA as the reception for the final 1km of the bike is amazing, the crowd cheers and the commentary makes you feel somewhat important! Transition is large but they rack your bike for you so you need not worry about anything except making it into the tent.
Two helpers assisted in emptying out my T2 Run bag and one older fellow started to apply me with a liberal amount of sun screen whilst giving me a lecture about seeing a doctor to ensure my sun spots are not cancerous (certainly an interesting conversation for a Ironman Transition). I decided to just wear my 2XU 1 Piece triathlon suit for the whole race and given it was now 1pm I figured that I wouldn’t need anything warmer.
A note of warning… a 1 piece suit is comfortable BUT…. it’s a bitch when it comes to the toilet breaks…. You either need to have a very long hose, or some yoga like flexibility… My advise would be to stick with a 2 piece for the longer races as it will save you a lot of time when visiting the wonderful porte-loos!
The run is my most dreaded leg, and I had been nursing a tendon issue since January so my run distances were very low compared to my other training volumes. Thankfully a very good friend in HK is a physio and with his amazing guidance as well as a lot of slow rehab it seems to have paid off, the downside was that the longest run I did before IMWA was a 27km run around Hong Kong Island 2 weeks earlier… So for my coach and I, we really didn’t know what was going to happen once I hit the 30+km mark.
The weather was still overcast and cool, I was shivering at points but thankfully slowly warmed up as I left the transition area. IMWA’s run is spectacular, heading north and south along the coast with a beautiful view of the amazing beach as well as a massive amount of supporters lining either side of the path. At times I actually felt somewhat self conscious running past them all!
As you’ve gathered from this report, I am never short of a few words and love to talk… Within the first 5km I met a fellow named George who was running the same pace as me, so we tagged along together and talked about many things… The one common topic amongst athletes was how shit the swim was!! Thankfully wasn’t just me who thought that, there was one VERY common word used to describe the swim and it sounds little similar to truck!
George helped to keep me at a sub 5:50 pace for the first 10km and it was actually quite easy up to that point, my legs felt good. My energy levels were fine and I was starting to stick to my plan of using Coke during the run to keep energised as I generally find by this stage in the day my tummy simply doesn’t want food. I tried lollies, pretzels and banana but ended up just spitting them out as I couldn’t take it.
All was going well at this point and George had to stop to stretch so I kept moving on, thankfully help was soon found in the guise of a lady wearing a really cool tri suit featuring a taipan on it! Without needing much to open a conversation this was enough for me to meet Jeanine who was a trooper from South Africa. She, like me had a shit swim and an average bike so her plan of sub 13hours was looking doubtful but she wanted to maintain a 6:00 min / km pace on the run. Perfect!!
We ran the next 21km together and because she was much earlier on in her run than me she had a lot more energy and had yet to hit that 30km wall of pain! Thankfully Jeanine kept me talking and maintaining a pace even when I wanted to back off… The rain was holding off and because of the winds the pesky flies did not bother us, so all in all I think this leg was probably the best of them all.
Towards the band collection point (every lap you get a band… 4 of them and you finish!) Janine moved off slightly faster and I was now alone once more… Well that was for all of about 3 minutes until I saw Anthony just ahead, I gave him a loud shout so that he could give me 30 seconds to catch him and then we continued on our merry way, me on my last lap and Anthony on his 2nd.
Our IronProject supporters had split into two groups with Ian, Jaime and Ling (plus the Chicken!!) sitting just after the band collection point and then Brad, Callum, Jessy and Kylie in the bar / cafe called the Goose… Well lets just say each time I ran past them I was certainly less than impressed that my potato chips had all been eaten!!
I honestly cannot stress how much of a difference it makes to us athletes to have supporters there watching you… It really really really makes or breaks a race!
So with the final lap underway it really started to now feel like a marathon… The toes had blisters, the knees hurt from tight ITB’s, my right hip flexor was as tight as a fishes arse and it was really starting to cause me some problems… But that was counterbalanced by the sore lower back and the sun burn on my hands… All in all it sounded like any normal marathon!
Thank god the body held together and Anthony kept me pacing at 6:00 with a few km only to the finish line… Its like a scene out of a Saw movie at this point, you want to run a little faster so you can get to the finish line, but that hurts… So you are in a perpetual conundrum of going faster, then limping back to pace… If anyone tells you that a marathon is fun, well tell them to talk a long walk of a short bridge (or perhaps run a marathon off the end of the Busselton Jetty!).
But then I saw it… The elusive 4th band… I was torn between screaming for joy and crying for the knowledge that I was almost done. I also had no idea how my timing was because at the point of running the marathon in an Ironman the maths of subtracting current time from start time is impossible!
The high fives to all of the spectators were a must and then Ian with his usual energy chased after me with the chicken in tow. I now had the enthusiasm of a 15 yr old virgin going on his first date, I said my good byes and good luck to my best buddy who still had another 21km to go and then it was off into the finisher chute…
I honestly cannot describe how it feels to run the final 200+ metres… It’s just a blur of the M-dot carpet, lights, screens and people… High fives to anyone and everyone, the commentators are talking with your name being shouted and you can see the timer up ahead… The emotions of the entire day, hit you like a 10-tonner. There is no more pain, no more exhaustion it is just the finish line… Those magic 4 words which you have dreamed about for the last 6+ months of training are screamed out “You are an Ironman”…
As I relive this I still get goose bumps just thinking about it, I crossed the line and was caught by my two “catchers”, they all were smiles and asked me how I was… Which, ironically I couldn’t answer as I was simply overwhelmed… I had done it, I had beaten my previous time by nearly an hour in what I thought was a completely shit house race, I had made it…
Finishing an Ironman is a feat in itself, but to finish and push yourself to be better than the previous takes an enormous amount of planning, preparation and of course training. I had spent upwards of 20 hours a week since July training for this race, and then in what feels like a blink of an eye it’s over… This all takes an enormous toll on you and the emotional and physical fatigue is now apparent.
Don’t get me wrong, it still is the most amazing memory I will have with me for many years to come, but it truly is just overwhelming. You are an Ironman!
I was shivering from being cold, without being conscious of that, so my catchers covered me up in a silver heat blanket and wrapped my finishers towel around me… They offered me the choice between food and a massage inside a warm tent… I took the massage, I had 4 people removing my shoes, calf sleeves and warming me up with warm towels… I had gone to heaven! For the next 15 minutes they gently rubbed down my legs and back as well as my pesky hip flexor! This is what finishing a race is all about.
As they say the rest is history and it was now a matter of getting showered, changed and head out to meet up with out loyal supporters. I could not have completed the way I did without them, and I truly thank them from the bottom of my heart. Brad, Callum, Jessy, Jaime, Ian, Ling Er and Kylie – you are all amazing!
Now for the soppy part, without many people this race would not be what it was. Kenny thank you for all of the guidance and support with my ankle, it meant the world to me. To my house mate (and the best mate anyone could ask for) Anthony, he is like the energizer bunny, never unwilling to head out for a 4am ride or to do a midnight round island.. he finished his first IM at WA in awesome time and it is fitting for the awesome person that he is. Bernard AKA Typhoon is my go to for a hot lunch time run and is always willing to push me in my weakest leg.
An Yeong is another awesome buddy who helped me finish this, always willing to work his arse off in the pool with me, and ever willing to push me during our TT rides around Seletar (we spend 4-6 hours there every Saturday… boring much!). Our other IronProject guys like Ernest and Ian, we ran, swam and biked together often and it makes for such a fun training environment.
Finally a friend who became my coach and go to guy, Wille… He was able to single handedly manage my work and training schedule and drive me to work harder and harder in each session, a good coach is able to push his pupil but a great coach is able to his pupil to push himself. I certainly could not have PB’ed all 3 legs and the overall time in what were trying conditions without all of his input, time and of course the Saturday morning rides!
An ironman isn’t a race, it is a journey and one which comes with an enormous amount of personal sacrifice, however it is one of the most satisfying journeys that you can make and good luck to everyone who is looking sign up!