Ironman Western Australia – Ian’s story

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IMG_1165smlIMWA has come and gone, and the race has been run - leaving behind it only aching muscles and sunburn that will also quickly recover.  However, for many of us, the lessons that are to be learned from IMWA will hopefully last longer and make a more lasting (and positive!) impression. For me, IMWA was my first IM back after a year of health struggles (sickness, not injury).  Having done Mandurah 70.3 race 4 weeks before, I felt in pretty reasonable shape – Training Plan, Nutrition plan, Race Plan and reliable equipment are all required to have a good day out at Ironman.  Training plan prepared by Paul was done and dusted. Nutrition plan had been created and practiced in training. Race Plan was prepared. Equipment had been checked and double checked (although as you may learn later – perhaps not as thoroughly as I thought …….). Having trouble with my front brakes during Mandurah 70.3 (which necessitated dismantling the front brake in the end and riding 80km without any front brakes), I was pretty confident I had learned my lesson. If the weather on the day before the race was fantastic, the day of the race was about as nice as it could get. Virtually no breeze early on, calm waters around the beautiful Busselton jetty and the promise of warming up later on the run but certainly not to the extent that December in Western Australia often provides. For a swimmer with my ability (lets just say it is a work in progress, and source of both frustration and amusement to Paul) – it doesn’t get any better than this. Short warm up swim, met up with Craig on the beach and wished each other well (I knew full well I would be chasing his butt after the swim leg!) and before you know it the siren goes off. Every year people get kicked, swum over and generally off to a miserable start on such a long day by positioning themselves in an unrealistic position in the swim. Not me! Right up the back of the pack and then settle into some sort of rhythm. I found the water choppy by about 2/3 of the way out the jetty which surprised me, and to compound this my navigational skills clearly weren’t accurate as I found myself constantly re-calibrating and zigzagging (Garmin claims I swum 4200m so that gives you an idea of the first area that needs some work in the future).  I also suspected that I wasn’t working hard enough in the swim as I was gazing at the schools of fish swimming beneath me. So, focussed harder on the required bits and the buoys seemed to come more quickly. Out of the water, wetsuit down and into the tent for change to bike. My plan to eat a solid food bar prior to the onslaught of gels (and thus reduce likelihood of nausea) wasn’t a winning plan. After failing to open the damn thing (seawater + sunscreen + enthusiastic volunteer slopping on more sunscreen doesn’t make for easy opening of the bar), I pushed the second bar into my pocket and ran off to bike. The bike plan was also pretty simple – settle into a rhythm and build slowly the effort, my legs take a while before they accept the constant moderate to hard efforts.  This worked pretty well for the first 10km... ...and then I turned into Forrest Drive. After a very slight bump in the road, I felt my seat rock backwards and forwards. I was distraught and figured my race was over (saddle is held on by a single bolt, NOT the Allen key type bolt that you usually have on bikes, but rather a single13mm bolt. I didn’t take a spanner with me - figuring I had everything I needed in my toolbox. I resisted my initial hissy fit impulse to get off and throw the bike into the bush at the side of the road. I figured out there must be a roaming mechanic somewhere on the course (as promised in the Athlete Guide and I would find him/her and borrow a spanner. Turns out I never saw a mechanic So, by sitting as far as I possibly could forwards on the saddle (not most comfortable but it could be done – at least for now) the saddle was no longer rocking. I promised myself that I was prepared for the pain that was likely to come in the sensitive regions and would cope with that later.  After riding like Grandma Duck for about 10km, I couldn’t really feel any saddle instability, so perhaps I had simply imagined the saddle problem? I gently moved back and forwards on the saddle and didn’t think things were moving (wishful thinking more than reality as it turns out) and so moved slightly backwards into the usual TT position on saddle and pushed a bit harder on the pedals. I didn’t seem to be making the sort of pace that I was expecting, but tried to clear my head and focus on the process – smooth pedal strokes, consistency of effort, get past the riders grouped 2 – 4 together who “weren’t drafting” (to be fair, there was a lot less noticeable drafting this year compared to last year, at least from my observations). It seemed to be harder to maintain any pace, and I couldn’t figure out exactly why. So, I just pushed the pedals harder, promising myself that I would just have to pay the price later if necessary. First lap turnaround came at a very uninspiring pace and WAY off my goal. However, I had planned to negative split the bike so figured I would make up time on the second lap. By the second turn at Forrest Drive, I noticed something that I have never experienced on a bike before – the right side of my lower bike was hurting and my left knee was also painful. I am not the worlds fastest thinker so was struggling to figure out what this new problem was all about (believe it or not I had conveniently forgotten about the saddle as it now felt stable under my bum and believed what I felt before was a figment of my over-active imagination) By 120km, these pains had now become fires, that was only eased by sitting up and stretching. The pain disappeared, but so did any pace I was generating. I pressed on, trying to remember to take in the water and gels as per plan. Nausea was starting to appear (pretty standard for me with the gel diet that IM requires) but this was an old friend so I just said hello and pressed on. The rest of the ride was a mixture of trying to get comfortable down on the bars, then easing the ever growing pains (my glutes had now joined in the pain party) by sitting up and stretching. I accepted that my goal time was gone, and also figured out that the run was going to be different than my intended effort. Believe me I felt like giving up both during the bike and the run. However, there have been a whole host of people who have kindly assisted me back to health and fitness, and they deserved a lot better than a DNF just because my expectations of a finish time weren’t being met. One of my great joys in IM triathlon is getting off the bike and running. I often feel like crying for joy (as opposed to feeling like crying for other reasons about 25km later) – pretty spooky, huh? However, today was different. I hobbled to the change tent and put on my trusty shoes, quickly ate a bar and took off. My legs just didn’t feel like running. Didn’t matter what I said to them or how much I reminded them that THIS is the time to shine and run past people – they had enough insult on the bike and weren’t talking to me at all. We all expect pains and aches in the run leg of an IM, but those pains tend to be in specific areas for that person and so you can manage it. In my case, my day of surprises continued. My calves (typically my major source of tightness and pain in the run) were surprisingly quiet and my hip flexors, glutes and quads were at first tight and then grew more painful. I couldn’t believe it – I had every intention of being mentally tough and burying myself on this run just like I knew I could do from all my training runs, but it simply didn’t happen. I had to back off the pace to a manageable level and ran from aid station to aid station, taking in cola and Gatorade. Each lap I loved seeing the smiling faces of my friends from BT Run Club shouting their encouragement (although I noticed that they weren’t getting up from their chairs or coming out of the shade of their tent into the hot sunshine!). Similarly, I saw my wife Natalie and daughter Gabs waving at me. These little things make a BIG difference to anyone trying to get through the run leg of an IM. Paul shouted encouragement from the sidelines to take on nutrition, and generally he is right in his assessment. So, I took another gel (against my stomachs advice) and it did help – for 5 – 10 minutes. I had visualised those tough km’s between 25 and 32 km and had a plan to manage those dark times. However, it simply wasn’t needed as the run didn’t pan out as I had imagined. Very humbling, but at least I was in good company as there were several hundred other athletes around me fighting their own demons and getting through the run.  I love that feeling of rounding the bends approaching the Goose Café and grabbing the 4th lapband. Nothing hurts any more, and the spring returns to your step (not sure where it had been for the previous 41.6km, but at least it made a belated appearance). I finished and met up with my friend Gergo (who told me he finished 7th in the pro field – a fantastic effort for someone who had been struggling with a head cold and sore throat for days and spent the last 3 days gargling salt water in an effort to overcome this and race) – along with Lachie we wandered into the waters of Geographe bay. They wanted some relief for sore muscles, I wanted to put out the fire in my left knee, glutes and hip flexors. Love that cold water after finishing an IM!! When I picked up my bike later, all was revealed. My lack of bike mechanic’ing thoroughness was apparent – my bike seat was wobbling side to side and pushed all the way back jammed onto the rails, about 6cm further back from the position I ride. To add insult to injury, somewhere in there my back wheel had moved and the brake had been rubbing on one side of the wheels, not sure for how long but there was a big mark on the braking surface, so quite a while. Having ridden in a foreign position for 170km suddenly made sense of the pains I had. All very self induced pain – and makes checking ALL equipment a very necessary and worthwhile expenditure of time. So, my journey towards triathlon goals continues, with more lessons learned – I am pretty sure there will be more lessons that come my way. However, I will be patient and learn those lessons as they come along. Todays lesson appears to have been diligence and humility are necessary companions on the Ironman journey. PS – a special shout out to my friends Craig and Travis. Craig did his first ever Ironman in a stellar time of 11 hours 17 mins and Travis completed his with a 1 hour pb time. Outstanding results and reward for your hard work.
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