The road to my first half-ironman triathlon was a fairly long one in some respects but quite short in others. It was around November 2013 when my mate Leddin convinced me to do the Albany Half Triathlon in January 2015. Doing the 2014 edition was not viable for a few reasons and so plans were put in place for me to participate in my first half ironman in about 13 months. Leddin had competed at Albany in 2013 in his first and only triathlon to date and enjoyed it enough to want to do it again. He planted the seed with me and boy did it take hold. I'd been off the bike for number of months with a combination of a hospitalisation, lack of motivation, depression and family issues. I'd started running again - about my sixth attempt to get into running... I think what made it stick this time was parkrun. The combination of an actual 'event' and the awesome community of people really made it easier to want to get out running. So after the time off from cycling, combined with a newfound enthusiasm for running - I was keen to get back into the fitness lifestyle. I've been able to swim all my life, but never swam laps for fitness. I could barely swim a length without huffing, puffing, spluttering and what have you. I enrolled in a few refresher swimming lessons at the local leisure centre and went from there. Being the methodical, meticulate, super-organised fellow I am (ummm.... yeah...) my next step was to dive in head first and enter every triathlon I could! Best training is racing right? My first event was a sprint distance at Nedlands early in January 2014. Unfortunately the Life Savers (required for safety) turned up late and so the swim was converted into a short run. My first actual triathlon would have to wait until the following week at Champion Lakes. A sell out Telstra series race with 1800+ people. Managed to get through the swim (using just about every stroke possible...), smashed the bike leg and got through the run leg ok. I think I was hooked. I was well on my way to being one of those 'tri-geeks' that until very recently I'd poked fun at and thought of in the same way as one might think of the person who cuts the crust off bread or blows raspberries against the glass in a bus. Several other triathlons followed including a couple of Olympic distance efforts with rather ordinary results. But they were fun! I had no doubt about my ability to complete the half ironman distance but wanted to do better than that. I wanted to to as well as I possibly could. So a new (for me at least) approach was going to be needed. My park running had put me in contact with a great bunch of people, one of which was fellow dog-lover Hayley. She was being coached in the ways of triathlon by a Jedi Master operating under the guise of F4L Triathlon Coaching. I was on the cusp of getting some cycling specific coaching a few short months ago but it turns out my delay in pursuing that was a blessing. Since then I'd caught the triathlon bug and so I investigated getting coached in this weird sport of three disciplines. F4L came recommended from Hayley and after a bit of umming and ahhhing I found myself attending some swimming squad sessions. I found these quite difficult at first and often felt like a pack-a-day smoker must feel like. My swimming fitness just wasn't there. (I've since discovered that this is normal for me and I just need to HTFU !!) A bit of a chat with Coach PJ and I was along for the ride. I'd never used a structured training plan before to target an event. I'd always just entered what I wanted and did it. It would be a new experience following a plan and having some specific training. Not only that but the F4L crowd were a good bunch of people from all walks of life who all seemed to embrace the F4L ethos of #makeitfun. I was in. This left about seven months till my goal race of Albany 2015. More than enough time to put in some solid training, learn to at least become an average swimmer and prepare as best I could. The training was, for the most part, enjoyable. It was good to be accountable and have someone keeping me on track. There were no asshats in the group, everybody knew that everyone else had their strengths and weak points and that was cool. There was the guys (and girls) training for the full stupid, some of us for the half-stupid and others for the more sensible distances. A good community and vibe to be around. Some things had to take a back seat in this new regime. My much loved bunch rides with the SPR crew fell by the wayside and so did my regular parkrun. Prioritization was a going to be a key to being well prepared I'm afraid. Starting this training in the middle of winter was a bonus too. I felt if I could manage the workouts over winter then I'd be right when the weather was more agreeable. There were inklings of maybe entering the Mandurah 70.3 in November but as it turned out I was glad I didn't do it. Coach wasn't that keen the idea and I wasn't keen to just treat a half Ironman as a training session. I was a volunteer on the finish line down there and got a feel for just how hard an event a half was. The heat was brutal and even some of the pros looked a bit worse for wear afterwards, let alone some of the less serious punters. I also got see some the stars of the sport like Craig Alexander and Caroline Steffan strut their stuff. Training continued into the festive period but unfortunately I lost a bit focus due to life getting in the way. A pending move to rAdelaide was only one thing that derailed me a bit. Training became a bit adhoc and fell away. My last real hitout before Albany was an Olympic distance simulated tri with Leddin the week before, plus a couple of swim sessions. I managed to squeeze in washing and getting my bike serviced for the first time in years as well. My SPR colleagues can attest to my lack of bike cleaning prowess... My road bike has been mistaken for my 'rain' bike, a mountain bike or a clunker several times. Many thanks to Lakes Bikes for their swift service. Then, after 13 months it was time for Albany. I drove down on Thursday night and spent most of Friday getting stuff sorted, eating and relaxing. We did manage to get in a short ride, run and swim though. Bike was feeling smooth (amazing what a new drivetrain can do...) Checked out the nice climb straight after T1 - awesome - should be more tri's that aren't dead flat! The water wasn't too cold either and was nice and clear. Registration was taken care of, bikes dropped off in transition. Thunderbirds were GO! A decent pasta meal and a good sleep were the last ingredients. The morning of the race was fairly uneventful. Managed to wolf down some baked beans before wandering down with Leddin to the start. After the mandatory ginning around sorting out and placing stuff in transition just so it was time to don wetsuits and stand around waiting for the briefing. It was quite cool and windy but not quite cold enough to do up my rather snug fitting wettie. Before too long it was time to head down the beach for the start. I really wanted to go for a dip and a short swim but was turned off by the wind and didn't want to be standing around wet and cold before the start. In hindsight this wasn't a good idea. In the end we ended up jumping in with only minutes to go and getting wet before exiting for the start. Said hello to Mr and Ms Team Stack and then my first half ironman was underway! Swim Once the hooter went there was a surge of people heading into the water. I was running, wading and putting Dolphie Wolfie to good use before attempting to swim properly. I say attempting because I seemed to be in a bit of shock. I was hyperventilating and couldn’t seem to put more than three strokes together. I seemed to be out of breath and couldn’t quite get it together until I’d rounded the first buoy and was halfway across to the next one. After that I came good and was reasonably happy with my swim. I’d lost sight of Leddin somewhere early on whilst I was struggling. The water was cool but not cold, reasonably clear and a small swell to make it interesting (but nothing like the swell at last year’s Dunsborough X-Adventure race…..) The course was two laps of a triangle with one of the buoys on the beach requiring more dolphie wolfie and a short run. Once my initial difficulties were out of the way I quite enjoyed the swim although I still think I was close to last out of the water! My somewhat snug wetsuit was fantastic and proved fairly easy to get off pro style as I ran up the beach. A swish of drink to wash out the salt water and my first 1.9km ocean swim was in the books. T1 I was surprised to see Leddin still in transition but it gave me a bit of a boost as it meant my swim wasn’t too slow after all. I still don’t have tri cycling shoes and I am also not keen to forgo socks so T1 always takes me a bit longer than it should. I was pretty sure that some spectators where chuckling when I committed the cardinal sin of sitting down to put my socks and road shoes on! When all was said and done I think I gave Leddin a couple of minutes before I was heading out with my bike. I wish I had spent another couple of minutes applying sunscreen though as by the end of the race I was toasted and would pay for it for days. Bike The short climb straight out of transition should be included in more triathlons! There are more than enough pancake flat races out there! I motored up it, passing heaps of punters, but held back a bit too - it was a long way to go. Flew down the other side like Paolo Salvodelli and then settled in to the grind of the outward leg. I found it a little hard to judge the wind heading out. I was feeling good but it didn’t feel like a tailwind. I was picking people up like no ones business and in fact didn’t get passed by anybody heading out. I almost caught up to Leddin at about 25km in but then he pulled away again whilst I took a gel onboard! Once I’d eaten, it was time to put the head down and go. Passed Leddin in his distinctive Marconi kit and powered on. Saw the lone pro leader coming the other way and he was flying. The couple of riders chasing him were quite a way back. Saw the fairer half of Team Stack heading back home and doing it easy by the looks of things! The hairpin turnaround was one of the tightest I’ve seen but it was negotiated without incident. Leddin was only a short distance back, clearly coming good 🙂 Any ambiguity about the wind direction on the outbound leg was quickly resolved once the return journey began… it was pretty tough going. I had held off looking at the Garmin and when I did I regretted it. 20km to go and I was in the pain cave. The wind was relentless. I was almost happy when I and 3 three other racers were held up for about 90 seconds at a train crossing - Paris-Roubaix style! (I feel your pain Leif!) A bit more head down stuff before the climb up and over Mt Clarence T2 and run T2 was a non-event. Easy in and out with no mucking about. Again - later on I'd wished I'd spent some time applying sunscreen.... First 5km of the run was fine - gently undulating path, a few random hand slaps from other punters and I just settled in. The turn-around was welcome though, more from a mental point of view than actual milestone. Saw both members of Team Stack on the return leg before 2 or 3km of beach running. Running on the beach was fairly pleasant but I became acutely aware of the lack of shade and that section felt like it went on forever. On the short slope up the Mt Clarence boardwalk I spotted an un-opened gel and it was still there when I passed it again a few minutes later. I nabbed it, made sure it was still sealed and pocketed it. It didn't last long, I took it in shortly afterward as I was out of gels and I was pining for each drink station now. What had looked like a close cluster of stations on the map pre-race now felt like each one was separated by interstellar distances... My 'Spice Girls' moment was definitely happening (that point in any endurance event that I start singing Spice Girls songs to myself...) Didn't see Team stack on my last run loop. Mr Stack had probably finished by then and Ms Stack had upped her pace (or more likely I'd dropped mine!) Managed to keep running until I finished although Mt Clarence made sure I was feeling it at the end. I came across the finish line in under six hours something to the cheers of the Leddin Cheer Squad. A bit of watermelon and some time spent stretching and it was all over. My first real targeted event. My first half-ironman triathlon. My first vegan-powered athletic endeavour! Team Leddin finished shortly afterward having had a tough day out. Big kudos for toughing it out and making it to the end, as well as the support crew for their patience and hospitality over the weekend. Washup I was happy with my effort, the only disappointment coming from the fade away in training leading up to the race. No injuries or major f*&k-ups in the race except for my lack of sunscreen. Conditions were near perfect as far as I was concerned. Slightly cool, even a little rain, swim was bumpy enough to make it fun and not think I was in the pool, but not a massive swell . Bike leg with a little bit of up and down, not billiard table flat and a fair wind too. Run was only two loops and was a bit different with the beach run. All good. What I did discover though was that any thoughts of doing a full ironman were definitely put on the back burner after doing this. I found the 70.3 distance a challenge yet feel I could go faster by #Stickingtotheplan and applying myself. I really enjoyed the race and look forward to my next half - whenever and wherever that may be! MurrayMan perhaps?