My Ironman journey has been loaded with plenty of highs and lows but this years race became one of my proudest sporting achievements to date.
With only 2 more possible chances to gain a spot for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Port Macquarie presented my best chance of qualifying.
Port Mac has been a happy hunting ground for me, having qualified for the 70.3 World Championships in 2014 and then setting a new Ironman PB in 2015.
Ironman Australia is an honest course which I have found suits my style of racing and plays to me strengths or more importantly minimises my weaknesses.
After the Warrnambool Sufferfest on the 20th March,it was 6 weeks to go until Ironman Australia in Port Macquarie, this broken up into a 4 week block, a transition week and then race week.
The first week after Sufferfest was pretty straight forward, 2 sessions per day, just ticking over really. To start week 2, we did our big ride, 6.5 hours. This ride gave me the chance to put in some solid 45min intervals at 85% FTP as well as some shorter ones at 100%. It was also a good opportunity to practice my race nutrition as well as my new electrolyte drink from Isowhey Sports.
I have tried out a lot of different electrolytes over the past few months, but after consulting with my naturopath (Mel Humble), we found Isowhey to be the best for me. Why – it had a high sodium content, no artificial colours, flavours or sweeteners and importantly no added fructose. See what Steph Lowe (the natural nutrionist) has to say about Fructose here.
Normally after a 6.5 hr ride, I would look forward to some lighter days, even some days off, but no, there were a further 2 more big weeks to go. I honestly didn’t think I was going to survive the week following the long ride. Monday and Tuesday were some solid runs and Wed/Thursday were tough turbo days (Level 4 criss cross and VO2 overgear). Lets just say those were emotional sessions. To round out the week, Friday was a 23km run with some 1km hill repeats thrown in the middle. It was a further 2 weeks before I had a day off.
But having made it through that first week, things started to get easier and I started to feel better about getting through the rest of the block. This period was very intense, not just the training, but coupled with working full time, trying to be the dad and husband I wanted and needed to be mean’t I was squeezing every minute out of every day. But I always made sure I was home in time to read books to the boys before they went to bed, walk them to Kinder and go to swimming lessons. Weekends were the hardest as no matter how hard I tried or how early I started, I was going to miss some family time, well during the final 4 week block anyhow.
All I could do was communicate, make the time together count and when not training, make sure everything was about anything else but me or training.
Last year, although I continued to train during race week, I missed a couple of swim sessions and really just went through the motions on the bike and the run. This year was different. I was far more focussed. With the benefit of the 2015 race under my belt, I had identified sections on the bike course where I knew I needed to improve, so I made sure I rode these pre race, noting land marks and duration through these sections.
Outside of training, it was some quality family time, at the beach, sand castles, swimming and generally having fun. I caught up with my coach on Wednesday via facetime where we discussed nutrition, race pace and strategy. This was invaluable, we confirmed some key details and made some important clarifications.
As previous, its now tradition to have a light pasta meal 2 days prior to race day, this essentially being Pete Evans’ Paleo Shepherds Pie, although we drop the cauliflower and just place the bolognese on some pasta with some grated cheese. Its a great dish and goes down very well. As for my pre race dinner, I have actually found some grilled fish and hot salty chips to be a working formula. I’ve tried various foods pre race, but I tend to avoid red meat as its just doesn’t digest well, and a green salad just isn’t going to cut it. So there you go, I’m not perfect, I do eat some unhealthy food at times.
I was up at 4:15am, jumped in the shower and went for my race day breakfast of some toast with rice malt syrup and peanut butter.
90 mins before race start, I downed the sodium solution and then proceeded the drive to transition. I did the usual pre-bike checks, clipped in the garmin, inserted the bottles and pumped up the tyres. I was about to walk off, then realised my bike shoes where still in my bag. That would have been a disaster beyond comprehension had I done that.
I completed my usual pre-race routine, dropped off my special needs bags and found a quite spot to put on my wet suit. I then proceeded to the swim start to drop off my street gear bag and prepare for the start. I didn’t have a chance for a warm-up swim, so it was going to be straight into it. With Emma and the boys back at Lauriten, it was nice to spot a work colleague at the swim start (Phil Hawkins) who was there supporting his daughter. With a young family, normally I am on my own at swim starts so seeing a familiar face was reassuring.
The Swim (3.8km)
The rolling start is a nice way of easing into the swim, probably a little easy as I found myself working my way through the field for the first 20 minutes. It wasn’t until probably 35 minutes in that I started to find my rhythm, this reinforcing to me that I really need to do a warm-up swim.
I really need to acknowledge my Blue Seventy Helix wet suit that I purchased through the guys at aqua shop in South Melbourne. This was my first high end suit purchase and I can say with confidence that you get what you pay for. The Helix is everything you want from a suit and more. It really is an awesome suit and was a big factor in me setting a PB in the swim, enabling me to finally break through my past 4 Ironman swim times which have ranged between 55:00min and 58:00min. This time, we came in at 53:19sec. I still strongly believe I have a low 50:00min swim in me.
The Bike (180km)
The ride out of Port Mac is a little hilly, and its hard not to rip it up, but patience is invaluable. This race was no different as I found my self passing some of the early swim leaders and finding myself amongst the leading age groupers around 20km. Conditions were pretty good and I was feeling very comfortable which was nice.
Approaching the half way mark of Lap 1, Em and the boys had gathered to cheer me on so I made sure I slowed down to give them a good wave. Its a great feeling having support on the course, particularly down at the bottom end.
The return leg of lap 1 was pretty good, although I was dropped by a couple of the guys I was trading places with on the outbound leg. I wasn’t overly concerned as my watts were as planned, but still, it can play on your mind if you let it. Reaching 90km, I was feeling good, the weather was surprisingly cool and it actually started to rain. Heading out past the golf course, I made my way to the first section that I had earlier practiced on, knowing it was a flat spot back in 2015.
It was during the next 15 minutes that I really put down some solid efforts and to my surprise had caught up one of the previous guys that had dropped me. I sat behind (legally) for a brief moment, questioning if I had the legs to go on with this effort, but today was going well so I decided to push on. The second section of focus was out of Bonnie Hills, not quite 15 minutes, but another section where I wanted to ride well.
Shortly into this section, I caught the second guy and with building confidence pressed on. The difference this year to last could not have been bigger, no doubt the training we had put in was paying dividends as I was so much stronger. As a 70.3 was being run on the same course, it became difficult to know who you were racing against, I didn’t know how far behind the leaders I were. So when in doubt, keep peddling. The return leg to Port Mac went well, I kept picking off riders and after the final climb up Mathew Flinders hill, I was ready to jump off the bike. I knew I had a good bike split, but a 4:53 was a new PB, beating last years bike split at Port Mac by nearly 18 minutes.
Again, the Swissside Hadron 625’s performed beautifully, particularly with 25mm Continental GP 4000s II. Apart from their awesome aerodynamics and wicked sound, the alloy rim meant I had that little bit of extra stopping power, well almost, I did overshoot the finish line on the bike. Finally, another superb job by Herb at Fuel Performance. I know I’ve said it before, but he is an awesome technician, always returning my bike to new condition and truly does make it ready to race.
The Run (42.2km)
Transition was pretty clean, shoes and socks on, nutrition loaded and watch on. To save time, I even asked the volunteers to load my nutrition in my pockets as I laced up my shoes, thanks guys.
The rain hadn’t eased which I was reasonably happy with, it kept things cool and was very Melbourne like. I was certainly stronger in the run this year than last, so I knew I was going to be better placed, the question was by how much. It was towards the end of lap 2, around 18km that the quads started to feel a bit tight. Everything is going to hurt at some time in an Ironman right. We had aimed to do the first half at 4:50 pace and then see what I had left for the second half, but I felt ok off the bike so I decided to run at 4:40 and see how long i could hold form for.
The course was pretty busy, there were a large amount of 70.3 competitors coupled with additional Ironman athletes starting to join the course. Add to this the continuing rain and subsequent pooling water and the running course became single track in parts, this made for some tight passes. At the start of Lap 3, I dropped into special needs and collected my remaining nutrition, now all I had to do was bring it home.
The last lap went by pretty quickly and before I knew it the end was in sight. It is really hard to explain the feeling as you start to approach the finish of an Ironman, it really is indescribable, so many emotions. This year I really savoured the finish chute, gave out some high 5’s and did my best to celebrate as I crossed the line. Running through the gantry, I saw 9:30 and too be honest, I was pretty happy with that but was it enough, it was almost 15 minutes up on last year.
It was a day of PB’s for me and the run was no different, coming home in 3:23min, 6 minutes up on my time last year and a whopping 1.5 hours up on my first Ironman in N.Z 5 years earlier.
After finishing, it was probably a further 15minutes before I realised the time i thought I had actually done was the scratch time, subtracting my actual start time gave me a time of 9:14:58. You’ve got to be joking, that’s a 30min PB and what was better, I had come 2nd in my age group (35-39), securing a spot for Kona.
This race was my 5th Ironman and with a defined period in which to qualify for Kona gave me only 1 more chance after Port Mac before I would reach 40 and miss my goal. Without a doubt, this result is my single greatest sporting achievement, one that even weeks later still feels so awesome. I think the fact that I had to work so hard to get the result, make a lot of sacrifice, sustain periods of doubt and uncertainty that have made the result so special.
But, I am also very conscious of the fact that many of my fellow competitors have done many more ironmans than I and have probably worked just as hard or harder, yet for whatever reason, they still have not gained a spot at Kona. We all do Ironman for many reasons and when you think about it, just being able to train for and complete one is such a massive achievement. My result and subsequent slot is truly a blessing and one that I am so grateful to have been able to work towards and achieve. I am going to soak up the next 5 months of training, enjoy every minute and be thankful for having the opportunity to compete at the Ironman World Championships on October 8 in Kona, Hawaii.