Signing up to the 16 week Ironman program at the time was really easy, you click a few buttons, pull out the credit card and away you go, “this Ironman malarkey is pretty easy”. What wasn’t so easy was the following 16 weeks.
Hours after hours in the hills where Glenn and I covered every imaginable conversation topic where nothing was taboo (I’m amazed we still have anything to say to each other), Monday night killer session in the pool, the prince of darkness making us bleed from the eye balls on a Tuesday Morning, non-stop hill sprints on a Tuesday night, my favourite Wednesday morning speed sessions with the smiling assassin, Thursday evening track session pretending I had a rope pulling my head and stomach while trying not to throw up even on the easy nights, Friday morning turning up to work with welts on my neck and face from the Jelly fish that supposedly don’t sting in the river and of course the Sunday long run and swim where planned group runs started as a sociable chatty event and inevitably morphed into a never to be admitted competitive flat out sprint race to the finish.
Race sims were probably the most important part of my training with the weekend of 15.5 hours of training in Busselton and the infamous Deep Water Point 36 degree Saturday which killed me on the day however in hindsight saved my race day.
This said I couldn’t of asked for a better club and bunch of guys and girls to train with, always knowing that you were hurting however everyone else was clearly honest and vocal that they were on the same boat and who would of thought that the couch potato who started off with a CTL of 20 rocked up to the start line of the Ironman at 184 and a unhealthy obsession with chocolate milk.
Friday – Travel to Busso
I set off to Busselton around lunch time on the Friday after a poached egg and toast breakfast as I knew that I wanted to eat well on Friday and Saturday before any nerves kicked in. On board in the car was two Bidons of electrolyte and a can of coke for the long journey, this allowed me plenty of time to have a leisurely start, finish packing and drive down south with little to no stress and ultimately a toilet stop 10 kms from Busso due to the descent hydration plan. I had plenty of time to check in to the race and accommodation with a nice dinner at the local Italian restaurant with a few friends and an early night.
Saturday – Day Race Eve
Woke up with a slight twinge in my back which I think resulted from nearly dropping my bike from my roof rack the day before and having to quickly grab it and potentially over stretching myself so it was on with the deep heat and cross my fingers it was only a little twinge. Day started with a breakfast of Iron men “nutri grain” and then a warm up with the rest of the guys on the bike course, followed by an easy swim in the ocean to stretch the arms. After that is was back to the house to finish off race preparation, this consisted of sticking all of my stickers onto each item, bike, bag, helmet, pump, etc, laying out all of my gear together for each discipline and then running through in my head imagining dressing from my head to toes every piece of clothing and equipment I would require for each activity. Once double and triple checked everything was packed into their bags and then dropped off to transition. The rest of the day was spent relaxing around remembering Jeremys ethos of whatever you can do siting, it is always better to do it lying. After a good dinner where Glenn tried to sabotage me with Chilli pasta, I attacked my back with some more deep heat and hit the sack nice and early.
Sunday – Race Day
Woke up after having the best sleep I’ve ever had before a race and thankfully my back felt no pain. After the breakfast of “Iron Men” it was off to the race start feeling rested and ready with my race plan in my head. Glenn and I parked the car in the car park at the oval where I received a message from my sister that my brother in law Chris had started the 70.3 race however had to leave the water due to a shark sighting. First of all we thought she was joking as my May Half Iron Man had been of point of great hilarity between friends and family for the last six months as I was pulled from the water due to a shark sighting, however after several following messages and a phone call it transpired that it was for real and suddenly it was no laughing matter between Glenn and myself.
We arrived at transition and were instructed to stand by our bikes where we busied ourselves preparing our bikes ready to race. I must admit I was so focussed on my race prep it wasn’t until listening to other athletes and watching the 70.3 athletes coming through from the beach that I suddenly had concerns on what would be the outcome of the shark sighting. Then the bomb shell dropped and it was announced over the PA system that the swim leg would be cancelled due to the shark sighting. I must admit through all of my Iron Man journey the announcement that we weren’t going to swim was the most gut wrenching feeling of the last 16 weeks. If you don’t know me then you will not be aware that my swim is infinitely my weakest leg of the race and most people would think “Gareth, surely you would be happy then” however as it is my weakest leg I always find my swim sessions the most satisfying and for me a 3.8 km open water swim would be probably my largest physical challenge to date.
Moving from transition to the beach there was even discussion between Glenn and I about what was the point of starting as it was going to be so hot that it would be a Deep Water Point repeat session from hell with not even a reward at the end of being able to call ourselves Ironmen…… Then the magic of Ironman kicked in. My sister met us at the entrance to the beach and she told me that she knew how upset I was about the swim however she was so proud of me and my achievements to date and to switch myself back on as it was time to race. Meeting Jeremy at the beach also motivated us as he sat with as the beach and advised us to put the swim behind us think about the conditions especially the heat and to make sure we stuck to our race plans and that we still had an Ironman to race.
Race Time – The Bike
We started the race from the beach where we left 30 seconds apart from the swim exit, once on the bike course it was into the race plan, holding power and sticking to my nutrition plan as rehearsed so many times over the last 16 weeks. The course was extremely busy as the mass start had not allowed the field to really space out and the first lap of the bike involved a lot of busy passing points and huge lines of drafters. My plan was to hold power between 170 and 180 watts, Heart Rate maximum of 140 BPM and drink 750mm of electrolytes/carb drink every hour, eat half a winners bar on the hour, the other half 20 minutes past the hour and a gel at 40 minutes past the hour. For the majority of the first lap of the bike course I stuck to the plan and everything seemed to be going well however the temperature had been steadily increasing as well as my heart rate and by the 90 km mark my heart rate had reached 153 BPM and I had finished all three of my bidons as well as picking up another two on the final aid station on the course. As discussed with Michelle and the other coaches on several occasions it was time to make the hard discussion that if I wanted to finish the race I would have to drop my heart rate back to normal and therefore drop my power output. I spent the next 7km pegging back the power to as low as 109 Watts and slowly my heart rate returned to 139 BPM. From there on it was all about just finishing the bike, keeping my power output as high as I could while allowing my heart rate to keep below 140 BPM, remembering the words of wisdom departed from Michelle and the other coaches. The rest of the bike involved pouring a bidon of ice water over my head through each aid station to keep myself cool and reduce my heart rate and take on another two full bidons of electrolytes to keep me going until the next aid station. Luckily I had taken on enough nutrition for six hours on the bike which allowed me to keep my carb intake as planned. The bike course was littered with casualties with people with their heads in their hands and bikes lying on the ground with one moment of hilarity watching an athlete pick up his bike and throw it into the bush with many profanities being shouted. There was obviously the occasional nod or wave as you passed a fellow STC athlete and I remember having a brief chat with Aoife passing through one of the aid stations, these little brief little moments of physical gesture or acknowledgement really picked me up and hopefully the feeling was mutual. Coming into the start of the residential area of Busselton lets you know you really are on the home straight and for me the welcome site of a bathroom and some fresh water after all the electrolytes and gels was amazing. Bike Time – 6 hrs and 0 minutes.
Good transition, Michelle’s advice of emptying the whole run bag on the floor and making sure you take on everything really worked and the volunteers were worth their weight in gold, helping you with the things that really they shouldn’t have to.
If you’ve never ran a marathon let me tell you your first one is pretty hard, especially after riding 180 km. Feeling surprisingly good after the bike and a can of coke I came out onto the run course to be greeted by a bunch of my family and friends which really perked me up. The run plan was to hold 5 min 30 seconds per km and 3 gels per hour, with water an electrolyte on the course as required. As usual I felt strong off the bike and settled into my run pace making sure I didn’t go out too hard. This worked for the first 1.7km and then over the next 5 km my pace slowly fell to 6 min per km. From there on my race really deteriorated with major stomach problems. I won’t go into the finer details however my race involved running from porta loo to porta loo with a sense of massive achievement if I made it past one and was able to push onto the next, I have found that Iron Man is all about setting goals and achievements, even small ones and for that day this was mine. As always without the support on the course with people shouting your name and seeing the fantastic STC support crew dressed in their blue tutus at the 10 km mark and friends and family who I knew had all travelled to Busselton to see me race really picked me up and took my mind off my issues and really pushed me onto the end of the race. Seeing Michelle on every lap was brilliant with a few words of wisdom and specifically remembering my second last lap urged on with a slap on the arse and “you’ve got this shouted at me”. Run Time – 5 hours and 6 minutes.
It is very hard to put into words the feeling in the finishing chute however it is basically the accumulation of every emotion of the last 16 weeks squeezed into 40m or so and suddenly all the hard work, sacrifice, blood, sweat and tears (and there is some at some stage, mine was from a message sent to me from a mate who left me with an inspirational quote “Pain is temporary, giving up is forever and that what divides the pussies from the men”) pays off and makes sense sharing it with loved ones, family, friends, training partners, coaches and any other random member of the public that accidently fins themselves in your path. If you haven’t experienced it I would urge you to do so at least once in your life. I promise it is worth it.
Gareth Fleming ‘2/3rds IronMan’, bring on Cairns.