Flying out to the other side of the world for an ironman was an interesting one, here’s how I got on and coped with the challenge of Ironman New Zealand.
No support. Lots of speculation. Lots of doubt.
Was it too early in the season? Was I still too heavy? Had my running progressed enough? Would I manage the time zone? Had flu taken too much out of me?
I’d like to take this opportunity to make a huge shoutout to my partners Vigilance QA, without their financial backing for travel & race entries, none of this would have been possible. And avoiding the jetlag had a massively positive impact on the race.
But none the less, worries and doubts aside, I would be on the start line, and I was determined to make it count.
Transition all set, a slight blip in forgetting a key part of my hydration system, luckily the wonderful Australian family in the hotel ran me back in the car to pick it up. Babysitting me once again as they have all week, something for which I’ll be forever grateful! A great group of people I’ve really enjoyed being around.
The weather looked set for a fast day, slight clouds, 21 degrees, not too much sunshine. One of the reasons the race was picked in the first place. Warm, but generally mild for a Southern Hemisphere ironman.
Well that was until the wind picked up, and everything fell apart.
The swim was nearly cancelled, with the waves being so high, with 5% of the competitors being fished out of the water before this leg of the race had even reached half way. And 13.5% not making it to the end of the day.
A day in which the pros added 30 minutes to their normal ironman New Zealand time, the age groupers were in for a long day.
So into the surfers paradise we went, being hurled & thrown about in the Great Lake Taupo, taking no prisoners.
Generally the number of scuffles was kept to a minimum. I only encountered another swimmer once as they were thrown over me by a big wave. Rare for the normal washing machine of a mass start.
Everyone was too busy focusing on staying the right side of the water. No sinkers today.
As we approached the turn boy at half way my numbers were good. I was in control. I’m a slow swimmer, despite improving week on week, I’m still a way off, but I’m aware of that.
For me the swim is about damage limitation, you can’t win the race on the swim, but you can throw it away.
These words ringing in my ears I knew I had to attempt to plow on, work with the waves, don’t fight them.
It was only after the turn point when I realised, despite swimming fast, I was swimming far. A new pb on speed, but it counts for nothing when you swim an extra 700 metres. An extra 20%. That I didn’t need.
It lasted forever.
When I was finally out of the water I knew it had been a brutal one. 1:25 on my watch, i’d have to pray the others had a rough time too.
I knew on a good day the other boys were capable of swimming about 50 minutes, so I called them half an hour ahead, and moved on.
Obviously there were only 3 bikes in transition, the rest gone. A sight I’m not unfamiliar with.
Half an hour to take back, 180km bike.
That’s a tall order.
I’d left a lot of work to be done, but there was still 90% of the race left.
And the only thing I love more than riding my time trial bike, is riding my time trial bike in a chase.
Head down, legs on, play time.
And everything sprung to life.
I’d read in Laura Trott & Jason Kenny’s book recently, when you’re at your peak it feels smooth, effortless.
And I was really firing on all cyclinders.
My heart racing at 145 beats per minute, higher than it’s been for exercise over 4 hours in 2 years. But I barely even felt like I was racing.
Little did I know at the time, it would sit there for the full 9 hours.
I was still so far back, people at home would be panicking. Well, Mum would be panicking.
The one woman that I knew would be watching the race inseparable from the screen, heart on her sleeve, living & breathing every time stop as if she were there. From thousands of miles away, the other side of the world to me, at ironman new zealand.
So I’d have to make that time check fast, and move through the field.
First time check, 7 athletes down, into 15th. Hundreds passed in the process.
Breathe mum. Breathe.
Now a lot of people say I do too many miles. Too much junk.
Riding to Skegness into a headwind for 9.5 hours, at 115 beats per minute.
Useless until you turn into a headwind for 45km. 45km, 145bpm. 90 minutes.
Not a single bit of me was phased, this was child’s play.
My legs could eat through these miles without even telling me they were tired.
Keep your “junk miles”.
45km of brutal, hard work. Up the hill and into the wind. Legs in full swing, athlete after athlete going back past me, none in my age group.
I could see it unfolding, I knew what was happening on the other side of the world. A small smile crept across my face.
There would be panic at home: “He’s blown up”. “Went too hard”. “Falling to pieces”.
The reasonable voice dad would definitely wade in “he knows what he’s doing, it’s a long way yet”.
Checkpoint 2, 90km, 6th place.
Athletes were getting few & far between as I approached the front end. I knew I was chasing the better end of my age group, the racers, each more experienced than me by a good 5 years.
Still, it was no use to me to panic. All I could do was keep going, I’d barely even turned on the gas. A Diesel engine ticking over at a single speed: fast.
I raced back to the final turn, emptied some of the tank. I knew everyone else would be taking it easy, anticipating the brutal haul back into town, saving their legs for the marathon.
My legs would take the marathon no matter what, because I was going to tell them to.
This was my chance, on the bike, attack while they’re resting.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Bingo.
135km in, 1st place.
I’d later find out my bike leg was under 20 minutes behind many of the pros, but could I hold it together.
Get up, stay up. You’re not throwing this one away. Not this far from home.
I really worked that last leg of the bike, retreated deep inside my mind and just let my legs go into auto pilot. One job, 145 beats per minute. That would be enough.
Off the bike and transition was empty. 80 bikes set in place, the race wasn’t even close to being over.
Months of work on my running, 2016 was a terrible year. Forever on the back foot, 2017 was going to be different.
Too heavy to run. Not enough track sessions. Need a coach.
My legs were out to tell them otherwise.
My legs felt strong, the winter miles on the bike had really paid off. A 5:05 to the front of the field, with gas left to go.
But a marathon is a long way, so I got my head down and worked my way out.
My IBS started to struggle, it was a warm day but my nutrition couldn’t ruin this course. Not now. Listen to the body, push through the pain.
In New Zealand the marathon is a 3, 14km loop course. I knew this meant the second loop was going to be make or break.
First loop – fresh.
Second loop tired and one to go.
Final loop – run it home, make it count.
The ironman marathon is a crazy place, a series of bonds, friendships, agreements. Some with chats, others the odd word, many in complete silence. Just two people, heads down, enjoying the suffering with another.
My first lap was strong, I kept reserved in the sun, plenty of ice, the odd orange and some electrolytes. Please don’t cramp later.
The clouds had pushed away in the wind, leaving the sun baking down.
Then it hit me, and it hit hard.
I knew stopping wasn’t an option, I’d travelled too far to bottle this medal and world championship place, goals on my mind almost all my life.
And so the mind games begin.
Fighting every natural instinct the body has. Stop. Drink. Shade. Ice.
I pushed through the second lap, slowly but surely creeping to the end, fighting off the cramp, hoping I wasn’t overtaken.
If I could hold 3:30 pace, it’d be a mean feat in the sun for someone to come round me, especially from the gap id opened up on the bike.
Dragged on by person after person, people next to me, people on the other side of the world, people I don’t even know.
And then it struck me. As I started the last lap.
Since I got on my bike, I’d been over taken by 3 people, all of which were on the run.
People were hurting, everyone was hurting. All I had to do, was get after it, and bring it home. Make it count.
Step by step, I managed to run a 3:28 marathon.
Ironman New Zealand completed.
First place in the bag, Kona in the calendar, all world athlete rankings points on the board.
2017 has begun.
Ironman New Zealand Trophy
Ironman New Zealand 20-24 podium