When the gun went for the pro start at 5:30am, I was standing on the beach with a thousand other athletes, trying to stay calm and collect my thoughts. The age-groupers started at 5:45am, and 5 minutes before the start I got in the water and made my way to the front. My plan was to seed myself a few rows from the front in a central position. I was surprised to see that many athletes were starting further back, so I went straight to the front row and started next to Ryan Waddingon. I knew that I was swimming as well as I was pre-Kona, and thought a 56 minute swim would be on the cards.
As soon as the gun started I was immediately into a nice rhythm. There are times when it takes a while to settle down, but I was in the groove from the get go and felt comfortable bilateral breathing. This swim is the simplest to sight, as you simply swim around Busselton jetty.
After a few hundred metres I found myself in a good group, following feet until the turnaround point. The conditions were actually a little choppy, but we seemed to reach the halfway point quite quickly. Around 2km into the swim I felt great and decided to make my way to the front of the small group I was in. I wanted to push the pace, but I couldn’t see another group ahead of us. Undeterred, I decided to pick up the pace for about 5 minutes and see if I could bridge the gap to those ahead. I really lifted the effort and thought that I’d have dropped those behind me, but after a quick look I realised that 2 guys had jumped on my feet for the ride. We weren’t about to reach a group ahead anytime soon, so I dropped the effort and let one of the other guys do the work at the front, then sat behind. With only a few hundred metres to go I moved to the front again and pushed for home. I crossed the timing mat in 54:31 – a 6 minute PB.
Going through T1 I ran harder than I normally would, keen to take advantage of the good start to the day. I got through transition relatively quickly and was soon on the bike. I later found out that I had come out of the water second in my age-group – as a non-swimmer, that’s something that I’m hugely proud of.
The bike course at IMWA is defined by its lack of hills – it’s pancake flat. There’s only one small incline on the course. I thought that a ride similar of similar effort to Kona should get a bike split of around 4:45, perhaps a touch quicker. The first lap of the bike went by well, and I managed to stay disciplined, sticking to my target watts quite well, but going a little too hard on occasions. Approaching the end of the first lap I was overtaken by someone in my age-group, but kept him in sight until the end of the lap. The winds today were blowing hard, and I was really surprised how long the first loop took – 1:36. From that moment I knew that a 4:45 split wasn’t on the cards. After 60km, the commentators said that we were 1-2 in our age-group and at the front of the amateur race. He then pulled away a little, but I was joined by Andrew Tyack, so there were now 3 of us in the 18-24 age-group near the front.
I knew that Andrew was a good rider, and tried to pick up the effort, ignoring my target watts. This was now a race of tactics – I wanted to stay with him. As the lap progressed, Andrew and I pulled away and were joined by another age-grouper. Andrew worked hard during the second lap at the front of the group, and I stayed at the back, trying to recover from my effort at the start of the lap.
At the start of the 3rd lap with Andrew right behind
As much as I was concerned about Andrew, I wanted to make sure that we had a good gap on Ryan, as I believed he could potentially run a 3 hour marathon. With that in mind, I went to the front of the group again and prepared myself for another 60km of hard work. Finishing the second lap, the commentator said we were the lead group in the amateur race. Pretty exciting stuff, but in that moment, not something that seemed important. There are a couple of turnaround points during each lap, so I could see how far back the others were periodically. As the last lap progressed, I pulled away slowly. 30 seconds became 60 seconds, which became approximately 90 seconds by the end of the bike. I saw Ryan as well, and calculated that we had about a 20 minute gap on him. Hopefully that would be enough. I came off the bike with some trepidation of the marathon, knowing that I’d ridden much harder than planned, which got me a PB 4:49:20 bike split. For those interested in power, I rode 8W higher than in Kona at 3.3W/kg, with an IF of 0.774 and 287.9 TSS. A hard ride.
I came off the bike as the first age-grouper and ran through transition. I fumbled with my bag a bit, struggling to compose myself. After putting the shoes on and getting some suncream and Vaseline from the volunteers, I left transition, 5 seconds behind Michelle Bremer (eventual winner of the Pro womens race).
At 2km, first age-grouper on the course
As in Kona, my goal was to run a 3:15 marathon. My race at Kona was defined by discipline, but today was about racing in the moment and adapting to what was happening around me. I went through the first 5km in 22 minutes, ahead of any ‘plan’. Without paying attention to my pacing, I went through 10km in 44 minutes. For the first loop I walked every other aid station. At this stage I felt good, running on adrenaline – if I could keep this up then I was sure I’d stay at the front. I felt that I’d pushed the first lap, but Andrew worked hard too, as he’d closed the gap to within 30 seconds.
Andrew still right behind!
On the second loop I slowed slightly, but still went through 20km in 1:30, on target for a good marathon time. It was at the start of the third loop that I started to feel the pain, and my stride shortened and pace fell. I was now walking every aid station for 30 seconds, trying to run close to 7:30min/mile in between. There were times where I felt that I wouldn’t finish – something that I’ve never experienced in any other race. On the third lap a spectator told me that there was about a minute to Andrew, which was a big wake up call. I was trying to keep an eye out for him at the turnaround points, but at this stage the course was congested with athletes and I found it difficult to spot him. I went through 30km in 2:18, which shows that I slowed in that third lap. As I started the final run lap, it was a case of now or never. Motivated by the finish line and fuelled on cola, I was running better, but I was still walking every aid station, this time for closer to 45 seconds. The extra time walking really seemed to help me pick up the pace in between aid stations. Approaching the end of any Ironman marathon is always a relief, but this time the relief was greater than ever. I finished with a run time of 3:22:05. Finish time was 9:10:24, 1st in the 18-24 age-group, 16th overall and 4th age-grouper overall.
On reflection, this was one of my proudest races. Not because of the finish time or PB in the swim or bike, but because I came so close to walking and pulling out. I’ve said it many times before, but Ironman is as much a mental game as a physical one. Admittedly I wanted to run faster, but this was still my second fastest Ironman run, only 3:33 slower than my PB. At the end of a long year and just 8 weeks after Kona, I’ll take that. It’s great to have qualified for Kona with 10 months to go, as I can now plan my 2012 season with that goal in mind. I’m under no illusions as to how tough the competition there will be – it always is. A big congratulations to Extreme Endurance athlete Timo Bracht for taking the title and rounding out a great year.
2012 will most certainly be a ‘do or die’ year. I’ll commit everything to being the best triathlete that I can be, which will mean a change of location. It’s very likely that there will be some exciting plans for next year! It’s exciting to think that 2012 will indicate whether I have the potential to start a career as a professional triathlete in 2013.