I lined up towards the right hand side, ensuring I was around some of the athletes I hoped to stick with during the swim. The first light of the day was barely coming through, at which point the cannon fired and the race began. The field seemed to line out quite quickly, which perhaps wasn't surprising given the high quality of some of the swimmers in the race. A few gaps formed and I found myself in a small group with two other athletes. With the lake perfectly still, swim conditions were ideal. Nevertheless, I found it very difficult to find a rhythm and struggled with timing my breathing. I tucked in behind the other two swimmers, but regularly found myself mistiming breaths and swallowing water. The pace seemed to be decent and after we hit the turnaround point I could see another small group not too far ahead. As we approached the final 500m the pace seemed to increase slightly and we caught the group ahead with 200m to go. A 50:06 swim split had me out of the water with five other athletes, which was a solid start to the day.
Once we hit dry land I was feeling pretty ropey and the 400m run to T1 seemed to take an eternity. A lot of the guys ran pretty hard and I lost a fair amount of time at this stage. I was quick through the change tent and clawed back some time, but found myself behind the guys I'd swum with.
Right out of the gate the pace was high and I felt unable to match it. I saw athletes move further into the distance and tried to remind myself that it was a long day ahead. Within 10km I had already lost over a minute – a trend that continued for the remainder of the ride. The weather for the first 45km to the turnaround at Reporoa was very cool, with light rain and temperatures around 14 degrees. My power was fairly low and despite every effort, I just couldn't seem to hit that next gear. At the 45km point the gap to the front was approximately 8 minutes and I was just outside the top-10. After 60km of feeling low, I tried to draw on previous difficulties in races. Going through rough patches is part of Ironman racing and I promised myself that things would come good. It took a long time - close to 100km - but I was finally able to increase the effort a little. 35km later at the turnaround point my wave of energy had crashed. I made it to 170km before things took a turn for the worse. For the first time in training or racing, I started hyperventilating and was unable to control my breathing. This came completely out of the blue and I wasn't entirely sure how to deal with the situation. I eased up and tried to take deep breaths through my nose and out my mouth, which seemed to help. My breathing was back to normal for the final few kms of the ride and I hoped that would be my last experience of it. A 4:52:23 bike split gave up far more time to the leaders than I anticipated (now 14 minutes behind the front) but I was confident in my ability to run well.
Right out of T2 my breaths were short and laboured and I wasn't even moving quickly. Within the first km I was hyperventilating again – it felt as if my throat was closing up and I just couldn't get enough air in. I slowed to a walk and tried to get my breathing under control and calm myself down. I got going again, this time at jogging pace, but I just couldn't stop the short breaths. It wasn't long before I had to stop. I was just one mile into the run and the performance I'd envisaged for so long had passed me by. My day was over. I walked for a while, my mind racing with a million different thoughts, none of which were positive. I sat on the side of the road for a while and looked over the lake – never before had I felt such a feeling of failure.
A kind gentleman offered to drive me back into town, where I handed my timing chip in. The disappointment was like nothing I'd ever experienced in racing before. Going into the race with high expectations, it was a humbling experience for the day to end like it did. I was well prepared, but on the day I wasn't capable of getting myself through the race. The decision to pull out wasn't what I found difficult to take, it was the nature of the withdrawal. Even now I still can't pinpoint the cause of my difficulties on the day, which is extremely frustrating.
My emotions immediately following the race were very raw and my disappointment wasn't just for myself, but for everyone who believed in me and hoped and expected me to perform. I've been extremely fortunate to have the universal support of all of my sponsors following the race, as well as friends and family who have consoled me and reminded me that failures are a part of racing. To have such a great people around me made the days following the race far easier and I'm now trying to focus ahead rather than dwell on whats been. After some of my best performances I've said that nothing is a greater test of your character than an Ironman – I believe the same is true when the performance is poor. There's no sugarcoating it - this is the worst result and racing experience I've had, but as I've been reminded, what matters now is the next race.