IM WA: The Race!!!!

Race morning I get up early and do my usual pre-Ironman routine. I eat my time-tested meal of one hard boiled egg, half a bagel, and a banana. Then my next time-tested routine: go sit on the toilet and hope something comes out, well, anything in my intestines comes out. It’s important to get it all out as you don’t want to go to the bathroom on the course if you can avoid it. I get all my gear ready, get my M2 jersey and shorts on, prepare my bike fluids and go downstairs to wait for the shuttle to take us over.
I arrive on the first bus there and check over my bike. I put the fluids on the bike and bring some fluids over to bike special needs and morning check out bike and bring special needs fluids to tent.
I’m heartened that the morning isn’t too cold, but I do worry about after the race when my body cools down and the ambient temperature is in the 50s or 60s. I don’t want to start to shiver and go hypothermic! But this year I went to REI and bought a top which is for winter training and supposedly blocks wind. I also bought some wool underwear which proved to be incredibly effective. More on this later.
I find some of the other EST folks and we go into the changing tent and put on our wetsuits. Looking at the time, we start walking down to the beach where a lot of the crowds and athletes have gathered to watch the race start. I go into the waves and warm up.
The day is cool and the skies are filled with clouds. I hope this means that it won’t be an extraordinarily hot day. Slight breeze, but nothing too harsh, and nothing like the days when we first got to Busselton.
The swim course takes us out the Busselton Jetty which is a mile long jetty. We will swim alongside the jetty the whole way, first down one side and then back down the other.
Today’s race is a mass start in deep water. We line up by projected finish time, but I start sliding upwards towards the fast guys because you don’t want to add to your swim time simply because you’re not close to the starting line.
We go! The water is a churning mass of triathletes. For the first third of the race I barely am stroking but am just carried along with the mass of swimmers around me. But around the turnaround at the end of the jetty I start losing people and speed things up. As I cross over to the other side, I keep drifting away from the jetty. I think there is a slight current sweeping me away from the jetty so I start angling in just so I don’t drift too far off course, and also to find someone to draft behind.
I like swim courses like this where there is no small run on the beach in the middle. It interrupts my swim and I’m always slower. I hit the beach at around 1:16 which is good for me.
I take the short run to T1 and get my bike stuff bag. I get out of my wetsuit and dry off, and get my bike gear on. Quickly, I move out of the tent, grab my bike and head to the bike start.
The bike course is a 3 loop course and it’s pretty much all flat. There are a few turnarounds which are annoying, but not too big a problem. The road surface is pretty good, but there are sections of packed gravel which makes for a vibratory biking experience. I encountered this also at IM NZ but it’s not as bad as out there; in NZ, the whole course was like that whereas here it’s only in a few sections.
As I head out, I notice there is a slight breeze. It doesn’t bother me too much and I’m easily over 21 MPH going out. The flat course and lack of wind make for a fast first loop.
When I’m biking, weird thoughts usually pop into my head. Today, it’s the theme song from Flashdance. Couldn’t get it out my head! And funny, at one of the turnarounds somebody was playing ABBA’s Dancing Queen which was my nemesis at IM NZ.
People have written messages with chalk all over the roads. Some guy named Batman was popular. There were bat signals everywhere!
Alongside the roads, I hear the strange call of Australian crows. It sounds like a quacking child crying. So bizarre. In the early mornings they sometimes woke me up at my hotel room.
I wind back into town and head out for the second loop. Unfortunately, the wind is now picking up. And I’m getting tired. I did manage to hit half-way by about 2:52 and, really wanting a 6 hour bike split, I forged onwards.
The third loop was very tough. The winds are picking up, I’m getting tired, and the flat course is really taking its toll. You would think that a flat course would be easier and in some ways it is, but I found out that it’s super hard in others. Sure, there are no hills to speak of to wipe your legs in that way, but there are no downhills where you can coast and take the load off your legs for a few minutes. So for 6 hours, I felt like I was doing one of my coaches high-watts interval workouts where there was a single interval of 6 hours.
To change the stress, I would get out of my seat to pedal and shift up 4 gears. But the other reason for getting up was because my crotch kept getting numb. Not wanting to damage my private parts, I would get up to change leg stress for a while, but also pedal out of my seat long enough to feel the blood flow back into my private parts and get the numbness to go away.
Racing back into T2, I managed a 6:03 bike split according to my watch. As I got off my bike and jogged to T2, I was feeling my legs and they felt a bit wiped. I grab my T2 bag and sit down and relish giving my legs the break. But I start to worry about the run. Slowly, I change out of my bike gear and into my run gear. I can’t stop thinking about how hard that bike leg was.
Gathering my resolve, I get up and jog out of T2. I start running and my pace is actually OK. I don’t have any of the usual stiffness which means that my brick training earlier in the summer has stayed with me.
My run plan at this Ironman was to not stop at any aid stations at all, and to keep my legs turning over for as long as I can, to the finish if possible.
So I run. My heart rate is very moderate, and I don’t feel like I’m redlining at all. I seem to be keeping good leg turnover but with the kilometer markers it’s hard to tell my pace.
I run through each aid station. Each station is pretty well organized. I would grab a cola and take a bit of it, and keep running.
The first loop of this 3 loop run course I finish and its lopsidedness to one side makes it feel like one of the run turnarounds is way out there, but the other is really short, since it’s very close to the finish line. So as I head out on loop 2, it seems as though the turnaround is just SOOOOOO far away.
Right around the 20 km mark, I look at my watch and feel elated that my time is about 2:01! Wow! If I can keep that up, I’ll have run an Ironman marathon of a little over 4 hours, which is much better than my other Ironman marathons of 4:50 or so. It lifts my spirits for…only a few steps. Because literally a few steps after the 20 km marker, all my Ironman resolve just fizzles away. It was the most disheartening thing. I could not run continuously for the life of me. I would try to start up again and then stop only after a little while. I tried using a visual goal to run to, but that didn’t work. What finally worked sort of, was to run for 30 steps and then walk for 5 steps, and keep this up. I also managed to run for upwards of 90 steps and then walk for 5 and keep this up for a while, but I returned back to the 30 step run/5 step walk combination. I almost quit at this point because I was so disheartened that I might actually need to walk the entire second half of the marathon! If that were true, I would be arriving at the finish line (if at all) at 14, 15, or 16 hours! The thought of being out there for that long really lowered my spirits further. But I continued moving forward as I could at least maintain forward motion.
To add to my troubles, shortly after my resolve fizzled away, I started cramping in my right hamstring. Just what I needed! Arg! I even walked a full 2 km just to get it to calm down and to give my resolve some respite and see if I could get it back. But still it would not come back.
I finally start the 3rd loop and have 14 km left. I keep up the 30 step run/5 step walk combo and it keeps me moving. But that first turnaround seems so freakin’ far away. I start doing some mental calculations and realize that I could still PR even if I maintain my current pace. Amazing. But I could not get myself to run continuously. I hit the 38 km mark and even when I know there is 8 km left, I could not get myself to run. This is really bad. I usually get amped up at around 10 km left because running a 10K should be easy, but today it was definitely not! It was not until 2km left that I just forced myself to pick it up. I ran smoothly and then when I hit the finisher chute, I ran all the way to the finish line and made it in around 12:21. A new PR for me, but one that was hard won from a mental standpoint.
What an incredible sense of relief. This was probably the worst Ironman experience I’ve had so far. When my resolve fizzled, I just felt so bad and wanted to quit. But I think this is a great learning experience. I’ve also heard that it happens to just about every Ironman athlete, so I guess I shouldn’t feel too bad about it.
Some volunteers grab my arms and lead me to the massage tent. They keep asking me if I’m ok. I look at them and go, of course I’m ok. I wasn’t dizzy and just wanted to walk around a bit to cool down, but they forced me into the massage area. Geez. It’s not like I had a choice. I kind of felt violated.
But there they made me take off my shoes and they sponged my legs down. Then they led me to a table and some guy did some flushing recovery massage on me. I don’t know if it did anything, but I really didn’t want to lay there. I wanted to get changed and get some food in me!
Shortly after I sat down, a few of the others in my tour group also came in. We chatted for a while but they went off as I got my forced massage.
After the massage, I grabbed my street gear bag and found out they had showers setup. How cool is that! I was covered in salt and felt super gritty. I walked over there and took a really nice shower and got all that race gunk off me. I changed into some warmer clothes and then went to get something to eat. Here my wool underwear worked wonders. It’s supposedly early summer here but it’s still pretty chilly at night by the ocean. And after Ironman, your body kind of goes into shock and can get hypothermic. But after some food and retention of heat by my wool underwear, I felt much better.
I found it amusing that you could actually get a beer in the finisher’s tent! No way was I putting alcohol in me. I would probably pass out! I ate some food which was apparently leftovers from the carbo load party. But I didn’t care. I needed protein and carbo replacement ASAP.
I then went outside to look for others in my tour group and we got a few of us together to go back home.
All in all, this course was tougher than I expected. You would expect a flat road to be easy to cycle. Boy was I wrong. It gave me clues on how to prepare for Ironman Florida next year, which is also a flat course.
I thought my running was much stronger. My pace was a lot faster this year, and every time that I ran I was moving pretty well. I’m happy for this immensely and now I just need to fix my collapsing mental resolve.
Ironman Western Australia: My best and worst Ironman to date.