Thursday, March 28, 2013

Race Report: 2013 Ironman Asia-Pacific Championship (Ironman Melbourne)

Where to begin? I completed my first Ironman triathlon last week in Melbourne at WTC's Asia-Pacific Ironman Championship. I completed the race in 9:19, finishing 235th overall, and 25th in m25-29 (Link to results).

This is a journey that began, I suppose, with my first triathlon a few years ago - it was inevitable that one day, I would do a 'big one'. 12 months ago, one of my best mates, Jeremy, talked me into signing up for the race. And so, in early April 2012 the journey had a finite timeline.

Jez getting rego'd up
In leading up to the race, I believed I had trained pretty well. I had nailed some good, consistent weeks of 20-odd hours each from the Christmas holidays on-wards, and felt my swim and run form was really good, particularly. Of course, I was a self-coached Ironman first-timer training solo, so my view on training was pretty subjective. After having a week to think about the race and my lead-up, I have learned a lot and would make a number of changes next time, but we'll talk about that later.

Pre-Race: I arrived in Melbourne on Friday morning. Jeremy and I headed down to registration that afternoon, picking up our kits, getting well-wishes from Ironman World-Champ Pete Jacobs, and all that jazz. We picked up my gear -kindly transported by my parents to Melbourne- and Audrey that evening and set about preparing our bags before heading to bed.

The beautiful Teschner 703 ready to go, loaded with USN fuel!

On Saturday, Jeremy and I did our 'warm-up' ride/run on a windy Beach Rd, which would give us a little taste of Sunday's weather. Afterwards, we did our final packing then headed down to Frankston to check in the gear, drool over some of the pros' gear, and get a good look of the chop coming across Port Philip Bay. At this time, there were some rumors of a changed swim course, or even a swim cancellation. We tried not to think too much about it, and headed back to have the 'last supper', and head to bed.

I slept pretty well, surprisingly, but woke to loud gusts of wind outside.We set about having breakfast and coffee before jumping in the car and driving, once again, back down to Frankston.

Jeremy and I before the start.
Breakfast was: a bowl of porridge; 4 squares of dark chocolate; a cup of coffee, and; a banana.

We hit the port-a-loos with plenty of other nervous folks before heading over to do final prep on the bikes. By this time, Mike Reilly was announcing that there would be a shortened swim due to the rough conditions, on a changed course. Jeremy and I, along with plenty of other folks, were pretty gutted. I guess when it's your first one, you want to tick all the boxes. As we would find out though, the race would still have plenty to throw at us.

Swim: 00:27:24 (1500m; 388th OA). It was disappointing enough to have such a shortened swim. The course the RD came up with, though, was truly heartbreaking. Mass start from the beach, hard right turn at the end of the pier, swim out and do a U-turn around a few cans, then head back past the pier, go hard left around a third can, and into the beach with the swell. Great. An out-and-back swim. A mass of swimmers, in chop, going head on at each other. I've no idea what that Swim Course Director had for breakfast. It lead to, first and foremost, dangerous swimming, and secondly, cheating where plenty of folks turned at the first buoy (SEE HERE).

The conditions for the swim

My swim was good, though, and I did actually enjoy heading out in the swell. Despite starting close to the front, the initial few hundred metres before turning was a mess. It was simply too soon to turn for such a big group (HAVE LOOK HERE AT THE START, YOU'LL SEE WHAT I MEAN). I ended up quasi-bodysurfing my way into the beach which was really fun. The shortened course, though, lead to a lot of congestion in T1, and the first quarter of the bike leg.

T1: 00:03:29 (180th OA). Run up the beach, into the tent, grabbed my helmet bag, wetty off, helmet & sunnies on, run out, grab bike, mount and off we go. Easy.

Bike: 05:18:59 (477th OA). Out onto the bike, the course was pretty darn congested. With the shortened swim, we probably had half the field on there in less than 10 minutes. Unfortunately, this lead to a lot of drafting - a lot of it blatant cheating, some of it unintentional and somewhat forced. I can proudly say that I didn't partake in any group riding, and dropped back once passed. I did enjoy some pacing with other riders, though, something I don't often get to do.

Heading out from T1
Climbing out of the tunnel - a good opportunity to have a stand

Loads of folks down at the turn around

The first out section was into a brutal headwind. Going into the tunnel was a real buzz, and heading back with that knarley tail-wind was a lot of fun, on the first lap. This pacing and the buzz of finally being out there racing Ironman, lead me to probably over do it on the bike a little. I went 2:34 for the first lap, and roughly 2:45 for the second. The wind had picked up and was coming across us in a more gusty fashion by the second lap, which was reflected in most folks' splits. That said, I didn't feel quite as strong on the second lap, and the winds were less cooperative.

In terms of nutrition, my trusty bottle of USN Australia nutrition was serving me well, and I found it a really simple way to keep on top of the calories and the electrolytes. In it, I had about 1800 calories of nutrition which, over 5 hours, gave me about 400mg of sodium as well as plenty of other essential electrolytes. I was noticing I had a lot of salt on my suit, something I normally didn't have accumulated after most 5hr rides. Given this, and know the wind had the potential to 'dry us out' a bit, I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade each lap, instead of purely drinking water, to ensure I was getting enough sodium.

Even though I was well aware I had ridden too hard, I was really glad to dismount, and get into the run which is usually my strength.

T2: 00:02:36 (339th OA): Dismount, bike to amazing volunteer, bag handed to me in tent by 2nd amazing volunteer, helmet off, socks on, shoes on, hat on, race belt on, slap on some sunscreen, head out. Done.

Run: 03:27:03 (159th OA). I headed out on my usual long-run pace, about 4:35/km, and felt great. I was passing plenty of folks. The thing with drafting is, it makes a lot of riders ride harder than usual, way out of their comfort zone. There were a lot of overcooked athletes out there. By about 18km, I was still feeling really comfortable, with one exception: my feet. My socks were too thin and it felt like I was quickly getting blisters. It became harder and harder to ignore the pain. There was, also, a huger camber in the road until about 18km at Mordialloc, which may or may not have influenced it.

Feeling good early (maybe because I
was finally leaving Frankston?)
Still holding a decent clip; you can clearly
 see the salt on my suit, though.

At this point in the run, we ran down along a path by the beach and, into the wind. This was the most brutal part of the run, and the wheels fell off a little bit. This was my wall. At aid stations, I was drinking 1-2 'cups' of Gatorade and felt that was my limit, stomach-wise. My thought, then, was that this was the consequence of pushing my effort on the bike. I kept on pushing and walked through the aid-stations, taking my time and making sure to get the fluid in. My pace was slowing, too, but remained under 5-mins/km with exception of walking the aid stations. I stopped twice, also, to have a pee.

Chugging along and feeling pretty ordinary, the crowd kept my spirits up. Everyone -and I mean everyone- who was lined up on the course was clapping, cheering and giving me a shout out. "Looking good Stephen", "Good job Stephen", etc was heard often, and I tried to thank everyone. This was the amazing part of Ironman - the crowd support. Loads of kids wanting hi-fives (which I was happy to indulge) and great support from volunteers and the crowd really kept one going. Not to mention the amazing support from my own family and friends - Jeremy's did Lindsey, in particular, was fantastic as he rode the run course and said g'day every few kms.

Once I hit 32-odd km, it felt like a mental barrier had been broken. Only ten km to go. I've done this a million times. My pace began to quicken, in a relative sense, and I felt great ticking over the kms. From about 3kms out, you could see the finish line, and knowing there was only 15-odd minutes to go, was a real boost. 

I'm not sure where the energy came from, but I picked up the pace and ran in the last km really pumped up and geed up the crowd as much as I could down the chute. It was a lot of fun! I crossed the line in 9:19:33, to finish 235th Overall.  

The finish chute was epic!

What a feeling!

Post-Race: I was elated to be done and went quickly over to grab some water, get a protein shake in and absorb the feeling. I sat on the grass and Jeremy came along not too far behind, crushing it in 9:25. At this point, I was feeling cold, and began to shake a little. I went over to see Audrey at the fence, and, feeling light-headed I decided to make my way to the med tent. They checked and monitored my vitals, which were good, despite my skin temperature falling. I rested up for about 40 minutes (I think?), before being let go once my temperature had stabilised. We went and grabbed a meal and a beer before going home to rest and head back to Sydney on Monday morning.

Elation: we're done!

Feet up in the med tent - the ambos were amazing, thanks guys!

I can say that I learned a lot in this race - more than any other. It's such a different challenge to anything else, Half-Ironmans included.

Before I race another Ironman, I want to get a lot more half-iron racing under my belt, as well as >12months with a Powermeter, which will allow me to train and race much more smartly, and efficiently. At the moment, I'm thinking 2014 in Whistler or Mont-Tremblant, but we'll see. I can say that my bike training was not intense enough. Despite doing consistent >300km weeks, the intensity just was not there. There was too much 'easy' or 'LSR' riding.

In anycase, I am glad to have raced Ironman Melbourne. It was an interesting, challenging and fun event. I hope that organisers can learn from the mistakes of this year's swim, and implement a better strategy in future years should unfavourable conditions arise.

Thanks a bunch to everyone who supported me, and put up with me on the road to the startline. You've all been amazing! Special thanks goes to Audrey, my beautiful wife who has been there with me the whole way, and to my parents who've been great as well.

Teschner Bikes, USN Australia, Saucony and O2 Creation have all been brilliant - thanks a lot for the support and the faith, guys!

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