Below is a recount of my journey to the 2015 Ironman Australia. It is detailed. No doubt there’s elements you know, you might even disagree with, but you might find something you can apply to your own journey and if that’s the case, then it will be worth your read. Enjoy.
I just wanted to run the marathon properly.
That was my Goal for the 2015 Australian Ironman and if I achieved that, I would break 10 hours. My 2014 Melbourne Ironman fell apart at 32km into the run (cramp) and my 1st Ironman in 2013 gave me nearly 5 hours to reflect on my ambitions as I hobbled around the Lake Taupo course.
It was with these very real experiences and my desire to push myself further that I teamed up with Mark from Intelligent Triathlon Training.
I also formalised my personal goal to qualify for Hawaii by the age of 40, this becoming ‘myproject40’.
Mark and I debriefed my 70.3 race in Port Macquarie which I completed in October 2015. Some good learnings; swim was ok, ride was pretty good, but my bike position was pretty upright. As for the run, I went out a bit hard so we needed to work on pacing.
With our debrief complete and goals clarified, Mark went to work, well I think he did anyway, as he started loading sessions into Training Peaks. As Mark is my first Coach, having sessions prepared is a real luxury (yes, I know I’m paying for the privilege) but all I had to do was look at my iPhone and see what the next day or 2 had in store.
Tip: Don't look too far ahead, it ruins the special sessions Mark has planned.
We set ourselves some races to track our progress along the way, a sprint in December, 70.3 in Feb, Olympic (almost) in March and the Ironman in May.
This was a race in rural Victoria (Aust.) and it was a very wet day, so entries were low, in fact I think everyone got a prize that day. Anyway, the run gave us the chance to test some of the solid sessions from the weeks prior.
Based on the results, we were on track, I came home in 20:15 for the 5km.
Tip: If you do have a touch of Achilles tenosynovitis, best to stop and do your shoelace up rather than press on. Spent a week hobbling and trying to calm it down.
Thanks to Ross Kinsella from Freedom Sports Medicine for keeping me on the track, both on this occasion and over the proceeding 6 months.
I have been committed to getting the most out of myself before I started spending money on gear, so in my quest for some aero gains, I picked up the app bike fast fit for $6.99 and then proceeded to annoy Mark with my aero tweaks. I had previously had 2 bike fit sessions at a substantial cost so I figured I knew what to look for.
Using the app, I dropped the bars to the base height, grabbed a long head stem and pushed my seat forward courtesy of the profile FFC. Bingo, I looked brilliant.
Special mention to Matt at bikecorp for supplying my first aero helmet. I love the sticker on the inside of the helmet indicating ‘front’, but then again I always had a preconceived view of people that wore these helmets anyway.
With these changes, I went out on one of Marks 280w rides in the hills. Stay on the bars Mark keeps telling me, it builds strength. Well, two things stood out on that ride. Firstly, I had to really work just to get to 260w and secondly, the bike was really twitchy, not to mention loose in the rear end due to the weight change. Made for some white knuckle descents down the Dandenongs.
Anyhow, we persevered with this change, giving myself time to adjust over the coming weeks as we prepared for the next race. It didn’t seem completely hopeless.
Running is where Mark knew we could make some gains or at least build strength. His interval training sessions around the oval were a refreshing change. I hadn't done these since high school. After about 3 weeks, I felt a noticeable change in my running motion, I was starting to move off my heel and onto my mid/fore foot.
The block of training leading up to the 70.3 was some of the toughest yet rewarding blocks I had done. Lots of work in the hills on the bike, high intensity running sessions and pushing the swim. Mark and I caught up over our usual
monthly face time, these were my chance to ask the big questions and get some feedback on the recent sessions/efforts.
Tip: I might have an MBA but Training Peaks data is still difficult to interpret.
I was pumped for this race, I had made some big improvements and was ready to smash it. I didn't get the best nights sleep the night prior, but I'm used to sleep depravation thanks to our 1 year old Fraser.
I drank Mark’s nasty sodium solution race morning which I almost finished, but I couldn’t keep it down. This was followed by me being extremely thirsty prior to the race and the free flowing visit to the porta loo, well let’s leave it there.
I still started the race, cruised through the swim, got to the bike with the new aero fit out and then struggled for the 90km. I had no go and was as thirsty as a camel. This lack lustre performance continued into the run.
I finished but was very disappointed, confidence shattered. I then realised I had done a PB, only just, but a PB nonetheless. Wow, I felt like rubbish all day and still went well so maybe we were doing ok.
I was pretty off for the following week with a bug of sorts, so it wasn’t just the sodium at play on race day. Still it didn’t stop me in my quest for the ultimate aero position. To restore some balance, I changed my head stem to be a little shorter (bringing back in some upper body) and went up one riser. Bang, I was back, 320w no problem. That was it, no more changes.
Tip: When seeking the perfect aero position, make sure you align your aero bars, sore shoulders are painful.
We were now entering an important phase of our training, building on our previous foundations and establishing sustained endurance. These sessions were testing across each discipline. Prior to Mark, I previously worked on 6 days on and then 1 day off in a 3 week block. Mark, whilst still scheduling in blocks, set 14 days straight. Sure not all killer sessions, but still entering unchartered territory, both physically and mentally.
Most weeks we had an honest wind trainer session. I still recall one session 6 weeks out from Ironman. I had a rough nights sleep courtesy of our 1 year old teething. I was committed to hitting the session, so dragged myself out of bed in the dark and started to punish myself for 1:20. I finished the session, close to tears, and shot.
On a positive note, I finally resolved my breathing problems I had been having off and on for over a year. Turns out I have asthma, a weird type triggered by having a cold. It took a couple of visits to the clinic and some exhausting testing on the spirometer, but we got to the bottom of it. Thanks to James Ward from Breathing and Sleep Victoria for getting me right.
This was my chance to redeem myself after the 70.3. Again, some good sessions in the lead up to the race, but I really wanted to prove to myself that all this hard work was paying off.
From the start, things were looking better. Swim was very comfortable, the bike was solid, held 300w for the 26km and ran a sub 32:00 for the 8km. I was stoked, Geelong really dented my confidence but this race brought back some belief.
In my catch up with Mark, I'm sure he was starting to sense my growing optimism in terms of Ironman in just over 7 weeks (what sort of watts should I be looking at, what race pace for the run etc).
I am pretty sure I kept a lid on things, always returning to the goal of running the marathon, but it’s hard to keep a lid on things when you are putting in some solid sessions.
We did pick up on one interesting learning: in both the 70.3 and Olympic, I started to get sick on the Tuesday prior to race day, this at the end of our build periods. Really weird, my voice just started to go on both occasions on the exact day – Tuesday. Mark subsequently adjusted my program to cater for this.
It was now all happening, I was feeling leaner then ever, I was running strong and almost keeping a balance between work, family and training. I was really committed to completing all my sessions, even if it meant running in the dark with my bike halogen lamps strapped onto my camel pack.
In case you didn't guess, Mark is big on annual festivities and Easter was no exception. Good Friday - 1:15 swim, Easter Saturday - 6hr ride and Easter Sunday - 3hr run. The Easter egg hunt did take place with our boys although hot cross buns were left out. It would be during the race that this weekend would prove invaluable.
Prior to commencing the long ride, I sodium loaded again and suffered the same effects as Geelong 70.3, couldn’t keep it down and couldn’t get to the loo quick enough . I still went out and during the ride remembered that I used natural sea salt and not table salt the first time in October at Port Mac. A later test proved this to be the case.
My bike was race prepped as usual by Herb at Fuel Performance. He does a great job every time and he’s a nice guy to boot.
We arrived at Port Macquarie 4 days prior to race day, so I had time to ride the course in parts which was good. I had planned to have some carbs for dinner two nights prior, so Em made my favourite paleo shepherds pie with some gluten free pasta and cheese, yumm.
It poured rain for most of the week, courtesy of an east coast low, reaching its peak at bike check in when the bike compound and surrounds started to flood.
I had packed my gear bags twice and mentally packed them at least 4 times. I knew I could save time in transition by not changing into and out of clothes so I bought a 2XU long distance trisuit a few weeks prior, making sure I got in several training sessions to break it in.
So my transition bags were packed as follows:
Tip: I tied a bright purple plastic bag around my bags for easy identification in transition, worked a treat .
My bike and gear bags were now checked in, we could all relax for the rest of the day, well as much as one could with 3 and 1 year old boys. Dinner was normal food, a bit of meat, salad with roast pumpkin and bacon and some yoghurt for dessert with blueberries.
I did a final gear check for the next day, packed my bike special needs bag and prepared my drink bottles – 1 x 500ml water, 1 x 500ml endura electrolyte, 1 x sodium back up (100ml). Gels x 7. All my gear was placed in the car, tri suit placed on the table for when I woke up at 4:00am.
I had a reasonable nights sleep, woke up at 4:00am and had my usual supplements and two crumpets with peanut butter and rice malt syrup. I applied a heap of lube, opting for nappy rash cream (we had plenty of this in the house) and chamois butter for my lower regions and body glide for chest strap, neck and ankle timing strap.
No time for coffee though, I was 35mins drive to the start line so I was off. I needed to consume Marks nasty sodium drink 90 mins prior to race start, so I drank this on route, nothing like a stomach full of salt to get you going in the morning. Still, no problems as indicated previously .
I arrived with 30mins till transition close. Cutting it a little fine, but enough to pump up my tyres, clip in the Garmin, secure the drink bottles and place the gels in the bento box. I dropped off my bike special needs and paid the porta loo a final visit.
A short paddle in the Hastings River gave me a taste of the water and I queued in the sub 1:00 chute for the rolling swim start (course map) Deep breath, 7 months of training, daily sacrifices, early starts, it was all about to unfold.
Before I knew it, we were off, I was feeling ok, a little flat, but comfortable. Around 2.5km, we had to exit the water to cross the spillway and then continue.
It was around now that I started to feel my rhythm (maybe no swimming the week prior was a factor). Back across the spillway 10mins later for the final stretch. Swim complete :56.
Transition, I was a little light headed (not unusual after a long swim), wet suit off,
helmet on, glasses and socks. Carried my shoes to my bike. I was off, 180km and I knew the course, look out. The first 45km felt pretty good although I think I was pushing a little hard, guessing around 280w. Gels were every 45 minutes and I made sure I didn't over hydrate.
The second 45km things got interesting.
Around the 70km mark, I realised I had lost 2 drink bottles, one of these my back up sodium solution (never really liked the stuff anyway ).
Great, could this be where things come undone, was I going to cramp now, should I drink more electrolyte, why didn't I put the sodium in my special needs bag. Yep all of this went through my mind as I started to drop off the pace. All of a sudden 220w seemed about all I had in me.
Would I even have a chance of a sub 10:00.
The next 45km was a continuation of struggle street, at least I wasn't getting passed by anyone. By the 130km mark, I passed my support crew (Em, Finn and Fraser).
It was at this point that I just had to dig deep and somehow I felt I lifted, I'm guessing back up to 245w. I had to work to hold this but it was better than my efforts for the previous hour. At least I had no cramp and the end of the bike was near.
Transition: good bye bike, hello Brooks , my favourite balega socks, crusty old hat and my belt with number. I had packed body glide and more lubricant in my bag so I smothered it on, certainly wanted to be as comfortable as possible. My feeling of needing a pit stop during the second half of the bike was correct, so the porta loo was welcomed before I exited transition.
The run was a 4 lap course, but I at least knew what I was in for as it was the same as the 70.3, just in an anti clockwise direction.
As discussed with Mark, I needed to hold back for the first lap. It's funny how your legs want to run faster even after being on the bike for 5 hours. 4:45 m/kmh did take some focus to keep to as 4:30 seemed where my legs wanted to be. I kept patient, knowing that running the entire distance was the goal.
Mark and I discussed over-hydration, so I needed to minimise drinking at every aid station (every 2km).
This was now important given the lost drink bottle on the bike and I had no back up other than the salt tablets I strapped to my watch band.
As I wanted to keep up a good pace, I opted to drink every second aid station, this normally some water and electrolyte. I allowed myself 10m of walking before getting back into it.
Ice has always been my friend so it opted for this as often as I could, usually grabbing 2 cups, 1 in my hat, the second cup I crunched on for the next 5min.
Took my mind of the run and being ice meant I wasn't taking on heaps of fluid.
Being the first Ironman in my 2xu suit, I decided that a cup of ice down the suit might be nice and yep, that worked a treat.
Probably looked like I had some severe stomach abnormalities, but it was relieving.
Lap 1 went pretty good, I was happy with how it felt, although I didn't put on sun cream in transition, so I had to stop at an aid station for some much needed protection.
With 1 Lap down, I started to recall that 3 hr run at Easter, I managed that run so I had the confidence that I could get through at least the next 2 laps.
Being a 4 lap course, I told myself during the start of the 2nd lap that Lap 3 was going to be the hard lap so I started to prepare myself during lap 2.
I used the on-course Gels (winners) during the run and they were not great. I noticed that some competitors had dropped some endura gels on course (a coffee and a raspberry) in 2 spots. I noted these locations (right in the middle of the foot path, not sure why, but I did), I even spotted gels stored off the path, these looked like a deliberate storage spot, is that legal?
There was a 500m elevated section. This I was tempted to walk but each time I managed to drag myself over the top and then let gravity take me down.
Lap 3 was hard but no more than the previous 2 laps. I made it through Lap 3, drawing upon my previous post race experience, pain really is temporary, so push on, it doesn't last long. In fact it's surprising within 5 mins of finishing how good you feel.
I was taking gels very 45mins so basically each lap. On lap 3, the course was starting to get crowded and I missed my 3rd gel. Hmm, another 2km till the next, then I remembered the endura's on the path so I hoped they would be there and yep, the coffee one was there.
I quickly picked it up, cleaned the well trampled pack and in it went. The last lap was here, I wasn't going to let myself walk that hill, so up we went.
To my genuine surprise, I was still feeling pretty good, so for the last 6km I decided to push it a bit. I cannot tell you how amazing it feels to be able to push on at this point.
Throughout my triathlon experience, I would always be run over by more leaner, natural runners, leaving me for dead. But this time, all those hard strength training sessions were paying off, in fact I don't recall being passed on the run.
I cherished the last few kilometres, kept the ice and water routine going right to the end.
The finish chute was fantastic and now having done 3 Ironman, I can honestly say this was my most memorable. I still managed to get quite emotional on crossing the finish line. I don't know why I cry but I do. I feel sorry for the volunteers who put up with my emotional state, they really do an amazing job.
So I managed to run the marathon which resulted in a sub 10:00 time (9:43 to be exact – Swim-55:45, Bike-5:10, Run-3:29). Maybe, just maybe I may achieve my goal.
My race certainly wasn't perfect, I don't know what I am doing in my swim, but I have room to move (5mins is realistic), my bike fade leaves me a further 5-10 min to improve and if I don't walk those short spots in the run aid stations, there's a further 5mins there so 15mins will bring me down close to the 9:20's. The sad thing is, the first 3 spots were sub 9:20 so even with the above improvements, I would have missed out.
My good friend Glen Carter (ridewithnolimits) told me to be patient. This was in a race context but it's every bit true on this journey.
Whether Mark agrees with this or my race assessment remains to be seen, but it looks like I still have some physical conditioning to gain yet.
I’m amazed how much the human body can develop, even as you get older.
I owe my family (Em, Finn and Fraser) and my work colleagues at Coles Financial Services for their patience over the past months and have Mark to thank for his guidance in getting me to this point.
I have 2 more years to reach my goal and this race gets me a little closer.
I can now look forward to the 70.3 World Championships in Salzburg where I hope to do a further PB, this time at a big event.