Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Race Report - Ironman Western Australia 2012

December 9, 2012, Busselton, Western Australia it's the SunSmart Ironman. This is the 6th IM I have competed in over the past 4 and a half years. Ironman triathlon is a character building sport and one that is to be treated with respect, in terms of both the training and the race. It is something that needs to be deeply considered before jumping in 'boots' and all. It requires a level of commitment in terms of time, money, and of course, possibly some experience in long course triathlon.

Someone once said, 'experience is everything' well yes, in Ironman triathlon I believe it is and as the experience grows and toolbox of IM knowledge becomes greater and more diverse it is such a valuable resource. Every race ,every course and the conditions on the day are always different and as you become more experienced you learn to draw on these experiences to get through the race and to be able to survive whatever this type of triathlon racing throws at you.

In the case of IM Western Australia, the preparation had been ideal, the course was one that should suit my type of racing, the only thing that was out of my hands, were the weather conditions on the day.........looks can be deceiving....

The Race - Sunday December 9, 2012
There was some movement of the trees from outside the house we were staying, it wasn't a sound I was particularly happy to hear, but what could I do? I had trained my butt off for this race and I had never given a bigger commitment to any other race before, a little breeze wasn't going to put me on the back foot so early on in the day (2.30am). It was strange, I usually can sleep quite well the night before a big race, this time round the sleep was not as sound. The 9 hours I had the night before was vitally important, a good nights sleep the night before the night of the big race is a must. There was no need for the 3.00am alarm, I was awake! 

One of the things that I have learnt over the years of Ironman training and racing is that planning (and attention to detail) is an important aspect of the race. In saying this, being flexible and to be able to work through things when they go wrong is another skill that needs to be developed as a part of Ironman triathlon. It doesn't always go to plan, in fact, you can just about be guaranteed that! Paying particular attention to the finer details helps in getting ready for the race and keeping the stress levels down on race day. I subscribe to the idea of The 6 P's...Precise, Planning and Preparation Provides Powerful Performances.....

There is always a guide for each IM I have raced and this race was no different. Not a 'plan' this year, it was all about visualising the race and the preparation leading up to it. I have more and more become a big advocate of the idea of visualisation. Putting down timetables/list etc. is a good start to visualising what is going to happen when, particularly in the time leading up to the race, for example race morning.

The nerves had begun to kick in, not normally this nervous leading into a race, but I guess I have put myself under a certain level of pressure to achieve certain goals at this race. In the back of the mind I knew I just need to do the best I could given the conditions on the day, all the hard work was done and it was time to get out there and race, not participate, but RACE......

Breakfast was consumed and the final little bit of prep was complete. There was a nervous sort of energy in the house this morning, it was a good feeling, plenty of encouragement and positive vibes. We all came with different stories, from DG and BH doing their first Ironman to KP doing her second to MG and myself with quite a number under our belts. 

Time to make our  way to the race precinct to put the final touches on the bike in transitions. 

The Swim
The slight 'breeze' roughed up the water a bit for the swim but nothing that was not manageable. What was more unexpected was the appearance of buoys placed along the course, but it was quickly ascertained that these would just be a 'guide'. The 2 important buoys being the blue ones about 1.9km out to sea, which were at the end of the jetty.

The pre-race routine was in full swing. The race face and focus had come over me. There were a few run through's in the local car park with a few motivation tunes coming along for further motivation and to get those competitive juices flowing.

The wet suit was applied onto the body with the assistance of a concoction of sunscreen, body glide and lanolin all vitally important in surviving the race. There was the occasional light hearted comment among a few of us but it was the calm before the storm.
5.30am race start 15min away, time to make a focused but realistic walk to the swim start to join the other 1500 athletes for the mass swim start.

There were a few good lucks, and, 'I'll see you out there' comments otherwise it was time to race. I positioned myself about the centre of the mass of red swim caps. I have found now that I don't mind the crash and bash of the swim start, nothing fires me up more than a kick in the goggle or slap in the side of the head. It brings the 'race agro' out in me for the rest of the race. Ultimately it's about finding feet to pull you along, working with similar ability swimmers to make the 3.8km swim a little easier and conserve as much energy as possible.

The swim is a fine balance, many athletes races have suffered by not getting the swim right. It needs to be considered that the swim is about a 10th of your day, there is still a lot of work to be done after getting out of the swim.  My goal for the swim was sub 1hr (58min if possible). The strategy for the swim was to not get too carried away in the start in burning up too much energy but still keeping a solid pace. Secondly it was choppy, not too bad in close to the shore but it need to be considered that once we got out further, the swell and chop will pick up and there would need to be some further energy reserves to maintain the same pace throughout this chop.

My navigation strategy was to head to the first white buoy (which was roughly the bend in the jetty) then to swim parallel to the jetty not getting too close as the sweep was pushing toward the jetty. Feet to feet, feet to feet, was important for the first half of the swim, however, as predicted the swell did get larger as we got towards the end of the jetty and it was harder to one; stay on peoples feet, two; navigate, and three; breath to the right. 
This is where bilateral breathing comes in handy. At times, when I did try and breath to the right I ended up with a gob full of sea water, much of the breathing was to the left going out and to the right coming back in.

After fighting some reasonable chop up to the end of the jetty (1.9km out to sea) it was time to turn and continue the fight back to shore. It was a fight that I had plenty of energy for. I was feeling good at the turn and now it was time to grit the teeth and push hard home, it was only a 1.9km swim, easy, I do this all the time. 
The navigation was easy, follow the jetty until the bend then navigate to the big tree behind the swim exit. I remember thinking at one stage, 'geeze this is a long jetty' having a chuckle to myself, then thinking again, well you've got this far time, harden up and push for home. The bend of the jetty came and went, the focus was on that great big bloody tree, there was some fatigue coming into the body, I pushed through, the bottom of the sea becoming a lot clearer, now being able to make out the sand ripples, the swim exit arch was now in sight, I could sniff the dry land. I really had no idea how the time was going, not important really, it was about racing my race and not being focused on the time/gadgets (hard to believe but yes). I took a stroke and the fingers trailed through the sand, it was time to stand up, I was feeling great and even better I didn't cramp at all in the swim (recollections of IM Melbourne, where it was a cramp fest)
Straight out of the water, through the showers pulling the wet suit down as far as possible without becoming a trip hazard. I looked at the time, I was wrapped, by my watch it was 58min! Right on target!


I don't usually find a need to add a T1 heading in my race blogs but this race does require it. 

I new things were going too well.....

Ran into T1, picked up my race bag....1227.....ran to the seats, the wet suit peeled right off, the transition was going so well until I grabbed the bike shoes out of the bag and realized they were far too small....#%@$#!! 
I had grabbed the wrong gear bag, somewhere in the swim, I had washed away the part of my brain where I was to remember my number was 1027. With the content of this 'other' bag half unpacked over the ground and no volunteers in sight I had to stuff every thing back into the bag then run back, find its place, put it back on the hook and then try and find 'MY' bag this time, the valuable seconds then minutes passing by. Finding my 1027 bag, got back to my seat where the wet suit was left and quickly transitioned to the bike, I was out again, a little frustrated, but you can't dwell on it. T1 time - 5m05s

The Bike
I was feeling fast......the swim had definitely lit that fire in the belly. I was here to race, there was a strategy for the bike. Time to give it a nudge.
I had 180 flat kilometers to conquer, however there was a touch of a breeze around the course, nothing of concern at this stage. 

A slightly new nutrition and hydration strategy for bike leg. Running all gels and a water/Gatorade hydration plan.

There were 3 x 60km laps to be completed, the legs were ready and raring to go!
Mounting the bike there were people everywhere, the crowds just adding to the adrenaline rush as I set out on the first lap of the bike. This crowd support was going to be an important part of the 2nd and 3rd laps. Psychologically, it is quite amazing, what effect the crowd support has on your performance throughout the race and for the majority of them, they wouldn't know you from a bar of soap.
Initially it was about just getting setup and comfortable on the bike, get a bit of fluid into me and wash some of that salt water taste out of the mouth. Then begin the nutrition (gel and no-doz). The first 10km were about turning over the legs in the small chain ring but this didn't last the 10km. It was no use mucking around with this small stuff, I had a race to ride. (in the back of mind thinking, this could come back to bite me in the butt!)
Going through the first lap, 60km (in about 1h38m) the legs were still cruising. Having completed the first lap, I now had a good idea of the conditions and potentially what they would be for the rest of the bike leg. There was a reasonable head wind on the parts of the course where we were riding away from the township but obviously getting a nice tailwind in the opposite direction. The road surface was beautiful! One of the best!

Going through 90km I remember looking down at my time and seeing 2hr 32m and thinking, had I gone out too hard, were the legs going to blow up over the next lap and a half. This was only a momentary thought, then deciding well if I had, it was too late now, I might as well keep pushing the legs to the limit. In saying this, the heart rate was fluctuating between 70-75% of my max heart rate, this was good, this was a part of the strategy, a good sign, a reassuring one!

Went through 120km (onto the last lap), the crowd was on my side. There was a little fatigue creeping in, but it just meant, mentally and physically I just had to harden up and get on with it. No one was going to listen! 

By this stage I had put away 10 Powerbar gels, the stomach was still coping, and with a further 5 to go before the end of the bike leg. That could be a whole different story. 
The temperature was rising out there on the bike course, the saving grace was that there was a fair bit of the bike course under tree cover, but still enough exposure to one, get burnt and two start to heat the body up. On this last lap, there was a little more focus on keeping cool, splashing a bit of water over the head and body to help keep everything manageable.

Heading back into town, it happened. The wind changed direction, bugger, oh well, just have to get on with it. It was hard work along the exposed road back into town, it was a matter of just tucking in and pushing home. The crowds were increasing as the end neared. This helped in finishing the ride off and to prepare for the 42.2km run ahead of me. Jumping off the bike, the legs were not written off but I new they had just helped me to a 5h13m bike leg, a PB for the bike leg.

Not much to say here, other than I remembered my race number!

The Run
The run; it was flat, the confidence way high, the legs were willing, the head was positive!
It was now pushing 35 degrees. There was nowhere to hide from the sun.
It was only 42.2 km, I new I could do this! I had been in some of the best run form of my life, but it is Ironman!

The IM WA Run Course
Out of transitions I was feeling good, through 1, 2, 3 km it was hot and travelling well.

It was all to go down hill very quickly, at 4km (the first circle in the pace chart below) the stomach was not good, there was some serious cramping. I was frustrated, I thought I'd got the nutrition thing right. Up to this point, there was little to no signs of this rearing its ugly head. There was a number of attempts to get going over the next 2km but things were just not happening, the stomach was not cooperating with the legs. Thanks has to LG who was running for me through this stage and was a constant source of encouragement. Even with the encouragement from LG and the crowd, the frustration was growing, there were some harsh words to myself, both in my head and aloud, maybe this would help the cause, or not. 

Time to think about this a bit more, I have now been racing non stop for a little under 7 hours and taking on a fair amount of fluid, yes, it was hot and the body was absorbing most of that fluid but not all. I wasn't feeling it, but the bladder must have been very full and there must have been a need get rid of some of that fluid (on the run). Possibly this could be adding to the stomach issue. This did help considerably, and I found myself going back to basics, one foot after the other, slowly building up the pace, but there was not a hope in hell I was going near another gel. 
Not to worry, it was just going to have to be a cola/water strategy for the rest of the run leg, something that I had though about but never pursued and went back to planning to go with gels for the 1st 20 km then changing to cola after that. It was now going to be cola for the rest of the run. 

The other change in strategy, was now going to be a aid station walk (30 steps)/run strategy (running between aid stations). The reasoning behind this change was; one it meant that I was able to hydrate properly and two was very hot and it allowed an opportunity to get some ice and stuff in anywhere I could to keep the core body temperature down. (these are the dips in the pace chart)

Even though I had a plan I was not caught up with changing the race strategy. If I was going to get, and keep going then it meant I need to adjust my race strategy, it was going to be cola all the way!

I was going again, feeling okay but not brilliant (as you would expect) but I was moving forward again. I was beginning to think that all was not lost. I was sticking to 30 step aid station walk, things were looking up. The stomach began to feel better but not to a point where I was willing to insert a gel into my mouth. 

I spoke too soon.....
At about 15km, (the second circle on the pace chart above) I went into a dark, dark place, in fact, if there was a colour darker than black, I was there. 
For the next 3km there was some soul searching, everything seemed to fall apart, not one part of the body wanted to cooperate. There was many cries of anguish (silently and aloud) but I was not going to let this beat me. I needed to draw on that experience, bring back some positivity into my thinking, the encouragement from my fellow TAQ athletes helped in the cause. I gritted my teeth, said to myself harden up, you didn't invest all that time and commitment to let a run course beat me. A slap on the thighs, a yell of 'come on' (well along those lines) and around the 18km I was moving again, one foot in front of the other, building up the pace. Soon I again was back on top of things. There was renewed focus, it was all about breaking it up, aid station to aid station, worrying about one segment at a time for the remaining 24km and keeping a positive mind set. The other thing that, whilst it may only sound little, but was effective in keeping me going for the rest of the run, was to exaggerate my arm movement while I ran. If I kept my arms swinging then they would also help the legs moving. Along with this, was a focus on my running posture, keeping nice and tall. It worked a treat and found myself building some momentum and my confidence building.

On the last lap, I looked down and saw the 38 km marker, 4 km to go, over the past 20 km I had turned things around, just had to bring it home strong. There was still some hope of breaking the 4 hr mark for the marathon. This has been the holy grail of my Ironman racing, as yet, I haven't managed to go under 4 hrs. Was it still possible? I'll give it my best shot! 

Coming up to the lap station I passed MT and DD who gave me some further encouragement to bring it home strong, taking the last band it was about 200m to the finish, the course snaking through the crowd then veering off where I would make my way to the finishing chute, a welcome sight, and a fantastic feeling. 

It was going to be another PB, a big one this time, 21 minutes but still didn't manage to go under 4hr for the run missing this mark by a measly 2min (4h01m57s) but still it was a PB for the run leg. I managed to negatively split the run, which I was happy with.

0 - 21.1km = 2h 03m
21.2 - 42.2 = 1h 58m

Made it. 
Officially 10 hr 22 min 11 secA PB in each of the 3 legs.

The Overall Result:

The Race Reflection
It was a tough day out, a rewarding day. To battle the elements all day and come away with a 21 min PB I have to be happy. I had a good day, Ironman is all about riding the ups and down and I would say this race would be my most successful yet, in terms of time, results and overall personal fulfillment.

In reflecting on race day, I guess I would make the following comments:
  • I don't think I could have had a better swim or bike leg.
  • There is some merit in exploring other nutritional strategies other than just a straight gel strategy. In saying this, I think it worked quite well but given the issues on the run, I think all those gels may have contributed to them.
  • The caffeine strategy work well up to the run.
  • The run is where I had the most disappointment. The holy grail was still not achieved (sub 4 hr marathon in an IM), only missing the mark by 2 minutes. I guess it could be achieved only if I had 'got a it together' a little better during those times on the run where things didn't go so well.
  • The cola strategy work well and I didn't seem to have any issue with this during that part of the run.
  • There was a definite need to think about applying sunscreen throughout the race. The sunburn was the thing that took the longest to recover from. 
  • Possibly need to re-think the use of the visor in some hot and sunny conditions. The head does get burnt too with not much hair up on top.
  • Not going with any compression gear this time worked well, there were no issues. However, they may have helped with sun protection.
  • Apart from my 'rookie' mistake in T1, there is still a need to improve my transition times. One thought that I picked up from the King of T1 & T2, BV is to put most, if not all the things for the bike, on the bike and not in the transition bag.
  • The speed fill aero-bottle was a good idea at the time but I found it frustrating managing the tube that you sucked on throughout the bike leg. 
  • When I think about it now, 4 weeks after the race, I don't think I'll do too much different. I did all I could with my training. It was a successful outcome for me. It wasn't the exact result that I was looking for, but the one thing you can't control in an Ironman, are the conditions on the day and this certainly was an influencing factor. In saying this I wouldn't say it was an excuse. I was just one piece of the puzzle that didn't fall into place.
  • Whilst this a very satisfying result, there is still room to improve and a need to break that 10 hr barrier.

The Speed Fill Tube
Sunburnt Head -
the problem with a visor

Key aspects of my preparation that contributed to my race success:
  • Consistency; getting out there on the training paddock.
  • Working to exactly what has been stipulated in my training program.
  • Recovery; means exactly that! It is vital!
  • Going with and trusting the heart. In other words working with heart rate does work, just need to be patient.
  • The head and my frame of mind was in the right place throughout my training. 
  • Who was I kidding, CORE is key!
  • Weight (getting to an ideal weight at 20 weeks). This was such a factor in being in the right frame of mind this campaign. I was training for training not for weight loss.
  • Planning and visualizing my race.
The Last Word.....

Ironman is not an easy road. It requires a commitment of time, money and focus that takes some toll on varying aspects of our lives. There has to be a level of understanding along with some give and take with you and your family throughout this time, 20 weeks, is a long time, its 5 months, that's nearly half a year. I would like to thank my wonderful wife for her love and understanding throughout this campaign. She has been a rock and someone that brings a realistic outlook (and very honest opinion) on what I'm doing and what I am trying to achieve. Thank you!

Secondly, Coach. This is our 6th Ironman together and as an athlete I think I am going from strength to strength. I think there is some merit in sticking with the same coach for a period of time, during which it allows the coach and athlete to evolve. Thanks Mark, for your time and effort. It is much appreciated!

Lastly, I would have to say this has been one of the most enjoyable campaigns. The Tri-Alliance (QLD) group that has been on this journey with me has been one of best groups of people I have trained with over the years. Thank you. 

Thanks to Mike Zink for the fantastic photos!

On the Horizon....#7 (June 9, 2013)