On possibly one of the best autumnal days, Melbourne could offer, I embarked on the biggest challenge of my fifteen years as a professional triathlete – Ironman Melbourne. As the Asia Pacific Championship event, the field was star studded with Ironman World Champions, Half Ironman World Champions, Olympic medalists and athletes seasoned over this distance. No one ever talks about Frankston as a place filled with talent, but as the sun rose, and the start horn sounded from the pier, the crystal waters of Frankston were filled with more talent than nearly any race outside Kona.
Exiting the water with a handy one-minute lead over the rest of the field, I had time to get through transition smoothly and enjoy the cheering of the crowd. Looking back on the swim, I wish that I had pushed myself harder. In my last few races, I have been fortunate to race with athletes, like Jodie Swallow who has a great swim pedigree, pushing the pace at the front. When racing Jodie, you certainly are never left finishing the swim, feeling as though you have left too much in the tank. Swimming at the front on my own has never been my strong point, as I tend to daydream a little. Admiring stingrays and crabs on the seafloor of Port Phillip Bay probably should not be in the game plan when I tackle Ironman Melbourne again in the future.
Having never time trialed more than 90km before, I was really unsure how I would fare over the distance. The prospect of time trailing for 180km was more than a little daunting. Questions swirled through my mind in the weeks leading up to the event. Do I just double my nutrition from what I would consume in a half Ironman? How many watts do I drop from my half Ironman pace? Do I race to power or race my competitors? My coach, Shaun Stephens, had guidance and advice, being well credentialed with all things sports science, cycling, triathlon and most importantly me; however, at the end of the day, there were no answers to these questions. The answers would only come after the racing was done, and after the next and next race were done. Until about 55km, riding conservatively, I stayed in the lead. When Caroline Steffen passed I decided to stick with her, whilst keeping an eye on my wattage, and see how her pace felt. Keeping pace with Caroline felt comfortable, so I decided to take the approach of ‘racing my competitors’. I am not backwards in mentioning that for the remainder of the bike, I rode behind Caroline, legally of course. I was very careful about keeping a good distance behind her, and not losing concentration and inadvertently drifting into the draft zone.
Whilst I tend to race a little more aggressively over the half Ironman distance, there was no way I was going to push the pace in this race. It might seem strange to some people, but my number one goal for my first Ironman event was completion as the duration of an Ironman scared me. Furthermore, in my entire athletic career, I have only completed seven 180km rides, the first being last October in Kona with Liz Blatchford. Before this race, my longest training run was 30km and I have only run over 25km on eight occasions. In my Ironman Melbourne preparation, I completed two 30km-training runs. Having had a lengthy history of running based injuries in my ITU career, I wanted to get to the start line of this ironman in one piece. I did, and for me, that was a great achievement.
Finishing the bike just behind Caroline, I dismounted with a mixture of excitement and dread. ‘Gosh the legs felt a bit wobbly’, I thought to myself. As a past ITU athlete, fast transitions were the key, so I found it almost comical to see how slowly athletes move through T2 in an ironman. Nevertheless, I was the novice here so when Caroline sat down to put on her shoes I followed suit. When, Caroline walked through the tent, I again mimicked her actions. I am not sure if Caroline applied sun cream, but I sure wish I had. After a week post race, I still have sunburn.
I ran with Caroline for the first two kilometers. After that, I pulled back. Her pace did not feel sustainable. I wanted to get to the finish. Running along the cambered road to Mordialloc, I felt in control. Melissa Hauschildt, who ran a great race to win, came past me quickly at about the 15km mark. Following her, I knew that there was still a very big gap back to fourth place. As I hit the halfway point of the marathon, I was starting to slow but a podium position still seemed to be within my grasp. Well, that certainly changed quickly. It is all a bit of a blur; however, by the 30km mark finishing certainly became the number one item on my agenda. Yvonne Van Vlerken had passed me at that point and my pace was slowing dramatically.
Until this race, I did not know that it was possible to run so slowly. Racing in Melbourne, the city that I call home these days, meant that I had endless people on course trying to get me over the line with encouraging words, cheers and smiling faces. Somewhere between Black Rock and Brighton, my training partners, Sam Hume and Damien Angus, ran past me. They gave me a pat on the back and offered up encouragement. This meant the world to me and buoyed me on. Seeing and hearing my mum and sister, who had come down from Brisbane was special. They have always been with me on my sporting journey. My lack of experience at such an endurance event and the training required for one then got the better of me. In the last four kilometers, I was passed by a fast moving Asa Lundstrom and Beth Gerdes.
With two kilometers to go Rinny caught me. Nowhere near her top form, I knew that she would not have been overly enjoying her day on course. Yet, as a best friend and champion person does, she got me home. She encouraged me, made me laugh, even though my quads felt like they were being stabbed, and slowed down to get me to the finish line in a time of 9.08. This was one of the most, if not the most, magical moments in all my years of racing. The memory of running with her is indelible.
Not disappointed with my performance, I am already looking up the road, with my eyes on Kona. I’m hoping I can qualify without completing another Ironman. It is a points’ game; however, so I may well have to race over this distance again to qualify. My next race will be St George 70.3 in Utah in May. It certainly will be nice to go back to four odd hours of racing!