Debutant Die Hard

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Race day - when my brain was melting Queen K style.

IM World Championships, Kona, October 10th 2015

I spent the week prior to race day concerning myself with the behaviour of the wind. I wasn’t perturbed about the possibility of a head wind- I am Melbournian now after all. It was the gusty crosswinds (mumuku trade winds) that can blow (you!) across the Big Island that bothered me.

 

Pre-race tune up. Photo courtesy of Korupt Vision.
Getting to know the Kona crosswinds. Photo courtesy of Korupt Vision.

As the sun went down on race eve, and I illicitly sipped a G&T on a deck overlooking tomorrow’s battlefield, a calm set in. Both literally and metaphorically.

 

Race day was only hours away. I no longer had to time to ruminate about the wind or whether I had done enough training or whether I could be competitive working part time in an office and training part time. The race was in 12 hours and the answers to these questions were imminent.

 

I woke to air that was still. No breeze could be felt. Were it not for the air being thick with heat and humidity (25 degrees Celsius and 70% humidity at 0430) I wouldn’t have noticed the air at all.

 

I smashed down two Up n Go’s for breakfast on the drive down to the pier. My housemates and I had named our rental car ‘The Caravan of Courage’. Everyone was excited. Damien Angus – a mentor, friend and training partner- was back in Kona for the fourth time. He has a date with Kona every five years, and his last time racing on the island was in 2010. It is truly his personal Olympics.

Post ride coffee at the Green Flash with Laurence Basell, Mitch Anderson, Damien Angus.
Members of ‘The Caravan of Courage’: Laurence Basell, Mitch Anderson, Damien Angus.

 

Rushing through body marking and transition, I found myself in my Aquasphere swim-skin and milling about in the shallows at Dig Me Beach before I’d clicked my heels together. The sun had just risen over the volcano, and I was amazed as I glanced around at the pier and along Ali’i drive towards The Royal Kona, at the hordes present in such a small town.

 

I took the moment in – all of it. I knew that there was no place I would rather be. I also didn’t know whether I would be back.  I wanted to be able to conjure up the sights, sounds and all the sensations of this day in the years to come.

 

The starter’s horn sounded at 0630. We were off! My jangling nerves began to dissipate as I propelled my body through the water. At a toasty 28oC, the water was calm, yet the pack of swimmers was somewhat frenzied. I remember thinking, why are we all swimming so close together? It’s a big ocean. This is a really long race. Then it clicked. Once I identified who the swimmers around me were, I wasn’t at all surprised. These were the same offenders I swam in frenzied ITU packs with all those years ago: Leanda Cave, Liz Blatchford, Jodie Swallow, Daniela Ryf and Mary Beth Ellis.

In sync with Jodie Swallow. Photo courtesy of Michael Rauschendorfer.
In sync with Jodie Swallow. Photo courtesy of Michael Rauschendorfer.

 

By the turn around at the Body Glove yacht, I was under control. I felt comfortable that I was in a good position in the lead bunch and would be able to maintain this placing to T1. I had worried about my swimming in the lead up.

Working part time meant that I only squeezed in 12-15km of swimming per week. Whilst this might seem like a lot to some people, it is minimal compared to what I did before I was working (and also compared to my peers).

 

I exited the water third behind Jodie and Leanda, with another half dozen women. Transition was uneventful (I found my bike right away!) and we all mounted the bike together. After completing the lap around town, it was a relief to get out onto the Queen K Highway. I settled into a rhythm and found my place in the line of women that were charging towards Hawi.

 

Regrettably, my power meter wasn’t playing ball. I’m not sure what happened, but it wasn’t reading power and the display seemed to be stuck on the factory setting screen. The only data I had was distance (in miles) and time. There wasn’t anything I could do, but go by feel and keep following. The feel method however is somewhat dubious when it’s only your second IM and you’ve come out of a Melbourne winter.

 

I felt comfortable on the bike all the way to the turn point. Women started to drop off as we ascended Hawi. I knew Daniela was up the road and that Jodie had tried to match her. I was riding with Mary Beth and Camille Pederson. Some of the other notable names had dropped off. I could see the time gaps growing to Daniela and to the women behind me as we made our way back to the Queen K.

I didn’t know how I should be feeling, but felt ok. Then, at about the 140km mark, the wheels started to fall off.  My SCOTT and Profile equipment weren’t the problem. They served me beautifully that day with the utmost precision and reliability.  It was my body. My vision was becoming a bit blurry. I had a headache. I was fidgeting, and I had stiffened up through my back and hips. My ability to maintain pace was fast decreasing.

Race day - when my brain was melting on the Queen K.
Race day – when my brain was melting on the Queen K.

The air was no longer still and there was a challenging headwind. The last 40km seemed to take an eternity. I dropped off from Camille and Mary Beth near the Mauna Lani exit. Michelle Vesterby passed me somewhere near the Scenic Lookout. Rachel Joyce and Angela Naeth passed next. According to my tracking, I averaged 22 km/hr for the last 8km of the ride. How was I going to complete a marathon?

 

Well sure enough I got through T2. Regrettably I didn’t reapply sun cream in the change tent. The sunburn I suffered from the race was horrendous, and I fear that being fair skinned meant that I played with fire by being exposed to UV rays for that period long without better protection.

 

Running out of transition and up Palani Drive was difficult. I felt NQR (Not Quite Right). It was fantastic to see so many familiar cheering faces, but gosh the legs felt wobbly. I turned the corner onto the Kuakini Highway and I took a tumble. I remember falling so I am quite sure that I didn’t pass out, but I certainly don’t remember much. I was dazed and confused.  The only time I have been more ‘non compos mentis’ on the island was a week earlier when I bought cat food at the supermarket. I don’t own a cat, and I certainly don’t travel to races with a cat. Supermarkets really should mark out their tuna displays more clearly. It’s an easy mistake for a wearied traveler to make – cat food looks a lot like tinned tuna.

 

Luckily I’m quite well practiced at the army roll. I’ve never been the most coordinated of people, and have taken a few tumbles when out running in training. This day was no different. I hit the deck and got right back up according to onlookers. I rallied myself for the outbound stretch of Ali’i Drive. Aid stations; supporters spraying garden hoses; and a quaint Catholic Church were waiting for me at the turn point. Surely the combination of an ecclesiastical building, a sprinkling of water and calories would help the situation.

 

After a few aid stations of taking on all ice, water, Gatorade and gels, I started to feel sprightlier. I knew it wouldn’t be a pretty marathon but I never doubted that I would get it done. People were catching me. Liz Blatchford was the first.  She encouraged me and yelled at me to put ice down my pants. Somewhat standard advice one gets from a dear friend I suppose.

Friends on and off the course for 15 years. Seen here a few days before the race, Liz was still smiling at me as she passed me on Ali'i Drive on race day.
Friends on and off the course for 15 years. Seen here a few days before the race, Liz was still smiling at me as she passed me on Ali’i Drive on race day.

Once I had summited Palani Drive and had headed out on to the Queen K, Heather Jackson was the next woman to catch me. She was moving well. I was still in the top ten, but only just at this point. I entered The Energy Lab in 9th and I emerged in 11th. The second half of the marathon was an eye opener. I was amazed. Some women were charging. Others were charging and then imploding. I just kept moving. My preferred spirit animal at this point would have been some sort of Falcon or African animal of prey. My body seemed to have chosen the turtle. Turtles still move forward however, just not at the most competitive pace.  I slipped to 14th place with about 10km to go before running my way back into 12th. In fact, my last 6km was my best running for the day.

 

As I made it back down Palani, my mouth began to crease at its corners. I found my smile. I had made it. From a sporting perspective, I have never felt prouder of myself than I did at that moment. I have a special knack for recognising moments bound for future nostalgia, and I knew then that this would be one to remember long into the future. I had gotten off that bike wondering how on earth I would run a marathon, when I was already cooked. But I did it. I got it done. Not in a quick time, but a respectable 3.27 on a sweltering day in only my second ironman and marathon. I’d done myself proud and given my best for my family, friends, supporters, sponsors and most importantly, me.

With Laura the day before the race. She and Mum made the trip over from Brisbane. A long day of spectating for them both.

 

Running under the Banyon Tree and then the finish arch was amazing. Being able to finally rest my legs was wonderful. It was over.

 

Immediately after the race, I was sure that I never wanted to race Kona or another Ironman again. By the next morning, I felt a 50 percent certainty of wanting to line up at this grueling event again. And now, nearly two weeks later, I am definitive in my resolve to give Kona another crack.

 

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I can clearly see some obvious mistakes in my race preparation and race day strategy, including nutrition. These are clear opportunities for improvement. I am confident that I can be a top ten finisher and top five finisher with a little bit of Kona luck.

 

Secondly, I realised that I am fulfilled as long as I define my own success.

 

There were times over the last six months when I worried that I wouldn’t achieve the success that I knew I was capable of as a triathlete. Would I walk away from Kona disappointed with my result? Training for Hawaii in Melbourne, during winter whilst working part time in a corporate environment, is not ideal preparation for a professional athlete. It was hard. As far as I know, not a challenge that was taken on by any of my competitors.

 

Conversely, taking on a new job as a part time worker, also has its challenges and at times I wondered if I was hindering my growth in this aspect of my life.

 

Competing in Kona made me realise that I was looking at success the wrong way. I can be content as long as I follow my passions and define success by my own standards.

 

Jumping for joy in Kona. Photo courtesy of Korupt Vision.
Jumping for joy in Kona. Photo courtesy of Korupt Vision.

I survived my first six months in a new role in the corporate world, whilst getting myself to the start line healthy, and as fit as possible under the circumstances my life would permit. I raced the distance, my competitors and most importantly myself to the best of my ability. I’m now back in Melbourne and at work, looking ahead to Kona 2016, knowing that it’s the sum of all parts that fulfills me.

 

On a final note, it would be remiss of me not to mention the three amazing athletes who owned the day: Daniela Ryf, Rachel Joyce and Liz Blatchford. Stay classy.


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