In this Blog post my plan was to tell you all about the Ironman I recently entered into at Bussleton Western Australia. I was planning on telling how rising to the occasion and finishing what is considered the hardest single day sporting event in the word had changed me. I was planning on telling of my adventures on the day of my struggle and that feeling of when I crossed that finish line and hearing the announcer yelling those words that every Long Distance Triathlete Dreams about " Michael Rand YOU ARE AN IRONMAN"
Sunday 3rd of December was meant to be the pinnacle of my year. It was the day I stood on the start line and completed my very first Ironman Triathlon. It was the day that the last 12 months of training were put to the test and I was to perform both physically and mentally to the best of my abilities. Mother nature and my ego decided not that day.
At 5:45 am not long after the 1/2 Ironman athletes had taken to the water we heard a commotion near the iconic Bussleton Jetty. The 1.9 km long jetty we were to swim around in a bit over an hour's time was a hive of commotion and frantic movement. We saw a helicopter hovering over the swim very low and then heard a bunch of whistles and the local Surf Lifesavers herding everyone up the ladders and out of the water. It was then we started to realise that there was a shark in the area. As in swimming directly in and under the swim course. We later found out it wasn't just one, there were 5.
My first emotion was jeeze I hope everyone gets out safely and nobody gets hurt getting up on the jetty. Adrenaline spiked and lots of laughter and jokes about Bruce the Shark from finding Nemo were thrown around by many a person walking past. Once that settled down however we didn't hear much from Ironman about our race until just before we were meant to be starting. The official call. Swim has been cancelled. The race is now going to be a 180 km bike and a 42.2 km run. To say that my entire world just seemed to disappear into the ether would be a gross understatement. I had a sense of numbness and betrayal and a weird sense of loss. I sat in the marshalling area for the next hour stuck in my own negative thoughts on how I had just wasted the last 12 months and how I might not even start the race. I mean why bother right? Finish the course as set and I still wont consider myself an Ironman. Ironman is Swim, Bike, Run. Not Bike Run. It wasn't just myself was the next thing I noticed. There were many faces I saw looked on the verge of tears. Visibly shaken and a few with a look of defeat settled strongly into their eyes.
Once the feeling of quitting started to fade that feeling was replaced by anger. I was angry at myself for letting old demons rear their head, I was angry at Bruce, I was angry at Ironman for holding an event like this in Shark infested waters that ruined my day and year. I was still wallowing in that feeling when we were told how we would get to start and were getting marshalled into the starting funnel. That anger I said to myself would fuel my first hour on the bike and allow me to put more energy into it as I hadn't used it in the swim. In my defense I later found out. I wasn't the only person to think this way and completely destroy their race. I guess that is one consolation. I am as dumb as even some of the pro athletes that did the same as I did.
I knew I was in trouble 80 km into the 180 km bike ride. I was starting to cramp and cramp badly. The supposed 33 degree top temperature had been passed by 11 am and on my Garmin I later found registered 38 degrees. My goal time for the bike of 5 hours at 60 km looked promising. By 90 km not so much. My power had dropped and pedalling at my usual 75 - 80 RPM was no longer an option as it brought upon cramping to like I had never experienced on the bike. Over the remainder of the last 90 km I had to completely stop 3 times for unplanned stops due to cramping. The worst being where I cramped so badly the inner quadricep completely disappeared and you could actually see the outline of the femur(the big upper leg bone).
After limping back to the end of the bike leg I had to start something I had never ever done. A marathon. By now my mental state was a mess. I had tears in my eyes and defeat in my heart. The prospect of pulling up stumps handing in my timing chip and heading home to sulk was constantly in the forefront of my mind while I was sitting getting changed for the run in the change tent. Something though kept me going. I am not sure what it was at the time. I just knew that I had to try.
I strapped on my race belt headed out of transition and started out into the unknown. I think that the change from the bike to the run gave my cramping muscles a little bit of relief as I actually managed to get about 4 km running done before the cramping began its battle with both my legs and my mind for the next 5 and a bit hours.
Let me be perfectly clear. I am not a good runner. I liken myself to a hippopotamus trying to tiptoe through a bunch of strawberries. Amusing to watch but not very graceful and certainly not very fast. When you are faced with a multi loop course, there a few ways to view it. Positives. You get to go past the biggest crowds more often and get that emotional lift that can give you that boost to keep you going. The negatives. You go straight past transition area where it would be oh so easy to slide in there and quit. When you have been reduced to walking for 8 km straight and you haven't even reached half way. Believe me. I think I actually caught myself drifting towards it on that second lap. For most of that lap I was reduced to walking as fast as I could. Because every time I thought my legs felt like they were capable of running and I tried they gave me a swift and merciless reminder that they weren't in fact ready to run and set off an calf, hamstring and quad cramp that had me locked with straight legs holding on to something so as I didn't fall over.
Still I kept going. A good friend and member of Total Performance Centre asked my how I kept going. Stating that surely she would have quit. The look of shock on her face when I told her that self loathing and hatred and negative feedback was what got me through those darkest times, rather than self belief and courage. Not what may want to hear. Believe me as someone that is very hard on himself in the sporting area performing and feeling like this was an affront to the way I view myself. The weakness and helplessness I felt due to the condition of my legs was something that set off an old self belief issue in me that I thought I had dealt with. It is amazing however the mindset shift when you get passed half way. With my Garmin watch saying that it had hit 40 degrees a little bit earlier and that the temperature was now actually cooling a bit. I started to know that I would finish my spirits lifted slightly to where I started to notice other people on the course. I noticed there were precious few people actually looking any good. There were not many more that were gong substantially faster than me at that time.
It is so easy to judge yourself against what you see the professionals doing on TV, how they look, how fast they are going or how much they weigh. When you are out on course amongst your peers at the back end of an event like this you start to see what the majority of the people that choose to do this monumental task look like. The emotions that they are going through, the pain etched into their faces, the terror when being told by an official that they were too sick to continue. I think it is part of the reason this sport is so addictive. There is nothing else I've ever been a part of that strips you so raw where a single day event can define your entire year. Something that strips you back to nothing and asks for a little more just to get to the finish line.
Slightly over 11 1/2 hours after I started the race. I made it to the finish chute I found my amazing wife standing there having finished some 90 minutes prior cheering my on with a proud smile and two amazing friends giving me hugs saying well done. At 11:32:41 I crossed the line. Never was there a greater example of Phil Mafetone's central Governor theory on display than when I crossed that line and dutifully stumbled into the waiting arms of a man with a finishers medal and the famous towel. I don't remember much after that. I know I ate some chips covered in salt and drank water and lemonade and ate ice cream. I know I got my finisher picture and proceeded outside to say hi to Wendy. It was there I finally collapsed. The medics would later tell me that I had lost 8 kg that day due to chronic dehydration and losing 10% of your body weight in a day isn't good for you. None of it really sunk in too much until later.
I was stuck in a mire of what began that morning when the swim got cancelled. I had completed the course that was set before me on the day. But I still didn't get to call myself an Ironman. I hadn't done a swim. The sense of misery was really something to behold. I am not sure if it was because I needed that first one to be perfect or if it is really because I am that messed up in the head. I hope it is the first one. But For the next week I could not shake my misery. I could not shake the feeling of loss and why did I bother.
The day after the event we attended the famed roll down ceremony. This is where the top athletes in each age group get to find out if their efforts were good enough to get them to Hawaiian Ironman. Don't get me wrong I knew I wasn't going. It was for Wendy. She had taken the previous day and done the opposite of me and made the most of it. My wife placed 3rd in her age group. Something neither of us really thought was a possibility this year. With 65 places across all age groups we weren't sure whether it would be 1st and 2nd going or possibly 3rd as well. We walked up to the results sheet and saw the official results. She was third. It was then I saw the allocations. Top 3 were going. We looked at each other and shed a bit of a tear and nodded. Job well done. I am positive that I have never, ever been so proud of anyone in my life of what I was and am of Wendy. She is an amazingly strong person that never makes fuss Never show boats and never ever complains about the programs I write for her. She got what she deserved. A place a the Ironman World Championships in Kona Hawaii on October 13 2018.
It took a full week and 2 days for me to start to find some positives from that day other than Wendy's amazing result. I can finally talk about the day and not set my defense mechanisms off. It was a tough day. It was a day when I was probably the fittest I have ever been and my mind got in the way of my body. I had a plan that go thrown out of the window because I let my emotions get the better of me.
I hope I have learnt. I guess I will find out in May next year when I toe the start line at Port Macquarie Ironman. Yep. Here we go again.
Do you do ultra endurance events? Do you have friends that do it? Does this little tale of my adventure sound familiar?
Let me know tag your friends and let them know they are not alone.
Till next time.
Stay true to yourself. Be honest with your loved ones and try to help as many people as you can on a daily basis.