June 9 was the date of Cairns Ironman. My third attempt at a 3.8 km swim, 180 km bike and 42.2 km run, ultra-endurance event known as an Ironman. My previous attempts were in Bussleton, Western Australia 2017 and Port Macquarie in 2018. For me Bussleton was one of the hardest days in my life with the day being far from successful. Port Macquarie was a different story. I enjoyed myself all day and felt like I had, had a great day out and walked away feeling awesome. This year for Cairns I completed the race in the best time I have ever done over the distance. On the surface this is a great achievement and to everyone I talk to they say you must be happy with that and all I can say is that I am trying to be.
You see I had some lofty goals for this race. My big goal was to go close to 10:00:00 for the race. I did 10:54:30. My goal was to go top 10 or very close to that. I came 36th. Now the placing is dependant who turns up and the field for this event was very competitive in my age group with Just over 200 competitors in the 45 - 49 age category. Which turned out to be the largest category on the day.
Why then am I left feeling slightly empty from the day? Why does it now feel like I failed and that I let myself down? You see it is just me that feels this way. Every other person in my life sees what I have done and offers congratulations and calls me nuts just for doing it in the first place. After a few days to contemplate my feelings I think I am getting closer to figuring a few things out.
If I break the day down in to the disciplines of Swim, Bike, Run, Transitions and Nutrition it illustrates where I feel my mistakes were.
To start the day the swim was rough, really rough. I don’t mind this but, in the lead, up I had done all my swimming in a pool and had done no open water swimming practice at all. So, the nearly 1-meter swell with wind chop on top caused problems for me with sighting and swimming off course a few times. I ended swimming a very respectable time of 1 hour, but it took more out of me than is should have.
The second leg of the day the 180 km bike leg was honestly where I thought I would go the best. But as I started pedalling and got out on to the course proper, I had bad sensations in my legs. Power figures that normally I have to concentrate to hold back at I was having to push to get to. Then within 40 kilometres I had some lower back and hip pain that started to worry me. There was a 30 - 35 km/h wind which was almost a pure head wind for much of the southbound sections of the bike course. My problem was that I took it personally, I let it make me cranky instead of just getting on with the job holding my power numbers.
The following morning upon inspection of my bike I realised that my seat had actually slid backwards in the rails. I normally have the seat as far forward as I can get it and during the race it had gone all the way back on the rails. How much did this affect me? Who really knows? Did it cause the back pain? Possibly. At the heart of it though this is where I let myself down. You see after 22 years in the Royal Australian Air Force working on Aircraft. I know that before every flight you should look over your vehicle and make sure it is fit to fly. When we arrived in Cairns, I put mine and my wife’s bike together and serviced hers. But for my bike I put the wheels on straightened the handlebars on and well that was about it. I let myself down by rushing it and not looking over it and making sure the vital areas were secured properly.
The final leg being the run is always where I have struggled in the past. The 42 km marathon for an injury prone non-runner is something to be wary of and respected. In saying that over the last 8 or so weeks of my training I have felt increasingly comfortable on the run. My speeds at any given effort have been steadily improving and effort levels at my planned Ironman pace had been steadily lowering. Come race day though after pushing in to a 35 km/h headwind for 65 km in an unfamiliar position on the bike my body was already showing signs that this would be a hard run. So, what I didn’t do on the day was adjust my expectations of what I thought I was capable of doing. I didn’t adjust my pacing, and I took off went through the first 5 km in 27.40. Which is significantly under the pace I had said I was going to try for on my ultimate day. At the 10 km mark I was already starting to slow down. Not by choice I was just slowing down due to poor pacing. The 1/2 marathon mark I had slowed even further. At this stage I was now running much slower than the pace I had hoped for, but there was nothing I could do about it as my energy levels had fallen so low and the struggle on the bike had started producing hamstring and calf cramps sporadically. My only thought process now was to get across the line in one piece.
Transitions are an often-overlooked area of Ironman Triathlon for age groupers. I was no exception. The Swim to bike transition I spent nearly 6 minutes fluffing around. To give you an idea 10th place in my age category spent 4 minutes in there. So there is 2 minutes I lost due to inefficiency. In the Bike to run transition I spent 4 minutes in there. The same person was there for under 3. There goes another minute wasted, some practice on working the transitions better which will make me quicker without expending any more energy in the race is free time savings. You would be mad not to practice that. Wouldn’t you? Then why didn’t I?
Nutrition is a major part for any long course triathlon. A race that goes for 11 hours getting enough calories and hydration in is crucial to maintaining condition deep into the race and maximising your ability to achieve your athletic goals. I know this. I listen to many podcasts on why this is important. Yet when setting up for the race I jammed a few gels into my bike nutrition compartment and put a few energy bars in my transition bags and then in to my back pockets for the bike and run. Yet when I finished. I had more than half my gels from the bike and I hadn’t touched the energy bars in my pockets from the bike or run. My hydration mix that I put together the night before was a random number of scoops of Gatorade powder in to an 800 ml bottle filled with water. The idea being a super concentration mix where I just squeeze some in to a front bottle and fill the rest with on course water. I had no idea how many calories I was ingesting each hour. I had no idea how many grams of sodium I was putting in each hour. I mean just reading that out to myself after writing it down it almost seems comical for someone that prides them self on knowing how to fuel usually.
It was only after writing all this down that I realised just how stupid this nutrition non strategy was. If you were to ask any of the top performers in any of the age groups what they ate, how many calories each hour they had and how many grams of sodium they took in. Most if not all would be able to give you an hour by hour description of it. Not me. I just put a few scoops of Gatorade powder in a bottle with some salt and thought I could go off that. Then halfway through the ride got sick of the taste because it was too sweet, so I threw it out and went to the on-course nutrition which I have never used before. See what I mean. It sounds ridiculous just saying it.
Given all those mistakes and issues. I still did a respectable time, and had a respectable result 36th in age group, 19th Australian home, 206th male 226th over all of 1063 finishers and over 1200 starters.
But going away I have plenty to work on. My goal was 10:00:00 but bigger than that execute a race that I thought I was capable of. I did the training of Swim Bike and Run over the preceding 4 months but neglected transitions and an effective nutrition / hydration plan that will allow me to execute such a race.
Framing everything, I have said into a learning opportunity. To improve in more than just my swim bike and run as separate sports I must train my transitions and nutrition and hydration so they will actually help rather than hinder my races.
Post-race I am healthy. I came out of the race tired but not hurt. I am more motivated than ever to resume training and start implementing what I have learnt.
My new goal going forward is to qualify for the 2020 World 70.3 Ironman Championships in Taupo on 28th November.
No rest for the wicked hey.