Dec. 29, 2007

Ironman Western Australia Report

Time to pick up the keyboard and start blogging again! Here's my day-after report on my first Ironman triathlon...

I'm lying in bed typing this, the day after Ironman Western Australia... I had a great race and beat my expectation by over an hour! Here's the play-by-play.

I got to Busselton with my son three days before the race. Busselton is a small town, so I was worried that I hadn't arranged accommodation before arriving. Our first stop was the Tourist Information office. They found us reasonable place to stay pretty quickly, so that was one worry off my back. That evening was a problem though, as I developed a splitting headache during dinner and felt progressively worse through the evening. At about 10:00 PM I had a pretty intense hour in the bathroom throwing up... After that I was fine though, and was even able to get enough of a night's sleep to get down to the beach Friday morning for a 7:30 AM open water swim. The water was relatively warm, but quite choppy. Lousy surfing and lousy swimming too!

Practice Swim, Busselton JettyI joined in the group swim anyway and managed to complete my planned wet-suit/salt water training session. I got a few mouthfuls of salt water, which wasn't pleasant, and found that my goggles weren't snug enough in choppy conditions. It was good to have a chance to chat to the other competitors and get a feel for the swim course, which simply traces the Busselton Jetty clockwise 1.8 km out and 1.8 km back (the longest wooden structure in the southern hemisphere!).

After that Chris and I drove over to the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse for a break. We'd planned to also see the nearby scenic caves, but ran out of time as I had to get back into Busselton for race registration. In the late afternoon I went for a 5K run along the beach. The winds were pretty strong, so I got stung a bit by the sand when I ran into the wind. The run course for the race was further along the same coast, so the run was also useful for preparation. Aside from the blowing sand the run was gorgeous. A very lightly populated beautiful white beach stretched as far as I could see in either direction. To the east was the impossibly long Busselton Jetty, to the west was Cape Naturaliste.

Saturday morning was the race briefing. Pretty straight-forward. I decided to ride down to it for my shake-down ride after reassembling my bike. Through out our time here the main roads have been busy with competitors riding along the edges, even today, the day after the race. On the way out of the briefing I saw the Shimano tent and decided to ask them to have a look at my bike. Good thing I did, they spotted that my chain was twisted! I needed a new one, they recommended I replace the cassette (rear gears) too. A local bike shop (thank you South West Cycles!) did the work on the spot and I was able to get back to our hotel room with just enough time to finish packing my race bags before I had to get everything back down to the race site for drop off. I was nervous going into the race on a new chain and cassette, as I only had time for about 5K of testing. In the event the chain and cassette worked out fine.

About a week ago I learned that my New Zealand cousin Jane was also in the race. We met after dropping off our bikes and transition bags and had a chance to catch up and for her to meet Chris. I hadn't seen her in 14 years! Saturday was pretty cool and windy. The forecast for race day was calm and mild, so I decided to pick up a pair of arm warmers in case it was chilly on race morning. I was only prepared for a hot weather race.

I got a pretty good night's sleep, and for 4:00 AM race breakfast had my usual big bowl of oatmeal, followed this time by a nice hard boiled egg. It was a bit cool in transition, but not too bad. I was just barely OK in my tri top and tri shorts. I met my cousin again, who was just a few spots along from me, while we were re-checking our bikes. I'd planned to carry water with me and a bunch of prepared water bottles on my bike, but I took my cousin's advice and went light. Only one bottle (called a "bidon" here) on the bike and nothing on my race belt other than my salt tablets and iPod nano (against the rules if I brought my headphones, but OK just as a pedometer). In the race I grabbed bottles as I needed them from the aid stations and on the run there were aid stations every 2K so I never had to worry about hydration. I popped my first of only two gels at around 5:45 AM.

Pre-race DipThe ocean was calm, so I only tightened my goggles a bit. I think everyone lied about their expected swim times, because although I'm a pretty fast swimmer I was placed in the fourth zone! It may have cost me 5 - 10 minutes. Que sera sera. Everyone started at the same moment, but us yellow caps were further back in the pack. We had fireworks (hard to spot in daylight...), a fly over (three Cessnas...) and then the national anthem. The pros started at 6:00 AM to a ear-splitting boom, and then the entire procedure was repeated for the age groupers, with a soothing air horn in place of the cannon, at 6:15. It took me a long time to fight my way through all the slow swimmers in front of me. It really was like a washing machine and I spent a lot of time breast-stroking while I looked for a path I could swim up through. Lots of contact in the first 500 m. At one point I felt like I'd whacked someone pretty hard, so I stopped to check. It turned out I'd knocked a woman's goggles off, so I helped her find them before continuing. I also spotted a floating piece of plastic which I grabbed and offered to her. It was a race ID bracelet, but it turned out to be mine, not hers! I stuffed in down my wet-suit and pressed on. I heard later that someone broke three ribs on the swim.

IMWA Swim ExitI got a few good gulps of salt water during the swim, but managed to fight my way up to 174th place by the time we hit the sand (10/70 in my age group) with a time of 59:12. Transition went pretty well, although I had a bit of trouble getting my socks on. I decided to leave the arm warmers behind, and it was the right choice.

For the bike and run leg I was determined to follow my heart rate. I started off close to 80%, but settled down to about 72% on the bike. The course was three 60K loops, and with moderate temperatures around 20C and overcast skies it was pretty much perfect racing conditions. I stuck to my own pace most of the time, but the flat course led to the development of some significant "pace lines". I kept out of that nonsense. Each lap ended with a short turnaround in the center of town, I always get a great boost from the cheering crowds. I looked for my son each time, but only spotted him on the last loop. It was tough not knowing where he was, but a great relief to finally see him. I saw a lot more of him on the run, which was also three loops. I had 3 - 4 Lava Salt tablets on each roughly 90 minute bike lap, and probably consumed four bottles of Endura and two of water. I probably ate three banana halves and three "ANZAC biscuits" (aka hard oatmeal cookies).

IMWA Bike CourseHalfway through the second loop my groin began to heat up and I realised that I'd forgotten to apply Bodyglide there... I pulled into an aid station, took a pee break, and used some Vaseline from the first aid tent to address the problem. If I had a do-over I'd probably choose to pull padded cycling shorts over my tri shorts for the bike leg. Near the end of the final lap of the bike course my hamstrings and Achilles tendons started to twinge and feel tight, so I backed off the pace a bit and tried to stretch them out. By the time I hit the transition tent I felt fine.

I did have two little off-course adventures on the bike... Coming back into town at the end of the second loop I briefly lost control of my bike going through a roundabout. When I regained control I was heading straight for a metal fence at high speed! I couldn't stop in time, but I managed to redirect myself enough to pass through a very narrow gap and merely skin my knuckles... The riders I was traveling with at the time congratulated me on my trick riding. I only lost about 10 seconds in the incident, but gained a huge adrenaline boost. Early in the third loop I slipped off the asphalt onto the soft shoulder, which I always hate. There was lots of slippery grit to deal with but I managed to recover despite nearly coming to a stop. It felt great to finally unclip my shoes and pass my bike over to a volunteer. My bike leg is always the weakest, I was 33/70 in my age group and 392nd overall. Second transition went well. I changed socks, knocked back my last gel of the day, discarded my Fuel Belt water bottles, let a kid slather me with sun-block and set out (the next day I discovered that he'd missed my shoulder blades, resulting in an entertaining iron-tan).

Halfway Through the MarathonFollowing my heart-rate again, I planned to keep it below 80% on the run. For the first lap I hovered around that mark, but managed to rein myself back in for the rest of the run, probably averaging 77% (when all was said and done, my overall average heart rate was sensible 134, which represents about 73%). I also planned to walk all the aid stations; I only have one running pace and it's too fast for marathon distances. That worked out well, as I was able to run strongly from start to finish. There was a yo-yo effect though as I passed some people many times. I didn't have any serious trouble with the run, no post-bike heaviness and no excessive leg tightness. On the first lap I felt some of my toes pressing against my shoes, which I never normally feel. Perhaps my socks were pulled on too hard? The sensation went away though and the only foot trouble I had was a small blister on the outside of my left heel, which I didn't even notice until after the race. The balls of my feet were a bit sore for the last half of the run, which isn't unusual for me. I guess I'm landing more on the balls of my feet than the heels. Maybe I should get some of those weird Newton shoes!

On the run I switched to water and cola, not wanting to get into any digestive problems. I did eat a few melon chunks because, well, I love melon... Each lap I downed three Lava Salts. With the run aid stations only 2K apart I had lots of chances for nutrition and I probably had a cola and a water each time. I wonder if I was over-hydrated! Never felt like I was sloshing. My heart-rate dropped to about 65% at the end of each aid station walking stint. I did stop twice to stretch, not because of any problem but the hint of muscle spasms at the end of the bike made me cautious.

There were a dozen Canadians in the race, I ran into a guy from Milton on Saturday, we called out to each other as we crossed paths on each lap. I found that it really helps to have some little interaction to anticipate during the long lonely miles. My cousin Jane and I also hailed each other in passing. At the end of the far turnaround on the run the interaction was hugs from some young Australian girls... I always pull back up the rankings on the run, I was 10/70 in my age group again for the run and 255th overall.

Over the Finish Line!Hitting the finish chute felt great, as I was still running very strongly. Amazing how fast you collapse afterwards though! Two very nice, but short, Aussie women held me up and walked me to the recovery tent, and I enjoyed a great massage... Ironman Western Australia is the only Ironman to offer alcoholic drinks in the recovery tent, this is a policy that other venues should consider! I didn't get much of a chance to watch the finish line afterwards as my son finally found me and wanted to get off his feet. My half-brother in Perth had also arrived by this time, so we shared my athlete's post-race lamb curry meal and headed back to the hotel where I fell asleep after making a couple of calls back to Canada.

Finisher and Support CrewMy overall time was 10:46:01 and I placed 287/997 overall, 15/70 in my age group. A pretty good debut, if you ask me! Now to start planning for my next Ironman and see if I can, eventually, qualify for the World Championships in Hawaii. I finished so strongly that I'm sure I can take over an hour off my time. With a bit of work...

I saw Atonement last night with Sheryl, what a great film! All about consequences and trying to, well, atone for mistakes against a backdrop of the Second World War... I know the book, but haven't read it. I'm trying to decide if it's a romance or a tragedy but I guess, as always, its a bit of both. Great performances and cinematography. There's a fantastic almost five minute long single take scene portraying the Dunkirk evacuation that just stunned me. James McAvoy and Keira Knightley were "very watchable", while Saoirse Ronan and Romola Garai as the young/adult Briony managed to carry a heavy emotional load. Vanessa Redgrave was, as always, awesome in her small role as the dying elderly Briony revealing the unexpected true ending.

Listening to: Teardrops by The Proclaimers from Sunshine On Leith.

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