“YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” – 4 simple words that drove me to cross the finish line for a 9th Ironman finish! They never get old, I’ve been lucky enough to be called across the line by Mike Riley (the voice of Ironman Hawaii) twice, by Pete Murray 6 times and now by a great bloke and fellow coach Toby Coote! Grab a coffee or a beer and settle in this is a long read #sorrynotsorry
It’s always hard to objectively assess a race performance when you went in with loose goals at best. Yes I am full of mixed emotion, super grateful we got to race, super appreciative of all the volunteers that made it possible (giving freely of their time so we could do this crazy challenge), super proud to see so many familiar faces enjoying what we got to do, inspired by some epic performances, elated to make the finish line.
My measuring stick is perhaps a little big or long when taking into account the events we have all experienced during the start of 2020. So yes, right or wrong, I am a little disheartened with my own result, perhaps a little critical of decisions I made during the race that in hindsight my not have helped me, kicking myself that my training fell away so bad over the past few months, regretting those missed sessions, spewing to miss a Kona slot by 2 places and about 5 minutes (so many opportunities to make that time up).
As each day passes, the more I can appreciate the magnitude of the accomplishment. This was a race I punched well above my training and banked Ironman number 9, in style and with a smile! Really that’s plenty to be proud of! So let’s get real and review the day and everything I did, both right and wrong,
Up early before every race about 3am, there is a simple process, it takes time, but in reality, it’s super simple and has become almost a habit and very automated. Step 1 is shower, I know, don’t ask I do it before every race, it helps me wake up and is like the first switch I need to turn on. Apply tattoo with a super wet face washer and then tri suit on. It time to eat, my normal routine of French toast was unavailable due to accomodation limitations, so we pivot and I had arranged banana bread with ricotta and honey! Unfortunately the fridge was working too well and froze the ricotta, so my breakfast became banana bread with honey! My room mate and sudo-mum/wife for the weekend Kim was awesome support keeping me on the straight and narrow all weekend! It was a case of the coach becoming the athlete and the athlete becoming the coach and I’m humble enough to know I needed it this weekend! Once I’ve eaten, had a coffee and cleared the bowels, it time to head to transition.
Every year I’ve raced up here in Cairns I’ve been lucky enough to avoid the athlete shuttle buses and either hitch a ride with staff or drive up in a car. This year was no different, thank you to Matt for organising the car/van and Shirona for being our Sherpa for the weekend and carrying bags all over the place!
So the changes that have had to be made to allow us to race meant that transition was a very different experience this year. We had to be very self sufficient, no wetsuit strippers, no volunteer helpers in transition, everything had to be setup at your bike like a normal triathlon. First pump both tires up, today I went to 100psi in both front and back. This may have been the first of a few small decision I made wrong, in reflection maybe 85/90 would have been better, but I like to feel the road below me, so right or wrong, that’s what I rode on! Hydration goes on next, two bottles behind the seat, which is still to this day a bidon position that hasn’t worked well for me, but on my Felt, I need to figure out a way to make it work. Placed my aero bottle on the frame and fill the front bottle. That’s a total of 2.4 litres of electrolyte on my bike, hopefully enough. Next up is nutrition, a mix of Cliff bars, blocks and gels, about 1000 calories of sugary easily digestible treats to keep me fuelled. In reflection I think I went in with too many solids this race and need to reassess how to get calories in easily in the heat.
Before leaving transition I stand there and rehearse in my head the process of this transition, checking the route from the entrance to my bike and then to the exit. The power of mentally visualising and rehearsing cannot be overstated, it’s a simple easy activity every triathlete should master. I leave transition in search of another toilet, perfect timing with still about 30 minutes before the start. I put in a phone call to Mel and with those final well wishes, I put my street gear bag in the tubs leaving only my wetsuit , cap and goggles in my hands.
THE SWIM – 1:01:35
A visit to the port-a-loos and it was time to wetsuit up, despite the 27 degree water temperatures the risk of stingers and irukandji jellyfish meant wetsuits were preferred/optional. I understand the reason, but wow, it was warm in that wetsuit. As soon as Matt and I had suited up we had to hit the water to try and keep cool by getting water inside the wetsuit. We joked that perhaps peeing would keep up cooler that the amazing Palm Cove ocean water. On my way down to the beach I heard a familiar yell of my name, a family from my children’s school were on holiday at Palm Cove and heard I was racing so came out to cheer me on. Always grateful for the support, and unexpected support is an even bigger lift! After a brief warm up/cool down, it was time to line up in the self seeding cue. Always a big believer in getting up the front and hitting the water as soon as possible, we had missed the call and Tier 1 had already been marshalled into the coral. So we joined the back of the cue with the SBR crew. The nervous banter at the start line is always good fun before a race. Bumping into familiar faces (Phil, Ash, Steve, Nathan, Geoff, Michelle and David, just to name a few), and long term mates (Ian) is what I love about this community, on that start line we are all in exactly the same position, nervous and ready to do this!
Matt snuck up the swim chute and hit the water about a minute in front of me. The water was the calmest and bluest I have ever seen Palm Cove, it’s going to be hard when we return next year, because these conditions were perfect – hot, but perfect! You’ve set the benchmark high this year Palm Cave. I entered the water on the heels of Triathlon Australia’s power couple Michelle and David. I settled into my rhythm quickly setting my line straight toward the first turn buoy. Not having ever started this far back in the self seeded swim start, it was refreshing to see a long line of swimmers in front of me. I started counting buoys and passing swimmers 1 by 1. It passes the time quickly, all of a sudden I was at buoy 5 and turning to head out to sea. Swimming back I continued counting buoys and got to 12 before I turned for lap two, now that was puzzling, why was there different numbers of buoys on either side of the swim course? As I approached the end of lap 1 a kayak appeared beside me and freaked me out, I had to make the turn, what was he doing there, how was I going to turn the buoy with him there. As quickly as he appeared, he went straight past me and the leading pro man hot on his wake. What a confidence boost, being lapped by the pros in the swim!
The rest of my swim was very uneventful and all about maintaining my rhythm and holding my technique together. Since my shoulder surgery, swimming is all about control and strength. I rounded buoy 26 or 27 (I had lost count by this stage) the beach loomed large so I introduced a little kick. CRAMP in the hamstring, ouch, this is going to be an interesting run up the beach into transition. Lucky the cramp eased quickly and I stood up taking a few small steady step to check the cramps had gone! Success, time to get this wet/sweat suit off, I had elected to swim with my tri suit off my shoulders down around my waist. A great choice, thanks Matt for pushing me to try it. In this water temperature I really think it helped, with keeping me a little cooler and maybe freer in the shoulder. I ran up the beach wetsuit down to my waist and grabbed a bag of ice from the table. Pulled my tri suit up and jammed the ice down the back on my neck.
Normally a place I joke with volunteers, have a little banter and reset before hitting the bike. This time transition was a place of solitude, absolutely no one anywhere, limited seating. I stood at my bike and stripped my wetsuit off, threw my helmet on (my new Kask, thanks to V1 Cyclery) and then had to put everything into the transition bag, jamming wetsuit, cap and goggles in any way I could. I grab the my bike and headed out to the mount line. I had probably the best mount I’ve ever had in an Ironman, super smooth and slick, thank you to the Nichols family for their unexpected unplanned support, it was greatly appreciated. After a faultless mount (check the video above at approximately 55 seconds), I rode around the corner hit the infamous ‘V’ drain and ejected both drink bottle from behind my seat! Those bloody cages and bidon position strikes again. I stopped, reloaded and set off again.
THE BIKE – 5:55:55
Rolling out of Palm Cove and heading to Rex’s Lookout felt easy and I quickly settled into my power numbers. It was a procession of bikes past me, but sat on my desired number of 190-200 watts. At the northern turn for the first time and reality hit hard, I don’t have the legs to sustain this, I could feel the dreaded heavy burn dead feeling. Time to reassess the numbers if I am any chance of getting to the finish line. I rode back down to the southern turnaround into the headwind with absolutely no expectations, just wanting to see what power felt comfortable. I settled on 160-170. With over 100km to go, this was going to be a long day.
Lap 2 was all about conserving energy and staring straight through (thank Jo Lukin for the strategy). Focusing on the process, of what I had to do to finish. Water bottles at every aid station, wet the neck, back, chest and even trying to squirt up inside the helmet. I watched as rider after rider pulled over to the side of the ride seeking refuge from the sun and heat. I keep the cadence as high as I could and the power comfortable. Hill after hill, rolling, rolling, it seemed relentless. The road seemed to be radiating even more heat and I could feel the sun heating my back. Starting lap 3 and the first aid station handed me a bottle with no lid, but it had ice, so I took it poured most the water all over me and stuck the ice in my front bottle. Refilling this with my hot hydralyte and oh my god was it good! A cool drink, hydralyte never tasted sweeter!
Finally rolling over Rex’s Lookout for the last time, I headed toward Cairns, battling the headwinds through Smithfield. It was so quiet through here. I even questioned if anyone was still out on the course, or maybe I was the last person on course. I wasn’t, but its funny the tricks your mind wants to play on you when your struggling! Rolling along the Esplanade I noticed a lot of the 70.3 athletes walking on the run course & not looking particularly energetic! This was going to be a long run, I only had a few kilometres to set myself up for the run. I couldn’t think of anything I should do that might help, so I rolled up to the dismount line, hoped off my bike and proceeded to walk it to my rack!
Probably the 2nd biggest change in a new return to racing (Covid) world was no bike catchers. Walking beside my bike to my allocates bike position I untied the bag lifted my bike onto the rack and a super volunteer had relocated a chair under my weary legs! I sat down and emptied my bag, when the same volunteer proceeded to help cool me down with cups of water over my back and neck – best feeling EVER! I slowly put my socks and shoes on, picking up my cap, glasses and number belt, before scurrying to the portaloo! In there I realised I had forgotten my hand bottle with gels and water! Back to my bike untie my transition bag, rustling around until I found my hand bottle, finally comfortable to start the run leg.
THE RUN – 4:36:44
Leaving transition I start searching for sunscreen, but got distracted by Matt standing in front of our hotel, showered, changed and waving at me as if everything was normal. Confused I ask what was going on, and got a vague reply about his day being done. I trudged on looking for sunscreen and found nothing in transition and nothing at the first aid station, finally nearly 2km up the road an aid station with sunscreen. It was crazy hot and now I was on the hunt for ice, I actually felt really good and was running at a steady comfortable pace, but needed ice to get cool, and not an aid station in sight was willing to hand out ice. I was using multiple cups of water at every aid station, over my body, head, groin, using the hoses and even water pistols to stay wet and a little cooler. In my head at this stage I was still trying to figure out what happened to Matt and started thinking a 4 hour marathon (1 hour per lap) was achievable.
Little did I know what was around the corner. Trotting through lap 1 comfortable and confident! By kilometer 16 it had all unravelled at a remarkable rate for me! Suddenly searching for portaloos and battling lower leg cramps in my tibialis anterior and calves. The struggle was very real and super frustrating. Hobbling about 400m to the portaloos and aid station. After an unsuccessful visit to the toilet, I scanned the food table searching for something anything to help ease the discomfort. I continued this battle for 4 kilometers. Finally a successful toilet stop and turning to a packet of plain, salty Smiths chips, a cup of Coke and a quick rub of the legs with some Fisiocream, I started jogging again!
By the end of lap 2 at 21.1km I was in full survival mode and was questioning everything, why am I doing this? Why am I hurting this much? Maybe I should have trained more! Why didn’t I do the 70.3? What does that new silver sculpture on the foreshore mean? I really was questioning everything! I sourced a couple of Nurofen at the start of lap 4, grabbed another packet of chips, more Coke and low and behold, I was running again! As the sun started settling behind the building I was back racing the sunset! Still a slim chance I could finish before it sets!
As I passed the finish line heading for the final 3km loop, I found Triathlons power couple, Michelle Cooper and David Tabernacle so decided to join them for a little walk and debrief about the day! After exchanging stories, it was time to go run the famous black and red finish line carpet!
Another unexpected familiar face in the crowd, family friends from the kids primary school, in Cairns for a basketball tournament! It really seemed Cairns was the place to be! As I rounded the final bend, I had the entire chute all to myself and had the privilege of Toby Coote call me all the way up the chute to the finish line listening to those all too famous words “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”!
HERE’s THE DATA
I look forward to seeing more Ironman friendly faces at the next event whenever and wherever that may happen to be! Till next time, it’s time to recovery!
There are so many people to thank for the opportunities, but first and foremost, my amazing wife Mel, without your endless patience I would be the person I am today! To my coach Ben and all the amazing Starfish squad that you for trusting me and supporting me through this crazy dream and driving me to many a finish line! Together we are all stronger! To all the Ironman Staff, who figured out a way to put this event on as a Queensland only event for a tiny field of approximately 200 athletes! What a day, yet another Ironman experience for the record books!
If you’re not active at the moment & need some inspiration, follow me on Strava, Instagram, like my facebook page, subscribe to my blog and let’s get back out there swim, bike or running. The biggest regret we can have in life is to not TRI!
As always – till next time build consistency, keep smiling and live to Tri!
TriathleteTed (Ted Britt)