IM African Championships
Wowsers, what a day. It'd been almost 6 months since the last time i put my body through the riggers off an IM in kona last year. I was absolutely chomping at the bit for that gun to go off on Sunday. This was my second trip to Port Elizabeth for the iconic event on the IM calendar so i had extremely fond memories of the town, the people, the race that I couldn't wait to experience all over again. This time around Fallon accompanied me for the trip and as always is the case she makes every experience that little more special & sure enough here we are 7 days on now from our arrival we are leaving with an amazing week behind us. Suffice to say i cant say enough about Port Elizabeth and Ironman for what they put together. If your considering visiting and even racing you won't be disappointed, its an incredible experience. Now into race day!
Race Morning for me begun in its usual fashion with alarms and wake up calls lighting up our room at the Boardwalk hotel around 3:30am. I think this was by far the least amount of sleep I'd ever had the night before a race, i was just so excited for the day to arrive as i truly believed I'd have a great day. I was so organised and keen that I was first, and i mean first to transition on race morning. Yep from the guy who slept through his alarm in my attempted professional debut in Chattanooga to being at transition before every single one of the 3000 athletes in the race. I was ready! Will ent through my usual formalities and finally it was time for Fallon to zip me up and send me on my way, it was definitely going to be a great day. It was strange having so much confidence when you consider the number of things that can go wrong in IM but i knew i was the best I'd ever prepared with training I'd done since Christmas and couldn't wait to show it. I'd basically been able to rationalise in my brain that even the worst case scenario wouldn't be that bad. I could swim all alone and I'd not get too far behind. I could have a flat tire and still have a great bike ride. And finally i could blow up on the run but as long as i kept moving I wouldn't go that slow. And as far as race goals went that seemed pretty simple as well. I wanted to beat Lucy Charles out of the water as in kona she caught me for 5 minutes which was a little embarrassing!!! And secondly run a 2:50 marathon. Don't know what on earth made me think i could do that but all i knew was i was going to give it a go! The result was really an after thought. Simply put i wasn't afraid off anything. The Anthem finally roared over Nelson Mandela Bay and the party was about to get started. I elbowed my way to the best possible starting spot, i wasn't giving up an inch, sorry eneko! Ive never been so fired up to start a race in my life.
The cannon boomed and i felt like I'd been shot out of it and led the charge as i usually do into the water. Aussie's seem to do pretty well at beach starts, not many off us that haven't done our fair share of Nippers seasons (junior surf life saving). I bounded through the Shaw break started swimming first. I could see Josh Amberger to my right dragging the pack out and slowly eased my way over and into his, I couldn't believe how confident i was swimming! As alway josh quickly got a gap and the race settled down behind and i nestled myself intro the front chase pack. The first half of the swim went perfectly as i rocked and rolled along behind Kyle, Eneko, Maurice and Reece, i just felt sensational. Fortunately the swim back I was prepared for! As we turned the top can and i did some sort of weird time save swim can roll I'd watched on TV i felt my zipper slip and i took on a bunch of water. No stress i thought and pulled the the side of the pack to let a few more guys fill the gap while i repositioned it and got on with the swim back. Unfortunately the guys at the front accelerated and those whom filled in dropped the feet or me pulling out caused them to drop the feet and I'd lost the front pack. No worries i thought with all the confidence in the world ill just swim them down and off I went. Unfortunately I hadn't fixed my zip properly and the harder i tried and stretched out the more my suit moved and took on water. I decide back to worst case scenario and just swim a controlled swim as I wouldn't loose to much time and my wetsuit wont take on as much water. The plan worked perfectly and i reached the beach with 1 minute of the front pack and few minutes behind josh but most importantly Lucy Charles hadn't caught up to me YES!!!!!!!! Was a great start and i was fresh as a daisy, was time to go to work.
Once on the bike it really feels like I'm in a safe zone. I feel like I've got so much control over what's going on when I'm on that bolide which also allows me to think clearly. I eased my way into the ride exuding confidence that i could turn the screws whenever I wanted to. With 25km only josh was left up the road alone so i thought i might just hang out in the pack for a while, have a chat with the boys and enjoy the scenery together. Well that plan lasted about 30 seconds as no sooner had i settled in behind Kyle and his local knowledge pace (he actually lives on the race course!!! How hometown is that) he decided to seemingly slam on his breaks as he didn't want to be the one setting the pace. This annoyed me as I'm so paranoid about getting a drafting penalty and almost ran up his ass so I decided if it game playing time then ill play my favourite one and start to make the day as difficult as possible for everyone and launched a grenade. I quickly had a gap and looked back to see bikes and bodies going every which way deciding whether to chase or relax so while they figured that all out i decided to ride across to josh as quickly as possible and see if he wanted to company for some of the ride.
Around 30km later i rolled up along side Josh and let him know there would no crazy attacks and that I'd ride steady as i want to run fast. Yes ladies and gentleman they where my exact words, "I'm just going to ride steady because i want to run really fast so just stay with me". Haha i was so dam relaxed and excited to get onto the run, i simply wanted the bike to be over and done with as quickly as possible. By halfway however i was all alone. Josh decided to ride his own pace, proved to be a smart move!! And i had a pretty big lead of between 2-4 minutes over all the main favourites. I was wrapped with this as i figured I'd only need 2 minutes lead due to the 2:48 marathon i was going to run so was able to just cruise the 2nd lap of the bike and maintain my lead. And cruise i did. I dropped the power from 310-320 down to around 280ish for the 2nd lap, a luxury I've never had in a race. For some context, during the last 60 minutes of my ride in Sweden last year i averaged 340 watts to increase my lead from 2-8minutes. I'd go onto run a 3:00 marathon and qualify for kona so was pretty happy with the situation. To add to that on the 2nd lap my lead trebled to 8 minutes!! Crikey i caught myself day dreaming at the view and almost run up the backside of age groupers, i was perhaps showing a little to much confidence and regard for the race but hey it was what it was. It all seemed to good to be true and i couldn't wait to hit the ground running.
I was so relieved when i hit T2 and my feet where firmly planted on the ground. Now the only thing that could ruin my race was myself as i was just me and my two legs from here. I charged out onto the run course with a big grin on my face, I couldn't wait to run a massive PB for the marathon. I settled into my tapping it along tempo of 180 strides per minute that had got me through Sweden fresh as a daisy, splits hovering around 4:00km/pace and my 2:48 target everything was going absolutely perfectly. Through 10km and lap 1 the gap was holding steady at 8min, i was absolutely floating along and once again you couldn't get the smile off my face. Fallon found her little perch and there was even massive confidence on her face, she wasn't even worried about the gap, i was making it look easy. I even was supporting the other guys, just a little "good stuff" as they went past in the other direction for no other reason than i know how much i love it when my rivals give me "good job cheer", i felt great and wanted to return the favour, we where all suffering together. I certainly didn't get anything back from them, not atleast until they ran past me and knew they would be me across the line. Guess that's a good indicator that i was hardly hungry to beat anyone, i was more preoccupied with prancing through my 2:48 marathon than having any racing killer instinct about me, that's gotta change!
At the beginning of 3rd lap which was exactly halfway into the marathon, a handy 6+ minute lead, my day got tipped upside down in a blink of an eye. I was closing in on my nemesis Lucy Charles, about to lap her and get some revenge for kona swim destruction she inflicted on me and my legs just stoped floating and began to tighten up. I could literally almost touch her and had played through in my mind how far behind me to horrors of kona where behind, how far I'd come and how seemingly simple this sport had become and then i stopped closing in and she started inching away. Fortunately i was prepared for this remember and I'd gone through 21km in 2:49 pace so had plenty off room to fall off that pace and still run ok. The biggest issue was figuring out what it was that was causing my hip flexors to all of a sudden feel like a couple of knives where stuck in them and my head was getting extremely dizzy indicating i was out of fuel. I just knew my special needs was a mere 5km away and the electrolyte mix waiting for me could be the key to bringing me back. I hammered the cokes in the meantime and stopped for a wonderful nature break. The guy following said "is that wise when your leading mate?" Probably not but in that 5km to the special needs i forgot it was even leading the race let alone worrying whether or not i should stop for a piss. When i passed Fallon on the 3rd lap i could here in her voice the confidence was gone, she could read my face better than anyone, it wasn't going to be the fairytale. I remember seeing Kyle at the top turn around and telling him "this is your day mate". I guess consciously i knew it wasn't going to be mine so may as well be a hometown boy. Josh Amberger can win cairns again and remain the Australian hero, felt Kyle deserved his day in the sun. Back to my crisis!! I hammered the fluids and fuel as much i could and when i finally got my electrolyte bottle i skulled it down so fast you'd think I hadn't had a drink in days!! Perfect i instantly thought it would slowly bring me back and i can get back to running fast and still run a 2:48.
Little did I know in the 5km I'd lost 5minutes of my lead to a rampaging home town hero Kyle Buckingham whom in his tenth start had never won his home race. Spurred on by a crowd witnessing my unravelling and a famous hometown victory on the cards he latterly had the wind at his back in every direction! Anyways back to me and the good new was i had drank my special bottle in my belly, i still had a 1 minute lead, and i only had 13km to go, everything would be just fine. Well you know what, the next second it wasn't. I was keeled over on the side of the road absolutely emptying everything my body contained including my life saving electrolyte drink and a crowd around standing in silence wondering what on earth i was going to do whilst ensuring they where out of the firing line. Once empty i straightened myself and looked at my lead bicycle dude whom ask me if i wanted to continue which I didn't bother acknowledging. I re positioned myself as i was facing the wrong way and looked down the race course and slowly shuffled off. I'll never forget the cheer when i waddled off from the crowd, it was like getting flattened by a school yard bully dragging yourself to your feet for one final flogging for everyone's entertainment.
Sure enough it wasn't more than 200m down the road the Kyle came charging past and yet another deafening roar from the crowd. Knowing my day was done every i joined in the ruckus and gave Kyle a big cheer, i was as happy as everyone else i think to see him leading. Having said that i tried to rally and go with him which lasted all of 10 steps and i was back to survival mode. My other worst case scenario just as had occurred in the swim was coming to fruition in the run. I'd literally emptied the tank 500m back down the road in pursuit of my 2:48 and my strategy had well and truly failed, all that was left to do was get across the finish line. Now into the last lap the cramps got so bad i had to stop and stretch for the first time in my Ironman career. Ive never been one for suffering from cramps, specially my hip flexors, guess there is a first time for everything. Sure enough Josh and Maurice rolled over the top of me like steamrollers running perfectly executed run legs. When i passed the crowd who'd witnessed me at my most vulnerable moment i got Mc Monsterous roar. I noticed the Garden hose had been deployed to clean up the mess and there was now a bit off a gap in the crowd lined Marine Drive but they didn't seem to mind, was all part of the spectacle as i love putting on a show. I knew i simply had to get to the finish in the top 10 to secure my Kona qualification and when i turned onto the red carpet i was still in 4th place, I couldn't believe it. I mean the day had basically gone exactly as i had predicted it worst case scenario. My swim went pair shaped with my first ever wardrobe malfunction and i swam bang on 50min. I gone for broke on the run chasing a 2:48 marathon split, blew to bits, and shuffled home with a 3:05, my 3rd best ever time! And to top it all off finished 4th and with those ranking points I'm now 7th on the world rankings and secured my slot for Kona, pretty unbelievable to be honest, I'm really over the moon with how it all worked out.
As for the wash up!!!! Well I certainly need to learn not to be so confident. An Ironman can be pretty unforgiving and bite you on the ass real quick and i learnt that the real hard way. I'm obviously trying to force too much fuel in as that's about the 5th time I've power chucked somewhere on course so need to look at that. Cramping, yeah that's an issue we've never dealt with before, perhaps i have to run faster for longer more often, not sure. Also i gave up way to easily, i simply didn't want it badly enough. I guess i figured it should have been so easy for me and 7/8 of the day it was but still i need to drink a few gallons of concrete and harden up a hell of a lot between now and kona.
The good news is i felt great all day and despite those dramas and spectacular explosion i still managed to finish closer to the front that the back. I'm spending more and more time leading the run and benefit of that is you'll feel the pace and see the faces of the guys that are winning, you actually get an idea of what it takes to be one day crossing the line first, that's invaluable experience. I ran my fastest ever half marathon in a race also. Yes faster than any 70.3 I've ever race with a 1:24 so if that doesn't show improvement then i guess I'm looking at it all the wrong way. That to be honest is something I'm so dam stinking excited about as i know how that pace actually feels for atleast half the marathon. No doubt the other half will take a huge amount of work to attain but hey I've made a pretty massive step in the right direction. Who knows maby i am already capable of running that quick and it was nutrition hydration that i ballsed up, who's know, i know I certainly don't but i do know I'm going to keep working my ass off the way i have been as I'm getting closer to that perfect performance I've painted in my thick head.
The last few days since the race have been wonderful. Fallon and I just chilled out at the beautiful 5 star hotel Ironman put us up in for the week. We've found my recovery post race is way faster if i do very little for a couple of days, no flying, training ect, and on the 3 rd i wake up feeling like I did the morning of the race, ready to rock and roll. With that we put the tourist hats on and went and saw some lions and spent the night in the Addo Elephant park. Elephants are Fallon's favourite animal in the world, with the exception of Olive off course, so was nice to see her get to do something extremely memorable and that she loved whilst on yet another one of my selfish sporting adventures! Was a great trip for everyone in our little team! Back to Europe now and plan a preparation for Kona. Have no idea how it will look precisely but will certainly include more racing than last season as I've still got a lot to learn and some pretty knarly training camps with all my favoured training buddies. Onwards and upwards and bring on Kona!!!!
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