Friday, June 17, 2016

Ironman Cairns, My Professional Debut

Its been a few days since I plodded over the finish line in ironman cairns. The day didn't quite pan out as the fairytale I envisaged but none the less I made it to the finish and wont ever forget the day I made my professional debut as a triathlete. I'd been preparing for this event since January and although had a few setbacks along the way teaching the body how to swim and run again, I arrived in cairns feeling great and ready to tackle the asia pacific championship which had the added incentive of the winner automatically qualifying for the ironman world championships in Kona later this year.

I arrived in aus a couple of weeks early to ensure I was adapted as best as possible for the variance in the conditions than that in LA and after a few days tuning up in noosa I arrived in cairns in time to put the finishing touches on the preparation and have a good look at the course. I have to say I really glad I made the trip early as spending a couple of days riding up and down the captain cook hwy was one of the most breathtaking scenic bicycle rides I've ever had. On more than one occasion the temptation was almost to much to unclip and dive into the pacific for a little cool off! I'm certainly glad I got to see it and appreciate it for its beauty as on race day I ended up being far from in the to appreciate the surrounds. So after a few relaxing reconning and recharging days I was ready for action when my alarm blared into action at 4;45am on race morning!

One of the big changes between the two elite sports I've partaken in before is that your completely left to your own devices in triathlon, no matter how major the race. ensuring all your equipment is prepared and race fueled organized is all down to you aswell as sorting out your morning routine in getting yourself out of bed to the start line. This is certainly a part of things that I really enjoy as training and being prepared when I arrive at races has never been my issue, I look after myself pretty well at home. I have over the years however found it a little challenging to avoid doing things completely differently when I get to the race as things have simply been different. Now it is all up to you so things can be just the way you want them. To say I had to organize this all myself is a stretch as I did have Fallon there to make sure I got my backside out of bed and moving on race morning, no fear of sleeping in again with her around that's for sure! Also dad had logistics all down to a milli second including my favorite pre race meal of oatmeal and crumpets waiting on the dining table when I woke up and loading the car with all my paraphernalia. Before I knew it was time to get the show on the road and head to palm cove for the start.

From there it was off to the start and while the rental Toyota camry may be a far cry from the rockstar bus's we get ferried around in in Europe, being there with your loved ones certainly trumps any luscious leather sofa's that you'd usually be reclining in. Once at palm cove I went through the routine of setting up my transition. As this is only my 5th Triathlon I still take a little longer with this than I should and seemingly do things differently everytime. One thing I have learnt however is not to look at anyone else's bike on race day and copy that, have to be confident with what you have and work on what you didn't do right well before race day. Right on schedule at 7:05 (30min before start time) my bike was loaded up with bottles and food and ready for its assault on the captain cook hwy, well as ready as it was going to be anyways. I found Fallon and Dad and started to get my self dressed into my outfit that i'd be rocking for the rest of the day! I Have to admit I wasn't nervous as I stood on a professional startline for the very first time. To the contrary actually, I was extremely calm and confident in the form that i'd done everything I wanted to in my preparatuion, time would tell if I got it right or not as I couldn't do anything about it at that point if I hadn't. When the announcer beamed out 30 seconds till start, I positioned myself next to the fastest swimmers in my buddy todd Skipworth and Clayton Fettell on the front row, crouched down into my beach start position and couldn't wait for the gun to go off. Bang!!! and we were off!


I had a great start and as we smashed and bashed our way to the first buoy I was right there in the first few guys. I was certainly swimming way harder than I ever had before so knew I needed to back it off a little and try and slot in behind a bigger group of guys. As a larger group rolled around me in pursuit of the front few I attempted to settle into a nice rhythm hot on there heals. I sat there for another hundred meters or so not really settling, more feeling like I was going hell for leather to stay there, and decided I wasn't at the level to hang with the quick guys just yet so slotted into my own pace. Soon after a few other guys who obviously had a similar idea rolled along beside me and when I spotted the ever green experienced Cameron Brown as one of them I figured these guys know what they are doing, ill have with you. From there my swim was absolutely delightful simply following the bubbles of the guys ahead of me and ensuring I got as easier ride as possible through the swim leg. Being the first time i'd swam with guys of this level realizing the advantages of slip streaming absolutely blew me away, it certainly in my case makes you look like a far stronger swimmer than you really are.

The swim really fly's by when you distracted all the time of ensuring your following someone feet and before I knew we were headed for shore. As the beach approached I fired up the legs and started to drum out a few lazy kicks to wake up the old pins. I figure you don't need your arms for the rest of the day so tend to make them do all the work and save the legs for later on. The only draw back is when you hit the sand they are sound asleep ad they have just been been dragged along for the past 50minutes or so so its important to through in a few kicks so you don't come out of the water stumbling like a born fole! I seemed to get this right as I sprung out of the water with my two feet firmly planted underneath me and headed toward t1 feeling very pleased with my swim. I resisted the urge to rush through transition and instead just followed mr experience cam brown through the whole routine. He's been through more transitions at this level of racing than perhaps the rest of the field combined so was an honor to have the chance to see how calmly and smoothly he does it even whilst in the heat of battle. I came out of the right behind him and jumped on my bike right behind him. As I grabbed my bike dad informed me that as expected I was 5minutes behind the front guys which was bang on my pre race predicted schedule, I was feeling really good about how the day had gone thus far.


Once on the bike things went immediately pear shaped! I felt so good after my start to the day that I completely threw my cautious race plan out the window and took off a lot harder than I had planned. I had 5 minutes to make up and instead of realizing I had 180km to do I for some stupid reason i tried to do in the first 50Km! Problem was i felt great and having never really tried to race an ironman from pillar to post before in those first 30minutes would kick start a chain reaction of events that i'd pay dearly for later that afternoon. With the rain falling i ignored the fact that sweating is a huge factor in cairns due to the humidity. The reality however is your simply not thirsty when water is falling ontop of you so you need to be even more disciplined to get the fluids down. I'd also made the decision to have all my fuel mixing into my drink bottles in the form different sugars and electrolyte mixes just as i did in cycling which is great particularly the inclement weather in a bike race, would it work for a triathlon?? Anyways like i said before at the time i believed in my plan and as i tore down the captain cook hwy in hot pursuit of the front runners these thoughts never crossed my mind. I didn't have time to slow down at aid stations for water, i was on a mission! 

And all seemed to be going great guns, after the first 40km i'd reduced the gap to the front runners of Luke McKenzie, Clayton Fettell and Pete Jacobs to 4minutes. I was also extremely a happy with the equipment id chosen for the event. My cannondale slice is in my opinion the best bike on the market for all conditions. Its aero so you feel like your on a tt rig but also has the handling of a high performance road bike. With howling wind and on and off spitting rain and coupled with a road that seemed to never be straight!! I was very confident I had the best piece of weaponry to tackle the captain cook hwy. Everything i'd assembled for this race was absolutely perfect and exactly what I wanted. Only question now was whether the turkey using this equipment could do his bit!! 

Anyways back to the race and The running group containing the eventual winner Tim Berkel and Dave Dellow where now halfway between them and me but I was focused on getting to the front asap. When I passed the running group 20km's later Berkel was the only one who was interested in trying to follow my pace. I made a huge rookie error here and instead of allowing him to try and follow me I put the pedal to the metal even harder in a bid to blow him off the wheel and he hung tuff for a while before dropping off a disappearing out of sight. Would have been the move of the day if that was to be the last time I saw him on sunday afternoon but alas it proved to be a silly mistake and waste of precious energy. The effort however spurred me on as only 3 men remained ahead and by the time we made the next turn around and I got a look at them the gap was just over 2minutes. I was consistently taking 2 minutes every 40km, perfect. Next, my first hiccup, my garmin fogged up and stopped working. I no longer had any reference on how hard or how fast I was going. This was the catalyst for a much longer and more agonizing afternoon than I had planned for. I was so reliant on my data that I really had no idea what I was doing and with all my enthusiasm proved to be my worst enemy.

Around halfway into the bike and where I planned to start really putting the pedal to metal!! Well that didn't really happen! instead that spark i'd enjoyed for 2hrs was now gone and ontop of that I felt that sinking feeling that the thermostat was running hot and I hadn't drunk enough water. Still I soldiered on and attempted to convince myself it was just a little fatigue but it was that, little cramps set in, I became a little dizzy and just simply felt like it was all my energy simply to keep my legs turning over. Fearing a complete hunger bonk or worse still coming to a complete standstill, I slowed down at the next aid station and loaded up on endura bottles. Again that proved to be a big error as what my body really needed was water. I plugged away and by the time we turned for the final cross over with 70km remaining the gap was still at 2minutes. This gave me a glimmer of hope as while id been suffering and trying to reset I hadn't lost any ground and with the knowledge that anything and everything can happen in an ironman I had renewed hope.

On the run back to town however I knew it was a big pie in the sky of hope I was hoping for. I got weaker and weaker as the guys up front got stronger and stronger and simply had to put my head down and grovel to the finish and prey for a miracle on the run. It was at this point I counted my lucky stars for my fast bike as it was making me look like a much better cyclists than I was turning into!! nothing better than free speed in the form of slick machinery. All of a sudden with 40km to go I spotted the gangly pete Jacobs ahead of me. This gave me a very weak second wind and reinterated the importance of staying focused and doing the best you can do as anything can and is happening in the race. As I left Pete behind I couldn't believe my eyes when with with 20km to go Luke was standing on the side of the road with a flat tyre frantically trying to change it. While still far from running on all cylinders All off a sudden there was only one man ahead of me, I was back in the game. I put my head down a little lower and leaned into the pedals as much as possible. There was still a marathon to run, perhaps the fairytale could still play out. I entered the bike run transition full of confidence. Being forced to back of the pace for the past 2hrs had meant i'd slowly regained some spring in my step and as i leapt of the bike i quite literally hit the ground running. All of a sudden i couldn't wait to get stuck into this marathon, the luck seemed to be on my side.


My transition from bike to run went so smooth i thought id forgotten something! Nope shoes and socks where on, gells were quickly stuffed down the front of my racing suit and visor and number belt where in hand as i exited the tent to put on while i was running, i was pumped. I spotted dad and fallon who were now very excited armed with the knowledge of what we believed i could do on the run and this gave me confidence i had the lead on the fast men that i needed to stay up the pointy end for the afternoon. Those first km's on the run course were amazing as i felt like i was just floating along and the second wind had finally hit me like howling gale. At the first turn around i got a good look at all the guys. First Clayton still in front came the opposite was but didn't look overly comfortable at all. He'd later abandon the race with a bad back so that would explain that. On my way back to town i saw the men all in hot pursuit. First luke bolted past at a paced that looked frightening and dangerous if he could maintain, pete was gliding along seemingly in slow motion but smooth as silk. Next Dave dellow looked like a potential winner until i saw the man whos run everyone in the field feared Timmy Berkle rocketing along the cairns foreshore. I decided then that i couldn't wait for those 4 to pass me as i could just concentrate on plugging away at my rhythm and wait and see what happened later in the race.

Sure enough Luke flew by me like i was standing still around 10km into the run. I was running 3hr marathon pace so i knew luke wasn't going to maintain the pace he was running at based on his passed ironman success's and I vowed to stay positive and hang in there just as I had on the bike. Anything could happen. Next Dave Dellow came gliding by a couple of km's later and I knew he wouldn't be slowing down, he looked great. The next man to pass me not only blew me away by how fast he went by but also what he said to me everytime we crossed paths in the first 18km of the run. Timmy Berkel would shout out "c'mon legend" "looking good legend" every time we crossed paths, I couldn't believe his sportsmanship, just a class act. He not only blew me away by his camaraderie but also went passed me so quickly that he sucked the sneakers clean off my feet! He was absolutely flying but again you knew he wasn't slowing down and was on his way to the asia pacific title.  What a champion in every sense of the word.

So with 18km in the books and the fast men except pete past me, I was finally where I wanted to be to comfortably drum out my rhythm without any pressure from behind. I'd spotted pete walking in the opposite direction so figured his day might be turning, how wrong I could have been, he was simply showing his experience. Nope Pete was just fine and had his race under control, it was mine that was about to completely flip on its head as I approached the halfway point of the run and I didn't see it coming.

From the start of the run i'd noticed I was very hot and craving water. I'd been stuffing my suit full with ice every aid station and gobbling down water aswell. The ice wasn't even melting before reaching the next aid station where id shove even more down there till after 10km I realized I was looking like an oompa lumpa with all this ice and my body wasn't cooling down at all, what on earth was going on?? Well around halfway in the run I all off a sudden felt the strong urge to pee and my body let know what was wrong. I pulled into the porter potty and to my complete astonishment my urine was blood. My insides where shutting down, my kidneys had had enough. I'd never in my life in all my sporting exploits pushed my body to the point of shutdown to where I passed blood. Wow!! I thought to myself and immediately felt pretty dizzy and average. I couldn't stop, at this point I was running 4th with the abandonment of fettel and with my usual optimism and attitude that anything could happen in an ironman I decide to soldier on and see if I miraculously came good. I'd never had the experience of this happening before so how was I to know there was no way back from this point, well I know now! I scooped up my special needs back which was conveniently only a short distance away, slammed in some more sugar gels, the worst thing I could have done under the circumstances, and soldiered on. Soon Pete Glided by on his way to a fine 3rd place and as he did offered me some great encouragement urging me to hang tuff, told me I looked great, thanks pete I really appreciated that but not even words from the 2012 ironman Kona champion could unravel this literal melt down. 

From there things as expected got worse and worse. Soon it was a very slow jog or shuffle with the occasional little walk and not long after very very slow shuffle, a lot of walking and quite a lot of stopping and stretching. By now my body was completely incapable of processing any fuel to the working muscles at all and as a result the cramps were crippling. Somehow however along between the trips to the porta potty where each time I went in I wondered if I would actually come back out it made feel so dizzy and disorientated, I somehow kept moving toward the finish line. I felt so hot by this point inside that I ditched asking for cups off ice and just got directed to the wheel barrow filled with ice to dunk my head in and shove as many handfuls of cubes down my racing suit that I could. I didn't even notice half the pros whom passed me pass me as for some twisted reason thought I was still in with a shout for a top 10 as believing this was a motivating factor, if I was right I wasn't such a bad debut after all. Nope wrong again, I was wrong a lot today! Anyways I waddled my way to the finish and when I finally rolled down the finish shoot I couldn't believe I still completed the course in 9hrs 23min, was actually my best ironman time, all be it by a minute! Still a small victory for the day and at least I got to here those cool words that many do the event just to experience "you are an ironman"!

Once across the line as it often does it really hit me. All of a sudden it was all my concentration and might to simply stay on my feet. I stumbled my way through the recovery centre and found my way out of the start finish area, I just needed to find fallon and dad who'd been out there all day cheering me on. When dad saw me he was pretty worried and when I told him what had happened really worried. He more than anyone knows that it takes a severe amount of suffering for me to complain and quickly whisked me off to the medical tent for a check up.  It was here that I had the opportunity to appreciate even more how amazing the whole ironman family is. This massive tent full of ironman fatigued athletes and each and every staff member was as helpful as could be. It didn't take long for the doctor to figure out what went wrong with once he matched up my symptoms with what i'd put in my body in that first 5hrs of the race. I'd simply had far too much sugar concentration in my drink bottles and no where near the required amount of water to accompany it to dilute it and make it possible for my insides to process it.

Yep I was simply a ticking time bomb from the moment I took the first sip of my "turbo bottles", my brilliant plan to make hydration and fueling so so simple really was too good to be true. The warning signs where there and the damage had already been done on the 2nd half of the bike course where I started feeling light headed. When I cruised out of transition for the all important run it was simply going to be a matter of time before my kidneys started to shut down?? Well I found out, around 18km of bouncing along pounding the pavement, that was as far as I would get actually racing this ironman. Some people have asked why I would risk kidney failure and not pull out? Well my answer to that is simple, I haven't earn't the right to quit a race simply because things weren't going my way and I wasn't winning or in the top 3 or 5 or 10. If id race for years as a pro and been a consistent performer at that level then yeah, slipping back so far in the field would be unusual and perhaps its best to save your bullets for another day. In this case it was my debut as a pro and i'd had to accept being judged on that no matter what the result may be. In the end I was the 14th professional across the line so that's how good I am as a pro. I earned a few precious wtc ranking points and while it would have been fantastic to begin my innings with a 6 i'll have to be content with a single. It is what it is, maybe I'll keep hitting singles and my ranking will continue to reflect where I stand in the sport. I'm a bit of an optimist though and feel that i'll benefit greatly from this result and  next time i'm on the start line, i'm definitely going to come out swinging.


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