We made it out alive.
After 36 weeks of training, the three of us completed our first half ironman race. In fact, we didn’t just finish – Jarrod and Matt both got slots to the Las Vegas 70.3 world champs in September. Talk about hitting the ground running. One minute you’ve never done a triathlon before, and four weeks later you find out you’re going to the world championships. Unbelievable. At one point I thought I was going to get a rolled down slot myself (but a lovely English girl called Anne-Marie came up to the front in the nick of time and had finished 2 mins faster). That would have been the flukiest hat trick of all time…
Our pre-race build up included a 7 hour drive from Melbourne to Canberra. Anyone who knows me well should send some supportive vibes to Jarrod, who had to sit in the car with me whilst I loaded up on Gatorade, sugar, white carbs, bananas etc. I’m hyperactive most of the time anyway, even with the compounded fatigue of IM training. But on the back of a taper, loaded with sugar, in a confined space, and for 7 hours. I was bouncing off the windows and headrests. My poor husband.
The day before the race, we went on a light ride to recce the bike course. After riding the course, Canberra’s rocking compilation of concentric roundabouts got the better of us, and we seemed to be riding along a motorway, through a paddock in the middle of nowhere, on our way to Sydney. (As an aside, I have to give a shout-out to whoever wrote the ‘CANTURF’ turf farm billboards: It’s sexy and you grow it and Fifty Shades of Green were both stand-out turf puns. Please feel free to post your own in the comments below…)
So getting lost wasn’t ideal. But I tried to reassure myself that a bad dress-rehearsal means a great performance…
The night before the race, we had a light dinner and then watched Remember the Titans for a bit of sporting motivation. There was time for a few last minute tips (including: “your legs will hurt at 70km on the bike, that’s normal”, “the race doesn’t begin until the last 10km of the run”, “don’t go to bed too early or you won’t sleep”, and my favourite from Ben “slow and steady wins the race. Or at least, gets you over the finish line”). Equipped with those nuggets, I had a great night’s sleep and awoke feeling well rested.
My friend Meg and I drove down to the race start together, as the men started in a wave an hour and a half before us. And of course, we got lost (WHAT’S WITH THE ROUNDABOUTS CANBERRA?). Luckily, we spotted some other people dressed in ridiculous lycra (like us), and managed to orienteer our way to the start.
At the swim start, we caught Matt and Jarrod on their swim exits and cheered like lunatics. We then continued the excitement with some spectacular dance moves whilst getting into our wetsuits. Had I have been on my own at the start, I think I would have been petrified, but I was lucky to have a really experienced friend with me to keep my mind off the task ahead and keep me calm. Actually, we were pulling out some remarkable pre-swim dance moves, so perhaps calm is the wrong word. Either way, I was very appreciative to have someone there for support and singing.
If you’ve been following closely, you’ll already know that swimming is not my strong point. So I was a bit nervy about doing a big lap around Lake Burley Griffin. As they let us into the water, we had to swim out to the buoys for the swim start gun to go off. Now I realise I’m no Steph Rice, but my swimming isn’t THAT slow – we swam out towards the start area, but the gun went off waaay before most of us were at the start. A bit annoying, but on the upside it meant I didn’t have to tread water for ages getting scared.
The sun was shining, and I managed to get into a rhythm quite early (no sprint starts for me just yet – pretty much just trying to stay alive out there) and get my heart rate settled. I was just focussing on one buoy at a time and a smooth, strong stroke. My spotting is getting a bit better, and actually, Canberra was a great lake for sighting as there were some really big landmarks in each direction. However, I did swim into a canoe. Yep, you heard me right – I swam into one of the canoes at one point by slamming my right arm into its little hull. “You need to stay left” said the paddler. “no sh*t” thought I.
I had a little chuckle to myself about what an idiot I am for swimming into the canoe, and then I got kicked in the throat! Fortunately, it wasn’t too full on. But I remember thinking “OMG I COULD HAVE ACTUALLY DIED”. Well not quite that dramatic, but it was still intense.
Finally, the swim exit was in sight. It felt like I had been swimming forever. And with a swim time of 38:47 I had been (just kidding – I’m happy just to have made it out the water). But I survived!
Heading out on the bike, I had one tip in the forefront of my mind (thanks Evo) and that was “race your own race. Don’t get caught up with everyone at the start of the bike leg”. I took it easy and tried to get my heart rate to settle a bit before I started to eat or drink anything. People were flying past me, but I was just trying to keep it steady.
The bike course was five laps, with a few nice undulating sections. After the first lap, I started eating and drinking, and just tried to keep it all calm. By the second lap, the wind was starting to pick up. And by the third lap there was a horrendous cross-wind. Like a bad day on Beach Road, there was nothing else to do except keep my head down and just keep the feet spinning.
Despite the wind, I felt strong. I rode within myself and waited for the 70km pain mark to kick in, but it never came. That makes me think I could perhaps push a bit harder. But either way, the bike felt great. I had set myself the goal of finishing the bike in 3:15, but I finished it in 2:41 so I was STOKED.
Lucky I had a good bike split, because my run was an abomination. As soon as I dismounted the bike and ran into transition, I could feel something not right in my stomach, and a vague suggestion of a stitch creeping up under my ribs. I had the same strategy for the run as with the bike and swim: start out very conservatively and then race at whatever pace allows you to feel strong.
Well, I never got out of the conservative pace. In fact, my stomach cramping was so bad I had to walk sporadically for the whole first lap (it was a three lap course). I was gutted, as my legs felt amazing – it was almost like I hadn’t ridden at all. But I think perhaps I drank too much too late on the bike or something. I was in agony and thought I would vomit the whole time. I managed to catch up to Meg (who was also having to walk due to a big ankle injury a couple of months ago), and as we jogged along together, both of us in our respective pain bubbles, we could do nothing to lift each other, and I think we were both pretty close to pulling out. Meg said she felt as though she was going to be injured forever. I just put my hand on her back and tried not to vomit all over her in her darkest moment. This was an awful run. But we made it to the finish.
On the upside, Jarrod, Matt and our AMAZING support crew of Jessica, Alex and Angie, were set-up at the drink station near the finish, so we got to go past them on each of the three laps. There is nothing like a rousing cheer to momentarily burst your pain bubble. I managed to finish my run in 1:48, which is encouraging as I know how bad I felt – hopefully if I can sort out the stomach, I might be able to improve a little.
My overall finish time was 5:14:57. I was expecting to finish around the 6:15 – 6:30 mark, so I’m really amazed and shocked. It is great to see that the past 8 months of training has been worthwhile. And of course, massive thanks to Joe from all of us. Can’t wait to get the email about our next block of training…
For now, I’m back in the UK for Xmas and New Year, so won’t be able to ride for a couple of weeks. That means I will have to brave the FREEZING weather and get my run on.
Thanks for stopping by!