This was my third crack at the distance - following a good race at the Big Woody in 2007 (9:45), I had a nightmare at Ironman Australia in 2008 (11:55 followed by 4 days in intensive care having gone severely hyponatraemic during the race). I was keen to avoid a repeat of that experience.
The structure of my preparation for this race involved a very long, gradual build from January and then a solid block from 12 weeks out (coinciding with the annual "cycle" of high and low work commitments). I had a couple of minor challenges through the year (e.g. a low ferritin count early on & consistent calf / achilles issues which I only got on top of properly in the last few months), but the prep worked out pretty well and I took a lot of confidence from 6 simulation days (1-3-2 hour swim-bike-run) in the final 12 weeks and a "Big week" at 5 weeks out.
At various times in the final 12 weeks, my thought processes became too outcome-focused and I found the following articles to be particularly helpful in getting back on the right track:
Alex - bit.ly/VFs0nB
Nicolas - bit.ly/Tl88UE
Gordo (Fear, Self Worth and Performance, & Planning and Being Hard) - bit.ly/TQLrNw
I wrote the following "Race Report" around 10 weeks ago and went over it in my mind on every SIM day as well as at any time I felt my thoughts wandering (written as if the reader knows little about triathlon)::
****** The swim in Busselton is out from the foreshore, along the jetty which is around 2km long, around a buoy at the end, and back to the foreshore. With everyone starting together, the starts can be a complete dog fight, so I started wide and avoided the mess for 500m or so. I then found a nice group to swim behind up to the turnaround, and then caught another group for the journey back. My aim was to have an easy swim so to get out of the water in under an hour was pleasing.
The bike course is 3 loops of 60km each. As with the swim, a lot of people get very carried away at the start of the bike and burn all their candles before the race has got going. For most age-groupers, it's best to go easy- steady for the first few laps and take on board as many calories as you can process - gels, sports drinks etc. The bike took me just under 5 hours and although you're pretty uncomfortable at the end I hopped off feeling good with plenty of energy.
The marathon is when you find out if you've gone too hard, but is also another opportunity to nuke yourself with over-ambitious pacing early on. In the first few km's I was running at around 2 hr 48 pace and so I backed off thinking that might lead to some problems later! It's a cliche, but the race really starts at around 30km of the marathon when you can either make up a lot of time on people ahead of you, or endure an hour or two of complete hell if you've torched yourself.
Anyway, in the last 10km I went past 10 people in my age group, and 25 in total to finish 19th overall and 2nd in my age group. I've worked towards, and thought about, having a day like that for a very long time so to execute it was pretty pleasing.
The following is my actual race report:
I arrived in Busselton on the Wednesday of race week, and stayed on "Sydney time" for the next 5 days so that the 2.30 alarm on Sunday would not be a shock. Some friends and family arrived on Friday after spending a week camping in the south of Western Australia, and so we were ready to rock by race day.
We arrived at transition early on race day (4 a.m.) and final preparations were going smoothly. I pumped up my rear tyre and then psssssssssttttttttt, as the valve extender sheared away from the tubular. This was a very deflating moment (pun intended). Fortunately I was the first person to get to the mechanics, but my blood pressure had gone through the roof. The head mechanic had an almost zen-like aura around him and I think this rubbed off on me. After they glued a new tubular on (and reminded me not to rip it into corners), I went down to the swim start in a better state of mind than before this hiccup.
Watching a video of the prior year's swim start, my plan had been to start far right. However, as we got in the water I could see that two groups were forming - one left & one right. I positioned myself in the centre and thought that I could then pick up a group as they formed from either side.
Previously I had found swim starts quite stressful, but realised this was due more to me expecting everyone else to be stressed out & physical. This time I imagined everyone being calm, and remained calm myself by staying loose and breathing naturally. I put in a solid effort for 20-30 strokes and then settled to a steady pace, finding some feet. It was enjoyable to be swimming with others in crystal-clear water and other than one little bump in the goggles, there were no dramas.
On the way out along the jetty, a reasonable swell was coming from our right. Fortunately I had practiced dealing with this wave pattern by swimming parallel to the beach in Sydney (getting used to timing my breathing with the waves). Other than a few efforts of around 30 seconds to get reattached to a group, the swim felt pretty steady. I came out of the water in what appeared to be the third age group pack, and was stoked with a time of ~57 minutes. So stoked that I looked at my watch after standing up, smiled, and did an immediate face-plant into the beach. Very cool.
I had cycled sections of the course in the days leading up to the race and experienced some strong conditions (sub 150 watts giving ~45km/h speeds in one direction & 260-300 watts giving speeds of ~20km/h in the other). Speaking to guys from a couple of local bike shops, I was expecting lighter winds in the same direction on race day, and this is exactly how it transpired for most of the 3 laps. We had a headwind for the majority of the outward sections & a tailwind coming back from the far turnaround.
Early on in the bike my heart rate was too high (and took around 30 minutes to settle down), so I just relaxed & drank water, keeping at the bottom or below my power targets. I joined some (legal) groups in the first 2 laps but got separated on a few occasions by guys "dropping in" directly in front of me, and then not having the decency to make an effort to stay attached to the group (I politely pointed out the rules & that they were lucky no technical guys were around, and then let it go). I wasn't quite sure whether to push hard back to the group each time, but decided that a few minutes of 250+ watts would be a bad idea.
My plan was to take on ~320g cho via Infinit for the first 4 hours, and then have 80g cho via gels for the final hour (with ~1 litre total fluid per hour and ~900g sodium per hour). Unfortunately the gels taped on the top tube were cutting into my leg and so I had these in the 2nd hour and then switched back to infinit. Starting the final lap I tried to push upper-steady watts and work reasonably hard on the way out (whilst not wanting to give all my energy to the wind). I was alone apart from one other guy, who pulled away with about 30 km to go when my mojo started to drop a bit. I eased up with the tailwind coming back into town, and although I was slightly below planned power for the ride (208 NP vs. 215 NP), I was pretty happy with how I was feeling.
I was really looking forward to the run and coming out of transition felt good straight away, shouting "This is where the fun starts" to our group of spectators. My breathing felt really easy and I had no problem holding 4:10-4:20 /km pace (6:43-6:58 /mile) in the middle of the HR zone AC had targeted. I concentrated on holding back, and listening to the breathing of other runners I was confident of moving a long way forward in the next few hours. Sticking to the plan agreed with AC, I walked every aid station and took on water & ice (it was a nice warm day in Busselton). My plan was ~80g cho per hour from gels and a total of ~900mg per hour of salt from the gels & salt caps. I planned on using caffeinated gels from the 2nd hour, but another little mistake saw me chugging down the wrong packet at 40 minutes. I then decided to just drink coke & water, and use backup sodium tablets for electrolytes.
Coming through town with 8 km (5 miles) to go, I was surprised to hear someone shout "you're in 9th place in your age group". I thought "this is a super competitve day" and realised I would need to completely lay it on the line for 30 minutes or so. The world went totally "quiet" for most of this period (an absolutely amazing feeling) and with one final walk at an aid station, I went through the last 8 km's in around 32 minutes and was pretty pleased to hear that the "....9th place" call had been wrong!
Times for the day:
Swim - 57
Bike - 5:04
Run - 3:03
Total - 9:10