Cycling in Sydney Australia
For a number of years my wife Veronika and I have been following my father-in-law’s (Tom Valena) Ironman career, which he only started 10 years ago at the age of 49.
For those that don't know, an Ironman race is essentially a triathlon. In fact it was the first triathlon on which all others were based. The distances are enormous: Swim 3.8km; Cycle 180km; Run 42.2km (140.6 miles all up).
A 70.3 Ironman - 70.3 mile total - is exactly half of this: Swim 1.9km; Cycle 90km; Run 21.1km.
Since Tom started this journey he's qualified for the world championships in Kona, Hawaii, six times and been the national champion in his age-group for most of those years. When he competes in Kona we would often be online relaying race data to his wife on the sidelines so she knew how he (and his competitors) was progressing. It was great being part of the action but still not the same as being there.
In 2010 we travelled there to see him compete and it was an eye opener. An impressive display of what a human body is capable of achieving. More interesting was the wide range of body shapes competing in the age-groups - almost all of whom would have had to qualify to race there in the first place so these were no newbies.
Veronika and I have since been in a few 70.3 Ironman races as members of a relay team. We raced in Yeppoon & Canberra in 2011 with my brother swimming, me cycling and Veronika running and we each posted respectable times - we came 2nd in Canberra in the 'mixed teams' category. Many years ago (almost 20 years!) I was the cyclist in a relay team in the Noosa Triathlon but I've not done much competitive cycling since.
After the race in Canberra in 2011 we decided to make the Canberra 70.3 Ironman (2012) our first race as solo competitors. We planned to race in Yeppoon (19 August 2012) as a team with Veronika swimming, running and me cycling.
The reason for this was that seven months ago I couldn't swim to save myself... nor could I run 5km without stopping. I've *never* been able to run long distances. Veronika had never ridden a road bike before. We thought doing it as a relay team would allow us more time to train and to strengthen our weak areas.
My training at Christmas 2011 after Veronika bought me a training program (from a Canberra-based professional trainer) as a Christmas present.
Since then we have been ramping up the training and to my surprise I have been able to run 20km without stopping and swim for over 2 hours non-stop (with the help of some Total Immersion instruction). I have had not one single injury.
We then travelled to Yeppoon in June this year to practice swimming in the ocean - something I'd never done before (not *proper* swimming that is).
The water wasn't too choppy but the visibility was awful. I couldn't even see my elbow the water was so murky. After we had been swimming for a while we both turned to each other and said, "I think we can do this as individuals!"
We contacted our trainer and had our schedules modified so that we were both aiming for the Yeppoon 70.3 Ironman.
And the big day was last Sunday. With the bikes packed we headed for Yeppoon.
The day before the race was beautiful. No wind, clear skies. The forecast for the following day suggesting some wind. As we woke at 5am to rack our bikes we noticed the breeze had picked up a bit but we weren't too concerned.
There were a total of 850 competitors for the race. I think this is the largest field to date for the Yeppoon 70.3 race.
Here we are dressed as seals:
Once we had the final briefing we all walked to the beach. It was at this point we saw how windy & choppy it was and how tiny the buoys looked compared to the waves. That didn't help calm the nerves!
The buoys were 100m out to sea once the race started - the tide was coming in.
We then strolled 1.7km to the south. I didn't appreciate just how far a 1.9km swim is until I saw it laid out with the buoys... it was daunting. Turning around and seeing 850 other men & women in wetsuits lining the beach was one hell of a sight. The gap between the two buoys you can see in this image is only 200m. That gives you an idea of how far we had to walk (and swim back!).
Veronika's wave started 10 minutes after the first wave. 10 minutes later Tom's wave went and then 5 minutes later I went.
I did a brief warm up before my wave start but it clearly wasn't enough. I just wasn't prepared for the ridiculous hyperventilating as I hit the water with the group. I knew I'd be slow (I wasn't the slowest!!) so I stayed towards the very back on the shore.
I had two problems in the swim, one of which will come back to haunt me in the run. Firstly, my direction was off. I went far too out to sea and swam so far out from the buoys I couldn't see them! I had to stop a few times to get my bearings (with the help of the SLC guys!). One advantage of being about 100m too 'deep' was that when the next wave came along they didn't swim over the top of me! :) I saw them to my left and then followed them for a while. Another problem of going too far out was that I swam (according to my GPS) an extra 300m! Not very smart.
The second problem I had on the swim was with my timing chip, which is a RFID chip in a hard plastic case strapped to my left ankle with velcro.
The velcro strap was quite worn so the velcro wasn't 'sticking' very well. It slipped off four times in the swim and came loose so I had to stop and rectify that each time. On the fourth occurrence (as I had turned the final buoy) it almost fell off completely. I had to reach down while treading water to catch it in the surf. In the process of trying to tread water I got a calf cramp in my right leg which didn't help... and then more swimmers started heading over the top of me. I held my breath and just dived down, sorting out the cramp and my timing chip under water. I then resurfaced and headed for shore.
In the end my swim time was pretty good I think considering I could barely swim to the end of a pool in January.
It took me 42m to complete. Pretty happy with that... although the current was probably good enough for me to make the distance in an hour just by treading water! ;)
This is my strongest leg and I've done this course before - 5 laps. The resort road is very rough and we had a mighty headwind so it was tough going, particularly as these races are non-drafting races. You have to keep a 12m gap from the cyclist ahead and if you close that gap you must overtake within 25 seconds or receive a 5 minute penalty.
My only mistake wast taking on too much fluid as I didn't appreciate the extra volume of the large bidons they were supplying. This would come back to haunt me in the run. The only thing I think that could improve my time (other than more training!) is a more aerodynamic bike (and position) - ie. a TT bike. I could probably shave off another 6-10 minutes off my time.
My time was 2h44m for 90km (average 33km/h)
Tom looking far more aerodynamic (and he was 6 minutes faster than me on the cycle leg).
As soon as I started running I had a few problems...
1) my left foot was completely numb from the ankle down. You could have chopped it off and I wouldn't have felt a thing
2) my soleus muscles (both legs) were burning
3) my bladder was filling fast!
1) was purely due to having timing chip too tight although it took the first 6km to realise this. Because of the burning pain in my lower leg (particularly the left) and the numb foot I was worried about compartment syndrome (a very, very bad thing). I stopped a few times to check my circulation. My foot was still pink and had a pulse and it was only then I noticed that with some swelling, the timing chip was strangling my ankle - effectively putting pressure on all the superficial nerves that supply my foot - it was the perfect ankle block! Unfortunately it made running difficult as I also couldn't dorsiflex that foot so I was paranoid about tripping. My pace was slow for the first 14km.
Towards the end of the second lap, still with a numb foot, I needed to go to the loo (that cost me 2 minutes) to offload the excess liquid I took on board during the cycle. By the start of the last lap I was getting pins & needles in the left foot, which is a good sign - the nerves are coming back into action. The downside was that it was painful to run on but I kept going. At no stage did I ever walk.
Halfway through the 3rd & final lap my foot came back to normal and I started picking up the pace. I finished the last 5km really strong and felt great at the end.
So... some lessons learned:
1) I need to practice more open water swimming and warm up properly on race day
2) I'm going to buy a neoprene timing chip band of my own
3) I'm going to take a little more care in transition with the tightness of the band
4) More care with fluids.
My final race time was 5h34m26s. I was 75 out of 105 competitors in my age group (M35-39) - I'm 38.
I was 6 seconds slower than Veronika but because her swim wave started 15 minutes before mine I had no idea it was that close. If I had I wouldn't have had that toilet break! Out of 850 competitors Veronika was in position 375 and I was 376!
We always thought we'd finish with similar times as I was always going to be 15 minutes faster on the bike than her and she 15 minutes faster on the run than me. I had no idea it would be THAT close! What a fantastic finish and a wonderful way for us to complete our first triathlon.
Of course Tom beat both of us finishing in 4:58:11 and winning his age-group - again!
This of course is just the start of our journey into the world of Ironman and I'm sure we'll both continue to improve over the coming decade.