Anxious… me?… well, not usually!

But in this case, I have never been more anxious about a race in my life. It’s my 9th ironman start, and myIronman Australia - Port Macquarie stress level is worse than my first. And why?

Well Port Macquarie (aka Pt Mac) is the place and the race where I fell apart a year ago, physically, and then emotionally. That was my first ever DNF due to injury at the start of the run which resulted in me having knee surgery and procedures to stabilise my sacro-iliac joint (pelvic instability) that were, to say the least, painful and not top of my 2015 highlights list. And yet I was back at Pt Mac again for more punishment!?!?

All thanks to the cancellation of Ironman Melbourne, my beloved, very patient, and calm (and fellow triathlete) partner and I ended up transferring our race entries from Melbourne to Pt Mac. This time, I was determined to get it right, to train right, fuel right and all other things being right, not break down with injury this year.

My coach is also an amazing support. I get coaching by distance (he is based in another state) and I have had a great program each month to bring my body back from a soggy, post-op casualty, to a long distance triathlete once again.

I hate when I can't sleepWe arrived in Pt Mac on the Tuesday before the race to give us plenty of time to see the course again and spend some time around town. I thought all was normal for race prep but as race day loomed, I experienced some considerable anxiety – the likes of which hasn’t struck me before. I found I wasn’t sleeping well at all in the last few nights before the race and was functioning on only 4-5 hours sleep a night (very unusual for me; I like about 9 hours if I can!). My stomach churning was beyond little “butterflies” and I can only say that I was scared; Could I do this race again? Was my body going to hold up? Was I ready for long distance again?

The only answer to this was to trust my training. I had done the homework. My coach gave a great pre-race speech to his crew the day before the race and what he said had such a calming effect; Just do the work. Treat the race like a job to get done and do it. Be in the moment and be proud of myself – do whatever it takes for me to be able to say that what I am doing, the effort I am putting in, I’m proud of. He was a bit more verbose than that, but that is the gist of it.

Race day arrived, with a prediction of rain. Pre-race transition set up was smooth and speedy– everything was in place and my bike was all set to go from check in the day before. All I had to do was add my mixed bottle of Ucan and top up my tyres with air. I took this as a good sign of the day to come. I was wearing my new race kit and feeling fit and ready. I had done the homework. I was ready to do the work.

The swim start for Pt Mac is a rolling start, meaning they release 2 athletes at a time in quick succession into the water. This is good because I don’t get pummelled in a mass start of mostly strong men, but the flip side to that is it’s tricky because you never know if someone gets into the water sometime after you but actually races faster than you, they will finish ahead of you in the results, even if they cross the line behind you…. clear as mud? That means race strategy is to race hard all day.

I started close to the front of the swim hoping for a sub 60 minute swim. The water was flat, cool and a bit shallow in a few spots. It’s “quirk” (if you can call it that) is having to stop swimming, climb up and over some stairs to get over a weir. Twice. That kinda ruins the momentum. Not knowing where I was in the field when I came out of the water was unusual but I noticed that there were not many bikes missing from my rack area when I got to head out on the bike course. Swim time 1:00:25. D’oh! Nearly got under an hour!

UCAN athlete jen sturmThe bike course at Pt Mac is hilly with a few flat sections in the mix. It’s what they call an “honest” course. What that really means is that you spend a lot of the time dodging pot-holes in the bitumen and then hauling yourself up over a few decent short, but steep climbs, with Matthew Flinders’ Drive being the nasty little climb that breaks many, and forces a few to walk up it every year. Everything started out well enough on the bike although it seemed my legs just wouldn’t wake up. Nutritionally I took in a couple of food bars (I do like some “real food”) that I get at the supermarket and my Ucan and never felt flat or short of fuel for the entire ride.

The rain set in not long into the ride, at first it was a few spots, and then proper steady, persistent rain. Usually I hate riding in the rain but after passing a few others in my age group, I was feeling good, my legs had come to the party, and I actually enjoyed the tricky conditions. A quick jaunt up the hills back into town and I was off the bike in 2nd place; bike time 5hours 34minutes. Not too bad, I was hoping for a 5 and a half.

Onto the run. This was the scary part… could I run after that bike ride this year? A mental body scan said that nothing was hurting more than expected, and so off I went after just under 2 minutes in transition. The course for the run has one long-ish dragging hill and then is flat for the remainder of each lap, and there are 4 laps. Much of the course is filled with athletes in both directions and it’s narrow, with sections of grass to negotiate. The rain wreaked havoc with this and it became more like a cross country mud-run! I started at a good pace and felt like that was something I could keep up with for the duration…oh wait… stop.. where’s my right shoe gone?… dammit…suck shoe back out of mud, put sodden shoe back on… keep going.

A friend was on the course yelling words of encouragement and motivation each lap and called out that I was 2nd and holding place when I was on the last lap of the run. That was all I needed to empty the tank and run through for a PB marathon time of 3 hours, 44 minutes. Not fast for seasoned runners, but for me, well, I was happy. And yes, my knee was ok, and my hip was a bit achy but nothing untoward, and best of all – as far as I could tell- l I was in 2nd place and if that held through until everyone was over the line, then I was off to Kona, Hawaii (the birthplace of the Ironman triathlon, and the location of the World Championships every year since). Awesome! Off to recovery massage, food and then lend some support to those still on course.

Surprise! I came 1st. What? Wait? First? Go back a minute, what happened there?

UCAN athlete jen sturm runningWell, this is where it gets interesting. Suffice to say that I thought I was second right up until the roll-down ceremony the day after the race (where they award the Hawaii qualifiers with their opportunity to pay for the ticket to Big Island – no, it’s not free, you pay your entry to the Worlds then and there.. in painfully expensive US dollars!). I was named first.
WOOHOOOOOO!… I WON!!!!!!!…huh?

As it turns out, the person who was “ahead of me” at the end of the race received a disqualification (and that’s a big serious frowny-face deal) with official review of the results indicating that I was indeed the fastest female of my age group and I had won my category. I gleefully accepted my slot to Kona, and somewhat less gleefully handed over my credit card to pay for said slot to Kona. Later that evening I had my chance to waddle (the post-race-sore-zombie gait) up onto the stage to collect my 1st place trophy. Big smiles all ‘round.

So my next challenge will training over an Australian southern states winter to prepare for a race in Hawaii’s heat and humidity in October. And I’m both terrified and very excited to have that opportunity!

Massive thanks as always to my supporters including;

  • Ucan (I’m one happy product ambassador) without which I would not be able to fuel my body efficiently
  • Titan multisport – for getting my kit to me all shiny and new
  • The Meteors triathlon club – encouragement and support from the whole bunch!
  • Marion Masters Swimming club – keeps me honest in the pool week in, week out
  • My friends and family – and my parents who surprised me and flew up to Pt Mac to watch the race and experience seeing what Ironman triathlon is all about.
  • My coach – in whom I trust. Thankyou!
  • My amazing partner – always supporting me and training along-side me (xoxo)

Hawaii here we come!