Wow… What an amazing experience.
After qualifying in June I was not sure whether I would be in a position to fully prepare for my first World Ironman Championships. I was expecting the birth of my third child in July and unaware of what impact this would have on my preparation.
Indigo Jones was born on 29th July and from day one has been a dream baby. A good feeder and sleeper I was able to train with minimal impact which I was not expecting.
Post Cairns the plan was to take 10 days off to recover and build into training slowly ensuring recovery was not jeopardised. This provided a 15 week program to prepare for my first World Ironman Championships.
After qualifying there was one particular area I wanted to seek advice on – nutrition. I wanted advice on 1) weight loss and 2) training and racing strategies. I knew I could improve my race weight and racing in the Hawaiian heat and humidity needed a plan. I made contact with Steph Lowe at The Natural Nutritionist and we had regular monthly appointments to put all this into action based on a low carb high fat diet (LCHF). The result was I ended up with an improved race weight and had a robust nutrition race strategy providing me confidence leading into the biggest race of my life. For the first time ever I did not carb load and followed my normal daily food plan until race morning.
ARRIVING IN KONA
I arrived in Kona four days before the race. This was due to the birth of my daughter and ensuring I did not leave my wife for too long. I could see on social media most athletes had already arrived in Kona many weeks before and this was causing me a little concern. I did complete some heat acclimatisation sessions in Melbourne however nothing compares to acclimatising in the environment you will be racing in.
Before leaving I booked in a couple of massages with local Gary Shields a well known masseur on the island who many pros have used in the past and continue to use (although Gary is semi-retired). He was fantastic and after these sessions I felt a lot better since getting off the plane.
Race morning arrived and I slept not bad considering it was the night before. I always relate sleeping the night before like sleeping Christmas eve when you were young. There can be too much excitement preventing you to fall into a normal sleep. I was asleep by 9pm however woke at 2am and never returned to full sleep. They say two nights before you race is the most important and I took confidence this was a normal and restful sleep.
I made my way to the start and quickly noticed there was a very large line for numbering (tattoo placement). I can get anxious on race mornings and like to get everything sorted ASAP and this process was unsettling. It would have taken a good 20-30 minutes and I could not understand why we would not attach the tattoos ourselves like local Ironman events. Once past numbering I quickly organised myself attending to my bike, taking in my last bit of nutrition and began to relax and prepare for the swim start.
I was quick to get into the water and swim up to the start line. I began to tread water and after hearing there was at least 15 minutes until start time I looked for options to not expend any energy. Not having a wetsuit on my buoyancy was not great. I moved over to hang onto the pier along with many other athletes and space became competitive!
The canon exploded and I started right next to the pier swimming with the buoys on my left. I swam the first 1.8k to the first turn by myself and in free water. I was conscious of getting caught up in the ‘wash’ and wanted to keep my distance. On the return I found some feet and they were a strong swimmer providing a good drafting opportunity. At times I felt I could make a pass however it was only because the drafting was so good. I decided to conserve energy and remain on their feet which was a good decision and I exited the water in 56:52. This was faster than I had expected which was a great start to my day.
In T1 I put on my 2XU sun sleeves to not only protect me from the sun but keep me cool by keeping them wet. This took more time in T1 however well worth it.
The ride was a draft fest and for most of it I was able to remove myself from compromising positions. I rode to ‘feel’ while keeping an eye on my power numbers and heart rate. I have found riding to feel is the best strategy in Ironman racing. Nutrition intake and keeping my body cool was key and I was very disciplined ensuring I picked up what I needed at every aid station. There was not one aid station I did not need to use.
There was a very solid head wind towards the end of Queen K which contradicted the light winds comment I heard an official say earlier before the start. The very strong winds set the scene for the bike course and it remained consistent and challenging. At Hawi the turn around, I picked up my special needs. It was a total disaster with so many athletes within such a short distance also needing their special needs. I had to stop and wait for my bag which was a little disappointing. It had all my nutrition for the second half of the ride and I was not leaving until I had it.
The return home was punishing. Initially there was a tail wind on the Queen K but was faced with a block head wind towards the second half. I returned into T2 in a time of 5:11:41 looking forward to getting off the bike and getting onto the run.
T2 was good and I was indecisive about whether to continue wearing my 2XU sun sleeves for the run. At the very last minute I decided to take them off after seeing it looked a little overcast. Not sure whether this was a good or bad decision.
Running out onto the run course I forgot to ask for sun cream in T2 for the back of my neck. I was disappointed about this but decided to keep running. I would pay for this the next day.
I quickly found my run legs and felt great running along Ali’i Drive. I had already broken down the run leg into sections and my first focus was my family and reaching them for some much needed support towards the end of Ali’i Drive. It was great to see them and after a few high 5s and telling them how much I love them, I continued on.
A few kms before reaching the Palani Rd climb I started to get a headache and was trying to assess the cause. Was it dehydration? Was I getting heat stroke? I quickly eliminated these two and realised my sun visor was on too tight. Relief! I loosened it and the headache disappeared and I returned back to task that laid ahead of me.
Running up Palani Rd I took my time. It is rather steep especially after 16k into an Ironman run. I took smaller steps trying to engage my glutes and hamstrings taking the stress off the front of my legs. It felt great to get to the top and know that climb was behind me.
Out running on the Queen K and destination was the Natural Energy Lab. It was quite undulating and felt like a bit of a roller coaster up and down. I continued to hold form and attend to each aid station. I was pleased with how I was feeling.
I reached the corner to turn into the Natural Energy Lab. I took in some nutrition and headed down the road thinking what goes down must come up! At the turn around they had extra large sponges which were soaked in ice cold buckets and a much welcomed change to the normal sponges being provided. I put a few over my head, picked up my special needs and headed back up the hill and onto Queen K once again.
At the top I felt great and decided to take advantage lengthening my stride. I found a good rhythm and was charging home. With 6k left I started to experience a sharp stitch under my right lower rib cage and tried to keep running through it however it was impacting each breath and felt like someone was stabbing me each time I breathed in. I slowed and took in a fair bit of water at the next aid station to try and clear it and after a while it cleared.
At the same time my feet were beginning to hurt and the marathon with wet socks were beginning to take its toll. I could feel blisters under my feet and never found a good rhythm for the remainder of the run.
I reached Palani Rd and ran down the hill feeling every step and blister. I knew it was not long now and it was time to think about what I was about to achieve.
I have watched the Hawaiian Ironman since being very young and was about to run down the most spectacular finish on Ali’i Drive. I began to feel a few chills down the back of my back.
I made the turn like many inspiring athletes before me with thousands of people everywhere cheering and congratulating me.
I zipped up my top and headed for the line and began to emotionally celebrate a life long dream to complete the most gruelling one day one endurance event. What a feeling.
I finished the marathon in 3:28:20 and the Ironman in 9:44:18. This placed me 69th out of 230 in my age group and 273 out of 2,300 overall.
I tried not to go into this race with too many expectations given it was my first World Ironman Championship experience. My wife asked what time I was expecting and I answered I have no idea. Along with the heat, humidity and wind there is 2000m and 300m in elevation on the bike and run course. I thought about this question further and answered 9:30 would be an exceptional result, 9:45 would be an excellent result and 10:00 would be a good result.
I was very pleased with sneaking in under 9:45. It would have been closer to 9:40 if things had gone my way however that’s Ironman racing and apart from the stitch and blisters everything went to plan. I consulted with a number of well experienced athletes that knew this course well before leaving Melbourne and found this very useful to prepare and strategise.
PROS AND CONS
Swimming and running is where they need to be and I will continue to build upon these over summer.
My cycling was a little disappointing and I will put a plan together to work on my strength.
My wife Jane for being my best friend and best mum in the world.
My ride/run coach Cam Brown. So much Ironman experience especially in Kona which I have been able to leverage.
Swim coach Simon Knowles. Loving your swim programs and really feeling strong in the water.
Nutritionist Steph Lowe for putting together my daily food plan and a very effective race day strategy. The products you have introduced me to have been fantastic.
Strength and conditioning coach Tony Fahkry for continuing to assist me with a stretching and strengthening program every 6 weeks.
Organisations that continue to sponsor and support me – Jones Cycles, Giant Bicycles, Fitness First, 2XU, New Balance, Bare Blends, VFuel and Generation Ucan.
Now I need to qualify again! After a change of focus for a couple of months racing Tour of Bright (cycling race) I will take some time off leading into the Christmas period. I will then begin to prepare for Cairns Ironman for the third year in a row. Really looking forward to returning to Melbourne and packing away all my winter training gear. It’s been a long winter.