Amateur Age Group Triathlete
Amateur Age Group Triathlete

Ironman Melbourne Race Report

roborobby roborobMar 26th 2015
First tri of 2015 done, and it was definitely one to remember! A fantastic venue, awesome course with the most enthusiastic spectators and volunteers I've ever experienced, and faultless service from the Ironman circus. My performance on the other hand was a different story, but more on that later...

I had entered Ironman Melbourne a couple of days after my DNF at Challenge Almere-Amsterdam, having decided that this would be the soonest sensible opportunity for redemption. See out the end of the race season, devote November and December to seasons festivities, and then get back into training from Jan 1st. Plenty of time to put down a decent base in time to knock out an Ironman before my tri season kicks off, and I can focus on training for the key races (European Middle Distance champs in May, and Long Distance in September).

Melbourne is also my Wife Emily’s home town, and we had been wanting to get back to visit friends and family for a while. We decided the best way to structure the trip would be to put the race right at the end, which I hoped would give me plenty of time to get over any jetlag, acclimatize, and enjoy a holiday before the race, and spend the dead time on the return flight recovering.

The icing on the cake for deciding on this race was served by a quick glance at the course maps. Single lap swim in the calm waters of Melbourne bay (no sharks), a double out and back on a closed section of nearly new motorway, and a point to point run along the coast (scenic, and no chance to pull out as you can on a multi-lap course).

The reality with a March Ironman is that you have get a lot of your volume work done in January and February. Happy days I guess for the antipodean athletes who are basking in the summer sun, but not so much fun in London, when all your weekday training is invariably done in the dark, with the long rides spent keeping one eye on the power meter and the other scanning for ice patches and slush. Some weekends were so foul, I opted for 5-6hr stints on the turbo at home. If you've ever tried more than 3hrs on a turbo, you'll understand just how mind-numbingly painful that can be. Open water training was not an option - I'd save that for when I was in Oz.

The two weeks in Melbourne before the race was perfect. Plenty of time to get over the jetlag and acclimatise, and the reduce amount of taper training meant I had the right mix of enjoyable training sessions, and having a proper holiday.

Fast forward to race day...

Up at 4.30 after the best pre-ironman sleep I’ve had so far. Having had a fairly huge nerve-fuelled dinner the night before of grilled white fish, quinoa, mounds of sweet potato covered in butter and broccoli, with berries & cream and a big bar of dark chocolate for dessert, I had a smaller breakfast of coffee and cream, chia seeds in yogurt, and a serving of UCAN SuperStarch. I worked through a few yoga moves in the hotel room to limber up, and then headed off to the start.

The bike had already been racked the day before, together with the swim-to-bike and bike-to-run gear bags, so all that was left to do pre race was to give the bike the last once over and load it with nutrition. I’d given myself a generous time contingency in case of any issues (like flat tyres etc), and seeing as there weren’t any, I had plenty of time to relax, soak up the pre-race energy from the thousands of competitors, spectators, volunteers and officials milling around me, and watch the sun rise.

7am, and 2000 of us made our way to the beach for the start. The pro field were sent of first, and 20mins later us age groupers started. Rather than the usual mass start, the organisers had decided to implement a rolling start of 6 at a time on 5 second intervals, with the aim of reducing drafting on the bike leg. Whilst it meant we wouldn't experience quite the same level of carnage you get at the beginning of a mass swim (the part I used to fear but now quite enjoy), it was a good idea as avoiding drafting on the bike is very difficult when there’s so many people.

My swim was a minor baptism of fire seeing as the only seas swimming I’d done all year was 20min easy paddles my coach had instructed me to do in the preceding week, so I was finding the combination of wetsuit, sighting, waves and punchy/elbowy competitors difficult. I found myself taking on a fair few gulps throughout the stint, and knew that this was going to come back and haunt me at some point in the race. Despite this, I was only a few minutes down from my target at 1h04m04, and felt good as I ran up the beach and into the change tent.

As this race was about getting to the finish more than laying down a fast time, I decided I wanted to be as comfortable as possible for each leg, at the expense of a little extra time in transition, so had swam with speedos under my wetsuit, and had a cycling skinsuit waiting for me in T1, with a trisuit in T2. This also meant I had a chance to strip off and wipe away some of the salty water from chafe areas.

Out of T2, and I settled into my TT position, took on some Superstarch and water, and then got to work assessing my wattage. Given that this was essentially a practice race, I had decided that rather than go straight into my estimated wattage straight away (as I had done for C2S and Almere), I would ease up to it gradually and see how each effort level felt. So for the first 30mins, I sat on 220W. Felt great. After 30mins, I upped the watts to 230W. Felt even better. I was keen to pump straight up to 240W, but I thought I’d see out the next 30mins, and go for it then if it still felt good. I was also finding myself pass a steady stream of competitors, so felt confident that this was a good output.

I was coming up to an hour on the bike, and just about to up my watts, when disaster struck in the form on the familiar gut-wrenching pains that had me pull out of my last ironman. I often get these pains after hard swim training too. I think it’s a combination of gastric distension â€" swallowed lumps of air that stretch your gut as they try to pass through, the ingestion of salty water, and trying to pre-load too much nutrition. It’s a crippling kind of pain that would usually have me creased up on the floor in agony, waiting for it to subside. There was no way that I was giving up this time, but it was impossible to sustain the wattage that I had planned, so I just had to pedal as hard as my pain tolerance would let, me and hope the pain would go away.

The next 2-3 hours were pure agony. All I wanted to do was get off the bike and quit, but hung on with the belief that any minute the pain would subside. Then, with about an hour to go, the pain subsided as quickly as it had first come on, so I wound up the power and enjoyed the final stint back into Frankston. Bike leg 5h13m28, so a sub-10 finish was still on the cards.

Into T2, and relieved to be off the bike and running. I did a full costume change again in the change tent, taking off my skinsuit and squeezing into my club trisuit. A fellow Englishman was beside me, and we had a very British exchange of words (remarking on the weather and how we were about to get fried), before setting off for the run. Feeling good, and had almost forgotten the pain I had endured on the bike, when 500m into the run and the gut pains returned, forcing me into a hobble. Amsterdam all over again! I thought, but unlike that occasion, I was under no time pressure, plus had to get back to the finish in St. Kilda one way or another, so I just kept moving. After not too long, the pain subsided, and I was able to get back to a reasonable pace.

The run/walk continued for the whole marathon. The first half being from stomach pains, with the second half mostly from leg muscle fatigue. By now, the temperature had climbed to 28 degrees (hottest all trip), so I was making the most of the ice and water at every aid stations every 1km. Any other course, and I would have struggled, but the crowd and volunteer support was just incredible, and really helped keep you going. The course was lined with spectators pretty much the whole way, and the aussie crowd are very exuberant and full of banter, and I was getting a lot of it on account of my very full beard (apparently hipsters are as much a thing over there as they are here).

Turned into the finish chute, and what an incredible experience that was! Mike Reilly on the PA, Aussie family at the finish... awesome. Total time was 10h30m44, and despite way off my goal, was still a PB, and more importantly, a finish rather than the dreaded DNF!!

So job done, a couple of days recovery, then the long flight back home and back to start the season properly.
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