As triathletes we often read race reports which are performance based and they assume a certain level of intrinsic knowledge. Sometimes though, when a race report is written for a more general audience, we can sit back and try and imagine the Ironman as viewed through the eyes of a "normal person" and relive the sense of the enormity of an Ironman I am sure we all felt when approaching our first start line. TenPints wrote a report for his work colleagues which shows the big picture as well as the minor details all essential to a good day on the race course. If you are doing Port this weekend and if it's your first time it may be nice to know you are not alone in those feelings.
Ironman morning begins with an early wake-up at 0430, typically after a night of ceiling-staring and fitful sleep. There then follows an attempt to balance the too-nervous-to-eat stomach and the need-to-fuel-for-a-long-day requirement. Kyle (my long-standing triathlon best mate) and I busy ourselves in fret-filled silence with our own race-morning routines: for me it's stuffing down a tin of Ambrosia rice, forcing down 4 scoops of Perpeteum in 500ml of water, followed by a double, triple, quadruple check of equipment. It's then a case of heading to the transition area (where you swap from swim to bike, and bike to run) to prepare our bikes - I stare at mine convinced there's something else I need to do, but all that's really needed is to fill the water bottles, load the bike with fuel, install the bike computer, double check tire pressure - and then stare some more.
We start manipulating our bodies into wetsuits, the chat is about the day ahead filled with the compulsory banter and teasing that happens between good friends. All too soon, it's time to join the queue of seal-like triathletes heading into the water through the Ironman arch; Kyle and I shake hands and man-hug - thumping each other’s back as we exchange good luck, race hard, stay safe wishes. It's an odd moment being next to one of your best mates, each sharing a feeling of apprehension, but also of appreciation for having a mate near as you're about to start an endurance event which will batter body and mangle mind. However, after the next few moments you won't be able to help each other, speak to each other, possibly not even see each other for over 12 hours. Sliding into the dark water, we float and continue to tease each other to the deep-water start line. We drift apart, silent now, each of us focusing on a chosen swim-line, each re-playing race strategy yet again - at this moment, as everyone waits in silence, you focus on the space between you and the other bobbing heads, the first marker you'll use to ensure you swim in a straight line - there are no ropes, or tile markings to help, you can't even see the bottom; the cannon fires.
The water to my front rises up, churned to foam as if Neptune's own monsters have come to the surface. All previously visible gaps to my front shut tight; a neoprene gate, I'm closed-in from all angles and I close-in on everyone else. This is a deep-water melee: blocking kicks, fending off flailing elbows, attacking the surface with swift, smooth open-hand strikes. Bodies collide, reaching fingers meet kicking toes, skyward arms entangle and squirm to get free like two dancing cobras. Swim too slow and someone will put their hand in your back, push you under and swim over you. Focus! I need to continually identify my swim-line; form! Maintain good technique in the water and stay hydrodynamic; forward! Pull the water with hand and forearm. The current works against everyone as bodies move between the moored boats, I receive a painful clobbering on my left goggle, which fills with tears as my eye starts watering. I slow up and prise the thing from my socket, hoping not to sucker-out my eyeball - it's sore. I pass through the first turn and the current starts helping me, so the next turn comes-up quicker than I expect. I turn around that, and start battling the current again, make the final turn and plough my hand into a ship's mooring, I cut it in three places on the rusty metal and I'm bleeding; sharks swim past my mind's eye. I pick a direct line towards the finish, pick-up the kick cadence and place my feet on the boat ramp, smiling, as I've just knocked 10 minutes off my 3.8Km best.
I start stripping my wetsuit on the way to T1, grab my Blue Transition Bag and head to the change tent; I have my tri shorts and top under my wetsuit to speed-up transition time. A volunteer starts helping me: he pulls my wettie off, empties my bag and arranges my stuff - even taking my sunglasses out of their case. I just have to put the stuff on, as he then puts my wetsuit, swim hat and goggles into the bag. The lad must be a triathlete, as he has the process down pat and saves me a lot of time, I thank him and head to my bike, unrack it and trot to the mount line, my cleats performing a tap-dance on the slippery floor.
I mount my nameless carbon steed and settle myself into the saddle for a long ride. First-up a series of rolling hills, I get my gearing squared away and spin up the things nice and easy - the roads are terrible! I'm not used to the bike and don't feel at-one with her yet - I've taken her up to 70Kmh during training, she's smooth and fast, but twitchy on the turn, so I cruise descents that I'd normally hammer as I'm unsure if my mount will stay under me. Within 10 minutes of starting I hit a pothole and my main drink bottle containing my most important fuel source ejects itself, flying off the bike missile-like, luckily missing other riders. I quickly reassess my fuelling strategy. Fuelling is your friend and foe - get it right and your body keeps going, get it wrong and all sorts of things happen. You train with your nutrition, it is a serious part of Ironman preparation as you need to know what works for you and what doesn't. I decide to lengthen the time between my fuel intakes and load-up on gels at every aid station - I know they'll make me cramp, but I have no choice. Out of town the real time-trialing starts: into the aero position, find a rhythm and ride - I try to enjoy the view.
I constantly gauge the strain on my legs and how I feel cardio-wise to decide whether I'm burning too many of my limited matches - it is in no way an accurate science, but there's 180Km to get through so pacing is key. I maintain a steady pedal into the wind and after 45Km u-turn back to town - the wind is now behind, so I get faster - loving the speed. I pass Kyle and give him a shout - he's about 10Km behind me, could this be my first win as I've never beaten him at any distance? I don't go there, as there's a long way to go and the boy can run - I also hope he's OK as I know I didn't overtake him on the bike, and he's a faster swimmer than me. I get very aero on the descents, my confidence on the bike grows so I embrace the speed and fly past people. Passing in an Ironman is a strict process: you must maintain a 12m gap between the front of your front wheel and the front of the front wheel of the person ahead. Anything inside this distance is considered drafting (using the rider in front to shield you from the wind equals a 30%+ energy saving). Once you enter the 12m zone you must pass within a set time. Note: you must pass, you can't pull pack - once you enter the 12m zone you're committed to pass. If you pass and enter the 12m zone of the person ahead - bad news, you have to commit to pass again. Riding alongside another triathlete is blocking. Drafting and blocking carry time penalties - multiple penalties and you can be disqualified - you cannot switch-off for a moment.
Just before the 90Km turn around I encounter Matthew Flinders Drive (MFD - Heartbreak Hill) - a very steep climb, with a walking carpet for people who can't grind up the thing. I select my climbing gear, hold my sitting position and power-up the incline, I overtake quite a few people and get a great yell of encouragement from the crowd as I engage the quads big time - into the final part, I stand and hit the hammer. At the top, I suppress the urge to vomit, and hope my ribs are capable of keeping my pounding heart inside my body; I gulp down air and consider a match burnt. The announcer gives me a shout on the tannoy as I go through the u-turn, time to repeat the 90Km. I watch my average speed drop due to the headwind - my neck is absolutely killing me, my legs ache from fatigue but keep me going. Someone suddenly changes their line and almost hits me off, I pass them and they look exhausted - there are a few crashes out on the course, and sirens wail through the day - forget your brakes when you're in the aero bars, they're a long way away. The final 45Km are about grinding out the pedal strokes, beating the physical barriers of exhaustion, tired legs, saddle sores, sunburn, stiff neck, tightening lower back, whilst all the time trying not to think of Bonnie Hills rise, MFD or the rollers into town. MFD looms-up, I climb it smoothly this time then ease through the rollers, and happily squeeze the brakes as transition welcomes me again.
As the bike catchers guide me in with 'slow down, hold your line, stop before the mark' - I dismount and turn to my bike: 'darling, I love you, but I need some me time', but my words get stuck as fatigue grips me. I jog into T2, seeing the portaloos with a sense of relief - I then grab my Red T2 Bag, and head for a seat in the tent. I swap socks, pull on the calf compression and finally the runners, I then remove my helmet, replacing it with my running visor. A female volunteer lathers me with sunscreen and puts Vaseline on my wetsuit rash at the back of my neck. I grab more Vaseline and rub it into the parts she wouldn't have wanted to go near - there's a long way to run, friction hurts and the transition tent is no place to be shy! Marathon Time!
'Shut up legs' is my thought heading out through transition and into the crowds. The run loop immediately skirts past the finish line and just before it is a distance marker "42Km (200m to go)" - centimeters from it, but I'm kilometers away. Soon after that the main hill of the run and then the painted rock wall, famous for all the Ironman messages painted there - a no-walk area, where an awesome set of spectators provide plenty of high-fives, meaning you just have to run. A spotter will shout your name to the main crew, who then chant it - the lift is indescribable. Then comes a very lonely and isolated stretch of running, heading out towards Settlement Point, all I can focus on is my body screaming at me to stop. I have to repeat every footstep three more times, and that thought gnaws at the last vestiges of my moral. For each lap completed, I pick-up a different coloured wrist band: blue, red, black and then white, no white band, no finish line. The single band on my wrist acts more like an albatross than a motivator - I snarl at myself to get a grip: I know this feeling, I know this pain, I know I can work through these dark times. I cramp, the stomach finally objecting to all the gels that it's had to process and I pull-up, doubled-over in pain, the legs struggling to find equilibrium as I shake from exhaustion. The pain eases and I head off again, welcoming the next aid point where I can get some fluid and energy, plus some ice for the sore parts. I pass Kyle going in the opposite direction - we lock eyes, and watch each other smile, the brief contact enthuses us. My watch is constantly monitoring my pace, and importantly my average pace - I haven't looked at it yet, but now I do. I want a personal best, it would be a huge personal achievement to go under 12:30:00; I want to beat Kyle! Simple math is tough, but I manage to gauge my condition, the distance to go and the time on the clock - I remind myself that things can change in a second, but in the latter stages the need to attack a target works for me. I pass the 30Km mark, I'm not moving fast, but I'm movein, I have my body enslaved to my will. One lap to go, push it - I could have said that aloud, I probably did. I thank the volunteers at every aid station, I clap and thumb-up the spectators who are there cheering everyone along, I increase my pace - I dig deeper. 4Km to go, a volunteer shouts "how many laps?"; "last one, whoo hoo" I say; "whoo hoo, well done Ironman" comes the reply. 42Km (200m to go) - I point at the sign as if I'm challenging it to fight me, and smile.
There are few sights better than the sight of an Ironman finish at the end of an Ironman - there's a unique feel and atmosphere. No red-carpet event comes close; it is this carpet, this one beneath my tired, blistered feet, this one making my aching body float, this one causing me to raise my hands above my head with arms tensed to represent the releasing of months of stress, this one that leads to "YOU ARE AN IRONMAN".