Having been witness to the hype surrounding the Ironman Asia-Pacific Championships in Melbourne for the last three years as a spectator, this year provided the long awaited opportunity to plunge into the ‘deep end’ and race my first Ironman against some extremely strong, talented and decorated athletes. As a local Melbournian, there was a true sense of relief in having access to my local coffee shop, sleeping in my own bed, and of course, having a fully stocked pantry to ensure all carbo loading needs were adhered to.
As a 20 year-old it’s safe to say I’m young to be venturing into the Ironman scene, however, I felt ready and as prepared as I could possibly be, something for which I am extremely grateful. As the daunting task of a full day of racing drew closer it became very clear that what laid ahead was, simply put, a huge opportunity. Everything to gain and seemingly nothing to lose.
As I stood on the start line ready to pounce into the somewhat surprisingly clear water of Port Phillip Bay on the Frankston foreshore, I felt ready to hurt, I felt ready to dig deep. After a fantastic start to the swim a small spilt occurred and my first mistake of the day ensued, I decided not to try and bridge the gap. I decided that I was not willing to start burning any matches that early into the race with so much unknown to come, and with that I saw the main bunch swim away. From there I proceeded to tow a few other athletes along for the remainder of the swim while occupying myself counting grains of sand on the sea floor.. 3.8km certainly feels like a long way to swim!
The bike was nothing more than a huge wake up call. I did not give the distance the respect it commands and went far too hard, far too early. I could see my power numbers were too high, but early on it just felt so easy. I was happy to be riding with Jeff Symonds and Per Bittner but in hindsight I should have let them go when Per surged out of the tunnel at around 50km. Instead, I chose the much tougher road and chased hard, in fact far too hard, to hang on (20min between 1.18hr and 1.38hr at 306W average and surges well above). While I eventually got close to making contact with the main bunch, I faltered just before I could get there and by 75-80km found myself just off the back by myself. By 105km I was off my bike grovelling on the side of Eastlink ready to pack it in and call it a day.
After some deep thought and some somewhat harsh personal assessment I decided that I owed it not only to myself but to my family, my coach, my friends and my training partners to finish my first attempt at the distance no matter how slow. The remainder of the bike saw little to no time on the aero bars due to already having blown my hips out and I was struggling to even hold 80% of my target Ironman power. I finished up riding a 4.45 (1st lap 2.13, 2nd lap 2.32….)
After the grind of a very slow 80km what ensued, therefore, was a very slow, very painful shuffle from Frankston back to St Kilda. There were times when running did actually occur but in the end all that mattered in my mind was getting to that finish chute. The last 8km of the run were very special to me personally in that I was able to get through them with my great friend and mentor Luke Bell. Although neither of us had the day we were after, crossing the line with Luke in my first Ironman meant a lot. He is someone I have looked up to for a long time and I forever feel privileged to train with him and get some guidance from him.
As some would know, the third musketeer in our little long ride/long run brigade is Annabel Luxford who also happened to beat us both. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate her on a fantastic debut and also to ensure that she knows that in winning prize money she owes Luke and I a shout for dinner.
(For those interested, I finished the day in 9hr 26min.)
Although things did not fall into place as I had them mapped out in my perfect scenario, I learnt not only a lot about how to race Ironman in the future but also what the Ironman experience is all about. It is so much more than just a race, it is much more a collective group of like-minded people all striving for their own personal greatness. The support on course from athletes and spectators is beyond anything I could ever have imagined and for that I felt so unbelievably lucky to be a part of it. For now, it’s about recovering properly and ensuring that I come back stronger and smarter ready to race my next one.
A big thank you to my amazing sponsors Jaggad, Cannondale, ENVE, Bell, Fizik, and, Sram for their ongoing support. They make this whole journey that much more viable and they are always willing to help me no matter what.
Text: Lachie Kerin
Images: Lachie Kerin/Jimmy Johnsen