Melbourne Ironman and the Kona Dilemma
After a nice break over Christmas I made the late call to switch from Ironman New Zealand to Ironman Melbourne. I made the decision to give me a few extra weeks training and in the hope that a decent day, given the 4000 ranking points on offer, would allow qualification to the Ironman World Championships. The decent but not deep prize purse but deep ranking points would mean a stellar pro field would turn out and it certainly didn’t disappoint with what I’m sure will be one of the stronger fields outside of Hawaii assembled this year.
Wind whipped up the swim course into an angry swell making the original 3.8km swim course unsafe for the age-group competitors and as a result it was shortened to a 1.5km loop. Full credit to the organisers for doing everything they could to ensure there was a swim at all.
Unlike some of my fellow U.S. and Euro competitors, but like most Aussies I enjoy a true open water rough swim and found myself having a good time out there.
“Going to the toilet on the bike is certainly a fine art and something I need to seriously work on. Tough one to practise in training though without your cycling buddies thinking you’re a freak.”
Joey Lampe and Clayton Fettel got their usual lead in the swim but interestingly another group of guys who I was right with were suddenly way ahead in a very short space of time. Perhaps they went up a gear that I didn’t have. There have been rumours of a missed swim buoy. If there was any missing of buoys I don’t believe that for most of those swimmers it was intentional. For myself, I rarely know where I’m going in races because I just windmill along following the closest pair of feet, rarely looking up at all if I can help it. It’s a luxury I can afford racing with professionals as in general whoever I’m following doesn’t go off course. That combined with large swells made for some tricky navigation.
Photo Courtesy of www.jimmyjohnsen.com
Onto the 180km bike leg and the power was set high early by Joe Gambles. A really strong headwind on the out loop didn’t make for easy riding. Butterfield launched at the turn around with an all out effort to reach the smaller front group, which included Craig Alexander, Marino Vanhoenacker, Luke Bell, Eneko Llanos, and Fettel. Soon after the 45km turnaround point I passed Gambles who yelled ‘Reedy you’ve got to commit mate’ and so I put down a little more power. However, when I looked back and I had 150m on the large chase group and was feeling good so decided to give myself until 70km to try and bridge up to the front of the race. Steadily I clawed them down knowing full well that I was above my desirable power output holding approximately 5 watts/kg, however my desire to be up the front was stronger then pre-race targeted intensity zones.
Once there, life got easier until Marino attacked into the head wind. After busting a nut to be where I was I had no intentions of chasing him too hard but did my part of pacing with Clayton and Crowie to minimise the damage. At 120kms my spanking new Garmin Edge 810 was showing an average of 290 watts which I knew would mean I would be fairly depleted for the marathon without some slower riding. So with 45kms to and a huge tail wind home I let Clayton, Crowie and Eneko ease ahead and desperately tried to go to the toilet and digest some nutrition in the remaining time left of the ride. Going to the toilet on the bike is certainly a fine art and something I need to seriously work on. Tough one to practise in training though without your cycling buddies thinking you’re a freak.
Off the bike after 4 hours and 29 minutes and onto the marathon. I felt great in the legs but not so good in the stomach, with a lot of sloshing going on. I was under the illusion I was running a steady pace but at 9kms running in 4th with Crowie and Eneko in sight I was given the split of 33 minutes which made me give myself a quick uppercut and turn on my Garmin Forerunner 10 to slow down to a more realistic marathon pace. My stomach cramps didn’t ease however they certainly weren’t enough to slow my running too much but I knew that if my guts were in trouble it was likely I wasn’t absorbing calories too well. By 16kms I was likely paying for a lot of surging on the bike and idealistic pacing on the run as the first of many cramps brought me to a halt. My left hamstring just wouldn’t let go for long periods and I was reduced to standstill for 30-40 seconds at a time wishing the cramp away. In that time, as I ran/walked/cramped until 24kms, I was steadily getting passed. Despite the shouts of encouragement from older, stronger athletes passing me I just couldn’t get the cramps to ease and thumbed down a passing car to go and find my family and hide my face. Perhaps it was nutrition, probably pacing to some degree, but I think the biggest factor is I simply wasn’t strong enough. Ironman is not about speed, it’s about strength and I have some work to do there.
A lot of thoughts go through your head in these moments. My triathlon income is almost entirely prize money. When you’re only working part-time and have a family to support it’s really important that triathlon brings in some money or it’s very hard to justify the extent that I train and race. I knew that if I pulled the pin right there that I could be back racing in 4 weeks and paying bills. Push on and get through the marathon I may be out for much longer especially given the cramping. The upside of finishing, money aside, is that points were still very possible to get to Hawaii however I did the maths and quickly realised that I would most likely still have to do another Ironman to ensure qualification. 3 Ironman events in one year in my twenties is not something I plan on, nor can I afford. Firstly, the top Ironman athletes are in their mid-thirties so I want to preserve my body where possible. Additionally I’m at the point now where I know I can make a pay cheque in most 70.3 Ironman races I do. However Ironman racing takes a lot of time pre- and post-event from my bread-and-butter races (also making racing in Kona a stretch financially). So, in summary I’m unsure what the plan is from here. I do know that a U.S. based Ironman will happen this year as I’m hungry to try iron out my mistakes from Melbourne, however whether it will be for this year’s Kona qualification or next years is yet to be decided.
Big thank you to my beautiful wife Monica. Ironman preps aren’t easy on partners when you’re gone for 7 hours training on Saturday and come home a zombie. Thank you also to Monica’s family and mine for taking time out to come up and mind Oscar while my wife worked during key weeks of my prep. To Matt Dixon, I like where we’re heading, thank you!
Finally, thanks to Craig Alexander for all the words of encouragement and advice during the race and to Tyler Butterfield post race. It means a lot.
Next up, some fun at New Caladonia Olympic Distance.