|Ironman NZ 2011 Result – 11:53:10|
I had a rip-snorter of a race – even better than my best case scenario! My first goal was to finish, second was sub-13hrs, third (a real stretch, highly unlikely, but one I really wanted) was a sub 4-hr run. Sub 12 hours was never a thought.
Forget this “Believe it, achieve it” stuff. Forget the “Dream big…” malarky. Just get out there, have a go, and see if you can surprise yourself! (well, that worked with my n=1 sample!)
Couldn’t sleep very well. I expected that. Every time I got close to dropping off some random race aspect would pop into my head. Clearly I’d spent far too much time thinking about this thing in the previous few days. I even got up a couple of times to put some extra things in my race bag. I finally dropped off about 1am and then woke before my alarm at 4:30am.
Kellogs “Just Right” and vegemite toast for breakfast (plus a panadol). Then, figuring I had a big day ahead, I broke routine and went for a third piece of toast. That’s right, RISKTAKER!
It was absolutely pissing down. I parked about 500m from the race and searched Mum’s car for a brolly. You know, the spare brolly for emergencies? the “I’ve got a game of bowls and it’s raining” brolly? No luck.
I checked in, loaded the bikes with drinks (went for the “don’t check my tyre pressures in case I blow them up” approach), wetsuit on and joined the procession down to the swim start. I had a quick scan about for my support crew but it was pretty dark and crowded. The pros went off and it was time for the remaining 1,500 of us to enter the water.
Swim. 1:14:24 (Garmin link)
Before the start I positioned myself about 30m behind the line furthest from the shore. There was no-one around me. Strange. Just before the gun went off I looked back at the shore and there appeared to be a massive number of people either on the shore or in the shallows. Then there was a flurry of arms and legs and I realised we were off.
It was surprisingly spacious until the crowd from the shore arrowed into the side of us, forcing us into deeper water. Then we all had to veer back towards shore to stay on the lefthand side of the first buoy. As per usual when you are swimming at the back of the field, half the swimmers swim straight, and the rest saw their way back and forth across the pack. Even though it was a straight, wide swim course, everyone seemed to converge on the buoys and then explode in all directions out the other side. After two buoys I’d had enough of this. I forgot about trying to get a draft and moved 10m wide of the buoys to swim a straight, unobscured line till the end of the race.
The water in crystal clear at Taupo. It has to be the nicest swim I’ve done. As you turn to breathe you can clearly see 3-4 athletes beside you and read the brands on their wetsuits. Looking down you can see the contours on the sand.
I stuck with my easy 3-3-3 breathing pattern until the 1.9km turnaround. There was absolutely zero pain from my chest. I contemplated upping the effort then (as planned), but it had been so relaxed and easy, and there was a long day ahead of me, so I just cruised on. I was VERY surprised when I stopped my watch at 1:14. Initially I thought the swim must have been short, but checking the Garmin after the race shows 3.89km.
So how does someone who can’t swim 3.8km in 1:14 in the pool, do it after 3 weeks of no swimming? It’s gotta be the wetsuit. Legs up, toes pointed, no kicking, and gli-i-i-iding through the water.
T1 12:44 (Garmin link)
Apparently I stopped for a picnic.
13 mins is pretty hard to explain. I had a very helpful helper who pulled off my wetsuit, put on my arm warmers, got out my gloves and shoes. I faffed around putting on a cycle jersey and then a gillet over the top (the zip got stuck so there’s a minute). I ran out but then had to go back for my Garmin which was still attached to my goggles (which the kind, kind helper had put in my bag and tossed in with a pile of other white bags – maybe another minute or two there). Clearly I was relaxed and in no hurry to head out into the teaming rain!
Bike. 6:31:16 (Garmin link)
The bike went pretty much to plan. I was aiming for 160W and expecting it to drop off – I averaged 153W. I never pushed hard and my HR averaged 124bpm which is 18 beats lower than my half ironman. I was cruising. But I was also hurting!
I was able to ride aero for the first hour into a gentle northerly headwind. Then my right hammie/glute started tightening up. For the next five and a half hours I was in and out of the aero position as pain allowed. The breeze strengthened on the second lap and I tried to stay aero on the outward 45km even though it hurt and I couldn’t generate much power from that position. I had to keep sitting up and stretching.
The relief came every 45 mins or so when nature demanded that I stood on the pedals and took a pee. Ahh the sweet warmth! Just for a few minutes it was like the rain had stopped and the sun had come out! For the next 10 minutes I’d feel revived and strong again. Then I’d wait for the next one. It passed the time.
But I was worried. Drinking so much and peeing so much could lead to hyponatremia. So I upped my salt intake from the planned 1 capsule every 2 hours to 1 every hour. Didn’t seem to do me any harm.
Coming through town at the halfway point of the ride gave me first taste of the race atmosphere. People were pumped and yelling and cheering. It was a big buzz and really picked me up. Then, as the road turned out-of-town and upwards again at the Napier-Taupo turnoff, I discovered the full extent of my support crew. First it was the massive “JONTSNZ” banner. And then, not four, but FIVE sisters barracking for me! And THREE nieces (4 if you count sleeping baby Cleo)!! What a racket! What an inspiration. The girls had come from all over the North Island. I was going to have to deliver today!
I saw them one more time before the run, as I sped through a tunnel flowing with rainwater – they gave me a hearty yell. Then it was back into town and time to run.
T2. 7:30 (Garmin link)
Half a picnic this time? Maybe just a cup of tea? I must have been in a real hurry! If my final time was the other side of 12 hours, I would certainly be pondering more than 20 minutes spent in transition. Instead I can laugh about it!
Again, I’m not sure where that time went, but I did decide to wear my gillet again (after removing my cycle jersey) and the zip DID get stuck AGAIN. So there’s another minute. All I remember is coming into the change tent and seeing half of it under water – like a duck pond. And then coming out in my nice dry shoes… and stepping straight into another massive puddle of water. Ugh! COLD. WET. It wasn’t going to be a dry shoes day!
When I’d taken my cycle shoes off and put my right foot down I’d felt a shooting pain in the outside of my foot. I’ve had this occasionally after long hard rides. I can barely walk when it strikes and it can last a few hours. Not good! I look down. There, in my transition bag, is the panadol I stowed just-in-case my chest was still hurting from the swim. Pain? Panadol! Problem sorted!
I head out of T1 at a walk.
Run. 3:47:16 (Garmin link)
The run starts as a painful hobble – no indication of the awesome run to come. Several people fly past me in the chute. Onlookers give me the curious/sad second glance. Within a hundred metres it’s loosening up. Another hundred and it’s starting to look like a run. Then I’m away. I remember thinking: “Here we go. Just like in training.”
I ran by feel.
In my long training runs I’d been targeting 5:30min/km. That would get me under 4 hours with 8 minutes to spare – a nice buffer in case things turn ugly. And, on all four of my training runs over 2.5 hours, things had turned ugly indeed at the 2 hour mark. The last run was 33km and I ended up only managing 5:50min/km. My training diary reads “absolutely shattered”, “simply survival”, “BLEAK!”. I was not confident over 2 hours!
One thing I’d noticed in training, is that from 2 hours on my pace would slow (no surprise) and that it was very hard to increase it again – I could increase the effort but the pace would barely rise. With this in mind, I’d been toying with the idea of forgetting about the negative split (my usual tactic) and running the first half at a slightly quicker pace, so that when the pace fell off in the second half, I’d still have a chance for the sub 4 hours. A risky plan, and I hadn’t decided if I’d do it. So I ran by feel.
For the first 8km I was running a steady 5:10-5:15. I felt good. Then, while I was walking an aid station, I got passed by someone called Sarah (“Go Sarah!”, “Looking good Sarah!”) who was on her 2nd lap and was running slightly faster than me at about 5min/km. I settled in at her pace and, for the next 8km, I would try and catch her before the aid station and then she’d pass me as I walked it; then I’d try to catch her again…. Eventually her pace started to drop and I was on my own for the rest of the race.
Only I wasn’t on my own at all! Every 15mins or so my support crew would pop out of the crowd at the side of the road and give me a huge rev up. It was fantastic! And they were so rowdy that the crowd alongside them would erupt, and then the next group, and so on down the line. I was loving it!
I’ve gotta say that I’ve never experienced an atmosphere quite like this race. In the bleakest conditions you can imagine, there was a huge, vocal crowd lining the streets. I got so many “Go John!”s, I couldn’t tell the people who knew me, from those who didn’t. And if you came to a group of supporters sitting quietly by the side of the road, all you had to do was wave your arms and up they’d go for you with a massive roar! Taupo, give yourself a pat on the back! Cheery volunteers who stayed out all day handing out drinks with a smile, and super-supportive supporters!
I was waiting for pain to start at 2 hours. But it didn’t. It started earlier!
At about the 19km mark (1:40 into the run) I started getting a really sharp pain in my gut. Not good! It was urgent and felt like I was about to get a really bad case of the trots! I wound the pace down but, over the next few minutes, I realised it was actually the stitch and not an upset stomach. BEWDY! I walked the next aid station concentrating on fully exhaling each breath. 15 mins after it had started, the pain was gone. And I ever looked back from there.
Every kilometre or so some part of the body would begin to protest – a foot would start to ache in some strange place, a knee would groan, the hamstring would tighten. But whenever this happened I concentrated on my running form – shoulders back, head up, chest out with the imaginary wire pulling my chest along and up. As soon as I did that posture would correct itself and the pain would dissolve.
It helped that I was constantly passing other runners. I don’t remember anyone passing me who I didn’t pass back (although the pros going the other way were flying!), and looking at my Ironman placings, I passed 281 people on the run. Now that is a major morale booster! I saw pain, despair and suffering out there. I can highly recommend finishing strongly!
Nutritionally my run plan worked perfectly. I’d grab a water at every aid station and drink it as I walked to the end of the drop off zone (about 100m which took about a minute to walk). Every second aid station I’d eat 3 Clif Shot blocks (equivalent to 1 gel). No electrolyte drinks. I was still peeing regularly (yes, I peed during the run – a new experience for me – but it was so wet no-one could tell – I hope…). To counter the outgoing fluids, I decided to take a salt tablet every hour. But, whoops, I dropped my bag of salt tablets somewhere after the first hour. So I fixed that by drinking electrolyte instead of water (but no electrolyte with the gels!). I was making impromptu nutrition decisions and they worked perfectly!
When I hit the three quarter mark (about 32km) with 2:52 on the run clock I realised that sub 4 hours was on. As long as I could keep it under 6min/km for the final 10km I would do it, AND that would also get me under 12 hours. The girls saw me at about 9km to go and said I was looking good and they’d see me at the finish line. Abandoned! I had to get there now.
I started thinking about a discussion I’d had with Russ Cox regarding nutrition in the last 10km of the run. I thought I remembered him saying he took none in the last 10km so he could race it hard. I’d taken a gel at the Gold Coast Half Ironman with 5km to go and then been too crook to push the pace. I decided to take half a gel at the “8km to go” aid station, then a small sip of electrolyte drink at 5km to go. And then I went for it!
Well, going for it only meant 5min/km by this stage of the run – but I felt like I was flying! Knees up, arms driving. Spectators were telling me I looked too fresh and should go back for another lap. Bugger that! When I got to the last aid station at 3km to go, a lady was holding a drink out for me. “Sorry, no time for a drink. I’ve got a date with the FINISH LINE!” Bloody corny but it got me a huge cheer. The supporters and volunteers on the run are so enthusiastic that you get caught up in it!
Into the final kilometre you are greeted by the crowded streets of Taupo. The umbrellas and raincoats were roaring. Debbie’s father appeared at the barrier! You couldn’t help but get a boost. I picked off the next few guys ahead at 4:30min/km and cruised into the finish chute on my own, with the finish tape there for me to break. I remember a rush of joy as I hit the tape – a really intense flash of emotion.
Then I had to stoop for a medal, someone else wrapped me in a towel and gave me their shoulder and BOOM, the legs were gone. I never did hear the “John FitzGerald, you are an Ironman!”, but you can have a listen if you like…
After the race they weighed me. I was 69kg – the same weight as when I started, although my waterlogged shoes must have weighed a kilo each! I guess I nailed the nutrition, and that shows in a pretty even run split: 1:52 and 1:55. I’m bloody happy with that!
And 11:53? Icing on the cake, baby!