Steve’s Ironman Update – The race report

9 03 2010

A strange part about competing in an Ironman is that you face one of the biggest physical and mental challenges possible with only a couple of hours sleep. I set the alarm for 4.45am so I could have porridge and toast and give it time to settle before heading for numbering at 5.30. During the night I checked the clock almost hourly for fear that I would sleep through the alarm. At 5.30am the start area was humming and there were a lot of people who had arrived long before me.

The start is a truly great part of the event. I love this part of the day. It’s cold and dark, the whole transition area is flood lit, there’s loud music and the supporter crowd just stares through the fence at you. As a sporting event, its also very cool because just as I’m pumping tyres and checking my gear for the 10th time, only 25 m away on the elite rack all the pro’s are doing exactly the same thing. There is great tension in the air. Occassionally a tyre would explode and all the competitors look up at once and think ‘thank God its not me that now has to change a tyre’.

At around 6.30 we all started moving down to the water’s edge – nerves hit 9/10 – and this is where you leave your loved ones. There’s lots of hugging going on and it has been statistically proven that at this point 95% of the competitors are wondering what they are doing there. I was in that group. Once I got in the water, I started to calm down as I headed out to the deep part near the buoys. The advice I had been given was that because over a third of this year’s field were first timers they would all hug the shore so eventually the clear water would be out wide. Good theory, but clearly one that had been shared around, because I swam the whole 3.8km smacking arms and legs with people on each side and in front. Even 50m out from the end we were still banging into each other, but overall the swim was great and these days I quite enjoy the push and shove stuff (how things change). Once you hit the timing mat you have a 400m run back to transition [which is why 10 min transitions aren’t too uncommon] and it was off on the bike.

Conditions for biking were great. No breeze to speak of, not too hot and I did the first 90km lap in a tad over 3 hours so was really pleased and, like an idiot, had a thought that this Ironman stuff wasn’t that hard. This offended the Gods because when I turned at halfway to go again I noticed a breeze had sprung up which, within half an hour, had become a serious blow right into the face. Not to worry, I thought, just slip it into a lower gear, grind it out for 45 km and then it will be behind you for the last 45 km. Unfortunately when I turned for home it was still in the face and I went for about 10 km muttering things such as ‘how the f… can this be happening?’ or ‘you’ve got to be kidding?’ In the recovery tent at the end of the day all the talk was about the dual head wind. The second half took over 4 hours. I knew I had expended more energy than I had hoped at thi stage of the race. I had said to Phil beforehand that once I get to the run I think I’m home because the finish line is at least visible, but on the first 10 km with a howling wind in the face (strong enough to blow over all the supporter signs on the road) even this theory was looking a bit sick.

The run is largely a blur. I know from 0-10 km I felt really good. From 10-20 km I thought I was in trouble. My heart rate was at a level I didn’t even know the monitor could reach but from 20-30 km I seemed to come right and 30-42 km was a terrible grind but manageable when you know it is just a matter of time till the finish. I can remember that I couldn’t eat any more at about the half way mark because everything was making me feel really sick. I tried to have some chips to get some salt but couldn’t swallow them. Oranges were starting to taste like lemons. I was on coke and water, but that started to taste foul so went to water and ice and that was good for a while.

I worked out that if I could do the last 2 or 3 km in around 15 mins I would have taken an hour off last year’s time so y pace increased. All of a sudden, after a tough day you can see the lights of the reserve which are at the finish line. Up the main road of Taupo there’s a crowd on each side of the track right on your shoulder. Everyone is yelling at you to keep going or go harder or – my personal favourite – that you’re looking good. You have about 400 m of this, and its really loud. Then you take a left turn into the shute, the lights arepointed straight at you and are blinding. I seee I have about 30 seconds to achieve my goal, so I start going as hard as I can, then I think ‘these bastards have extended the shute because it seems a lot longer than last year’. I look down and see my shoe lace flapping. If I trip here (a) its going to be on the internet for all to see and (b) the medical people are going to think I’m a collapser and will probably put me in a bed so I go to this stagger/run/ trot thing to try and keep away from the lace, you hear your name announced and two ladies grab you and stick a towel around you and a medal round your neck and lead you off to the tent on the right. It’s all over.

The next bit is also a bit blurry. They take you to a table to be weighed but the two ladies had to hold an arm each so I could get up on the scales. I had lost 4 kg. If you lose a certain percentage you have to go to a medical tent for a while. I was close, but only had to sit on a chair for a while. I went out to see Kerie, Phil, Sue, Carolynn and Roscoe but I can’t remember anything that was said. I had a really sore back so went back into the tent for a massage and this wasn’t very memorable until the masseuse squirted linament on the backs of my legs and I discovered for the first time, with much pain, that I had some serious chaffing. I remember chatting to someone about the cricket score but wouldn’t have a clue who they were. There was a Japanese guy with cramp nearby and he was writhing around like an extra from Saving Private Ryan but I just watched. Unless he was going into cardiac arrest I couldn’t get up to help. He did seem to have enough people helping him. Sue drove us back to the motel where Phil was lying on the couch under a ton of blankets which I didn’t really understand but soon would. I had a steak and egg sandwich and it was all quite low key. We went back to our unit and I had a shower, where, with worse pain, I discovered more rubbing had occurred. All of a sudden, I got the shivers. It was like a full on disco dance so time for the warmth of the bed (a common bodily reaction apparently). The sting in the tail? I was awake at 4am and couldn’t sleep which seemed to be a problem for all of us in the race this year. I went for a walk/ hobble at 5.30am on the Sunday morning in search of food, which I found, but that part of the story is really very ugly in terms of what food can be found at that hour, how much of it I put away and how superb it tasted.

So it’s over. Personally, I think Ironman is tough enough on its own without conditions like that. I don’t think I’m being too dramatic with this because I knew about 10 people in the race and, unlike last year, I haven’t heard one person say they will be back for another let alone next year’s (Kona people aside). As for me, you can’t say never but darts is looking like a very appealing sport at the moment.




3 responses

22 03 2010
Steve Smith

Hi Tamsin

Long time no see. Thanks for the comments and yes you should do it. Heaps of tips to offer:
1. Beware!!! It can take over your life and my pet hate this year was going to a social thing and having nothing to contribute because all I’d done for seemingly ages was run/ride/swim.
If that doesn’t deter you then other tips are:
2. commit to it as early as possible, tell as many people as possible (so you can’t back out) and start training. You’re fit anyway but give yourself 9 good months to get into it – not that they have to be hard core the whole way
3. get some independent help about setting a training programme
4. if you have a good pair of running shoes buy a couple of extra pairs because you will use them. Same goes for cycle pants.

So, last tip:
5. if you can see yourself doing the training then give it a go because there’s something about the race that is just totally amazing. Standing on the start line has to be done to be believed. Its like nothing you can imagine and is only surpassed by the feeling when crossing the finish line.

Hope that helps and I must point out that these are the views 2 weeks after the event. On the day after Ironman they were completely different!

22 03 2010
Tamsin Gallie

Hi Steve

Your description of the event was so inspiratinal i am thinking of having a crack at it next year, any tips? should i ?!!

9 03 2010

I think, what you forget is how inspirational you guys are. I followed Phil (& you as well) via Twitter, Ustream and txt updates from Sue. Well done!


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