Ironman Race Report Part 4: the ride – concentration
The rolling start seemed to work well. At any one time there seemed to be a manageable number of people in the change area. This was new to me. As you came in a volunteer would be there with their hand up willing to help you. My person opened my bag and just pulled everything out. This threw me a bit as I had packed the bag with what I needed to do first at the top.
After consuming half a container of peach iced tea – my logic was I was going to be sick of water and Gatorade not before too long- I put on in succession, my helmet, a cycling thermal layer t shirt, the volunteer helped with my arm warmers and then we realised I still had on my wetsuit. He expertly removed the wetsuit. Next was the Cool Running tri top which was never to see the light of day as on top of this I had a long sleeve cycling top and a wind vest.
I had placed my sun cream in helmet with my glasses to remind me to put it on. When my bag was emptied on the ground it was not visible but fortunately I saw someone putting on cream and ask for some from the volunteers. It was nice thick cream and I emerged from TI with a white face as if I had applied zinc all over it. I was about to leave and I saw a plastic bag to the side and thought OMG. I was about to walk off without my nutrition. Now that would have been a disaster.
With relief I put in my back left pocket Cadel bars and a peanut butter sandwich. In the middle pocket I had my North Face lightweight spray top and in the right hand pocket I had enough gels for one every 45 minutes. At this stage I spotted Ian Elgey who started in the chute after me – he had a ripper of a swim – and after a little chat I was on the way to the bike area to pick up my bike feeling pretty pleased that my planning and long ride practice had me out of T1 with errors rectified.
By 8:20am my cycle started exiting T1 sneaking down the side of some cameramen filming one of the visually impaired riders starting their race with a partner. Normally I start a ride with my shoes on but I had the cleats on the pedals as I wheeled the bike out. I had to stop up the road to finally get the shoes on. It was windy and it was cold but I was well rugged up, though I was still in awe of many riders just out in the elements in their tri suits.
In a mass start for a swim there are often a lot of bike riders around me but with the rolling start I was essentially alone from the start. In a sense it was quite good not having to worry about the 12 metre drafting rule every time another rider passed me. The 12 metre drafting rule means that we have to keep 12 metres from the back of the front bike and the front of the rear bike. Sue Horsburgh mentioned to me the cycle technical team look to see if the back rider stops pedaling as they are passed. Accordingly, I was doing a lot of stopping and starting riding in the first few kilometres. The other drafting rule is that you cannot ride side by side which I think is a pity as it is nice to ride next to someone chatting. It is the only time there is no traffic on the road.
The course was a two lap out and back section south to Dunbogan (though the name is never mentioned in the literature) with a 90 km turnaround back in Town Green. Two things to note about the first lap: the first 10 km (also 90-100km) is through rolling hills out of town and the winds were strong and cold with gusts I was to hear about and experience of up to 50 km per hour. For example, on the the second lap I was heading down a hill not on the tri bars and the wind picked me up and jumped the bike to the left. As this happened I went “whoooo….” and the riders coming up the hill on the other side thought I was gone. I would have been if I was on the tri bars. Fortunately, I had learnt through training rides to stay on the top bars on descent – the increased speed was not worth the risk of an accident.
My training pace was 25 km an hour as an average and often easily 27-30 km per hour. It soon became evident that I would have to concentrate and focus for the next 7- 8 hours. When I was in the tri bar position I had to work harder than normal to hold 25 km and hour into the wind which seemed to be 360 degrees and relentless. I was feeling I was over exerting myself and settled on being as close as I could to my target pace. As soon as I sat up to stretch or rest I would drop to 18 km per hour and have to work hard while more upright to get to 22 km per hour. I did manage to hold around 25 km per hour heading north back to Port.
In the Port Half in 2013 the turnaround was at about 22 km south of town, beyond this were new roads to me. I rarely check courses prior to a race – I sometimes like the unknown. On Saturday I did get some advice from Shane, from Bowral days, and Geoff Myatt about lowering the PSI on my bike for the bumpy roads on the southern end of the ride. I normally ride at 120 PSI and I was concerned about this as the lower pressure increases the chance of pinch flats. Needless to say I did take the advice of an Ironman legend and a knowledgable cyclist. Once I got past the 30 km mark the roads were not as bad as I expected.
I was feeling good because I had ridden in gale like conditions for 180 km in training and knew I could come in close to 8 hours and I had done 142km in pouring rain as well over 6 hours. I was rugged up, warm and happy to ride. Every now and then I checked my thinking that I was going to finish the ride so as not to jinx myself. I was to have a good ride although slower than I would have liked.
It was a surprised to me that I was noting the effect of the rolling start. I was very much at the back of the 1700-1800 competitors. Except for in Port and the aid stations along the way I was pretty much by myself. Ian flew past me in the first few km and I had trouble recognising people on the way back. At one stage a rider passed me with the number 20-82 and I spent some time trying to work out what that meant. It was a nice distraction for a couple of km but I had lost concentration and needed to work the rises a bit more to keep my pace up.
A bit later 20-82 passed me again and it was BigChris Stephenson. He was one of the legends who had finished 20 of the races and was given the dedicated number of 82 as the 82nd competitor to complete 10 races and now he was up to his 20th. We chatted for a while and he soon disappeared into the distance. There were a couple of other riders that I played leapfrog with in the first 90 km and one was an aunty of a student from my school who was out on the course supporting her race.
Soon I was at Mathew Flinders Drive hill where the atmosphere was great. There is a section of carpet up the road where people walked the bike. I had ridden in races 4 times before and had not needed to walk. Rob had mentioned the night before that the gradient for the first section was 21% and the next section 17-18% – means nothing to me – it is just steep. I felt like I was in a real cycle race. People were yelling for me to keep going and running up next to me. All I could do was look at the ground in front of me, sneaking a peek at the top with 10 metres to go. It was a good feeling especially with a lot of riders walking up the side of the road next to me.
I turned left of the hill for the next rise and there was Chris on the side of the road off his bike having a chat with friends. It was sort of comforting knowing a 20 time finisher was around where I was on the course. He would know how to pace himself. On the rolling hills back into town I knew the family would be out of bed and I was hoping to see them on the course into town.
On the roll into town Ian called out to me, he was still moving well. As I was stretching my back on the hill down to the turnaround I saw Jenny and the kids cheering me on the side of the road and just as I entered the turnaround the second place competitor passed me on his way in to start the run. The leader had passed me 7 minutes earlier. I was at 90 km and they were at 180 km and the time was 12:03pm and I had covered the first 90 km in 3:42 hours. On the way back up the hill out of town I chatted to the family and then onwards to my second lap.
Once again I was entertaining the idea I would finish and was even thinking of the finishers chute. I quickly killed those thoughts to try and concentrate to keep my cadence up into the wind and now the hills on the way out of town. At 30 km out there were a series of signs indicating 30 km, 60 km and 120 km roughly in the same spot. I got to 120 km and thought gee I still have almost three hours to go. It was the only time I thought like this given I thought the previous 5 hours had gone pretty quickly.
It was around here that Chris Stephenson joined me again. We chatted for a while though it was difficult 12 m apart so now and then we got closer and even side by side. Once again I felt very secure with Chris being around me due to his positive encouragement rending my doubts to the back of my consciousness and his experience. This time for some reason it was me that cycled ahead. I was not to see Chris again till the run.
By this stage I was getting the aid stations under control. There was less luck opening the contact case and getting a salt tablet every hour so. On gradual climbs I would open the case, spill a few tablets on the road and manage to get one in my mouth. Also in the benton bag on the bike were the dates and Cadel bars. Every 45 km I made sure I had solid food aka a peanut butter sandwich pieces. When I remembered I would have the gels. From what I learn about the quality of the water I had transferred the ‘real’ Gatorade I brought with me to the course bidons in the first lap and picked up two more in my special needs bag at 90 km.
So I treated the aid stations differently to how I had in the past as I was savouring the ‘real Gatorade’ and grabbing different bottles drinking most of them in few hundred metres. The aid stations were well set up with tables extending for a couple of hundred metres. In other races there are usually a lot of cyclists heading through a station and hence you had to be careful of running into bikes or hitting bidons on the ground. The rolling start meant I was by myself most of the time, so it seemed a bit safer. The aid stations had in order, water, Gatorade, coke, food (I had kgs of bananas) and back up bottles. I only got off my bike twice for a toilet stop, one of which included applying more sun cream. As I passed through each aid station for the last time I made sure I thanked the adults and kids.
My concentration was so good on one of the southern aid stations on the way back for the last time things went like a ‘Perfect Storm’. As I approached I finished the bidon of coke, flicked the bidon which landed in a bin to a cheer, then I had a water (the water in the townships to the south tasted better), flicked that one to a volunteer then collected a bidon of coke deftly swapping it into my right hand as I grabbed a banana from the next volunteer. I felt like an elite athlete though I am sure I looked like an old guy at the back of the pack ambling through an aid station. I have to admit to the experience feeling good.
Before long I was approaching the Mathew Flinders Drive hill for the second time. This time all the riders around me walked, there were only a few people to cheer you on and they helped. I crested the top with a sense of satisfaction looking back on the cyclists who were still walking up the hill. I rode through town to see Jenny and the kids now with cow bells ringing as I headed to enter T2.
The bike ride was finished in 7:42 hours, averaging 23.5 km per hour with the first 90 km in 3:45 hours and the second in 3:57 hours. I had improved my buffer to the cut off ( 5:20 pm) of 10:30 hours by 10 minutes to 1:10 hours. I was off the bike, I had got no flats, was well hydrated and fed and ready to start the run. I had 7:50 hours to finish the 42 km run.