Racing Unfit

In the run up to Ironman Western Australia it became a running joke with the friends I was staying with that whenever I accepted a beer they would comment “that’s another 5 minutes on to your time”. They were enjoying my much more relaxed approach on my third visit to Busselton, in fact, I had a beer every night I was there.

That’s what comes from changing goals from performance based to enjoyment based.

It took a while to reconcile myself to heading halfway round the world to take part in a race that I had no hope of achieving the personal best I’d set as my goal when I’d entered a year before. If the race had been in the UK I would definitely have pulled out but this was a trip to the other side of the world with my mum so she could visit her friends. The aim was to enjoy the whole trip.

Race morning was a pleasure, as I felt so relaxed. Not my normal arrival 5 minutes after transition opens just in case I have a puncture (for a third time!). This time I was nearly an hour later. The usual two-minute job at my bike (no puncture) and I went to relax.

To enjoy this race I had to race to my fitness. It was going to get messy but the longer I delayed it the better. I started the swim just fast enough to stay out of trouble and then swam on my own as no packs were visible in the rough water. I hit the second half the swim and rather than having to tough it out I found an easy change of gear. It was fun.

I set off very conservatively on the bike but by 30km I started feeling very low and thought that this was going to get very messy very early. It lasted till I got to the second lap and I started to pass people. This prompted me to look at my power and see the average was increasing. My mood changed instantly, I felt great. It slowly dawned on me that I’d probably not been low at all, I had just not been thinking, I’d not used my intelligence to assess how I was. I also realised it was not the first time it’s happened to me in Ironman. I decided to keep a cap on efforts till the final lap and then hit it (it would be fun) but then passing a group at about 110km I sped up and didn’t slow down. I was hitting watts that would have been excessive when I was fit but I kept going. At the turnaround when the expected tail wind failed to materialise I had a little implosion. I’d managed to let my brain switch off AGAIN mere hours after realising that’s what was happening.

I made it back and headed off on the run. I kept Helens words in my head “you’ve perfected the hunters trot, now you need speed”. Hunters trot is all I needed now. Those Palaeolithic men could have run for days like this. My ambitious 4:50 kilometres ended after just two. After 20km it was hurting but it was still fun. I’d passed the 30km market before I hit DEFCON 1. It wasn’t pretty and I’m not convinced it was fun but I was close enough to be certain of getting my medal and t-shirt.

It’s always a buzz to cross the line. It’s just different when you’re race has not been as you’d have hoped. Keeping pushing when it’s getting tough is really the same whether it’s the leader holding 4:15 km when his body is screaming for 5:00 or whether it’s me on a day like today running when my body was screaming walk and at times walking when my body was screaming stop.

I came away very satisfied with this race. Not my fastest but I felt that I could not have gone faster on the day. I’d also managed to hit a small milestone of 25 Ironman finishes. A lot was learnt from this race but two things stand out:

  1. You need to keep your brain switched on no matter how you’re feeling. In Ironman being able to always maintain rational thought is a big asset.
  2. You cannot hide from a lack of run training. Try to remember this at least 6 months before the race not at kilometre 20 of the run.
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