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Adversity, positivity and the emotion of IRONMAN.
Life can present some interesting challenges and adversity and we get to choose how we deal with them. Some may choose to 'react' and others may actively choose to 'respond'. What's the difference you may ask? Well, it's significant. Reactions are often lacking consideration, are not tempered in the appropriate manner and more often than not they can be the catalyst for further adversity; not only must you deal with the primary concern but often you will also have to deal with the consequences of the given reaction. Responses, on the other hand, are a conscious choice. They are considered, are often the result of drawing upon previous experience and importantly they are contextualised to the issue at hand. Responses are designed to deal with the adversity by implementing a positive and conscious solution, appropriate to the circumstances. Whilst I certainly do not profess to be the fountain of all philosophy, this one I do choose to live by. Hold this thought.
Ironman racing can often imitate life. How? Each athlete has aspirations, dreams, desires; they have expectations of how 'they' would like things to unfold for them. I am no different. Unfortunately, things don't always roll that way; things out of our control blindside us, plans can unravel and ultimately as athletes we get to choose how we react, or respond; just as we do in life, in our occupations, with our family and friends.
Today I raced Ironman Barcelona and from the outset let there be no mistake; this was THE most magical, enchanting and energetic Ironman course I have had been fortunate to race upon. The Spaniards know how to bring excitement and the atmosphere was unforgettable. For those of you whom have raced Ironman Cairns it's similar however Ironman Barcelona has taken a SERIOUS dose of steroids. If you want to race overseas, put this one on your bucket list.
The swim started at about 8:35am, late for Australian standards, but it allowed for a reasonably relaxing morning and easy walk down to transition with Jade and the boys. We met Mum down there, I did the usuals to Bumblebee (aka, my Cervelo P5 Limited) and then had a short swim in the Mediterranean. The morning was immaculate; sun glistening across the calm seas, a light breeze and 3000 athletes from a huge array of countries.
As I stood in the starting pen for the predicted 60 minute swimmers (think sardines in a can), I found myself having a little moment. Think of the enchanting music from the movie 'Gladiator'; this was pumping from the PA system, the MC was introducing and revving up all the various countries and for a short moment I just closed my eyes; a moment to myself, a moment of sincere appreciation, a moment I'll have with me forever. As the rolling start commenced I was into the water near the front and found some clear water. I felt tired in the water and my sighting was not as good as it should have been; I swam 4027m with an official swim time of 1:04:12. Not bad, not good, but ok.
I entered T1 and it looked as though nearly every bike was still racked. I knew this wasn't the case but nonetheless it gave me some confidence and I had mentally set myself the target of a sub-5 bike. I wasn't sure what my legs would be like on the run but the goal was to try and set myself up for a PB - I had wanted to go below 9:35:32. That was the goal.
Rider's were prohibited from using aero bars for the first 3 km's of the bike course due to it's technical nature, bumpy roads, speed humps and narrow streets. This allowed some time to turn the legs, get comfortable and focus on the remaining 177 km's ahead.
I didn't have a power meter as it didn't arrive in time so rode on feel using speed as a reference. I can 'feel' cadence of about 90 rpm and that was the target; staying down on the bars on the climbs, riding through the apex and maximising the downhill to gain optimum advantage. I felt strong on the bike and rode clean. There were peleton's not dissimilar to Sunny Coast Ironman 70.3 World Championships and many of the European riders would accelerate past, drop straight in front of you (by a few metres) and then back off of the speed. In hindsight this worked to my advantage as I continually pushed back past and moved to the front.
The bike course was similar to Ironman Cairns in that it followed the coast, had a number of rolling climbs and was wind affected. At about 150 km's into the bike I grabbed a water and a sports drink from an aid station. The water bounced out of the bottle cage when hitting some bumps and I was left with a sports drink that was so potent. Unfortunately, the lack of aid stations on the bike, comparative to Australian standards, meant I sucked on this bad boy; and bad it was. Within no time at all my gut was in knots and I was cramping. Vomiting started and I had a choice to make; react or respond? I responded by backing off the rivet slightly and setting myself up at a legal distance behind a group of about 6 riders who were moving a little slower than I would have liked. I persevered but without any water this wasn't the best situation to be in. I became frustrated so decided to push through the group and set myself up on the front; I'd rather be in control of my own destiny than leave it to a group of 6 unknown riders. I am not so sure they appreciated my discharges but at least it kept the rider behind me at a more acceptable distance!
I was happy to roll back into Calella and hear the cheers of the crowd including my support crew who were perched on our balcony over looking the track sipping on vino! Yep, that's how to do Ironman support!
I rolled into T2 and had ticked the sub-5 box and achieved my goal; 4:47:59 at an average speed of 37.50 kph. I dismounted and trotted up the chute to rack my bike. My legs felt surprisingly good but my tummy had that 'off' feeling. I just hoped that I could hold my sh#t together to run around a 3:25-3:30 marathon as I knew this would have me close to chasing down my PB.
The first 4 km's were reasonable and the legs felt the best they had since April this year before my tibia fracture. I saw Jade and the boys at about the 2 km mark and she hurled some form of abuse at me to spur me on; normally this would get me fired up, today not so mucha! By about the 5th km I was hunched over in a pool of vomit; I just couldn't hold anything down. I tried everything; oranges, coke, water, ISO drink - nothing was staying where it should. My run turned into a walk / run / hunched over shuffle / repeat. When I ran I felt good; but when I felt bad I felt terrible. This lasted until about the 30 km mark. I knew that I had picked off a stack of riders to claw my way into the top 30 in my age group and to have them jogging past me was nothing short of disheartening. So, now think back to my opening paragraphs; react or respond?
Today I broke. I was cooked. Physically I was not in a good place but psychology / mentally I was the closest I've been to breaking point in Ironman racing. I think back to running the Melbourne Marathon 2 days after having completed a ride of 1000 km's in 7 days from Adelaide to Melbourne. That was painful, no question, but in a different way. Today's mental pain was the result of knowing I'd set myself up well in the first of the two triathlon disciplines. It was watching my goal slip further and further away. Knowing that I had swam ok, ridden well and just had to do what I do; run. I know I can run. But today I just didn't have it in me. My response was to persevere and do what I could, when I could. That's all I know.
I felt a glimpse of normality towards the back end of the marathon and picked up my run to 5:10-5:15 pace and was able to hold the run for much longer. This was satisfying it itself. I haven't looked as yet but I'll be interested to review my splits. As I entered the last 1 km I knew that I would be around the 10:10 finish time, or just below. I ran into the Finish chute and as expected, the atmosphere was fantastic. I gave the Ironman MC a sweaty hug and he kissed my hand; random! Jade, Mum, Jax and Kyte were perched in the grand stand and the combination of seeing them coupled with the Finish arch was definitely a relief, I think for all of us. I crossed the line in 10:08:43 as the 77th athlete of 495 in my age group.
So, with my 5th Ironman under my belt I can truly say that this was the most memorable. Not for the result so much, but for the opportunity to be here with Jade, our boys, and importantly my Mum. Without them this crazy Ironman adventure would be so dull, who would I get to share it with? We are so fortunate to be able to provide Kyte and Jax with so many experiences and lessons through Ironman; the flipside of my earlier comment is that life imitates Ironman. I am hoping that I can truly inspire our kids to be the best they can be, never shy from adversity to choose the easy option and as they mature, to respond rather than react. If I can create this in them then this crazy sport is far more than Finisher medals, towels and t-shirts; this crazy sport truly can show them that anything is possible and provide them with life long lessons and tools.
I'd like to leave you with a little something that I read a few days ago, shared by someone whom I admire and respect. This was with me today...
"The greatest battle is not physical but psychological. The demons telling us to give up when we push ourselves to the limit can never be silenced for good. They must always be answered by the quiet steady dignity that simply refuses to give in. Courage. We all suffer. Keep going." Graeme Fife
Thanks for reading, stay safe, be humble and love life.