Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Taupo Ironman

After this post, Adolf implored me to write something on my "Triathlon" that I grovelled through in Taupo on Saturday. So here goes. But first a wee warning: the following post is rated "Sportz Nutz only" and is likely to be tedious and boring to most current affairs geeks.

The Ironman is no ordinary event. Dreamed up in Hawaii in 1982 by a Navy diver, the challenge then was to see who could complete the around Oahu ocean swim, followed by some equally ridiculously long bike ride and then complete a marathon at the end of it. The chests were thumped and in 1983 off went about 12 macho blokes with absolutely no idea what they were about to create.

In 1985 the event came to St Heliers, Auckland, which was the first time it ventured out of Hawaii. And New Zealand is now the oldest Ironman event in the World outside Hawaii.

I got to hear about it through the local Les Mills gym I went to and in about 1990 I went down to watch it one year it was on. To me it was magical.

At the time I could never imagine anyone but the seriously insane (and fit) doing the event. After all (for those in Auckland) it comprises of four lengths of Takapuna Beach, followed by a bike ride to Whangarei, and then a marathon run - all 42.2 k's of it. I thought it was impossible and wanted to see it for myself. I was immediately awestruck. Here were ordinary people just doing impossible things. You had fat guys, skinny chicks, one armed athletes. You name it and they were there. It truly was inspirational and I went back every year to watch.

In 1998 I decided to do it in 1999. I spent a large part of the second half of 1998 training for it only for the event organisers to move it to Taupo for traffic and safety reasons which was the best decision. But my dream had vanished. Or had it? I entered it in 1999 in Taupo and made the finish line on a wet and somewhat cold day. The day after I'd finished I knew I'd be back, it would simply be a matter of when.

This time was different. Not simply because I was ten years older (and slower) but because I had other commitments (family, work etc) which meant I could not "cram" my training as much as I did in 1999: I had to devote a year to it and build up gradually. The other advantage of doing it this way was that it avoids injuries as your body slowly adapts to the rigours of the training over a longer period of time.

So I entered many, many months ago and got to the start line in time for a 7am start on Saturday morning. Ahead of me was 12+ hours of physical and mental exertion that to most people is unimaginable. The distances are 3.8km swim (equivalent to 152 lengths of a 25 metre pool); a change into cycling gear (which were worn under my wetsuit) and a 180km bike ride; and then I put on the running shoes, changed my socks and a marathon run of 42.2kms awaited me.

I felt very serene just prior to the start and was only focussed on the immediate 100-200 metres of the swim start where 1450 swimmers crammed into 200 square metres can be challenging. Unfortunately it was a challenge I was not up to.

I decided to swim the straightest line I could rather than look for clear water on a particular end of the start line but 1449 competitors had the same idea. I was bashed, kicked and swum over many times. My goggles came off and as I stopped to put them back on and get a decent seal the swimmers behind me crashed into me and pushed me and I went under the lake water again. Then fortunately I found a rhythm. I got tucked in behind someone and was getting dragged along nicely - I felt strong and good. Yay. Unfortunatley this was after about 3.5k's with only 300 metres or so of the swim left. I exited the water a dejected figure as my swim time was 10-15 minutes slower than it should have been. In short, I have been killing my swimming in training. But on Saturday, my swimming nearly killed me.

Trying to put it to one side I jumped onto my bike and sped off throough Taupo and out to Reporoa for the first of two bike laps. I felt strong on the bike with some more intense training regimes (over shorter distances) bearing fruit. The wind was favourable with the only downside being the driving rain that hit like hailstones on a particularly fast downhill stretch. I made up over 100 places on my 6hr bike ride and as I got off it to run the marathon my legs felt good.

They say that sport nutrition is a somewhat exact science. Well I was about to painfully find out how exact it is. I thought I had my bike nutrition plan "sussed". But on the day I tried something slightly different by making my sports drinks slightly more concentrated than usual because I intended to push slightly harder on the bike than I did in training and the extra exertion required a little more fuel. Whether it was that or the fact I was bent over in an aero position for most of the time I don't know but after about 5 minutes of running I felt like someone was sticking a knife into my stomach and twisting it. I treied everything known to man to get rid of it: bending over forwards, back and sideways, breathing very hard and deep, stretching the diaphragm, running more upright, running more hunched over. You name it, I tried it. But the knife stayed stuck. It was demoralising. Here I was trying to run a friggin marathon after seven hours of swimming and cycling and my body was saying "no way hose, I don't like this". It had never happened in training or in any other event I have done so I am still at a bit of a loss to figure out what it is. I will find the answer though.

They say time is a great healer and this was true for me and my guts. After about 22k of the run it started to come right and after 30k or so it had completely gone. "Oh yay, you've just completely fuc*ed my day now you're going away. Yeah well then good riddance to bad rubbish"!

The shining light was that I managed to "negative split" the marathon. That's where you run the second half faster than the first. But I was on track for a PB until Mr Misery Guts turned up. If I see him along Taupo's waterfront I will be throwing him in the Lake.

So sometime aftr 7:30pm I crossed the finish line. Taupo had put on a magical day. The hometown support is something Taupoites (is there such a word?) can be proud of. The next day I felt okay and today I'm a little sore but pretty much recovered. That's the benefit of consistent training over 12 months or so I reckon.

I am looking forward to no more lunchtime swims or runs and no more 5:30 rises on the weekend for 6hrs+ of training. That can wait for another day. But that other day won't be too far away I think.

The final thing I want to acknowledge is the official charity, Cystic Fibrosis. CF sufferers have problem lungs and other organs and are constantly in and out of hospital. Their average life expectancy is just 28. Exercise can help immensely so it is fitting that Ironman has CF as its official charity and I was proud to raise a couple of grand towards the cause.

Stay strong CF kids, you're all Ironmen too.


Anonymous said...

What an awesome achievement. The sense of accomplishment after pulling something like that off must be incredible, especially given the ground work. I have often wondered about giving some long-distance running a crack, but the roadwork I do preparing for fights is enough pain and hardship for my liking. The dedication it takes to get the human body in condition for something like the Iron Man is incredible, and something to be proud of. Congratulations again.


Psycho Milt said...

What DenMT said. I can't imagine successfully training myself up for any single one of those events, let alone all three.

Anonymous said...

Good shit, i was there (even on the course), did 9.44! But always a wicked day

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Fantastic. I watched Campbell Live last night which focussed on the 'stragglers' who were as you described ordinary looking people doing something quite extraordinary. 2 guys I think were in their 70s. I ran a very painful marathon once, took me over 5 hours but to keep at it for, in some cases 17 hours, is just mind boggling. Bet you slept well.

homepaddock said...

Completing a half marathon walk was my long distance achievement - I'm in awe at the physical and mental stamina required to do the Ironman.

Anonymous said...

Good on yer mate, well done.


Anonymous said...

As someone who has done more than a few of these before injury and illness took their toll, I can say from experience that persevering in the face of adversity is what this type of racing is all about (that, and pain management). It is about testing one's mettle on a hard day, where one hopes for the best but prepares for the worst because such a long event is bound to throw up some obstacles. Apparently only Cam and Gina had perfect days.

Good on ya and remember: pain is nothing more than cowardice leaving the body.

Cactus Kate said...

God I feel like going and eating a pizza after that!

Anonymous said...

Hey thanks so much for this. Keep em posts coming, find them so interesting. Anyways, I am a swimming instructor for those of you looking for some swimming lessons