Damn, what a day! I’d been asked a few times in the days leading up to this race how I was feeling. My answer had been “I’m ok”, and for the most part I was. It wasn’t my first Ironman, but it was my first time in Busselton. I actually was ok. The nerves hadn’t hit and I felt calm with what I had ahead of me.

We arrived on the Wednesday before the race. It was an early morning flight which meant we were up at 3am  to get to the flight. Flew with Virgin and had the extra baggage allowance (very much needed!). All relatively smooth, but a good tip is to make sure you have the paperwork showing the extra allowance – this made it a lot easier when they wanted to charge me extra for being over 23kgs.

Time difference between Vic and WA as well as favourable flying conditions had us taking off at 7.30am and landing at 8.15am, somewhat disconcerting! Packing the car was interesting and I’m glad I had upgraded. We had a new Nissan X-trail and into that we managed to fit the bike bag, 3 suitcases, my tri bag, 4 back packs, and us four….just. Next time might be the next size up!

Having last been in WA 21 years ago and never further south than Mandurah, The 3hr trip down was all new to me. We had booked into a house north of Busso in a ‘township’ called Peppermint Grove Beach. I say township, but it was really just a whole heap of nicely built homes that were 90% used for holiday makers. No shops except for the small caravan park. Seemed to be very few permanent residents. Made for a very quiet stay. The photos had looked good and when we arrived we were not disappointed. The house was huge and had an unobstructed view out over the beach.

Over the next 4 days (Wed-Sat) we drove the ride course a few times as our accom was just near the northern turnaround point. To get to Busso, we pretty much had to drive it each time. The roads are smooth and flat – something to get excited about. Rego was completed early on Thursday, as was the standard gear purchase. Aim was to get that done early then stay away from the event village as much as possible. Last minute training was done on-course whilst Em and the kids checked out the Busso foreshore or went for a drive.

Other competitors from GPC were starting to arrive and we had a couple of training sessions lined up. The first was a OW swim with some entry practice, drafting demo and a swim under the jetty. Water was amazingly clear and calm. On the return we swam a bit further away from the shark net protection. No issue on that from me, I was keen – but when my coach Stephane (who has been here numerous times) offered an alternative to those ‘a bit scared to go so far out’, I was suddenly wondering what he knew that I didn’t! Team had a dinner that night and met again Saturday morning for a 40min ride, 20min run, 10min swim – all with some efforts to flush the muscles. I’d actually been feeling quite nauseous the last couple of days and Em and I had narrowed it down to the magnesium I’d been taking. Good lesson here as I had not been able to find the normal magnesium I use and got an alternative. Bad decision – took a day and a half to clear my system and even on race morning there was a hint of nausea.

Before we were told to be scared of sharks….

Saturday afternoon involved racking my bike, dropping off gear bags in Transition and then it was eat, hydrate and not move from the couch. Intention was to watch the cricket, result was a snooze!

Legs up and rest!

Kerryn flew in for a few days with us and for me it was a final check of gear, then off to bed.

Race day was an early start. Was up at 4am to get a pre-race feed in, finalise my nutrition and then get into transition to get set up. Despite being totally organised, I forgot half of my nutrition and left the spare wheels at home. Only realised when I was at my bike so a couple of frantic phone calls and we got it sorted, although by this time my back-up race wheels weren’t needed.

Someones day started badly however – as I was walking out of transition there was the audible bang of a tire exploding. Sounds like a shotgun going off. The reaction from everyone is the same – feeling sorry for the person it happened to and a bit of a nervous smile to the person next to you that says “thank f*#k that isn’t me”.

The unique thing about Busso compared to Cairns or Port Mac is that all of race morning is in the daylight. No daylight savings means its light at 5am. I remember in Cairns how dark it was all the way up to nearly race start.

Neoprene is so slimming

Not so here and the sun was warm so I held off putting the wetsuit on for as long as possible, stayed in the shade and kept my fluids up – all small things to keep the core body temp down. Got a warm-up swim in to loosen the arms and then it was into the marshalling area. At the swim practice on the friday, Stephan mentioned self-seeding in a time group a little faster than your anticipated finish time – the theory being that you would have swimmers coming past you that you could get a draft off. With that in mind I positioned myself around the 1hr 05 marker, thinking my time would be somewhere around 1hr10. Geez, I got that so wrong. When I entered the water i quickly found I was overtaking people. I soon realised I’d self-seeded too slow so rather than wait for someone to come past to draft off I changed tactic. I was feeling really good in the water so I decided I’d pick my way through the pack, drafting where I could off the hip for some ‘mini-rests’ but keeping a strong pace up that would make it hard for anyone to draft off me. No point giving anyone a free ride. It worked really well and I found the swim a lot of fun. Normally with my vision I prefer clockwise courses – it helps me swim the shorter route and anti-clockwise means I swim a bit wider. Something Stephane mentioned on the friday regarding the swim leg was that we ‘weren’t there to make friends’ and that was still bouncing around my head when I entered the water. So I swam the more aggressive (and shorter) line. I couldn’t see those doing the same thing on my left but I was feeling good, I had realised I was quicker than those around me so if I bumped into someone, I just powered past (or more accurately, over) them. I’ve had my fair share of being swum over so there was no guilt being felt here!

The water was wonderful and clear and quite calm. It was a fun swim and I even saw a stingray sitting on the bottom which was cool. I’d managed a few glances at my watch on my way around and knew I was making good time, although to exit in 1hr4min was a PB and about 4min quicker than what I thought would be a good time for me, so it was a great start.

Saw Emily on the swim exit and then it was into the transition tent. In here you grab your numbered bag, find a seat and get changed – which means stripping off the wettie and getting cycling shoes, socks and arm coolers on. I was keen to nail both transitions this time round and did so, with timing showing each of them at around 5mins.

So the bike, for those unfamiliar is 180km around a 2-lap 90km course. As part of my original goal of Sub-11 hour total time, I’d factored in a ride time of 5hr 30min, which equates to an average speed of 33km/h. This was something I felt was very achievable, especially with some (borrowed – Thanks Steph) upgraded race wheels and a flat course. The only thing that would stop me would be the wind and although there was some around, the course goes through a lot of forest so its quite protected for a lot of it. There can be a temptation to get too excited and go too hard, too soon so I spent a lot of the first 30km watching my speed and keeping my perceived effort low. No point burning too many matches on the ride and having nothing left at the end of the run – that happened in Cairns and I had learnt from that.

Serious Face on…

So it was all about getting into a rhythm and sticking to my nutrition plan. My bike computer would beep every 5km prompting me to either eat or drink or both. On each of my drink bottles I had taped my nutrition plan so I just had to hear the beep and follow the plan. No thinking required. The Wakkatoo Crew were out in force on the course – I’d see them at most main spots. I learnt later on that sometimes they had arrived with only seconds to spare, see me zip past, yell some encouragement only to run back to the car and repeat the process at another intersection. They did a stella job and although I was quickly past them, seeing familiar faces on course is such a boost to your moral, especially when bits start to hurt! Also helping was the GPC kit I was wearing. It meant anyone with a connection to the club (and there were a few) would shout some encouragement. Made Stephane’s job easy in spotting his athletes and his advice on the bike was to keep as cool as possible. Every little bit helps. The second lap was a warm one and aid stations involved taking on 2 bottles of water. 1 to drink and the other to dump on my head, neck and arms to keep the body temp down.I had picked up a 3rd bottle of nutrition at the special needs station and found a note from a long-time friend tucked in there. Put a smile on my face and helped maintain the momentum.

Horrible shirts!

Something that was a little disappointing to see was the amount of local traffic that was on the course. It is meant to be closed to traffic and I get that over such a long course there will be the need for the locals to move around. That’s kind of expected. What wasn’t expected was the number of horse trailers and boats. They take up a lot of space on a road with cyclists coming both ways who may not be expecting traffic. All seemed a little dicey.

Coming into T2 my time was 5hr 29. Just about perfect and meant after another nice quick transition into running gear i had ‘banked’ about 20mins of time for the run. Most of that came from a fast swim and quick transitions. The crew was waiting at the run start and had my parents on FaceTime which was awesome. Heard mum call out but it didn’t register until a few hundred meters into the run.

So the run, all 42.2km of it is essentially an out-and-back loop along the foreshore with the event village and finish line at the mid point. You run the loop 4 times. This makes it very spectator friendly which is awesome for all involved. Much like the ride, they key was to not start to quick and Stephane reminded me of this in the first km. I fell into a comfortable 5.10-5.15 pace and the aim was to hold this for the first 21km. This would help me ‘bank’ a little more time knowing that the heat was going to come into play in the second half. I stuck to my nutrition of a gel every 6km, water every aid station and flat coke every second aid station. Added to that was water over the face, arms neck and putting ice down my tri-suit at every aid station. The ice works well, but it is an interesting experience when it makes it’s way south and ends up in more ‘intimate areas’!!

By 20km the heat was definitely having an impact and the pace had slipped a little to 5.15-5.20. I wasn’t too concerned as the plan was to ease back a little at 21. This happened and the plan was to then run the next 15km at 5.20- 5.25 and the last 6km as close to that as I could manage. This came a little undone around 25km when the left leg started cramping. This may have been as a result of the extra water taken on when I needed some more salts. Something to discuss with the coach. The pace had to drop a little to manage the cramping – go too hard and I may not finish, but still maintain a pace to get in under 11hrs. Those minutes I had banked were coming in handy now!

I’d dropped a gel around the 28km mark and with the cramping, was concerned I wouldn’t have enough. I had some spare in my special needs so on my way past on lap 3 I collected the gel and found another note. Definitely needed and thank you to those 2 people.

Look! Both feet off the ground!

Everything was being managed and I was keeping the cramps at bay until around 35km when the right leg started. Some run-walking the aid stations helped me get through to 38km and then I figured it was less than a lap of Lake Wendouree. I’d done the calculations and knew I‘d get in under 11hrs as long as I kept running. When I got to 39km, I stopped looking at the watch and would pick a spot up ahead and force myself to run to it, then pick another spot etc.

Ticking over 40km, collecting the last of the lap bands and going past the last aid station was all of the motivation that I needed. You finish by running past the busiest section where the club tents are and you never want to be seen walking there (the friendly heckles are reason enough). Turning into the finish chute I had my head up looking for Connor, who I’d arranged to have Beej’s Malaysian Warriors footy jumper waiting for me. As I came down the finish chute I vaguely heard my name being called in a Belgian accent, looking to the left was Stephane along with the GPC crew who already finished. Was awesome to hand out the high 5’s before holding Beej’s jersey up as I crossed the line. The feeling of relief at finishing the thing was incredible. The bear hugs from Stephane and the family will stay with me for a damn long time. To see the number 10 in the hour column was amazing. I actually didn’t expect it and it wasn’t until I was in the recovery tent and I saw I’d gone 10.48.54 that I started to realise that #Projectten59, which I set myself 12months ago had actually been achieved. That’s a pretty good feeling and I recommend to anyone trying to replicate that personal satisfaction of achieving a hard fought goal. Could be a moral in here somewhere….

Was a bit emotional

In summary…
2019 hasn’t been the best year. We were all knocked for 6 when we got Dad’s MND diagnosis in June. To lose my little brother suddenly 4 months later broke something in me that I don’t think can be fixed, probably because of the sheer shock of it all. That happened during what should have been my peak training week so I missed out on putting some big km’s into the legs. I felt fresh on race day but a little underdone. My brother was never far from my thoughts for the entire day and it was nice to find that little bit extra to overcome some pretty shitty hurdles thrown my way and still achieve a massive goal.

Lots of room for improvement however. I’m yet to run a sub-4hr marathon at an Ironman, I think in the right conditions and with some specific coaching I have a sub 1hr swim in me and I think I can lower my bike time by quite a bit. Bring on Busso 2020!