Getting to the Ironman was years in the making. I knew one day I might do it but I never said I would do one, in fact I said it wasn’t of interest to me at all (the world of triathlon entered the mix around 2010 for me). For many years it was the swim that scared me and kept me from ever attempting the full Ironman distance of 3800 meters…I did know that I could bike and run the distances (110 miles and marathon 26.2 miles) no problem as I had accomplished those. Years later I even trained for a 5000m open water swim to get confidence on this part and thought for sure I would sign up for the Ironman after (2016)…I did not; nor was I at all entertaining the idea…but after that swim at least I knew I could complete the Ironman distance no problem. In the end the real reason I signed up for my first full Ironman was to find out for myself if the Marathon is truely harder than an Ironman like I had heard.
After having completed it I would say that Yes the Marathon is harder because it is just one sport. Doing the triathlon I felt, even with the longer distances and multiple sports, that I was just checking off a portion of the race…plus coming out of each sport and rushing to the next has such an adrenaline high that it is definately way different than just running a 26.2 mile race. In fact for me during the ironman, by the time I got to the run portion I was excited that I finally got to run a marathon, the last part and well for me my favorite. Mentally I feel they are the same, just in an Ironman you mentally have to keep motivating and pushing 3 different times…ha ha because 3 different sports…each long enough to create mental doubts. Truth be told that training for Ironman is harder because you are juggling 3 sports constantly which require more time and organization than is needed for marathon training.
I guess I also felt this was a good time to attempt it because I was taking a year off work and could focus on training because I knew with the job I had (maybe many jobs) it wasn’t easy to train. So focusing on it for me would let me actually see my capabilities instead of a frayed reality between work and training.
Finally in October 2018 I was feeling out the idea of my first Ironman. I thought my only time would be the beginning of 2019 on my around the world trip. I could fit in training early on in New Zealand (where I was headed first) but I wasn’t sure if I had enough time between the marathon I had already signed up for in Tasmania (Australia) in early January and an Ironman in May (Australia too) because I wanted to be out of Oceania by then. I double checked if that would be enough time for me to train since it only gave me a few months when normally people train 6 months to a year. Also before signing up I called my mom and asked her if she would support me by attending the race and cheering me on…and important part since it’s such a long race somewhere I don’t know anyone! All seemed to check out fine so I signed up for Ironman Australia (Port Macquarie) on May 5th. I remember before clicking pay to sign up thinking I am going to be overwhelmed with nerves/butterflies or fear; a similar feeling to when I signed up for my first marathon, but no, instead I felt completely calm…I took it as a sign that I was indeed already ready for what I signed up for….no fear, no nervousness, no regret. I remained like this nearly the whole time – except maybe 2x when I feared I was not trained enough but that was maybe a week or so of anxiety…that is all…the rest was complete confidence and trust.
I will try not to mention much about training here but I will say I really loved having done it the way I did while exploring New Zealand, every day was so new and unknown. I would get on my bike and have no clue how hard the route would be or what I might see, the swim was like a constant pool tour, and the run well always enjoyable. Sometimes on runs or rides I would try to include some tourist stop…usually these training ended up being double…as I still had to get the real work in…My coach was located in the US but he was actually a Colombia Pro triathlete who sent me training plans and helped me prepare. He was flexible with random hikes or long bike rides I wanted to throw in the mix as we went and trainings were never horribly long like I expected for Ironman…in fact my longest run was 12 miles I think and longest ride was 5 hours and about 110km…the swim I did 4000m as my longest but only because this was the week I was freaking out and I asked my coach to program it to calm me down…ha ha
Race weekend arrived pretty quickly, mind you I really only trained 3.5 months for my race so time does go quick! In no time I was picking up my parents from Sydney airport and driving them to the race city (Port Mac) some 4 hours up North. Having dad as co pilot on what would be the drivers side was entertaining to say the least…where occasionally he’d pass out and wake up thinking he was driving, grabbing for the clutch or tripping out when a car passed on the opposite side…it was hilarious at times. Pretty cool to have them around for a chunk and share the whole experience…because well the first few days of their trip were very me, me, me; race, race, race. Thanks mom and dad!
The day after arriving (Thursday we arrived…race was Sunday) we headed into town to see the start, finish, transition and run and swim course areas. The first things I noticed in town was the atmosphere, it was not at all like the energy or buzz I felt and loved in Taupo, NZ during Ironman weekend which was a big downer at first (expectation v reality, ha!) I spent a great deal of the first day at the expo just getting gear and last minute stuff. My mom and dad even proudly splurged on gear!
I checked in and did the whole expo thing, signed up for a post race massage and a pre race physio appt. because 2 weeks out from race day my back/shoulder was really bugging me. In fact I had seen about 2 physios and a masseuse within the past week! Turns out all that exercise caught up with me and my back/shoulder area was tight due to my hip flexors/glutes being extremely tight. I was doing a series of stretches every few hours and had some KT tape on my lower back in hopes that it would let me make it through my day…who knew if it would work out so I planned to have ibuprofen on me the whole race for whatever might happen.
Near the expo was the finishline area and part of the run course so we also checked them out while I explained to my parents some race logistics. Around this time I began to stress a bit because I hadn’t seen the bike or swim course area. Due to my back/shoulder tightness I stopped training the last few days which stressed me out especially with the bike having not cycled any part of the course yet! I was just relaxing/stretching as much as possible at this point…plus I hate missing trainings…but at this point I also knew it wasn’t necessary.
The following day (day before race) I rode my bike in the rain for about 20 minutes on the route. It was enough to know that my tires I had were perfect on these roads, a debate I had for nearly a month was whether I should change them. I rushed off the bike to make my physio appointment…a bit late but all good…patched up, massaged out and ready to give my first Ironman a shot!
Last task of the day was bag and bike drop off. It would be my first time having a transition with bags, exciting because it also meant for me that this was Ironman distance and a big move up but also worrisome because of the unknown… I’d never practiced or experienced a transition this way. During bike dropoff I made sure to focus on the location and arrival (exit/entry) to bags/bike so the transition would flow and be quick…fingers crossed! Oh yeah and I did a bit of bike maintenance again questioning the tires lol but the mechanics confirmed my tires were fine….off to eat dinner (which I cooked at our airbnb) and rest/sleep!
– Race Day –
“Sport 1 done!” That was the thought coming out of the water on the swim…
It was a saltwater, 19C degrees, crowded everywhere – though calm – swim. The swim start was rolling not all together like many Ironmans (not enough space for all swimmers in the bay to go at once) which for me was perfect, less stressful for my first Ironman.
I remained very calm the whole distance until I suspected we were approaching a few stairs in the middle of the swim that we had to climb up and down to enter the water again 2x on our swim. Before the first set I spent a great deal of time thinking “stairs should be soon” but I obviously wasn’t that close so I had to shift my thoughts on just swimming and decided to just deal with the stairs when I was practically on them. The stairs, although odd, was a nice break because I knew how far I had swam and how many meters I still had to go..
The stairs during a swim was a new thing for me and I must say quite entertaining! –
After clearing the second set of stairs I thought “Yeah!, I’m almost done” ha… Well, more or less… I keep swimming but I couldn’t get myself to swim straight ha ha … in my mind the buoys should have been on my right shoulder ha ha (obviously they were still on the left)
I came out of the water Relaxed, calm, fresh, good, ready… But walking
Until I realize that I have should run… I am not a fast swimmer so I usually exit when most are walking…And I always forget to run because no one else seems in a rush around me…but I am fast in the other sports so off running I went… ha ha only to stumble not so gracefully up more stair which we had to use to cross the bridge into transition… ha ha
On the bike I looked at the clock and I realized my swim didn’t take the time I expected… I took much less time!!! I didn’t know the time I entered to swim so I had this doubt until the end of the race (I don’t use a watch during the swim). Bummer!
The bike was 2 laps — hilly at the start then flat a long while with a lot of wind… followed by a few more small rolling hills and a figure 8 near the end before returning. It was a beautiful route with views of the sea and beaches pretty much the whole way.
On the bike 3 things unknowns kept my mind wondering before race day :
It wasn’t until the race that I finally had them correctly adjusted and even then I didn’t know if they were going to work or if it was even worth using them during the race… they were borrowed and I tried for several weeks to resolve the pain I felt in my shoulder/left arm… I hadn’t been able to use them for more than an hour before it became painful but I had progressively tested and ridden with them to have an idea of their placement for me but everything was trial and error still…so on race day I was surprised to find that the final adjustment worked like a marvel! 😱 Hours using them and zero pain!
– Wider tires
Many people said that the streets in Port Macquarie are hard, that they are made of gravel and that makes the bike vibrate more and it’s therefore very uncomfortable. For 1 month I thought about replacing the tires with wider ones… every time I was about to buy new tires I decided not to….because I was going to sell the bike afterwards, because my tires weren’t that old, because in NZ I trained on rough roads, etc… but as the race got closer, every day I worried more and more about the tires… but I kept putting it off. Finally the day before the race I tested the bike on the city streets and all felt good… so I didn’t change the tires. I used the original 23cm tires that came with my bike and all went well… I really think training in NZ helped and I was used to the bumpy/gravel streets or maybe it is all hype!
– Matthew Flinders Drive
A notoriously steep but short hill back into Port Mac that was like the Heartbreak Hill of this race…they say many walk it and I hadn’t rode or even seen it yet so race day was the test…fear of the unknown but again hoping for the best with all my hilly training in NZ. The hill being close to town and notoriously hard (although short) gathers many locals to cheer athletes on as they climb it. As you approach you hear the cheers, see the hill and notice it’s lined with a carpet on the sides…you hope you won’t need it but know it is an option. In the end I had no problems on the hill in fact I powered through it quickly both times. Cheers went to all athletes but for non struggling athletes sometimes they mess with your mind instead. On my second and final Matthew Flinders climb they teased me saying “that is amazing you are doing this hill on a flat, good on you!” 🤣 I actually believe them and looked down at my wheels as I went up the hill to make sure I was ok ha ha.
Amazing that all these worries in the end worked out just fine. I know I could have finished the bike in less time but I know I needed a tad more time to train. I trained nearly 4 months for the Ironman but on the bike I had just over 3 months in total so more time would have helped but my goal was to just finish the race so really I wasn’t bothered. My longest bike ride was 5 hours done 1 time with a maximum distance of 110km. Even never having been close to the distance during training or knowing the time it might take, the 180km only worried me a little because I knew that I was capable of doing the distance 1 time…the hardest was having no idea how long I’d take but I did guess about 6-7 hours. During the ride I was shooting for 6 hours but on lap 2 I got kind of distracted and too relaxed for a chunk of the distance lol in the end completing the bike portion in 6:20.
One issue I did have was on my arrival to the transition zone. I was expecting a sign warning for the last meters like many races have so I could prepare to transition. I usually get my feet out of the bike shoes and mentally prepare but instead the dismount line appeared before me without warning and I found myself unclipping the shoes and running with them instead…also I knew there was going to be bike catchers but I forgot to stop my watch…still on the bike…so needless to say not the smoothest transition….
To the finish…
The last part was the run, my favorite part!
Before I got off the bike I was thinking 2 things, I’ve almost finished the second part 🎉 🎉 (the longest)… and how would my legs feel touching ground after 180km and more than 6 hours riding?
When I got off the bike and ran I was very happy to find that my legs felt super super fresh!! they didn’t weigh anything. I change my sneakers, grabbed my nutrition, number and cap and out I ran!
I was flying! I had to do 4 laps of 10km approximately… and I took the whole first lap to control my rhythm!
I had a strategic plan from my coach for the run and I was trying to follow it… I found it almost impossible… but I kept trying because as my coach said – I don’t want “the wheels come off” for the last part!! -I had debated my run time with my coach since I felt it was slow for me but decided he must know what he is doing so that was that (3:30 done as a progressive). As you know my goal was not for any specific time.. instead it was just to finish the race. Although I always thought timewise I’d be somewhere between 10-13 hours… ha ha a wide range (this idea I had even before starting to train).. Ha… Following coach’s plan the only thing I did have to change was my nutrition. My body didn’t want so much sugar or empty calories anymore!! Something I absolutely hate from Ironman was the nutrition, soo many empty calories through gels, electrolites, sugars, salts, etc it was disgusting but I had to get down some 6500 calories or more while out doing my thing…I did try throwing in normal food but I picked a muffin, cookie and pb & j which was more sugar except for the last one which was actually great.
The route was beautiful, 4 turns by the sea with an amazing sunset!, 4 times I could see my parents and 4 times I had the best motivation and cheers from strangers along the course I have ever found in a race… I ran happy and fast, enjoying everything. This is where I fell in love with the Ironman… once my feet touched the ground off the bike I knew that I had to repeat and it wasn’t even over yet…
I knew with the time change that I was going to finish when it was dark… I didn’t want it like that but obviously I had no control there… luckily I only had 1 lap in the dark and it was only the last part where we made the turn that was truely dark… On the last 2 laps I stopped a few times stretching my calves because they felt a tad tight and I wanted to prevent any possibility that might keep me from a running finish. Overall with all the adrenaline, cheers and uncheers (“hey slow down, you are going too fast”) ha ha I felt soooo good – amazing – happy – full of bliss. All this made me arrive at the finish line so fast that I didn’t really get to enjoy the moment at the finish line, I didn’t find my parents (they saw me luckily!) or hear anything… But it was what I had decided while running, to fly across the finish line since that was exactly how I felt at the time… welcoming me as a new IRONWOMAN.
I received my medal and was immediately approached by 2 volunteers (catchers) making sure I was able to stand once finishing and that I was all there before letting me continue alone. Finishing photos were snapped then I headed to the medic tent to clean a wound from the damn timing chip. Never again accepting the cheap velcro ones they give you, soo worth it to invest for that stupid scar! After the medic I went to massage because if anything I have learned from racing…if it is offered, get a massage (even 15 minutes focused on one area is totally worth it)..and the sooner you do it the better you will be the next day and quicker you recover (I even had a proper massage the day after race day). From there I changed and took a quick pit stop at the food tent…joining my fellow Finishers.
I had warned my parents I’d take about 1 hour after finishing so they were ready for me when I exited. Ready to celebrate with champagne and chocolate…so sweet of them…although to be honest neither was of interest after the Ironman… sugar was like eeew and alcohol was of no interest…all I wanted was real food and to chill…so that is what we did right next to the finish line. Although sadly that food craving was limited to my shrunken stomach from all those empty calories…booo!!! 😛 Before heading home I grabbed an ice cream (that although it is sugar I couldn’t say no…) and my bike from the transition zone.
My parents enjoyed the race a lot…they liked that multiple times they could see me, enjoyed the challenge of figuring out when I’d pass again following the tracker of course and seeing all the other athletes go by.
The morning after dad made his famous breakfast and we made use of the champagne with some mimosas 🙂 Finally done with the race we were able to do some touristy local stuff….like see koalas at the koala hospital literally across the street from where we stayed….lol I kept enjoying down time with my family for the next week while both were in town (my mom continued an extra week or so with me).
Overall Thoughts/ Learnings:
- Loved it and will sign up again…maybe IM Wales?
- Must work on my transition from swim to bike…run not walk (it is your race)
- Buy timing chip holder – worth every piece of skin saved!
- IM transition, you really must know what is in your bag and what you need, volunteers are great but presented with a million decisions from in your bag at once is confusing (sunscreen?, clothes?, food?, help taking off wetsuit?, etc) and impossible to focus…nor fast. Aka reason for my slow T1
- I used a one piece suit, I was fine but there is an option for a 2 piece…might be something to consider if you plan to be out longer since it is easier to go the bathroom…I debated it when I purchased but I like the feel of the one piece trisuit (more tight)…I luckily had no stomach issues.
- Study bike route to transition 2 because sometimes there are no signs saying 500m and you arrive to the T2 area with your shoes still on and watch still going oops (I used 2 watches…one for bike, one for run…none for swim…I didn’t trust the battery life for a bike/run so long and prefer no watch for swim.
- Train at least 4 to 4.5 months on the bike
- Carbon frame bikes are not for me, too much responsibility. It is like having a baby and having to make sure they don’t touch anything because they get scratch and can break sooo easily. Also they are so light I am not sure I trust them…lol…it did get the job done though
- For the run pick your most comfortable shoes that you enjoy running in and have used plenty. I choose Pegasus Turbo which I love…so light, fast feeling and plush
- It was nice to have the special needs bag, bags placed at half way points on the bike and run course where you can access your stuff. I packed extra food, gels, tire tubes, sunscreen and anything that might cheer me up (for me cookies because I love them). Also this is how I got the Pb & j sandwich I enjoyed out on the bike course! You don’t have to have them and grabbing stuff if needed is pretty quick with the volunteers (on the run I didn’t even stop but got what I needed easily).
- If you can swim, run and bike a portion of the course before it helps to visualize and get’s rid of last minute doubts…I wasn’t able to do much of this due to my shoulder/back pain.
- If available before the race get your legs into compression pants (like Normatec)…they totally help lighten your legs before a race (and recover after though for that you must purchase or have smart awesome friends lol)! If I wasn’t traveling the world I am sure I’d own a pair!
- Remember anything is possible, expect the unexpected and react to it, stay positive, smile and laugh at anything and everything you can along the course!