IM Asia-Pacific Championships – A trip to the gates of hell (and back)

IM Asia-Pacific Championships – A trip to the gates of hell (and back)

PRE RACE – FIVE DAYS IN PARADISE

IM Cairns (the 2016 IM Asia-Pacific Championship race) was my second Ironman, so I went in slightly more relaxed. I arrived five days early, allowing me some good time to acclimatise to the conditions – especially important when leaving a cold Southern winter. I hit all the important points for the pre-race admin, arriving everywhere a few minutes early just to reduce the non-essential stress.

As far as race-week training was concerned, it was a pretty light week. A couple of brick sets done at faster-than-race-pace meant that my legs were feeling as fresh as possible leading in to race day. Once again, I was supported by an awesome team who had my back every step of the way and ensured that everything was good to go on race morning. All was looking good!

Race morning was pretty relaxed. Getting on the first shuttle bus up to Palm Cove – the site of the swim and T1 was very easy, and that allowed over half an hour of just being alone with my own thoughts – resulting in a very calm transition prep. By the time the buzzer went off, I was as prepared as I could ever be. As my coach would say – I had done all the hard work, it was now just time to kick back and enjoy the icing on the cake.

THE SWIM – TERROR ON THE HIGH SEAS (67 minutes)

Funnily enough, the weather gods decided that Sunday was a perfect day to mess around with the competitors. The swim course was pancake flat in the week leading up, then suddenly, the swell picked up as the rain started coming down. This was going to be a tough swim. Straight upon entering the water, I knew that this wasn’t going to be fast. The swell hit me instantly, and after a couple of hundred metres, I felt like I was going to throw up – call it seasickness if you will, but something was just not right! The swell was pushing competitors together as well, and despite the staggered start I became a human punching bag – and then, to top it all off, my goggles started leaking. Things were really not going my way!

After the first lap of the two lap course, I eventually started to settle in. The nauseas feeling never really left, but I settled into a rhythm and began to put some power in. The sighting buoys became harder to see as the wind and swell continued to increase, however it was a pleasant change to make my way in to shore with the waves, allowing a small part of respite prior to powering on throughT1. All in all I exited the water with a swim time of approximately 67 minutes. Not my planned time – but also not my planned conditions!

THE BIKE – A GAME OF ‘UP’

Throwing up, blowing up, slowing up, climbing up and pulling up sore.

The swim had clearly taken its toll on me as I tried to pull away on the bike. Transition had gone relatively smoothly, and I began to settle in on the bike, giving a tentative thumbs up to my coach who had positioned himself at the start of the bike course. A quick energy bar replenished my energy, but then as the ride progressed I started to feel increasingly ill. This wasn’t part of the plan at all! Plan B time – alternating between my Pro4mance gels and Produrance drink formula. This started to settle the stomach out, and before I knew it, the stomach was beginning to settle and I had 50km under the belt.

It didn’t get better though. Whilst the views were absolutely spectacular, after the turnaround in Port Douglas the wind started to take its toll. My legs started to freeze up, and the constant rain resulted in feet that were never dry all day. To top it all off, I threw up – how good! In all honesty I thought about calling it quits for about a second, then perished the thought as I bit the lip and pressed on. That’s when my legs and shoulders decided that they had been through enough. The niggle in the knee flared up, and the cold resulted in a very sore back, almost like someone had wedged a knife between the shoulder blades. Hooray. My speed dropped off, and whilst climbing out of the saddle gave the shoulders some much needed rest, I believe my wheels weren’t aligned properly and I heard the brakes rubbing with every pedal stroke. Stay in that GD saddle, Shep!

The final bit of bad luck happened when I heard a pop and a whizzing noise. Taking a deep breath, I started thinking about repairing a flat tubular tyre. I pulled up, and tapped the tyres to work out which one was flat. Funnily enough, both were still inflated!! What the??? It turns out I had hit an errant piece of electrical tape (the pop), which had wedged between the brakes and the rim (whizzing noise). Dislodging the tape I continued to grit my teeth and push the whole way to T2 in Cairns and onto the home stretch with a very disappointing bike time of 5:34. Putting it all behind me, I stormed through transition and slouched my way onto the run leg, hoping for salvation.

THE RUN – A NEW LEVEL OF PAIN (WATER, ICE, COKE, WATER, ICE, REPEAT)

The first thing I noticed was that the stabbing pain between the shoulders simply didn’t go away. I couldn’t stretch my shoulders back due to the pain, which put me in an extremely awkward running position, and not something that I was used to. I set off at a relatively comfortable 4:47/km pace, and managed to hold that for a while – but then that inevitable tummy bug hit. Damn. Sticking to liquids was always the plan, but I started to walk the aid stations to try and settle the stomach, severely hurting my run splits. The three lap course was awesome, I have to admit, and the crowd support on the esplanade was incredible! I managed to get my way through the first 2 laps, now down to 5:30/km pace, sometimes blowing out to 6 minutes if an aid station stop was involved. After the first 2 laps (now at 28km), my legs decided that they had been tortured enough for the day as well. The backs of the knees tightened up, now stopping me from extending my legs – severely decreasing my ability to take decent strides. This run was turning into a disaster! My times were now consistently hovering around 6min/km, and all I wanted to do was finish.

And finish I did. The sun had just set, I was in the home straight, and the noise was incredible! My wife was waiting for me at the finish line with my medal, and there was no way in hell that I was going to let her down. So I sucked it up, gritted my teeth and pushed as hard as I could for the last 5km. The raw emotion of finishing such an epic day out was just incredible, and to be greeted like that was simply the best feeling in the world – making the day just so much more special! I finished the run in 3:47 – a new PB, but with plenty more to deliver come the next race. My overall time was 10 hours, 35 minutes and some change, a new PB by about 2 minutes – made even more special by those abhorrent conditions, in a race that I will never forget.

LESSONS LEARNED

-        The swim isn’t always going to be perfect. I’d practiced in choppy conditions before, but never the undulating swell. The more you can acclimatise to those conditions, the better it will be on race day

-        Have a plan B for nutrition, because Plan A is great until it all falls apart!

-        Bike Fit. Spend your money on this – because a good bike fit that keeps you comfortable in the aero position will be the best investment you can make

-        Learn how to hurt – and to block it out the best you can. Long course racing is all about suffering. The longer you can suffer, the better your day will be and the sweeter the finish line will feel!

SO WHAT NOW

I was fortunate enough to finish second in the military division and earn myself a spot to the Ironman World Championships in Kona. So now I am completing a mini-rebuild with a focus on flexibility and strength so I can get through the bike leg pain-free. It’s going to be a tough road, but an unforgettable journey!

THANK YOU

I have previously written that triathlon isn’t a solo sport – and IM Cairns proved that. I couldn’t have crossed that finish line without the support of my amazing team:

-        First and foremost my amazing wife who, despite being 31 weeks pregnant, braved the heat and rain and everything else to be there at the end – she is such a weapon and I can’t wait to one day be at the finish line for her!

-        My coach Grant from Melzer Multisport Racing for his tireless efforts in getting me race ready, and providing updates throughout the day.

-        Wade, Craig, Sam and Lucy from Titan Triathlon & Multisport who have provided me with all the triathlon goodies I have ever needed – and the Xterra Vengeance, a wetsuit that is simply the best thing I have ever swum in!

-        Andrew and Jasmine from Pro4mance Sports Nutrition who are the masterminds behind what I believe are the best sports nutrition products I have ever put my hands on

-        Ben and Roye from Love The Pain Endurance for some incredible products and an attitude that completely embraces the mentality of endurance racing

-        Nick from Skinstrong Australia who ensured that there was no chafing or blistering at all – an incredible effort based on how wet the day was! A coating of Skinstrong Dust in the shoes made sure that I was comfortable all day

I have missed so many people, but put simply everyone I have had contact with in the last 12 months have all contributed in their own way to get me to that finish line. Thank you, to each and every one of you – you have made this all possible.

 

SEE YOU IN KONA!!!

 

Shep.