IRONMAN AUSTRALIA, Port MacQuarie, 3-May-2015
It’s about the Journey so I hope you enjoy what took me 3 hours and several days to write.
It’s 9:07AM and Fiona is driving. We just left 30minutes ago from the Caravan Park in Trangie, NSW which is about 30minutes west of Dubbo, 12 hours east of Port Augusta, SA, and 23 hours from Alice Springs, NT, our final destination. We just saw a fox eating a dead kangaroo and a few KM back we saw some emu’s. There is a rail line picking up grains from the grasslands and the thousands of cattle and sheep are behind us. We’ve seen a lot over the last 5,087KM that my wife and I drove through the Northern Territory, Queensland, and New South Whales but, some of what we have done and accomplished is beyond measure. Like the feeling of running down the finishers shoot to Mike Reilly saying aloud, “Kevin Coyle from Alice Springs, You Are and IRONMAN.” But more importantly is the feeling of waiting for my swim coach, training partner, best friend, and wife at the end of her 10hours and 24minutes of racing.
On May 13th, 2014, Fiona and I both signed up for Ironman Australia. Held in Port MacQuarie, NSW, this is the 4th oldest Ironman in the world and would be celebrating its 30th anniversary. We planned this together before we got married and even before our other iron-distance race Challenge USA in Atlantic City that would be raced a week after we married on June 29th, 2014. We had also included Geelong 70.3, 12 weeks out to make a 39 week season that included a full season of 70.3 building, one week rest, and an 11 week Ironman Training Block.
We started the season on August 4th, 2014 after returning the prior day from our 6 week honeymoon and Challenge USA iron distance race. Fiona and I had a long road ahead of us having reached our greatest weight levels in nearly 6 years. The next day Fiona and I both joined Anytime Fitness. This turned out to be the best decision we made that season because 40% of our training was done on their bikes, treadmills, and weights. I watched my weight drop from 90KGS to 82KGS. Fiona saw her weight drop from 63KGS to 60KGS. The next best decision was to become Vegetarian and “vegan inspired” athletes on 1/1/15. This helped fuel our bodies with whole foods and plenty of fruits and veggies. We started having lots more tofu, some tempeh, some fake meat, etc. We didn’t eat any fish or meat. This was all inspired firstly from The China Study, because we believe that meat causes cancer. Secondly, it was backed up by the book Thrive of a former pro-vegan-triathlete who described that white-processed-meat-western diet foods cause physical stress; reduce stress and recover quicker. I also watched many movies, and read other books that all supported the above. As a result, Fiona and I were both able to recover quicker and my Build weeks were able to be increased from 20 hours of training to 25 hours of training. I guarantee, this wouldn’t have been supported with our former “diet”. I had blood tests done 3 times over the season and everything was perfect and increasing well within the normal range. So, whatever biases you have about a vegetarian diet, I challenge you to do it for 60 days and then report back to me.
Like many, I first saw Ironman on NBC at some point in the 90’s when I was a kid. It wasn’t until 2010 that I became a triathlete. It was my friend Trevor who had had put me into running that he now motivated me to pursue triathlon. While in the US I did 2 half ironmans and 2 olympics in my first 4 months as a triathlete but then moved to Australia. I’ve been here for nearly 4 ½ years and really give all my respect, praise, thanks, and support to the Alice Springs Triathlon Club and the people who started this club. Through the club I met my wife and have become that athlete I am today.
In 2013 we went on a 7,000KM road trip to Ironman Western Australia. We were successful there going 10:08 (Fi) and 9:34 (me). So when we contemplated the idea of another road trip to an Ironman we figured that it worked well before, it could work well again. So after all the training of nearly 9 months and an early morning 2 hour session, we dropped off our fur-child Sydney to some great friends and drove to Devils Marbles. We arrived at Mt Isa the next day and hit up Anytime Fitness where we did a key workout the next morning before driving 500KM to Winton. We drove 1,000KM to Gladstone the next day and hit the coast. We continued to Noosa and went to Anytime Fitness Maryborough along the way. Noosa’s 1 hour run was at dusk into a forest and was absolutely incredible. It was there that we spoke about the desire for others to experience the thrill of running through amazing places without the feeling of wanting to collapse. Because when you can run easy and enjoy the land, it makes ever-lasting memories. We camped near a lake that night and the next morning in Noosa we trained. Pretty much the epi-center of Triathlon in Australia, Noosa holds a triathlon with over 8,500 athletes each year. We shared the pool with the 2012 Ironman World Champion Pete Jacobs. (I would finish only 3min and 44 seconds behind him in the race). We stopped by Cyclezone in Mooloolaba at a store that was started by an Alice Springs athlete Tavis Johannsen who died unexpectedly several years ago, but was one of the early members that helped form the club. We went there to pay homage and let them know that the club is thriving and the weekend ahead would hold our annual Tavis Johannsen Ultra.
In Brisbane we went to a friends wedding who I had met in Europe back in 2007 with Eric. Thanks to Jules for planning it the weekend before my Ironman! We cycled and ran all over Brizzy and continued on to Alstonville where we trained with Uncle Andrew and stayed at his and Sue’s place. This was critical to our training and helped us really bring us into race form. Sue cooked amazing vegetarian meals since her 20 yr old daughter is vegan. We executed our training plan and were taken to Byron Bay, Lenox Head, and Alstonville Pool. The pool was recommended to me by the #2 Ironman Melbourne finisher Tim Van Berkel who trains there along with other Professional Triathletes. (I love this sport!). We continued on to Port MacQuarie giving prayers and thanks for Him letting us arrive safely to our final destination. The weather was awful in the weeks before with storms that pounded the coast all the way to Sydney, leaving 5 dead. It was raining for days prior but the run in the rain on Thursday before Sundays race was so much fun. We also biked the course to see what Mathews Flinders Drive was really like. This is the notorious hill on course. With a 15% grade on the first half followed by a good 13% grade, cyclists can fall over if in the wrong gear. There’s even carpet up one side for those not strong enough to power up the hill. For perspective, in 1 minute of climbing, the hill brought my Heart Rate up from 110 to 155 so I knew it would be a great challenge come race day for the 2 loop course.
We picked up Mum, our local support crew from the airport that night. The rest of the weekend included rest and recovery, carbo loading of close to 5,000 calories on Friday/Saturday, a drive of the course, athlete check-in, bike check-in, carbo-load dinner, a race briefing with Ironman Legend Jason Shortis, and further race preparation.
Since 2012 when I completed my first Ironman, Cairns, the goal has been to Qualify for the Ironman World Championship. Few outside of Triathlon can really comprehend the magnitude of this achievement but it really is one of the hardest things to do in this life. To earn your sport you need to finish typically 1 – 5 in your age group of which could range from 1 to 400. Fi needed 1 or 2 of 36, I needed 1 or 2 of 117. For more perspective, the #1 amateur athlete in this year’s race of 9:09 only took 10th at the World Championships last year in Kona. And, of the 100,000 athletes that compete in 70.3 and Ironman competitions, only 1,500 will qualify. While some age groups may have only 1 athlete competing like Male 75-79, Fi and my a/g have some of the best in the world for our a/g. (Even other a/g’s had Ironman A/G World Champions in them) . Fi was up against 11th in the world and who only came in 3rdon the day. Two of the girls in her a/g beat 2 of the pro women. And my field had 3 men go under 9 hours last year. One of them returned this year as a Pro who took 3rd. So that is the level of competition. Additionally, we are competing against athletes who have been swimming since they were children, and have been in triathlon for 10, 15, 20 years. Or, some who are being trained by the best in the world. Like Nat Heath who won my a/g by 14 minutes and was introduced to running by Robert De Castella who is pretty much one of the most successful marathoners Australia has ever seen aka world champion and 5th at the 84’ Olympics. Lastly, I do not have a triathlete’s body. I am big. Way to big. Although I’m lean at 7% body fat, at 82KGS, I’m nearly 10 or even 15kgs heavier than the guys winning my a/g and the pro’s. It translates to my legs producing a great solid bike but maintain lactic acid and a heaviness that makes my run, now my weakness and far from competitive. Triathletes can come from any background and have any type of physical condition. But, through desire and a consistent approach, success is inevitable.
We woke up at 4AM for the 6:40 race start. I had a medium redbull, banana, 2 pieces of toast, and oatmeal. We put our temporary tattoo numbers on, Vaseline (1st time ever and it was amazing), tri suit, and sweatshirt. We walked the 700 meters from Aston Hill Apartments to transition, turned GPS on, filled up tires, dropped off special needs bag, and walked with Fi and Mum to the swim start. Hit the loo, rested, stretched, and focused. Loo again, wetsuit on, and we filed into Coral #1 for Sub 1 hour time goal. Fi and I had PB’s in the swim till then of 1:02 but knew we were in about 58min (me) 1hour (fi) shape. I ate my blocks and pros took off. The wave start (1st time experience for this) was fantastic. We held hands walking to the start. I waited so we could start exactly at the same time together. I stuffed up the Automultisport on a borrowed Garmin 910XT because I thought we were going straight in but had one additional wait area. I had to go without multisport but started it and we dived in together. The water was cold at 19-20 degrees but we were used to it from the practice swim(s). The water was very murky from the previous day’s rain but the sky was partly cloudy, temperature great, and water calm. I took 50meters to push in and then settled into a rhythm. I started passing people early on in my Xterra wetsuit and my new goggles worked great. At the 1KM mark I was 27 minutes in, and 3 minutes off my plan of 24min. I didn’t freak out but realized there was a current in the river. I made the turn and hit the out of water, stair climb of the wier of 1.6KM again 3minutes off. All of these heads were bobbing waiting for the stairs which was pretty funny. I kept straight while many veered off course. I quickly made the turns and thought that the distance didn’t equate to my expectation. Up the same wier again at 2.5KM in 39minutes or 1min 15s off plan and I made up a ton of distance. I kept going made the final turn and then started attacking. I looked for heads and made moves. This really helped me move quickly in the current and my 55:53 blew away my PB. Goals A-55, B-57, C-60 were good and the training and carbo loading paid off. I had no idea where Fi was but she said later that when I got on my bike she heard my name called as she picked up her bike while in transition. This was a great accomplishment since I never thought I’d be down at 55 having gone 1:16, 1:09, 1:18, 1:02, 1:17 in past iron races. The 6K swims, pull buoy, and strength training, all paid off big time.
Transition was fine. I pounded a red bull, put EFS nutrition in back pockets, had wet suit pulled off, and put my visor on (1st time). I had shoes on the bike no socks due to peeing on the bike.
The bike. My strength. The $3,000 Zipp wheels and powermeter, $8,000 bike, $400 pedals, $400 nutrition system, $500 helmet, etc all certainly help support a strong bike time. But, if you don’t do the training, it doesn’t matter what you ride. 58% of my training was on the bike and course-specific training all led me to the most powerful bike ride I’ve ever had. I held 254NP and 239Avg Watts. Variability Index of 6% was great on the hilly course where one would want below 5% on flats and 7-10% on hills. The 254NP was also 83% of my FTP of 306. The NP equates to about 3.05 watts/kg. This is far below the 3.5-4.0 held by top a/g and Pro’s. So even though cycling is my strength, I have considerable improvement to go. Pro’s typically hold 80%. My exceeding that means that I may have gone too hard or my FTP is higher. (I believe the latter because I tested in the middle of hard training). HR was 132 which is exactly where I would have planned because that is what I trained at. The ride was fun. I love going fast and I love passing people. I especially love people who are drafting which is cheating in our sport. There was a pack of 17 all well within the 12 meters that is required between athletes. I went past them counting them off. That was a highlight on the bike. However, on the way back in, the bumpy and poorly paved road loosened my right arm rest. I didn’t freak out but didn’t have tools to fix it and if I was going to make it through, had to get fixed. I had to bike the 45K back with the arm rest down to the side. Then 2KM in my chain came off due to poor shifting. I had to stop and luckily undid the 2 kinks quickly. Shimano fixed my arm rests in a minute but I saw 10-20 ppl retake me which really pissed me off. At the special needs I did a poor job with the bag so had to stop and put the bottle of coke and redbull on my bike. Also, my gels were slimmy. So, never again am I doing that! At the 90K I was on 5hour pace which was my C goal and power was going strong but all these stops at the 90K lost that for me. I also should have taken bottles early in aid station and a drop of one bottle cost me time as the volunteer ran me down to give me a bottle. On the way back in I passed several female pros and the one pro said “are you from Alice”, she turned out to be Michelle Gailey, a strong pro who would take 3rd on the day. We chatted for a few seconds and then I got back to work. Mathews Flinders was fun and the crowd support was huge all day long. I thought I heard Fi call out to me at one point on the ride but didn’t see her again as it was too difficult to look at the 1,800 people coming towards me and also maintain focus on my race. I came into T2 in 5:04:33. This was off my goals of 4:45, 4:55, 5:00 and I blame it on my mess-ups which I will not let happen again. This cost me 3rd place in my age group and a Kona Qualifier.
In T2, visor hat on, number belt, and fuel belt with Endurox and Aro. (1st time running with fuel belt but wanted it between aid stations). I had 4 salt tablets on bike and had 4 on the run but it was not enough at all. Needed more.
I didn’t know it then but I was 1st off the bike which is huge. My bike was the 22nd fastest on the day of 1,325!. Swim was 120th of 1,365 and run was 87th of 1,196 so my strength is now bike, run, and swim. On the run, I felt relatively consistent all day. I cramped on the 3rd loop and with only 2KM to go which was very frustrating as it led me to a 30 second walk. I also hit the loo #2 at 2:12:35 into the run because of absorption and dehydration. This cost me another 1min30s. I saw Fiona multiple times which was great and focused on my own race. There was one hill which I walked up for 30s and I walked about 30s at each aid station. I did feel like I worked the entire time. My HR was 133 which was also where I had expected.
At 9:42:13 I crossed the line. I was close to qualifying by only 4min 15sec that I could have made up if not for my mistakes but that is Ironman. It is addicting. I had some great successes like the swim, the bike power effort, staying positive on the run, and fueling correctly (except for the salt). But, the emotion wasn’t there like it was in my first ever marathon in Boston or my first ever Ironman, or breaking 10 hours in Busselton for the first time. No, that emotion will come WHEN I Qualify, WHEN I Break 9 hours, and WHEN I come first in my age group. It was emotional and will always be anytime Fiona crosses the line and I am there to bring her in. (hopefully she never has to wait for me!). Few married couples live our experience and I love that we are unique. I waited in the falling rain for Fiona and she ran across the line into my open arms. We saw mum, went for Mexican food, and then waited at the finish line for the last 3 hours cheering in our fellow athletes including the 64 year old female, 30-time IMA finisher now 64yrs, and the last finishers at 15minutes till midnight.
The next day, Fi’s 2 a/g Kona spots went to 1&2 Mine went to 2&3 leaving me at 5th spot just 4 minutes out. This was my first real shot at Kona and leaves me with a focus, determination, and desire of qualifying for Kona and Ironman Western Australia on December 6th, 2015 that will totally encompass us for the second half of this year. Fiona requires 9:40 and I require sub 9 hours.
This season was absolutely solid. Fiona and I have already discussed it extensively and have analyzed all the various components. We know what we need to do and where our focus needs to be heading into the next season. I love writing and reliving my experience through these recaps and stories. I hope it is always a source of inspiration and that step to kick-start your own journey whatever that may be.
Ironman is tough. Getting to the line a year in advance is hard. But then just getting through the day can be even harder. Only 93% finished on the day. But Triathlon is amazing and the lessons it teaches you and then rewards you with are lessons that are carried forward into all aspects of life. So until the end of the next race, be healthy, have fun, and live everyday like it is your last!
By Kevin Patrick Coyle