So there we were, toasting to family, friendship, and memories that will last a lifetime. It was 9PM the night after the 2017 IRONMAN New Zealand and five athletes representing Alice Springs, NT, Australia looked back upon each of their individual accomplishments. Our major supporter in Carrie, wife of first time Ironman finisher Mark Russell who signed up for IMNZ as a 50th Birthday punishment. There was Duncan Rogers, our other first-timer who only became a triathlete several years ago but had a desire to compete alongside myself and my wife Fiona while we remained in Oz. We also celebrated with Barney Otene-Meihana who is Maori and whose mother lives right on the run course. Having lived and worked in Alice, Barney was also a major supporter to our group offering accommodation to the first-time international traveler, Duncan amongst other suggestions such as this meeting spot where just one day earlier we ran by 6 times during the marathon run after a 3.8km swim and 180km bike ride.
We all have stories to tell and this is mine. I hope you enjoy.
The 18 week season started 2 weeks after the 2016 Ironman World Championship. The build was big and then interrupted with a two week trip back to the USA for Thanksgiving. The next 12 weeks were really where the season developed with totals of: 265.5 hours (22/week), 20% Swim, 55% bike, 26% Run. Very little quality intervals in the bike or run were completed focusing on getting back base fitness. I focused more on long rides including 4 rides of nearly 200km. The run volume focus increased to 60km/week, mostly done on technical Outback Trails in the midday 40C/100F + heat. I failed to stick to my plan initially put in place believing that my base fitness needed more work. But the final 3 weeks of the season were nailed using Joe Friel’s training plan which has been at my core for more than 3 years. Days leading up to the event I did tweak a ligament inside my ankle which hurt for days leading into the event and the night of. Fortunately, I remained positive and did not feel this pain on race day.
We used the carbo-loading protocol that Fiona introduced me to, from her old coach and current season run coach, Sean Foster of Fluid Movements and the Melbourne Triathlon Club. For 2 days I targeted 12g of carbs/kg. I weighed in at rego at 87kg with shoes and clothes on. I had boxes of LCMs, Snakes, white bread, bagels, fruit juice, powerade, 5 liters of Sprite, pasta, rice, IM Carbo load dinner, and pre-race NZ Salmon with Rice: no fruit, no vegetables. Consuming nearly 5,000 calories per day for 2 days made me feel bloated and fat because 1g of carbs = 2g of water retention; it showed on race day. We went to bed at 8:30pm and I slept just fine, as usual thanks in part to Kava from Chelsea and the NZ Sauvignon Blanc.
4AM Wake up. Race Morning. “Today I will cross the line a 10X ironman finisher.” Note the proper punctuation. I have done Challenge USA and Challenge Wanaka which are iron-distance races but not Ironmans. And, an Ironman is Only an Ironman Branded event covering a 3.8km swim, 180km ride, and 42.2km run. A half-Ironman is known as 70.3 or one half of 140.6 miles and it’s in miles because triathlon was invented in the USA and it was John Collins and a group of folks who invented the Iron Man which later became trademarked as Ironman for the grueling event with its origins on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. To me, this is how you show respect to the sport.
I regress. So I had a bagel with butter, 1 piece of toast with Jam, banana, and a medium Red Bull. KPC NOTE: Switch Medium Redbull to Regular RedBull. Removing most caffeine for the 3 weeks leading into the race, my head was spinning for the 3 hours leading up to Canon-Time. Chip, Scody Australian Tri-Suit, music on, and we headed out at 5AM. At transition: Tires pumped to 120PSI, 4 packages of Clif Shot Bloks on the bike, 2 bottles of Water, Garmin 500 turned on, Shoes in pedals, Rubber band in place. Directly across from me were the Pro’s including Cameron Brown, an IMNZ 12X Champion. Fiona was directly across my other side. We walked the 400meters and 29 steps down to Lake Taupo, hit the loo, and met up with our mates. At 6:15AM in the dark of morning we watched the Maori swim to shore and provide a very special welcome. My takeaway was that it was a call to battle and battle we would. The howling wind that woke me up early in the morning made the lake sound like an ocean and the waves resembled an Ocean Bay. Nearly 127 athletes of the 1200 starters would be pulled from the water which caused the 70.3 to be delayed due to no available support, pro’s dropping out during the swim, 5X IMNZ Champion Meredith Kessler going 7 min slower than typical, and Cameron Brown saying that this was the hardest ever IMNZ swim (in 20 Starts of the race!). The Did Not Finish (DNF) rate was as high as 16% which is quite high for IM.
SWIM: 1:05:17, 20th A/G, 90th Male, 104 Overall
I had a full pack of shot bloks 20min before the start and placed myself on the front line, feeling good after the giant canon blasted the morning dusk. I took off, being thrashed around in conditions that were the worst I’ve had in my 9 ironmans leading up to this event. I swallowed a ton of water due to the waves, caught drafts from time to time and then would completely lose them. The 50meter turn around reminded me of IM Western Australia 2015 taking me at least 1min20s to go 50meters into the giant swells. My goal of 24:45 for the first 1,775 meters was a fail with 27:30. I stayed positive working as hard as I could counting off the numbered buoys. But looking at my Garmin 920XT at 43, 48, 54, I knew my 55min goal was long gone. I left the water in 1:05:17 as my 6th fastest IM Swim. I can’t confirm distance as my Garmin must have lost satellite coverage.
T1 – 5:34
The entire 400meter run to Transition on the knoll was packed with spectators. I put my caps and goggles down my wetsuit per Barney’s good suggestion but the nose guard popped out and they fell right through. I could have turned back but I thought they were only $30 and kept on running. Some of the 2,200 volunteers or 10% of the Taupo region handed me my bag and I ran in. They stripped my wetsuit and helped me pull up my sleeved tri suit and put my arm sleeves on and extra nutrition including salt tablets in my back pouch. KPC NOTE: Keep sleeved tri suit up. Not only was it difficult even with 2 volunteers to pull the suit up, but then the suit felt tight for much of the ride. Look for a new wetsuit that gives more arm mobility. Move from Xterra Pro to Roka Elite/Pro/Maverick. But $900? Really??? After putting a full package of bloks in my mouth, I ran to my bike, and forgot to look back to see if Fi’s bike was there but I felt I had beaten her once again on the swim. And although I couldn’t pull a PB, a sub 1 hour swim, or somehow even better my Kona swim of 1:03:16 (WTF?), much thanks goes out to our swim coach Robbo. I made an error leaving T1 not going far enough ahead past the dismount and nearly crashed into a guy next to me. Thankfully I didn’t pull a Macca when he ran into Marino back in Kona 2012.
BIKE 5:21:55 13th A/G, 63rd Male, 69th Overall
The crowds were great and I made a consistent approach up the first hill and its 7% grade. I past a few, got past by one or two and once on Broadlands past the Geo-Thermal steam-vents that Fiona walked through days before, let it rip. Past the race track the descent came and the massive tailwind and my giant 55/11 chainring had me chip away at the field. My speed peaked at 46MPH/74KPH and by the turnaround at Reporoa my Garmin Pacer showed me 9:45 below my 5hour goal, cruising on just over 4hr50min pace. My disc wheel certainly gossled me around and my ears were ringing from the sound of the disc wheel at the high continuous speed, but I started losing time quickly once I headed back to town. At one point I was climbing at 14kph into the stiff headwind and by the time the 90km came around I was 8:40 off my goal… in the Opposite direction. According to Strava, I completed 90km in 2:34:27. While my effort remained consistent for close to 2hours 30minutes, I lost nearly 17 minutes by the half way mark. I saw Sean Foster on the climb and enjoyed 3 Clif Bars from aid stations en route to the 2nd turn around. Once again the speed was high and I continued to pass some people including our friend Pete Coombe whose wife Jo qualified for Kona for the 3rd time and heard friend Megan Weber call out to me who also qualified in the Military Division. I also saw Jackson Dovey of Team Every Man Jack from the USA who I expected to win the A/G as he and I were the only ones to go to Kona in this A/G last year. I past 5 pro females who started 14 minutes before us and each time called them out by name, giving encouraging words. With 45km to go the head wind became even worse and my power was falling to the 230’s. I tried to get back on track holding 230’s but did not have the muscular endurance to face the wind and lost an additional 12 minutes and 1 second on lap 2. Salt every 20minutes, 3 bloks or a bar every 20minutes, and 3 bottles of coke gave me great amounts of hydration and nutrition. I had peed twice while swimming and three times on the bike. I just kept thinking of all the sprite I drank. KPC NOTE: Go down to 10g/kg and consume 2liters of sprite/day vs 2.25liters. Lower calories on Day 2 PM and stick with Salmon and Rice. By the half I knew my sub 5hr goal was not going to happen and by the 3hour mark I knew I didn’t have the muscular endurance to keep the power high. I started thinking about what I need to do in the next season (IM Cairns, 14 weeks away: FTP Intervals, Strength training, shorter long rides, more hills). Then I thought “Forget that shit. You have the coming weeks to think about this. Just be thankful and enjoy this. This is the hardest Ironman you’ve ever done. This is so hard. Lets take in this challenge and do our best because that will be why this race will be a success; facing your toughest race yet and not stopping.” What else but smile coming into T2?
T2 – 2:35
Into the tent, back sore as was most of the ride. KPC NOTE: Get back and neck taped by Physio 2 days leading into Cairns. Work core and upper body strength more using TVB’s strength coach program. Use magnets from Pharmacy and trigger point. Pre-race massage of upper body as well. Sleeves off, visor on, socks, and newer Brooks Cadence on.
RUN 42.2KM 3:42:12 14th A/G, 54th Male 63rd Overall, 42nd Amateur Overall
I started off pretty well in this my 30th marathon in 8 years heading out for the first 10 miles in: 7:44, 7:55, 8:05, 8:08, 7:50, 8:06, 7:51, 8:22, 8:10, 8:02. I reached the half in 1:47:06 and covered the second half in 1:55:06. My goals were: Do not stop running and PB with sub 3:26. I ran well and consistent on the 3 lap course passing Fiona in the opposite direction at the same exact spot on lap 1 and 2. I also saw Duncan and Mark again on the run. But near the 30km/18mile mark, I felt the digestive system acting up. I knew I had to take a pit stop. I had sought out our friends advice, Megan – a dietician, but knew that I needed to do things differently after having to go 4 times in Kona. I avoided all fruit and veg for the final two days which certainly helped and had 3 Clif Bars w/ Fat and Protein during the race. KPC NOTE: Have a few more bars in the first 3 hours of the bike ride and 1 full banana in the final two hours of the ride. This may be the key and bring more blood to the intestines avoiding the need to go #2. The supporters were amazing and so many were yelling “Aussie Aussie Aussie!!!”, Sometimes I would call out “Oi Oi Oi!”. But I will remember this as I am retiring the Green and Gold for the Red White and Blue. Mentally, I was much stronger than I’ve been in the past thanks to the brutal long runs in the desert summer heat and moving mostly from the treadmill to the great outdoors. I also continued to tell myself over and over “I am going to run, I am not going to stop.” The only other times I stopped or walked was lap 3 when I decided to drink a full can of Red Bull and when I had to start the pee flow… twice. (That’s 2 pees while swimming, 3 pees while cycling, and 3 pees while running; I was hydrated. Surprisingly at one point I started to feel a slight cramp coming but immediately swallowed a salt tablet without water). My head was no longer spinning from all the caffeine consumed in bloks and coke from the bike and my caffeine intake was lower on the run with 1 caffeine gel (2 non) and coke every other aid station. Just past our hotel with 2km to go, I started picking up the effort a bit. I had the finishers chute to myself and jumped TVB style at the finish.
Although I didn’t reach any of my goals and knew Kona was well out the window, I had fun knowing that while my intensity was the lowest it’s been on the bike and run in 3 years, I pushed through the hardest event yet (Even harder than Kona). Previous NP Power: 233, 230, 254, 256, 258, 250, 240 (NZ). Heart Rate Bike: 135, 126 (Challenge Atlantic City, bonk and massive headwind), 131, 135, 133, 132, 123 (NZ). On the run prior HR’s: 136, 133, 129, 115 (NZ – HR Monitor was stuffed for part of the run). While I did increase in the field over the bike and run from 104th to 63rd, I only lost 1 spot in my A/G on the run. This runs contrary to the first 10km of the Kona run where nearly 400 people absolutely were flying past me. With a time of 10:17:33, I improved over my Kona time by only 2 ½ minutes. But improved by more than 20 minutes on the run over Kona thanks to the cooler temperatures and developing mental strength. This is my 7th fastest ironman of the 10 completed.
After massage Fiona grabbed me. I missed her at the finish as she finished in 10:43 taking 2nd in her A/G, 5th overall amateur female, and first off the bike. She lost to a full time Ironman athlete training as a professional out of Singapore by only 5 minutes. And for this massive effort, she didn’t even get a Kona spot. That is how difficult it is to qualify! She did beat me on the run by 40 seconds thanks to Sean for the first time since Challenge AC during our honeymoon. After 4 cokes and tomato soup I threw it all up and was admitted to medical for the first time ever. Glucose, Pulse, HR, Blood Pressure, etc. I was fine, just no more Coke!!!
I welcomed Duncan and Mark at the finish line putting the medal around their necks and embracing them with love and support. We met up for well deserved burgers and beer and then headed to the finish line to support some of the 15 and 16 hour finishers.
At 8AM we spent $300 on finishers jackets, had brekky, and then went to the free hot-springs in the nature park along the Waitomo River. While hanging out in the 50C-60C natural hot springs, I looked over and asked Fi, “Is that Mike Rielly?” In fact, it was Mike Rielly, the voice of Ironman who called the 1,000+ athletes over the line yesterday in his 160th Ironman since 1989’s IRONWAR. Then on top of the waterfall, Professional triathlete and fellow territorian, Michelle Gaiely appeared. It was quite amusing to know that we represented 3 Ironman athletes from the NT, hanging out in some hot springs, the day after the race. On the way out, we had the opportunity to talk to Mike and I was able to clarify the confusion my USA Country of Representation and Australian Tri-Suit had given when I crossed the line. It’s experiences like this which make this sport so incredible. We celebrated at the Awards function where my motivation typically grows; seeing the Pro’s and top age groupers and me thinking, I want that. It was also amazing to sit next to Ken Glah at the dinner. Ken is an absolute legend having completed IMNZ 20 times and winning it several times, having roots with Allen, Scott, Molina, and Tinley, as well as qualifying for his 34th Ironman World Championship. He spends 200 days away from home traveling to Ironmans world-wide with his travel company; what a life!
Not much else to say other than stay tuned… My 3rd IRONMAN CAIRNS, 14 Weeks to go. Fiona will be supporting me for the first time and Duncan will be joining me for his second Ironman 3 months after his first!