"I love that saying that "pain is temporary but failure is forever” & now I could get over the sore feet and legs, knowing I’d smashed my PB.."
BY PAUL SHELBOURNE
Waking up race morning at 4am was a stretch. The last bus transfer to the 70.3 start at Palm Cove left at 4.30am even though I’d drawn the last wave start at7.10am! I figured that gave me a good couple of hours to eat as much breakfast as I could stomach and still have time to prepare my bike. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep as we had some p!ssheads above us partying until about 9.30 before they went out, then they came crashing home again about 2am. Part of me didn’t really care. I’d trained 10 months to get to this point so I’d race on no sleep if I had to :)
I was the only one eating on the bus. The bloke next to me must have thought I was nuts. I woofed a vegemite sandwich, a honey sandwich, yoghurt and oats plus an apple while the dark Cairns countryside whizzed past. I find it fascinating how different personalities prepare. Some on the bus (the extroverts) were chatting and joking around while others (the introverts) kept to themselves and went into their own headspace.
T1 was the floodlit hustle and bustle triathletes recognise but under a warm light rain. I attached my bike shoes to my bike and pumped up my tires and realised transition would be completely waterlogged by the time I got to my bike after the swim. Emma Just was directly opposite me pumping up her tires too! It was calming to know there was such a Warringah presence so far from home. I put my street gear bag into the transfer bin and, like scores of others, took shelter from the rain at the Pullman Sea Temple resort hotel. That was surreal! The hotel cleaners were trying to go about their pre-dawn rituals picking their way through wetsuit clad bodies sitting about, with only the hiss of falling rain in the dark as a soundtrack. It still wasn’t 6am.
The crowd at Palm Cove beach was packed around the fenced start pen. By the time I’d walked up there the first waves had gone off. Going last sucks - it’s just more time to get nervous. The conditions were poor but a far cry from the mountainous seas I’d seen the day before. I took a brief swim to warm up and to test the water. It was warm but not enough to overheat. The beach was steep and the swell went quite a way out. This wasn’t going to be like the Manly B&B!!
Finally the mens 40-44 group were called. The announcer said ours was the biggest wave in the field, the maroon caps. I focused out to sea, goggles on ready to go. Before I was really ready the start beep went and we were off!
Not being the best swimmer I wanted to draft as many of the front swimmers as I could for as long as I could. The waves were bigger than I expected, but unlike beaches in Sydney the swell didn’t drop off once we were past the breakers! I figured drafting in this stuff must be twice as beneficial as on a calm day. I hung on to as many feet as I could and before long we rounded the first buoy. The big waves forced me to time my sighting at the top of each wave; otherwise you looked up and saw nothing but more waves! After rounding the last can heading for the beach my watch beeped to let me know we’d past the 30 minute mark. I really wanted to go under 35 minutes and figured I was still 200 or 300m off the beach, so I hit the gas. We were already passing the back markers of two of the waves before us. By the time I reached the sand and hit the button on my watch I didn’t think I’d done it in time. Running up to the boardwalk to transition I took my watch out of my cap and took a peek at the time - 33:50 - a PB. I was stoked!
T1 sure enough was a waterlogged mud bath! I’d never done an Ironman transition with the ‘gear bags’ so wanted to be in and out as soon as possible. It was great that there were volunteers happy to take my stuff once I finished changing. I took off out of the change tent, grabbed my bike and got out on the ride.
I figured if I was onto the bike by 35:00 I was at least on schedule for a PB. My coach had told me to not worry about the conditions and to ‘follow the process’. I had told myself if the conditions meant a fast time wouldn’t happen there wasn’t much point worrying about it. Everyone had to race in the same rain and wind so it was important to focus on the ‘controllable’ things. By the time I had clipped in and made my way up the road past the swim start my watch had only just ticked over 35 minutes. Tick! This gave me a huge confidence boost knowing my worst leg was out of the way and ahead of time.
The ride north was quite sheltered from any wind thanks to the trees lining the beach. While the rain was falling this didn’t slow me down as much as I’d thought. I knew i need to average about 36km/h to be on track for a PB but didn’t know how the road or conditions would affect this. Heck I didn’t even know if I could maintain that speed for 90kms! I figured I’d get about 10km under my belt and check how I was going. As I got closer to the ‘hilly’ section towards Rex’s Lookout I checked my watch and was averaging over 37km/h. This was great! I remembered my coach told me the bike was all about setting up the run - my strongest leg - and I didn’t want to peak early and blow up later. The plan was 36km/h so I backed it off, just tried to maintain a good pace, and focused on a good pedal stroke.
During the ‘climb’ up to Rex’s Lookout I dropped my chain changing to the small chain ring. Bugger! I had to stop and manually hook it back on. In hindsight didn’t phase me. I passed the Ironman turnaround, the penalty box (no thank you!) and eventually reached the turnaround at Thala Beach. I was feeling good knowing it was all one way back to town for the run; but now I wanted to see whether it would be headwinds all the way home. I was still on PB time and had plenty of gas left in the tank.
The ride back went smoothly. I was on time, riding within myself and eating on time (despite being one gel short - I dropped one earlier!). I felt great riding past the bike start at Palm Cove following the sign pointing me to the finish. The first Ironman age groupers were starting their long day on the bike. The course detour to Yorkey’s Knob meant more wind as it was open and unprotected, as was the ride past the airport. My average speed was parked on 36.8km/h and hadn’t moved so I could relax knowing I was ahead of schedule still, and nothing would stop me getting into Cairns city on PB time. My confidence was sky high now. I knew I only needed to run a 90 minute half marathon to get a PB.
As I rode down Cairns Esplanade I looked for my family at our designated point but couldn’t see them. I figured I was early so they may not be there yet! I dismounted and ran into T2, and could feel my socks full of water and mud as I ran into the change tent. I decided to do something I’ve never done - ditch my socks for the run.
I charged out of T2 knowing if I averaged 4:15 pace then today would be a PB. I was feeling energetic. I had read Jared Medhurst’s race report from IM Australia and had his words ringing in my ears, so I would take it easy running out of T2 and stick to my goal pace. The target was at or just under 4:10 per km for the first 10 km then under 4:05 for the last 11k. The tendency is to go too hard out of T2 then have nothing in the tank for the second half of the run. My coach had drummed it into me that the race really starts at the 10km mark of the run. After everything going to plan so far I was determined to reach that point having not spent my tickets and to finish off this long long season by giving my absolute best.
My first 3ks were 4:05, 4:06 and 4:08 so I decided to back it off to 4:10. I realised how great it was to have had a plan and to be able to ease into the first half of the run knowing time was on my side. I could feel my feel stinging where my feet rubbed without the socks but I could tell it wasn’t going to stop me.
It struck me how much support the community was giving to all the athletes on the course. The race number had your first name on it and complete strangers would shout encouragement to you by your first name. Even Bondi supporters were encouraging Warringah runners. I realised this was why I did triathlon. Despite the still falling rain people were all around the course ringing cowbells, waving signs and applauding. I passed my family on the Esplanade and I waved to my little son with a big smile. I was having a ball! I patted Emma on the back as I saw her on the course plus three more Warringah legends. We were well represented on the course.
I reached the 8km mark and realised I was nearing halfway. The winding course was deceptive. I felt like I was a long way from the finish line but in 2km time I’d be halfway and would pick up the pace. Just before the 11km mark I collected my second lap wristband and rounded the first turnaround by the harbour. The crowd was huge! As planned I picked up the pace heading out of town running 4:06, 4:05, 4:03. As I got closer to the turnaround near Airport Drive I checked my watch. I was at the furthest point from the finish line yet my watch said I had only about 3km to go, with 4 hours 25 on the clock. This didn’t make sense. I thought this far away would be about 7km from the finish. There would be no way I’d get back to town by 4 hours 40! I couldn’t work it out!
I rounded the last turnaround and headed back to town, now at pace. I realised the winding course meant the run into town was probably only 3km long, so covering 3km in 15 minutes was easily within my reach. As I hit the top of the Esplanade a wave of euphoria came over me. I knew nothing would stop me getting a PB now. I could enjoy the run into town and not worry. My family weren’t were I saw them last time but I figured they were near the finish. The run toward the finish chute was a blur. My last 5kms were 4:01, 4:01, 4:00, 3:53, 4:01 and 3:53. I high-fived the volunteer standing at the entrance to the finish chute and charged up toward the line knowing I’d smashed my previous PB I’d set nearly four years ago at Port.
I crossed the line with my hands in the air as I heard the announcer say my name. I didn’t hear anything else he said! I felt a towel go around my shoulders and a medal around my neck. A volunteer looked me in the eyes to see how I felt but all she saw was my beaming smile. Tears welled up in my eyes as I realised what I’d achieved. As I walked off to the recovery area it suddenly got very quiet. The crowd was gone, as was the noise. I laughed and welled up with tears again. I was so emotional I checked my watch and realised I’d forgotten to stop the clock!!
4 hours 34 minutes 49 seconds. A full 12 minutes faster than my previous best at Port in 2011!
I hobbled into the massage tent with a cup of coke and realised my feet were paying the price for running without socks. That last minute decision was one I’d pay for for several days. I didn’t care. I love that saying that "pain is temporary but failure is forever” and now I could get over the sore feet and legs knowing I’d smashed my PB, more than even I’d thought possible. My dream was to hit 4:40.
Easily the best thing that went through my mind at that time was relief, knowing that so many people had supported me and that the result, I hope, repaid their passion and support: My coach Bruce Thomas, everyone at Altitude Training Australia, my in-laws and most important my long suffering wife Kate; who tolerated my alarm going off early for the morning rides and B&B swims, the gym sessions at night and my general selfishness putting in the hours of training while she looked after me and our little boy (all while working and being pregnant).