"About 2 kms from home I realised that if I applied the afterburners, there was a slim chance I could give myself a birthday surprise PB"
BY SCOTT FREEMAN
Not so much a race report but a report on the journey to get there.
This time 12 months ago I was broken, exhausted and sitting on a bench inside a toilet block somewhere between Port Macquarie and Lake Cathrie seeking refuge from the heat.
Having completed approximately 130 kms of the bike leg for Port Macquarie Ironman 2013, I was questioning my decision to enter a race described to me as one with “a rich history, encapsulating the heart and soul of Ironman racing in Australia”. At the time, I remember thinking I was barely 2 thirds of the way through the bike leg with a marathon to go.
No-one had warned me of the river current that on the change of tide, held me virtually stationary for what seemed like 20 minutes with the swim finish in sight, the hill coming back into Port Macquarie on the cycle leg with a well worn carpet path beside it for those forced to concede defeat or the short steep hill on the run leg leading out of Port Macquarie that humiliates you not once, not twice, but 4 times!!!
Needless to say I finished the race in 2013 with my tail between my legs and a time of 12:40 vowing never to return!!!
You can imagine my trepidation approximately 6 months later, when, after a night on the cans with friends returning from Busso IM 2013 celebrating multiple PB’s, I awoke, a little dusty, to find my credit card lying next to my laptop on the couch. As I scrolled through the emails wondering what new cleaning product I had purchased, to my horror I discovered a communication from Ironman Central
“Congratulations – you have entered Port Macquarie Ironman 2014!!”
That was not the worst of it, as it turned out I would be racing Ironman on my birthday!!! It was clear at this point there were demons to be exorcised.
During the months of January and February I was able to dismiss the misadventure that had befallen me however come March 2014 the reality of the birthday from hell loomed large. I was desperate!!
I have been a member of Warringah for about 4 years but up until this point I had been very much an outsider on the fringe of club activity. I’d attend Husky and Club Champs every year but rarely engaged in club training – I simply wasn’t good enough – or so I thought. I’d linked to the club’s closed Facebook site months earlier and was aware of Smithy’s Saturday morning club rides and wondered whether this could be my salvation?
I remember my first club ride well, rising at the crack of dawn feeling like the new kid on the block. Never having ridden in a pack before, I found the experience a little intimidating but after a conversation with Billy I began to grow in confidence and enjoyed the friendly banter while my eyes fixed on the wheel in front.
As we cycled along Bayview on the way to Church Point I enjoyed the view and cursed myself for having waiting so long to join a club ride – that is until we hit the hill just beyond Church Point leading up to the top gate of Akuna Bay. I confess, I don’t remember much after this point other than watching the blinking of red lights disappear off in the distance. I had lasted a total of 38 minutes into a 4 +hr club ride.
With nothing better to do on a Sat morning I committed to ascending solo up McCarrs creek road and truncating my ride by returning to Manly via French’s Forrest Rd. This revised route allowed me the luxury of putting all of my effort into the ascent safe in the knowledge that once at the top it was all downhill back to Manly.
Not once during the ascent did I see the blinking of red lights from the WTC pack and I can only describe my humiliation as complete as I reached the top of the hill, heart pounding, breathing heavily, strain etched on my face, only to find the pack waiting there for the newbie– better that they had continued on without me.
As soon as I arrived the pack took off and it appeared that my humiliation was destined to continue for another 4+ hrs. I don’t know whether my despair and humiliation was visible to others but I am ever grateful that one of the club members Killer (Claire) Keeling took pity on me and offered to hang back from the pack and cycle with me for the rest of the morning – she then proceeded to tell me what it meant to get “Chicked”!
Having never previously ventured further than West Head, the 4 hr club ride (5hrs for us) was a ride of discovery for me as we took in the sites of Bobbin Head. Upon returning home exhausted I was introduced to what I believe is the most important part of the Ironman training regime – the Nanna Nap! Having slept most of the afternoon I awoke with a sense of accomplishment and made a mental note to set an alarm on the next occasion an opportunity for a nanna nap presented itself.
I continued to attend the club rides over the following weeks and will forever owe a debt of gratitude to “Killer Keeling”, who displayed true WTC spirit by initially providing me with a draft (minimal thought it is) to assist me to stay with the pack and then hanging back on each occasion I was inevitably dropped to provide some witty banter and take my mind off some serious saddle issues that had begun to emerge.
As my fitness improved I was eventually able to keep up with the pack and later still, engage in conversation during the ride. This afforded me the opportunity to pan for the small nuggets of golden advice from Smithy as I became acquainted with rides I had only read about on club blogs ie 4 Gorges, PIS etc. (On some occasions it was possible to get 3 or 4 nuggets while on others – none – just a lot of panning)
It was not long after successfully managing to stay with the pack during a club ride that Killer Keeling began to show her true colours.
KK: “You do realize there is a marathon after the ride for Ironman don’t you, what are you doing for run training?”.
Me: “Nothing – it takes a whole week for my legs to recover from Smithy’s Club Rides.”
KK: “Toughen up Buttercup. Come join me for a run home from the CBD to Manly”
Me: “You frigg’n run from the CBD to Manly??? - You are certifiably INSANE!!!”
It had been revealed - my riding buddy over the last couple of weeks was one of those freaks who runs from the CBD to Manly and there was an open invitation to join the FREAK CLUB!! Be warned the initiation into this club is brutal – there is the climb from the Harbour Bridge up to Military Road and then the climb from the Spit Bridge up to Sydney Rd. (There are also a number of bus shelters along the way in which to seek respite – as well as the 144 and 143 bus).
For the next couple of weeks as I changed into my running gear after work – I wore the tag of OFFICE FREAK as a badge of pride. Although my exhaustion levels had prevented me from being able to implement any “brick” training I felt I was ready for Port.
The atmosphere before an Ironman race is unique. When Ironman comes to town, you know about it! The city streets are lined with Ironman branding, there is a big marquee, the Expo, barricading and finish line along with over a thousand fit looking athletes in town. This all adds to the nervous energy surrounding the event.
Spirits were high at the pasta party and race briefing as some of the legends of IM Port Macquarie were recognized including our own Rob Howitt. Little were we aware that the news we had all feared was about to break – forecast for the bike leg was 30-40 knots of wind. (Training was over – all that was left was to pray)
As much as surviving a mass swim start of 1500 people is part of Ironman folk law, it’s effectively akin to running the City to Surf without starting in waves. Under the self-seeded regime, introduced at Port for the first time this year, 5 swimmers are released into the water every 5 seconds. For the faster swimmers this means a clear run, for the slower swimmers such as me, it means less time below the waterline as the likelihood of being swum over are greatly reduced. Ultimately – everyone is a winner!!
This year the swim route was altered to include a weir crossing. I had not encountered this before in a triathlon event, but essentially about 1/3 of the way during the swim athletes were required to exit the water and climb stairs up and over a structure that had been erected to enable the athletes to cross the weir – the same occurred for the return journey. For the less strong athletes the opportunity to feel terra firma under foot twice during the swim leg was an unexpected and welcome opportunity – I am not sure the stronger swimmers would agree.
Thankfully this year, the current that had held me stationary last year did not present itself, allowing me to complete the swim with a PB emerging from the water 186th out of 285 competitors in my division.
After a quick transition I was on the bike winding my way across some fairly bumpy road out of Port. Although bike leg at Port is considered to be tougher than other IM bike legs in Australia due to its undulating nature, there are also long sections of relatively flat road for those wanting time on the bars.
As I approached the first hill those controversial words recently uttered in the spirit of victory at the Club Championships echoed in my head
“There are two types of triathletes – those that live on the Northern Beaches and those that wished they lived on the Northern Beaches”
With that mantra in mind I thought - I’ve been eating mountains for breakfast every Saturday morning with Smithy, Killer Keeling and the rest of WTC triathletes for the last two months – bring it on!!
On the return journey approximately 8 kms from town athletes face an imposing hill (longer and steeper than the one on route to West Head) with a red carpet running up the hill for those athletes who falter before reaching the top.
Large crowds gather at this hill urging athletes to dig deep to overcome this Goliath. 3/4 up this hill, legs straining, eyes fixed on the road immediately ahead, cranks barely turning, I heard those magic words “GO WARRINGAH!!!”. True to form – there was Smithy & Co urging our athletes to conquer the hill. With those words power surged back into my legs, my bike became lighter and Goliath had fallen.
By the end of the first lap I had improve 40 places on my division ranking.
The second lap proved tougher as the winds picked up and the ability to remain on the bars was crucial. As I battled into the wind I repeated the mantra “size of a mouse – heart of a lion” in my head. This seemed to work however as I continued to pass my fellow competitors the seeds of doubt began to appear – could I hold on or was I destined to blow up and again seek refuge in the toilet block at Lake Cathrie?
In 4 years of racing I have never been pinged for drafting – this was about to change. Approximately 1 km from Lake Cathrie a TO pulled alongside and held out a yellow card. True it was that I was within the 12 meter draft zone (8-9 meters) however in circumstances where there was a long line of bikes, I had consciously dropped back a substantial distance after being over taken to avoid any draft advantage. To drop back further would have risked being overtaken by the cyclist behind, not through their own effort, but simply because of my need to slow down to avoid the draft zone. I thought the penalty was a little harsh – them’s the breaks.
With that in mind I powered, past the toilet block, the source of so much contemplation the previous year safe in the knowledge a 4 minute enforced rest at the penalty box was only 15 kms away. My time in the penalty box proved invaluable with an opportunity to take a much needed breather, refuel and take stock of how my day was unfolding before tackling the last 40 kms. Goliath had been conquered once and although my legs were wearier and wobblier for our next contest, the mental battle had already been won the previous lap and it was not long before Goliath fell for the second time that day. From there it is only a short ride back to transition. I entered transition in 126th place having made up 60 places on the bike leg. Only a marathon to go!!
The Run (4 Laps)
I have never run a marathon by itself or anything near that distance. I’m just don’t love running that much. However after 6 hrs on a bike, I love riding even less and the opportunity to run a marathon, even if it is only to get off the bike, becomes surprisingly appealing.
For those who run on adrenalin rather than ability, the start of the run in Port is great as the beginning of the course is lined with spectators – this is a Rock Star moment! Approximately 1 km into the run I was feeling good and saw Matty Rogers (ex Wallaby) ahead running comfortably. I fell in behind as we climbed the only substantial hill on the course and once on top began assessing whether I could hold a move to the front.
All of a sudden an official photographer appeared 100 meters ahead and vanity kicked in. Here was my chance for a photo beating Matty Rogers (no-one needed to know he was a lap in front!!) and with that I briefly lifted the tempo to gain the extra 2-3 meters I needed.
As I ran for the next 1-2 kms I could hear Matty Rogers breathing right behind me and using me as his pace bunny. How did I know it was Matty’s breathing right behind me? Well because spectators were continuously screaming “Go Matty” and from time to time cameramen on motor bikes would appear right in front of me to film the guy behind.
One draws strength from wherever one can during an ironman race as you continually set new goals. No stopping until the next aid station, no walking the hills etc etc . As I listened to the breathing behind me a new goal formed - by the end of the race Matty would not only be able to spell “Warringah” he’d be able to draw the whole logo, better still, he’d have nightmares about it!!!
For the next two hours I heard nothing but “Go Matty”. Occasionally he managed to free himself momentarily of the monotony as I stopped at an aid station but on each occasion I was determined to ensure the reprieve was short lived. Eventually the cheers began to fade and I was on my own.
With the distraction behind me I was now able to focus on the other Warringah athletes and supporters. The camaraderie and encouragement out on the course is extraordinary. I remember at one point hearing my name from a somewhere above me only to look up and see Smithy, Bev and others having a drink on a deck overlooking the race as I reached up to give Bev a Warringah High 5!
About 2 kms from home I realised that if I applied the afterburners, there was a slim chance I could give myself a birthday surprise PB with a sub 11 hr. race. With that in mind I stormed home to hear those words “Scott Freeman you are an Ironman” with an overall marathon time of 3:45 having pulled back a further 37 places on the run and PB of 10:59:17. Demons exorcised!!
FOOTNOTE: This report won Scott an entry into another Ironman event following the WTC Ironman Club Champs Division II win this year....and now that the demons have been exorcised, Scott decided he would return to Port Mac for a third time!! Can't wait for the report in 2015 :-)