I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive before the Half Ironman last weekend. This was going to be my first chance to pop my head up for breath, recover and get a pulse check on how my transition from a rugby union forward to an ironman triathlete was progressing. We had a club race the week before and I felt pretty shattered before, during and for a good few days after. I knew I had to rest, I needed to listen to my body, something that I have only learnt with age. So I did just that. The week prior to Port I did very little in the way of training- a couple of runs, a swim and a ride. The remainder of the time was spent stretching and watching DVDs. I was so nervous for the whole week. My ITB was as tight as a guitar string, I just hoped that it would come good. It did.
We (Dr Phil and I) checked our bikes in and attended the pre-race briefing on Saturday along with the other 800 competitors. The sun was out, the mood was great and I was feeling fresh for the first time in ages. We then went back to our hotel had a small meal, watched the wallabies get trounced then slept. We were a little under 10 hours from the start of the 1.9km swim, 90.1km ride and 21.1 run. I forgot how alive I feel prior to a race. The 5am rides on the below zero, windy, rainy mornings throughout winter were for this and I loved it.
Everything went smoothly on race morning. The wettie felt like a second skin as we made our way down to the deep water start. I looked around at the other 800 bodies as they waved about to stay afloat before the gun went off, and I soaked up this moment. The last time I heard a gun was in a starkly different circumstance and it made me feel so unbelievably grateful to be there, my first (racing) hurdle for the big one in March. The swim was as busy and congested around the first buoy as I remember. It took a few whacks to my head and the swimming over of a few triatheletes that had mistakingly thought that self seeding meant getting a good start on their competition by putting themselves at the front, before we settled into a pace. Poor buggars.
I exited the water in a time I was expecting to do however I wasn't expecting to feel as good as what I did. I swam within myself and was more than ready for the ride. A quick transition (shoes in the right peddles this time!) and I was on the road. I reeled in one after another of the quicker swimmers and looked around and about 20 of them had managed to hang on by the 30km mark! I was feeling great, then it happened, the draft-buster rode his motorbike up to me and pointed a yellow card at me and asked if I understood what that meant. I pleaded ignorance, then swore, then accepted that I was spending 5 minutes in the penalty box before the next lap. I was so dirty with it. I wasn't drafting, never have. I had no choice but to keep going and surrender to my fate. With that I put my head down and dropped that group who later passed and waved as they spotted myself and 4 others in the box of shame (including BMMC's own Dr Phil!) This experience ended up being a good one for many reasons. Firstly I am glad that it happened in this, the dress rehearsal and not the full ironman in March. Secondly it was another reminder that things don't always go to plan, I would have to deal with this and get on with it. There was no point brooding over it. Lastly a little humour went a long way as I pointed out to the other 'detainees' that the 5 of us could get back together and ride down that bunch! I think the official circled my number on his pad at that point.
Once out of the clink I got back on with my race, this time was actually quite nice as I could get on riding without so many cyclists hanging on. Then before I knew it, it was T2 and time to run the half marathon. The temperature was rising as the numbers in front of me dropped away. One by one I again began the task of reeling in as many of the others who got a 5 minute advantage on me. I felt strong for the whole of the run. It was hot, it was hard and it hurt like hell, but I felt strong. Crossing the line in a time I had hoped for was great but even better was knowing that my metamorphasis was complete. I knew at this point that I was ready to start preparing for the big one in March.
The drinks after the race tasted sweet. I got a chance to catch up with some old friends I haven't seen since my last race 11 or 12 years ago. I also had a chance to be by myself and reflect on the last 12 months. I am deep in a journey, I am in recovery and I am so grateful to be here. Ironman Australia here I come.