“You don’t do things by halves do you?”

It’s around 1:30pm on Sunday 18th November, I finished my first Ironman 70.3 about half an hour ago. I am lying on a bed in the medical centre, my legs are in agony, muscles endlessly cramping and spasming. My hands are shaking like I am trying to hold a jack hammer, I have pins and needles all up and down my arms. My stomach is cramping in places I did not know existed. There are 3 nurses and a doctor trying to help me, applying pressure to my legs to try ease the cramping, squeezing the crap out of the intravenous saline bag to force fluid into me as fast as possible. How the hell did this happen!! I thought the pain was supposed to stop once I crossed the finish line!

Let’s go back a little, I had been planning this race for a year, there had been countless training sessions. Thousands of kilometres on the bike. Many hundreds of kilometres running, millions of meters swum in the pool. Coaching consultations and conversations. Endless discussions with myself (“the inner monologue”) working out the plan to make the race just that “a race”. Most specifically a race against myself. Well as it turns out when racing against yourself, you can find yourself up against one of the most stubborn, determined competitors you will ever meet. (And you may find yourself to be “not the sharpest tool in the shed”)

So its race day, 1st up 1.9km swim. My focus this winter had been to get myself strong enough and have enough skill (technique) to take whatever this course and the other competitors dished out. To be able to get in the water and just keep going no matter what. And I did just that. Out of the water on into transition, sprint race style transition this one. The bike fully loaded with everything I needed to fuel and hydrate me for the next 2 to 3 hours. On board 2point7 litres of water all dosed up with Shotz (orange and vanilla) and 10 gels (8 for the ride and 2 as back up). As per my race plan I spend the 1st 5 kilometres settling in. A few sips a water to get the lake out of my mouth.

This is where I start to make the one error that will have me in the medical centre in agony in 5 hours time. My stomach is a bit on the queasy side, drinking is not at all appealing (gels are a huge challenge). I sip through my 1st 750ml over 45km and shift my gel strategy (from one every 10km to 1 every 15km). Just before the half way turnaround I load up my next bottle, another 650ml. I consume a total of 1400ml on the bike and 5 gels. Leaving 1200ml “in the tank”. The bike flags a bit in the 2nd lap, my plans to negative split the bike drift away. This is not one of my better days on the bike. Some days that happens, the time is at the outer limit on my self imposed goal.

Into T2, with one of the slickest bike dismounts I have ever done J. This transition is “ironman style”, take my time, socks on, shoes with laces, fuel belt with 600ml of fluid on board and more gels. Out onto the run, I feel fantastic (it is so good to get off the bike and run). I see Coach Sarah as I turn onto the path by the lake, she snaps my photo, I tell her I am going great. Check my watch, clocking along at 4:30pace, that’s a bit fast so I back it off, goal pace is low 5’s. 400 or so meters later it starts to hit the fan. My lower quadriceps muscles in both legs cramp. I push on for a few hundred metres, try to relax then get them to release, nothing is working. At the 1km mark I grab a tree for support and stretch them until the pain stops. Levo motors past, asking if I am ok, I say I will be.

For this race a DNF is not an option, I work through the 1st 7km lap, the quads cramp most of the way. I clock that one off in 39minutes, it is at the outer limit of my run plan, but acceptable. During this interval I have sipped through a couple of hundred mil’s of water. Drinking on the run has always been a challenge. At every drink station I grab a cup of water and tip it over my head and down my back to keep me cool. I see countless Tri alliance athletes, call out words of encouragement to as many as I can (and get plenty in response). Lots do not recognise me (I am not wearing Tri alliance kit and this is such a dumb thing, soon to be rectified and not the dumbest thing I do all day).

The TA cheer squad is in all the best places, there is chalk signs in even more. This is perhaps the best thing about being part of TA. The support on and off the course from the TA Family is just the best there is. Lap Two down, I have white and red Ironman bands with just the black to go. Lap Two takes just over 43 minutes, the goals are slipping and I am in danger of missing my goal of last resort, to finish under 6 hours. I have finished the fluid I have in my fuel belt. I have consumed a total of 2 litres and been racing for almost 5 hours. Did I realise this at the time? Did not have a clue! Did it occur to me that I was severely dehydrated? Nope! Why, I have no idea. I am one of the most rational, logical, methodical, organised people I know, yet apparently at times “as thick as Two short planks”.

Lap three, the cramping is getting worse. I start the last part on my original hydration plan and consume a cup of Coke at every drink station (and throw a cup of water over my head and back). It all gets a bit vague from here as the pain in my legs is horrendous, I stop multiple times to stretch, massage, try anything at all to ease the cramping. Lidia passes me at one of these times, I get going and think to myself if I can just catch up to her, we can run to the finish together (there is just over a k to go). I catch her and on we go, then I realise Lidia is on lap two. But stick with her anyway, and then another severe cramping attack stops me in my tracks, I tell Lidia to keep going. Lots of people on the side lines can see I am in a bad way, they call out encouraging things. Still plenty of kids holding out their hands for “High fives”, so I oblige.

Home straight at last and up the finishing chute, lots of TA people (I hear Pam of courseJ). They call my name out and I am done. I wander into the recovery area looking for people I know. I see a few and congratulate them, Meg T comes in, she looks shattered, I tell her she should have a drink and try and cool down. (I am such a genius, I can see someone else needs something, if only I could see myself!). I have a cup of coke and Two cups of water. I look at the ice cream and fruit salad (the last part of my race plan), it is very unappealing so I walk away. I start to feel nauseous, so find the nearest rubbish bin and hang on. (Throwing up is not in my plan and fortunately does not eventuate) I see a couple of paramedics walking past and wave them over. I ask if they have anything for nausea, they do not, but get ice and water and pour it over me. This is surprisingly helpful. I am still holding onto the edge of the bin like my life depends on it. After a while the nausea eases a bit, the paramedics take an arm each and walk me through to the medical centre. They stick me on the electronic scales, whoo hoo I am down to 88.5kg my best weight in 2 years. No you idiot that is 5 litres of fluid you have lost today!

So in hindsight it is really easy to see what went wrong, while it was happening, not so much. Do I consider myself unlucky? Absolutely not. In fact the opposite, the coolest Shepparton Ironman 70.3 ever. What if it had been hotter? What if I collapsed out at the far end of the run course? What if the Shepparton Triathlon club did not have one of best on course medical support set ups of any Ironman event? Now normally after it is done, you thank the people who got you to an event. This one is a little different. Thank you to Dan who was there when it happened and looked after my stuff and let people know where I was. (Though I was not letting go off my finishers’ medal and towel!). Thank you to Coach Greg and Jody who arrived after the worst had passed with their unique brand of humour (and to take photo’s of course). Thank you to Lisa D (Ms 4:59:59 super star) and the ever supportive Justin who got my bike and kit from transition and patiently waited while I got it together. And last by no means least the wonderful people in the medical centre who I can never thank enough. 🙂

Anthony Churchward – First time Half Ironman

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