Sunday 24 March 2013

‘Pain is temporary, but memories will last forever ‘ The prefect quote in what was to be my first (and what I had planned as my last) Ironman race.

Ironman for me was more than completing a 3.8km swim, 180km ride and 42.2km marathon. It was setting myself a goal and doing everything in my power to reach it.

Glory awaits at the finish line

It was about the choices, decisions, sacrifices, hard yards and discipline. It was the early mornings and late nights. It was down right hard work.

It was choosing training over birthdays and catch ups. It was lost weekends, friends and relationships. It was missing the world while I was preoccupied in my own.

They were the biggest sacrifices, but also the biggest motivators. And that’s why I pushed through what seemed like the impossible to others on Sunday, to get me not only to the finish line, but onto the Ironman podium and ultimately Kona. The pinnacle of  this sport called triathlon.

Ironman is not just about physical toughness, it’s about mental toughness. The ability to put your body in a place it does not want to go and somehow over ride the pain.

THE DECISION
My triathlon journey started 6 years ago due to a running injury – the first of 3 stress fractures I would suffer in as many years. I was young and naive – thinking i knew more than the Coach. How little I knew back then. And little did I know, that as I lined up for my first Gatorade Triathlon in March 2008 – coming near last out of the water, and finishing mid-field, that five years later I would be taking on my first Ironman and Marathon all rolled into one. From a Coaches point of view, I had planned to use this Ironman race to experience from an athletes perspective what it took to train and race an Ironman, but in the end it became much more than that….

THE LEAD IN
Could not have gone any better. I’d done all the work, rarely missed a session, prepared my life around this one day. All to see how hard and how fast I could go over 226kms. I’d followed my program to a tee. I didn’t go above what was asked, just doing what had to be done and I could see the progression over the months as distances got longer, times faster and recovery easier. Everything was heading in the right direction and my confidence grew knowing what I was capable of  ‘IF all went to plan’. I’ve watched many Ironman’s over the years and I have witnessed first hand that things can and do go wrong on race day.
I had many training partners during the lead in but non better than Brett Archbold. We spent countless hours on the bike, i’d have sh^t days when he’d have good ones and vice versa. But we both kept at it knowing what we were both capable of. And best of all we will now have another winter of training together leading into Kona! 🙂

PRE RACEIronman Melbourne
I waited all week for the nerves to kick-in. I waited patiently, ready to tackle them when they arrived. But even as we stood in the water at the swim start waiting for the gun to go off they were no where to be seen. I could feel the nervous energy around me as the morning unfolded, but I simply thrived on it. I could only put this down to knowing I had done the hard work, knowing what I had to do and most importantly believing that I could do it – so what did I have to be nervous of? Nothing. Lets do it! A BIG thanks to Dane Barclay from The performance and Sports Psychology Clinic who helped prepare my mind for what I was going to put my body through. Game on.

THE SWIM
The morning of the race, and race organisers made the tough decision to cut the swim course short due to the conditions in the bay. So the swim was cut in half and shortened from 3.8km to 1.9km (or was it 1.5km?).  There has been much talk around whether this was the right decision. And emotions and thoughts from athletes have also been divided. But for me, I didn’t waste any energy on ‘should it or shouldn’t it’ – instead I refocused on my race and slightly changed my race tactics. ‘Control the controllable’….Swim start2

At the swim start, I lined up beside fellow Tri Alliance athlete Nathan – a plan we had leading into the race. We’d swam together in the pool and open water most of the prep and we were going to pace off each other (to a degree) in the swim leg. But within 100m, that plan was out the window, it was ON and I quickly lost sight of him. ‘Have a good race Nath’ I thought to myself as I focused on tacking on the waves and swell ahead of me. The swim was brutal – more so from the other athletes than the conditions. It was like everyone was fighting for survival and literally the fittest and strongest survived! There was no thought or care for another’s safety. If you were in the way, you were going down! The swell at the back of Frankston pier was the worst conditions I have swum in – but I was loving it. This is my kind of swim! Heading out past the Pier I couldn’t sight the turn around buoys. The swell was huge, swimmers everywhere. As we got closer I could see I was heading straight for the buoy – normally that’s what I’d want, but for this course and these conditions I decided I wanted to stay slightly wide so I didn’t get shoved around too much. So unfortunately for those around me I made a slight detour to swim wider and in the process swam over other swimmers. (sorry!) Turning the buoy and heading back to the beach was fun. It was rough but the swell pushed you in and made for a fast swim back to the swim exit. Athletes were strewn 300m wide though as the current pushed people down beach. But many athletes made the decision to just go with it and make the mad dash up the beach instead of trying to fight it. On dry land I spotted another Tri Alliance training partner Steve Akins just in front of me. it’s a comforting feeling seeing someone you have trained with. I was off to a great start to my race.
Swim (1.9km) 28:18min, 19th in Category

THE BIKE
Transition was non eventful, in and out as quickly as possible and out on the bike. I did thank my helpful volunteer but other than that didn’t look around or spend any more time than necessary in the change tent.

After watching this race last year I knew the support as you headed out on the bike was going to be amazing. The mounting line is lined with supporters cheering for athletes as they begun their 180km ride. Thanks to those who shouted out cheers – but I will be honest. I can’t remember one face. And so begun my 5+ hours on the bike…..

Sarah bike

The ride out was congested with riders for the first 30km I jostled with other riders (mainly guys) to find my own space. Time and time again they would ride past and then pull straight in front of you, causing you to slow right down to give yourself space and avoid drafting. After half a dozen times of this occurring I made the decision to change my race plan and ride harder on the first lap to create myself some room.  I feared getting stuck amongst a pack and getting ‘done’ for drafting.  So into the right hand lane and head down I went. Not long after I made this decision Nath and Steve passed me. I gave them a cheer and refocused back on my race. The legs were doing what I asked and I was happy with the pace and effort level, so even though I was riding faster than planed, I didn’t slow down.

I viewed the ride leg as 4 x 45km rides. Not 180km. I knew it was going to be tough on the way out into the wind, but I also needed to use this to my advantage. Even though I had a good swim I knew there would be girls up the road trying to increase their lead. So I focused on my nutrition plan, stayed out of trouble (drafting trouble that is) and before I knew it I was passing girls I thought would take me most of the ride to catch. Things were more than going to plan. ‘Don’t get too ahead of yourself’ I kept staying to myself. There’s still a long way to go.

The second lap and the wind started to pick up. You could feel the resistance slowing your pace and cadence, the gusts of winds trying to shove you off the road. And although my average time was slightly slower I still felt strong and couldn’t wait to get off and tackle to run – and to find out where I was placed!

Ride: 5:10:48, 3rd in category, average 34.75km/hr

THE RUN
The first time I got slightly nervous during the race was when I was preparing to jump off my bike and onto the run. I have watched around half a dozen Ironman’s, and many more on TV and I always cringe when I see athletes jump off their bikes and their legs are like wooden pegs. Stuck in a cycling position not knowing whether they are going to collapse underneath them. The burning question I was ready to find out was, what were my legs going to do?
As they hit the ground I smiled inwardly AND outwardly. They felt great and I was ready to run my first marathon to finish this race.Sarah run12

In and out of transition, quick toilet stop and I was on my way. 2km into the run was the first time I knew how I was tracking. Fellow Tri Alliance Coach Emma screamed at me I was coming 2nd in my age group. Another quick smile and nod of the head to acknowledge I’d heard as I headed out of Frankston. The first 5km went surprisingly quick with the roads still lined with cheering supporters – some I knew, others I thanked for their support anyway. ‘Looking good’ people cheered. And at this point, I agreed with them. ‘Feeling good!’ I’d cheer back at them. This was too easy I thought – wait for it…. wait for it….

Before I knew it, I was 10km into the run and I couldn’t have planned it any better. My pace was exactly how I had planned, I felt awesome, nutrition going well. What more could I ask for. ‘This was supposed to be tough’ I thought to myself. And as if my body heard me, outside influences started to come into play. And this was where the race to the finish line really began for me. My right hip started to have a dull ache. Nothing I’d felt before. At this stage I was unsure on what to think. But it wasn’t long until that dull ache turned into a dead feeling all the way down to my right knee. At the 12km mark it hit me (and it dawned on me!) that I was becoming a victim of the dreaded Frankston > Mordialloc ‘camber’. I’d heard about it, I’d read about it, and I was now experiencing it and there was nothing I could do.

road-camber

At this point I passed Pro Athlete Bree Wee who was not having her greatest of races and she was running in the curb. At that point of the race I was running in the centre of the road so I quickly switched to the curb hoping that it was flatter there and I could diffuse the pain before it took hold. A few more kilometers down the road and I thought I may have succeeded. But as I ticked over the 14km mark it felt like someone had run up beside me and stuck a knife into my knee. It literally made me jump it was that painful. ‘No, not yet.’ I cursed the road. But a few more steps and it was gone. The dead feeling was there, but the knife had retracted. ‘Ok think, what to do? I couldn’t afford to be crippled by ITB pain’ So Plan B kicked into action – I slowed my pace down. This provided some relief. So I continued on at a pace slower than planned, but I was moving forward – and that was the overall aim. ‘Your slowest jog is always faster than your fastest walk’ I knew there was only 5km until Mordialloc and the road flattened out, so my next goal was to get to Mordialloc ‘The pain would go away once I’m on the flat’ I kept saying to myself, willing my body through the random stabs of pain.

Nearing Mordialloc and I needed a Plan C. My plan B of running slower was working, but it wasn’t getting me there as quickly as I liked. And this is when I cursed myself that I didn’t put any pain killers in my special needs bag at Mordialloc. I’d bought some for Ollie the day before which he securely placed in his bag, but I didn’t think of putting any in for myself. ‘I wonder if Ollie picked up his bag?’ I thought ‘Would they give me his bag if I yelled out his number?’ was my immediate second thought. But before I knew it I was yelling out my number and picking up my own special needs – a bottle of Shotz. And I carried on through. Mistake number two here – in the chaos, I forgot I needed to go to the bathroom and it wasn’t until I was 500m passed the toilets that my body remembered. ‘Damn’ I cursed myself. Running past the Lifesaving Club and I yelled to someone for toilets – they pointed up the hill and into their club rooms. So I made the split second decision to turn off course and into their toilets for a quick pit stop. A decision that I now know put me back into third position. Because as I ran back on course I saw a girl had passed me. I cursed myself for a second time in a matter of minutes.

Sarah Run

1km up the road and I had to look forward to our Tri Alliance Aid/water Stations. Back to back at the 20 and 22km mark of the run. But by this stage I was not in a happy place. I had my blinkers on – my eyes darted for anyone who held a cup of water in their hand and grabbed it. The only other thing I remember is hearing Pam screaming at the top of her lungs ‘You’re going to Kona!’ Not yet Pam, not yet I thought to myself……

I was half way. 22km down, 20km to go. This could go right, or could go terribly wrong. My  family popped up again at around the 30km mark. ‘Not long to go!’ my mum cheered at me. I cringed, from both the words and the pain that again stabbed me in the knee and tried it’s hardest to derail my race. This was the first time during the race that I felt like crying. I stopped and stretched – the only thing that made it better ‘There’s still a long way to go mum and I’m in pain’. I cringed, stood up and kept running. 2km run, stop, stretch, continue, repeat. ‘Please, please, please get me to the finish line in one piece’ I pleaded with my body ‘I promise I will give you a rest after this, I promise’. I remember actually pleading with own body.

IM Melbourne

Next I remember I was rounding Brighton Baths towards Elwood and I spotted Coach Ryan, Shane and Xavier. ‘You are in third’ Ryan yells at me. ‘You have 9min on fourth’ This was the first time since the beginning of the run I knew where I was. 3rd place. But just 1km later and that knife was stuck right back into my knee which brought me to a halting stop. I quickly did the maths. And yep if I walked the last 4km she could still catch me. I as desperate now. I looked back hoping to see Shane (who is an Osteo) as I thought in my desperate state that he would be able to help me. I clearly remember having the thought of jogging back the 1km I had just completed to try and find him. What was I thinking?! I had to regroup. I clearly remember standing up and eyeing the finishing line in the distance – it was going to be mind over body from here on in. So I began my chant ‘do not walk, do not walk, do not walk…..’ and this continued the whole 4km to the finishing line ‘do not walk, do not walk….’ The knife was well and truly staying there now, it was not going anyway. It was trying it’s hardest to get me to walk but that last 4km I didn’t. I ran through the crew at The Great Provider – again I cannot remember a single face out of the dozens of people I knew were there. I could hear the screams, the cow bells, Mike Reilly over the loud speaker, I could see the finishing line ‘Do not walk, do not walk….’ I rounded into the finishing chute and it wasn’t until then that I allowed myself to believe that I was going to hold third place and finish on the podium. Sarah & Ollie

The only thing I remember about the finishing chute is someone holding out a TA jumper, and seeing Ollie behind the finishing line. I’m sure I high fived people, I’m sure I smiled, but I cannot remember a thing. All I knew was that I had finished. And I had succeeded. I was an Ironman!

I had not actually pictured the moment before the race so I had no plans on my ‘finishing photo’. I simply put one fist in the air and crossed that line.

Run: 3:37:55, average 5:09km/pace

Overall: 9:23:17, 3rd 30-34F

THE AFTERMATH
Since the race many people have asked me what drove me in training, what made me get up in the mornings, what motivated me to push through the pain during the race. What really keeps me going when the going is tough? These are all goo questions that I may never really know the answer too. All I know is I am a perfectionist, I thrive on goals and challenges. I give 100% to anything I do – and for now that happens to be Ironman.

Tomorrow is just another day. Another day to dream big, another day to achieve a goal, another day to prove to no one else but yourself what you are capable of. Dream BIG. I set goals that others may see as out of reach, as that way the satisfaction in reaching that dream is all the more sweet.”

…..So as the mind starts to waiver, look back at your goal. Look back at your dream and ask yourself ‘How much do I want this?’ And if you want it enough you will get it. If not today, then tomorrow, or the next day. The difference between the IMPOSSIBLE and the POSSIBLE lies in a person’s determination….”

And so on what was going to be my first and last Ironman, has now turned into another journey which will end in Kona, Hawaii on 12 October 2013!

BIG THANKS TO:Sarah brooks

My personal sponsors Brooks Running who have teamed with me for the last three seasons and provided me with training and racing gear. So big thanks to Jacqui and the rest of the team on making my journey an easier one!

Myotherapist Justin and the rest of the team from Lakeside Sports Medicine Centre – I can guarantee that these guys made a difference on race day.

Jano, Kenny and the rest of the boys at Bicycles Inc for their last minute changes to my bike. ‘Never try anything new on race day’ we teach athletes. Next time I will learn. 🙂

Each and everyone who raced Ironman Melbourne. Whether I trained along side you or Coached you, each of you played a part in my Ironman Journey….

Sarah 🙂

Click to view full results from Ironman Melbourne 2013
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