Today is the first day I’ve started becoming familiar with gravity again.  That old rule of ‘what goes up, must come down’.  I’ve been told one of the best ways to deal with the onset of post-IM blues is to write about your race.  So, here goes.

Cal and I got into Melbourne on Thursday, dumped all our kit and headed straight for rego.  We’d heard reports earlier the expo had been shut down only an hour after opening and that what had started to resemble a finish chute had been blown apart by 90+km/hr winds along the St Kilda foreshore.  Not a good way to kick things off!  We ran into Mark and Suz on our way there who were in fabulous spirits…though I’m sure Mark was wondering whether I might have acquired some class A substances on the way down as I basically exploded in a burst of happy dancing when he asked me whether I was excited about the race!  We got ourselves registered – and one of those annoying wax paper wristbands that you then have to sleep/shower/etc with for the next four days – and with our race buddies Kate and Simon, signed our lives away on the wall.

The next morning we awoke to a stunning but cool day, still with big winds along the shore.  Cal and I went for an easy pedal along the bikeway that was to form the final stages of the run leg on Sunday.  This proved a smart move as come the back end of the 42.2 I knew exactly where I was and how far I had to go – inspiration banked.  We also saw the site of the Tri Alliance/Giant party bar, which come Sunday and that 40km mark, I couldn’t wait to see.  Cal discovered some minor glitches with his bike so we headed back towards BikeLab just near our apartment to see if their mechs could help him out.  Along the way, we ran into a glut of rather inconsiderate foreign (sorry, no offence intended but they were and clearly didn’t understand road/pedestrian rules) competitiors all kitted out to the nines in their sperm helmets, disc wheels and space age kit that I’m pretty sure was made on another planet.  These people, all thirty-odd of them, clearly didn’t want to give us any space whilst walking across the tram crossing, so we moved well to the side, the back end of Cal’s bike resting against a handrail.  It took all of two seconds for my brain to register what was going to happen when Cal moved off, but my hand was too slow to stop it and the handrail ripped clean off one of the carbon Gorilla cages on the rear wing of Cal’s bike.  In hindsight – not grabbing it saved my bloody hand!  No reaction except ‘OOoooohh’ from the space creatures… So with one pretty pissed off 6ft triathlete, we headed to BikeLab and I attempted to save his morning with the biggest coffee I could find him and some amazing brekky at their cafe Bar Bici.  Between the awesome guys at BikeLab and the generosity of the gorgeous Yasmin Grigaliunas, Cal’s bike was all set to roll by sunset.

That night we went to the athlete dinner and hung out with the crew from TA Victoria.  We got to meet the absolutely gorgeous and wonderful Pete Jacobs – who unbeknowns to me at the time would feature again in my finish line on the Sunday!  A bit of inspiration from Mike Reilly, a fantastic meal and we were off to bed.

On Saturday morning I headed out for a short run with the woman I like to call my mentor and inspiration – Krista Page.  It was good to shake the legs out and everything was feeling really good.  My amazing coach Ray also arrived this morning, and he, Cal, Krista and I packed the van to the hilt and headed off to Frankston to check our bikes and kit in and have a leisurely practice swim.  All thoughts of this ‘leisurely swim’ were blown apart when we got out of the car and felt the wind hit us.  The sight of the rolling and breaking waves around Frankston pier made me feel slightly ill and I was very glad of the ginger tablets I’d taken earlier to try and head off the motion sickness I’d had during our ocean swim at Noosa IM camp.  Into our wetsuits and down to the waters edge, the wind was blowing like crazy and as the first line of water hit our toes I felt a huge shiver.  The water was freezing.  The paddlers and boats full of lifeguards that were there to supervise the practice swim were struggling to stay afloat and keep an eye on the tiny little black dots bobbing around in the water, trying to turn their arms over.  We edged our way into the water and I suddenly had huge wetsuit sleeve envy as the cold shot up through my arms.  Right, now or never it was and I dived into the water.  I threw my arms over and over and I swear I could still see the same piece of sand below me as I did minutes before.  I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere.  Cal and Krista were many bodylengths ahead of me and I just couldn’t get near either of them!  Eventually I looked up towards the pier and found that yes, ok, I had made some distance out from the shore.  I caught up with the other two and we were all being thrown around like ragdolls in the waves.  Suddenly I got pissed off with the whole thing.  Righto ocean, bring it on, c’mon lets go!  I threw myself at the water, stuck my head down and belted my arms over and over and over as hard as I could til I got level with the end of the pier.  Great therapy that was!  Back on the shore we racked our bikes, checked our bags and shared a few chats with Mark, Suz and Ray again which proved to be a huge confidence boost for al of us.  It never ceases to amaze me what a few quiet words with my coach can do.  People kept telling us, ‘oh yes it was like this last year and then on race day it was PERFECT!’  Hmmm…  That afternoon we were advised that the 3.8km one lap swim had been changed to two laps of 1.9km.

On race eve we had a houseful of athletes, support crew, coach and parents, some great thai food, pangs of nerves and not much sleep.

The wind woke me up on race morning before my alarm did.  Oh shit.  I looked out the window and saw the trees aching in the wind.  This is going to be fun.  We’d decided to take the shuttle bus to Frankston and the three of us sat there solemnly in the dark with our ipods in our heads, noone talking.  I took to drawing smiley faces in the condensation on the window in an attempt to get a smile out of Cal.  I also drew my cap down low over my eyes to hide the tears that sprang when Foo Fighters – ‘My Hero’ lit up my ipod.  This was the song that reminded me the most of my dear friend Jamie, the song whose lyrics were scrawled on my #3 drink bottle – the one I’d be using at the back end of the bike leg when I’d need the inspiration the most.

We arrived in Frankston to ridiculous winds, massive clouds and the prospect of dreadful weather.  Transition done, I headed to the incredibly large portaloo line when Mike Reilly’s voice suddenly boomed from the speakers.  Due to the awful ocean conditions, the swim had been shortened to one lap of 1.9km.  The race would still stand as the Asia-Pac Champs, all Kona slots would still stand, and we would all still be called over the finish line as Ironmen.  Initially I did the happy dance as I hate swimming, however almost instantly I felt sick.  Sick that after all those months of early morning sessions and long six hour rides, five day training camps and aching muscles, I wouldn’t really be able to claim this race as an Ironman.  I could hardly hold it together when I sat down to talk to coach Mark Turner and asked in a voice cracking with tears whether I could still call myself an Ironman at the end of this race.  He was instantly and stoically adamant that YES, ABSOLUTELY.  He said this is what Iron distance racing is all about.  Adapting to whatever comes your way and finding the best way out of it.  His argument was that the swim we’d be doing would be as tough as any 3.8km ocean swim and that the wind on the bike leg was going to be atrocious.  He predicted an almighty headwind on the way out which would then change later in the race and bomb us once again on the way back.  In his mind, and in the minds of WTC as per Mike Reilly’s announcement, yes, we would stil be Ironmen.

A huge hug from my incredible coach Ray (I cannot possibly thank him enough for being there!), and a few quiet words about staying within my ability and just rolling with it, Cal gave me a quick kiss and a promise to see me at the finish and we were off to the beach.  The swim start was delayed over half an hour and I think this did a lot to break the ice amongst the age groupers and to take the edge off the nerves, however there was still some very scared faces around as we stood knee deep in the slightly warmer water and watched the pros battle their way along the pier to a bouy we could barely see for the waves.  At the cry of ‘GO!!’ and the scream of the air horn, we all cheered and started ploughing our way off the beach and into the rolling waves.  One length forward, two lengths back was how it felt and every now and then a bunch of us would pop up after a huge wave like corks, standing there waiting for the next chance to put our head down and try again.  The first couple of hundred metres was pretty funny, every time someone was thrown into someone else there was a round of apologies and giggles, but the funniest thing was hearing a few hundred age groupers all going WAAAHHHEEEYYY!! as we were picked up and dumped by these massive waves.  Like kids in a theme park!  Then about two thirds down the pier, just as had happened to me the day before, it suddenly got serious.  Everyone clearly had the shits with thrashing and feeling like they were going nowhere, so from here it was head down and swim like you were being chased.

I kept my head tucked right down and arms out to avoid a lot of breaststroke kicks that were happening around me, and didn’t kick too much as I didn’t want to destroy someone else’s race by kicking them in the face.  However, a couple of people found out the hard way that I really don’t appreciate my ankles getting grabbed over and OVER.  F**k off mate, seriously!!  WHACK!  Round the bouys and back towards shore, I couldn’t see a damn thing but at least I had my own space by now and could follow the odd red cap.  Hang on a minute, why are they going that way?  How come there’s already some on the beach?  Clearly many had taken the opportunity to cut the swim short even further and miss the last yellow bouy out to the right of the beach.  No way was I going to cheat myself, so I pulled right, got around the last bouy and then body surfed and scrambled my way to the beach.  No sooner had I hit the sand then a friendly voice said ‘Allo!’ and there was Krista flying past me and up to the exit.  You can see by my transition time this was one of the longest bloody swim to change tent runs in history!  As soon as I sat down in the change tent, Kate came flying in and took a chair next to me.  Quick change, arm warmers on just in case, pockets full of spares, and spares for spares and out to my bike.  As I was wheeling out of T1, I heard a massive shout out and saw Jess Melville waving madly at me – inspiration banked again.  We hit a huge bottleneck due to the swim debacle, so I had time to smile and wave for the camera hehe..

Out onto the bike and I could feel the wind already.  And the sun.  Oh shit.  No sunscreen.  I had visions of Yas’s back after Busso and thought oh well nothing I can do now.  I kicked off my rolling buffet of food and drink and ploughed into the wind.  The only saving grace of seeing blokes pass me in the first 20km was to think ‘well at least I beat them outa the swim!’.  There were heaps of packs trundling along like a Sunday bunch ride and I seriously started to get the shits with guys riding two or three beside each other for any length of time in front of me, to the point where I’d yell ‘one of you has gotta go’…and of course they didn’t, so I just thought feck it, stretch the legs, went round them and took off.  Nothing like frustration to give you a kick up the bum.  I knew the tunnel was close to the turnaround so when my Garmin started telling me I was in the late 30-something km’s I couldn’t wait to hit it.  Spiderbait wrote a song called ‘F**kin Awesome’.  As soon as I hit the tunnel it popped into my head, because my god this was f**kin awesome!!  Down on the bars and flying through the neon-lit worm hole, between the race wheels, extraction fans and the odd ‘WUHOO!!’ from another athlete, the noise was incredible!  And I’m flying and I’m flying and I’m flying and oh that looks like light ahead and oh boy this isn’t downhill anymore and shift shift shift SHIFT!!!  The slow crawl out the other side began.  Around the turn and back for another dose of tunnel goodness…except this time once you’d crawled your way out you came out with the most amazing tailwind.  Hooking along on the flat in my 53-11 at over 100 cadence and 50+km/hr was UNREAL!!  Holy crap if we get this on the second lap…

Around the turn in Frankston and all of a sudden there’s this MASSIVE cheer – Yas, Mark, Leigh and the rest of the TA crew, then there’s my parents and Cal’s parents and everyone else ringing bells and its just awesome.  Out on the second lap and oh gawd here’s the headwind again.  And it doesn’t let up.  I’d let my hourly nutrition blow out to about 80mins each as I was starting to feel very full, and by the end of the third 45km I was starting to feel sick.  Quick bathroom stop at the aid station and some straight water on board and I was doing better.  But I’d hit that stage where I didn’t want to eat or drink anything anymore.  Lollies were not appealing for the first time in my life and the Infinit tasted like a horrid sugary sludge.  All I could get in was straight water and sips of a fresh bottle of Gatorade I’d grabbed at the station.  Against everything I’d said about not stopping, another pit stop was had about the 140km mark to down some anti-spew tablets.  Thankfully they seemed to work.  In amongst all this, was the realisation that the tailwind we had on the first lap was not there.  Gone.  Mark had been right.  The wind had turned and become a crosswind, which had me pedalling with the bike on a stupid angle many times.  The wind gusts were scary and many people came off their bikes.  For a little while there, it actually started raining too..which brought on a ‘Yeah ok why the feck not, lets have it!!’ from me to the Universe or anyone else in earshot!

30km out from home, ok not long to go, lets get this done.  BAM!  The crosswind had now turned into a headwind.  I found out later that people who had got through the bike quicker, like Cal, had missed this delightful wind altogether.  Bastards.  I looked down at my Garmin; 16km/hr.  Are you serious?!?  This went on, unrelenting, in fact worsening for the entire last section on the bike.  I remember at one stage actually yelling ‘GIVE ME A F**KING BREAK ALREADY!!!’…again to the Universe.  Eventually, battered and windblown, sunburnt and still feeling sick, I ambled into T2, quick change, restock and out the door again.

I was expecting my legs to have been blown to bits on the bike leg, but instantly the run felt good.  I was amazed.  I kept waiting for the pain to come on early, but it didn’t.  Coming through Frankston on the run lap, I looked up at hearing my name and again saw Yas, Leigh and the TA crew, as well as Jess and my coach Ray all going apeshit over the fence at me.  God bless them, that was exactly what I needed!  After the madness of that though, there was a beautiful 2km stretch of run course that was all through this little trail, noone around, noone screaming, no madness, no chaos, just me.  It was wonderful.  A time for me to gather my thoughts, do a quick systems check as to how I was feeling, and get myself together.  Absolutely none of the gels or mini bites of food I had in my pockets felt the least bit appealing, in fact I felt like spewing just thinking about it.  So there I decided it would be flat coke and water all the way to St Kilda, alternating at each aid station.  Running through Frankston, watching the km markers ticking over, the support from anyone and everyone out walking their dog, operating a stop/go sign, sitting in a cafe, having a beer was simply AMAZING.  I discovered early on the more you give them, the more they give back.  So I made a point of raising my hands in a thumbs up or rock on and giving my biggest smile and occasionally a WUHOO whenever someone would call out or clap for me.  Seriously, they go BONKERS when you do that!  There was one section later I was running that had a pub across four lanes of traffic.  I heard someone yell out ‘Give us a wave!’ so I did and they went ‘Yay’.  I was like “OH COME ON, ARE YOU SERIOUS, IS THAT ALL?!” and threw my arms in the air.  Instantly the entire balcony was on their feet and cheering at me before we all fell into hysterics.  It was brilliant.  People are just amazing.

I had contemplated running the entire 42.2, only walking through the aid stations, but had also thought ‘well maybe I could just walk it from the whatever-km marker’.  I knew my parents were working on the 22km aid station so I bargained with myself that I would run to there and reassess.  Coming into the 22km mark, I rounded a corner and saw my Mum standing up on a wall with her arms in the air yelling at me.  I ran over, gave her a massive hug and she had a bit of a cry, then on to the aid station and bugger me, my old man was on the Coke station!  I ran up to him and said ‘THIS is the man I wanna see!!’ gave him a massive hug and a kiss and stood and had a chat for a few seconds while I downed my Coke.  Massive MASSIVE inspiration banked.

Between the 22km mark and 30-something were three steep ‘pinches’.  I walked them.  And I could’ve walked some more, but decided no, gotta keep going, gotta run as much as I can.  30km, 31km, 32km and my left calf is screaming at me, with my right quad starting to cry in sympathy.  Some ol mate has decided to slip into step RIGHT behind my heels.  I look over my shoulder at him, once, twice, three times and he still hasn’t gotten the hint to get off my ass!! For God’s sake mate, run your OWN race!!  I’ll fix you, and at the 30-something’th aid station, I stopped for the bathroom.  That stopped him.  Now run by yourself mate, off you go!

33km, 34km, 35km and the sun is starting to go down.  My wrist Garmin (yes I had a second, separate one on my bike, NERD!) had clearly had a fit early on and I had no pace, speed, distance, only time.  I looked down, did quick foggy math and realised if I kept it up I might just be able to sneak under 12hrs.  The Coke and water plan had worked and my stomach had thankfully settled by about the 25km mark.  36km, 37km, the sun was starting to disappear, I look up and there’s RAY!  Yay!!  Ray started running with me and I remember telling him how much I was hurting, but regailing all these stories about how awesome the crowd had been and how I’d seen Mum and Dad and how bloody brilliant this whole thing was and…shit Ray you’d better stop running with me or you’ll get me DQ’d!!  Sure enough, just before the 40km mark, an official asked him to ‘move away from the runners’.  I yelled I’d see him at the finish.  I hit the 40km marker and I knew what was coming.  The Giant/Tri Alliance party zone.  Oh my god the noise and the energy and the unbelievable support in that short stretch of track was PHENOMENAL!! I get goosebumps even now just thinking about it!!  I was running through screaming with them and high fiving everyone, then all of a sudden two people leapt out to grab me, Mark and Suz.  Suz had finished around 2hrs earlier, but both of them had gone back to the party to watch us come through.  I gave them my absolute biggest smile and massive cheer and thank you and kept running.

Faster, faster now, not long, 41km…into the light of the St Kilda foreshore and past the rego tent.  Jess!!  YAY!!  Jess leapt out in front of me and gave me a massive hug, inspiration banked again.  Almost ALMOST there and all of a sudden I hear my name, snap my head right and see Cal and his Dad hanging over the fence.  Big high fives, smiles and tears.  Holy crap, I’ve run the ENTIRE way bar the aid stations and the three short ‘pinches’.  Aghast!   Onto the finish now, around the dark corner and into the light, and the noise.  Oh my god the NOISE!! It was amazing!!  All these people screaming and cheering and bashing the boards.  I ran down the right hand side high fiving everyone I could, then as I ran past one section I heard a massive shout, it was my parents.  I’d gone past them so I ran back and gave them a massive hug and a kiss each.  They were yelling at me to just keep going!!  Pretty sure this is where I started crying.  So close now, halfway down the chute and its complete sensory overload.  Inspired by the crowd I throw my arms up with my rock on hands and yell YEEEEAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!

Over the line, under the arch, I look and point up to the sky “That’s for you J.”  A volunteer then leads me to a guy holding a medal.  I look up and the volunteer says ‘This is Pete Jacobs, he’s going to give you your medal’.  With a smile I’m pretty sure they could see from space I dip my head to receive the medal and then throw my arms around him saying ‘THANKYOU THANKYOU THANKYOU SO MUCH!!’….oops, I just realise I’ve given PETE JACOBS a big sweaty, teary hug.  Given his facebook and Twitter posts afterwards, I really don’t think he minded.  Bless him.  The next person I see is Cal.  Massive hugs and kisses and more hugs and a quick photo and he takes the role as my minder and walks me through to recovery.

11:57:05.  Oh my.  Beyond ALL my expectations.  Yes obviously it was much quicker due to the short swim but oh boy, I had NOT expected that.  I didn’t hear Mike Reilly call me an Ironman, but I was sent footage from the live feed where you can hear him say ‘You are an Ironman’ and although my mates that sent the video missed my name, Jamie’s wife Kylie heard it and that’s good enough for me.  Cal had crossed the line just over an hour ahead of me, despite having to walk big chunks of the run.  I’m in awe of him being able to get through the pain he was in.  SO proud of him.  It was the best feeling ever to have him there at the finish line for me too.

The night went on and after a quick shower, change and some dirty, filthy McDonalds, I was still wired so we went back to the finish line to watch the last twenty or so athletes come home.  To see their faces light up when they round that final corner after many km’s of running in the dark on their own into the light filled finish chute with a hundred or so of us all making as much noise as we could was just exhilarating and SO inspiring.

As someone who thought 8km was a long run when I moved to Brisbane in 2007, who bought a bike and christened myself just a commuter as I treadlied to and from work most days, and who thought a 1km swim was enough to constiitue an ENTIRE swim set, I never ever thought I would see the day when I could say I was an Ironman.  Never.  Right up to twelve months ago after my first ever long course race when I turned to Krista in recovery and said ‘No way am I EVER doing a f**king Ironman’.  She laughed at me.  The Universe has a way of making a liar out of you when you say things like “I never could, I never will, I couldn’t imagine..”, and I’m so very glad it did.

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