Ian H on his fifth Busselton Ironman


Ian and Shane (pretending it’s all fun and games)

Busselton 2015 was the last race I had completed, and for those of us who can’t forget, it was a nausea inducing swim with lots of athletes pulled from the water (followed by a ride and run that were sabotaged by the nausea the swim caused!).

I left home for Busso 2017 early (3.30am) on Thursday morning so I could get to Busselton in time for the first practice swim. Just like other athletes, I did small chunks of training over the next 48 hours, just enough to remind my body that it may well be enjoying the reduced workload now, but there was pain to come in a couple of days!

Sunday morning, and I made sure I got to transition early. Tyres, gear, bidons, nutrition all checked and in position. I headed back home, to have a cup of coffee with my wife and get changed, so she could drop me off as close to transition as possible (my legs had enough work to do that day, walking a couple of km to transition wasn’t in my plans for a quick race day).

As I walked down the street, I would like to think I looked relaxed, confident and race ready (…I didn’t). A lady walking next to me laughed and told me you wont be needing that, will you? (pointing at my wetsuit, I think). I laughed with her and assured her that I was pretty attached to that wetsuit and no way was I getting out of the damn thing until I got back into T1 from the swim. She then laughed again and told me there was a shark sighting and the swim had been cancelled.

Great, no swim? How the hell am I supposed to figure out just where my swim had progressed to without swimming? Like every other athlete, I meandered aimlessly around like Browns’ cows until we were told to get on the beach and we would run to transition and begin the bike leg.

I then committed the sin of sitting on the beach (in full sun) until an hour later when I managed to start the race. I was pretty pissed off (probably mostly at the shark I guess) but unfortunately also over-heated. I usually manage to take about 10km into the bike to warm up, before I can feel my hands and feet after a longer swim. No problems today in getting warm!

However, my attitude was really the problem. I am a bit of a slow thinker, and despite having an hour to re-adjust my expectations, I hadn’t used my time wisely. So I really meandered along for the first 60km, wanting to pretty much give up and go home. That also meant I wasn’t paying attention to water going in (or more importantly over the top of me to cool off) and nutrition plan was a bit uncertain too as I hadn’t had the swim to burn off some calories.

I may have mentioned I am a bit of a slow thinker. After 60km I was realising that it was pretty hot out there, and I was getting a headache and my pace was not what it was supposed to be. Couldn’t be the wind (there wasn’t any) and certainly wasn’t the bike’s fault.

So, I took in some more nutrition (more on that later…!) and pushed the pedals with a bit more intention. That seemed to work nicely and pace picked up. But ……….. so did the heat.

My nutrition bars were chocolate/peanut flavour. Not my choice, that was all they had left in the required brand (amazing how few brands are made that work for a Coelic like me). It is pretty obvious to you already that having chocolate covered bars in your back pocket when it is REALLY hot is going to be messy. It became obvious to me as well, at about that time, and I think I looked a bit like Augustus Gloop (Charlie and Chocolate Factory). It also became obvious to me just how few places there are that you can wipe chocolate covered hands when you are out on a bike course……….. (Hint: DON’T wipe them on your shorts if your club favours really light coloured kit……).

By time I came past turnaround for first lap I was determined to negative split the bike, figuring that I had mucked around so much on the first lap there was no way I could fail to do better. I had noticed that the athletes heading back out of town on the second lap had this strained look on their face and weren’t really enjoying themselves. I found out why.

I was pretty damn hot at that stage, and with another 15km or so to go to an aid station I couldn’t just pour water all over myself. So, I had to grit my teeth and settle for pedalling like Grandma Duck and keep conservative pace until I got the next aid station and then grabbed as many water bottles as I could, shoving them down my top and into bottle holders.

I felt a bit better after using 4 bidons of water over myself over about a 5km distance, and woke up enough to notice there was quite a few athletes just sitting on side of road. No obvious mechanical, and whilst some of these athletes probably DID have irretrievable mechanical issues with their bike, I suspect some also just completely overheated and their bodies demanded an end to the torment.

I rode past an athlete who had been knocked unconscious off her bike and was surrounded by 7 other riders (I was told later she had been knocked off by a kangaroo jumping out of bush – not sure whether to believe that story but I guess there is no proof to the contrary).

I then realised I was feeling worse and my head was getting worse and generally feeling a bit average. Those chocolate bars weren’t getting any easier to eat either, and after the first 6 gels have gone down, I definitely DON’T look forward to swallowing more gels.

So, I had to humbly accept my fate and push at a quite average effort back to town. I was hoping that the athlete tracker on website had crashed (it usually does) and nobody would know about my ride ( I was told later that my mother-in-law kept asking “Is Ian still out on the bike? Why is he taking so long?”. This didn’t make me feel any better).

I got off the bike and went into the tent to change. Nobody feels sensational after 180km on a bike, but I usually look forward to the run. I wasn’t convinced however I could run (turns out that was prophetic). I hobbled out with my best athletic run (looking a bit like Quasimodo) and saw a friendly face at the fence. Craig told me “It is really hot here”. Yeah, thanks mate, you should try it out in the farmlands of Busselton. He also told me that a breeze was due to come in an hour, which made me feel HEAPS better (also turns out he was lying and the breeze never came).

The run on IM can be a very humbling experience. It is often slow, always painful and involves various changes in mindset (“thank God I am running now” through to the thoughts of “this doesn’t seem quite right” through to “I am pretty sure that they have moved that aid station and it is a lot further than it was last lap”).

I don’t want to bore you with the details, but the run was humbling. I haven’t ever suffered cramps on a run before, so it was a new experience to have first my left calf decide it had enough of the insult (at 15km mark) and then right calf at about 20km mark.

Seeing my wife and daughter each lap was brilliant. They are wonderful people and incredibly supportive of my efforts. Seeing the wolf pack in their tent was also massively positive and they were very kind to me and told me I was running well (I wasn’t, and if you don’t believe me have a look at the race photos).

It was also inspirational to see Shane catch up to me on the run (he had suffered cramps out on the bike) and give it it his absolute all in a brilliant IM debut race. Travis offered me a beer, which I accepted (before reflecting 5km later that beer contains gluten so that wasn’t smart for a Coeliac. I may have mentioned before that I am a bit of a slow thinker…….)

As usual, finishing an IM race is brilliant. Truly brilliant. All those hours of the demons in your head (telling you to stop the pain by just laying down for a while) have been condensed into a few moments of pure victory – the mind has triumphed over the body.

Walking back to the car I was regaled by the stories of a gentleman who had also raced (but far more swiftly than I did) and how he found conditions really difficult and had to stop a few times on the bike to get some ice to cool down – I felt sorry for him until he told me he finished in 8 hrs 50 mins.

Ironman is a great leveller. It brings out the best of human spirit, the capacity to suffer and yet endure. The ability to have self doubt, and yet encourage and support others around you to succeed in their quest at the same time as you perhaps face failure in your own.