The Brutal Honesty of Ironman

Triathlon is one of those endurance sports that seems to attract those that either love the concept of inflicting pain on themselves, or striving to be the best they can possibly be.  Often both of those things at once.

Whether your love is red-lining in sprint distance, or the geriatric shuffle of an Ironman distance tri – the attraction is that only YOU know whether you have truly given it 100%.

For me – IM is my preferred poison/addiction over the last five years. After having not raced at all for two years, I was as nervous as any first time athlete as the big day got closer.  My confidence was low and I had no recent race results to comfort myself that I was well prepared.

You know, it is funny how no matter how meticulously we humans prepare, we tend to migrate towards the negatives. Those missed training sessions, the sessions where we really just “got through it” rather than focussed on achieving the purpose of the session.   It takes quite a bit of mental mastery to go back through the training diary and remind ourselves of all the sessions we consistently did,  those weeks of ticking off each session and each hour spent preparing.

Strength sessions, tolerance intervals, long slow runs, endurance rides, brick sessions – we seem to forget just how well we did prepare as we only seem to see the sleek, lean and well muscled OTHER athletes that sit drinking coffee in the streets of an IM city at race time.  WE imagine their training has been perfect (it hasn’t) and they are better prepared (they aren’t).

In any case, the idea of Ironman is to test yourself.  Just like that exam at school that is absolutely crucial that you pass well, it demands you prepare well in advance and don’t skip classes and do all the required work.  If you don’t prepare well, you may well finish but it will be a world of pain (ok, it is going to be painful anyway, regardless!).

Ironman doesn’t respect any of your other achievements in life.

You can say anything to your friends over coffee about what sort of time you will post on race-day,  but the honesty of Ironman is that you will very, very  likely get the result you deserve. Like that pebble in your shoe, any mistakes or poor preparation will be magnified on raceday.

Ian Hainsworth is the PHTC secretary and an Ironman veteran. When he isn’t planning his next IM strategy he is mending the pets of Mundaring with the same dedication he brings to his race preparation.

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.

Athlete Profile – Alex B

Name: Alex
Nickname: Blommers
How long have you been doing tri?: 3 months
How did you get into tri?: I wanted a new challange so joined the club
How many bikes do you have?: Two – a Giant roadie and a newly purchased Felt TT bike
What do you want to achieve this season?: To get through the season completing all the races i have signed up for and be ready for the half in May (fingers crossed)

Coach’s Corner with Coach Mike – Child Wrangling 101

So I have been told I need to write Coaches Corner this week, could be interesting… Given I am not an official TA Coach and base my own training on what fits with my family commitments, desire on the day and what an old friend (who happens to be a two times Kona competitor) told me when I first started out two seasons ago “racing is the best form of training”.

I will leave any pearls of wisdom in regard to triathlon planning and training to the qualified coaches and instead offer an insight into child wrangling.

As the “Pups” coach, our club’s junior triathlon program, I have developed a program based on fundamental movement skills, my experience a primary school Phys-Ed teacher and years of club and school squad swim training. So, what pearls of wisdom can I offer you? Well how about managing groups of children, you know for that next kids party or coaching the netball team?

Managing groups of kids is made easier by keeping some simple rules in mind.

Volume

You need to be the loudest, however this doesn’t mean yelling and screaming. It means gaining attention. Teachers use all kinds of means of gaining this from hand signals, whistles, bells and voice. Personally, I favour voice as it is always with me. The key point is having their full attention and being loud enough for all to hear.

Boundary

Kids have no spatial boundaries which as adults we accept as common sense. If you ask them to move away from each other and make some space because they are going to do some stretching, dancing or whatever, there will always be those who move all the way to the other side of the natural boundaries set by the court, oval, room or pool you are within.

To eliminate this and make your own life easier, set a boundary before giving the go ahead “I want you to come and sit on this mat”, “I want you to find some space away from each other inside these cones”, “we are going to play the game inside the centre third marked by these four lines”.

Distraction

If you are not the most exciting option you have no chance. Don’t try and give instruction while a lady is chasing a group of puppies across the oval, a plane is flying overhead, a rainbow suddenly appears, or they have something in their hands. All those things are more exciting than you, in fact I have found in a child’s mind pretty much most things are more exciting than listening to someone give an instruction. When it comes to equipment, always hand it out after the instruction, if they already have it from a previous activity have them place it on the ground in front of them until after instructions are given.

Redirection

This one is simple. Basically, it is easier for you if you redirect within a game or activity rather than stopping and starting. Just reiterate the point that needs attention during a game and have the children change mid task.

Kids hate stop – start and will lose interest if you interrupt the flow of an activity too often. It is important to make sure you are the loudest in this case. Bear in mind if there is major issues stopping the activity will be necessary.

Black and White/Short and Sharp

Make instructions clear and to the child’s level (black and white, no ambiguity). Don’t go on and on, remember you are only going to be the most exciting point of distraction for a short period before an ant or fart takes that away from you so make the most of it.

Praise

This may be the last point, however, it is the most important. Kids are learners, as learners we need feedback and this should be given in a positive form, be genuine and regular. Make change by pointing out something they are doing well first “great work keeping you head up Bill but try not to swing your arms across your body”. Do this and children will seek it out and absorb the information. Don’t do it and they will lose interest.

Seems simple and makes sense, right? Start being aware of this and you will notice those who do it well and those who don’t. It is about confidence and control. You need to be your best in order for kids to be theirs.

Have fun out there, Mike.

Coach Mike is a qualified primary school
physical education teacher and father
of two.