Well, it has been a few weeks since the 2009 Ironman Western Australia, and I guess I’ve been avoiding writing this race report. Physically, I had good preparation in the lead-up to this race, and mentally I was feeling quite strong after some decent results in my last four half Ironman races (one first-place, and three second-place finishes). Unfortunately, I picked up a case of the flu about 2 1/2 weeks out from race day, just as I was returning from Shepparton.
It zapped all of my energy, so I wasn’t able to do any hard sessions. It’s hard to say whether that affected my race day because some people believe that it forced me into some much-needed rest. Either way, in the week leading up to the race, I felt that I had my strength back, and I was feeling mentally tough for the challenge of defending my title. I had a lot more media commitments over in Busselton this year, due to my winning the event in 2008, but I took all of that in stride.
I was no longer under the radar.
There was a lot of hype in town that the race was going to come down to a run between Patrick Vernay and myself, but I also knew that Über cyclist Jimmy Johnsen was going to give the bike leg a crack. I knew that on race day, I had to be aware of who was going to go up there and work with Jimmy on the bike, and I suspected it was going to be my mate Adam Holborow. But regardless of the talk around town, I knew that all of these theories were going to be thrown out once we hit the water because things rarely go the way the “experts” predict.
Even though the event had more competitors than last year, there seemed to be less of a buzz around the event. Even in the warm-up to the swim, it appeared that the media and spectators were giving us a lot more space. The conditions looked perfect, and the water was flat as we started to swim. It started smoothly, but I soon swallowed a big mouthful of water, which upset my rhythm. I could see that two guys went off the front in the swim, and I was in the second pack of six. I was happy to stay in the back of that group, and let the others set the pace. The two leaders in front never seemed to get more than 100 metres ahead of us, so I wasn’t concerned. It’s a long day.
As many of you know, the swim goes straight out alongside the longest jetty in the southern hemisphere, then turns around the point and comes straight back into the beach. What appeared to be dead flat conditions while we were sitting on the beach, was not the case as we made it out to the turning cans. The swell was quite strong, and I started feeling seasick just after we turned to come back to the beach. As we got closer into the shore, the swell flattened out; however, my belly was still feeling the effects of that mouthful of sea water I swallowed at the start.
Not much changed as we hit the shore, but as soon as I started to run on the sand, I could feel my stomach churning. When I got into the change tent, I spewed up all the water I had swallowed on the swim. Not a pretty sight, but I was glad to get it out of my system, and I felt a bit of relief at that moment. We got onto the bike, and we quickly chased down the two leaders. As predicted, Jimmy shot off the front, but nobody went with him. I had Patrick Vernay riding a few metres behind me, so I knew that if I stayed with him throughout the bike, he and I would be able to push each other through the run.
The ride was pretty uneventful, and I was feeling good. I didn’t think the pace was too difficult, and we always had Jimmy about 3 to 4 minutes ahead of us. But knowing that Jimmy had some issues with his Achilles, I felt it was safer to leave him on his own and stay as close to Patrick as I could. There were about five or six guys that were riding along with Patrick and me, but it was mostly the two of us that were setting the pace, and the rest of the boys were just hanging off the back of us.
When we made it into T2, I was one of the first into the transition area. I ran by Jimmy’s bike, which was already racked. At that stage I did not know how much of a lead he had, but I made a quick transition and got out onto the run ahead of the rest of the guys in my group. I had only gone about a kilometer before I was joined by Matty White, and Patrick. I knew it was inevitable that they were going to join me, and I was hoping that we could settle into a nice rhythm to set up a good marathon. However, they had other plans, and the pace quickly grew, until I looked down at my Garmin watch, and saw that we were running at a three-minute kilometer. That is way too fast for a marathon, but I tried to hang on for as long as I could.
Even though I felt strong on the ride, the nausea that I had just after the swim was coming back to haunt me. At first, I only gave them a few metres, but then I really started feeling sick, and I had no strength. They pulled away from me pretty quickly, so I tried to ease into a pace that I was more comfortable with. Unfortunately, the pace that I was most comfortable with was walking… and at this stage I only had 37 km to go. So things weren’t looking too good. I don’t think I need to write much more regarding my run/walk. I strolled the marathon in 4:07, where I was hoping to come in somewhere closer to 2:45-ish.
I was amazed with the encouragement that I was getting from the crowds, as well as the other age group competitors who could see I was struggling in the conditions. So, all-in-all, I am happy that I finished the race but still disappointed with my result. The 2009 Ironman Western Australia didn’t go as I had hoped, but I’ll come back stronger next time.
I’ve taken a two-week break and am now training for Port of Tauranga Half Ironman in New Zealand on January 9 (Saturday race). I’ll keep you all posted with that as we get closer.