Ironman Port Macquarie Race Report – Shannon Fulwood
Race Date: May 6th Results: 2012
- Swim 3.8km: 1.11
- Ride 180km: 5.38
- Run 42.2km: 4.06
- (+ Transitions)
In 2011 I had pretty well conceded defeat over my Ironman Australia 2012 dream and had decided to ‘pull the pin’ on the race. I had lost a huge amount of condition in recent months and I knew that I had a very long hard road ahead of me if I were to get my body back to that of first Ironman six months prior. Fortunately however I did not withdraw there and then; and after MUCH consideration decided that I would front up and take the daunting task ahead by the scruff of the neck.
Training started on the first day of the New Year, during which I struggled through a 1km swim. Whilst I had continued to cycle and run (albeit quite conservatively), I had not swum a single lap since Challenge Cairns in June 2011. Throughout the course of the next four months I worked extremely hard in all three disciplines to gain back the condition, strength, and musculature I needed for the Ironman distance. In fact I should say four disciplines, because at this stage nutrition (and in particular my metabolism) took on a life of its own in the process of laying down new muscle and gaining strength.
I went into Ironman Australia with a lot more bike strength than I’d had before. For this reason I must thank Ethan for accompanying me on no less than eight 180km rides (plus a few 120-160km rides) including several trips up and over our good friend Mt Bingleburra. Ethan may not be aware of this but I had tears in my eyes the final time I crested the ‘mountain’… of not only relief, but also joy and appreciation of what we had been able to experience and achieve together over the previous two months. It’s a tough enough gig to head out on a 5-7 hour ride for eight consecutive weeks when you’ve actually got an Ironman race coming up; but to do it just for the sake and benefit of a loved one? There are not many people who would do that.
In the month leading up to the race I had a few niggles and injury scares, however I was overall very grateful to have stayed healthy and relatively un-affected by injury throughout the entire lead up. It’s one thing to hope for a good race, but I believe just getting to the start line is a blessing for every person who dons a race number. I remembered to be thankful for this on race morning!
Speaking of race morning, it was cold. The previous day in Port Macquarie was blowing an absolute gale, and it only became windier as the day wore on. Riding down to transition with the fancy 808’s on I was looking quite the novice, just trying to hold a straight line against the strong gusts of wind. I think everyone was hoping that the wind would settle for race day, otherwise there was going to be some major carnage during the back half of the bike leg. As it turned out, race day itself was nothing short of perfect weather wise, despite the (very) cool ambient temperature before we hit the water.
I wasn’t feeling too bad about the swim given that I had done (more than I like to recall) full distance wetsuit swims in the three weeks prior to the race. Even though it was a mass start with ~1399 other triathletes (~1200 of which were men) all battling through a course narrower than 20m in some parts, I wasn’t too stressed about the swim start… that is, until the canon went off. It was at this very moment that I thought my race was over. There and then.
I was unfortunate enough to sustain an unusual triathlon related injury, when someone elbowed me (very) hard in the lower jaw, causing me to bite my tongue so hard on both sides, my mouth immediately filled with the unmistakeable taste of blood. My primary concern was that I had actually bitten off part of my tongue. After checking both sides and the tip were still attached I started ‘swimming’ and gained comfort in the thought that at least it would get a salt water bath for the next hour. The swim was, in a word, terrible; 3.8kms of being dunked (it’s hard not to get dunked when you’re 54kgs and fighting 80kg+ men for space!), kicked, punched, scratched - you name it. 1 hour and 11 minutes of ‘biffo’ later, and I was out of the water. A very disappointing start to the day.
Into T1 and I was a happy the swim was over. I donned my $15 Cotton On turtleneck to keep me warm for the first hour or so and grabbed the P3 for the 180km bike leg. The Ironman Australia bike course appeals to me for several reasons; it is hilly, scenic, and while I was cursing it at times, the road surface is mostly pretty ordinary chip seal and quite rough in sections.
In total there’s 1790m of climbing with only one very short steep (200m @ 14%) hill, being more of a mental barrier than anything; given that it’s within 8kms from the end of each lap (of which there are two).
The next five and a half hours on two wheels passed in a mostly enjoyable fashion with the exception of a mild but somewhat expected wave of fatigue between 150-170kms. Despite my regular hydration I did however experience an absolute thumper of a headache which was among the worst I’ve had, made no less thumping by the state of the roads. This was to abate toward the very end of the ride until I was head-down on the massage table later that evening.
Lake Cathie, Bonny Hills and Laurieton were all nice places to visit, and as always I enjoyed the hills more than the flat stretches. The hills afforded me the benefit of staying away from pace lines; and thus avoid the risk of drafting. I was probably over paranoid yet determined to stay out of the penalty box this time. As is only ever acceptable on race day I was able to avoid stopping for nature breaks during the ride, in the process saving myself some time. Although I loved riding the P3 and thoroughly enjoyed the bike leg, I was also quite relieved to be (albeit awkwardly) dismounting and handing my steed over to a volunteer in preparation for the marathon that lay before me.
It was noted by my lucky volunteer in T2 that my feet “look very swollen, dear” and my shoes (complete with elastic laces) “seemed very tight”, while I was rolling around on the floor wrestling to get them on. Maybe I should have paid more attention to this observation. The legs felt more like cement than ever before and I took a while to get them moving in anything better than a robotic fashion. My feet were another story altogether.
From the first km both feet were killing me. In my altered state of mind I simply could not work out why my feet were hurting sooo much. I felt as though I was running on balloons and even though they were ‘numb-ish’, they were also incredibly painful. All sorts of things ran through my head (though nothing of any value it would seem): “should I stop and put my legs up in the air for ten minutes”, “maybe I should stop in the medical tent for assistance?”, “is there even a medical tent on the run course?” and I eventually decided that I would keep running despite the incredible pain in both feet until I could ask Ethan for his advice. What I did know is that I could not run a marathon on these balloons.
“Ethan I cannot feel my feet, but they hurt soooo much! I just don’t know what to do!!”
“Have you tried loosening your shoelaces?”
“Ahh no, but I will”
And there it was. A simple solution, though one which I was completely oblivious to, in my fatigued state of mind. I loosened off the laces and ‘heavens above!’ I actually started to get some blood flow to my feet, hooray! Needless to say the next 34kms were relatively comfortable compared to the first 8kms. Unfortunately, I discovered a substantial sized blister had developed in my arch area. This grew for the next 20kms until ‘pop’ - it finally burst, oozing into my sock and shoe. So much for the mass of Vaseline I had put in each sock (to prevent blisters).
The run itself was not too far off pace and I cannot be disappointed. Given that my best road marathon is only a 3.33, a four hour Ironman marathon is no blow out. Unfortunately though, including the three port-a-loo stops and a small drop off in pace out at Settlement Point between kms 36-40ish, I could not make a sub eleven hour Ironman happen with an eventual 4.06 marathon and subsequent total time of 11.02. In reality I had left myself with too much work to do after a 71 minute swim (that’s pretty slow in a wetsuit, for those playing at home).
With 1500m to the finish and the final hill crested, I could finally unleash my legs. The fast twitch muscles finally got a turn of the action as I came as close to ‘running’ as I would all day. I am grateful that I was able to really enjoy those last few minutes; the feeling of running down the finish chute is the ultimate feeling of liberation which I hope will stay with me forever. It truly does make it all worthwhile.
Following the race I was feeling quite worse for wear and I feel disappointed for competing friends that I didn’t have it in me to go back down to the finish line. Sleep that night was intermittent at best but I knew a big morning was ahead as Mum and I braved the crowd at the Finisher’s gear. Overall Ironman Australia was an awesome experience. I loved the carbo night, I loved the expo, I love Port Macquarie in general and the race itself was all I ever hoped it to be. I loved the presentation night and I certainly never dreamt that I would be on an Ironman podium (NB: Ironman podiums go to top 5 in each age group). It was (almost) amazing enough for me to want to sign up for next year.
Thankyou to all those who know they deserve it, for the patience, support, understanding, encouragement and love that one needs to even contemplate taking on Ironman. I would not be re-counting this race if it were not for you all.
Until next time.