Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ironman Western Australia 2009

As the Australian saying goes: "That sucked balls mate!" In short, I got my ass kicked, quite literally.

I'll heavy load the report to the swim, well because, there was no run, and the bike was a blur.

Let's get to it. The race started at 6:15 a.m., an hour earlier than IMFL. I had set the alarm for 3 so that I'd have time to eat breakfast, digest, get to transition, and then otherwise get going. In this instance, the jetlag worked in my favor as still being on West Coast time, or East Coast time, or some time other than Western Australian time, I was wide awake at 2:50. After making the usual prerace preparations, (e.g., going to transition, taking a dump, checking out the bike, putting the water bottles on the bike, pumping up the tires, taking another dump, listening to Foo Fighters on the loudspeakers (even in Australia, Foo Fighters is apparently a M-Dot standard), putting away my dry clothes bag, putting on my wetsuit, walking around, taking off my wetsuit so I could try to take another dump), I finally headed down to the beach for the start of the race with ten minutes to spare.

The nice thing about Western Australia is that, like a big city stand alone marathon, there is a self seeding process at the beginning of the swim. When you register for IMWA, they ask you what your expected swim time is, and then they give you a different colored swim cap depending on the group withing which your expected time falls. When I registered, I had written down 1:05 (if you have noticed yet, I'm an optimist!), which put me in the white cap group, the second fastest expected group. The blue caps were the fastest expected group.

In any event, the swim starts out in the water, rather than a beach run start like IMFL. So in the water I got, treading water for 5 minutes or so, taking the time to pray that there would no sharks.

The gun went off. And I immediately felt the best I had ever felt during an Ironman swim. The fact that the swim was already almost sorted out, made me think of all the Hawaii Ironmans that I have seen on TV: long drafting lines drawn out over 50-100 meters. It felt very cool. And I was feeling fast.

The route of the swim takes you out a little less than 1.2 miles or 1900 meters (I'm getting very good with these conversions!), ends the first half with a U-turn along the jetty, and then takes you back to shore. If nothing else, I had kept up my swimming since IMFL (save for the past week). So adding in the drafting effect, and knowing that I was swimming with a group of relatively fast swimmers, I felt like I was flying, for me at least, so much so that with the help of my drafting buddy, I caught up to some of the blue caps. However, ironically, it would be the swim and the drafting that ended my day.

Once we hit the turnaround, suddenly everyone seemed to hit the breaks, a huge bottleneck occurred, and instead of there being a few swimmers in front of me, I was now surrounded by hundreds of swimmers. The washing machine had started.

Up. Down. Up. Down. White water all over. Chaos ensues. And unfortunately for me, I got absolutely clobbered. I took someone's full-powered kick right into my goggles which in turn twisted right into my eyes. I had just taken a knockout punch.

I moved over to the right side where I could try to collect myself, but it was tough. I literally could not see a thing. Both eyes were swelling up. And my left eye in particular stung like b%tch.

After treading water for some time trying to figure out what was going on, I just started swimming again (sans goggles) opening my eyes ever 10 strokes or so to make sure I was headed in somewhat of the right direction. I looked for a kayak, so that I could swim to it and ask for some help, but couldn't find any. So I just kept swimming back to shore - 10 strokes with eyes closed, stopping to look up, and then swimming again - for what felt like an eternity. I finally made it back. 1:09:51. Not bad. I thought it was going to be more than 1:20 - 1:30.

As I got into T1, I was just trying to determine whether to stop and ask for some assistance or keep going. I didn't want the slow transition time, so I just went, hoping for the best. The best did not come.

Out on the bike, both eyes started to swell up more and more over time. But my left eye swelled up completely - I couldn't open it. The sweat running down my race just exacerbated the stinging in my left eye. So I was depending on the little I could see out of my right eye. It wasn't fun.

Making matters worse, I'm not a very good at bike handling. Taking my left hand off the bike - especially the TT bike - makes me nervous. Here in Australia, because you are riding on the left side of the road, and passing on the right, you catch water bottles at the aid stations with your left hand. Putting my inability to see out of my left eye and my terrible biking skills was not a good combination. I had to pretty much come to a complete stop at every aid station to fill up nutrition.

As I kept going, my eyes were just kept getting worse and worse. It was very difficult to see at all so that by the time I was halfway through the bike, everything, and I mean everything, was a blur. I could barely even see my bike computer. My goal was to get to the finish line in one piece.

I haven't downloaded it yet, but I think my average watts for the ride ended up being about 190+. The bike course would be very fun if in peak shape. Very fast. Lots of room to ride. No cars in sight. And I'd say despite the flat course, everyone for the most part rode clean.

Once I got into T2, again, I was debating whether to stop and get treatment or continue on. I continued on. But not for long.

I landing up walking pretty much the entire first lap. I attempted to run at the very beginning, but I could not see a thing, the sun was hurting my eyes, and I had to keep my head down to try to shield my them as much as possible from sweat and any light.

Despite walking, the crowd support was unbelievable - by far and way the best support out of any Ironman that I have done. Those Aussies are hardcore. Very much into triathlon. The marathon course, which is a three-loop course, is covered the entire way with Aussies screaming their heads off. It was awesome, even if I was walking.

Once I went past the first loop though, I saw the first aid station and stopped. I had them check me out and they said that I needed to stop the race and see the doctor. Again I was deliberating what to do. I finally told them to call for the van. And that was the end of my day. A long way to come for a DNF.

This morning I feel like crap. My left eye is completely shut. The cornea is apparently scratched up. And my right eye is still swollen, though I can open it somewhat.

Nonetheless, the pain from having DNF'd far outweighs any pain in my eyes. A 17 hour Ironman is better than a DNF. It really fucking feels awful, or as the Aussies say, "It sucks balls mate!"

Thursday, December 3, 2009


It took a frickin long time to get here - over 30+ hours - not including my travels to the east coast, but here I am in Busselton, Australia, ~ 24 hours before the race starts, after having finally slept in a bed and not on an airplane. It's been quite the adventure. Sunday: 8+ hours of travel to the east coast; Monday: 8+ hours back to the west coast; Tuesday + Wed + Thurs: (Lose a day due to the time change): 30+ hours from LA to Sydney to Perth to Busselton.

I'm all registered and now that I have given up trying to go back to sleep because of jetlag, I am finishing up packing my transition bags. This Ironman will be much different than the last 2-3 that I have done (which may be a good thing!) as I have not done much training since IMFL, have yet to ride over 190 watts since IMFL, and have not done a lick of training - nada - since last Sunday, the longest I have gone without doing anything, and certainly the longest I have not ridden a bike, in about 2+ years. I plan on doing a short run and a 1 hour bike this morning just to get moving again. But I have no idea where my fitness is, how to pace myself, or how I will feel during the race.

Right now, I have all the same pre-race jitters as I normally do, but I feel more similar to how I felt before my first Ironman - scared of the distance! - than I do to how I felt before the last two races in IMFL - focused on going sub 10. An Ironman is a long ways, something you start taking for granted when you get in relatively good shape. I'm just hoping now that I can finish without killing myself. So my goal for this race is simply to have fun, and enjoy racing in Australia -- but if I have another 8+ minute transition, I'll be pissed!

Busselton is just like any other Ironman venue that I have been to - a small town with not much going on, far away from any metropolitan area, in the middle of frickin' nowhere. I just happen to be in the middle of frickin' Western Australia, which is very crazy to think about. I saw a dead kangaroo on the side of the road as I was driving here, which made me feel like I was in Crocodile Dundee.

But I am no Crocodile Dundee. As I was flying here, I was studying the map of Australia. There is a place about 1000k north of here called Shark's Bay. 1000k may seem like a lot, but for a guy like me, 1000k is close enough to put shivers down my spine. In in any other type of situation, I get out of the water if there is a goldfish in it.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Monday: Travel back to the west coast. Crazy day. Bad weather canceled flight from Connecticut. Took a taxi to New York and flew back from there.

Tuesday: Am about to get on a plane to Sydney for vacation in Australia and New Zealand. Stopping off in Perth and then Busselton for IMWA. I hadn't initially planned on doing this race and am grossly undertrained and still recovering from IMFL, but since I will be relatively close to the race, I've decided to do it. When else would I ever get to do an Ironman in Australia? This is going to really hurt but its going to be awesome. Apart from finishing, my goal is to have faster transitions. I arrive in Australia the day before the race. I can't wait!