Well as I wait to board the my flight back to Melbourne, I should sum up my first Ironman experience.
While I have participated in my first Ironman, it was a far from being a race for me. It all started going downhill when my roommate at the hotel asked me to take him to the ER at 4am on Thursday morning with severe food poisoning. I was still feeling fine, until early Friday evening, the day before the race when I started having some similar symptoms, and my roommate, who was now recovering said I should go to the ER before it gets any worse, so for the second time that week, we loaded into a cab to go the ER. Thankfully I don’t think any of the same nurses or doctors were on. Anyways, I got back to the hotel 8 hours before race start, not sure if I would be able to line up for the race, I would be reassessing in the morning.
Race day morning, the alarm goes off at 4:45am to the sound of a steady rain falling outside. This was to become a common theme for race day. Feeling ok, I make myself some breakfast and finished packing everything for the big long day ahead. I make my way down to the transition area, make sure the tires are pumped up, relube my chain, then go to the big tent to get number marking and get my wetsuit on. As I make my way down to the swim entrance, I hear the big cannon go off for the pros, and it is my 15 minute warning for my race start.
Somewhere nearby there were some Maori doing the huka and a giant 40 man canoe out in the water keeping the age groupers from going past the start line. I headed out to the start line between the two start buoys, positioned myself about 10m from the line, and had no other swimmers within 5ft of me, which is pretty good when you consider there are 1500 other swimmers in the water. The lights go off, and the cannon fires again, and off I go, for a little 3.8km swim. I get into my rhythm and swim at a nice easy pace to warm up. I try to stay clear of too many other swimmers and just watch as the lake bottom goes by, 20 feet below. After 10 minutes I see a scuba diver sitting below the swimmers, then the golf balls from the Hole in One challenge on Lake Taupo. I try to not push it too hard, breathe every 3 strokes, and stay well within my comfort zone. After about 1.5k’s into the swim, my stomachÂ decides it isn’t too happy with me, and I ‘feed the fish’ just a bit. Anyway, around the turn buoys some of the swimmers get a bit excited and try to swim over me, so I just kick a bit harder and they disappear behind me. On the return leg, still 2km to go, I decide to conserve some energy and sit on some toes, and just keep the arms turning over. At the last turn buoy, 300 meters from shore, I head for the lights and the arch and pick the kick up a bit to get the blood flowing again. Out of the water I come, look at the clock and see 1:12…which was a bit disappointing, until I realize it is the pro time, so I had swum 57 minute! Little did I know as I ran out of the water that this would be the dryest and warmest part of the day.
Up the road then up the stairs to transition, a solid 400m run, I make it to the transition bags, and as I run by, a volunteer hands me my bag, packed with all my bike gear. Running into the change tent, I find a seat, and a volunteer comes up and lays out my gear from my bag, helps me out of the wetsuit, and then puts everything away for me. Great system!
As I run out and grab the bike, it is just a solid rain, but I just keep going…what else can you do? The bike starts out as a flat 3k along the lake, right next to the swim course, until it turns uphill and you begin the climb out of Taupo. It is straight into granny gear and just spin it up the hill, no reason blowing up 4 k’s into a 180k ride. As I get out of town, I get comfortable on the TT bars, and just start covering the miles, drinking, getting a gel down every 30-45 minutes and trying to stay comfortable. Past the turn around 45k’s in, and back towards town. As I begin the long decent into town, I am loving the speed, but beginning to fill the chill in the air soaked to the skin In the city center proper, I feel like I am riding in the tour. Even in the pouring rain, there are people lining the entire course cheering for everyone, barricades up to ensure an uninterrupted ride through town, and music blaring from race HQ. As I begin climbing out of town again I feel the energy fading. It begins to get harder to get food in, as my stomach is not wanting any of it, and my teeth begin to chatter. At the first aid station, I stop in and ask for a poncho. I pull it on, which is actually quite difficult wearing an aero helmet, and try to make it fit as tight as possible, not too successfully. So hear I am wearing a 10 cent rain poncho, flapping in the wind, wearing an aero helmet on S80 deep dish wheels, doesn’t quite work out. Anyway, I keep riding to the next aid station where I have warmed up some, rip the poncho off, and keep going. I already know I am fading fast, but just keep riding along.Â I begin counting down the miles, first it is just to Frankston and back, then just the short morning ride to Black Rock and back, then as I crest the hills leading into town it is just riding down to MSAC for training. At the last aid station I throw off my two old water bottles and pick up 2 fresh Ironman water bottles, while I didn’t need the drinks, fresh water bottles are always appreciated.Â The ride is almost over.
After transition I just have a marathon to go. I begin plodding along, it is still raining, it actually had never stopped raining. I begin the run at around a 6:00 pace, then pick it up to around a 5:30 pace. It fluctuates around between the two, walking through the aid stations, and running the 2.5k’s between them. I get to the turnaround point and begin the 10k run back to town. I continue the run/walk combo, except the pace has probably dropped to around a 6:30. My current goal is to keep from getting lapped by Barry, one of the other racers I know, which i just managed by about 5 minutes. As I began the second lap, the toll on my body was starting to set in. I tried eating part of an Ascend Recovery bar, but my stomach was not having any of it. I then tried a cookie and some pretzels, and those weren’t settling much better either. I began adding a short walk between the aid stations now, and the thousands of spectators lining the run course, in the pouring rain, really began helping me move. They would see me walking towards them, read my name and start cheering for me. They would yell at me to start jogging, keep in it, one guy even said why would you come all the way to New Zealand from the US just to walk the ironman. As I began to jog again, the entire group would start cheering and clapping, it kept me going for at least a km. At the last turnaround point I just had 10km to go, I thought to myself, this is just a morning run, nothing to it. I can do it.Â I kept the jog/walk/stop at port-a-potty/walk/jog etc. all the way back to Taupo. The sun was setting…actually I didn’t see it set, I didn’t see the sun the entire day, but it was getting darker, and I didn’t want to be issued with a glow-stick, that means you have been on course too long.
With less than a km to go, I knew I was going to make it, and began reflecting back on the journey, the 1000’s of km biking, the 100’s of km’s running, the countless early morning in the pool swimming back and forth. While I didn’t feel like I had a great race, or really even a good race, I had completed my first Ironman. As I ran down the finish chute, I gave a few people hi-5s, and ran towards the line. Mike Reiley, ‘The Voice of Ironman’ called me across the line with, “Mike Murray, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” I collected the medal, the towel, got checked out by medical, and went to the recovery area. I grabbed a cup of tomato soup, and just sat down to think about the day.
It was a tough day.Â The conditions were horrible. It rained 69mm, over 2” during the day.Â It never got much above 17c (~64f). My neck and shoulders were so tight from riding on the TT bars, my left knee hurt, my little toe had a blister on it, and my stomach was still not wanting to eat. It had been a long day, I ended up with a 12:23, about an hour slower than I was shooting for, but seeing how my lead up to the race wasn’t ideal, I was happy to just be out there.
Well, I have probably written enough on the race.Â The entire week was a great experience.Â The motivation and inspiration I gained from the carb party was great, and I am looking forward to racing my next Ironman. Thanks for all your support during the year and out on the course.
Well before my flight leaves I should probably grab some gelato.