Ironman Melbourne 2014 Race Report

by Andrew Maitland #429Well after two days, still feeling sore, I am able to look back and reflect on the race I’ve spent a year preparing for. Firstly I can say I have thoroughly enjoyed the training. It’s been a great way to meet some wonderful people here in Melbourne and push myself harder than I originally thought possible. The training has been very intense and time-consuming but I can now say it was all worth it!

In the lead up to the race I had been feeling stronger and stronger across all three disciplines. For those who know me well I have always struggled with swimming, finding it both boring and challenging due to my lack of swimming as a youngster. But by the end of the training I was starting to love it, especially the open water swims in the bay in the last few weeks. The training program I was on was about developing power and endurance on the bike and I feel this is where I have most improved. I had dramatically improved my ability to hold a solid pace over a long duration using less energy and then feel comfortable to run well off the bike. Running always came easier to me but in my two lead up half ironmans; Shepparton and Geelong, I had felt flat and uncomfortable from the outset off the bike. This was definitely something that had me very worried for this race. I had a good chat with my coach Sean following Geelong about how to improve this and he reassured me that the conditions couldn’t be as bad (38° and 80km/h wind gusts) and I will use a better nutrition and pacing strategy for the Ironman. He also reminded me that my main goal was Melbourne and I hadn’t tapered for those events, plus my wedding two weeks prior to Shepparton was less than ideal prep! However, even though I was comfortably getting through my 2hr+ Sunday long runs I was still concerned it would all fall apart race day.

We headed down the Nepean highway to the start in Frankston at the crack of dawn. I felt good, I felt fresh, I had managed to eat a lot in the past few days and I had sat down and calculated my totals for the year and realised I was ready. For those that are interested I had done (Swim: 230km, Bike: 6700km, Run: 1480km). I checked my bike and met the rest of the MTC crew at the beach – flat, calm seas, you beauty! I’m always most nervous before the swim start and my wife Simona always says she can stop holding her breath only once I exit the water (knowing I’m going to swim over an hour is a long 1505364_10203438843398118_2059175258_ntime to hold your breath!). I found a spot in the middle of the pack 2 rows behind the front swimmers. I figured it is going to be like a washing machine so I may as well get into the middle of it! The gun went off and I dived straight in and start swimming. It was mayhem to the first buoy and I was constantly feeling feet, hands, fist and arms pulling me down and in my face. I managed to find some feet and swam wide around the buoy and managed to swim clear. It began to clear out as the swim progressed and I found some clearer water and swam it steadily. My goal was to swim under 1hr 15 and I was relieved when I exited the water to see I had snuck under that, first goal tick!

I jogged into the change tent, grabbed my bag and changed into my bike gear. It all went well and it took me around 5mins. I ensured I put socks on as I chose not to in Shepparton and had suffered nasty blisters. I found my bike and saw Simona and my parents cheering at the edge of transition, it was good to have support on the course and I was feeling great after the swim so I jumped on my bike feeling positive. The bike course is along the Eastlink, a new, smooth tollway that travels south to north and back. As I exited Frankston I looked down at my speedo and realised my heart rate was not showing on the display. I tried to move the strap to get a reading and it start showing 150%! Ok, I hope for god sake that this is malfunctioning. It then displayed 25% and I realised I was going to be racing blind, with no heart rate!!! I reassured myself this wouldn’t be a problem and pushed on.

With a moderate southerly at my back I was able to hold over 40kph for most of the first 45km. The course descended into a tunnel near the turnaround point that was about 2km long and we were able to fly down the hill with a solid 6-7% climb out. I paced the climb and overtook a lot of riders coming out and reached the turnaround point. I instantly realised it wasn’t going to be as easy on the way back, the wind was straight in my face and I noticed my speed was starting to drop. Packs of riders began forming on the way back to Frankston and I was getting very frustrated. I had no intention of getting penalised for drafting so I kept trying to overtake these groups and sit out in front but within minutes the same group of riders overtook me and then slowed down. I eventually gave up trying to drop these groups as I was using a lot of energy so I hung back and as we went through an aide station managed to push past and finally drop them.

It was fantastic to finally get into Frankston for the end of the first lap. It’s quite a boring course with very few people along the tollway so seeing the crowds of cheering people especially my wife buoyed my spirits to start the 2nd lap. I 10152618_10203439056523446_1433471514_nmanaged to stay well clear of any groups on the final lap and rode the final lap strongly but keeping in mind my main goal was to run the marathon strongly. Just before the tunnel my parents and aunt and uncle were camped at one of the exits. Having ridden for an hour or so it was great to hear some friendly cheers of support. The wind picked up for the final push into Frankston and I looked down at one stage and I was struggling to hold 30kph. My hamstrings were feeling really tight and I was getting a bit of nerve pain in my glutes. I was hoping this wouldn’t continue into the run. I overtook a training buddy, Mark Johnston just before I entered Frankston and it was good to see him. He is a very strong runner and I was hoping I might be able to run with him for some or the entire marathon.

I reached T2 and jumped off my bike and left it with the catchers. I said to myself, “you are feeling great!” Even the short jog into the change tent felt good. I changed into my runners and headed out onto the run course. The sun had come out and the wind was light, perfect conditions to run a fast marathon! Immediately I checked my Garmin watch, no heart rate! Damn, how am I going to monitor my effort? My work colleague is an exercise physiologist and a strong advocate of the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale (RPE). Basically you rate your level of exertion based on feel. I don’t normally check my heart rate regularly during runs so I pushed it out of my mind and decided I would run this marathon by feel.
I looked at my watch, my first 3kms were under 4:30mins/km. Ok maybe I should slow this down a little, but I felt good and decided I’d keep going until it started to feel uncomfortable. Mark pulled up next to me and it was good to have someone to chat to and take the focus off the task at hand. I was feeling good, I’ve never felt this strong running off the bike and I was expecting at anytime for it to suddenly hit me and I’d be unable to hold the pace. I kept running and just prior to Chelsea, Simona drove past and beeped. I ran strongly to Mordialloc (20km) averaging 4:40mins/km, however I knew that from here it would start getting harder with undulating rollers with some steep pinchers coming up from the beach. The scenery was amazing and there were plenty of MTC crew about to cheer you on! Their support was awesome!
IMG_8234As I popped out at Mordialloc a training buddy who wasn’t competing Mark McNamara was at the top of the hill on his bike. He rode next to me telling me I was looking strong. I decided to ask him my swim and bike splits, I had swum 1hr14mins3secs and 5hrs5mins50secs. Awesome, I was stoked with those times and after quick calculation I worked out I needed to run sub 3:30 for this marathon to break the 10hr mark, I was on track!

As the rolling hills continued I started to slow my pace, I focussed on my running technique including higher knees and increasing my cadence slightly. When I hit Black Rock (30km) I started to hit a bit of a wall. Mark rode up next to me and asked how I was feeling, I remember saying “it’s starting to get hard” and it was. My legs felt heavy but I wasn’t going to slow down. I had started the run saying I wouldn’t walk through any aide stations or have any cola and up until this point I hadn’t. I got to the 32km mark aide station and couldn’t make myself stop and walk so I grabbed some water, tipped it over my head and then sculled a cup of cola and managed to get most of it on my face. However, something other than gels was such a pleasant change and I knew I was having just cola from now on. I got to the 34km mark aide station and decided to walk through so I could actually drink the cola and then ran through. Another team mate Guy McLaren ran next to me and we ran together for a bit. He looked strong and can run, however I managed to catch him at the next aide station. He appeared to have hit a wall and walked slowly through, however on the other side was a big group of MTCers with a sign saying ‘Go Guy’ and from then on I didn’t see him.

Coming over the final roller into Brighton you get an awesome view of Melbourne CBD. I could see St Kilda in the distance and knew as I’d done this run so many times in training I only had about 7kms to go. I started to feel good and managed to keep my pace strong, I ran through Elwood and knew I was only one suburb away from the finish. Around the corner from St Kilda beach was the Giant corridor of noise with bells and cheering and offering cups of beer, it was a great feeling and I managed to lift my pace to under 5mins/km for the final push. I ran past more of the MTC guys in front of the St Kilda Surf Lifesaving club and high fived a few of the guys. I could see Catani gardens where the finish is located but I had no idea of my overall time. I saw my work colleague Tony Beecroft, who as a physio has been fantastic in keeping me injury-free, and then round the corner onto the famous red carpet. The feeling is magic when you know you have only 200m to go and as I ran down I looked up at the arch and saw 9hrs55mins on the display! I saw Simona to my right and gave her a fist pump and then ran through the finish line. What a feeling, not only did I finish but I smashed my PB and went sub 10 hours!!0658_58377

Swim: 1:14:03

Bike: 5:05:50

Run: 3:26:47

Overall: 9:55:19

I want to firstly thank my coach, Sean Foster. His program incorporates an excellent balance of intensity, duration and strength work, to not only just complete an Ironman but to race it. I couldn’t have dragged myself to all those morning sessions without such a keen group of triathletes pushing me harder each session, it’s been great training with guys (and girls!) who are much stronger than me so I can continually keep trying to catch them.

To my swim training buddies, Daniel Patience and Mark McNamara, thanks for meeting me at the pool or the bay before daylight so I can try and sit on your feet and drag myself around the water. I’m definitely a stronger swimmer thanks to you guys!

I’m lucky to work with such top health professionals, Tony Beecroft (sports physio), Simon Sostaric (exercise physiologist), Cath Polack (exercise physiologist) and Richie, Clare and Steph (massage therapists). Thanks guys for helping me keep my body together!

Lastly but certainly not least, my beautiful wife Simona. She has been amazingly tolerant of me when I’m always tired and hangry (sic) post-training, wanting to go to bed early, endlessly talking about training sessions or coming out to watch me compete. I couldn’t have got through it all without her!

So where to now? Well I’m going to spend the rest of this week considering if I want to do it all again, but until then I’m going to rest up and enjoy some of the things I’ve sacrificed over the past few weeks!