“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you” Fred Devito
I arrived in Port Macquarie on Wednesday afternoon a few days before the race. I had never been so nervous and anxious in the lead up to a race as I had been for the couple of weeks leading into IM Oz.
The week before, I struggled to sleep properly and to contain my nerves. The first couple of days in Port Mac were the same. When I went for my first training run on course I felt like I was going to vomit and I couldn’t settle my heart rate even while I was running at a snail’s pace – I was seriously that anxious! I’m not sure why I was so bad. I think it was a combination of a few things. First Ironman as a professional, first Ironman in over 18 months and because I had high expectations of myself for this race despite it being my pro IM debut. I had had a flawless preparation, barely missed a session and had not even had the slightest niggle. I was feeling extremely fit, healthy and happy.
Some of my friends and family arrived by Friday and this settled me immensely. They kept me busy and laughing and made me feel significantly more relaxed. I also got out and about around town on Friday and Saturday and got stopped many times by strangers who wanted to wish me luck for the race. It was very special and motivated me for Sunday knowing there was going to be so much support out there. Oddly enough I had my best 3 sleeps for the fortnight on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights!
Everything went to plan I woke up at 3.30am and had my regular pre-race breakfast. The nerves had settled and I was now more excited than anything. got to transition with plenty of time. Had time to chat to friends and family then it was into the water for a 10-minute warm up then over to the start line.
It was a deep water start for the professionals and we went of 1 minute after the men. My swim was ok but as usual I was on my own for the entire race (insert eye roll emoticon here). Annabel and Kelsey were away quickly as expected and built an immediate gap on the rest of us. I thought pre-race that I might be able to swim about the same pace as Laura. But I missed her feet. I could see Laura and Els for pretty much the entire swim just ahead of me but once again I wasn’t fast enough for the start, missing their feet then was unable to find another gear to jump on. So, I spent the entire swim alone about 100m back from then. Besides the odd age group man swimming past me on the way back. I still feel like such an amateur with swim starts and navigating so I’ve got much to learn and practice. I actually swam ok – but I know with a couple of basic skill improvements I could have been out of the water 90 seconds sooner. There were 8 pro women that started and I exited the water in 5th.
Straight forward and fuss free. Marina was waiting near my bike and informed me that I was about 90 seconds down on Laura and Els and 9 minutes on Annabel and Kelsey. I almost fell over when I heard 9 minutes!
I don’t know how I feel about my bike that day. I’m still processing it. I rode super strong on the first lap. My power was around 196w average (I’m about 61kg for those who like data!) for that first lap so I was extremely surprised to see at the turn arounds that I wasn’t actually making up any time on anyone. I’m a bit of a tri data nerd and I am aware of what power the best girls in the sport are holding over an Ironman. So, I knew my numbers were reflecting a very good first 90km. I was being very careful and conscious of staying down in aero and riding as smartly as a I could. So, I was very taken back and a bit demoralized when I saw that 3 of the 4 girls in front of me were actually getting further and further away on that first lap. I couldn’t believe it. I went through the first lap on track to ride a 5.10 which I knew was a solid ride on this course. Some of my friends were near one of the hills coming back into town and told me that Melanie had just passed me coming into town and was 30 seconds ahead up the road. I didn’t see her go past but had grabbed a couple of bottles of water at the last aid station so assumed it must have been around there when I was pre-occupied. So, at the first turn around I was in 6th. I have to admit I had some negative moments at this point as I was riding very well and was not expecting the ride to be panning out like this.
The second lap was pretty lonely for me! Most of the strong age group men had passed by now so I spent the majority of that second lap completely on my own aside from passing the slower athletes. The wind had picked up – it was a bit warmer out on course and my power was starting to drop dramatically. I felt a bit anxious as the first out and back approached as I wasn’t sure I wanted to know how far ahead the other girls were. I did the math and saw that I was not only a few minutes down on Kelsey so drew some positivity from that and used it to fuel me on the return. I caught Kelsey a few hundred metres from T2 and we dismounted together. I had no idea how far ahead the others were and didn’t want to know. In hindsight, my bike wasn’t as bad as I thought it was at the time. I had the 4th fastest female bike split of the day.
Kelsey and I were in the change tent together and I wasn’t feeling that great coming off the bike. I felt cooked already and we still had the marathon to run! I chatted to Kelsey a bit encouraging her and telling her she was doing a great job in her first IM – sometimes its nice to focus on others to distract yourself I think. we exited T2 within a few second of one another.
I was told Annabel had pulled out of the race so knew starting the run that I was in 5th. I had also been told that Els was also slowing very quickly so it was possible to make up a spot.
My goal pace for the run was 4.35-4.45/km. Everything I had done in training suggested this was achievable for me. I have completed 4 other Ironman races in total, and not including Kona (as I had to walk the majority of the marathon both times at Kona so its not really a great comparison) I had felt great for the first 21km or so running off the bike. In Japan and Port Mac in my prior races I had only found the last 20km or so difficult. It wasn’t the case on Sunday unfortunately. The run was a struggle from the get go and I didn’t feel good at any stage. I held my target pace for the first lap but the perceived effort was high and my legs were already so sore and heavy. The middle two laps were a massive battle! My friends and family were giving me time splits to the other girls for the first couple of laps as I was gaining quickly on one of the other girls, but I asked them to stop on the 3rd lap as I said I couldn’t do any more than I was doing and just needed to focus on getting myself to the finish line. I walked almost every aid station on lap 3. That lap was definitely a bit of a death march. I had been unable to get my gels in. I didn’t feel sick I just felt very bloated and uncomfortable. I had got all my nutrition in on the bike but only managed to get 3-3.5 gels in on the run. There were moments that I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish. I felt so ordinary.
When I started the final lap, I saw Marina and she told me that I was only about 4 minutes down on Els who was walking a lot so that pepped me up a bit. Then she said as I was running off “and jess is only a few minutes behind so you’re going to have to push ok” I hadn’t had a gel in over an hour at this point and had finally started to feel a bit less bloated so started drinking coke at every aid station on the last lap. On that last lap I tried a new strategy of running at 4.45-4.50 pace between aid stations then walking through the aid stations and getting as much coke and fluid in as I could. I got to the far turn around point which is about 4km from the finish line. I did the math’s on the out and back and calculated that Els was only 2 minutes ahead now. Then I turned to my left and saw that Jess was only a couple of hundred metres from the turn around right behind me! I was in a world of pain and just focused on one foot in front of the other and didn’t stop at any aid station on the way back into town. My last 2-3km were a few of my fastest for the race. About 500m from the finish I heard a guy yell out “go Jess” which was a huge help to me as I knew that meant she was within sight. It spurred me on to the finish chute and I was pumped to cross that line just 12 seconds ahead of Jess in the end but also bummed I didn’t manage to catch the girl ahead of me finishing around 90 seconds behind her in the end and settling for 5th place.
I was feeling very average in the recovery area after the race. My heart rate was through the roof and I couldn’t cool down for 15-20 mins. Finally, after about 20 minutes I managed to get some water and electrolyte in. My immediate feeling was relief. Relief that the pain had stopped and the race was over! My second emotion was disappointment. I had an “ok” race. I did a 20-minute PB. I went sub 10 hours. That is great. But I felt I just didn’t achieve what my fitness and training had indicated I might be capable of. But I am almost certain 90% of Ironman competitors probably feel the same way – that they maybe expected to go faster or do better.
I wasn’t unhappy – I was just a bit disappointed. Everything about the race was just “ok” which is how I still feel now. I’m not being hard on myself, I am being realistic and honest. I have never been ok with being “ok”. I like to do the impossible so I feel a bit “blah” about the race. But as I said in my social media post I am also maintaining perspective. This is my 4th year in the sport, my 3rd year in long course triathlon. Its only my 5th Ironman. And my first as a pro. My body is still very weak. It is still catching up to my heart and lungs. The other, shorter distances don’t expose those facts so much, Ironman does.
I spoke to my coach after the race and said I had forgotten how hard Ironman is. And that I thought I might just stick to 70.3 for the rest of the year. I was pretty convinced that was going to be my plan. The next day I got the shits and pretty fired up about not having the race I wanted and I’ve been planning my next Ironman race ever since (insert eye roll emoticon here)
I need to strengthen up this body and keep plugging away and getting those swim, bike and run kilometres in. When I got home I went back and looked up the run times of 6 women at the top of this sport (they were all in the top 20 at Kona in 2017) in their first pro races. They were 3.27, 3.49, 3.35, 3.17, 3.28, 3.21. It was important for me to do this just to remind myself I am on the right track. All of those women are all running sub 3.15 marathons in every race they do now. I got smashed at Port but sometimes I think we forget that even the best in the world started somewhere. It is great motivation to keep working hard and to trust the process.
I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks of recovery now but am very hungry to get back to work and to sort out the race schedule for the next few months.
Swim: 57.53 | T1: 3.14 | Bike: 5.17.55 (PB) | T2: 2.53 | Run: 3.36.21 (PB) | Overall: 9.58.14 (PB)
5th / 8
Course & Host Location Overview
Nice and flat and a fast swim course. It felt a lot harder to navigate this year though without having hundreds of other age groupers to follow. The buoys were all different colours and there were boats blocking the siting and turn buoys so I found it a little difficult to navigate in areas
I actually really like the Port Mac bike course. Yes, its tough. Yes, it’s a bit hilly. Yes, the road surface in areas is ATROCIOUSLY rough. But there are some great and fast flat sections too. I think if the road surfaces were tidied up you would be hard pressed to find a better course.
4 lap course with AMAZING crowd support. Dead flat with one short sharp hill but a nice downhill following. I can’t fault this run course. It’s the best
Perfectly laid out, short and easy to navigate.
Being a local race I honestly felt that I didn’t run more than 20 metres without hearing my name called out. Even fellow Ironman and 70.3 competitors were cheering whilst in the midst of their own races. It was super special. The support and atmosphere the entire race is fantastic
Pretty much perfect weather for racing. Cool in the morning and it might have hit maybe 23 in the middle of the day and early afternoon
Host Location – Port Macquarie 9/10
Easy to get around, good amenities, abundance of places to dine, good pool facilities in the surrounding areas, great beaches. Easy to get out of town and on to the bike course for training rides. Just overall very easy to travel to if you are an Aussie.