I always thought my limits in Ironman are purely physical. I'm talking about lack of background and experience in endurance sport and sport in general, lack of talent, my not-fish-like-swimming and so on. Ironman Melbourne has proven me wrong. Very wrong.
Sitting here and trying to write a race report is fairly difficult as there isn't much to report about in regards to the actual race. I had a really good day. I did my thing, stuck to the plan and loved it. I spent very little, if any time at all, in the 'dark' place. There were no major dramas but many moments that I remember fondly. I felt happy and calm and the whole thing was over in a heart beat.
For me, the real battle happened during the months leading up to the race. To put it in perspective, I signed up for Melbourne in late December, after feeling pretty disappointed and upset after Ironman Busselton. The race didn't go to plan at all, I didn't enjoy the day, not even the supposed-to-be-magical finish chute. That was a first for me. I thought of Melbourne as redemption and opportunity to apply some lessons that I learnt during Busso. When I discussed the plan with Mike, we knew the proximity of the two races could be risky. But there was nothing and no-one that could have changed my stubborn mind. So I had a mini-break over Christrmas and felt good when I came back in January. That lasted for a couple of weeks until I hit a wall of tiredness. I remember calling Mike the week before the first 180km ride - deep inside I hoped he'd tell me to pull out of Melbourne, making the decision for me, confirming it was to aspirational to back up an Ironman with another one etc. Well, that obviously did not happen. We made a few changes to the training plan and keep going. I then did the first of 3 180km ride with the boys which ended up being my favourite session of the entire program. It gave me a huge boost. After the ride, as I was lying on the floor in my living room (for a solid hour), I had this amazing feeling that you get after a good session, thinking "Maybe I CAN do this after all?!". Unfortunately, this didn't last for long. I had a lot of 'stuff' going on at work during that time and my usual self would use training as a positive outlet. For some reason though, this time it didn't work that way. All I kept thinking was "It's too much, I can't handle this work stress AND Ironman Training". Completely ignorant to the fact that I had done it before, and so many other people do it all the time. I guess as much as my head was in it for all the right reason, my heart wasn't. I had somehow manouvered myself into a Can't-do-hole, which is a pretty dark and lonely place. Ironman training can be tough enough at the best of times, so this really didn't help. Trust me, I wasn't the most fun and chirpy person to be around. And *Surprise-Surprise* I started to think everything was going wrong, on the bike in particular. My beloved BMC and I had many moments that really tested our relationship (which used to be pretty fabulous!) to a point where I was dreading bike sessions.I felt slow with no power and over all that negativity I failed to acknowledge that the numbers were saying something different. So I spent February in this limbo of "I'll withdraw" and "I'll race and just see what happens". My second 180km went ok but I had to cut the last one short due to a niggle in my leg. Brain goes "Surely I won't be able to race with this". Physio burst that bubble pretty quickly, saying I should be able to manage it for a few weeksand be ok for race day.I tried to remind myself that, in fact, I was pretty lucky, because I was injury- and accident-free. So nothing was stopping me from that point of view. But doubts kept creeping in. I convinced myself I wouldn't be able to cycle 180km. I was scared to face another disappointing race, walking away with a severly bruised ego. So I hoped someone or something would give me a good reason to not go to Melbourne after all.
Finally, Taper. 3 days in and I got a cold. YAY! That was it. The Monday before race day, I told my boss that I wouldn't need annual leave because I wasn't going to Melbourne "When did you turn into a quitter?" was his response. I was pretty angry - what the heck did he know about Triathlon?! I told Mike that I wouldn't be racing. I felt I finally had a good reason. But by Monday night, Mike had managed to talk me around. It would be a huge mistake and I would regret it, he said. Just go out there and have some fun, was his advice. "The numbers look what they should look like, you'll be ready on race day.' It's hard to argue numbers - so I promised to board my plane on Thursday.
I woke up that morning and my cold had magically disappeard. Exactly as everyone told me. I headed to the airport, without the usual pre-race-giddiness. "I'll just see what happens on the day, I can always pull out during the bike". In my mind I actually tried to figure out how I'd get back to St Kilda if that happened, given T1 was 40km away from the finish...
So - Melbourne; the rest of the crew was there already and after a very (!) windy bike ride, we checked in and drove to Frankston to check out the start and swim. Phew it was rough out there! And guess what... "I won't be able to swim in that if Sunday will be anything like it" (to be fair, I still think it would have been a struggle). I was looking for yet another reason to not race, 2 days out. Pre-Race-Brick on Saturday and for the first time in weeks my legs felt like MY legs. A glimpse of hope. Maybe the next day wouldn't be a complete disaster. After the bike check-in, we headed out to the Eastlink to drive the bike course. The inevitable pre-race-chit-chat started as soon as we were on the road. Race strategies and eventually what times we were aiming for. I sat in the backseat, quietly, trying to not participate in the conversation. Failed. "So Ann, what are you going for tomorrow?" I really didn't want to comment... "Ah you know, I just want to do my own thing and finish." Awkward silence in the car.
"Well, that's a statement quitters would make and we don't have quitters in the squad. So - what time ARE you going for?"
As much as I didn't have any major break-though-moments during the race itself, this was it. Probably exactly what I needed. I surely didn't want to be seen as quitter. What the hell was I doing??? And just like that, I was all in. Head and heart. I was going to do this.
"Whatever you can do, or dream you can - begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."
Something I read the night before the race and it sums up the day that would follow perfectly. I had come this far, now all I had to do was back myself and then follow a plan. Don't get me wrong, I was still nervous and a intimidated before the start, surrounded by all these super-fit athletes. But the moment the gun went of, I was calm and looked forward to the day ahead. I promised myself to do everything I could to have a race I'd be happy with, and that would include to actually enjoy swimming, cycling and running. To soak up the atmosphere, to remind myself that an Ironman is something pretty special, something I thought was impossible to do 2 years ago. And just like this, my love for Triathlon was back. I focused on the positives, stayed calm and moved on when something went wrong. 24 hours earlier, I would have used my shark encounter early on in the swim as a reason to pull out. I thought a million things in a split second to figure out what to do, but quitting didn't even come up as an option. So I kept on swimming. )To be fair, he looked pretty relaxed and as I'm not exactly a front-pack-swimmer I thought he would have nibbled on someone by now. He probably knew that all these lean triathletes covered in body glide wouldn't be very tasty.)
In T1, my front wheel was stuck and I couldn't move my bike. Another great excuse to get upset and flustered. I just fixed it and enjoyed the massive cheer from the sidelines when I finally took off . That's where the 6.30minutes in T1 came from, in case anyone wondered.
Otherwise, I think I checked my watch twice. Not that time wasn't important - quite the opposite, I really, really wanted to improve my Busso time; but I figured checking my watch every kilometre wouldn't change my total time. I crossed the finish line 10minutes faster than in December and this time I made sure to take in every last bit of that experience. Pretty amazing. The entire run was spectacular but those last couple of kilometers were unforgettable
.Looking back at the race now, I am tempted to be critical because I didn't get the exact time I wanted and I think there's an awful lot to improve on. But here's the thing: I now know that there will be plenty more races to work on these things and I know I can do it. I won't be retiring from Ironman after all.
Busso Ironman challenged me physically and it was tough, tiring and painful. Melbourne Ironman showed me my mental limits and it was the hardest thing I've ever done. For the first time in my life, I wanted to quit something I've started. I'm so glad I didn't. Thanks to everyone who didn't let me.