It has been a year since I received the invitation to race Ultraman Australia and almost 5 months since the event. It has taken that long and a number of attempts to write a race report. I found it hard to put it on paper but wanted to have something to keep the memory. The result is rather lengthy but hopefully it is not totally boring.
Without stealing the thunder, I had several moments and even days, where all I wanted was the race to be over. I was so tired. I still felt like that when I arrived in Noosa a few days before the race – but within a few minutes of the fun gun going off on Day 1, I didn’t want it to end. Later, there would be a few moments where I simply had enough, but overall it has been the best experience and nothing like I expected.
Saturday, 12 May 2018
Day 1! I found myself standing at Noosa Beach at 5.30am, just before sunrise, waiting for the swim start at 6.15 I had thought about this moment so many times over the past months, wondering what it would feel like. To my own surprise I had been calm up until then, the usual pre-race nerves didn’t have a lot of time to play up in the days before the race. But right then, I felt the all-too-familiar knot in my stomach so that I barely took notice of the pre-race-ceremony. All I knew that the next 3 days would count so I tried to keep it cool.
My crew – Kerry, Jos, Kirsten and Ciaran - was ready to go and buzzing, they were wonderful the days leading up to the race and I was about to experience how team work really makes the dream work – little did I know. Ciaran had met and briefed my paddler Jade, a 15-year-old girl from the local surf club. She was equipped with all my nutrition and plenty of instructions to get me through the 10km swim as efficiently as possible.
Just after 6 I said my good-byes and made my way to the shore line – I had decided against a warm up and decided to stay wrapped up instead. I figured the long swim would give me plenty of time to get warm. It was a short swim to the start and at 6.15am, the gun went off. It was probably a bit faster then I expected, I thought most people would take their time. I ignored this as best as I could, focusing on spotting Jade on her paddle board while settling into a good rhythm. Within less than a minute, Jade found me and was to my left, just as agreed. This is something I learned quickly – she was always exactly where she needed to be, not missing a beat and guiding me safely through the swim. Pretty impressive for a teenager! I remember taking a breath to my right and there was the most beautiful sunrise over the ocean, something we never get to see in Perth. Suddenly the nerves disappeared, and I simply swam thinking ‘How lucky am I that I get to do this’. Sounds cheezy but true. Following Jade from buoy to buoy, stopping every 30 minutes for nutrition, I lost track of time and distance, I just tried to swim efficiently. I overtook a few people and could tell by Jade’s gestures that all the paddlers had a competition going on amongst them – who had the faster swimmer! She would wave at her mates and give me the thumbs up every now and then when I took a breath, cheering me on during the stops. Focusing on her made time go so quickly.
During the 3rd stop she told me we were already 6km in – I quickly did the maths, ca 6km in 90mins, that was way ahead of my goal. It couldn’t have come at a better time as I was worried about the last 4 km. I only completed a handful of swims longer than 6km, so I was nervous about the last section. Before I knew we turned at the last buoy, I could hear people screaming at the beach, and suddenly my feet touched the ground – first leg done, and my watch showed less than 3 hours. I gave Jade a quick thank you high-5, she was almost as excited as I was.
My crew met me at the beach for what will forever be the best transition of my life. Kerry took my wetsuit off and had my cycling gear ready (I went for the comfort of a proper cycling kit rather than a tri-suit), Kirsten was in charge of sunscreen while Jos put on my socks and shoes and Kerry made sure I ate and drank, Ciaran had the bike ready – go! 4 people making sure I get in and out as quickly as possible and they did a great job. There’s a photo of all of us in transition, which captures the moment so well. I’m pretty sure this was the first of many times other athletes wanted to swap me for my crew, they were THAT good.
I got on my bike and left for my way through Noosa. The support vehicle had to take another route, so I knew I’d be on my own for the first 10-15km. I rode the route a few times before and had the map loaded on my Garmin – I was more worried about catching people in front of me than getting lost at that stage. I quickly noticed that my power meter did not work properly. Not ideal, but I did not want to lose time by stopping and resetting it, so I decided to ‘ride blind’, by feel, and sort it out at the end of the day.
It did not take long before I overtook the first few riders ahead of me and hit the first climb that took me out of town. I expected to see my crew at the top of that climb and was a little surprised when I realised they were not waiting for me; I kept riding, thinking they would show up any moment. I eventually decided to use my ‘emergency’ food to stay on top of nutrition. The default plan was to carry as little as possible with me on the bike and the crew would hand me what I needed. As I was riding along, I started to come up with all sort of horror stories, wondering what happened to the crew – from accidents to disqualification. I later found out that I made it through town faster than expected. They were probably more stressed than I was by the time they found me! From then on, we settled into a good rhythm. I saw them frequently, probably every 10 minutes, and they handed of food and water as required.
There was certainly some trial-and-error but we soon figured out the way to go about this whole thing. I believe I didn’t make life easy for them. I was on a mission, wanting to make up time I lost during the swim. I never expected this to happen, but I was in full race mode by now. High adrenaline combined with a technical course – and I’m rubbish at cornering and descends at the best of times - made it difficult to eat; all my go-to options that worked well during training did not work that day. All I wanted was bananas but unfortunately my impatience and inability to grab them meant many of them ended up as banana mash on the road. Luckily another crew helped with spares, something I only got to know at the end of the day. It was one of the many magical things my crew did – they would never let me know if something went wrong, from my point of view everything looked like smooth sailing, all the time. They also had the entertainment sorted, would jump out of bushes with posters when I least expected it and cheered everyone one loudly – I could hear them miles away.
The course was a 145km out-and-back with roughly 1,600m of elevation. The turn around point was in a car park and the only time I agreed to stop briefly to get new bottles and apply more sunscreen. I decided to start drinking coke at that point, a lot sooner than I wanted but in hindsight the right decision. I still had a long race ahead of me so could not risk digging myself into a hole on Day 1.
The return journey was more down hill than uphill and it’s not a big secret that I’m not a big fan of downhills. There was one section that worried me when we drove the course in the week prior to the race, but I made it down ok, without losing too much time.
The turn around area was the first time that gave an indication where I sat in the overall field. I counted athletes heading back towards Noosa so I knew that 2 girls were well ahead of me. I let that thought go and simply rode as hard as I could. My crew reminded me a few times to not burn the legs, given I had another 2 long days ahead of me. You can’t win the race on day 1 they say, but you can certainly lose it. Before I knew it, I hit the last climb and then a 20km, reasonably flat, stretch home, with a breeze pushing me home.
I crossed the finish line after 7:38:59 as third woman, setting a female bike course record. It only takes a look at the pictures to see how stoked I was – all smiles! I’m pretty sure one of the first things I said was ‘This was so much fun’.
At that point I couldn’t have cared less about my results in the overall context, I was so happy how the day went. For the first time I thought that there was a chance of me finishing the whole thing within the time limit. Again, my crew was on point. Not only did they wait for me at the finish line, I had a choc milk in my hand before I even unclipped my shoes and multiple boxes of chips next to me by the time I was on the massage table. The goal was to be back at the house within an hour of finishing to maximise recovery time – nailed it!
We were all buzzing after the day, so it took some time to remember that we had to do it all again the next day. For me, this meant, feet up, eat, drink and an early night. For my crew it meant hours of running around, getting everything ready and organised for Day 2. Jos organised my stuff and packed the car, Ciaran was on bike duty, Kirsten made food and Kerry sorted out the schedule and logistics.
Day 2 was the Day I was most nervous about. My furthest ride during training was 250km, which I found incredibly hard. In addition to that, I spent a week in Noosa earlier during the year and cycled most of the Day 2 course – I knew I was in for a tough ride.
It was a 5.30 start, before sunrise. We left as a group, lined up based on bike times from the previous day. We had a police escort for the route through town, which was no-overtaking zone – a cruisy 10km, nice to be able to chat to the athletes around me. It felt quite surreal and calm, knowing we’d be out there for a long time. The moment we left town, it was all things go. It did not take long before a group of guys headed off into the distance and two of the girls behind me overtook me, trying to go with them. It was a game of cat-and-mouse before the field spread out and I managed to find some open road. It was a non-draft event and the TO kept a keen eye on everyone. The last thing I wanted was to get caught up in a bunch of riders and earn myself a penalty.
The first 50km of the route were a no-crew zone, which meant I wouldn’t see my team for a while. We had agreed a spot for them to wait for me, so I could grab food and hand off my jacket (it was pretty cold when we started). They were in the exact spot we agreed, however didn’t hand me anything…I guess I caught them by surprise for once! They met me a few kilometres down the road instead and they probably started to realise that a full-on day was ahead. Those first hours on the bike were tough for them - I impatient, nothing was fast enough, I did not want to stop or wait for anything or anyone, all I wanted was to ride my bike as fast as I could and get away from the packs of riders. There were other athletes having nice chats with their crew, I simply told them to hurry up. I cringe every time I think of those hours now. It took me a long time to settle into things and the first 140km or so were not comfortable. I rode with Deb the weekend before the race and she gave me some final tips – they came in very handy. I “scraped somedogsh*t” for a while, trying to get into a rhythm.
The route followed the same roads as the start of Day 1 before it turned off after 100km. The field had spread out by that point and there were 4 or 5 of us close to each other. I rarely saw other athletes, but knew they were somewhere as I’d see their crews. This was something I really enjoyed, the support from other crews was amazing and we quickly got to know everyone. The course took us on a loop with an out-and-back; this was the only opportunity to see others. As much as I was focused on myself, I had been waiting for this and used it to break down the course. After that turn around, I started to relax a little for the first time. Maybe it was because I realised that I had been riding well so far.
From there, we headed to the part of the course that was known to be hilly and windy. I rode the section earlier in the year and braced myself for what was to come. Not long before the steepest climb of the day, my crew suddenly started to hand me ice-cold, wet sponges. I did not ask for them and I still don’t know how Ciaran knew I needed them – but I clearly did! Within 15 minutes, I started to feel good and overtook a few guys ahead of me. I got sponges, cold drinks and food all the time, they had it sussed out perfectly by that point – they even figured out how to refill my bottle while I was riding. I cycled and waited for the pain to kick in, but it didn’t.
With about 100km to go, I caught up to a guy from NZ, Warwick. We crossed the finish lines within minutes from each other on Day 1 and started Day 2 together. For the rest of the way, we were never more than 100m away from each other, which meant we had 2 crews helping us. And knowing someone else was close by made a big difference mentally too. Warwick would often yell at me from behind when I was grinding my gears or remind me “Let’s make sure we make it home alive” when I was riding like a mad woman. The last hour was on a coastal road with a beautiful view and I loved it. I might have even told my crew that I was “feeling like a million dollars” 240km in.
It wasn’t until then that I started to think about time and asked my crew what my chances were to finish under 10 hours. My Garmin was set so it didn’t show me total distance and time and I had no clue how long I had been riding for. They laughed and told me I had roughly 30km to go and wasn’t even at 8 hours yet. Take it easy they said, you still have to run tomorrow…
I crossed the line after 8:44:56, setting a new female bike course record. I now was the leading female with a 20ish minute gap, and so close to the Top 10 overall - What a feeling!
We followed a similar routine like the day before and were back at the house within less than 2 hours. I walked straight to the freezing pool to give my legs as much recovery as possible – and then the refuelling marathon began. Although nutrition during the Day worked much better than the previous day, I knew how important it was to get it right. Up until then I hadn’t thought a lot about Day 3, I was so focused on riding my bike. All I could do now is hope that I didn’t go too hard and would wake up feeling fresh. And strangely, I did. I never believed when I was told that this would happen and that your body can learn to adapt and recover.
On the morning of Day 3 I felt good! I was nervous, and my stomach was in a knot, but I wasn’t sore and was looking forward to the run. I expected a tough day ahead but was determined to give it my best shot, it felt like the race was mine to lose now. But as much as it was a competition, everyone was there for their own reasons and it wasn’t just about winning, a PB or a certain time.
It was an early 5.30am start again and like Day 2, we started as group. Like the other days, it was a speedy start to the race and the field spread out within the first few kilometres. It took a lot of discipline to not get carried away and stick to my plan and pace – this was running for 16 minutes at a 5.30 pace, then walking for 2 minutes. My biggest concern was getting lost as the route was mainly on paths and took a few turns. Luckily, Kirsten & Co had spent the better part of a day during the previous week exploring the course. We agreed that one of them would meet me at the 15km mark and then pace me through the day. Kerry ended up meeting me a bit earlier, maybe 12km in and from there on Kerry, Jos and Ciaran took turns while Kirsten drove the car.
The pace was of course much slower that day and therefore made it easier for the crew. The first 30km flew by with plenty of chats and laughs. It was a very scenic course and even the hills didn’t seem that bad. 30km in was the big climb, by which stage it was warm and I could feel come aches and pains in my legs. My left hip flexor and right quad (or was it the other way around) very sore and Voltaren & ice would be my best friend for the rest of the day. Not long after the hill I got a stich, which is usually a bad sign and from training I knew it’s usually hard to get rid of once it starts. The only thing that helps is sugar, so I quickly guzzled down a combination of gels and coke – did the trick and the stitch never came back! We hit the half-way mark in roughly 3hours and 50 minutes. By that stage I was chasing the lady who was placed second overall but running faster than me. The commentator told me that she was roughly 7 minutes ahead – not too bad I thought, just keep running. I was pretty happy at that stage.
On the way back was the only opportunity to see other athletes. It was nice to exchange a few High5’s and cheers.
Things went smoothly for the next while until I hit the last 20km. I was sore, tired and emotional. Running with Ciaran was difficult as I’d get all teary, so Kerry and Jos had to run a lot – they ended up doing over 30km each. It took a lot of them to keep me moving and positive. I know for sure that I wouldn’t have finished the run without the entire crew. They looked after me so well. Even when things got grim they were nothing but lovely, amazing and somehow always knew what to say. Everything has turned a little blurry and I can only describe the last hours as information and emotion overload. I could barely focus on what was right in front of me and on moving my legs. I didn’t think about much other than getting to the beach – which was the finish line.
I refused to stop or slow down. I was convinced that I had lost my lead by now but decided to run has hard as I could and give it all I had left. I had stuck to my run/walk plan all day, but for the last 6km I just ran. I was worried that the moment I stop I wouldn’t be able to go again. Kerry was with me for the last 30 minutes. Jos, Kirsten and Ciaran met us at the beach – it felt like an eternity to get there.
We could run the last few 100 meters on the beach together. Rather than enjoying the moment, I sprinted along the shore line – something I wish I had done differently in hindsight. But I thought ‘every second counts’. The finish line was epic. Honestly one of the best feelings. I crossed the line, stopped, there were hugs and photos and then my legs just went. I can say, hand on heart, that I had nothing left. My legs were jelly and I was exhausted. Then I was told that I won and placed 8th overall, in a total time of 24:12:53. Still doesn’t feel real to this day.
Day 4 was the Awards Function and unlike other races I have been to, everyone attended - Athletes, Crews, Volunteers, Race Organisers. It was great to catch up with all the people that made the event so special. Everything was quite overwhelming, partly because my legs hurt but mainly because I am not used to so much attention. The part that I feel should be included in this race report is the ‘Athlete Speech’. We were all told prior to the race to prepare a 2 minute speech, which I had plenty of time to rehearse in my head. When it was my turn, my brain went blank. As result, I’m not sure I managed to get across what I intended to say. Note to self – write it down next time (if there ever is one) so you can read it out! So here it is:
Ultraman has been more than I ever dared to dream. It has been an extraordinary experience, made possible by amazing people. Firstly, my coach Mike Gee. He embraced my crazy idea the moment I mentioned it and spent so much time putting the best plan together to get me to the start. There’s a lot to be said for having a coach who not only knows triathlon and endurance sport, but also knows when it’s time for a rest day, even when the training plan says ‘Long Ride 6 hours +’.
Secondly, my crew, Team UltraAnn. It’s impossible to squeeze their amazingness into 2 minutes but I will try anyway.
Jos had her flights book long before I, despite setting up her business and having her own busy triathlon life. She is our Chief Organiser, was there when some tough love was needed, or things got a ugly. Jos ran a lot of the hilly sections with me on Day 3 and I am so glad she still talks to me after that- sorry for all the swearing and thank you for getting me through this!
Kirsten is our Chef and Chief Driver. I couldn’t have asked for a better cheer squad and she looked after the entire crew so well. Nobody went hungry, e