by James Rance
The Ironman has been touted the most mentally and physically gruelling one-day endurance event. It comprises a 3.86 km open water swim, a 180.25 km bike ride, and a 42.2 km run. For the professional athlete it takes 8 hours; and the general competitors 17. With good reason many call it plain silly and question the motivation of those who not only choose to compete, but pay for the privilege…
I am a weekend warrior who has neither the heart of Phar Lap, nor the lungs of Ian Thorpe, but someone who thrives on a challenge and is enticed by pushing the limits.
The first hurdle for my ironman season is the Challenge Melbourne; a race comprising a 1.9 km swim, a 90 km bike ride and a 21 km run. The contest requires my apt preparation to ready the body and focus the mind.
Three days til race day
It’s 8 o’clock on Friday night and the microwave timer sings out. However, the room isn’t filling with the smell of buttery popcorn to be enjoyed with a relaxing movie. Instead my friend quickly pulls the tub of do it yourself wax from the spinning circle and rushes back over to the dining table on which my hairy legs nervously wait. “Just stay still, don’t be a baby, I do this all the time; it shouldn’t burn …” Forty minutes later, teary eyed and with a new found respect for waxing as a profession and for those who commonly use it as a form of self-maintenance. I was sporting a great set of hair shorts, silky- smooth from mid-thigh to my toes.
For me, this is the final mental hurdle before race day. Just as important as a long ride, fast feet and buoyant hips.
The carb-loading paradox is something most triathletes struggle with. What should I eat? How many days before the race? Does it actually work? Is eating so much actually a good thing?
Having read many journal articles, talked with sports science gurus and devising a personalised fuelling plan with a leading sports dietician, I am well aware of the necessity to correctly fuel the body before a five hour endurance race. The scientific underpinning eludes me as I sit on the couch finishing my second bowl of pasta, soft drink in hand, whilst gazing at sufficient rice pudding and ice cream to feed the local football team. The finish line of the race is temporarily forgotten, as I shovel food and question if I will need to bowl to the porcelain queen. I take the last sip of Solo (the most carbohydrate-rich drink I could find), brush off the grains of rice from my developing gut, will away diabetes and try not to feel as though I have undone many hours of endurance training. My sugar headache and stretched stomach is soothed by the knowledge that my muscles will be nourished and energy enriched after the gun goes off at 6:20am Sunday morning.
4:15am and the alarm sounds: carpe diem! I eat a very small breakfast, hydrate and hit the road. The car was meticulously packed the night before.
As I drive into Brighton Beach I hear on the radio that the Bay is alive with waves that would make “Kelly Slater quiver”, winds “too strong for the Australian yachting squadron” and the overnight rain “has produced puddles too large for the best steeple chasers to jump”. The day is a true reflection of a Melbourne summer.
I apply ample Vaseline to every nook and cranny, don the wetsuit and head to the beach with the group of friends I am racing with. The weather man hadn’t made any mistakes; the chop is high, the winds howling and the drizzle is relentless. A horrible day out? I don’t think so. A rough day no doubt, but nothing can crush my spirit as I shake my training partners hands, wish them luck and ponder what lies ahead.
On reflection, the swim felt like one in a washing machine, the ride similar to being aboard Noah’s Ark and the run akin to a scene from Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain. The only issue I encountered was a very numb left foot as I started the run. I felt as though I was running with a rubber mallet attached to my thigh. It wasn’t until halfway through the run that it dissipated. I channelled Moneghetti and found stride.
My time reflected the weather and I can say with confidence, it was one of the most challenging competition days I have experienced.
That night at our team dinner, we laughed about how post-race chafe stings in the shower, the horizontal rain that hit you in the eyes at the bike turn around, the roar of the ocean as we ran along the boardwalk, and the amazing professional athletes that zoom past you seemingly oblivious to the cyclonic conditions.
I will be walking like a cowboy on Monday morning and the legs will feel it for the next three days, but I am very excited about the challenge of the next 16 weeks lead into Cairns!