Anyone who knows me, could tell you, I’m not a big fan of race reports but I thought I’d make the exception for a few reasons.
I’d been ill for a full two weeks leading into the race (gastric problems) and my pre-race test ride had me wondering whether I should be racing at all. Cutting a long story short, I did race and I did finish, in a time that I’d have bought with cash money on the day before, so all in all, I have to be happy.
Let me share with you though a few moments actually worth sharing, mainly relating to Vaughn, doing his 10thIronman event and Gabi, an athlete I’d coached toward this, her first Ironman.
Oh, the swim.
Normally, I’m a half decent swimmer and on a reasonable day, 65-67 minutes should see me grinning my way into T1. On race day, the organisers had to make a tough call about whether to delay the start, as they were waiting for a thunder storm to pass. They didn’t delay it and perhaps due to making that decision in the dark, the swim went ahead as scheduled. If they had been looking at what we were seeking as race start approached, they may have moved to Plan B.
We anxiously awaiting AC/DC’s Thunderstruck to be played as the age group pre-start anthem. The air horn sounded and the pros hit the water, their arms turning over as fast as possible. I turned to Vaughn, “this is going to be interesting.”
It looked like they were taking two stokes forward and one stroke back, such were the swell and rolling waves pushing them back toward the beach,
Unperturbed, we edged toward the water. I’d somehow got ahead of Vaughn in the funnel and decided opt for the right side of the entry chute. Beep, beep, beep, beep GO! In I ran, using my larger than average frame to vault the first wave and get straight into my stroke. In short order, I realized that my sighting buoy was in fact the inbound one and I was a good 30m away from the train of other swimmers. Groaning and gasping for air as the incoming waves crashed over my head, I made my way back. Judging by the arms, legs, elbows, heads, and swimmers in all directions, I don’t think anyone was having a good time of it. There was a lot of contact, which a few years ago, I’d have enjoyed but I somehow seemed to be coming off the worse from every encounter. Where the hell is the first buoy? Sighting was difficult to non-existent. Bang. I’m not sure what body part hit me but it did so with anxious force, knocking my goggles partially off. The assailant, sorry athlete, perhaps sensed he’d made a hard contact as when I shouted an expletive in return, he actually stopped, turned and apologized. Its only now, long afterward that I can appreciate that for many, including myself, by just 150m into the swim, this was a fight for survival. Eventually reaching the turning buoy, I was again breathless, gasping for air and for what seemed like a very long time, considered the following:
“Can I even get around this swim? I feel like I have been swimming a long time to be at 200m in. I can’t get away from all these people. I don’t want to be here. My time is going to be slow. I still have the bike and run to get through. I don’t want to do this. I can see the paddle boarder sitting next to the buoy. Can I quit by getting across to him? What about Gabi?”
I kept swimming.
You see, Gabi only learned to swim about a year earlier and was somewhere behind me in a much slower swim pen. She’d struggled with deep water in the pool when learning and that had translated into open water anxiety too. Today she would face this angry sea. What kind of example would it set if I were to quit and she were to get around? That’s ridiculous of course because there is no way she can cope with this. Its madness!
An indication of what I’m attempting to describe (these are the front pack swimmers):
The swim remained challenging throughout, the swell making sighting very difficult and my swim course was a saw-tooth as best, as I persistently realigned my position each time the sea pushed me toward shore.
As with the swim start, the finish was frantic madness. Elbows, thrashing feet, misdirection and eventually, the breaking waves themselves that threatened to drag you back from shore as they receded to the depths.
Finally, I was out. I walked into the transition tent, like a Sunday stroll. I had a mixture of dejection and relief that it was over!
Thankfully, this year, I had opted for a long course race suit, rather than separate bike and run kit, so I saved a few minutes in T1. I grabbed my bike and walk-trotted toward the mount line. A Russian athlete in front of me was making a real meal of getting on his bike and just as I was about to tell him to davai! davai! I heard “Alright Pauly?” It was Vaughn.
The realization. It’s Vaughn. He loves a T1 pamper. If there’s one thing I will have done today, it’s being faster in T1 than him, which can mean only one thing… he’s beaten me in the swim! This has been unheard of in any training session or race event over the last 11 years that we’ve been training together. In the moment, I was shocked. On reflection, I’m delighted! He’s had a few moments in the swim over the years and for him to cope with that better than I had done, I’m absolutely delighted, particularly that it marks his 10th Ironman finish! Go Vaughn!!
Out onto the bike. Its 112 miles and I did see Vaughn a couple of times but for the most part, I pedaled and it rained, then stopped, then rained again. You get the idea. It wasn’t until about 65 miles into the bike that I had the best sight of all. On the other side of the road, spinning her legs and waving back, was Gabi. “She’s made the swim!” was my first thought. Swelling pride was the feeling in my chest, rising up through my neck to my head and causing my eyes to mist and vision to blur, just a little. She’d bloody done it. In all that. That from which I’d nearly quit. She’s done it. She’s gonna finish this!
I quickly calculated that I was roughly twenty miles ahead, so rode on, reasonably confident that I could stay away for the rest of the ride. Little did I know of course that equal and opposite thoughts were on the other side of the road. She was off to try and chase me down.
Once out on the run, I’d seen Gabi a couple of times on opposite sides of the course and knew she was gaining. I resolved to try to make it to halfway before being passed. I only got to 18km when I got a tap on the elbow.
Rather than pass, Gabi sacrificed an untold amount of time and finished the run with me, coach and athlete side by side.
From non-swimmer to long-distance triathlon. I could not be prouder of her accomplishment.
Gabi, you are an Ironman!
GI tri Coach