The ups and downs of Ironman Melbourne

Until four weeks before Ironman Melbourne I hadn't imagined I'd be using "ups and downs" as a descriptor for this race. I had trained so well and was loaded with expectation for a good performance - maybe even my best ever - then a niggle hit and before I knew it I was crying to my masseuse and scurrying off in search of a Plan B.

In the week leading up to the race my niggle didn't seem so bad. I was again filled with optimism until I landed in Melbourne and was reminded of the unstable weather patterns that had initially warded off any desire to do this race in the first place.

By now I was expecting race day to be filled with ups and downs and I wasn't disappointed.

Pre race: confusion reigns

There had been rumours about a changed swim course all day Saturday, until late in the afternoon the organisers announced the 3.8k swim would be held over two laps instead of the original, more spread out, single lap. 

When we arrived at Frankston on Sunday the wind was howling. I'm happy to admit now that secretly I was praying for leniency - I wanted to swim but I would not be complaining if a shortened course was announced.  I wasn't frightened as such. In comparison to many, I'm reasonably confident in open water. But I'm not a fast swimmer. If yesterday's practice swim was anything to go by, 3.8ks in the unfavourable conditions that beckoned would leave me with very little in the tank for the bike and run to follow.

Before long, my wish was granted - we would now be swimming one lap of the course announced yesterday and the start times and course cutoffs were adjusted to suit. But be careful what you wish for... The shorter swim course meant a shorter swim course cutoff. Particularly as I expected the wind to play havoc with my bike time, I was now seriously worried about not making the cycle course cutoff.

I told myself that this wasn't the time to worry about it, particularly when the swim course was changed yet again and the cutoffs revised again. It was too hard to keep track of. All I could do was get amongst it and see what happened. If I survived the swim - I would have to see how the bike unfolded. And if I got through the cycle before the course closed - I would tackle the run with the faith that I could finish this thing off.

The swim: no, confusion really reigns now

When the hooter signaled the race start I followed the other couple of thousand competitors out into the choppy waters of Port Phillip Bay. It was a long walk until the water was deep enough to dive into and start stroking. Once this happened, I felt like the race was truly on. I didn't find any clear water, instead battling hands, fists, feet and bodies out to the end of the pier, where we took a right turn towards the turnaround buoy. I don't know what happened for the next ten minutes or so. Finally I spotted the white buoy but instead of being one buoy with another off to the left, somehow I'd ended up with both directly in front of me. I took some comfort that I wasn't alone.. There were hundreds of fellow competitors right there with me, battling to get to the half way point.

To make matters worse, probably a dozen swimmers were swimming straight back towards us. What they were doing and how they'd ended up there, I'll never know. I concentrated on holding my ground, so to speak, and trying to avoid too much carnage.

Finally I got past the first, then second turn buoy and finally found some clear water. I didn't give it much thought at the time but in retrospect I think many swimmers overshot the second can, and many others cut the course, missing the second can entirely.

Me, well, I hedged my bets. I know I went round all the required cans but I'm reasonably confident I didn't go the most direct route at any stage of the swim. When I turned the final buoy, rather than using a visual cue, I headed for the voice of Ironman, Mike Reilly, back at the swim exit. It was a good option I think but I executed it poorly. I hit the beach a hundred metres or more from the swim end proper, but this was way less than many other competitors. Hundreds of wetsuit-clad racers were streaming up the beach from a lot further away as I made my way in to shore.

Like the previous days practice, I felt pretty stuffed. I walked for a short time while others jogged past me, then as I got closer to the pier I broke into a run. I heard KKB call out to me and gave him a wave. I paused under the shower to wash off some salt, then jogged in to pick up my T1 bag on the way to the change tent.

What treat, after my last two European races, to be able to change in the privacy of a women's only change tent... I did almost a full change of clothing (just keeping my sports bra) and shoved a Carmans cookie into my cake hole before running out to grab my bike and get on my way.

The bike: Eight hours of...

As I headed up the little rise from the mount line I heard the announcer call my name. I know Noel from officiating at many events at home. As he called out my name and suburb he made a point of say how great it was to see me down here. As I rode past him I greeted him, "hi Noel".

I'm not sure that he placed me straight away but I was determined that would change before the end of the day.

A few twists and turns through the streets of Frankston and before long I was out in the head wind of the EastLink motor way. It was hard from the start and it didn't let up for 45 ks. I broke the monotony by getting out of the saddle up every little incline, a tactic I hoped would keep the tightness in my glute and hamstring at bay for as long as possible too.

The bike course was on the south bound lanes of the freeway, leaving the northbound lanes to our left available to traffic. At some point KKB shot past and beeped the horn. I didn't wave because I was holding on for dear life in the wind, but I of course appreciated a familiar face and the toot of support.

Finally I got to the entrance to the Mullum Mullum tunnel, by which time KKB had no doubt had plenty of time to settle in and get acquainted with his fellow spectators. I passed by up the last little hill before descending into the tunnel. It was nice to get some relief from the wind and I took the luxury of coasting for a few minutes before changing down the gears for the rise up the other side. Back out into the sunshine for just a few minutes before turning around to do it all again.

Another appreciative glimpse at KKB before setting into position once again. Crosswinds had picked up by now so I took grip on my drops rather than the aero bars and tried to tuck in and get some advantage for the return trip.

As the kilometers ticked away much more quickly in this direction I wondered if I was going to be quick enough to avoid being "pro-ed". It was hard to know with a shortened swim but I was still hopeful I would be fast enough to meet my standard goal on a two lap bike course: to avoid being lapped by the top men in the field. As I drew closer to Frankston I thought my wish would come true, but alas, with just a few ks grace, the police escort and then Marino Vanhoenaker flew past me like I was standing still. I was happy to get to the turnaround with just this one instance though - I'd equaled my record from Ironman Regensburg of being caught by just the leading man, right at the end of the first lap.

I took the second lap option at the turnaround, said hi to Noel again, and headed back out for a second round of punishment.

I pulled over at the first aid station on the highway for my second stop of the race. My tummy was not playing nicely and I'd started to feel my niggle enough to convince me to down some Nurofen before continuing.

I wasn't alone, a couple of more tailenders also pulled over and we compared thoughts so far. We agreed on a few key points:
  • The wind could just f-off whenever it wanted
  • The bike course seemed a bit emptier than other Ironman races we'd done
  • We all hoped we would make the bike cutoff, whenever that was.

But standing here talking about it wasn't helping any so I got going. The wind seemed to have changed a little bit - it didn't feel quite like a full on head wind - but while it was arguably less of a foe, it was certainly still not a friend.

By the time I turned around the wind had changed again and it was more like a head wind than a tail wind for the final trip down the EastLink. Great. That makes 75% of the bike in unfavorable winds.This bike time was not going to be pretty.

This last jaunt down the freeway felt quite surreal... like I was heading into a trail of destruction. Event staff were packing up the outbound aid stations and calling for sag wagons to pick up competitors who had abandoned their race, helplessly waiting on the side of the road. I caught up to and passed the odd competitor or two, of course giving them a bit of encouragement to keep on going. I wasn't feeling too bad, all things considered, so I also took some solace that maybe, just maybe, I had something left in my legs for the run.

When I handed over my bike to the bike catchers though, I felt less confident. I could hardly walk! This might just be about to go to poo after all... 

"One thing at a time, AP." I thought to myself. "Get through transition. Worry about whether you can run after that."

Noel asked me if I was OK as I headed down the walkway to transition, so that was one win.

The Run: old friends, new friends, and no friends!

I thanked the volunteer who passed me my T2 bag, changed my shorts, shoes and socks, stopped for my third toilet stop of the race, then washed down a GU. I was surprised that when commanded to do so, my legs started working and I managed to set off at approximately 7 minute kilometre pace.

My pace didn't get any better, in fact I think it only got worse, but I ran fairly consistently through to the first live site at Mordialloc. Two of my dear friends were waiting for me, with KKB. I gave them big hugs (I didn't want to let go) before continuing on as the night started to close in around me. I had been given a reflective sash that fitted so badly I had to tuck it into my pants to have any hope of it staying on me as well as a glow stick for my safety.

The run course headed down into some dark and sheltered spots from here. Given I'd tripped over a couple of times recently on my long training runs, I wasn't willing to take too much of a risk so close to the end of the day I'd trained so hard for. I walked through these dark bits and ran in the better lit areas.

My friends popped up to encourage me several times through this stretch, and I was also ably assisted by new friends at aid stations. Placed every 2ks or so, the volunteers were cheerful, well briefed, and extremely attentive. As you approached each aid station a volunteer would meet you 20 metres out, then walk through with you to assess your physical state. They'd ask you what you wanted and call out for other volunteers to hand it to you as you walked through the station. They kept me going so strongly for so long and I thanked as many of them as I could for their help and patience on a long day.

The wheels started to fall off though around the 27k mark. Due to the niggle I picked up in the few weeks before the race, the longest run I'd done in training this time was only 28ks and by this stage, mentally I was had it. I told myself it was OK to walk, and I am embarrassed to admit that I believed myself. Usually I am tougher than this.

There were a couple more familiar faces along the way, including some of my technical official friends and USM event staff I'd worked with through my officiating. A nice change from the last two "away" races where I have known noone!

The irony of this is that finally, after 15 hours and 10 minutes I got to the finish line, noone was there to see me finish. I finished pretty strongly having run the last 2-3 ks. I high fived the spectators and hugged Corinne Abraham, the women's winner when she presented me with my medal. I couldn't help it. I just wanted to hug everyone! The catcher sensed the crazy hugger though, and whisked me off before I had the chance to say a proper hello to the one person I did know at the finish line.

So where was KKB? When I finally found him I found out that our friend had been taken to medical after finishing not long before. KKB was making sure he was OK and his family were on hand to help. That's OK. I can forgive that.

The washup: What's next

The aftermath of Ironman Melbourne was pretty standard

  • I didn't sleep much that night
  • I was hungry (actually ravenous) at 4.30am the next morning
  • the stuff in my gear bags stunk when I picked them up
  • walking down stairs was a challenge for a couple of days.

The only departure from routine was a black eye I managed to pick up in the swim - true story.

With time to reflect, I am confident I still have my best Ironman ahead of me. Not just because the conditions were against me last Sunday. My main disappointment is that I didn't have the mental strength to push through my brain telling me it was OK to walk when things got a bit hard.

I am training better now than I ever have and I've recently dropped some weight. With ten weeks to Ironman Cairns, maybe I'll nail it then.


  1. Well done Lyndal. Often your best performance does not equal your best time and its very personal. I think I put in a great effort at Wanaka this year and the nature of the course and weather meant I was one and a half hours slower than Taupo. Was I happy after my performance? You bet. Congratulations again.

    1. Thanks Warren. You're right, you look back on different races in different ways - and it's a very personal perspective. I hope you're recovering well after your crash and will be back on the bike soon!

  2. You're awesome, AP! I can't even sleep that long (and I train hard at that!) More importantly, I hope you had fun (or at least look back at it as fun).

    1. Ha ha, Ian! As hard as it was, yes, it was fun - definitely more fun in retrospect than at the time though!