The warrior within: Gold Coast Half Ironman, 2006

I woke on the morning of the Gold Coast Half Ironman feeling nothing.

I had never really been inspired to do Coomera. I set it as a goal was to keep me motivated to train through winter, so I could start my Ironman New Zealand training with a decent base of fitness.

To make matters worse, I’d also had a bit of a cold in the leadup to the race, so I’d missed a few of my key training sessions.

In a nutshell, with the power of hindsight, I can say now that my heart wasn’t in it. Lying in bed that morning I wasn’t to know what repercussions my bad attitude would have; had I have predicted accurately maybe, just maybe, I would have stayed there.

I went through the motions of race morning without any real stir of emotion. No excitement, nervousness, anticipation or even fear to contend with as I set up transition and chatted with well wishers.

It wasn’t until I was paddling out to the start in the Coomera River I realised that I hadn’t really eaten anything that morning. Mistake number one.

I had a decent swim. It was my first race in my new wetsuit and it did its job! And as an added bonus the salt water cleared out a bit of the left over gunk from my cold. I was still coughing and spluttering when I left the water so walked to T1 to catch my breath a little. And to cough up the rest of the left over gunk. Hmm… good look…

My transition seemed to take an age. Since I started doing longer distance triathlons I haven’t really practiced this “fourth discipline” so now I generally have to sit down to get my shoes on, stuff around getting my helmet and sunglasses on, and as for working out whether there’s anything else I need, well, let’s just say it makes for a complete lack of grace in comparison to the sexy transitions those at the pointy end of the field pull off!

Hayden and Slippers didn’t let this lack of style pass. They hung over the transition fence egging me on. In my state of mind, it seemed like they were heckling me... but to be completely honest and fair, they were encouraging me to keep going.

I finally left transition... but when I did so found my bike computer unresponsive. After stopping on the mount line to jiggle the magnets around, I remembered the previous night’s downpour and figured there probably wasn’t much I could do if it was water logged.

“Oh well,” I thought to myself. “I’ll just have to go by feel… Hmm... the way I’m feeling it could be a long day.”

I got on the bike and remembering my lack of breakfast, started eating with gusto.

I got out a bit of the way and the lid of my spares container flew off on hitting a bump (taking with it some of the contents). Pull over, pick everything up, redistribute my spares into my back pockets. Get back on the bike.

It was time to assess how things were going. Well, certainly not to plan... not that I guess I’d had much of a plan. What was that old saying... if you fail to plan you plan to fail... Probably not the best thought to have so instead I just kept on going and tried not to dwell too much on the whole situation.

By the time I got to the turnaround on the first lap my stomach started to really feel my attempt at catching up on missed nutrition. I wasn’t sure what to do, but realistically didn’t have too many choices.

  1. Keep eating and hope for the best
  2. Stop eating to give my tummy a rest

I decided on option 1. Given my sub-optimal nutrition to this point in the race, I probably didn’t have too many reserves to count on.  And chances were that that’s what was causing the discomfort in the first place.

I limped back in to finish my first lap. I wondered whether I should turn around and go back for the second, or just stop?

I stopped thinking about it at that point in time. And by the time the thoughts of whether I should stop or not returned, I’d completed the turnaround at the main spectator area and was already back out on the bike course again.

Things didn’t improve much out there though. I considered getting off my bike to try for a good old fashioned hurl but I’d never been one for that in any situation; I didn’t think now was the best time to start. Besides, that would only get me back to square one again, in terms of nutrition to get me through the race.

I just kept pedalling, slowly, and eventually got back to transition for the run.

Once again, I sat down to get my running shoes on. I have to say I could easily have just stayed there. Nothing felt good – my stomach was a churning, burning mess. I wondered what would happen if I did just stay there?

Well, eventually I would have to go and hand in my timing chip and withdraw from the race. But then I could go and sit down in the shade, and maybe even have that hurl. By now I was convinced that really would make me feel better.

Why was I doing this damn race anyway? Did I really have anything to prove?

It was hard to convince myself that it was all worth it. After all, triathlon is an individual sport – so what does it really matter if I stop? Who would care?

I reminded myself that, well, yes, triathlon is an individual sport and quite specifically, I actually would care. As I left transition onto the run I couldn’t quite work out why I would care. Just that this wasn’t the first time I’d had a hard race and I’d never thrown in the towel before. I told myself that I could just go out and start walking and, well, I’d see what happened after that.

I don’t think I’d started running by the time I passed the Phoenix tent just outside transition. I was still tentatively wondering whether my stomach could handle the 21ks I had ahead of me. I was walking a delicate line between eating enough to keep me going; and not so much that I’d upset my stomach.

I just kept putting one foot in front of another. It really was as simple as that.

Most of the run remains a bit of a blur. I noticed the field get thinner and thinner as the time drew onward, and as I started my second lap I became more aware of my placing in the field. I was certain there was no one trailing me. Thankfully, though, not even an official on a pushbike followed.

My coach’s mantra taunted me, “I feel good, I feel strong, I feel relaxed”.

Sorry Greg, I know I’ve told you this before, but this has never worked for me. I don’t seem to have the strength of mind to convince myself of something that isn’t true.

Unfortunately, what usually does work for me, wasn’t cutting it either.

Usually, when I’m finding it tough on a long ride or run I just have to ask myself, “Where else would you rather be?”. Usually, I don’t have any other answer except “nowhere”. You see, sometimes, on those long runs and rides, you get this feeling. Of oneness, of satisfaction, a highly defined sense of self.

Maybe it’s what they call the runner’s high. I’m not sure. But sometimes, just sometimes, you can’t help but lose yourself in the moment; become entirely encapsulated in the purity, the simple joy of propelling yourself forward on your own steam.

It might be running along the top of the Kangaroo Point cliffs, looking across on the awakening Brisbane CBD. It might be in that section of the River Ride through Graceville, where just for a moment, out of nowhere, you are distracted by a view dominated by the Brisbane River, and the trees across the water in along the Brisbane Corso.

It might be when trail running out the back of Kenmore, where you can almost kid yourself that you’re the only person on the planet. Or when cycling along the Brighton foreshore with the high tide lapping against the rock wall and the Bay looks inviting.

Those of you who know what I’m talking about will agree that it could happen in the arse end of anywhere. Because sometimes, you can’t help but feel that there’s just something great about what we do.

It’s at these times you really know that there is nowhere else you would rather be.

I tried to capture this feeling in the back streets of Coomera. I couldn’t though. I’m not good at convincing myself of untruths, and the reality was that the answer to that question, “where else would you rather be?” was, for the first time that I can remember... “anywhere but here.”

That thought led to Plan B: pretend I AM anywhere but here.

I thought about many things, work, Phil, recent events.

Strangely, the thing I became fixated on was the death and funeral of Steve Irwin, which had taken place just a couple of weeks before. Like many Australians, I felt a genuine sadness that this loveable bloke, this wildlife warrior, had met such a tragic and unexpected fate.

Funnily enough, after reflecting on this sadness, I quite easily harnessed the same positive emotions I’d felt during the formalities of Steve Irwin’s funeral.

We felt like we knew him, and no one affirmed this better than Kevin Costner in the tribute he recorded for Steve’s memorial service. He directed his message to Bindi and Bob, expressing that the thing they should be most proud of in their Dad was that he had truly shown himself to the world. He emphasised how rare it was, and how that made it all the more special in his friend, Steve Irwin.

This particular message had struck a chord with me. In an ideal world, of course, we would all live our lives this way – unafraid to wear our hearts on our sleeves. To live our passions, to share our dreams, to stand for what we believe in, and to believe in what we feel.

But that’s not how life is. We are all weighed down by the expectations that we must act a certain way, say certain things, and do certain things.

At this moment, when I was doing it tough, it struck me that we are also expected to not do certain things.

The expectation that we should only do things we’re good has many up sides. It helps us gain rewards by being paid for being good at our jobs. We feel all warm and fuzzy when we feel we’re good friends, partners, and family members. Then, of course, there’s winning races, competitions and awards.

But is that all there is to the thrill of life? Is there only room in our lives for things we’re good at?

Steve Irwin’s life epitomised how important it is to do things that you love – and in remembering him, I seemed to me that I wasn’t the only one that really saw just how much good can come to a person, their loved ones, and the world in general, as a result of one person pursuing their passion.

I’ve learned over the years that there isn’t anywhere to hide in triathlon. I’d never felt more painfully aware of that than now, as I ever so slowly shuffled my way to the finish line, running last by a considerable distance.

I wondered what my friends were thinking as they waited, presumably patiently, for me to finish. I wondered what I would say to them when I did finish. I wondered what kind of excuses I could make up to cover my bitter disappointment.

I thought about all the negativity I’d felt throughout this race, and wondered what I would write about in this Chronicle?

Thinking about Steve Irwin, it wasn’t hard to figure out. If I really valued his philosophy, I had no need to hide. Finally, it dawned on me. Triathlon, and more importantly, my Chronicles, is how I show myself to the world.

It’s my way of showing the Warrior Within.

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