April 2014 “Spot Anderson – you have won the Ironman Lottery. Yes you get to race in 40 degree heat for 10+ hours in Hawaii. We know you are unfit but you have to complete an Ironman before August to finalise registration – good luck”
When I first started triathlon back in 1987 I won a biathlon across Sydney Harbour which included a trip to Hawaii as a prize. This was the 1st year I came & did so the following year (yes defended the biathlon title). My 1st reaction was how crazy it was – the heat was insane & had NO intention of ever doing this! On both of those trips I raced at Noosa Tri, rode my bike to Brisbane the next day & threw my bike on the plane – you used to be able to do that. Back then there was a race called Kauai Love You Triathlon which I competed in the week before Ironman. It was on this 2nd trip that I raced a guy called Scott Molina who was one of the Big 4 at the time. These 4 guys (Molina, Scott Tinley, Mark Allen & Dave Scott) won everything in the early days of triathlon including the Hawaii Ironman from 1980 – 1994 when OUR Greg Welch broke the stranglehold! In Kauai on trip number 2 I went head to head with Molina who was racing Ironman the next week but he was renowned the heat meltdown king so I thought it was just a lucky day! It wasn’t until the following week when he WON the Ironman did I think maybe I should do that stupid race & I’d probably be OK at it! My priority at those early Ironman races was to see as many turtles, dolphins & pretty fish as I could, drink as much Budweiser at the parties & cheer on all my crazy mates! And if someone told me it would be 26 years later before I returned I would have laughed. Life throws curve balls & 1 year on I was laying in a hospital bed with skull fractures, collapsed lung, broken ribs & my life has already started on another path…
Yes there had been a lot of water under the bridge before my return but the funny thing was that the pier, race hotel & the first row of shops with restaurants above (Queenslander type of buildings) were exactly as I remember. It was seriously a time warp!
For the race itself it was never going to be a Gold Medal performance – unfortunately my body doesn’t seem to handle the week in/ week out rigours of hard training so I went into the race way underdone. To complete entry requirements I completed Ironman Australia 3 weeks after getting my notification. I did a 2 week program, 5 day taper & obviously my mind is quiet strong when I decide to do something… However fat coaches don’t make smart athletes & 5 weeks later I did Ironman Cairns which took me over the edge! I tried to get back training properly but it never really happened. Classic case of self sabotage – gggrrr…
We arrived 8 days before race day & we hit “Dig Me Beach” on the Saturday morning for the Ironman Course Swim “training swim” which of course you had to pay for (you never stop paying in Ironman Land). Apparently it wasn’t a race despite 600 fit looking people looking like they were ready to race! I swam with Sally for the most part until she drove me nuts sitting on my hip or side by side rather than behind on my wash! It was a beautiful swim but unfortunately for me I swam a 57 minutes which was well below the 54 minutes I expected – maybe a sign of things to come! I put it down to jet lag – excuses, excuses.. Home for a snooze and we spent the arvo on the reef snorkelling!
Sunday was a reci ride from Havi back to town 80kms and it was a really easy pace. I hadn’t done many rides over 50kms in the last few weeks so it was good to get out and spin the legs – we got a taste of the dreaded cross wind too. You really have to see the lava to believe it – some parts of the road are normal tarmac with lava left & right & sweltering, hazy, melting road in the distance ahead! I started to get a picture of why you’d see famous athletes shuffling to the finish line!
After this there really wasn’t a lot of training to talk of outside a few organised open water swims with Sally. I did a run on the Wednesday along All’i Drive (poser run) and you guessed it, ran at a good pace taking selfies with my training buddies! All in all a pretty cruise training week and nothing fast. From the word go I looked at the race and the week preceding as a once in a lifetime experience but I definitely wasn’t at home with my legs up! One thing that I did a lot of (& maybe too much) was snorkelling, diving, SUP and surfing! This included a night dive with Manta Rays who came right up to your face doing back flips – amazing! Yes we were in Hawaii – how often do you get to see tropical fish, manta rays, turtles, seals & I even had the pleasure of surfing with a dog! Right in front of my place was light a tropical fish pond & my little turtle photo was taken here with my new Go Pro 4!
Everything was exciting leading up to the race! Getting registered – woohoo! It makes you realise why you are here though and the nerves set it… Of course the rego exit leads to the expo and you buy a ridiculous amount of anything saying Hawaii Ironman. Not finishing hadn’t crossed my mind so I had no problem with the “wait til you finish to earn the gear” policy! I’d be wearing it even if I collapsed out on the course! I was so happy when my sister Kathy and husband Pete arrived! I’d promised Kath I’d get into shape if she booked. Since this didn’t happen I got her a great pink and blue Ironman outfit so she wouldn’t hit me – everyone has their price! There are 10 kids in our family but Kath and I were the 2 true blue surfer dudes of the family and travelled doing the surfing circuit together before I got into triathlon. She’d seen me win surf comps & as a triathlete whenever I raced in front of her I won (her home race Port Macquarie twice). She had seen the best of me as a surfer and triathlete and only saw me through rose coloured glasses (poor girl). She commented to Sally that she hadn’t seen me this nervous since my surfing days! The cold hard truth was that I had seen so many fit athletes destroyed in Kona and as I was way underdone I was truly scared!!! This I figured was a good thing – respect the island! Then Laura rocked up to make it feel like the old days – she soon took off with Chrissie Wellington & Emma Snowsill (Olympic Champion) for a 170km ride!
All of a sudden it was race day and I was getting zinc spots on my face! I jumped in the water and swam along the wall to see Sally who had been there since 5am to get prime swim position! It was everything I had seen on TV and the moment was here! I was about to start Hawaii – woohoo!!! Out of shape I knew I was never gunna win the swim (sorry kids) so I looked for partners to swim with. To stay out of the crazy start I started in the middle of he bay as I knew most of the good guys were near the pier! I’d always looked at the photos of the start in Hawaii & wondered why no fast swimmers started where I was as the swim heads left (away from the pier) out to the 1st buoy! It’s always good to take risks when it doesn’t matter to test things out so I knew it would be interesting to see how it unfolded!
BANG I’m now swimming in the Hawaii Ironman – woohoo and I quickly got in behind the leader of our group with another guy to our left. For 800 metres I looked right but couldn’t see anyone so wasn’t sure how we were placed! Eventually I saw quite a bit of splashing right & as the tribes merged approaching the turning boat (1.9km) knew we were back in the field a bit. Had I started in the wrong place? The test would be swimming back if we starting passed loads of people – that would mean my start was bad! Not sure if it was good or bad but I pretty much stayed in the same place on the way back which meant the start was OK after all – I was just a useless swimmer. Apparently training helps! The outgoing tide split our big pack & accounted for slow times compared to pros. I ended up swimming 59 minutes which was funny to swim that slow – I was there to have a fun day! Unbeknown to me my sister & Sally actually thought I had drowned! I saw the funny side as I have never been in transition with more than 1 o 2 people before in an Ironman so it was total chaos. What’s the hurry guys? Princess Spot didn’t have his usual 3 on 1 service from the volunteers! So I did a 6 minute transition – pretty cruisey compared to the 1 minute pros…
When I got out of transition it felt like the Tour De France for the next few kms – it was so cool, people going nuts! I had my Heart Rate monitor on which as usual told me to slow down! This was a blessing as the pace felt so easy! I rode 24km/h for the first10kms which included a lot of twisting, turning, up/down hill. Ironically I ended up averaging 24km/h so the HR monitor was a God send! Pretty quickly 1/3 of the field passed me which was good as I was looking forward to the pace of everyone around me eventually settling down (usually 90kms). My next 10km splits got quicker from 24 to 28 to 29 to 30 to 31km/h so a 6 hour odd bike time with a negative split looked on the cards! I felt awesome – the road is super fast & my HR was still around only 120 – 130.
And then it hit – yep it’s official we are in Hawaii and there is wind! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – it was devastating! The worse bit was that we were riding in a straight line, one minute calm next minute howling head wind. So between 50 – 70kms I just had to put my head down and suck it up! I got in a pack for a few kms for the first time in the race but my HR crept up and I wisely decided to drop off. There is a long, slow 20km climb to the turn around and I’ve never looked forward to a hill before to get out of the wind!
I was checking everyone out as they were flying down the hill hoping that it would be a tail wind and all looked good. The bad news is there is a saying about the Hawaii Ironman. The faster swim/ bikers get to the turn around before the wind hits and get it on the way back – this would prove to correct today. Julie caught me up the hill and I realised by how long it took her to catch me that she wasn’t 100% on fire. I decided to ride tempo with her for the last 10km of the hill and the down-hill with her. This was probably not the smartest thing to do but I figured if I annoyed her by being there she’d ride harder and get back into the ball game (old coaches never switch off). The return trip was interesting as we got a combo of tail & cross wind. One minute you’d run out of gears at 70km/h and next you’d be grabbing the handlebars trying not to get blown off your bike! One of the best bits of the whole day was seeing this chick climb out of a side grass ditch back onto the road! She looked like she was fine so must have just got blown off bike and all into the ditch – lucky it was grass and not lava! The trick was to watch the rider in front of you and if they moved you’d be next! Eventually I got dropped & I was done – only 70kms to go! I was looking at the ocean to check the wind as in theory when we got to the bottom and turned south back towards Kailua we should get the tail wind that was a head wind on the way out! Lesson 2 of Hawaii – the wind is not fair! Of course we had a head wind and I was completely 100% dusted & I was feeling sorry for myself! However there is always someone feeling worse than you & as I headed up a short hill where spectators could get on the course I saw a lady in front of me get off her bike & start crying in her boyfriend’s arms – I think her day was over… It was brutal & I was counting off the kms as I knew if I could get to 140km mark I’d only have 10 laps of Centennial Park to go. But it was brutal – I eventually pulled up at one of the aid stations to make sure I collected a Red Bull. A quick scull and an upper cut to myself and off I headed. The drink stations were amazing and definitely a lifesaver! They were only 10kms apart and in this time I’d heat up in the oven. Temperature hit 39 degrees but it’s always hotter on the lava sections of the road as the heat rises! At each aid station there would be iced water bottles at the start and end so you could pour this over your head! Another thing I realised was the irony of me being so slow I got to get all the drinks I needed although at one station I had to stop again as had a coke bidon hanging out my mouth and I needed another Red Bull. I jumped on the brakes and skidded to a halt bmx style. The kid on the drink station ran up to me like I was the most important person in the world. Cannot tell you how good these guys were! Problem was I was only at 130kms so soldiered on devoid of any riding partners! I did get to the magic 140km mark and this was a big milestone! I hadn’t once yet even considered the fact that a marathon was ahead of me when I got off this damn bike! Things improved with 30kms to go as a small pack formed around me and for the first time since the first 50kms I felt OK. I actually had a strong last bit and would you believe it Negative Split by 39 seconds – unbelievable!
One thing that was a concern for me was that my left calf had been tight since 30kms odd and I knew this would be a big problem in the run. Actually in the swim my hamstrings were really tight by the end so there was something happening from early on. In hindsight my fun days leading into the race were coming back to bite me – going for a SUP at sunset before an Ironman may not be an ideal taper but hey I got the wave of the day! When I finally got off the bike I couldn’t run at all & walked the whole bike/ run transition loop as it finally dawned on me I had to do a marathon… Pros 1 minute transition – Spot 9 minutes!
Needless to say the run was were it got a bit tricky… I couldn’t really run much which is a problem when it’s 40 degress & you have to complete 42.2kms. I had 2 of the most important people in my life who came over cause I promised I’d get into shape – I felt so ridiculously guilty making them wait around! We headed off up the famous Ali’i Drive for the 1st 15kms round trip and in one sense this was the easy part cause there were people everywhere! The support from both the crowd and aid stations was overwhelming! I was now clutching at straws & decided to race a guy with 1 leg (true story) that I’d seen at the run turnaround – well really I was now just trying to hold him off so as long as I could. He caught & passed me as I headed back into town! Once I headed back past my groupies was easily the worst part of the race for me! I had walked/ run 16kms and had been out there for over 2 & 1/2 hours. I couldn’t get my head around the fact that I was about to enter the Queen K Highway back out to the lava fields and I wasn’t even close to half way! Even worse was this was the end of the crowd support so you were on your own! For the next few kms I just struggled to deal with how long I was going to be out there – it was a nightmare, 11 hours & ticking! At around 19kms with the sun setting I made a commitment to myself. I would get to the 21km mark and keep running. With that I immediately started running & never stopped until 23kms later when I crossed the line! I didn’t care whether I pulled my calf or do some permanent damage this was now about proving once and for all that I wasn’t soft! In a perverse way I was now in my own element – the sun had set, it was pitch black and I only had me to get me the out of this mess! At the start of the day I had made a commitment to smile at every single person the whole day cause I was the luckiest person in the world! I had done this for the past 11 hours which made me feel really good but now it was just me. My head was down staring at the bitumen counting off the kms. People don’t realise it’s pitch back on the Queen K & only aid stations provide any light. The single best moment of the whole race was when I came over a slight hill and could see the lights of the Energy Lab. Once I got there it would only be 16kms to go & 2kms into there would be 14kms to go, which is only 1 City To Surf – whatever gets you through the day! I was now running and passing people as they stopped at drink stations. You make some great friends in dark times and they help lift your spirits. But you can’t get too attached as you or they may cramp at any given time upon which the umbilical cord will be cut…
As I passed over timing mats I could feel everyone that had been supporting me all day long & hoping they would see I was now getting quicker and heading toward my 2nd Negative Split for the day! As I headed back up towards town I felt so much pain and sorrow for the poor people still heading out some of whom surely wouldn’t make the cut off time! I checked my 5km split from 35-40kms and I was running 8:25/km – one can only laugh! Laura popped up near the top of the last hill with a 2km loop to the finish line. She was joined by Sally & as I ran down hill I told them to slow down as they were dropping me even though they were walking! I started my 1 mile loop & as I headed towards Ali’i Drive I got a surge of energy. Sally later told me she “chalked” my name at exactly this spot so that felt pretty special. I finally got onto this famous strip as I ran I thought of all the history that had gone on here over the years – people had sprinted to win, World Champions had crawled, others sat by the side of the road unable to get up even though the finish line was in sight! Whilst I’d had my own battles I was in 1 piece and enjoyed my final meters! I had done it – wow! It was truly everything & more than I have ever seen on TV – you should try it sometime & I look forward to helping people have the same amazing experience I had (I’d advise more training).
I’M DONE – SEE YOU ON THE SUP…
So that’s I’m done with Ironman – best to finish on top I say! My body doesn’t like the week to week training so this little whale will now be more likely to be seen paddling on the coastline on a SUP doing shark reports!
THANK YOU to my 2 groupies who sat patiently waiting for me in 40 degree heat although a little Birdy told me you spent a lot of this time snorkelling & drinking cocktails! Thank You everyone for reading – I hope you enjoyed one of the special days I’ve had in a special life.