I’d pictured what it was going to feel like to finish Ironman Canada a hundred times in my head. But I never could have imagined the scene as it would eventuate. About 6 hours premature, on the side of the road, balling my eyes out and stepping out into on-coming traffic, oblivious to my surroundings.
It was a contrast to the Whistler we had come to know. After our two weeks of intense heat the locals were worrying about the countless wild fires burning nearby. Admittedly I was spending more time wondering whether the lake would cool down enough for the pros to be allowed wetsuits. I was looking to the skies and begging for rain and cold weather. I like wetsuits. And I also wasn’t enjoying hot sleepless nights with a constant stream of sweat running from my forehead. If it stayed this hot I knew race day would be a battle, especially on the run.
Finally my prayers were answered and the forecast for race day looked like rain and cooler weather. You beauty, I thought simultaneously alongside the question of whether I had packed enough warm gear!
The race started well enough. Wetsuits were deemed legal with a lake temperature just below 20 degrees. Immediately I looked for feet. Two sets right there. Sweet, this is me; settle in for the best 3.8k of your life mate. Within a few hundred metres, both sets of feet fell back. Then one set of hands started tapping my feet. This would continue for the rest of the swim. I dragged a couple of pros around the course while up ahead the fast guys were doing whatever you do to swim 48-50min in an ironman.
Exiting the water I knew I had dipped under an hour. Not bad, I had hoped for 57min or so, but to do that I probably needed some feet to follow. In hind sight I am really happy. I swam 3 min faster than Challenge which was 5 months ago. Hopefully that trend continues.
Into transition I wanted to put everything on that I had. That wasn’t much. A double layered wind proof vest and some arm warmers. It was pouring with rain but nothing some 300+ watt riding couldn’t overcome. My brother yelled “11 minutes” as I went by. I had asked him to give me the split to the leader. Deep down I backed myself to pull in anything around 12 minutes. 11 minutes gave me a boost.
I went on my way passing the pros and trying to generate some heat. The course would undulate for 20km then it climbed 10km straight up the Callaghan Valley Rd to a turn point. I got through the 20km in 28.30 feeling really conservative. I was happy to pull the big time back later in the bike course when it would get really tough on the climb back to Whistler. But I was shivering like crazy. Thank goodness for this 10km climb, I needed to use it to warm back up.
I continued passing more pros and wondered if I might have pulled a minute or two back to the leaders already. They would be coming back past after the turnaround at the top, so I was about to find out.
The top of the Callaghan brought two drastically different realisations. The first was I had pulled back 3 minutes to the leader – Kyle Buckingham from South Africa, at the 35km mark. I was now 8 minutes behind. This had felt largely effortless. At this rate I could be leading the race with 50km to go. But I was getting ahead of myself. The fact was I had climbed 300m in 10km at 340-380 watts and was shivering so badly at the top that I couldn’t eat and could barely use my brakes. Now I had a screaming 10km descent to try and stay warm.
At times I was going 70km/hr, trying to keep my bike straight (shivering is a great way to generate speed wobbles) and use my brakes into the corners. I was yelling at myself to keep it together. The age groupers coming up the hill towards me must have thought I was schizophrenic. I was literally screaming at myself that I was ok and this was my race to win. I flew past pre-race favourite Luke Bell; he looked hypothermic, poor bugger.
At the bottom of the hill I made a conscious decision to ride well beyond my means. I had a planned 20-30 watt range to try and race within. If I stuck to this however I knew I wasn’t going to generate enough body heat to see the finish. So I risked it all and pushed hard. I was doing 400+ watts at times on ride back to Whistler. I flew past another pre-race favourite Jeff Symonds. But I was starting to lose my mind. I cannot really remember too much from that point. I would hear cheering and see faces from Wanaka people that obviously weren’t there. It was weird. But suddenly there really was a cheer from Wanaka people. My wife Amy and friend Mike.
The next thing I remember being in an emotional mess while being loaded into a medic car wrapped in blankets and taken to the medical tent to warm up. Humiliated. Devastated.
I throw a lot at this sport. Anyone who chooses to do this stuff does. I throw a lot of money at it too. Basically all I have (and don’t have). This is never questioned by my family, which makes me a very lucky man. But it is very much questioned by me. And never more so than right now. I took a gamble to come here and race. It hasn’t paid off. If it had who knows, I might have picked up some form of support to do more of this stuff. I may not have. But I was willing to take the risk. As a father and husband I am not sure that is the right thing to be doing.
I’ll take a few days to talk to some trusted people and see where the next steps to take might be. It’s not in my nature to give up so I am sure there will be more races. As much as it feels like I have let Flynn down, I want him to grow up knowing that giving up is never an option. I also want him to know something I have always believed: there is no such thing as bad weather, just poor clothing choice.
Thanks for the crazy support. It’s been humbling. I really didn’t want to write about yesterday. But I was encouraged to tell my story when I realised how many people out there believed (and still believe) in me.