Pre-Race - After a restless night, I woke at 3:29am, one minute before the alarm was set to go off. I jumped out of bed and turned the alarm off to prevent the entire family waking before needed. It would already be a big enough day for my girls without waking this early! I can’t believe the day had finally arrived. Unfortunately, I was not feeling 100% as I had come down with a chest cold over the past 2-3 days. I was confident and determined however, that this was not going to derail my day. It wasn’t ideal, but I was hoping that the work I had put in was enough to overcome this small hurdle.
Months ago, when I signed up to do the full distance, it was all so far in the future. Now, as I try to put my porridge into my churning stomach, it was all of a sudden very much upon me. Today was the day that I put my body to the ultimate test. Can I do this? Have I done enough work? 226km stood between me and those much coveted words – “Tim Seletto, you are an Ironman!”
After a walk to the finish line precinct in Cairns to catch a shuttle bus to the swim start at Palm Cove, I thankfully meet up with a friendly “Blue Crew” face, and a seasoned IM campaigner in Stephen White. It was a pretty quiet bus ride with the nervous energy palpable. Half way up the Captain Cook Highway, the rain began to fall heavily. I tell myself, the weather conditions will be what it will be. I have no control over it so I shouldn’t waste energy stressing over it. This kind of works!!
I close my eyes and begin to try and focus on what I had control over. My swim strategy, my nutrition plan, target heart rates, transition process etc. Then I picture myself running up the finish chute. Running strong, finishing strong, taking my time and soaking up the atmosphere. I was determined to enjoy the last 30 seconds of the day, no matter what happened in the many hours before.
Arrival at Palm Cove, still too dark to see the water conditions, but the wind was already at a reasonable strength. Again, focus on what can be done. Set up bike, load nutrition, pump up tyres and go over my checklist to ensure everything would be ready for when I come out of the water. At this point Stephen’s rear wheel punctures and he heads off to the bike mechanics to have them repair it. I check my tyres 27 more times!!! We still have over an hour till race start, so Stephen and I find a nice quiet spot out of the way to put wetsuits on and check the last few details.
The long walk to the swim start from T1 setup was a good chance to loosen up the legs that still felt like heavy logs, but were starting to come to life. They had a big day in front of them, but I just kept telling myself that they were steel springs and they would keep going all day until they had got me to the finish line.
I found Jane, my girls and my sister and partner who had just arrived and posed for some pre-race photos of me putting on my best “I’m OK” face. I think they all looked more nervous than me. We made our way along the beach and to the swim start area. I finished putting my wetsuit on, and at this point, the nerves and apprehension, turn to focus and commitment to get this done.
I went over my days plan once more in my head while I lined up in the start pens. I again gave a minutes thought to my goal time for each leg and then made the conscious decision to put them aside. The overall time will be what it will be, all I could do was focus on the process.
3.8km Swim – The starters gun goes off and I’m about 10 rows back from the front. I had planned on starting as close to the front as possible to try and sit on some toes as long as possible. They slowly let swimmers off in small groups of 5 or 6 at a time and this process seems to take forever. I just want to get in and start my day!!! With the choppy conditions and murky water, it soon became evident that I wouldn’t be doing a great deal of drafting during the swim leg. The first 100 meters are pretty slow, getting through the first rows of shore break. No time to get into a rhythm, but I was away. Around the first buoy and the start of the first lap which runs parallel to the beach. Now it was time to settle down, and try to find a nice even pace. I try to forget about the distance I have in front of me and tell myself I am comfortable and enjoying the swim.
It soon becomes very obvious how warm the water is. I can’t be more than 300 or 400 meters into the swim and I am already looking forward to getting the wetsuit off. I had been given a tip (thanks M Hudgson) to put my goggles on under my swim cap which allowed me to pull the cap off, which helps a little with the warmth. And an occasional tug on the neck lets some cooler water flow into the suit for a little relief.
At times during the first lap, I feel like I have 100 meters around me in all directions without another swimmer. Was I going the wrong way? Is everyone swimming that much faster than me? I keep repeating to myself the mantra that will keep me going all day. “This is my race…..I will go at my pace”.
The first lap seems to take an eternity. I still have to do it all again!! I try to let my mind wander, but soon the focus moves to the obstacle course that has been provided by the tail end of the swimmers still on lap 1. They were everywhere! No chance of feeling alone for the second lap, as not 10 meters went by without swimming into, or onto, another competitor doing breaststroke, backstroke and treading water.
At about 2.5km, my calves begin to cramp. I think the combination of wearing my wetsuit for over an hour before the race start and the warm water was taking its toll. Every time another swimmer touches or hits my legs, they spasm and go into cramp. I do my best to stay relaxed and just keep my legs moving to try and ease the cramps, but nothing works and they continue to get increasingly bad for the remainder of the swim. This is a new problem for me as I have never experienced cramping in the swim leg of a triathlon before. I’m now getting concerned about the ride leg to follow if my legs are cramping this early. This could be a long day!!!
I eventually turn the last buoy and head to the beach. I do my best to increase my kick rate to get some blood flowing in them ready for the run up the beach. I swim until my hands hit the bottom, then stand up to run out of the water. I immediately fall back over in the water! I stand up again, feeling a little embarrassed and attempt a shuffle up the beach. I think my wetsuit was down below my waist before I get 10 steps up the beach, what a relief to feel the cool air on my shoulders. And just like that, the swim leg was done. Check
I head into the change tent, grab my bag and move through to the change area. I am pleasantly surprised by how nice it is to be able to sit down to get out of the wetsuit and put on my socks and shoes. I’m usually the light headed guy hopping up and down the transition isle, one foot still trapped in my wetsuit leg, trying not to knock the $10K TT bike off the rack next to me!
I don my helmet, and a slathering of sun screen and I’m off. A wave to Jane and the girls as I run out of the tent, doing my best impression of a person who wasn’t scared to death of the 180km ride that followed.
180km Bike – I should start by saying that this leg that I now faced, was the cause of many a nightmare in the months leading into Ironman. I had done all of the rides as directed in my expertly tailored program (better talk up the coach!!), but I still feel like I am not a natural cyclist, and knew that if I was going to derail my day, it was likely to be done here. With that said, I tell myself again to stick to my race plan. Stick to my target heart rates. Forget about speed!
I mount my bike and head out on the slight climb out of Palm Cove. Not a real climb at all, but enough to get my heart rate up higher than I wanted. Soon enough though, I had turned out onto the Captain Cook Hwy, and I settled in for the long ride and focussed on settling down into my target zone. This took longer than expected, and I was about 10 minutes up the road before I was comfortably working in the correct zone.
I find it’s a battle to keep from pushing too hard early on, especially when a couple of riders cruise past me. I constantly need to remind myself how long today was going to be and the need to control my effort. “Stick to your plan, and you will have a good day”.
The ride course towards Port Douglas was as beautiful as I had imagined with a real mixture of terrains and scenery. Flat sections away from the shore with forest either side of the road which offered protection from the wind, and then the hillier sections which were right on the shore and offered amazing, uninterrupted views over the Coral Sea. The undulations offered a nice chance for the competitors from the Mornington Peninsula to show off the hours of hilly riding that we all endure as part of most of our rides. Think esplanade from Mt Martha to Safety Beach on steroids.
The weather conditions also keeping things interesting, heavy rain at times that would stop and allow things to get hot and steamy again. Wet, slippery roads making some of the descents an interesting experience.
The first loop into Port Douglas would have to rate highly on the days experiences as we cruise into a spectator lined Macrosson Street, before a chance to see yourself on the big screen at the turn around point. Felt pretty good!! The second time arriving at Port Douglas was not quite as enjoyable, as I was feeling a little bit more tired and emotional at this point. I was ready to get off the bike by this point. Only about 70km to go down to Cairns!!
The next 2 hours were pretty tough. Headwind, rain had stopped and it was warming up, and there were long stretches of road when I was feeling very alone and isolated. All I could do was keep my head down, brace against the wind and focus on the big picture. I knew I had done some training rides in far worse conditions than this, and all I had to do was keep peddling. I would get to Cairns eventually.
One thing worth mentioning, is that about 10km into the ride leg, I had accidently hit the lap button on my watch, causing it to skip to T2. As I scrolled through the pages, there was no page that showed HR so I had to stop the timer and restart it on Ride mode to enable me to monitor my HR. So from this point onwards, I have no real idea of my overall race time. Probably for the best, as I am forced to forget about the outcome and focus on the process.
The last 5 km of the bike was again a little enjoyable. Flat, smooth roads enabled me to shift into an easier gear and increase my cadence to try and free the legs up in preparation for the run. Again, I had a “Pro” reception in Cairns as the final km cruises up the Esplanade with many spectators spilling out into the streets all cheering us on.
Dismount the bike and pass it to the waiting volunteer for it to be racked, (How good is this?) as I shuffle off to the change tent.
The first 1km of the run is an absolute buzz. Course lined on both sides by spectators as I turn down a wide shady path to begin my last leg. First Lap Band collection point was only 300 meters in and it always feels good to start racking these beauties up. At the bottom of this shady path, a sharp turn right and I was now running south out of Cairns. The next 3 km of this 3 lap course are probably the most arduous of the entire course. Not much to look at, no shade, and very few spectators, I got the feeling that if there was going to be any dark times to follow, it was going to be out in this section. But for now, I was dialled in at the bottom end of my target race intensity and was feeling great (I had planned on starting at the bottom end, and then work from there).
This section to the South only lasts for about 4 km and you then head North past the finish line area again and the point where the bulk of the spectators were congregating. Again, floating on air as I pass Jane and Co. still cheering with amazing vigour.
The first 14km lap feels great. Running comfortably, heart rate stable and my nutrition was going perfectly to plan. I’m thanking all the volunteers as I pass, hi-5’s for all the kids with outstretched arms and even enjoying the warm sun on my back. Except for the water at the aid stations tasting like bore water, everything is good. I see Travis Temme out on the sidelines and he yells out that he had come 7th in the 70.3 race he had finished earlier. I am stoked with this info as it means he is likely to qualify for the World Championships in September that he had worked so hard to achieve. Again, I experience a boost in energy and cruise through the next 2km.
Lap 2 and still moving well, or at least feel like I am. I am feeling good and a sneaky look at current pace shows that I am under my goal pace. My legs are starting to get a little tired, but nothing that I haven’t experienced many times before in training, and I was confident I could keep this up for the majority of the run. As I pass Jane at about the 18km mark, I yell to her “I can do this babe, I’ve got this!!”.
Another kilometre further up the course and some TriSpecify boys are there cheering and yelling. Steve Pate and Devon Osbourne yell out that I was currently sitting in the top 10 (WTF!!!) and they thought I was still looking strong. Although, I wasn’t racing for a position on the day, this certainly gave me a little swagger in my step.
Lap 2 was now complete, and I had lived up to the promise I made to myself of getting through the first 2 laps (28km) without walking, and enjoying the journey and soaking up the atmosphere as much as possible.
This is where things started getting a little bit more challenging. Legs were getting really heavy now. I was fighting to keep good, efficient form and the coke at the aid stations was starting to look more and more appealing. I knew things would get tough at some point, it was always going to be when, not if. 30km mark and I walk my first aid station. Ice over the head, water and a cup of Coke. I had never needed Coke on any previous races, but I was in new territory here and I was willing to try anything. Soon after this, it becomes evident that Coke was not going to work as my stomach starts to churn.
At this point I have about 10km to go. I talk to myself…”It’s only 50 minutes of work”, “It’s only 5 times 2 km efforts between aid stations”…”Your family is waiting for you at the end”. I try to focus on anything that is not the pain and absolute exhaustion that I feel in my legs. Think of anything to tell myself to get me through the next 50 minutes. Lie to myself, that I don’t feel that tired. Above all, I just tell myself that until I find the solution to make me feel better, I was just going to keep moving forward. Forward is where the finish line was. And the finish line is where I want to be!!
There are a couple of times when I am forced to walk between aid stations, it may have only been for 10 or 20 seconds, but I am little disappointed with myself. Maybe, if I knew what my race time was, it would have given me extra motivation to keep running, but at that point, I didn’t care if I finished in my goal time, or 2 hours after, all I wanted was to cross that line. Get to the end, and hear those words and hug my family.
I learnt a lot about myself in those last kilometres. I learnt that your mind can take your body places and allow it to do things that you would never think possible until you try.
I learnt that the body has strength and energy far beyond what you put to use. The last 3 km of the race I discovered this reserve of energy. I had turned the last corner and all I had to do, was get back to the finish line. I won’t say I felt strong, or even OK, but I did have what it took to run all the way to the finish when not 5 minutes before, I was unsure I could run the next 50 meters.
The months of hard work, early mornings and aching, tired body were all forgotten in that instant. It is absolutely worth every drip of sweat you put in, and more.
At some stage after I finish, I stop my watch. I don’t even look at the time. I think I have raced just about as well as I could have hoped in the conditions. Whatever the finish time turns out to be, I’m happy with my day. It’s only when Jane shows me my race time, that just how happy I am with my day. If someone had told me I would finish in that time, I would have thought they were way off. Not in my wildest dreams.
It is such a strange thing, the Ironman event, so full of contrasts. Equal parts of listening to your body to gauge and control your effort, and the rest of the time when you are telling your body to shut up and just keep going. Times when you think the day will never end, and moments when it’s all going way too fast. Despair and elation. Excited with anticipation, and sick with nerves. Boundless energy, and complete exhaustion. A day I will never forget!
I have to give a huge thank you to the people that all played a part in this journey. Obviously, my girls, Jane, Maddy, Lucy and Ava who have given up so much time with their husband and Daddy while I was out training.
To Clinton for writing a program that was perfectly tailored to my busy work and family life, and still get me into a condition to hit the start line healthy and ready.
And to all my training partners for making most of the training bearable, if not fun.
I didn’t know if I wanted to do the training all over again. I was ready for a break. I was tired! Could I face going home to do long hours of winter training?
Surprisingly, Jane was the one debating in the affirmative!
The roll down ceremony had come around, and I was still to decide 100% if I would take a slot if offered. I stood along the isle of a packed ballroom watching the process of the roll down ceremony, butterflies in my stomach at the thought of qualifying. It soon became obvious that there was no real decision to be made. The excitement and elation shown by the athletes being given the opportunity to race at the “Home of Ironman” was amazing. I have to take this opportunity of a lifetime. We can work out the details later! After all “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE”.
Jane looks at me and says “Shit babe, we’re going to Hawaii!”