A farewell to triathlon
1o years ago, my first triathlon was the Armadillo Triathon in Austin, TX. I was wide eyed and unaware of what the sport was all about, but it was yet another step in gaining confidence after my kidney transplant that I was no longer “sick,” and no longer needed to think of myself as a patient. I expected it would be both my first and my last triathlon (“triathletes are nut cases”), but during the run along a trail snaking through the woods, I ran side by side with another athlete, as we watched the sun track along the cliffs of Lake Travis. We didn’t talk much, but at one point, he stated the simple truth, “Not a bad way to spend a morning.”
On Sunday I finished my last triathlon, Ironman Cairns. While I will do the Sprint in the Australian transplant games in September in Sydney, I consider Cairns my final race as a triathlete. It’s been a great decade, and I’m fortunate every day for the gift that my cousin gave me that let me experience all the things I never would have experienced.
Cairns has a reputation for being a randomly challenging course – the weather can make the course a straightforward affair, or it can great you with demonic waves, baking heat, pouring rain, and oppressive humidity. On Sunday, we leaned towards the demonic – high waves bad enough for them to cancel the swim leg shortly after I finished, high winds on the bike course (with 2/3rds of the course against the wind), and a humid run. But the rain in the morning and the cloud cover kept the race course mostly cool until mid-afternoon, so we avoided baking in the sweatbox of tropical Queensland.
I had been swimming only twice in the previous two months. That’s 10 times less than what my usual training plan would required. I would be swimming entirely on technique, with very little muscle to back it up. The winds were high and the swell was big. With 450 Japanese competitors, who often have very little ocean swimming background, it was going to be a tough day for many.
At the half way point in the first lap, I cornered around the buoy and had to laugh. I felt like I was done physically, but still had 75% of the swim, or about 2.7 km, to go. I was cooking in my wetsuit (just too thick for 25 degree C water). But, you put your head down, and celebrate every buoy you pass. That’s one less buoy. Bye bye buoy.
Apparently, shortly after I exited the water, they told all swimmers to head straight for shore. They had already pulled 40 swimmers out of the water in distress, including one man who was unconscious, who sadly passed away several days later.
It makes you pause to appreciate your health, and know that nothing should be taken for granted.
The Bike of Discomfort
The Cairns bike course on a sunny day. Our day was not sunny…
My bike performed beautifully. Aaron Dunsford from Fusion Peak studios had done a great job with a fit and some repairs, and I didn’t have a single issue with the bike.
My tri kit (the cycling knicks and tank top you wear in a triathlon) failed miserably. I like to wear the club kit, but in this race it simply couldn’t hold up. I was uncomfortable the last five hours of the race. I had tried to get a new kit, but that’s a frustrating story that isn’t worth retelling. The kit was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t stay in aero during the return to Cairns in the high winds.
On the bike course I was impressed by the lack of drafting – usually on a windy day, many triathletes begin to shrink the draft zone: from 7 bike lengths to 3 and then even zero.
I didn’t walk in my first Ironman, and I only walked in Busselton when I starting weaving from dehydration. In Cairns, I probably walked a total of 3-4K of the 42.2K when you add up the aid stations (walked every one) and a handful of moments where I mentally gave into fatigue. The last lap, which I thought would be the hardest, I just told myself that walking wasn’t on the program.
The finishing chute appeared, and soon I was done. Pete Jacobs (winner of Ironman World Championships in Kona in 2012) who is from the Northern Beaches in Sydney and loosely associated with the Warringah triathlon club, was there at the finish line and gave me my finisher’s medal, which was a cool way to finish. Pete had just placed third among the pros that day. Here’s to Pete having another win this year in Kona!
90 minutes slower
There are no excuses for my performance in Ironman Cairns. I’m proud of the fundraising I’ve done for Room to Read Cambodia. But there are simple facts: I am not in “Ironman shape”, and I knew it coming into the race. Work, travel, illness, work, life, and work have all wiped out the free hours that I used to squeeze training into a two dimensional life. I saw the rewards of training in my 2nd Ironman (in Busselton in 2014), and I saw the rewards of minimal training in Cairns!
Yes, the course that Sunday was tough. The conditions might have added 15 minutes to my time, but the 90 minute difference between Sunday and my last Ironman was simply a lack of training.
I have trained – I’ve done weekend rides and runs. Swimming, not so much. A consistent training schedule? Nope. Even Strava’s fitness calculator (based on your heart rate and power output) concluded that I’m not fit. Thanks, Strava.
This could sound like an excuse or even complaining or disappointment – it’s none of those things. I had an amazing day in Cairns, and will remember that day as one of the best of my life. This is is simply what I learned in my first Ironman: if you put in the work, you get the results. If you don’t put in the work, and aren’t genetically gifted, then don’t expect miracles.
10 great years
And of course, without my cousin Diane, who gave me the gift of life through a kidney transplant on December 21, 2004, not a single step of this would have been possible. Thanks, cousin.