2013 Ironman Australia Race Report



     I couldn't be happier with my 2nd place finish at Ironman Australia last week. After my win at Ironman Louisville last year, I had high expectations for myself for the remainder of 2012 and the future, so when I ended my 2012 withby dropping out of Austin Ironman 70.3 in October, then walking it in to finish Ironman Cozumel at 50th place, and most recently running off course in San Juan 70.3 to kick off this year, I wanted most out of myself from this race was to put in a solid performance. I wasn't trying to shoot for the moon here, I wanted to execute a race showing the hard work I've put in this winter and spring over the last several months. Finishing as runner up in Australia with an overall solid performance, I accomplished those goals and feel like my 2013 is officially underway. I finished the race in 8:42 with a 53 minute swim, 4:51 bike, and 2:54 run. Not my fastest race, but an overall solid performance. I also want to give Luke Bell a big conratulations. He raced like a true champ, leading from start to finish, he was strong across all three disciplines all day long. He truly deserved the win. While of course I would have liked to give him a little more run for his money, I'm very happy with the race.

    I heard a great quote from pro triathlete Jason Shortis before the race, something along the lines of "executing a perfect Ironman is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, always looking for a way to put the pieces together." Jason hit the nail on the head when it comes to the full Ironman distance. There are so many variables over the course of training, preparation, and racing, that putting together the "prefect race" is a complex undertaking. This race was far from perfect for me, so from it I take some real positives, along with some areas for improvement. If you've been following my website, then you know how I've been working on my swimming all winter with Coach Kim Brackin. I've moved up to a faster swim lane at practice and have been swimming faster times in practice than ever before. I really wanted to execute a swim here reflecing this work. In the past, I'd felt as if I'd progressed in my swimming in practices but come race time, I'd show no improvement. This time, I swam a personal best 53 minute Ironman swim, but most important of all, I was only 5 minutes back from Luke Bell, the pro swim leader. In the past, its been closer to an 8-10 minute swim gap range. I was very happy with my swim performance in this race. As I've always said when it comes to racing. Once you've done something for the first time, no matter how tough it is, you always know you can do it again.

     The second aspect where I was pleased coming out of this race was my marathon. In 2011, I ran well off the bike in almost every race. Last season, I never felt that I put together a run off the bike up to my abilities. Last season, I started to lose trust in my running off the bike. I'd get off the bike and wonder if my legs would be there for me. The previous season, every time I came through bike-to-run transition I knew my legs would be ready. After my January running injury, it took me a good month to get my running back on track and to the point where I could put in the work to run a good marathon off the bike. Then over the last couple months, I worked hard on my running, especially focusing on the sessions to be strong in the second half of the marathon. I've always said when it comes to the Ironman, most guys can run really well for 13 miles, but after that point you can see who really did the work in training and raced smart and within themselves for the previous 7 hours. With my 2:54 marathon off the bike here, I showed myself that I have the "old me" back on my run. Coming out of the race, I felt great about these two items.

     That said, it wasn't a perfect performance, so I come aways with a couple areas where I feel that I need some work. On my run, I felt that I ran very well from miles 5 through 22. The last 4-6 miles will always be a challenge in an Ironman, for me, to be faster in those closing miles, I think my running form needs a little tune-up and continued work. Seeing race photos of myself, my heel-strike and overstriding is back and as bad as ever. This means that on every stride, my foot and heel strikes the ground well in front of my body's center of mass. This creates a counter-force driving back up my leg, so it both "puts on the breaks" every stride and pounds my quads more than if I had better form. If I can get my strike under my center of mass a bit more and strike more with my mid-foot rather than heel, it'll decrease the pounding on my quads leaving me less fatigued in the final miles of the marathon. When it comes to a marathon, incrimental changes can result in large improvements late in the run. 


It's easy to see my overstriding in this picture!!     

     Also from this race, my lower back was totally seized up for a good 4-5 miles at the start of the marathon. After mile 5, my back loosened up and I could get into my running stride. In those first few miles, because my back was locked up, I couldn't get into my pace and lost a lot of time. I think this comes down to bike position. This has happened in a couple races in the past, each time it's slowed me down for the first several miles. Each time, it's eventually loosened up and I'd run fine after that. I think I need a little look at my bike position to see if we can get me off the bike with my back looser. If I can fix this, there's a free minute or more waiting for me. 

     The one glaring area for improvement was my biking in this race. While I was happy with my swimming and my run, my biking left quite a bit to be desired. It wasn't for lack of training. I need to go back and look at the type of training I did, how I built up, and then how I tapered. I don't feel that there was a fitness issue, but I just felt weak the entire bike ride, like I couldn't push the gears. Again, I'm very happy with the race, but I know I have some work to do on my bike over the next couple months.

  
Climbing the steepest hill on the bike course (left). I wondered how I got a small strip of sunburn on my lower back (right) Photos by First Off the Bike

      I really enjoyed the town of Port Macquarie. I thought it was a perfect location for an Ironman race. It was large enough to have plenty of lodging, food, and entertainment for the racers and their families. It was small enough and tight-knit community to be able to basically shut-down the entire city and down-town for the race. It is such a big event that the local community came out in force as volunteers and as spectators, creating a positive environment for the race. The locale also offers a beautiful but challenging course.

Port Macquarie's coastine is beautiful. Looking south along the bike course.


Looking down onto the run course before the race. It's the calm before the storm.

    The swim was in the Hastings river which runs into the Pacific Ocean in Port Macquarie. In town it's more of a tidal river so it has brackish water. The water temp was in the low-70s making it a wetsuit-legal swim, so I was able to use my TYR Freak of Nature wetsuit. Because the professional field was smaller than usual for this race, we didn't have a separate swim start time. They gave us about a 25-30 meter head start gap at the front of the race. I actually really liked this because when the start gun sounded, I could start solid and controlled, rather than "all-out" like many swim starts. It took the better amateur swimmers a while to bridge that gap to us. By that time, I was well into my groove and pace so I could pick a group to tuck in and swim behind. I felt pretty good on the swim. I swam solid, but in control. I never went totally lactic. It was a two loop swim, so as we lapped the slower swimmers, the biggest challenge was that the group would swim around a slow swimmer. They had the same color swim cap, so you couldn't tell until you ran into the swimmer that they were not in your group, rather swimming half the speed. I'd come to a complete stop, swim around the person, then have to sprint to get back up to speed to catch back up to the group I'd been with. This happened quite a few times, so by the end, it was getting quite old. 


Mom and I before the swim start. The TYR Freak of Nature wetsuit always makes my abs look good.


The chaos that is an Ironman swim start. Nothing gets your heart pumping like it!


Fresh out of the swim, about to mount my Felt DA bike and head out. Photo by Trizone.com


     I came out of the water feeling good. I saw my swim time was 53, so I was happy to start off the race with a personal best time. In the back of your head though, you never know if you swam well or if the course was short. When I heard that Luke Bell swam a 48 and was only 5 minutes up, I knew it was pretty close to accurate and I'd had a great swim. In full Ironmans I'm always excited to get on the bike and start rolling (right, photo from Trizone.com). My parents were standing about a 1/4 mile into the bike on an uphill, so the could yell placement and time gap information. I started the bike in 17th place overall in the race, but the nice part was that I could see at least 6 riders directly in front of me up the road.

     The first 5 miles of the bike is very hilly with lots of twists and turns. I didn't feel like I could get into the groove until after that first stretch. I could also tell right away that my biking legs didn't feel spectacular. They were just "okay". I told myself that it's a long day and just focused on doing what I could on the bike. As spectators gave me time splits to Luke, I heard that I was slowly losing time to him. I wasn't happy to hear that, but again, it's a long day out there. By the end of the first loop at mile 56, I'd lost 2.5 minutes to Luke but I'd moved into 4th place. I could see the 2nd and 3rd place riders ahead of me. It took me until about mile 60 to catch them and move into 2nd. From that point-on I didn't see another rider the entire ride. I'll admit, it was a pretty lonely solo ride. The good thing was that Luke was also racing alone, so I can honestly say it was a fair race because we each had to ride on our ablities and pacing alone. I heard that I was continuing to lose time on the bike and my legs never seemed to fully come around, so I was happy to roll into town after loop 2, to get off the bike and put on the running shoes.  I really suffered on that second loop of the bike. The course had far more hills than I'd expected. Each hill after mile 60 felt like the brakes were rubbing (but they were not). I came into town at the end of the 112 miles hearing that Luke was about 11 minutes up on me. I'd lost 6 minutes on the bike, 2 1/2 on the first loop, 3 1/2 on the second loop. That said, I'd put more time into the guys behind me, so I had a good gap on 3rd place coming into transition.



                
                      Mom telling me I'm in 4th place at the end of loop 1 of the bike. I'm coming back into town with the media moto in tow

        
 
          
Finishing the first loop of the bike (left). Just off the bike, running to change in transition 2 (right) Photos from TriZone.com.au


Emerging from the changing tent, heading out onto the run. Photo from Ironman Asia-Pacific

     Getting off the bike, my legs and back felt terrible. After transition, though, my legs felt okay but as I described earlier, my lower back was killing me. I've had this happen before, so I knew that if I just kept going, it'd eventually loosen up. I saw my parents at mile 2 and I wasn't looking good. When I saw Luke coming back on the first of our 4 loops of the run course, he looked good and had put over a minute into me on the first 6 miles. Then my back loosened up and I found my stride. An agegrouper came out of transition for his first loop as I started my second loop. He was holding a faster pace, so I picked it up and paced off of him. As soon I started ticking over the feet faster, I felt better. For the next two loops I felt great and started taking back time. I brought back a couple loops. I never gave up hope because you never know what'll happen. Luke held strong and when I saw him when I had about 4 miles to go and he had 2 miles to go, I knew it was over. We gave each other a little salute. I slowed down a for the last 4 miles. Some of it was because I knew Luke was uncatchable at 10-11 minute lead, and of course some was because the last 4 miles of a marathon is not easy. I ran in the last few miles happy and enjoying the experience.

    


Nothing tastes better than podium champaign after a long day!

 
Talking to the media after the finish with salty pants. Also, no one told me the tag was sticking out of my running cap the whole time, thanks guys! Gotta work on my cliches for the media: "we're taking it one day at a time", etc.

   Luke raced like a champ, he was in front wire-to-wire and deserved every bit of the win. I know he has been trying for an Ironman win for years, so it was nice to see him take it in his home country at the Ironman race that started it all for him over a decade ago. I was happy to finish in 2nd place in an Ironman for the third time in my career. As I said in an interview after the race "you have to be happy every time you finish on the podium of an Ironman."

     It was a great experience and a very cool race. Ironman Asia-Pacific knows how to put on a first class race and event. Every aspect was professional and well executed. I give them an "A" on production value for a race. All athletes should try to race outside of North America just for the experience. They really know how to make the event feel special, from the carbo dinner, to the race, to the awards. My favorite moment of the race was the champaign toast/spray at the finish. To me, it's a very special experience. I've always associated the champaign spray with success in sport. So when it happens, I always relish the moment. It's a time to appreciate the success, the training, the highs, lows, and where the process has brought me. 

Click here to watch a post race interview from FirstOffTheBIke.com.

     My parents flew over for the race, so the day after, we had the opportunity to spend a day as tourists. Before the race, even if I'm in a cool location, I don't really get to experience it, because I'm resting in my hotel room. After the race, I like to just be a tourist, eat junk food, and have extra coffee and beer. On monday, We went to a couple of Port Macquarie's amazing beaches, took a walk through a rain forest nature preserve, and visited a Koala Veterinary Hospital. We loved the Koala hospital, where they treat and rehabilitate injured or sick Koalas before releasing them in the wild. After a day, I headed back to Austin and my parents went on to Melbourne and Sydney to continue their vacation. It was a wonderful trip, experience, and a great way to kick off my 2013.

     There's nothing like 30 hours of travel home with Ironman sore legs. Talk about stiff, sitting for that long cramped up on airline seats was a bear, but it's nice to be be home back in Autin. I'm very happy with this race and excited for the rest of the racing season ahead.

Mom and I at the rainforest nature preserve


Some of the spectacular coastline along the coast near Port Macquarie

     I really want to thank Little Caesars Pizza for their support of me and my racing. Their belief in me is so important for me be able to do what I'm doing in this sport. TYR Sports is providing me with the best wetsuits and speedsuits in the sport. PowerBar's nutrition products have been a key part in my training and racing. I'd also like to thank RecoveryPump for their support. RecoveryPump has been a critical aspect of my training and recovery and I truely believe the product has helped to take my training to the next level. Jack and Adam's Bicycles in Austin are always there to help support me and my racing. I want to thank Felt Bicycles for putting me on such an amazing bike, the Felt DA. HED Cycling has provided me with the best wheels and aerobars on the market. Champion System Clothing has provided me with the race and training clothing that you see in my pictures. Brooks Airbrush Studio painted up my amazing aerohelmet this year. Advanced Rehabilitation in Austin helps to keep me healthy for training and racing. Hill Country Running Company is a great help with my running equipment. SBR Sports Inc's products are also a great help for racing and training. Coach Brackin at Brackin Elite Swim Training has helped bring my swimming up to the next level. Also I want to thank my family and friends for their unending support for me. Without these people and sponsors, I would not be able to pursue this dream.

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