I was up early Saturday morning. Surprise surprise. Got dressed, fed the horse, and double-checked all my gear.
Guess what I forgot? My swim crop top! Yeah, I know! How stupid was that?! So I had to do everything in my regular sports bra top and running/cycling shirts. No biggie, but an annoyance, with so much planning in place, to forget the top I was meant to wear for the entire day.
I packed the food for myself and my strappers, double-checked all the boxes. Nothing else would be left behind!
So, by 7am-ish, we were pretty much organised, having discussed who was going to be where and when, reviewing road closures and everyone seemed on top of everything.
We loaded the horse, but he was not very cooperative. This is a frustration when we all have places to be!
T&E took the horse and float off to the yards to prep for vetting.
Mat drove me to the race start, and then had to leave to get to the kayak start to ensure we were set up there. I checked in and got my numbers marked on my arms and my bib (418), and sat with Steve and Jan leading up to the start. I also met Alison (402) and Ryan (405) who were also doing Iron Person for the first time ever too! So good to meet them and a few others. There is definitely some camradarie amongst the competitors. Everyone is there for their own race, but isn’t against saying hi and offering a bit of support!
We started off and did the lap of the oval. It’s quite a sight, 200 people taking off. Just to watch everyone running, stringing along, it’s quite an experience.
Everyone was warning me about this first big hill. Really, it wasn’t that bad. I mean it, it wasn’t. It was long, but it wasn’t horrible. As they say “all hills are flat” – it’s not like we were climbing a mountain! There was water at the top of the hill (and every 3km), and I slowed to a walk, had a good drink, and headed off again at each water station. In all, I would say there were only 5 decent up hills. But it was the downhills that you had to watch out for. The last two big downhill runs before the end were quick and that’s something really worth practicing – running downhill on gravel and grass. Finding how fast you can go and how much you can trust your legs will help choose how to tackle the descents. I really opened up on the gravel, but slowed down on the grass a bit, the footing was more uneven as you run through the paddock towards the river. Off-road running should be added to the training schedule if doing this again.
I wish I had a camera with me, one that can also capture my amazement at the sight of all these people lined up along the finish of the run. There were cars and people and kayaks EVERYWHERE. It was wild and intimidating. There were kids shouting words of support to all us runners and giving high fives. It was great! It felt wonderful!
Mat saw me through the timing chute, got me to my kayak, and helped me get changed, watered, and sunscreened (I could feel my knees getting sunburnt!). Then the race crew helped me get down to the water. It was a long and treacherous climb down over tree branches and a steep drop into the water. And then I was off like the proverbial shot.
Okay, I wasn’t that fast. I was weaving all over the place, and struggling quite a bit at first. Then I got going and did alright.
Some points of reference for the kayak, should you ever try to do this yourself:
- Gear makes a huge difference. All the practice in the world will not make crap gear go fast, but great gear even without alot practice will get you a lot further. Get good gear. Then practice in it.
- Double-check your gear. The paddle I was using started to FALL APART! It wobbled and lost rigidity. The shaft was fine, but the paddle itself started to crumble!
- Practice getting in and out of your kayak quickly. Practice dragging your kayak for long distances over uneven terrain LOTS.
- Accept assistance when it is offered! At the big portage across the weir the volunteers on the edge actually carried my kayak up the bank, thank goodness, and then shared the load across the road and down to the next bank. They also helped me out at the finish line and started to carry my kayak until Mat came and grabbed it.
I was afraid that my paddle might fall completely apart during the course. I kept hitting the bottom, it was SO shallow in spots, and I could feel the paddle vibrating as I pulled it through the water. I wondered if I would be allowed to complete by dragging or swimming my kayak to the finish line if I ended up without a paddle!? Luckily, I made it to the end, and the paddle survived! But it’s turned soft and flexible, with crumbling edges. Terrible!
I came out at the finish and I was bleeding. I had fallen in at the weir entry and scraped the begeebers out of my left shin. I asked for a bandaid and got the full-meal-deal from the St John Ambulance crew! I don’t know if I’m going to get a bill, but they were really nice, even though we were in a bit of a rush to get to lunch. But we had to get the wound covered, the flies were terrible and trying to eat my leg alive! I got a temporary dressing to take off before the swim, and more gear to clean it and redress it after the swim. It wasn’t a bad cut, but a good bruise and scrapes. I just wanted some of that spray bandaid stuff. But oh well!
Darin and Rob and the kids were at the lunch spot with the horse. As was Jan. It was so nice that they had found the time to come down and support me! Mat took the float away to the end location and I ate and visited very briefly. I was still abuzz with the excitement of completing the first two legs and not feeling like I was going to die. I was, in fact, feeling REALLY really GOOD! The morning actually seemed quite easy, all things considered!
Jan walked down to the start of the swim with me. She took my glasses and shoes and got them back to the horse leg, so I wouldn’t be blind on the horse. So glad Darin and Jan thought of these things, I hadn’t thought of or planned for the glasses or shoes! A barefoot walk across the paddock would have hurt alot. And a swim with glasses, or a ride without would have sucked.
We had been told at the breifing at 8:30am by the head race marshall that all Iron People would move up in the swim order so we didn’t fall too far behind in completing. Times are times, but finishing late because of the changeover times was just a bit unfair. So, we were to go down to the swim and were to be staggered between the regular team swimmers. Unfortunately, the swim marshall hadn’t gotten the message and was holding all us 400s back! We were getting a bit antsy when Alison came though, got in the water and told the marshall in no uncertain terms that 402 is LEAVING on the swim and she needs to get the Iron People in the water. And then we were in! Go Alison!
The water was a shock when I hit it, and I really had a hard time talking myself into putting my head underwater at first. But as I got settled in, I got into the groove. The advantage of breast stroke is that you can see where you are going! I set straight line targets – through the closest bridge pillars, along the floats to the bank. No extra swing around. Lots of people were swinging wide, to try to catch some current, but there wasn’t really any to speak of, so no point!
About half-way through (I guess) I had to pop by goggles off and swim head up, since I could NOT see! The water was clouding and filming over my goggles. YUCK!
At one point we hit the ground, the water was so shallow we RAN through the river for about 10 meters or more! It felt crazy to be running the swim course. Man the water was LOW!
I thought I was taking an age. I couldn’t judge how far I had gone. I had no idea how much longer there was to go. And then the end was there and I was up the hill and Darin met me there and helped me get dressed for the horse leg. So good to have a helper, because I was struggling to think. The swim was tougher than I thought. No edge every 50 meters, no way to know how you’re doing. So when he handed me a new shirt, and it was inside-out, I had no idea how to get it on. Funny how the brain works! hehe
T&E and Darin and Rob had all helped with the horse. TK was dressed and ready to go, and cool as a cucumber. I adjusted the girth just to make sure that all was well, Darin gave me a leg up and we headed out. At first it was a slow trot as TK gathered up his surroundings, tried heading in the direction of the float and then…
… saw the horses running along the course…
… and we were GALLOPING again and out of control again, and I had no brakes. Our lessons were gone and he was an f’ing maniac! I had to call out to so many people “Runaway coming up, runaway coming hard” and he nearly crushed us with others through gates. I suppose I should count myself lucky that he is steerable while running like that, but what’s not so good is that he is fitter and stronger now than ever, and it took 4km for him to slow down. Basically, he only slowed down AFTER he passed everyone he could see. I lost a stirrup in the process of all this, and was so embarassed and frustrated and just happy to still be sitting on him!! I was ready to quit, I was so upset, but then…
… we turned onto Lodge Road, and started this canter. And it was divine! It was in control. We trotted downhill, we cantered up, we made it look like I had a horse that listened. Until …
… we once again turned down the track where a walk or trot is CRITICAL due to footing. Luckily Clare (rider for team 7) and her horse Thorny (whom I met at Manjimup) were with me and actually blocked TK from tearing off down this killer rolly rocky hill! We rode together for awhile, but when we went through the gates and got back into open paddock, and TK was off again. Where did he find the energy!? A second hard gallop. I actually managed to pull him up again just before we got through a gate. Once again, we nearly crushed a horse and rider through a gate, but we all managed to get through safely. Gotta tell you, it is SO embarassing to have a horse you can’t manage!
We got into a decent canter again and I tried to get him to trot a bit, but he was so fired up! My lazy horse was no where to be found! Instead I had a Pony Express Horse! We had four km to go and we had had only three or four nice kilometers so far, and I decided I was going to push him up every hill, and once again remind him that I was the rider. So we were cantering up, and trotting downhill and I had my horse back finally, until …
… we came around a bend and crest of the last hill, and he could see the floats, the bunting the finish line, and he was pulling on me again!!! It was a fight with every ounce of my being to keep him from galloping to the end. We cantered in, pulled up and Mat found us once more. MY HERO!
He handed me a card, a tail bib, told me where to go, where my bike was and took my horse away.
And then Terry was there at the fence with my bike. He helped me change, right down to tying my right shoelace for me while I drank, and ate (since I couldn’t do much of that on the ride! Not a stitch of food went down this gob! DYING!)
I decided to walk/jog up the first bit of gravel hill, Terry ran with me and helped push me off as I finally got my butt in the saddle and I was off on my last leg!!
It wasn’t long before I was off my bike again and walking up the ‘first big hill’. People cruised past and shouted words of encouragement and I was back on and cruising along, eating and drinking on the downhill, and then up the ‘second big hill’ where both Ryan (405) and I got off and walked. I was panting hard and wondering if I would be able to catch my breath on this ride. I wasn’t even sure if I had caught my breath yet from moving from horse to bike.
But after that second big hill, I got on and stayed on, and even caught my breath! I was passed my many people. I thought I was getting passed by everyone, in fact, and my calves were cramping and my shoulders were aching and I was really struggling, but then I just decided to take it easy, to not fight the hills and just keep turning the legs over. And I felt better and just rode my own ride. I like that feeling, when I can slip into the “I’m doing this because I want to, because it’s fun, because it feels good” mode. My run was like that and I was finding that place with my bike ride. I realised that at this point it didn’t matter one stitch how fast I was. I was on the last leg and I was NOT dead.
People kept saying things like “it’s all downhill after this” and they were all lying! But there were some GREAT downhills and I was flying down a couple and managed to stay on my bike for every other uphill I faced. So I guess that first 5km was, in fact, the worst of it.
At one point there was a sign that said “13km to go” and I called out to the marshall that I was SURE I had been riding for a lot longer than that already! But then I saw the junction sign for the main highway and I let out an almightly laughing/whooping sound. It was so primal that I don’t think I could ever repeat that sound. That sign meant it was just 5km to go, and it was only undulating hills. I positiviely let rip when I saw this sign. Wind and hills be damned. I knew I had enough in the tank to do this last stretch with strength. I was renewed! I was screaming along in the 30s (still getting passed, but it was going fast for me) and then we turned into the final track.
They warn you about this track. It’s gravel. You slow down and change gears. And then you get on it, and you freak out and slow down more and change gears again and just try to not get bucked off your bike! You come around the race track and cross the finish line and I swear, I was so RELIEVED. I climbed off the bike, handed in my bibs and then suddenly realised just how sore I was!
Once I stopped, I realised I needed to keep walking because my legs were threatening to stop working. Darin found me, took my bike from me, and I met up with T&E, Steve and Jan, Rob and the kids. It was so nice to see them all there!
And although I was really really stiff and sore… I was litteraly sore all over… I felt really great. It was 3:15 in the afternoon, I was at the finish line over an hour before I planned, and I had all these great people there with me! Every few minutes I could not resist the urge to throw both my arms up in the air as if I had only just crossed the finish line! I just kept thinking “I did it!”
After a bit of visiting and much eating (I have never enjoyed an apple more than that afternoon) we headed back to Steve & Jan’s to see how Mat fared with TK at the vet check and loading him on the float. TK was home and looked well, but we found out the bad news: TK had vetted out.
When it was time to come to the check, there were lots of horses in the lineup ahead and behind TK. He was calm until he got into the chase, and where, with four horses lined abreast, he snapped back into racehorse mode, looking for the start of the race. He refused to stand still for Mat and the vet and the vet called/guessed his heart rate at 80. No frickin’ way. Even though he came in hot and even if he wasn’t to requirement, he would have only been at 60. But the vet saw an agitated, high headed horse that came in quick. He didn’t see the sleepy-eyed mellow cooled-down horse that was led into the vetting arena.
So, due to the vet out, our run was declared “Unplaced”. All that work and no ranking. But that doesn’t undo all the work!
Thanks for listening, supporting, and getting me to the Blackwood!