I have finally found the courage to publicly discuss my results from the triathlon I mentioned in my previous post.
Here’s the background: I did many triathlons during the ‘80s. These included the inaugural Noosa Triathlon (1.5km swim, 40km cycle, 10km run) in 1983 as a swimmer as well as 3 individual participations. There were also a total of 5 visits to the Mooloolaba tri-festival, again at the Olympic distance. There is also the jewel in my personal crown, a race that is now called the Cannibal Gold Coast Half Ironman Triathlon. This joyous event is as the name suggests, a half ironman, being 1.9km swim, 90.1km cycle and 21.1km run. Back when I was a lad they hadn’t yet standardised a lot of events. At that time it was a 2km swim, 75km cycle and 20km run. I have long since worn out the competitor’s singlet. I still have the finisher’s pullover. And I’m still disappointed with myself for not getting a medallion for finishing under 5 hours. Apparently 5 hours and 2 minutes isn’t close enough.
This year (19 years after my last event) I was very confident of completing the 1.5km swim. I just wasn’t too sure about how fast (slow) it would be. I had gone under 40 minutes consistently in training (namely, both times I swam that far). My training swims were in a 50m public pool. Due to the nature of my hugeness I was sympathetic to other members of the public and chose to swim in board shorts. Let’s look at how I approached race day.
This was an open ocean swim starting at 6:30am. There were over 1500 swimmers so the organisers set people off in categories at 5 minute intervals. Racing in the open mens team division meant that we started last. That was 7:40am. Standing on the beach for over an hour just waiting to dive into the Pacific Ocean was not a positive environment.
Then the starter’s horn sounded and away we went. I decided to take the gently gently approach to the whole process and then just start swimming past people in the second half of the event. Apparently the other competitors didn’t get the memo and there was no-one to overtake when I started to hit my rhythm at about half distance. I just took a small personal victory from catching several people from the wave that started 5 minutes ahead of me – they were the slowest of the open womens team competitors but you take a victory wherever it happens when you’re in my condition.
My heart rate monitor also decided that this day was the day that it needed a new battery in the chest strap and didn’t give me any data for the entire swim. It came back to life as I left the water and what it told me was an interesting tale. It was showing 188bpm which wasn’t a surprise; I’d just swum my arms off to catch a wave up the beach and to be anaerobic at that stage was completely expected.
What I had forgotten about during the 19 years since my last triathlon was that swimming that far gives your body a message that your arms and shoulders need all the blood supply, then when you exit the water your body has shut down blood flow to the legs. An important fact at this point is that the swim deposited us on the beach at the low tide mark with 100 metres of sand to cross before climbing 2 flights of stairs up to street level, then running nearly 200 metres to the transition area to send the cyclist on his way.
I came out of the water alongside 2 other guys and stumbled out of the white water with them. Then I ran like a drunk up the beach. As I got to the bottom of the stairs I looked at the heart rate monitor again and saw 189bpm. I can barely even achieve that intensity on my bike, let alone maintain it for any extended period of time. I powered up the stairs holding my intensity at the same level. My plan was to collapse and vomit immediately after handing the timer to the cyclist, thus proving that I had given it everything. From the top of the stairs it was 50 metres across a boardwalk to the main road, then 50 metres downhill (which is very difficult to run on bitumen, barefoot and anaerobic) and finally roughly 100 metres through the transition area to the teams bike rack. I didn’t vomit, but apparently despite a water temperature of 21°C (70°F) my lips were blue which signalled the rider that I had sucked every scrap of oxygen out of the surrounding atmosphere and was functioning purely on reflex.
As the rider disappeared off into the distance I stopped the heart rate monitor and had a look at the damage. As the numbers came up I was sure I was hallucinating. I knew the average heart rate would be screwed up because of the whole malfunction thing but it was still impressive to see; 183bpm average is something to behold and must represent purely the moment I left the water until the moment I sat down in the bike racks some 2-3 minutes later. However the time function had hung together and it showed that from the moment I left the start line I had accumulated a total of 29 minutes. I can’t remember how many seconds it was because I was blown away with the absolute meaning of a time under 30 minutes, especially with the 300 metre run included in the time.
I didn’t want to take away from what I had just achieved but I speculated to anyone who would listen that the course must have been short. REALLY SHORT. Like 300-400 metres short. There was no other explanation. Before the start I had estimated a race time for myself of around 33-35 minutes. This was based on 39 minutes in training, minus 2 minutes for swapping baggy pants for speedos, minus another 2 minutes for the assistance of salt water versus pool water and minus another 2 minutes for the adrenalin of race day. A sound mathematical equation if ever I’d seen one. I had never added in any time for the run up from the water which was at least 2 and maybe 3 minutes added on so I should have been around 35 minutes. Where had that other 6 minutes gone? The course was short… more on that later.
According to the electronic timing I swam a 26:33 to the bottom of the steps at the top of the sand. As a team we came home in 188th out of 457 teams (or 402 teams depending on whether you’re counting starters of finishers). On the same continuum I swam into 390th place from 442, the runner finished with 309th (credence to the young lad of only 15 years) and his father – the 44 year old cyclist… drum roll please… 35th. Yes, he carried the team. A lot.
As luck would have it, the fastest swimmer on the day, who swam a 13:45 to my 26:33 also resides in the same staff room as me at the school where I’m currently on a teaching practicum. His assessment of the swim distance? 1478 metres. No questions about it. His heart rate monitor didn’t malfunction… and it has a GPS in it. From the start line to the point where his speed went from roughly 4 kilometres per hour up to over 10 kilometres per hour (the point where he stood up and started running at the end of the swim) was exactly 1478 metres. But his time was faster than he expected by around 2-3 minutes. His best guess was a strong current running along the beach. I’m glad it was running with us, because if I was swimming against a current that was running that hard, I’d still be out there today.
Most importantly I survived with nothing more than a bit of sunburn and a race singlet that will fit me when I lose another 20kg (45lb).