244 Tony Hchaime, LEB
Place in AG 30-34: 163 // Finish Time: 13:35:16
Swim: 1:17:54 // T1: 5:36 // Bike: 6:12:41 // T2: 10:23 // Run: 5:48:42
Coach’s remarks: One of the best race race reports that I have read, full of emotion right through out!! Thanks Batman for the the kind words to me and the team. Mate, you did the work and team here is an example like many before him that if you put your mind to something, you can do it.
I had been waiting for this trip for so long. When I got into triathlon a little over a year and a half ago, the thought of doing an Ironman was a dream I thought would take me years to realize. But it’s amazing how much one can progress in a year and half with the guidance of a wonderful coach, the support and advice from the best team-mates, and a wonderful family at home, and even great support from co-workers.
Ironman Western Australia was my first Ironman event, following 1 Half Ironman, 3 Olympic distance races, and a dozen or so sprints. I felt confident though, especially after Antwerp 70.3 in early summer. I had a good training block throughout the summer and managed to overcome most of my running injuries. I finally had 3 solid months of run training, something I hadn’t been able to do since I got started into the sport.
As I waded into the water on Sunday morning, I was thinking about how surreal this was. 2 years ago, I couldn’t swim 50m without stopping, hadn’t ridden a bike in 15 years and had never run more than 5k in my life. And here I was shooting for a sub-13hr Ironman. It gave me goosebumps just thinking about it.
But enough emotion for now, and let me start with how this trip unfolded.
I flew out direct to Perth on Emirates, arriving late afternoon on Wed. I breezed through immigration and customs, and didn’t have to face the notorious scrutiny of Australian Customs (they did ask me if my bike was clean though, but accepted my answer without checking). The rest of the logistics were handled by Endurance Sports Travel. Those guys made the trip the easiest ever. They picked us up from the airport, took care of the hotel booking, provided shuttle services from hotel to race venue multiple times/day during the whole week, and opened up their suite all day long for athletes to eat, hang around, etc. They also had a good bike mechanic on hand. This all made for a relaxing build-up for the race.
The days leading up to the event included a ride on the bike course, a few swims on the course as well, lots of $ spent at the expo, bike and gear check-in, etc. The pasta party was a nice event too, with some Kona videos on the largest TV screen in the Southern Hemisphere, and interviews with a number of pros, including Pete Jacobs, Timo Bracht, Kate Beliquava, Hillary Biscay, etc.
Having Benny there also made things a lot easier. We had some laughs around town, and did the 15s early on Sat morning, and then went to town for lunch. That’s where I made a rookie mistake that cost me big time in the race: I had a massive plate of surf and turf with garlic sauce and a lot of french fries. It was delicious, but quite heavy. I thought I had plenty of time to digest it but it turned out I didn’t.
We turned in early on Sat night, and I went to sleep around 9, only to wake up at 1, with no chance of getting back to sleep. I was starting to get nervous, and went through the checklist more than a dozen times. I knew I didn’t miss anything, my preparation was good, and there was no reason for me not to hit my targets. Had some breakfast around 2:30, grabbed my gear and headed to the EST suite where I hitched a ride at 4am to the race venue with a few other athletes. Benny had already left on a previous shuttle. I arrive to transition and the place is buzzing with people, music, and volunteers. It was a fantastic atmosphere. I found my bike, pumped the tires, prepared my run special needs bad (didn’t use one on the bike), handed in my street gear bag, put on my wetsuit and proceeded to the swim start. Benny, me and a few other athletes stood around as the pros went off at 5:30, then we proceeded down to the waterline.
I had a pretty thought out plan that I had also gone over with Coach before I left:
– Swim: targeting between 1h15 and 1:20
– Bike: targeting 1h55 on each of the 60k loops for 5h45 total
– Run: as close to 5hrs as possible on a 3×1 run/walk strategy
3.8km Swim – 1h17min – AG Rank 146/210
The water seemed calm from the beach. We later discovered that it was pretty choppy farther out. In fact, many of the pros later tweeted that they found the swim to be challenging because of the chop and the westerly current.
The swim was a single loop around the pier: 1.9k out and 1.9k back, counterclockwise.
I had bought a new blueseventy wetsuit from the expo and swam in it a few times during the week and knew it was faster than my old one. I still decided to race in my old trusty Orca instead, just to be on the safe side.
This being my first Ironman and a mass start of 1,400+ athletes, I positioned myself in the middle and to the far right, away from the pier. I figured with almost 2k of straight-line swimming, being 50m away from the pier wouldn’t matter so much (plus the current would push me towards the pier anyway). Some people were waist-deep in the water (including myself) and others were still standing behind us on the beach.
As the horn went off, I braced myself for the washing machine of knees and elbows typical of a triathlon start. However this was the most civilized swim I’ve ever been in: hardly any aggression at all, all very nice. I tried to go out a a bit hard to catch some feet but was held up quite a few times with slower swimmers either breaststroking or simply standing up. Wasn’t too bad though.
I settled into a rhythm and started swimming quite comfortably and making my way through the field, shooting for the end of pier. The chop started becoming stronger the further out to sea we were, and by the time we were 1k out the waves were picking me up and slamming me down on top of people. I managed to keep my rhythm though and moved closer to the pier, where the waves were slightly weaker. The turnaround came quickly, and that was the only point where I needed to be a bit aggressive as it was getting crowded around the buoys. I glanced at my Garmin and noticed that it had taken me 40min to make it to the 1.9k turnaround. Not good, so I decided to pick up the pace on the way back.
The swim back towards shore wasn’t exactly parallel to the swim out: we swim back at an angle, moving away from the pier as we get closer. This, coupled with the sun being in my eyes and the waves and a reasonably strong current meant that going off-course was inevitable at some point. I wasn’t sighting as often as I should have because of the sun and chop and ended up going around 70 meters off course. We were still 1.5k away from shore so I couldn’t see the beach yet. Never realized I was swimming off course until one of the surf rescue girls on a kayak blocked my way and told me about it. I must have lost at least a couple of minutes there.
I was angry at making such stupid mistakes and hammered it back the rest of the swim, eventually finding feet in the last 500m.
A quick glance at my Garmin and I was reasonably happy: bang on target.
T1 – 5min
Ran through the swim exit and showers, wetsuit came off quite easily, grabbed my transition bag and into the tent. I had all my bike nutrition in the pockets of my cycling top which I put on, along with gloves and ran to my bike. I was happy to see that most bikes around me were still there.
180.1km Bike – 6h12min – AG Rank 140 – Avg HR 77%
I got to the mount line with the bike and it was a bit crowded, so I ran a bit further and jumped on. I stayed out of my shoes until I cleared some traffic and picked up some speed and then got into them and tried to get into my rhythm pretty quickly.
My nutrition plan was all gels/liquids given my history of GI problems: 200Cal / hour in the first 4 hours then 300/hr for the remainder, with 700ml of water and 2 salt tabs / hour. I’m pretty disciplined when it comes to these things so I knew I could stick to it. This also meant that I would only have to call on aidstations twice: at the beginning of the second and third laps to grab 2 750ml water bottles on each. Based on Coach’s advice, I had 2 750ml bottles on the bike already, enough for the first lap.
I knew from riding the course earlier in the week that the road surface in some places was pretty rough. In fact, I think 2/3 of the course was on what Coach described as “gravel mix”. The vibrations were annoying and I saw a noticeable increase in my speed when my wheels hit smooth tarmac (the reverse being true of course). I saw lots of kit coming loose from other athletes, including bottle cages, puncture kits, etc. Thankfully my bike held up well throughout.
The first lap felt good. Kept my heart rate steady at around 77%, took in my nutrition, salt and water on time, and completed the 60k in 1h54, right on schedule and feeling quite comfortable. As soon as I hit the turnaround to start my second lap, things started to go downhill: the stomach problems I was dreading started pretty much immediately, forcing me into the first of 8 portaloo stops I had to make during the remainder of the bike. It was tempting to try to make up time after each stop, but that would have meant riding at 80%+ heart rate for 100ks, so I stuck to the plan instead.
At the same time, a storm front was coming in, bringing with it increasing winds, which at one point on the last lap brought my speed down to 22Km/h. It was pretty hot too, and I was covered in salt, so I upped my salt intake to compensate and drank a bit more (that was the only deviation from my nutrition plan).
I was hoping to make up some time on the way back to town on the last lap, but then the wind turned and I never got any tailwind, and had to deal with a crosswind and some rain instead.
This is the first time in a tri when I was actually looking forward to getting off the bike and start running… I finally reached the end of the bike, jumped off the bike into T2.
As I was jumping off the bike at speed, I heard Captain Carl calling my name. It was a big relief to see a familiar face, so much in fact that I almost tripped over my bike.
I handed my bike over to the volunteers and ran towards T2.
T2 – 10min
I grabbed my run bag and ran into the tent. Socks and shoes on, sunscreen and hat on, stood up and BAM! Another athlete walking by spraying deodorant sprayed me in the eyes. I couldn’t see anything at all and my eyes were stinging badly. I had to wait for a medic to arrive and rinse my eyes out, which took a while. A few minutes later I finally managed to put things back together and head out on the run. WHO BRINGS DEO SPRAY TO TRANSITION??? I MEAN SERIOUSLY!!!!
42.2km Run – 5h48 – AG Rank 164 – Avg HR 75%
I felt surprisingly good as I started the run. I popped a couple of stomach pills (well more than a couple) and hoped for the best.
The plan was to go on a 3×1 run/walk strategy. Coach’s orders were to commit to a run/walk plan at the beginning of each lap and stick to it. My nutrition plan was to do gels and salts on the first 2 laps, and then switch to water/coke/salt for the second 2 laps.
Lap 1: went well I think. I stuck to a 12min/4min run/walk the whole way, stuck to the nutrition plan, and felt great. It was very very hot but plenty of ice on the course. Halfway through the lap, I saw Benny on the other side of the road. I figured he was finishing his second lap. He looked ok but not the running stride I’m used to seeing. I realized trouble was ahead. But that’s when I saw Captain Carl and Noeline. They were sitting in a restaurant right on the run course and were shouting my name. Amazing how much energy one draws from this kind of support. I can’t thank them enough for making the trip to support us!
Lap 2: I just could not swallow another Gu. I was already quite nauseous, it was brutally hot. I switched to my backup strategy: coke/water/ice and repeat. Went to a 9min/3min run/walk and stuck to it for most of the lap. Cooling down was a challenge. I was chewing ice, stuffing ice in my cap, dumping ice down my tri top, and holding ice in my hands as I ran
Lap 3: it started well, then halfway through, stomach probs came back with a vengeance. Had to stop another 6 times on laps 3 and 4. To make things worse, half the aid stations ran out of Coke!!! I couldn’t take Gu anymore and with no Coke, things started to go downhill pretty quick. I think the absence of Coke probably played with my head too, as I had no backup plan for that!
Lap 4: As the beginning of the lap, I saw Captain Carl and Benny shouting at me. I asked Benny if he broke 10hrs and he said “no”. That played with my head too I suppose as it meant I was in for a brutal 4th lap. Captain Carl kept saying “1 more lap 1 more lap!”. So I dug deep once again and shuffled along. This was the only lap where I walked for 5min straight. Then half the aidstations ran out of ice and cold water! I tried to cool myself down by running on the grass and shade wherever I could find it. People who lived along the run course were also wonderful, spraying us down with hoses as we ran by. Finally, I found Coke at an aidstation with 3km to go to the finish. I downed it and decided to run the rest of the way to the finish no matter how much it hurt. At that point every step felt as if someone was stabbing me in the quads with a red hot knife.
I have no idea where my legs came from, but I managed a decent run pace for the last 2km, faster than any pace I held in laps 3 or 4 (Garmin says 6:10min/km for last 2Km). Grabbed the last wristband and ran down the finish chute. I was savoring every second, high-fiving people on both sides of the chute, hearing my name on the speakers and seeing the flashes from photographers as I crossed the line with absolutely nothing left in the tank…
226km Ironman Western Australia: 13h35min
The next 10 minutes are a blur. I remember being led to medical for a weight check (I lost 3.1Kg during the race). I felt absolutely fine though. I grabbed my street gear bag and finisher T-shirt, changed, stretched for 10min or so, spoke to Lauris, then went to get my bike and transition bags and hitched a ride back to the hotel. I had 2 packets of Gu Recovery in my bag, they stayed there! I was still replaying the race in my head, and all I could think about was :I WANT A REMATCH!!!. It’s amazing how you forget the pain the moment you cross that finish line and you want more… Bring on Roth!
On Monday, I packed my bike and then headed to town and met with Benny to exchange war stories over a massive fry-up and beer. Damn that tasted good! Whether at the hotel or elsewhere, I was taking huge detours to avoid stairs (I’m still doing that). The awards dinner was fantastic, what a great atmosphere. These guys know how to put on a show! What blew me away was the sight of the top 2 AGs in the 75+ age group receiving their awards. Both Japanese and both finished under 16 hours!!! What an inspiration!
Oh, and the most entertaining thing in the after party was watching Jason Shortis (who finished 3rd and still course record holder) dance with every girl on the dancefloor. He didn’t seem to be having much success though… I’m impressed: he managed to dance non-stop for 2 hours after a tough race (he said to the media that conditions on the bike were the toughest he had ever seen in Busso).
Benny, tell them the story about McD!
I owe a big debt of gratitude to so many people for helping me complete this challenge, so forgive me if I omitted anyone here.
Coach, I won’t hesitate to say it: you changed my life in the past 18 months. I was never the athlete and I never knew I had this in me. I keep surprising myself month after month and that’s all thanks to your guidance.
Captain Carl and Noeline: I can never thank you enough for making the trip to Busso to support us. Your presence there made a bigger difference then you’ll ever know.
So many people on the team have given me so much advice, and I truly believe I drew on every single one of them to help me finish this IM.
It was based on Ed’s advice that I paced the race, and also his advice based on which I selected the wheels for my bike.
It was based on Simon’s advice that I selected the right tire pressure to deal with the rough roads of Busso.
It was based on Johan’s advice that I stuck to the plan and made sure not to deviate from it.
It was based on Ali’s advice that I resisted the temptation to push the bike and try to make up lost time when I had to stop so many times.
It was based on Captain Carl’s advice that I became aware of the conditions of this particular event, the swim, the run, the sun and heat…
Neil’s and Venny’s advice about the run/walk strategy was ringing in my ears every time I was tempted to extend the walk portion “by just a little bit”…
And Benny!! What a difference it makes to have a top athlete around to harass all the time! It calms the nerves… 🙂
So many people on the team have also helped me train, especially in the past few weeks. A special thanks to Boom and Suz for those swims, I honestly feel it made a big difference. Thanks to Ali, Liz, Beej and Benny for those long bike rides.
A massive thanks for all the team members who’ve been encouraging me throughout my preparation: Venny, Guy, JT, Roy, Marc, Ben S, Gazza, Capt J, Didge, Glen, Jordo (despite making fun of my running!!!), and especially Stuey, who I look up to, and everyone else. I owe you all big time. And thanks to all the other team members who’ve sent me messages before and after.
I also have to thank Crowie. He spent a lot of time giving me advice on how best to prepare and navigate my first Ironman. He gave me advice about running, orthotics, and dealing with injuries. He’s a legend and a true champion, so thanks Crowie!!
I would be remiss not to thank Wolfi and his team. The bike was superbly prepped for a hard hard bike course in Busso. I was seeing punctures and mechanical failures everywhere on the course. So thanks Wolfi and team.
Finally, the biggest thanks of all goes to Lauris. She’s had to put up with stupid training hours, lonely nights and weekends, and mood swings for weeks on end (especially during taper). There is zero chance I would have been able to do any of this without you. And the fact that she stayed awake on the chatroom during the whole event is testament to the kind of support I’m lucky to have at home.
Looking forward to the next one! Abu Dhabi Long? pffff, just a bike ride, on smooth asphalt no less…
P.S. Oh and Coach, I think I figured out why you Australians are so good at sports: you have to keep moving otherwise the flies will get you!!!