Coach’s Remarks: Grab a coffe and sit down to Rawlies report. Anthony sums it all up here and as a coach/life coach, it gives me so much personal reward watching somebody headed for illness to over come this and end up a triathlete. Lord, its a great read and you truly are a gentlemen and very respected in our team.
The Race Report.
I was never an athlete. I had played a lot of sports but it was always team based. When I was in the army, I always struggled with the running so my enlightened sergeant made me carry the platoon’s machine gun (he thought it gave me cover for being so slow). Athletics was a complete mystery to me. At school I sat out all the events (once did the egg & spoon race with my Dad) and I just accepted that I was just the wrong shape to be any good. So what on earth was I doing last Sunday morning lying in my bed at 4am waiting to get up and compete in my first ever 70.3 Ironman race?
I had signed up with Jason in April 2010 as I had been diagnosed with a heart murmur and was comfortably overweight and border-line diabetic. However, I am a natural optimist so I thought I would see what happened but I had no idea what an inspiring experience I would have over these past 18 months. I have trained with some of the nicest and ablest people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. I might have been at the back or collapsing over the line but all I have ever heard was encouragement, support and good humour. I write this now as, during the middle of the run, I was on the verge of stopping but the memory of all your support and friendship kept me going. I also did not want to let you all down as the great irony is that Triathlon is a team sport and you need the advice, the camaraderie and the team spirit to get you through those dark moments when your body says ‘Please stop’. But more of that later.
The T2A group that was competing at Aarhus was an exceptional bunch of people. Young, glamorous and fast, they were a walking GAP advert with myself and David Hunt bringing up the rear. Although I think David and are the same age, he performed as if he was in his 20s and delivered and outstanding race result and I think he might have found his second career. We were ably led by Miss Annie P who was bursting with pride at the beauty of her homeland and the friendliness of the locals. We were staying in different hotels but met in a gourmet’s delight of a restaurant on Friday evening which was to feature again as we were to run past it on the course. The waiter was an unsuccessful stand-up comedian, the food took forever but it was a wonderful atmosphere within the team. David was being very wise and giving out helpful tips and encouragement to us all as was JT and Annie plus Peter’s wife had just completed the Sprint Race so we learnt first-hand that Denmark is not a flat country. The next day we drove the first 30kms of the bike course and realized that this was going to be tough. It was also cold, raining and the race briefing depressed us all in that the swim might be cancelled. We went to bed that night not knowing what was going to happen but also strangely excited and looking forward to the whatever race day would bring.
I had had my usual dramas (bike box left in Frankfurt, broken seat clamp, personal mobile phone broken) and then joy of joys, I had a puncture (large shard of bottle glass) as I finished my bike warm-up. JT and Annie helped me solve all of these problems and their positivity and grace under pressure was infectious and enabled me to remain calm. I managed to check-in my bike and received special permission to take away the back wheel and fix the problem without being disqualified. I did this successfully but I put on my spare used tubular which was a major mistake as I found out to my cost the next day.
I woke up at 4am, got dressed and went for a walk. It was light and my hotel was 3 minutes walk from the race start but next to a small harbour full of sailing boats. It was a magical setting and I spent the next hour just thinking through my plan and reminding myself of the good advice. The water would be freezing so take your time and let your body get use to the cold and then establish an easy rhythm. By doing this, I would avoid hyperventilating or panicking which sadly handicapped many others and in once case, led to a fatal heart attack. Another participant had died after swim practice earlier in the week so this was no joke. I thought of my family and my responsibilities but decided to take the calculated risk that my heart was sound, my training had been solid and I was under the supervision of a Coach who knew me and who I trusted.
Swim & T1
I was in Wave 6 so I cheered off the SuperDanishes but Simona decided to be in that wave which was good for my morale. It was very cold but I did some yoga breathing exercises and then swam at a smooth pace and just focused 100% on staying calm and collected. I heard the shouts of help for the poor soul whose heart failed him and saw the canoes rush to his assistance but I had to block it out and not let it panic me. I was beaten up at the turn but I thought of what Craig would have done and I made sure that they felt my resolve. I did the swim in 21 minutes which was bang on target but I was so relieved to being jogging into T1. The Danes love nature and are very relaxed about sharing what God gave them. I managed to be more modest especially as the cold water had unfairly affected my manhood. It took me 9 minutes to get my act together but I was still on my mantra of staying calm and not pushing my heart rate up too much. Then I was on ‘Black Beauty’ and set out on the bike course.
Danes bicycle everywhere so a race director needs to create a challenging course to test the abilities of his participants. This they managed to do but the course was also beautiful to ride; deep forest, country lanes, little villages straight out of a Hans Christian Anderson story, golf course, cobbled streets, major highways and town roads. Simona passed me early on whilst we were in the forest and she looked in great form and riding well. I was having a blast. I imagined I was Steve McQueen in the ‘Great Escape’ and so created my own little fantasy of being chased by the enemy as I made my mad dash for freedom and safety. It kept me amused and I was in excellent spirits and making good time. Then disaster struck and my race had truly begun.
I was 40kms into the bike course and crossing over a main road. I had to make a quick 90 degree turn but my back wheel caught in a pot-hole and burst as I was going too fast for the turn. I screamed in rage and frustration. I also nearly broke down in tears as it dawned on me that I had a new tubular in my pack and that I had bitter struggle ahead of me. I had promised my daughter to give her my finishing medal as one of her birthday presents which is in 3 weeks time. As I sat alone on the grass and contemplated my situation, I think I reached rock bottom. For all the sacrifices we make for those of us with children and the issues that we all confront if you are separated from your loved ones, it is sometimes the smallest things that keep your relationship on track. My medal was going to be one of those tokens; never break a promise, always try your best and never ever give up. I thought of Isadora, kept her face in my mind’s eye and went to work to start putting my wheel and myself back together again.
The glue solution did not work as the rip had been around the valve. I tore off the tire and set to work putting on the new tubular. It was cold, windy and my hands were freezing. The tubular was stiff, inflexible and at times it would slip off and catch my fingers against the rim. I howled with rage as if I was a wounded animal but I used the pain to create the anger which gave me the determination to get it right. After around 15 minutes, a race marshal on his motor bike stopped and asked if I was continuing. I said yes but then he kept asking every 10 minutes or so as he watched my failed attempts to get the tubular on the rim. This made me furious and each time I responded in the affirmative. I was the last one on the course but they had to wait for me and I was not going to give them the satisfaction of giving up. Finally and by some miracle, the tubular finally warmed up enough to fit itself around the rim. I was in shock as I had genuinely thought I was going to be disqualified. I pumped up the tire and suddenly I was off and back in the race. I had lost 45 minutes and I was now under severe time pressure to make the cut-off for the bike course but also, by my calculation, for the whole race itself as the run is my weakest section.
The next 50kms were a blur of pain, frustration at the constant hills and the noise of a race marshal following me on his motor bike. I knew that they were constantly assessing whether I was going to make it back to T2 within the cut-off so each time he accelerated towards me, I had the dread of being pulled over and being disqualified. Luckily I made it back with no more dramas and also by being disciplined on eating, drinking and watching my heart rate. I knew the run was going to be the biggest challenge as I had never run more than 12kms before and I started to get hysterics. What a time and a place to chose to do your first ½ marathon but I cheered myself up thinking what a total idiot I was and started to enjoy myself again.
T2 & the Run
Transition area was a mess. People with medals were wandering around looking for their stuff or having a chat with their mates plus standing on the course with their bikes blocking the way. It made me angry as the Marshalls had not bothered to keep their discipline even though there was still a competitor in transition. I changed and put on my T2A cap and my M1FC shirt. That shirt stands for the ‘Meadows 1 Fitness Club’ which is 4 Aussies and me who train together and they were the ones who got me started on this road to fitness. They are also the sort of guys you would want watching your back if you ever had to go into battle. The motto of the club is ‘HTFU’ which is on the back of the shirt. I wore it last year when we had our picture taken with Crowie and he knew immediately what it meant; ‘Harden The Fuck Up’. He told me he says that to himself when he gets in trouble when he races so I was determined not to let Crowie or the boys down as I started my long run home.
Jason and I had agreed to employ a run/walk strategy; 10 minutes running and 5 minutes walking. He had drummed into me the importance of maintaining this discipline plus Jodie had given me her advice on how it had worked for her in Roth. I had also tried to learn the Danish for ‘Run Walk strategy’ which is ‘Løber Spadsere strategi’ as I had been warned that spectators will try and encourage you to keep running. However my mind was so scrambled and I was so nervous about the cut-off that I forget it completely.
I managed the first loop of the 3 loop course without a problem. It was through the centre of town and I thought the race director must have dropped acid when he designed the course. It seemed ridiculous at times to be running up museum steps, going down the levels of an underground carpark and making sharp right turns through narrow alleys. You always were surrounded by people doing their shopping, having a late Sunday lunch, walking their dogs or listening to the street musicians. I saw Annie who gave me one of those magnificent smiles and encouraged me to keep going plus I saw Simona who also kindly shouted out encouragement as she managed to keep going through her own wall of pain. The second loop made me angry as I thought it was just a gimmicky course which was designed to be unnaturally more difficult than it needed to be. I hit another low point here as every part of my body was hurting and I was getting angry at the thought that I might not make the cut-off irrespective of how hard I tried to finish. That puncture had added 45 minutes to my time and had taken away my margin of comfort on the run. This is where my daughter, T2A and HTFU kicked in to get me mentally strong again:
a) I pictured Isadora’s face if I had to tell her that I did not have that medal which I had promised her;
b) I knew that the chat-room would be humming with support and hope that Rawlie would bring it home; and
c) I had that motto on my back and I did not want to dishonor the shirt
It all seemed to work and soon enough I was at the end of loop 2. Then the race director suddenly appeared next to me riding his bike and talking furiously into his radio. He told me that I was in danger of missing the cut-off and that he would have one of his volunteers ride along side me. I knew that this meant that I could be pulled off the course at any moment but it also was another motivation to get to the end. During loop 3, the barriers were being packed away, the tape was being taken down and the pedestrians had reclaimed their streets. My new companion was Eno and he managed to clear a path for me safely through the town but also to ensure I did a proper loop. We also chatted about the prospects for the Danish economy, where he should take his girlfriend on holiday and which beers could compete with Carlsberg. At the point of the course where we ran past our restaurant from Friday night, I received a huge cheer from many of the surrounding restaurants. Eno assured me that I received by far the largest response from the spectators and I think he was rather enjoying all of this attention. I made sure I kept smiling as my way of saying thank you and used their energy to keep shuffling along. Soon I was up those annoying steps for the last time, through the last of the aid stations and suddenly I had finished loop 3 and I had 1km to go as I ran back towards the beach and the end of the race.
Eno said good-bye and told me to enjoy myself. I left the road and started running on the grass and the approach to the finishing Shute. Competitors and spectators were whooping and hollering, the announcer was screaming my name over the PA system and Rawlie tried to keep it together. I ran towards that line and who did I see waiting for me? JT, Annie, Trudy and Simona were jumping around like demented jelly beans screaming their heads off. I crossed though that triumphal arch and bowed my head in total exhaustion. My medal was put around my neck and a bottle of champagne was popped open. There it was on the end of a red ribbon. A small metal ring which has ‘Finisher 2011’. I clasped it as if it was the tree of life. I was mobbed by T2A and felt so very happy to be there with those very special people and to be part of such an amazing group.
I have learnt so much about myself not only during the race but the past 18 months. Yes you can make new friends, Yes you can eat and live better, Yes you can set remarkable goals and achieve them. Yes, you can.
I thank all of you for your support and your friendship. I am so proud of Ed, Aya, Ben and Craig and I so thrilled for them. However I am also so proud of the Colts and the rest of T2A who make life in the UAE such fun and so rewarding. You are all impressive people who live by values I admire and have such strength of character that I hope to keep emulating. I will miss you all but I plan to race with you again and to try and be there for the Crowie camp.
I thank our Coach who does not realize how good he actually is. He made me believe in myself and gave me a structure and an environment where I could be the best that I could be. He will also keep getting better and will send more people to Kona but please never lose that T2A spirit which allows the Rawlies of this world to hang with the cool cats.
Finally I want to thank the Super Danishes who gave me an experience I will never forget and with whom I had one of the happiest, funniest and most extraordinary experiences in my life. We did it and despite some terrifying odds and obstacles, we nailed Challenge Aarhus.