I tried to get an early night before the race. As it turned out, the elements were against me.
A ferocious storm hit Busselton at 10pm, about 8 hours before race start.
Pouring rain, driving winds, lightning and thunder all made sleep just a tad difficult.
I was in good spirits, however, and chuckled to myself thinking, "Iím glad the storm hit now and not tomorrow morning."
I woke to my alarm at 3.50am. At least, I think it was my alarm. It was hard to hear over the thunder.
I got up, made myself the breakfast of champions - some weetbix, cup of coffee and this really delicious meal replacement fluid recommended by Steve that they give people who are being tube fed.
Well, that was all true except the delicious bit.
Anyway, I thought it was probably worth while getting used to the taste as I contemplated whether or not I would be on the stuff for life post race.
At 5am, we left for the race.
It was a bit later than we had planned but still well before the scheduled 6am start, and we were only 3km away.
It was somewhat less than pleasing to see arcs of lightning illuminating the pre dawn sky on the drive in.
Neither the wind, nor the driving rain had abated and I wondered whether or not they ever call off these races.
But at least I didnít feel at all nervous.
I entered the bike compound and checked my tyres and then headed for the merchandise marquee to get out of the cold.
It felt like it was about 13 degrees so I put my wetsuit on straight away.
It was still cold. At that point I started to worry about the bike leg. Would it be possible to ride in a wetsuit?
Fortunately my support crew came to the rescue and bought me a waterproof vest, which I quickly took to the transition tent to put in my bike bag.
It was then time to head to the water.
I have never seen so many people still standing on the beach rather than being in the water at the start of a triathlon.
And it was supposed to be a deep water start. We were entertained by an airforce fly-by and it helped a little to take our minds off the cold.
I started wading out into deeper water and was rewarded when the starter said that we had one minute to go.
When the countdown reached 10 seconds, a tiny chink appeared in the clouds and through this aperture, beams of sunlight flooded the start area.
It was magical. And then, before we knew it, the gun went off.
I concentrated on swimming with an easy rhythm and focused on my form.
I didnít suffer too many kicks to the head and soon found myself with enough space to swim relatively freely.
The condidtions were very choppy, though, with the consequence that we were all being thrown about quite a lot.
It wasnít unusual for a swimmer to be thrown from seemingly nowhere, to land square in the middle of your back, but everyone was quite polite about it.
I later learned that quite a few competitors got seasick and had to feed the fish.
It wasnít really surprising I suppose, because the weather station at the end of the jetty was recording wind gusts of up to 60km/h.
Luckily, seasickness wasnít an issue for me.
I felt good as I rounded the jetty and really enjoyed the swell that pushed me back to shore.
I didnít get to see the lead swimmer, but apparently it was Ky Hurst, the surf life saving champion who is trying to qualify for the Commonwealth Games for the 1500m. He was competing in the first Ironman relay ever and had opened up a handy lead before tagging Henk Vogels Jnr who had freshened up after a gruelling Tour de France. Henk was going to crunch out a 180km time trial before tagging John McClean, the champion physically challenged athlete who can clock a 2hr marathon in his wheelchair.
I felt good coming out of the water and even managed a smile and thumbs up to my support crew who were enthusiastically screaming support. I had a drink and some food in transition Ė another of Steveís famous meal replacements, put on my new vest and jogged out to the bike. I got a huge surprise, there still seemed to be a lot of bikes in the transition area. I had secretly feared that I might be the last one out of the water.
I jumped on the bike and headed out into a 40km/h headwind. I thought then that it was going to be a tough 12km out of town and probably a very long day. As I saw my speedo hovering just above 22km/h, I knew it was going to be a very long day.
The ride was fairly uneventful, but long. I ate and drank as much as I could. In fact, if I see another Power Bar this month, I might just jump off a bridge. After an hour of so of riding, the clouds had blown over and the storm had passed. The wind didnít ease off at all and this really hampered me. Iím not a particularly strong rider and the long stretches into the wind were taking their toll.
The ride was a flat 60km loop and on the first lap it seemed like I was being passed every minute or so. It was great to see the pros zip by but I lamented the kms I hadnít done on the bike as they disappeared into the distance. There was a T intersection in the course that had to be passed three times on each lap. It was here that I found my support crew. With the clouds disappearing, it was starting to become quite hot, but there they were, with signs saying ďGo FRANK!!Ē, yelling and screaming, telling me I looked good and waving those awesome pom-poms. It was a real boost and it gave me something to look forward to as I pedalled around. They stayed there for just about the entire 7 hours of my ride Ė I donít know how they did it. At least I was getting a change of scenery and lots of food and drink. They just skipped lunch.
By the last lap, I was starting to appreciate the demands of a flat course. There were no hills but there was no respite from the constant pedalling and I was having problems with some chafing. I realised after the race that I had put my saddle back on the bike at slightly the wrong angle. A real lesson for next time! I really enjoyed the last 10km of the ride though. The wind had dropped right off and I took the opportunity to thank as many of the volunteers as I could. There were over 1200 of them for only 700 competitors. Many of them had done a lot of work, in particular the ladies handing out bidons of High 5. As each cyclist came past, they had to run to give us a chance to grab the bottle. They were running a lot.
I was glad to finally get off the bike and change over to the run. Whilst in transition I was fortunate enough, or slow enough to see Mitch Anderson finishing to the blaring sounds of ACDCís Thunderstruck. Mitch had an awesome race, clocking the fastest bike leg, even faster than that of Henk Vogels. It was indicative of the conditions, however, that whilst a few of the pros had been expecting to finish in under 8 hours, the winning time was 8.27.
I surprised myself by running the first 6km of the run without having to walk. My heel spur did play up and was quite painful, but not as bad as it had been. I made sure I drank a cup of High 5 and a cup of degassed cola at each aid station and kept plugging away as best I could. By this stage, there was no wind, there were no clouds and it was 29 degrees. We were running along the foreshore and the water was a mill pond, almost glassy. It looked very tempting!
Unfortunately I had to walk fairly often on the run, but once I got past 21km, I realised that it hurt just as much to walk as it did to run. With this in mind I was able to start a shuffle that I maintained for the next 7km. Then it was back to walking and running. The support crew were again conspicuous. They gave lots of encouragement and the motivation to get back into a run whenever I saw them. Not only did they cheer for me, but I think they cheered for every single competitor, looking up their names in the program and yelling out things like ďGO BARRY, CíMON BAZZA, YAY BAZ!Ē. They also had been making a lot of comments like ďNoice Bike!Ē on the bike course which then became ďNoice Shoes!Ē on the run leg with a great Kath & Kim accent. I know this because just about everyone at the Meltdown Party on the Monday night came up to say thanks and we were still getting "Noice Bike!" comments yelled at us days later!
The run was a good opportunity to talk to some of the other competitors about their experiences and road to Ironman. Everyone was super friendly and very supportive. I ran with a few different people over the last 10km and had great support from Jim the American and Shiraz from Queensland.
With just over a kilometre to go, I left Shiraz who I had been walking with for a bit and stretched out for the final run. It was starting to sink in Ė I was going to finish. I enjoyed the sight of the bobbing glow sticks in the dark as I trotted towards the bright lights of the finish and started to hear the music pumping. The crowd was awesome as I came round the final bend into the finish shute and it was great to finally catch up to Jim again as we high fived our way down shute. And, as the clock ticked over to 13.47.48, I crossed the finish line. It wasnít pretty, and there were plenty of times when I was thinking that Iíd never, ever do it again and that I just wanted the pain to stop, but the feeling of finally getting there is one of the best feelings in the world.
So there it is. A long, but hopefully honest account of my journey to Ironman. I have referred to it as a race, but for someone like me, who is just out to finish, itís not really a race. Itís a journey. And one that hopefully leaves me a little bit more aware of myself and thankful for the opportunities that I have had that allowed me to complete it.
If thereís one last thing to add, it would one of the most moving moments for me. At the meltdown party the following night, the experience of Manabu Ueda was read out. Manabu was the 60 year old Japanese man attempting his 60th Ironman. On the run leg, Manabu tore a calf muscle and couldnít run properly. He was still out on the run course when the 17hour cut-off was reached. Manabu didnít stop, he kept going and the crowd stayed to wait for the final athlete to come home. Manabu finally came around the last bend to reach the start of the finish shute. The crowd was lined up on either side. As he reached that point, Manabu refused to go down the finish shute, instead chosing to run down the outside. He completed the distance but did not feel that he deserved the honour of crossing the finish line because he had missed the cut-off. We stood and gave Manabu a standing ovation and recognised him as a real Ironman.