With every dark shadow, there is always a hint of sunlight.
IRONMUMS athlete Ruth tells us about her trials and tribulations of IRONMAN racing.
At the request of The Coach, I am reluctantly writing a race report for Ironman Cairns. She believes that sharing my story will assist myself and others in dealing with races that don’t go to plan…there is always a space for learning new things. We will soon discover if writing it actually benefits me as promised!
I don’t look at this report as being particularly pleasing or inspiring - but rather this is a piece of work that is self reflective, and explores the concepts of battling demons, loss and genuine suffering. So buckle up, put a straw in the wine bottle and get on the roller-coaster of my day that was Ironman Cairns 2018.
For many reasons, both known and unknown to me, I have struggled emotionally, mentally and socially since late 2017, leaving me feeling isolated and unbearably sad. The reasons for these issues may be obvious to others…and maybe I’m just missing the signs; a problem I experience frequently. It could be the bullying I experienced at work (to an extent where I had to weigh up whether I wanted to work or whether I wanted to live, dramatic I know, but I’m afraid true), or maybe it is my unstable epileptic teenage daughter, the social isolation I have experienced or my husband and I looking for aged care for his mum. And maybe the reasons are deeper, more hidden and less clear than these. In any case, my mental wellbeing has suffered greatly in the past six months.
Despite these issues, I pushed on as we women do. I did a bit of training, more for the comfort of routine and structure, and rebelling against the mental health issues than anything else.
After a period of fighting, arguing and conflict , I found myself without a couch and essentially without any friends by the end of January. I discovered that I was back again, battling demons. My uncontrollable tears and deep sadness was something I had never been confronted with, and more significantly, a role reversal for my hubby! Poor bugger.
I went in search of a new coach, put some feelers out, and after lots of tears and emotions, I found Naomi! It shocked me when she agreed to take me with all my crappy baggage and it was then that we began the journey towards Ironman Cairns.
Challenge Melbourne was the first race Naomi coached me to. We had no plan, just see where we were. I did say that morning that a sub-6 hour finish would be nice – and nice it was when I saw I had achieved my goal: a 22 minute PB which I felt I achieved without any real suffering. It was probably due more to the near-perfect conditions we enjoyed, compared to last year’s hell fest!
Taking a look at Port Macquarie Ironman, I felt that I wasn’t ready and in the right headspace to tackle Ironman again (I really should close my Strava account, it doesn’t help my brain at all). After multiple conversations, Cairns was earmarked as my Ironman race for the year. My former coach had always said to me that I’d love Cairns, as had many others, and now I can safely say… Liars!!
For this race, I trained alone. I rode my bike to and from my new job, but did spend a large portion of my long rides hiding away on the Kickr. I despise riding alone. I am afraid of roo’s, snakes and magpies , cars, especially during summer. Even being aware that I was being pathetic, I was devastated that I had no one to ride with me. I also worked fulltime during this period, something I’d not done before ( I always take leave for the last block of training)
Suddenly, Cairns was upon us. My epileptic daughter had 4 seizures in two weeks, meaning she couldn’t be left with my mum as planned, so my hubby stayed at home, and I had to find a new Sherpa. Thank God for my good friend Shazza, who at the last minute came with me for the ride.
I had worked hard on the Kickr, I knew my swimming was competent and my running had been adequate, despite being indoors for majority of the time and also battling Plantar Fasciitis. So I thought I’d at least have an ok day . All was fine until we reached Palm Cove (where the Ironman swim is held) and I glimpsed that churning brown water –and the many, many signs warning of crocodile presence along the beach!! FARK ME!
There weren’t any complications during race morning; all was normal. Brekkie was standard, then off we went to the race start. The wind was blowing but I felt fine. Soon after the sun came up. That bloody water looked like POOP and it was a rough as guts! SHIT!!!
We had decided that I’d swim at the back of the 1 hr group. Walking two steps into the poo brown water, I got dumped. Stood up then got dumped again. Then I started to panic – like hyperventilating, shitting my pants panic. I attempted to calm down, but nope, my mind was having none of it. For a brief moment I thought,”Fuck it, that is my day done and I’m getting out”. I began treading water for a couple of minutes, then thought I’d swim to the life guard and get out. But I settled and thought, just swim to the first buoy, so I did. Then of course I started to worry I was going to be eaten by a croc, and no amount of “It’s too cold for them” was going to help. So I kept an eye on the lifeguards and kept swimming, finally got to the turn and it felt like it took 20 minutes to swim to the next turn, but I thought the current will push me home. Bullshit it did! It pushed me back and it pushed me crossways. But it did NOT push me home!
Finally, I could get out of the water. I was initially excited to see people who are faster swimmers than me in the tent, and I thought maybe it wasn’t so bad. Oh how wrong I was – my worst swim time at any Ironman ever!
Off onto the ride, and truthfully I no longer gave a damn. I didn’t push and I lost motivation in everything. I just rode into Port Douglas and I was not impressed. Really, all the hype and it’s just a town by the sea you can’t even swim in!
Back down to the turn around, and back to Port Douglas. The road surface was pleasant, the view was satisfying, but it really wasn’t my concern. I truly loathed every moment of it. I didn’t not push hard, didn’t stress my legs, ate and drank like I was meant to… whatever.
The headwind back into Cairns from Port Douglas was filthy, and I could feel the heat off the road, I’d had enough and wanted to get off. At that stage I didn’t care what time I’d ridden, which is just as well because it was honestly crap. I did get lots of nice comments about the new Ironmums kit, with people saying how much they loved it, even blokes! Win! Mine’s a bit big; the jersey moved around all day on me, but the tri pants were perfect.
There was a very long transition onto the run, drugged up to help my foot and belly. I took a pit stop, and then commenced my Ironman shuffle. The plan was to run the first 10km, then walk through every aid station for the next 20km and hopefully have enough left in the engine to run the last 12, as that’s when I usually fall apart. And it all went to plan, until 30km when my PF blew up. I was done. Deflated, devastated and DONE. I managed to shuffle up to Ironman royalty in Neil, whom I have run with before in the dark, at Port Mac, Neil was the oldest finisher of the day, he is 73, and it was ironman number 46 for him, he said the day he wakes up and says “ no more” he knows ironman is over for him, that day is yet to come we chatted, and the I walked the last 10km. The whole bloody way. I did she Sister Franjsman on my first lap of the run, and called out to her, I heard crickets!!
I finally made it to the chute, hugged my Sherpa who was crying (she’s an Ironman virgin and therefore hadn’t seen the Ironman finisher chute before) hugged Pete Murray, cause he loves sweaty fat old moles at the back of the pack!! Got my medal and towel, looked at my time, and was not surprised at how substandard it had been. Nothing went to plan, nothing! The swim was shit, the ride was shit, the run was shit, my transitions were shit. I got dressed, and waited for a fellow Ironmum to finish, and I am so delighted she did. I would never have left without seeing her finish, I even managed to hobble towards her as she came into the finish, while messaging our ironman Australian age group champ Lee Bova with photos and updates, can I say, seeing Heather finish after her non finish last year made me cry.
Shazza, who now was in Ironman heaven had said we weren’t leaving until we see the last person cross the line, Ive never been there until the end, and as we waited we could see all the tech officials walking next to someone who had a lean, suddenly people appeared out of no where to cheer, the last athlete home, what a humbling and emotional moment to see Neil come home!
In reflection, there is no one to blame for my race but myself. I am very aware of my flaws. I am lazy and don’t push hard enough when training. I have a bad temper and a potty mouth. I am always moody and loud at the same time.
BUT – and it’s a significant BUT – there are good things that came from this race experience. I am going to KONA at long last (mind you, it’s not until 2020 when my legacy spot comes up, but it is a guarantee). I received my email confirmation on the Friday before the race - poor Shazza didn’t know quite what to do with a sobbing woman who had just found out she was going to Hawaii!! I rang my kids, as hubby was on nightshift, then I rang Naomi and cried again. KONA BABY, Fucking KONA!! No I’m not fast, I’m slow, but I’m patient, and knowing I’d never qualify outright, a legacy spot was the only way I was ever going to get my golden ticket. Some may say there is no glory in getting to Kona via legacy; well to them I say “Bite me”. Cairns was Ironman number 14 for me, I never thought I’d do one let alone 14, an old boyfriend from high school and I had watched when Greg Welsh won Hawaii and we had said one day we would go and race, he knows Im going, and Im hopeful he and his wife and children will come and share that experience with me, for us it will be a once in a lifetime trip, and my husband has said I only get one shot!!
Despite my shitty day on the course I still finished, so I’m ahead of 90% of the population who are sitting on the couch drinking beer. And that counts for a hell of a lot. And I found my coach, Naomi - who along with my husband and children has been a beacon of light in my misery.
And finally: sometimes the strongest people are screaming the loudest inside . Don’t push them away when they tell you they are sad - trust me, they don’t like it any more than you do. What it is they want, they can’t even put into words. But what they need is your time, love, and patience. Not your judgment and separation Because sometimes they can’t speak when their voices shake, no matter how much they want to.