Last week I received the shock news that a man that I admired and considered a friend had suffered a heart-attack. At the back on my mind was always a fear that he may die, but this was Craig Percival, he’d done 8 Ironmans in 8 days in the 8 States and Territories of Australia…he was invincible. So numerous times over the last week I’ve refreshed my email in the hope of seeing a message that started ‘Great news everyone…’, knowing that from there another story of Craig’s endurance would begin.
Instead I opened my email this afternoon to find a message that began ‘It is with the heaviest of hearts…’ and I momentarily resisted opening it, in the hope that I could delay inevitable, but I couldn’t. One of the most amazing people I had ever met had passed away, and it broke my heart.
Craig coached me for nearly 15 months to the completion of my first Ironman. He also got me on board to film a documentary about the 8in8in8. During that time we would communicate every week, whether through email, text or phone…and not once did he say ‘Chris, you know what the best thing for you to do is? Wallow in self-pity.’ So I can’t imagine he wants me to start now. Instead I want to focus on the amazing things that he did. Because we need a lot more people like Craig in the world, and at the moment, we’re one down.
‘Not only can do, but did do’
In a world where people are too scared to tackle the seemingly impossible, Craig was willing to commit 100%. Not only that, but if you were looking to do something seemingly impossible, then he would commit himself 100% to that as well.
We need to keep this alive, because that sort of dedication and enthusiasm is contagious…and we seem to be surrounded by an ever increasing number of ‘seemingly impossible’ things.
A family man
Craig was fiercely devoted to his kids. He often told me that the thing that he used as a motivator for when he was doing a really hard run set in his preparation for the 8in8in8 was the thought of him running over the last hundred meters of the last marathon with Lindell and the kids.
One of the most beautiful moments of the 8in8in8 was when he was reunited with his kids before the final swim in Melbourne. Like a prizefighter he taken so many punches and hits over the preceding 7 days and still stayed on his feet, but a hug from his daughter nearly nearly overpowered him.
He was also part of an incredible team with Lindell. There were so many times during the 8in8in8 when it looked like it was just them against the world, and instead of relenting, they took strength from each other and overcame. It was amazing to watch.
You can’t fake inspiration, and Craig was just inspirational. I don’t know how many marathons, 70.3 and Ironmans he had coached people to…but it would be thousands. And every one of those people had been inspired by Craig and in turn has no doubt inspired other people.
I met Greg McDermott and April Gillies on the Sydney leg of the 8in8in8 and Greg recently rode around Australia with April providing support. They walked along the Cronulla foreshore into the wee hours of the night to support Craig…but I also feel that they got a boost of inspiration for what they were looking to embark on. Peter Wheatley did 30 marathons in 30 days. Ailie Coulter did the Ultraman world champs. These are people who have been inspired by Craig, and who in turn have inspired me.
So please, if you can do one thing in memory of Craig, inspire people. Make people feel good about themselves and see what they can achieve.
When I did the Melbourne marathon, Craig was there yelling on support, when I did Shepparton 70.3, he was there, giving me a wetsuit fitting that was worth at least five minutes in the swim, at Ironman Melbourne he jogged along with me and when I said ‘I just vomited blood’…he said ‘Bonus!’ He raised over $100K for the John Maclean Foundation, and even in death he gave his organs so that other people might have a second chance at life. In a world where more and more people want to take more than they give…it’s those who give that we remember.
I was so proud of being part of the 8in8in8. I felt so privileged to have been let into the inner-sanctum with Lindell, Kate, Grant, Ginny and everyone else, and to spend time with Sam and Sienna. I don’t want to dwell on the hurt, because I know that there are people hurting a lot more than me, but Craig, your loss is a brutal reality that hasn’t even sunk in yet.
Just know that you have built an incredible family of athletes, and we will rally around Lindell and the kids. Not just now, but for as long as they need us, and know that you have changed my life with both my Ironman and the 8in8in8, and I will be eternally grateful.
The opportunity to document someone attempting 8 Ironmans in 8 days in the 8 States/Terrritories of Australia doesn’t present itself all that often…in fact when Craig Percival mentioned it to me, he also mentioned that he would be the first person to ever attempt this feat. I readily said yes, as it was a very good way of ensuring I wouldn’t be asked to join him for any of the swimming/riding/running.
By the time all of the logistics and financial implications were sorted, we agreed that I would travel to Canberra to see Craig finish there, then travel with the team to Sydney, sleep the night in Sydney, then document all day in Sydney, fly home to Melbourne the next day and then film and photograph Craig’s final Ironman in Melbourne.
Things got off to a poor start due to the predilection of Melbourne drivers to crash into each other as soon as the roads get wet…despite leaving the city at 4.30pm, my 6.45pm flight had left by the time I got to the airport. So I had to book another flight…and given that there weren’t any more flights into Canberra, I had to fly to Sydney instead. I called Kate Patterson to let her know that I would meet her at the accommodation in Sydney, and I got the distinct impression that things were not going well in Canberra…and that perhaps my throwing another spanner into the works was about as welcome as a cold-sore. In fact, Craig was unlikely to finish the Canberra Ironman until about 2-3am, and so the team was going to drive directly from Canberra to the pool in Sydney to start the next one. Craig would sleep in the car as would the rest of the team…although ideally not all at the same time as that would make driving treacherous.
Clearly this was not the ideal start to my filming and photography…but a little drama never hurt anybody.
But when Craig arrived at the pool the next morning I realised that it hadn’t been ‘a little drama’, and it had indeed hurt him. In fact Kate and Lindell pulled me aside to tell me that during the drive from Canberra they had agreed to pull the pin on 8in8in8. Craig would do as much of the swim as he could…but that was it. It was over. As the guy who was meant to be documenting a triumph…I quickly realised that my day was over before it began.
But then 3 x Ironman World Champion Craig ‘Crowie’ Alexander jumped in the pool with Craig and I thought I may as well take some shots…so here, in no particular order, are my top 8 shots from the 8in8in8. These are not necessarily the best photos, or the photos that best encapsulate the whole thing, but they are the images that captured the key moments for me as a somewhat embedded observer.
#1 The before shot
Traditionally the ‘before’ photo is used to show how much someone has improved in the ‘after’ photo. How much weight they’ve lost, or how ripped their abs are now. But I think that in the ‘after’ photo for this one, there probably wouldn’t have been the relaxed smile, the quiet confidence and the ‘let’s do this’ attitude…I also think the t-shirt would have said ‘Ragged’ instead of ‘Jaggad’.
#2 The swim in Sydney
If you ever want a brutal reminder of just how out of shape you are, let me assure you that donning the budgie-smugglers and hopping into a pool with a 3 x Ironman World Champion and a man who has done 5 Ironmans over the last 5 days is a remarkably good place to start. But I was determined to get some under water footage of Craig swimming, so myself and the trusty GoPro jumped into the pool. After I got the footage I was after I decided to get some photos too. One of the challenges with shooting with this GoPro is that it doesn’t have a viewfinder, so you can’t actually see what you are shooting. You just have to line up a shot that you think will work and shoot. I was shooting on burst mode so that I got 10 shots in 3 seconds. The other nine shots in this burst were rubbish (catching a swimmer mid stroke can either look powerful and fluid…or like they are coming a distant second in an underwater dancing competition), but this one I love. The reflection creates really nice symmetry with both the stairs and Craig’s arm, and more importantly I know I never would have got it if I hadn’t swallowed my pride and jumped in the pool.
#3 The power of words
As I said earlier, Craig had decided to pull the pin on the 8in8in8 on the way from Canberra to Sydney. He had pretty much done the swim because Crowie and John Maclean were there. But the local Cronulla Tri squad had sorted a masseuse to come and give Craig a rub down, and while Craig was lying there John Maclean came over to talk to him. Sometimes you can see two people talking and just sense the gravity of what they are talking about, and this was one of those times. I knew I had to capture it, but when I took the photo from the side so that I could see both of them, it just didn’t work. So I scampered the other way so that I could see Craig, but that still didn’t work. Then I went behind Craig’s shoulder and realised that I could see John’s wheelchair in the background and knew that this shot would really tell a story. So I framed up the shot, pulled focus on John and waited for him to look up towards Craig…when he did ‘snap’, I knew I had the shot I wanted.
Over the last couple of months I’ve been working really hard on not just taking a shot from one angle, but trying to take it from a variety of angles. In this case it really paid off.
#4 The painful reality
When I think of some of the most powerful photos I’ve seen, I realise that the photographer hasn’t been trying to help the starving child, or save the people running from the explosion, or stop the horror unfolding before them. They have made a decision that their photo will do more to change a situation than anything else they can do. For better or worse they have had to choose between taking a photo, and actively helping someone, and they have chosen to take the photo.
While of course not on the same scale, I had quite a few moments on my day in Sydney with Craig when I was tempted to take a photo that showed the physical and mental toll the day, and the indeed the previous five days…and no doubt the thought of the next two days, were having on Craig. To show how broken he was. But it just didn’t seem right. I felt as though I would be betraying Craig, Lindell, Kate, Ginny and everyone else who was supporting him.
So when I saw this moment, I knew I had to get it. It showed just how shattered and exhausted Craig was, but it also showed the wealth of support that surrounded him.
#5 Getting ready for the run at Cronulla
Perhaps this is the reward for not getting in Craig’s face for the preceding 11 hours. It was about 5.30pm, Craig had just hopped off his bike and was preparing to do the marathon along the Cronulla foreshore. I was just waiting to get the right shot of him when he looked at me, laughed and said ‘You’re still here mate?’ As with a lot of the other photos in this blog, this shot serves as a signpost to a turning point. I wasn’t there for the first five days, so I don’t know this for sure, but I felt as though Craig had spent the first five days enjoying people’s support, but not relying on it. But over the course of the day, Craig had let his defences down and realised that if he was going to do this, he was going to have to rely on the support of a whole lot of people he had never met.
So for the next 7 hours he walked the marathon, and people came from all around to walk with him. Earlier in the day he had been worried about what people would think of him if he walked the marathon…but by the end of the day I think he knew exactly what people thought of him BECAUSE he walked the marathon.
#6 The cheer squad at Prahran pool
Craig’s motivation for doing the 8in8in8 was to raise money for the John Maclean Foundation. Last year when he told me he wanted to raise $80K from this, I did my best to pretend that this was achievable. But deep down I wanted to say ‘Are you out of your mind?! I think you’re gravely overestimating the generosity of people’
Fast forward three months and Craig is swimming his final swim leg of the 8in8in8, and after the swim he is going to present a cheque to Tommy Le’Au and his family so that he can get a wheelchair. Tommy’s siblings and cousins had perched themselves by the side of the pool and were cheering him every time he went past. I’ve got three young kids and I know how hard it is to keep their attention for the time it takes to swim one lap of a pool, let alone 76. But these kids clearly knew what Craig was doing and why he was doing it…and they wanted him to know how much they appreciated it.
For the record, Craig has already raised over $84K and has now set his goal as $100K…so if you haven’t donated already, every little bit helps…and this is who you’ll be helping
#7 Midnight in Melbourne
It’s nearly midnight on Sunday, we are on the closed roads of the Albert Park Grand Prix track, there are over 50 people still running with Craig, and he’s just let us know that he’s confident of finishing this epic event. If that’s not worth a photo, then what is? Of course the challenge is that it’s really dark, they’re too far away to use a flash…but that f1.2 56mm lens that you beat yourself up for buying, has just come into it’s own!
#8 ‘You know I’m going to do this!’
Kate Patterson had worked tirelessly in the lead-up to the 8in8in8…and while ‘tirefully’ isn’t an actual word, if it were, then she would have worked tirefully for duration of the 8in8in8. Surviving on smatterings of sleep, taking days off work to be there when Craig needed her and doing all of the media and social media stuff along the way. She was indefatigable.
About an hour into the final run (on the Albert Park Grand Prix course no less…another thing that Kate had managed to organise), I had perched myself at the 2km turnaround point of the run and was giving Kate some photos for her to feed the ravenous beast that is Facebook. When Craig ran past, then doubled back and said ‘You know I’m going to do this!’ and gave Kate a hug. He still had another 4.5 hours to run, but this was the first time I had heard him say this, and the first time he had let his game face slip, and reveal a little bit of the optimist inside.
Technically this is not a great photo. It was really dark where we were so the ISO is ramped up to 1600, I was clearly hunting for focus so the image isn’t sharp, but it captures a moment…and that’s all I ever really want to do.
Now for the movie
For those who don’t already know I’m putting together a short video about 8in8in8. I’m hopefully shooting the interviews next week, and then will be furiously editing it for a couple of weeks. I’ll do my best to write a few posts about this process.
But in the meantime I just want to thank Craig, Lindell and Kate for taking me on for this project. To Amanda, Grant, Ginny, Shrek, Ailie and everyone else who helped me out along the way, thank you so much, it was greatly appreciated. Last but not least to everyone who supported Craig whether it was in person, or on social media, or by donating to support JMF, you were part of something pretty special and I hope it inspires you to do something great.
A couple years ago I spent 12 months focussing on being more ‘creative’. I spent more time writing, taking photos and making videos…hell, I even took singing lessons. The net result was that I think I became a happier human being. I had a creative outlet (even if the world probably preferred it when I didn’t), my problem solving improved (although admittedly the ‘problem’ was normally someone asking me not to sing…and my ‘solving’ was agreeing and apologising) and I started to see creative options where I hadn’t seen them before. But for the last year and a half I’ve been training for the Ironman (well admittedly I’ve spent the last 2 months basking in the afterglow of having completed the Ironman) and I’ve been amazed at how focusing on keeping yourself physically fit, can have massive benefits for your creative endeavours.
Granted, the actual act of pressing the button on your camera, looking at the screen on the back, sighing, and then dejectedly deleting the photo, is not all that physically taxing (the emotional and psychological onslaught is of course another thing). So you could argue that increased fitness won’t make a big difference to your photography. But a bit of cardio fitness may have meant you walked a bit further to get a better vantage point, a bit of endurance work may have meant that you carried an additional piece of gear in your bag that helped make the shot and a bit of muscle may have allowed you to elbow your way through the scrum and get the best shot of your daughter’s dance recital (Oh sorry other parents, maybe if you’d spent a little more time at the gym you would be the one taking this awesome shot…instead of rolling around on the floor moaning ‘My nose, my nose…I think you broke my nose!”).
While training for the Ironman (and yes I will continue to drop that into conversation wherever possible) I would often head out on 1.5 – 2hr runs. Now don’t get me wrong, running along main roads and having the local bogans loudly question your sexuality as they drive past is pretty awesome. But eventually you will want to get off the beaten track and run somewhere different, and this will open up a world of new photographic locations. Old buildings, new bridges, creeks, graffitied walls, velodromes, rolling hills- you never know what you will find, but you can bet that it’s not something that many other people have used for a photo.
The early bird
Do you know what’s awesome for photography? Early morning light, deserted streets, sunrise, frost and that crossover between late night revellers and those who get to work early. Do you know what sucks? Getting up early to take these shots when on any other day you’d still be asleep. But if getting up early is now part of your daily routine (because it’s the only time you can work your fitness regime into your family life or work schedule), then getting up early on another day to take some shots really isn’t that tricky.
The people you meet
I’m firmly of the opinion that the most important factor in taking a great photo is not your skill level…but being there. A photographer with basic skills who is actually there, is going to take a much better photo than an expert who isn’t. But the problem is, how do you meet people to take photos of? How do you hear about events that would be great to photograph? How do you hear the stories that would translate beautifully to the captured image? In short you have to get out and meet people and do things, and getting involved in a sporting group or club is a great way to do this.
Plus, if you are actually doing an activity, you will have a much better idea of where the best photos are going to be. Everyone is going to be at the finish line, but where will the race be won? Where will the hearts break? Where is the bike most likely to stack? If you are actually doing these activities day to day, you will be able to walk up to any event and have an advantage over the other photographers.
OK, if you’ve made it this far into this post then you’re probably willing to let me get a little tangential. If you are exercising regularly, you will be happier with yourself physically. When you’re happy with yourself physically, this tends to manifest itself in greater self confidence…and you know what is an incredibly powerful tool when trying to convince strangers to let you take their photo? Self confidence. It makes no sense, but I know that for me personally, knowing that I could run 20kms on any given Sunday, gave me the confidence to approach Luke and ask him to pose for a portrait.
Time to think
If you’ve got kids, or a full-time job, or remarkably persistent cats, you’ll probably find that you don’t have a whole lot of time to think about your photography. But head out for a swim, ride, run or gym session and you suddenly have time and space to think, although for the first couple you will just be thinking ‘Christ I hate running!’ and ‘Why am I doing this?!’ and ‘Who the hell put the Wiggles on my playlist?!!’ But eventually you will be able to do the physical side of things on auto-pilot, while you use your newfound firing synapses and endorphins to come up with some stellar ideas.
The best ideas I’ve had for photos, videos and blogs have been while I’ve been out exercising.
In conclusion, your Honour…
Having swung the pendulum between focusing on creativity and focusing on fitness, I have settled on the idea that I need to have a balance of 60% fitness and 40% creativity…with that additional 20% focus on fitness leading to more than a 20% improvement in my creativity. So go out and try find your balance. Before you buy that next bit of gear, buy a a decent pair of runners instead, before you book a photo-tour, go for a run around your local area and see what you find, and instead of putting your head back on the pillow at 5.30am get outside and break out of your comfort zone…your photography will be the better for it.
After 15 months of training I can finally swan around saying ‘I am an Ironman‘ to anyone who’s silly enough to ask. ‘But what was the actual race like?’ I hear absolutely none of you asking, well let me take you through it.
Regular readers of the blog will know that I’ve wanted to do an Ironman since I was a 15yo watching the Kona highlights on Nine’s Wide World of Sports, and I’ve been training for Ironman Melbourne for about 15 months. So it felt quite surreal after all that buildup to suddenly be only one sleep away from competing in the Ironman. On the night before the Melbourne Marathon I had found it really hard to get to sleep, and so this time I decided I would get into bed nice and early and just relax into a good night’s sleep. So at 8.30pm I climbed into bed and read a book for half an hour, then at 9pm I set my alarm for 4am and closed my eyes. At 10.30pm I still wasn’t asleep, but reasoned that as my body was used to going to sleep at about this time, there was no need to worry. At 11.30pm I told myself that it was ok, after all I had been resting for a good couple of hours, and that was nearly as good as being asleep…right? At 12.30am I started to panic a little. 3.5 hours of sleep was really not ideal before an entire day of exercise! At 1.30pm I started to really panic, which greatly assisted my ability to get to sleep. Some time after that I fell asleep. At 3.30am I woke up and told myself that I really should go back to sleep, an extra half an hour of sleep could be a really good thing…at 3.50am I realised that this wasn’t going to happen, so I got up and began what would be the most physically gruelling day of my life. I was not brimming with confidence.
The swim (3.8kms)
I think it’s fair to say that my favourite part of any of these events is the interminable time you get to spend standing around after you’ve got everything into transition and the event actually starts. It’s a really good chance to realise just how freaked out you are, and how much you really need to go to the toilet…again. So it was awesome to finally just get the swim started. For those of you who don’t know much about Ironman, the swim has traditionally been a mass start. Which means that all of the athletes (other than the Pros) start at the same time. So if you can imagine over 2,000 people all fighting for the same small amount of water, you can imagine just how much fun that is. Fortunately, this year they introduced a rolling start, whereby they basically lined everyone up and started them 6 at a time at about 5 second intervals, which meant that you spent significantly less time being kicked in the face as you swam. The combination of this start and the beautiful (ie no waves) conditions meant that I got into my swim rhythm really quickly, and felt really good for pretty much the entire time.
Going into the Ironman, my swim leg was probably the one I was confident in. I had been swimming regularly with a squad and had done some long swims by myself in the pool. The only fear I had was that I hadn’t done much open water swimming (and by ‘not much’ I really mean ‘bugger all’), but I was quietly confident that my excellent tumble-turns would provide me with an X-factor.
I had hoped to do the swim in about 1.15 and ended up doing it in 1.07, and even though I didn’t know what time I had swum (thanks to a Garmin that had a crack in the screen and could no longer go in water), I came out of the water feeling happy that I hadn’t gone too deep into my energy reserves, and that technically I was one third of the way through the Ironman.
The bike (180kms)
Going into the race, this was the leg I was most worried about. The only way you can do 180km on the bike comfortably is to do a lot of long sessions on the bike, and the only way you can do long sessions on the bike is by abandoning the family for 5-6hr stretches pretty much every weekend (and then of course being exhausted for the remainder of the day). With three young kids, and a full-time job, and a pretty strong desire not to get divorced, that is pretty much impossible. So while I had managed a few long rides (including one epic ride with Matt Nelson out to Healesville and back via the hills), I knew that I didn’t have the kms in my legs to dominate the ride. So my aim was to ride conservatively and go into the run with some energy still in my legs.
The bike leg is basically doing two laps of 45kms from Frankston to Springvale Rd out along Eastlink and then back. My aim was to sit on an average of 30km/h. If I did this then I would do the ride in 6hrs. I spent the vast majority of my time on the first lap out being passed by everyone. But I kept telling myself not to worry as all I had to do was ride conservatively, and I would catch a lot of people on the run…besides, these were probably the elite people who were passing me.
I averaged about 28km/h for the first lap, but wasn’t too worried as I was riding into a headwind, and on the way back to Frankston I averaged just over 30km/h so I was still confident that could get close to the 6 hour mark.
On the second lap out, I think it’s safe to say that everything went to hell in a handbasket. The headwind had really picked up and it was getting hot. There weren’t as many people passing me…but all my ‘they’re going too hard and are going to blow up on the second lap’ thoughts were starting too look remarkably inaccurate, and my ‘they’re probably the elite athletes’ beliefs were harder to sustain when men in their late 60’s cruised past. The Mars Bar that I had in my ‘special needs’ bag (this is a bag you can collect halfway through the race) had transformed from ‘frozen’ to ‘disgusting near liquid’, and there was no way I wanted to eat the vegemite sandwich that was also there. I had gone through 3 water bottles and a water bottle with my gels in it, and hadn’t needed to go to the toilet…so clearly I was dehydrating at a rapid rate of knots. On top of this I was getting a searing pain in my left foot known as a hot spot (which is basically where your foot swells in the heat and then gets constricted by your cycling shoe which leads to nerves getting squashed, which leads to a feeling as though someone is putting a blow-torch onto the ball of your foot). I’ve never had this before…and to be perfectly honest, I hope to never have it again. The only way I could get rid of the pain was to loosen the straps on my shoes…but eventually it got to the stage where my shoes were so loose that it was affecting my pedalling. So I began stopping every half hour to take off my shoe and stretch my foot.
I finally made the turnaround point and headed for home. But my average for the third lap was 21km/h, so all bets were off in terms of doing 6hrs. Already my thoughts were turning to my Mum and Dad who were going to be waiting for me in Frankston and were going to be waiting around for about an extra hour, and to Jo Donnelly and her family who had been there when I came out of the water and was probably wondering where the hell I was…and of course to Katie and the kids who were going to be waiting for a long time at Black Rock before they saw me.
But as bad as I felt, I was least heading back to Frankston with a nice tailwind…and if nothing else, at least I wasn’t one of the poor bastards coming past me in the opposite direction into that head wind and looking shattered.
In the end I did the ride in just over 7hrs, and averaged just over 25km/h. In all honesty I should have just set myself the goal of averaging 27km/h and I probably wouldn’t have felt like I was failing so badly for so long. But the mathematical ease of 30km/h proved just too tempting.
On the bright side, I had managed to get through pretty much all of my nutrition and still felt that I had some energy in my legs…so bring on the run!
The run (42kms)
I’m on record as saying I’ve never really been a runner. But if you’d asked me coming into the Ironman to rank the disciplines by preference, it would have been swim-run-bike. Even though I’ve only been running for about a year, I actually came in with a bit of confidence that I could maintain about a 6 minute/km pace for the run leg. After the first 1.5kms I was feeling great. I had found a good rhythm and pace, my parents had told me my swim split which had been a pleasant surprise and I was already passing people. This was going to be a triumph!
Then about 1km later I started feeling sick and had to pull over to the side of the path to vomit. As horrific as this may sound to a non-Ironman, I actually didn’t think this was too bad. I had got it out of my system, and now I just needed to get some more nutrition in and I would be fine…then I had one last little vomit and saw blood. ‘Hmmm’ I thought…’that’s probably not so good’. But I didn’t feel any pain…and I no longer felt sick, so I pushed on. At the next aid station (about 4kms in) I had some electrolytes, some watermelon and some water and then saw my coach (Craig Percival). We ran together and I told him that I had vomited, but was actually feeling much better, and he was saying that if I could hold this pace I would be passing heaps of people as there were a lot of people who had gone too hard on the bike and were now walking. Ahah! I thought. Vindication. Sure that bike leg had sucked…but now was my time to shine! I was running comfortably at about 6 minute pace and nothing could stop me.
Then it did. I got to the next aid station and my stomach was feeling queasy again. I headed into the porta-loo and vomited up everything I had eaten at the previous aid station, and a little blood for good measure. It suddenly dawned on me that this could be the end of the race. I couldn’t do another 35kms without any food or water…and this vomiting up blood thing really wasn’t that awesome either…in fact, I’m sure I saw this on an episode of ‘House’ once. So I stood in a porta-loo halfway between Frankston and Seaford and faced the fact that for the next few years, every time someone asked about the Ironman, instead of having a story of challenge and triumph…I would ultimately have to tell them that I didn’t finish. That all the training, all the effort, all the sacrifice from myself and my family had been for nothing. Then someone knocked on the door and asked if I’d ‘finished in there?’. So I climbed out of the Porta-loo, went back to the table with the water on it, drank a cup of water…and started walking.
I walked to the next aid station and had some water, some ice and some electrolyte and waited to see if I could keep it down. I did, and so I started a slow jog. At the next aid station I had a little more water and electrolyte and picked up the pace, but then my stomach felt queasy again so I slowed down. I basically did this for the remaining 30kms. I would jog when I could, then I would start to feel better, so I would get back into a run, then I would feel sick, so I would walk. But on the bright side I was keeping everything down, and while I wasn’t willing to risk having a gel (they make me want to vomit at the best of times!) I was at least able to eat some banana, or some pretzels.
The daylight faded, the heat dissipated and soon I was past Mordialloc and the half way point. People were still out supporting the runners, and I made sure I acknowledged all of them. The views were stunning and I regularly wished I had my camera. I found myself running with a group of people who were all at about the same pace and the aid stations (which are at 2km intervals) began to tick by.
I tried picking up the pace a couple of times, but again each time my stomach would start to react, and I knew I had to choose between running faster and running the risk of vomiting again (and realistically finishing the race if there was still blood coming up), or running at a slower pace, but knowing that I was going to finish. The reality was, that I was never in this to do a certain time, I was in it to finish it…and so I cruised on.
With about 3kms to go I could see the lights of the finish, and I knew that no matter what happened I was going to finish, and so I decided to just run and see how I went. It felt great. I was back to running at the pace I wanted to and made it all the way to the final aid station without any issues. I took one last hit of water and electrolytes and ran the last 2kms without any issues (I even tapped out a 4’53 for the last km!).
Running down that final chute was something I’ll never forget. The lights, people cheering, Mike Reilly saying ‘Chris Riordan, you are an Ironman!’ and my family waiting just over the finish line. Did it make up for the preceding 13hours and 45 minutes? No…but it did come surprisingly close.
I can’t thank enough the people who came out to support me on the day. From the Tri Nation team who were there at the start of the swim, to Jo Donnelly, Simon and Indi who cheered me as I came out of the water and then were still there to cheer (and run alongside me) about 8 hours later somewhere near Bon Beach. To my Mum and Dad who waited for me to finish the ride in Frankston and then continued to appear at random intervals like inept stalkers for the duration of the run, to Oc and Tara who for once in their lives didn’t sprint past me through Black Rock, to Luke and Matt who waited patiently at the finish line and took some sensational photos, to my coach Craig Percival who was the steady voice of reason and reassurance for the whole run and of course to Katie, Josh, Holly and Xavier who supported me the whole way from Black Rock back to St Kilda (not to mention every day for the last 15 months). And of course to everyone who has given me that look of ‘well it sounds insane to me…but if that’s what you want to do, then go for it’ over the last 15 months- Thank you.
Will I do another Ironman? If you mean ‘Ironman’ as a metaphor for ‘pushing your boundaries and trying new things’, then yes I will. If you mean ‘Ironman’ as a metaphor for ‘setting a goal and working your arse off to achieve it’ then yes I will. But if you mean ‘Ironman’ as in an actual Ironman with a 3.8km swim/180km bike ride/42km run…then no, only a lunatic would attempt that.