Nathaniel Wells – Ironman WA Busselton 2018 Post Race Report

Nathaniel Wells – Ironman WA Busselton 2018 Post Race Report

Overall result: 9 hours, 49 minutes, 13 seconds. 2nd in 18-24 Age Group, 74th Overall.

Splits: Swim: 53:49; T1: 04:23; Ride: 05:11:08; T2: 03:34; Run: 03:36:17

The short of it: I’m stoked with my race. I was elated to be able to swim this time around and had a great swim as such. My ride was strong and consistent, a real mental battle, and my run was bloody hard, an even harder mental battle. I don’t care too much about the blow up. I left nothing on the course and have absolutely no regrets. Semi-relieved I didn’t get a Kona slot; training for another one of these while starting my masters wouldn’t have been ideal.

Race prep: Attached in an excel doc. 26 weeks, 119 hours/346km swimming, 149 hours/4692km riding, 83 hours/1118km running.

Pre-race prep:

We arrived down in Busselton on the Friday before the race, so I could relax and not have to rush any of the pre-race proceedings. This was a great choice, given the stressful nature of how much had to be prepared before the race even began. I had to organize 2 gear bags, which I hadn’t realized before arriving in Busselton, because I hadn’t read the athlete info guide yet (whoops). Turns out, you can’t leave your stuff on the ground next to your bike in transition at ironman - You must leave it in gear bags which go on hooks in a transition tent. This stressed me out because I was afraid that I’d forget something. We also weren’t allowed to access the bags before the race on Sunday morning, which doubled the nerves. If it were the half, I could always have brought forgotten gels and the like down with me on race morning – but not this time. It was a good thing we got down early so I could get them all organized, count and recount the gels I put in each bag and get them into the tent nice and early on Saturday.

In the 2-days prior to the race I had a very hard time enjoying my life with a 2-day caffeine detox. I had roaring headaches and a very irritable mood for race registration and bike check-in during the 2-days prior to the race. While this made life harder for those around me, it made my life easier on race morning and the nights before; I slept better, and I was alert and awake straight away at the start line after a delicious double shot long black the morning of the race. As always, the caffeine detox sucked, but it was worth it.

Pre-race dinner was Spaghetti Bolognese, my personal favourite meal. Brekky before the race avoided milk (given it gives me stitches on the run) and was 3-slices of sourdough toast with strawberry jam, a glass of juice, and the aforementioned coffee. This was all pre-trained and tested and worked for me perfectly in training.

I woke up at 4:00 to Heat of the Moment by Asia, and I got down to the race at 5:30, pumped up my bike tires, clips my shoes into my bike. I got down to the beach just in time to do a 15 minutes swim warmup before I had to secure my spot toward the front of the rolling start. My plan was to do an easier warmup than usual, given at some previous races I’ve tried to hit race pace in the warmup and then not been able to hit the goal in the race itself afterwards! So, I took it easy, just focused on lengthening my stroke and being comfortable in the wetsuit. I got my 500 or so metres done, saw a stingray, and headed to the start chute. Then I realised I needed to pee, but it was too late. I would go on to hold that wiz for the next 10 hours. That constant need to wee was my most constant companion all race.

The Swim (53:49) Average pace: 1:19/100:

The plan for this one was to not go out too hard. At the shorter races, like ODs and sprints, I try to sprint and keep up with everyone else to the first buoy, and it ends up screwing with my breathing and my arms fatigue quickly. Given the lengthy nature of IM, that would’ve been sub-optimal. I thus went for long, controlled strokes, sighting every 10 or so strokes, and a focus on breathing. I also wanted a consistent, easy kick rather than no kick at all, with the added buoyancy of the wettie. This all ended up making me swim faster than my typical OD or sprint distance swim pace (who’dve thunk it). Also, it was hard to compete with people, given the rolling start. Those rolling start races are a huge blessing.

I ended up starting about 6 people from the front because some others muscled their way in front. I knew I was faster, but it hardly bothered me – a rolling start meant it wasn’t an issue. After I was let out, I had overtaken most of the guys in front of me within 200 metres. Hardly an issue. I’m in the light blue cap in the picture.

I settled in very quickly and made it around the first turn without much trouble. I got squished between two start-line-turbos as we went under the jetty but left them behind before we even left the underbelly. Along the western side of the course, I managed to draft a fast woman for about 400m, which I was pretty happy with. I lost her around the first left-hand turn of the rectangle but wasn’t too fussed. I was mostly swimming with two other guys until that turn around as well, but it seems they weren’t as good at cornering in open water as I was, because I never saw them again.

At this point in the swim it really hit home to me how bloody exciting it was that this was Ironman, and I was ACTUALLY GETTING TO SWIM! My biggest fear going into the race was that the swim would be cancelled AGAIN and as I crossed the line, they wouldn’t announce me as an ironman, given there was no swim. The elation of that really carried me for the rest of the swim. I also had it in my mind that I had to swim as fast as possible, so that if they found a shark, I would already be out of the water by the time they did. 

The water was beautiful and clear all the way around the first lap. Then, given it was a 2-lap swim course, I caught the slower swimmers on their first lap. Things became more difficult from here. I took the corner into the start of the second lap of the swim nice and tight, and dropped another person who was by my side. I sighted and saw a veritable swarm of coloured caps up ahead and groaned at the ducking and weaving to come. But it wasn’t something that I hadn’t done before. Every OWS series 5km I’ve ever done, there has always been a situation like this – ducking and weaving through less experienced swimmers, who haven’t had the experience to know how to cooperate in an overtake. It’s an unavoidable thing in every race, and everyone swims at their own pace, regardless. It’s a challenge in different ways for everyone.

I dropped two more people that were swimming around or near me and didn’t see again. I guess they got bogged down by the slower age groupers in the end. It was easy to get caught and stuck, as there were multiple just doing breastroke, outright treading water and stopping to sight. It was a challenging second lap, to be sure. My pace graph at the end of the race really reflects a pace drop in the second lap because of it. In the end, those slower guys have a harder and longer swim than guys like me, anyway.

It was very difficult to sight the final right-hand turn buoy with the ironman logo on it that indicated it was time to swim to shore. I knew it was coming soon, as I saw the pink buoy that denoted the lap left-hand turn, but I couldn’t for the life of me spot the final turn buoy until it was about 75m in front of me. My directions went all over the place while I searched for it, and I definitely did some extra swimming there. Not that I’m bothered – I was loving every minute of that swim, and I thought dawned on me as I was going to shore: “Can’t I just do more of this rather than hop on my bike”? Well, it turned out I couldn’t. I exited the water comfortably and ran up to Transition 1.


T1 (04:23):

Coming out of the water, my right arm got stuck in my wetsuit on my forearm, which had never happened before. I managed to get my left hand out to pull it off when my mind settled down. I’m glad I got it out before the stairs they had leading into T1! They were wet, steep, and a massive hazard. I heard someone broke their collarbone after falling down the stairs and was in surgery the day of presentations after the race. Glad I got steady fast.

Shockingly, I wasn’t out of breath of anything like I usually am as I ran up the beach to T1. In all the photos taken whilst I ran, I look like I’m grinning ear to ear on my way to my bike. I guess it really showed how stoked I was with that swim (I had a glance at my time on my watch and I was VERY happy). The cheering from everyone up the chute to the tent was amazing, and got me onto my bike faster. I really appreciated it from everyone.

I got straight to the end of the tent in transition with my first gear bag and a volunteer was there to help me get my wetsuit off. I realised my mistake a little late though – running to the end of the tent, being polite and not taking the spots closest to the door as you run in, was not the best move. I got the least experienced volunteer, and he started by hesitating in helping me. The exchange went something like this. He said,

“Would you like me to take your wetsuit off for you?” he said, in this unconfident and enunciated tone.

“Uh, yeah?” I replied, obviously needing the help. I sat down on my chair and he grabbed the slack of the arms and chest sitting around my ankles, when an older volunteer told him: “yank his wetsuit off his legs like a second skin!”. So, he grabbed all the slack of my wetsuit off the ground, and literally yanked me out of my chair as I was trying to get my helmet on! I veritably flew out of my chair, helmet half on, with an energy gel clenched in my teeth.

I landed spreadeagled on the ground. He then looked down at me, my arms spread wide, my expression aghast with shock and surprised, and decided the only course of action was to yank again!

I then flew a little further across the ground, and he gave me another good tug for good measure, before the older volunteer stepped in and went “STOP! STOP!” and he finally gave it a rest. All I could do was laugh, with a helmet half on and a gel in my mouth, at how this stupid situation must have looked.

I got up and took off the wetsuit myself, finished my gel, got my helmet on and my gels into my pockets. All the while, the volunteer was still staring at me. I ended up asking him to please put my stuff away in my bag for me, if he still wanted to do anything. He asked if I needed sunscreen, and I didn’t want to waste the time. I knew I was getting burnt in more ways than one in this race.

I ran out into transition, found my bike with ease (row 4, number 438, still drilled into me), and flew out of there. At the mount line, the guy in front of me tried to flying mount and knocked off his water bottles and fell straight off. I just strolled on by, put my foot on the pedal, got some speed, swung my leg over, and got going for the long haul.

Bike: (05:11:08), Average pace: 34.5k/h

I don’t really remember a whole lot from the first hour or so of the bike. It was a long bloody race. I remember going about 35-36 km/h whenever I checked my watch. I also remember being alone a lot at the start before the faster riders with their disc wheels caught up. I had a clif bar straight away on the bike, but it took me about 40 minutes to eat it, painstakingly small bite by small bite. I had it taped to the back of my aero bars for the start of the bike, so I could get something solid down. I think that it was a good choice to get a solid in, despite how annoyingly long it took to eat. I was so frustrated by having to hold it (all my pockets were full of gels) that I thought the rest of the ride would be so much better. I ended up keeping it in the top of my trisuit, when it finally got smaller, though each subsequent bite after that was a bit salty…

Justin Ghosh caught me at 40km in, I remember that well. He was the first person in my own age group that I caught wind of. He looked like he was absolutely fanging it when he went past me.

At 45km, ¼ of the way there, I knew I’d had enough already. It was so boring out there. There was nobody to talk to, there were only the same tasting gels every 30 minutes, and the same SHOCKING tasting electrolyte after my own water bottles were depleted. I missed my staminades so much after hours on end drinking that sour, salty, and over-strong isowhey stuff.

At 2 hours my lower back started to ache. It had been a bit iffy in the week leading up to busso, and I don’t know why. In all the training rides I did, even my 250km ride, my back never played up. But I guess that’s what ironman is all about – dealing with things as best you can when they go wrong, because something always will. Half the training is just learning to problem solve on the fly. So, I tried to just change position every now and then, ride out of the saddle after corners and stuff to let it lengthen, and overall just try to zone it out. This worked for a while, before the back end of the race just became more of a battle.

Coming into the turn-around at just on 2 hours 30 was massive for me. Everyone was out cheering, and I felt in great form out of the saddle and taking corners fast like a champ. I think I was grinning ear to ear at the time too. But damn, it fucking sucked having to go out for another lap. I was already so sick and tired of riding. Next time I do one of these I want to ride faster just so it’s over quicker.

At 3 hours in I had a big caffeine nutrition hit. Up until this point, besides the clif bar, it was a gel every 30 minutes. Two of the gels were endura (because they were smaller and enabled me to fit them in my bike pocket), the rest were sis. At 3 hours, I had three Gu endurance gels with amino acids and caffeine. Boy did it help bring me back up. I tried to give myself a nutrition hit that would mimic a double shot iced coffee (which gave me a big freeway effort boost back in training) as much as possible, and this was it. It didn’t have quite as much sugar, but it matched up in caffeine and sodium content. Towards the back end of the ride, I really felt it hit in force to get me to that 180th kilometre. I think it really carried me through a lot of the run too, before the (spoiler) stitches really started to kill me.

I feel now’s a good time to mention another one of my fellow age groupers out there on the course. I’m not sure when I saw him, or when I dropped him, but I saw the C on his calf (our category tattoo) and had to develop a bit of silent affinity for the bloke on the course, given how lonely and boring it was. He was a Japanese guy, on a road bike with clip on aero bars. I had to have some respect for the fella. He was smoking it, with a high cadence, and was chasing a group of 4 in front of him that had just overtaken me. As they all moved past, I had this thought: “you go, Mr. Japan”. And then for the rest of the race, he was known as Mr. Japan.

I decided not to chase Mr. Japan and resolved in my mind to round him up on the run. I gave the same thought to Goshy and any other age groupers from my category. I wanted to stay as comfortable as I had been, around 35-36 km/h, and enter the run not overly blown to pieces. So, I mostly kept Mr. Japan in my sights, and maintained my distance from his group (that really looked like they were drafting but who am I to know?!).

At every aid station I grabbed a new bottle of electrolyte. I was trying to force down as much of it as was necessary, but the stuff was really starting to taste foul by the fourth hour. I drank a few gulps with every gel I had, and a few more in between. I had another caffeinated gel somewhere along the line too, just to keep the stores up, and to provide a bit extra in me for when I knew the caffeine would wear off.

Then I think I made my big race day mistake. I started to grab water instead of electrolyte. It tasted a lot better and let me wash some of the gel sediment off my face, and at the time seemed like a great choice. We’ll see why it wasn’t down the line. At that aid station where I grabbed my first water bottle, I dropped one I was about to throw into the discard area because it was slippery. I felt guilty about it for the rest of the ride, and afraid an official was going to pull up alongside me and give me a penalty for it!

Into that last hour or so I could really feel the anxiety about the run. I started to have all these thoughts about having gone too hard on the ride, and the run screwing up because of that. I worried if I had hydrated enough, how my ear was doing (caked in blood by this point after the swim. I had a cut on the bridge of it that keeps getting re-opened when I swim with a wettie on. The helmet pressed against it for a while but seemed to have stopped it bleeding), and if my legs were going to cramp (they didn’t). I tried to just stick my head down as much as I could and just forge on through to the end of that bastard of a ride.

I should mention as well, on that last lap, it really started to get bloody hot. Looking back on the photos, at the beginning of the ride it was quite overcast, but towards the second lap it was just clear skies and hot sun. I could feel all my sweat on my chest, and occasionally it would drip on my bike’s top tube. It was only motivation to keep hydrating, but it was disconcerting to say the least. I could feel the back of my neck burning in the sun too.

It was a hell of a relief to get down to 160km and finally be on the way back to town. For at least the last 40km, I was really counting the K’s and looking forward to getting off my bike. Honestly, I think it was just the solitary aspect of it that did this to me. It was a mental game for sure, and one I’m familiar with. But just because I prepared for it, and have experienced it before in things like Rotto, doesn’t mean I had to enjoy it though.

I passed Mr. Japan in the last 30km. He looked a little worse for wear, and I thought to myself, “Ganbatte (Good luck), Mr. Japan”. The things you do to get through the ironman, I swear.

In the last 5km I did the old secret technique that Phil told me about – put your bike into progressively higher gears and spin your legs out at a fast cadence to get rid of all the lactate. It felt like I slowed to a snail’s pace, but it was so worth it in the long run (literally, the LONG. RUN). Some guys overtook me while I did this, but I wasn’t really in the mood to care. I was in the mood to RUN.

T2: 03:34

Dismounting the bike was easy, despite my lack of practice doing race dismounts. I ran my bike in faster than those guys who overtook me (figures), and a volunteer took my bike for me! How great is that service in ironman. I didn’t even look back at my trusty steed being wheeled off to her spot. I ran to the end of transition to get my gear bag. My legs were like jelly as I did so, and I got really concerned about the run. I tried not to give it to much heed and just focused on getting through transition smoothly.

Inside, I upended the gear bag, in which I had packed: shoes, a new pair of socks, 7 gels, and a hat. I tipped it all out on the floor as I ate one of the gels straight away. I ripped off my socks, chucked them in my bike helmet, and chucked the new socks on. As I slipped my feet in my shoes, I shoved two gels in each of my pockets. I was surprised to find a spare gel in my middle pocket, obviously one I didn’t need given my faster time on the bike (I had packed an extra depending on the time that I ended up doing the bike in). I completely forgot about it.

I opted for proper shoe laces on my shoes for this race, given the huge distance and the lack of general practice with elastic laces. I think the time deficit of about 10 seconds was well worth it. When I stood up, my legs felt fine. I left a volunteer to clear up my helmet and socks. Again, how cool is that with the volunteers taking care of you in ironman! I loved that aspect of the race. It really left you feeling taken care of, like everyone was vested in you and your performance.

I ran out of the tent actually feeling - despite everything - fresh! Phil was right there in front of me as I ran out, and I was beaming. I was enjoying this. I half don’t believe it now but do. It hit me then, that this was the ironman, and I was doing it, and now there was only a long run to do. And then it would be over. I said to Phil “still smiling!” as I ran out of the chute, staring down a 42.2km run right in the eyes, and saying “let’s do this”. 

The Run: 3:36:17, Pace: 5:06/km

From the beginning, I knew this was going to be a huge haul. I remember looking at my watch and just contemplating how hard it would be to cover the whole distance, let alone to do it at a good pace. I tried my best not to overthink that and just focus on the process. That was real common thought throughout the whole race: ‘just focus on the process, and the outcome will be inevitable’. It was a good little ideal to get me through the tougher kilometres.

Running past the club right at the start really humbled me. There were so many people there, cheering so loudly for me, that it made me feel a bit emotional. I translated that into a boost, for sure, but I really spent the rest of the race looking forward to seeing everyone again on the way through.

I stayed as relaxed and as comfortable as I could. As it turned out, this yielded splits of between 4:10 and 4:30 for the first quarter or so of the race. I wouldn’t say I was stoked with that. Rather, it scared me a bit. I think my body was being overconfident and still running on some residual caffeine from the ride. Either way, all I could do was try and stay as comfortable and relaxed as possible.

The first lap therefore went by quickly. I found Goshy at 6km stop-starting and rubbing his calf. As I went past, I said ‘c’mon Goshy, you’ve got this’. Never saw him again. I got a splash from one of the volunteers in the splash zones on my way back south in the first lap, and it felt amazing. Only problem was a fair bit of it got in my left shoe. That brought on the lingering sensation of a blister to come, but that pain was nothing compared to what was on its way. James Anderson came past at the end of the first lap and told me I was running 3:10 marathon pace, and told me that if that wasn’t the goal, I should slow down. I mean, it was the goal, but I feared what might happen in reaching it. The subsequent slow down definitely wasn’t a choice. It was more inevitable.

Then the big mistake really came into picture. From the start until this point, I had been stopping to walk each station that I needed to take fluids at. Each time, that was electrolyte. But this time, I chose water. I really wish I hadn’t.

The cup was fuller than the typical electrolyte cups, so instead of one gulp, it took me three. As soon as I ditched the cup and moved to take off, everything went to shit. My stomach felt like it bloated out to the size of 3 beers. I nearly yacked on the spot after feeling the sudden increase in liquid occupying my stomach. I stopped again and took a big gulp of air in as the thought settled in my brain that the rest of this was now going to be way harder than it already was. I think the combination of drinking water for the last hour of the ride, and that big, oversized gulp of water, diluted my electrolyte supplies enough that I really started to approach the wall. I had yet to hit it, but this was its younger, annoying brother.

I kept trying to run. This was around 12km in, still facing down 30km more. I had one wrist band, marking one lap of the course. It was all mental from this point on.

At 13km an old bloke riding alongside the run course pulled up and asked how I was going. He told me I looked strong and said: ‘anything wrong though?’. I told him about my massive stitch, and he said something that stuck with me for the rest of the race: ‘You can always stop and walk for a bit. Ten more minutes won’t hurt you, it’s a long day’. He made me feel a bit better about my condition. He then went on to fall off his bike in a tremendous stack onto some grass on the side of the road! Writing this, I really contemplate whether this wise old man ever existed. I was a bit delirious. He wasn’t there again when I came back to that end of the course 50 or so minutes later. But I took his words to heart, though I wasn’t going to need ten whole minutes. Just a bit less self-criticism for taking the rest that I needed.

I never took water again after that. I did take ice twice, just to put some in my suit and chew on one bit. The plan was electrolyte only after that.

I really started to struggle from that point onward. The second lap is a bit of a blur. It was mostly just feeling bloated and that was it. My legs still felt okay, and the support from the tri club, Mutz, Riley, Bec and her Dad, and everyone else out there, kept me pushing hard. I wasn’t going to let myself slip, and I always knew I was going to finish. Just how long that would take was in question. The main driving force was to get under 10-hours, and in my mind, there was no way I was not going to let that happen. I wasn’t going to let it go above, and I was going to give everything I had right to the line.

Getting the second wristband was a relief. I was half-way there. I had this weird fixation on the wrist bands the whole race. I was just focusing on getting the next one each time. I guess that was focusing on the process, a bit subconsciously. As I got more and more into the race, the fixations of things got weirder and more diverse. That’s just what happens when you go for that long I suppose.

The third lap was probably the worst, I think. Part way through, I felt like a hot needle had jabbed through my right side and I literally doubled over in pain. I think that was the one 6-minute kilometre that I did in the race. I took about 20 seconds to just breathe it out and not turn it into some race-ending ideal. Thoughts of my a