A friend once told me that we should all think of our life as a book. At the end of it all, we need to know that if we saw the book on a shelf we would want to read it, cover to cover. A good book should be hard to put down. I’m not convinced my life to this point would be much fun to read, but I would at least be keen to read the latest chapter. The one about the failed attempt at Ironman Canada, and the ensuing last minute decision to travel to Sweden to race Ironman Kalmar.
I had never been to Europe before this month and I had not planned or expected to go anytime soon either. The DNF in Canada hurt me deeply and I probably wasn’t thinking straight when the decision was made (the very next day) to head to Sweden. I spoke only to my coach, my wife and my two friends (who had travelled from the east of the USA to Whistler to watch me race) and all of them supported the notion of travelling across the world with Amy and Flynn to race again. I didn’t have much to lose. Tickets were booked 24hrs later.
Kalmar is a beautiful city of roughly 35-40,000 residents on the south eastern part of Sweden. We arrived almost two weeks before race day so I could see the course and get ready to rock. Every local we met was friendly and wanted to help. The local Trek bike shop (Cykel Ogen) were amazing and so was the local triathlon shop Peak Performance. We settled in quickly and between the staff of both shops we had every question answered.
My brother Cameron came across from London for a 24hr visit. We checked out a castle and acted like tourists for the day. Flynn was loving hanging with his uncle and we were grateful for the chance to see him. Other than during Cam’s visit, I was spending most days doing course recces and preparing for race day.
The race course itself was fairly flat, but deceptively tough. Race day was windy which made for a rough swim. The roughest I have done yet. I really enjoyed it though and felt excited to be out there. I swam with a group of pro men and women and could see and hear the crowd close by at times as we swam under bridges and along waterfront areas. There were thousands of spectators. The race is known for the crowd support and it was already very evident. I swam 1.02 which had me 10min behind the front guns who had swum 52min (a slow day due to the white capping waves, apparently 60 people would finish early and be pulled from the water while others would miss the swim cut-off). I was very pleased with my swim.
I had drawn some local media attention before the race as the “super biker from NZ”. The bike stage record was 4.24 and I knew I could break it. However on race day I rode 4.27, perhaps slowed a bit by the winds. I had underestimated my competition on the bike too. Four of us rode within 2 minutes of each other and for the first time in six years I was beaten on a TT bike stage. Eventual winner and 3rd placer getter Patrik Nilsson and Johan-Karl Danielsson were working well at the front of the race and held their 10 minute gap at the start of the run. I had ridden a consistent 180km, nailed my targets and exited the bike stage in 4th place behind former pro cyclist Andreas Linden from Sweden.
The marathon was 3x laps of 14km. Each lap started with 3.5km of city streets in the heart of Kalmar, along cobble stoned paths and past buildings constructed in the 1600’s. The crowds were rows deep. I hadn’t experienced this before. It was quite surreal. I was feeling good on the run too. I had moved into 3rd place by the 4-5km mark and was hitting my 4min/km target, things were going to plan. The only thing that wasn’t was nutrition. The race website clearly states the run course will offer hydro gels with 50mg caffeine. These gels were nowhere to be seen. In hindsight this really frustrates me. I always put a lot of planning into my race day nutrition. It cannot be too much to ask that when races officially state they will offer a food product on course they follow through. On race day though I simply had to get on with the job and go old school with a few extra bananas and coke.
At 24km I passed Danielsson for 2nd place. Ahead Nilsson was having a great day, eventually breaking the tape in a new Swedish record of 8.08 off the back of a 2.45 marathon. The 42km was something I would encourage anyone out there to experience if they can. During the run you are rarely without applause and the support on course ranges from live bands to BBQ’s, to homemade grandstands, to full-on parties.
I hit the final kilometres and lapped up a bit of the crowd. Until now I had focused on my Polar V800 feeding me heart rate and pace data and I had block much of the crowd support out. Knowing the gap ahead to 1st and back to 3rd were big, I wanted to savour a bit of the race experience in the closing stages. I crossed the line in a personal best time of 8.25, finishing with a 2.52 marathon. I had wanted nothing more than to trust in my race plan and stick to it all day. I had done this and it had given me a runner-up placing. I was stoked. The race announcer called me back out into the finish line to acknowledge a crowd that had apparently taken a liking to the kiwi. This moment I won’t forget. When I raised my arms to acknowledge the spectators, the noise was so loud that my body seemed to vibrate. It was absolutely crazy. What a feeling.
It seems crazy to think back to IM Canada. At the time it was hard to look past the disappointment. It was one of my lowest moments as an athlete. I travelled to Sweden and had a performance I am very proud of and a performance that rates as one of my best. It just shows – by not giving up, you guarantee yourself of success. You either succeed, or you learn. In Canada I learnt, in Sweden I succeeded. Like I say, this would be a chapter in my book I would like to think that I would be keen to read.
A huge amount was sacrificed to get to Sweden and I really feel more grateful than ever to some key people and brands. My friends Mike and Rhoda gave me this second chance to compete. They believed in me even when I was devastated in Canada and quickly picked my bottom lip off the ground. Back home Will and Joy Harvey were making sure things would run smoothly in our extended absence. My coach Val was quick to help set systems in place for my Sweden attempt, her belief never wavering. While in Kalmar a new friend Jonas was helping us organise ourselves in a foreign land.
My sponsors deserve mention too. I hope that anyone who is faced with choices between brands in the future can factor in the support these brands give me and how much I appreciate you supporting them in return. After all, I have always approached my sponsors initially because I believe they offer the very best products. If you ever have questions about products these guys offer, please get in touch as I would love to help (and you never know, I might be able to get you looked after!):
Riverside Park – our home in Wanaka which is simply an affordable paradise (www.riversidepark.co.nz)
Torpedo 7 – who stock my key brands: Trek Bikes, Polar heart rate computers, Enve wheelsets, Osprey Packs, Blueseventy wetsuits, Clif Bar nutrition, SmartWool socks and clothing, Smith Optics and Nuun hydration (www.torpedo7.co.nz)
Next up is a couple of team adventure races in China in September. I have some thoughts on where the coming months might take me with racing, but I need to catch up with Val and talk to my family a bit before I make these plans concrete. A bit of sponsorship support would also help a lot and I will be continuing the search for this. Thank you for all the encouragement and especially your words of support between Canada and Sweden. It has been quite the ride and I feel very fortunate. We cannot wait to get back to beautiful Wanaka now and be home. There really is no place quite like it.
See you out there.