Like many other kids in the 80’s I grew up watching the Hawaiian Ironman on television. The broadcast went for several hours and I struggled to stay awake to watch it. Coming from a swimming background I thought to myself I could do triathlons and I started training around our neighbourhood. It started with multiple laps of the pool, followed by laps of the suburb on the bike and running laps of the block.
Every year I would record the Hawaiian Ironman and watch it multiple times, gaining motivation from the likes of Greg Welsh, Dave Scott and Mark Allen.
In 1999 I promised my dad that I would compete in the Hawaiian Ironman.
In 2012 after several years of being in and out of the sport and completing a few half Ironman races, I began my journey to complete my first Ironman, the newest Ironman in Australia, Ironman Melbourne. This was advertised as a fast, flat course right in the heart of Melbourne with the finish chute in St Kilda.
I began my training, working out my own program and just going by feel. I trained the majority of it by myself and found it very boring.
I got to the start line and on a very windy day, with a shortened swim, finished in 10hrs 11mins.
From that point on I made the decision that I would do one Ironman a year in my quest to make it to the ‘big dance’ in Kona Hawaii.
Late 2013, I joined the Redcliffe Triathlon Club in the hope of meeting some likeminded people that had a similar goal of Ironman Australia in 2014. At my first club training session at North Lakes Pool I received a warm welcome and was very quick to learn that there was at least 40 people racing Ironman Australia. The first thing I noticed was that these people lived and breathed triathlon. A passion that I was lacking training by myself. And they were fast. I jumped into lane five with the two super fish and after the first kilometre my lungs were burning and my arms dead. I knew this was where I needed to be.
Shortly after, I started riding and running with some similarly paced athletes. On the first ride to Melany with them I was some five minutes behind up the mountain and honestly thought of calling my wife to come and pick me up. But I hung in there and this was the turning point. I continued to train with the guys all the way up to the big race. We all pushed each other to our limits, had good and bad days, plenty of laughs and created a great friendship which would later get us all to the finish line.
A few days out.
On the Thursday prior to the race we flew Brisbane to Port Macquarie, picked up the hire car and headed to our accommodation. Upon arrival my bike was at the apartment waiting for me.
We headed down towards registration and met my training partners, their families and my coach. I wasn’t feeling the best at this time, nor was my son and we later found out he had a throat and ear infection.
With registration complete we headed towards the finish chute to get an idea of the setup. I then headed back to the apartment and continued to swallow vitamin C and Echinacea tablets in a hope to feel better.
Friday morning I headed down to the swim course with the club. On arrival there I thought there was a few other clubs also swimming but I was quick to realise these were the Redcliffe athletes and their families. A quick swim out to the weir to have a look at the scaffolding we would be running over and then back to the shore for an easy five kilometer run with the boys. At this point I was really struggling to get my breath and 5:20 pace felt like 4:20 pace. I was starting to get concerned. I have always been someone that once I get something in my head I struggle to get it out and as it was on this occasion it is my wife that has to give me the ‘chat’ to snap out of it.
I went to the doctors anyway and was told I had a virus and to rest up for the next couple of days. Which I did. I walked with the guys to the welcome party but once there I made the decision to head home and rest up.
Saturday morning I felt like I had a hangover and couldn’t really get motivated, but I got my bike to transition later in the day and started to feel better.
Saturday night I had my usual prerace meal of chicken carbonara with my family and headed to bed early, but I couldn’t sleep. I finally got to sleep late in the night and woke about 3am, just prior to my alarm.
I went through the normal breakfast for the morning and wasn’t feeling the effects of the virus too much, just felt like a head cold.
My wife dropped a couple of us to the transition and I meticulously went through ensuring everything was ready to go. It was cold and windy on race morning so I put my wetsuit on covering my legs and walked to the race start with some other club members.
I wasn’t getting nerves at this stage which I found weird. At the ‘holding pens’ at the start I seeded myself in the sub 60 minute swim category with several of my training mates. I ducked out of the pen for a brief moment to kiss my family and then got focused on the day ahead. It was a good atmosphere at the start line, plenty of handshakes, words of encouragement and laughs.
Soon the pen was opened and we moved to our starting gate. I managed to stay in the same wave as my training mate. We had planned to swim together and work off each other.
And we are off.
We were released in five second waves. I ran down the ramp of casually dove into the water. The coldness of the water stung my face. I started swimming keeping my training partner in view to my immediate left. After about 500 meters my goggles started to fog badly so I lifted my head and flushed some water through which fixed the issue. It was at this time I lost my training mate but I continued to swim towards the weir, reminding myself to relax, it’s a long day. It was a tough swim with plenty of battering from other athletes, at one point I got an elbow in the goggles but fortunately didn’t affect me. Up and over the weir and into the even colder water on the other side. A quick 800 meters then back over the weir heading towards the swim finish.
The last 1000 meters was tough as I got stuck behind a group of about 8 athletes that weren’t swimming at the constant pace. I made the decision to go out wide on a turning buoy to get around them. Once I went wide I found the feet of someone going at the same speed and I soon realised it was my training mate, I had found him again.
I got to the swim finish, pulled my wetsuit down and looked at my watch quickly. I wasn’t sure of the exact time but as I ran into the transition tent I saw 52 minutes. I was stoked with the time.
Things went well in transition, I had two guys who quickly pulled my wetsuit off, put my nutrition in my pockets and sent me on my way. I didn’t put my arm warmers on as I thought I would be fine without them.
The bike, the long bike.
As I started out on the bike I quickly noticed a bit of a tailwind and I also noticed the lack of other athletes on the course which was a new situation for me. The training had paid off. I plugged through town and saw my family and the club supporters at the top of the hill which gave me a push out of town. Onto the rolling hills I was holding good pace and I concentrated on getting nutrition in and my heart rate down.
Along the highway I was passed by a few athletes but nothing like I have experienced in the past. Towards the turnaround point I was passed by a pack of three ‘PIS’ athletes who were working together on the bike. I passed them back and forth a few times but after 10 minutes I decided to wind it back a bit and let them go. At the turnaround I saw my training mate who had swum sub 50 minutes and I was surprised to catch him so quickly. It was then I realsied I may have used too much energy too early, he is an excellent cyclist and I shouldn’t have caught up so quickly if I was riding within myself. Back into Port Macquarie was good with me passing a lot of athletes on the hills, including a few of the professional females.
The second lap was nowhere near as fun. I made the conscious decision to dial my pace back a bit as I could feel too much burn in my legs. The winds heading out of town were brutal. I watched as my average dropped from 34.5km/h to 34km/h. At the 120km mark my throat was really beginning to hurt and I could feel it closing up. I started to feel very tired. I remembered back to story in Chris McCormack’s book where he was tired early in the bike stage in Hawaii and was told by another athlete to start on the cola. So this is just what I did. I got some cola at the next aid station and started to chip away at my nutrition.
The winds at the turnaround were dangerous, and at times making me swerve over the road as the gusts hit me.
The hills back into town hurt a lot, especially Matthew Flinders hill. I took it easy on the descents as the wind gusts were extreme in town. I was very happy to get off the bike. I finished the bike in 5hrs 25mins 44secs with an average of 33.1km/h. My goal time was 5hrs 17mins, so I knew I was about 6mins down as I had banked a couple of minutes with a good swim and transition.
Transition went smoothly again, two volunteers helped me get my socks on, put my nutrition in my rear pockets, slipped my race belt over my head and I was off. I also noticed how numb my feet were.
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
I headed out of transition and quickly observed my training partner in front of me. As I ran up behind him a Redcliffe supporter yelled, ‘Go Dan, Go Nathan’ to which Dan quickly replied ‘I didn’t want to hear that name yet.’ I slapped him on the backside, he returned the gesture and gave me some encouragement that I could go sub 10hrs.
My legs were heavy at this stage and I knew I needed to focus. As I ran into town the encouragement started. At the top of the hill the Redcliffe supporters spotted me early and started going wild. This gave me a huge pep up and sent me on my way to the break wall and straight into the headwind, it was brutal and my pace quickly dropped to 5:10 per km. As I headed back towards transition I ran into another one of my training partners and said to him ‘I am buggered’ at which point a spectator said ‘No you’re not, focus, you are running well.’ I thought about that for a second and then started to run comfortably.
At about the 7km mark I saw my father and his partner and that gave me another kick along. Dad reminded me to run relaxed. I liked the back end of the course where there was no spectators. I think this comes back to my long run training where I run on a long bicycle path where you are lucky to see two people. It allows me to focus more rather than getting caught up in the hype.
The tail wind back into town was great. First lap band gathered and onto the second lap.
The second lap was the toughest mentally and physically. Towards the end of the second lap I tried some Jelly Beans. I started to walk through the aid stations and got plenty of nutrition in. I continued to pass my family near the finish line and got the shivers each time.
About the midpoint of the third lap I started to feel good again and coming back into town the pace was back down to 5:10 per km. It was at this point I realised that if I kept this pace up I wouldn’t be caught by the other Redcliffe members who were steaming home and quickly eating away my lead.
In the last lap of the run I was happy to pick up a few athletes that had flown past me on the first lap. As I got to the top of the hill on the last lap I gave my coach a huge high five as I knew I could hang on for the final 10kms.
It was certainly a long 10kms, especially into the headwinds. At the far turn around, with 5 kms to go, I walked the aid station to get some cola, water and Jelly Beans on board in preparation for the final push for the line.
As I ran with the wind on my back the blood was starting to pool in my feet and they were burning with each step, my hands were numb but I focused on the hard training days and how much fun the finish chute would be.
The distance markers were out along the run course and despite the signs saying there was 2km left to go it certainly felt less. I passed through the gate to collect the last white wrist band, kissed it and really upped the pace. It was great to run through the last aid station and not have to slow for anything.
As I entered the finish chute I saw my family. I knew I was over the 10hrs so I decided to enjoy the finish line. I stopped and gave my family a hug and kiss, then gave high fives to people down the chute, running from side to side. I then stopped and high fived the Redcliffe supporters, gave my coach a hug and looked behind me to notice there was no one else in the chute. I then walked the final 5 meters up the ramp to hear those magic words, ‘Nathan Wilson, you are an Ironman.’
With a finish time of 10hrs 8mins 45secs I was spent.
I went into the recovery tent and waited for the second Redcliffe member to come in, I knew he wouldn’t be long. While I was waiting I started to shiver. This happened to me after Ironman Melbourne last year so I knew I needed to get warm quickly. Shortly after the next Redcliffe athlete arrived in the tent I had to excuse myself to head to the medical tent to get a space blanket. I was quickly attended to and put on a bed, wrapped in blankets and had my obs’ checked. After about 30 minutes I left the tent and ran into my training mates.
We had a quick photo, congratulated each other with a hug and walked out to our awaiting families. I found my family, got a bit emotional and then headed back to the apartment to warm up and have some dinner.
Shortly after dinner I headed back down to the finish line to welcome some of the other club members across the line. It was a great hour or so. The atmosphere was electric and I had tears in my eyes watching the other athletes reach their goal.
My coach suggested I head home and get some rest, so I waited for one of the club members to come through for his last lap and walked the hill with him. On the way up the hill I reminded him that within the hour he would be an Ironman. He thanked me and I left him to walk off into the darkness that was his final 10kms.
The long weekends training certainly put me in good form for this race. I think I may have spent too much on the bike leg which affected my run but unless you push to your limit you will never know what it is. I will continue to work on some run pace and endurance off the bike.
I should have taken my arm warmers on the bike and toe warmers would have helped also. I think the cold affected me in a negative way.
Being part of the Redcliffe Triathlon Club is such a privilege and it made the day so much more enjoyable. Thanks to all the supporters who gave up their time and money to make their way down there to support us.
To all of the Redcliffe athletes it was great to be out there with you. Thanks for the encouragement and I am glad we all reached our goal of the finish line and the title of Ironman. Each one of you overcame some type of setback or difficulty during or before the race to make it to the line. No matter what our time, we all got the same medal and have the same bragging rights.
Thanks to my family, friends, coach and club mates who all played a part in getting me to the finish line. Your sacrifices, tips, knowledge and friendships have made this possible and I appreciate it immensely.
As for me I was stoked to be the first club member across the line with the caliber of athletes in the club. I am not sure if the flu affected me on the day or not. I will never know the answer to that but it just means that I will be lining up for another Ironman in 2015 to see if I can better my overall time and get myself the ticket to Kona.
Thanks for reading.