Ironman is not just about race day, Ironman is about everything it takes to get to race day. That is why I have written about the challenges I faced to becoming an Ironman. This is my story and I hope it inspires just one person in their life to achieve a goal of their own
Growing up I never wanted to do Triathlons. I watched Hawaii Ironman on Wide World of Sports and thought they were crazy, me I wanted to play Rugby League – it was my life. After a few too many injuries I retired at the grand old age of 22 and 8 years ago I did my first team race at Noosa after my brother signed me up while I was living overseas. My first training sessions were in a 30m pool in London whilst dodging band aids and hair. I eventually moved on to short course and Olympic distance races for a few years and really enjoyed it. I never really enjoyed the run leg but managed to get my battered knees through it.
That was until I had another injury 4 years ago. This changed my life forever and was the toughest year of my life. This latest injury required 3 operations, 1 to re-attach the muscles and tendons to my knee, 1 to break all the scar tissue to help it bend again and a ACL knee reconstruction. Add this onto a previous right ACL reconstruction and a previous left ACL reconstruction and a arthroscopy to remove loose cartilage. After all this I can not squat or kneel , and I was told I could never play any sport with side way movement. So it’s a struggle just to play with my son in the backyard without worrying about hurting my knee again. This time also bought back another part of my life I have struggled with, depression. Being stuck in a bed for weeks living off drugs does crazy stuff to your head. I still struggle with it today. It comes when I am stressed and exhausted and zaps your will to keep moving forward (pretty hard to avoid when your training for an Ironman). Remember that ‘Are you okay day’ should be everyday. It really does help.
It took me a year to learn to run again and another 6 months to do a Bribie short course race, with a shuffle for a run but I was happy to do 3km for a run. If I ever got back to 10km I would be stoked. Eventually I ended up competing in Olympic races again and realised I wasn’t as fast I once was and started thinking about longer races. I remember reading an Ironman race report from Fiona Buckland, my inspiration, about her first Ironman and how she walked the entire Marathon and I thought to myself that maybe I could do that. I entered a Half Ironman, got through it, loved it and was hooked, I wanted the full one. So I went to support 2013 IM Port Mac and was hooked and made my decision, even if I may have been a little drunk.
So I convinced my wife Michelle and signed up in the first minute it was open. My goal was to jungle training, family (with a new baby girl and 3 year son) and run my landscaping business. It was time for me to make sacrifices to achieve my goal. Time away from the family, time away from the business. These are the sacrifices that must be made and it’s hard. I never really manage to get it right.
I worked all my races out for the next year and was training really well with no leg complaints and only the occasional ear infection. I got through another half Ironman and was starting to enjoy training as the weather warmed up. The only problem was this ear infection never went away no matter how many drops or ear plugs doctors gave me with the advice to keep it dry for a while. Yeah right. So eventually I saw a specialist at the end of November and found out I had a Cholesteatoma, or a growth inside my ear which had to be operated on immediately before it started to affect my hearing. I had it removed in mid December and had to keep my ear completely dry for the next 8 weeks which meant no swimming. What I didn’t realise was how much it would affect my balance. I was allowed to get back on the wind trainer within a week and running when I felt like I could run but I knew I was in trouble when I nearly fell off my bike, on my wind trainer. So the first 6 weeks of my training program was very limited and it became a 14 week program for Ironman, not ideal but it would do.
So for the next 14 weeks I struggled with fitting in work, training and family. All 3 never got my full attention and it put a lot of pressure on me and my family and bought me down a lot. I averaged 1-2 swims a week, 2 runs – long and short and 2 rides – road and short wind trainer. A normal day for me would be wake up at 5am, swim at 5:30am-6:30am, go to work somewhere in Brisbane and be home around 4:30pm-5:00pm, spend time with the kids, run 6pm-7pm, come home and kids would be in bed already, have dinner, help out with housework and get food ready for next day, paperwork until about 10pm and hopefully asleep by 10:30pm. If I didn’t swim in the morning I would go to work instead. I continued like this for the next 14 weeks, some days better than others. It was hard, it’s hard when your son is asking you not to train, to stay home and play. They don’t understand why. Why you get angry with them at them for the smallest things because your tired from riding 6 hours that morning.
My body held together until about 3 weeks out when my knee would grind and ache most days. My coach got me to back off my running and told me just get to race day. I had finished my training with 1 ride over 180km and a longest ever run of 22km. So there were a lot of doubts in my head in those weeks but reassurance from my coach kept me focused on the goal
So race week arrived and we travelled down on Thursday with all the fun of travelling with a 4 and 1-year-old. My son started the ‘are we there yet’ before we got to the gateway bridge. So it was a long drive and I was stressed upon arriving and needed a bit of quiet time to get my head sorted for the next few days. We headed down to check – in and get it out of the way, weigh in on the way out, 106kg, I hope those scales are wrong.
We had organised for my Mother-in-Law to come down on Friday and my mother to stay until Tuesday to look after the kids so Michelle could share the next few days with me. She had put up with a lot of shit to get me here and I wanted her to experience the Ironman festivities. I got through the Friday test swim and do a quick ride out to Matthew Flinders and a ride up the 15% hill and think riding back to the hotel, ‘Shit, I haven’t done enough training’. I was so glad I didn’t drive the whole bike course as I think it would have made me doubt myself more. I didn’t do any running down there as my ankles where playing up and I didn’t want to aggravate them more so we drove the run course and it scared me, I didn’t realise 10km was so far.
Saturday I tried to chill out, picked my brother and my mum up from the airport, take my bike down to transition after realising that I can’t fit my shoes and helmet in the race bag so I have to start with my shoes on the bike which I hadn’t trained for. Get back home and rest until bed time and guess what, I can’t sleep until about midnight. The brain won’t stop.
Race day and the alarm goes off at 3:45am. My wife and I head off at 4:30am and get to transition at 5:00am it’s weird feeling that everything is ready and special needs bag are dropped off and it’s 5:10am. We head back to the swim start and meet up with my mate who had come down on the overnight bus to watch me. After what felt like an eternity waiting I got my wetsuit on and headed into the sub 60min holding pen where I met up with other club members. Back slaps and hand shakes done and we are at the start line, about 10 rows back. Anthem done and AC/DC playing and I was ready. We where doing a rolling start so every 5 seconds 6 people are released. It created a fast incident free swim which I really enjoyed. I got into a nice group and we were all on a good steady pace. I didn’t worry about sighting too much just followed the group. Over the weir and I took it easy and dropped off the back of the pack. I looked behind and saw no one so sprinted to get back with the pack. I got on and stayed with them to the end even though I was struggling with muscle spasms in my legs because I’m too lazy to kick my legs. Swim done in 53:30, I shuffled into transition trying to move my legs.
10 minutes later I was out on my bike. I took it easy in transition with a full change into my cycling gear and still manage not to get my arm warmers on which was a mistake for the first 90km. I took it easy for the first 40km and watched everyone fly past me. I wanted to conserve myself. I completed the first lap incident free, just enjoyed the sights, but realised the wind had picked up and was struggling with the wind gusts going down hill and was worried about being blown off my bike. I see my family on the way back out and it gives me a lift and a smile to see their faces. I pick up my special needs, arm warmers on, toilet break and I was away. The wind was strong and for the next 40km in was mostly a head wind so I just tried to stay ‘Aero’ for a long as possible and tough it out and start to count the kms down. At the 140km mark I started to tire, not enough long rides in training, and had to give myself a bit of a talking to, get my head back in the game and remember all the early morning rides and sacrifices I made to be here. Before I knew it I was back on Matthew Flinders and had Ironman legend Leon Colbert ride up beside me and have a little chat. He left me just before the hill with the words ‘can’t do the walk of shame’. So I sat in the saddle and ground it out to the top, got to the top and while my heart rate was doing 190bpm and with my legs burning, realised I had to do a marathon in 10km time. Oh well heading back into town and have a big smile with all support along the way. Just trying to spin my legs and get them ready for running. Time 6:32:00 and enjoyed it all with all the supporters along the entire course. Now for the fun bit the run. It’s all about the run everyone keeps telling me. I now know that I will finish the race. Even if i have to walk the whole way.
I only spend 7 minutes this time but I do have a chat to other club members
I start out walking the first 5 minutes getting my legs going. Plan is to run 4mins/ walk 1min and walk up and down the hill. It goes to plan and I get to see all the club supporters, a kiss and hug for for my wife, high fives with other competitors. I was really enjoying myself. I plan to eat a bar every lap from my special needs so I grab it and try to eat it for the next 5 km but I just don’t feel like it and I start to feel pretty average and start walking between 12km and 16km where a PIS supporter yells out to her club mate about his nutrition which jogs my memory. I hadn’t had anything to eat and had to get a gel straight away. So from there I had a gel every second aid station and cola/Gatorade and water at every aid station. It worked as I got into a good rhythm until 30km when my legs had enough. Coming past the finish Shute for the last time my legs were tired, my knee was starting to hurt. My coach saw me, asked how I was I told her the truth, ‘I was f@#ked’. My family were at the end of the finish area where they had been on every lap. They saw I was hurting and I teared up trying to tell them I was struggling. I came to the conclusion that I could walk the last 12km and finish, I just had to get my head around it. Finishing was what I wanted, not finish time. I got to my special needs bag and had asked my wife to put something in there for me when I need a lift. It was a letter with some quotes, a bracelet that said “you can do it, love you and proud of you”, a photo of the family, and some fruit tingle lollies. It motivated me and I tried to run again but my legs cramped running down the hill so I went back to walking. I held onto that letter until I got to the finish shute.I came past the breakwall for the last time and my family and mate were waiting there pushing me along. I told them I was right and I would see them in an 1 hour. Heading out of town for the last time I just tried to keep a good pace. It is dark, cold and lonely out there at night. Your head can play tricks on you. I was worried about falling in a hole or tripping and hurting my knee. I just wanted to see that aid station at the end of the road. It meant that I was homeward bound once I got there. They were offering tomato soup at this stage so I tried it, it was something different after all that sweet stuff and I liked it. Heading home I had the blind competitor and his handler pass me, what a champion, it gave me a smile and I chatted to a few other athletes which helped pass the time. I came up to get my last arm band and Dan Vass was coming the other way. He gave me a hug and it meant a lot to me. He knows what I have been through, a fellow tradie, small business owner and how tough it can be. He told me to enjoy it and soak up the finish shute. Coming back into town it was great to still have supporters out there cheering you home. I got to the end of the shute, stopped looked at the finish and soaked it up. I slowly walked down looking at everyone cheering me, hi 5′s until I got to the Redcliffe supporters. Thanks guys. A big hug and kiss for Michelle. Hug for my mum and brother and mate. More hugs and hi 5′s to supporters. Pete Murray was telling me to run it out. No way, I’m enjoying all of this. Then finally get to the line and hear those words – “Scotty, Scotty Dowling YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. And I let out a big scream of relief. I had done it.
The catcher was great. Got me around the back to my bag and into the tent where other club members were sitting and I had a quick chat. I didn’t feel like eating anything. I just wanted to get outside to my wife and go have a shower and change and come back down. An hour later I got back to the supporters and other athletes. I got to chat to a few people and thanked everyone. I felt sick and had to sit down. I was convinced to have some hot chips and it did the trick. Back to the finish shute to cheer all the club members home. I love that place.
Get back home and into bed just in time to hear the last finisher cross the line – then silence. I get a good 6 hours sleep and wake up feeling surprisingly good. I was a little bit sore but I can’t believe how good I felt. I have felt worst after training sessions. I said when I finished that I wouldn’t do another one but as each day goes on I am getting the urge to do it all again. But first I get to be a husband and a dad again which is the greatest gift of all.
So why did I do an Ironman…. I needed to fulfil a goal that I had set myself. I have always had high expectations and big goals that never got met because of injury. That is what drove me to that finish line.
Looking back now I still don’t think it has happened. The day went so fast and I didn’t get that big buzz that I thought would happen but more of a sense of relief. Maybe over time it will sink in and I will remember more.
Thanks to my wonderful wife Michelle. With out you none as this would of been possible. you are a truly amazing person for putting up with me. Enjoy the thermomix, you deserve it………Thank you to Harrison and Georgia too, the smiles and high fives keep me going…