We are Iron(wo)mans!
There is a very long (and potentially not very interesting) story around how I came to start running and training for triathlons. In a nutshell, I essentially struggled for years with infertility, finally had our beautiful (now 6 years old) son on our 8th cycle of particularly invasive IVF, had a further 3 cycles, of which 1 was successful and ended in early miscarriage. Add to this a move from our home of Darwin to Alice Springs for my husbands work (NT Police), and me deciding I needed a hobby due to (a) not having a community/support network in my new home, and (b) deciding to stop IVF, and therefore essentially crushing a dream, meant I needed a distraction. As a long time sufferer of depression and anxiety, being idle is never a good idea. So having been previously allergic to all exercise (seriously – High School PE was like my worst nightmare – I avoided it as much as possible), I decided to try a local Nano Triathlon; a 100m swim in the pool, 5km ride, and 1km run. I really didn’t know how to swim, so pretty much breast stoked the 2 laps. I borrowed a very short (I’m 172cm) friends mountain bike, and I walk/ran the run. I was one of the last finishers, but it felt so good to do it! To finish something I wasn’t sure I could, and to feel that really good kind of hurt! So I embarked on a self-led training program so I could complete the next distance – the enticer.
Randomly, I made a snap decision one day in December 2015 to sign up for a half Ironman in Cairns in June 2016. This was to be a 1.9km ocean swim, 90km bike (very hilly terrain) and 21km run. And so began intensive swim squad training, group rides, and as many running events as possible. Through this process, I learned so much. I built a great base fitness – but more than that…. I met my tribe! What a fabulous group of Alice Springs people! Both men and women through the Alice Springs Triathlon Club, Running Club, Swimming Club, Cycling Club and Running Mums helped me every step of the way. I went to Cairns for the 70.3 Ironman with my 4 new girlfriends (for 3 of us, it was our first big race), leaving my then 4 year old son for the first time, with my husband. I wasn’t fast (6hrs 52mins), and it wasn’t easy (particularly the fear and the terribly rough conditions of the ocean swim) I did it!
The Cairns race put a fire in my belly. My family were super proud of me, but also a little upset to have not been able to share the day with me. So we planned a family camping trip to the Riverland in SA in November 2016, where I was registered to do my next 70.3 distance in a regional Triathlon called the Murrayman. My dad from Adelaide joined us, and we had a fabulous trip and I had a great race, with an improvement of 30 minutes on my Cairns time! As I crossed the finish line, the MC announced that my finish was sure to gain my World Championship qualifications points. Say what now!?! Yep. So it transpires, I finished well enough in my age group (in a very narrow field might I clarify) to qualify for the Australian Team heading to Canada for the long course (3km swim, 120km ride and 30km run) in August 2017.
As we had just bought our own home to settle long term in Alice Springs, a trip overseas seemed out of the question. However, my town and community rallied around me and helped me to fundraise enough money to get there. Training for this race was tough going, because it was a solo venture. No one else had this goal, and so no one was building to the distances I was. My best friend and training buddy Helen joined me for as much as she could fit in around running her own business, and caring for her 5 children, but she was struggling with ankle pain from a running fall earlier in the year. She tried so hard to support me as much as she could, and I was so, so grateful. Even company for 5km of a 30km run is better than nothing!
She ended up having to go for surgery on it in August, before I left for Canada. This trip was big. I was not well travelled previously (pretty much Bali and Singapore only) and so what an adventure it was to travel solo, with my bike to join 160 other Aussies over in Penticton, British Columbia for the World Championships (and a sneaky week in Vancouver afterwards!). It was quite the experience taking part in a parade of nations, and racing for your country and community! Such an emotional race! It was the first time I had done such a distance, and the Canadian conditions were tough, but I finished well in 9hrs 32mins, a lot faster than I had expected. Not near the front, but not near the back. And who cared, I was at World Champs!
After Canada, I needed a new goal. Could I possibly do a full Ironman? My best friend Helen had signed up for Cairns Ironman in June 2018. Should I join her? Could I manage a 3.8km swim in the ocean? That was so difficult last time. Could I bike 180km on those hills? Could I actually run my first marathon after all of the other bits???? I pondered, and procrastinated, and pondered and procrastinated. I think Helen sent me the registration link, and tagged me in Ironman facebook posts on a weekly basis for months! Eventually I thought – why not? Let’s give it a try. Just one – to know I can do it! However…. Maybe I would just start the training first and see how I go. Register later, when I could be a little more comfortable in my progress. So based on how I had prepared for Canada, I wrote us a training plan. It had to be flexible. It had to be biggest bang for our buck time wise – we both have so much outside of training to manage, and knew from experience that we needed to keep things together at home and work. And so we committed, but in a “balanced as much as possible” way.
Helen was still recovering from her ankle surgery, so our training started late, and slowly. We each have our “training achillies heel” – and we each knew it! I avoid the bike. I have long lean legs that are not strong or muscular, so hills are tough. And riding with traffic scares me (I love big races where the roads are closed!). Helen was scared to run. She hadn’t run for a long time, and it had always been her more “difficult” leg of a triathlon. She wanted to stay on her treadmill, so we had to coax, cajole and encourage one another. Slowly but surely, we started training more and more, sticking to the plan as best we could. We underbaked our swim training a little – time was tight and it seemed to be the less vital (nb. This showed up big time in our race times). We had our ups and our downs. At least this wasn’t our first race. We knew there would be tears. Hissy fits. Wanting to quit. We tried really hard to make sure our meltdowns weren’t aligned so that we were able to support each other through them. And we did. We were 100% a team, 100% of the time. Sometimes it meant helping out with each others kids, feeding each others families etc. But we stood strong, and pushed through. I finally registered with not too many months to spare – luckily, as it sold out the following week!
Four weeks before the race, I fell really ill with the flu. I was in bed for 2 weeks. I had never been so sick. Although we were supposed to be in taper, we weren’t supposed to have completely “stopped”. I questioned my likelihood to race. Helen also got really bogged down in a busy time at work. It wasn’t an ideal scenario just weeks before our biggest race, but we decided we would just see what happened. The financial commitment had already been made – flights for the whole family booked (if you’ve never had to fly Alice to Cairns or the reverse, do not look up flight costs – you will have a heart attack. (Most expensive flight path in Australia) Our accommodation was booked, my parents were flying up from Adelaide to join us, and my husband even registered to do a team event with some of the other travelling husbands. So we packed and we went!
All the busy times leading up to race day – registration, bike readiness, the expo, carb and hydration loading etc went by in a flash! Before we knew it, it was the day before the race and we were up in Palm Cove checking out the swim conditions, and getting to do our one open water swim practice before race day. Now, when you train in a pool, you get used to having a shallow end, ends to rest/push off, a black line on the bottom to follow, and NO WAVES. Palm cove was rough. Our practice swim mostly consisted of trying not to drown (we are yet to prove that it isn’t possible in a wetsuit), practice sighting (learning to raise you head to look for the turn buoys), and negate waves whilst trying to move forwards. Half an hour and we decided that we weren’t going to get too much value out of exhausting ourselves the day before the race and so we called it a day. Not feeling all that confident I might add.
The night before is never a night for much sleep – and so we were up at 4am, feeling jittery and ready to get back out to Palm Cove on the coaches – praying with all our might that we would arrive there to calm waters. When we got there it was still dark, so after checking our bikes were all ready to go (and encountered a few unneeded anxiety inducing dramas there that I won’t go into, but were sorted satisfactorily). We watched the 70.3 racers get into the water and start their race. The water looked…. Okay. Not flat, but not as rough as the previous day (or our previous shorter race in 2016). FINALLY, around 8am, it was our turn to start. It was a staggered start, so you seeded yourself and then they fed through 4 athletes every few seconds. I must have looked petrified, as the MC gave me a hug as it came to my turn. And in we went. I am very much not an experienced open water swimmer – and am actually a weak swimmer full stop, but I have learned a few things from my previous races. My biggest challenge is to keep things calm and slow; not get caught up in the haste to get in the water and start my swim too fast. So I carefully entered the water and started a gentle swim, chanting to myself “nice and steady, nice and slow, swim your own race”.
It is pretty rough for the first 500m or so of this kind of swim race. People swim over you, grab you, kick you. It’s an ocean scrum. But I knew I just needed to find my pace and space. It was wavy, but I was managing to push through them ok, breathing only towards the shore so I didn’t take in mouthfuls of water, and sighting the buoys. I felt like I was doing ok. I was moving forward (though slowly), not panicking like I had the last ocean race in this location, and had hope that all would be ok. By the time I reached the turn buoys that meant I was around halfway there, I started to worry a little. I was pretty tired and still had at least the same distance to go, but I pushed on. By the time I reached around the 3km mark (with 1km to go), the course had us out really quite deep, so the waves that I experienced on the shallower side, were now more of a swell. I started to feel really, really sick. I stopped swimming, treaded water, and vomited. A Support boat came over to me to see if I needed assistance. I told them no. I put my head down and tried again. I got around 100m before I had to stop again to be sick. Again the support boat asked if I wanted to be pulled out of the water. I considered it. I really, really considered it. If I kept being sick, and taking in salt water, I wasn’t going to be able to get through the last kilometre. But instead, I decided to just get myself to the shore and exit as fast as possible – so head down and off I went. I came out of the water super relieved, but positively green.
Normally, you go as fast as you can in transition so as not to waste any time. Me, I was too weak with illness to get my wetsuit off! I sat for a couple of minutes to try to regain some composure, stripped off the wetsuit, went to the toilet, chucked on my helmet and cycling shoes and grabbed my bike. Now generally, all of the desperately consumed carbs in the 24 hours before a race will help provide you with the power and sustenance to get you through the bike – however, mine were all now burley in the ocean. I knew just 5km into the 180km bike ride that I was feeling weak, and my stomach was still quite unsettled. I started slowly trying to consume some of the food I had on my bike. It went down, slowly. The bike course in Cairns winds along the coast up to Pt Douglas. It is stunning, but it is tough. Riding up Rex’s lookout the first time was hard. I was already dreading how I was going to go on the second lap when really fatigued. Because the course has a couple of loops, I got to see some of my training buddies – which really helps out on course. I saw Helen and we shouted encouragement out to each other.
I pushed on, but by the 70km mark I was feeling so disillusioned. I was sore and tired. My neck and shoulders were so tight I had a headache, my feet were sore and I could feel blisters forming on the underside of my big toes, my legs were screaming, And I wasn’t even halfway there. On my second loop out to Pt Douglas, the next time I saw Helen coming by I couldn’t yell out or encourage – all I could manage was a shake of my head. I have since learned that my head shake hit Helen hard – she panicked as she knew that kind of indicator from me – Mrs Positivity – was not good. When I reached Pt Douglas (with around 50km to go) I heard the MC say that we were 30mins ahead of cutoff. OMG. Fatigued and with all those hills ahead – that is not a big enough buffer! This was decision time. Throw in the towel, or put the head down, grit the teeth and get on with it. And so I did.
I can tell you that I ground up a few of the hills at around 5km/hr. I was so tired. But I made it! I handed off my bike in transition, and ran for the run change tent, it was now around 6pm. Finally, the bit I can do! I was tired, but I can run tired! I grabbed my injinji socks with glee (the blisters I’d developed during the ride would’ve been a disaster for my run without them), had a giggle with another girl in the change tent who was, to my surprise, applying LIPSTICK! Then off I went. The run was 3 loops each of around 14km each. Some parts were highly populated with spectators, others were long and quiet. It was starting to get dark by now. My first loop felt good, and I gained quite a lot of places, keeping my pace steady and under 7 minute kilometres. I started to see some of my team mates, with no idea which loop they were on, but shouting out all of the cheers. About halfway into my first loop I finally saw Helen heading in to finish her first loop. We stopped, crossed paths and hugged – so happy to see each other. She looked so relieved – after my headshake on the bike, she wasn’t sure I was going to get there!
Our husbands had positioned themselves down the quiet and boring end to give us a bit of a pick me up when we would otherwise flag – and hoorah! Also my parents and son were there to cheer me on, and my son ran alongside me for a few minutes. It gave me an extra boost for the next 5km or so back to start my second loop. The next time I came to see Helen, I could see that I had closed the gap between us a little – but not too much. She was going to finish some time ahead of me. Now a good 20 or so kilometres in we shouted out all the encouragement to each other, and lots of high 5’s. This lap was a hard one mentally as it was dark, the crowds were dispersing, and there was the knowledge of a whole other lap. The family again cheered me on and I pushed to try to stay at a consistent speed. Starting my third and final lap, my Fenix 5s finally died (so it lasted around 13 hours for anyone wondering) and so I knew I just had to go by feel and by stubbornness.
I started to worry as I hadn’t yet come across Helen for the final time – I felt like she was starting to really hurt on the run and prayed she was still going. When I saw her coming towards me she shouted “I’m going to stop with the boys this loop and wait. We are going to finish this together!” By the time I computed what she was saying, she was gone and I had no chance to respond or argue. We’d kind of touched on this way before the race. We’d agreed that one shouldn’t wait for the other, unless maybe we were close, and that it was fine not to wait. We were – afterall – running our own races. I looped past her again with around 9km to go, and before I could open my mouth she said “Ok? I have arguments ready. I’m waiting with the boys”. All I could do was give her the thumbs up. I was exhausted and I was emotional. And wait she did.
We walk/ran the last 3km together, briefly discussing our race, and giving our husbands (my parents and our kids were well and truly in bed!) time to get to the finishing line. As we rounded the corner onto the red carpet together, we stopped for a very girly little huddle and squeal – this was it! The moment we had been waiting for. We were going to hear that MC proclaim that we were an Ironman. And we were doing it together. You couldn’t wipe the smiles or emotion off our faces! We trotted down the red carpet to all the applause at around 11pm and 15 hours into our race, hearing “Kate McIntyre and Helen Davenport, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” and over the line together for a big hug. We DID IT! What a ride. Being an Ironman and finishing that kind of endurance event is just such a rush. But doing it with your best mate. I am forever grateful and humbled that she waited for me. There are no words xxx