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Race Report - Port Mac IM 2023 - Greg's second

Updated: May 19

By Greg Mc

*** WARNING -- BLOODY LONG POST ***

I turned 50 in February. The number isn’t as important to me as what I thought it would ‘feel’ like. However, I feel fitter and healthier now than I have ever felt. Albeit true as I write this stairs are a challenge and the body is creaking a little more than this time last week, but read on for context as to why the stairs are a challenge and why I’m a little creaky, it’s for good reason.

Leading into this race I’ve been following a ‘plan’ (of sorts) in that I know what needed to be done according to many many books, many google searches, countless inputs and insights from friends, etc. However I have also have come to learn what training my body responds well too. My diet has dramatically changed in the recent years too, with about 70% of my meals completely meat free. And, as an avid reader of all things on mental toughness, I came into this race knowing I’d get the distance done, knowing my body was in good shape, and being mentally stronger than ever before. My last Ironman race was done on a badly sprained ankle and I managed about 12hrs 50mins. Since then I had also completed my first multi-day race, Ultra355, which was the hardest thing physically and mentally I had ever done. In theory, I felt fitter, healthier and mentally stronger, so what was going to be the outcome this time around?

The week leading up to the race I barely did anything at all. One easy bike ride for about 45mins (I think the coffee took longer), I swam as usual but only easy and did not run at all. I wanted to go in fresh, very fresh.

I didn’t tell too many people my plan or goals for the race. Choosing to keep it simple and largely to myself. My plan included� - An easy swim, if I could get 1hr 15min or under for the 3.8km I was going to be happy. � - Take my time in transitions �- Ride at no more than 70% effort (approx avg 27kph) and if my time was 6hrs 30mins I would be happy. �- Run between the aid stations (approx 2km), walk 50m in aid station to get nutrition and repeat. � - Allow one 100m walk for each of the 10km loops, but only if I needed it.�

My race goals included only two things �- PB ironman time �- Beat 4hrs 30min Marathon And that’s it.

SWIM 3.8km Literally walked into the swim with a great mate next to me. Shaun and I hit the water at the same time. He had said earlier he was going to sit on my toes the whole swim, which I was more than ok with. However, pack swimming often leaves best intentions at the shore. Within 100m a group of swimmers come across in between us and that is where I lost site of him.

Otherwise, the swim was fantastic. Clear water, fast current. I quickly got into a rhythm, swam slight to the left of the chaos, consistently overtook other swimmers and largely stayed out of issues. When anyone swam past me, I got on their feet and got dragged along. First 500m flew by thanks to the current (6mins45secs), next 500m was 8mins19secs, I continued largely at that pace for the first 2km. Stopped and waved at Daniela and the kids at the bridge. Saw them again at the weir - folks, never underestimate how good it is to see faces of loved one’s on course. Even if an athlete’s response isn’t always outwardly positive, on the inside it makes a world of difference. Next 2km had me navigating various swimming packs, but other than an occasional elbow and zig-zagging swimmers, I kept calm and navigated as clean a swim as possible.

I love ocean swimming and all that comes with it. Whether it’s pack swimming in a race, getting thrown around in rough water, murky water or strong currents. There was a time where the thought of swimming in the ocean scared the crap out of me. In fact, ocean swimming is where I have learnt the most about my anxiety. A number of years ago someone said to me before a race “Oh, I just swim to my bike” and it was a mental game changer. Since then I no longer ‘race the swim’, but swim to enjoy it. The other thing I do is compare swim distances to familiar swims I do at Suttons beach with my tri club. The Ironman swim is similar distance to (what we call) the Scotts point swim. I said this to Shaun as we entered the water “It’s just a swim to Scott’s point”

At 3km mark my left calf cramped badly so I stopped briefly and dealt with that. Got back into a rhythm and finished. Saw D and the kids on exit said “Hi”, gave D a kiss and headed off to Transition 1. SWIM TIME 1hr 8mins 56sec (4min PB) Very happy with that.

T1 Grabbed my gear bag, went into the change tent and there was chaos. I found myself a quiet corner, sat down and calmly laid my stuff out. Got changed and mentally checked in. Yup, I’m good to go.

BIKE 180km Make no doubt about it. The Ironman bike is what makes or breaks the race for many. Over the hours, there are so many things that can go wrong, so many small things that can build you up or tear you down. If nutrition doesn’t go in appropriately, after an hour you are playing catch-up and on the bike it is practically impossible to ‘catch up’ when in calorie deficit.

Last Ironman I remember thinking “I’m feeling great, I’ll push it just a little”….. This time, no. My promise to myself was to think through-out the ride “I am taking it too easy”. Fortunately for me (he says being very sarcastic) it was the hardest ride I have ever done as the road surface was incredibly rough. So, as you will read below, I had no choice but to take it easy and have quite a few stops along the way…… Lucky me !!

Port Mac is known for a rough bike course, however this year saw the course completely change. Other than road reports I’d managed to collect along the way - I had no idea what the roads were going to be like. Last year, I signed up for the Port Mac 70.3 (on the old course) and even though I had ridden that course numerous times, I remember getting angry at how rough the road was, I was not mentally ready at all that day. This year, I was mentally ready, but the course was unknown. There were an embarrassing number of times where I called on my inner David Goggins and yelled out “Is this all you’ve got? Bring it the fuck on.” Looking back, I now realise the road answered each time with “No you muppet, this is just the beginning”.

My mantra as many many MANY people passed me was "It is a long day, keep it easy".

Other than for small sections the road was the roughest I have ever ridden on. I had my bike computer fly off the bike - I stopped to grab it to find the screen was smashed, but device still working. My bottle cage that normally sits behind my seat, lost two bolts and was hang loose off my seat - I stopped and put my nutrition bottles and my bike tool kit in my bike jersey pockets - leaving the bottle cage to flap around for the remainder of the ride. This meant my bottles (approx 1kg each) were awkwardly hanging off me. I eventually got the shits with that and ditched them at an aid station, now transitioning into Option C and using on-course nutrition - Gatorade (Not happy Jan!!). Just another item adding to the growing list of reasons this bike ride sucked balls. With the roads being so rough it was re-filling my hydration whilst moving only meant the bike had gatorade poured over it. Instead I chose to stop every 2nd aid station to properly fill my bottle properly, and use the opportunity to grab a gel and a banana.

I kept one bottle with my custom powder in it for the last hour so I knew my last nutrition before the run would be familiar. Gatorade never sits well with me, so the inevitable stomach bloating and pains occurred. Quick to arrive and lasting in 20min periods, until the next consumption. And repeat. Having one bottle available for the last hour meant my stomach could settle before starting the run.

The roads were littered with bike bottles, bike tool kits, athletes repairing punctures, bike accidents, it was just carnage. I am not sure whether it was rough roads or just ‘here is another thing to keep your legs fresh’ but at 100km my electric gearing was intermittently failing. Both buttons individually were changing the front gear, instead of the back. I came to realise if I pressed them both twice (changing the front gear twice) and then pressed them individually, they would work again. This happened 7 or 8 times over the ride. The first time resulting in me pulling over, swearing at the bike loudly and threatening to throw it into the paddock. The cow to my left wasn’t overly impressed with that idea and looked at me blankly before continuing to chew its grass. It could have been a lot worse though, I could have had punctures. I can only assume the Ironman gods accepted my other sacrifices of broken bike computer, broken bottle cage, loss of nutrition and the jarring of my nether regions, because not a single puncture was experienced. Yay for me !!!

Other than Shaun, I saw no other familiar faces on the bike. And, whereas the old course had many spectators spread out, the new course had very few. And the locals, largely didn’t seem all that happy about us having their roads closed. There was a certain vibe, felt like we had walked in on a barn dance and asked the band if they knew any Jazz. On my last lap some locals had kicked off a burn-off sending thick white smoke across the road, couldn’t see 20m in front of me. Later, on social media, I heard about thumb tacs being thrown on the road. Less than ideal.

Two laps down, I rode through town and out onto the old course for the last 40kms. This was familiar territory and although the year before I cursed this course, this year I was thankful. I was thankful for the privilege and honour to be navigating these familiar pot holes. Oh how perspectives changes when you are shown something worse, and then re-introduced to what you thought was ‘bad’.

I had made the decision approximately 40km’s into the ride that I was, for the first time ever, going to walk up Mathew Flinders. The reasoning was simple, I wanted to have a good run and I have ridden that hill many times and know what it represents to the legs. It might be 60 seconds quicker to ride up it, but once on the run my legs would thank me for it.

The year prior D and the kids had met me at Mathew Flinders and Dylan ran up next to me. I had a feeling they would be there again and that he would want to run again. I got off the bike and there was Dylan yelling out “What are you doing? Let’s race”. I could see he was disappointed, but I could only manage “I’m walking this time mate”. He left, Maitreya arrived and asked if I was ok. I told her I was saving my legs for the run and asked her to walk with me. She walked next to me up the hill and came around the corner and gave me hug saying “We are proud of you Dad, we know you can do it. You’ve done it before.” I got on the bike and rode off. It is moments just like that one that remind me how awesome my kids are.

I overtook dozens of people riding back into town because their legs were trashed and mine were fresh…… well, lets just say ‘Less trashed” LOL

RIDE TIME 6hrs 25mins (1 min PB) Oh thank god that’s over.

T2 Grabbed my bag, went into the change tent and again, chaos. Lot of naked dudes swearing about the bike course. Just a typical Ironman afternoon. I found a quiet corner, sat down and got my stuff laid out. Got changed, mentally checked in. Yup, I’m good to go.

RUN 42.2km I learnt a lot about my body training for Ultra355. There were numerous double runs, where I came to realise that although my legs were fatigued they can still carry me a fair way. I’ve also done considerable reading on mental fatigue and mental toughness. My focus was only on the next aid station knowing that at any time if the legs started hurting, the next aid station was only a short distance away.

I am a heavy sweater and cramps are inevitable. I had two pickle juice bottles and I proactively sipped on them every 5kms. At 25km I felt the first real twinge of a cramp. Now that they had started they were only going to come back more and more.

First lap is to settle in. How's the body feel? Are the legs ok? Where's the head at? Saw the SSG crew, many having finished their 70.3 earlier in the day and they (as I had the year prior when they were racing full distance) had settled in for a few drinks starting at midday. Time now being approximately 2pm, they were all very jolly. Rest of lap was largely uneventful other than feeling 'great' and regularly reminding myself "it's a long day".

Saw D and the kids on course on the 2nd lap and knowing my Pickle Juice was low I asked D for salt tablets, she couldn’t find them so I said “Next lap” and ran off. The next lap she handed me salt tablets and a fresh bottle of Pickle Juice - oh my god I’ve never been so happy to see Pickle Juice in my life. Salt tablets are ok, but Pickle juice stops the camps in their tracks. D has been around me long enough to know this and came up with the goods. Best support crew ever !! With this extra bottle, I felt more confident that I’d be able to largely keep the cramps controllable, but it would be close.

The run is where athletes see a lot more of each other. Each lap I would see Shaun, Dan, Mark and Charles from RTC. Conversations are had, groups come and go. The run course is where everyone suffers, and if you can lift out of your own head space the suffering is in plain sight. Towards the back end of the run, on the dark road, many athletes doubled over, some collapsing. There are medics on course everywhere. Many had lost their nutrition on the ride and - without a plan B or plan C, their decision making was put under pressure. Those decisions come to roost on the run. The matches burnt because they were feeling good on the bike, now represent debt on the run. And in a race where pacing and nutrition are key, those debts are often paid in ways that weren’t considered earlier in the day. The focus of no more than 70% effort on the bike meant that although I was hurting, I was still mentally coherent, still adhering to a plan, I was not just ‘holding on’ - I was confident that I had a consistent run in me.

I was dreading the 3rd lap as I remember it clearly from my first IM. It sucked the life out of me. This time though, I went into it with my head held high, feeling good. Knowing I had this and one more to go. It was a totally different experience to my first IM in 2019. It did help to have Chris and Malcolm dress up as a jockey with a horse and a Sumo wrestler, great way to start.

When things got tough I’d try to remember the drill sergeant song’s I had been listening to in my training. My brain, now slipping into carb deficit had no specific memory so I made my own up “I don’t know what I’ve been told, but Ironman is for the old. Gotta be strong, gotta be bold, gotta remember what you’re fucking told. Sound off, 1,2, Sound off, 3,4, Send off, 1,2,3,4, 1,2,34” I sang this in my head when ever the hurt took my focus. I sang it over and over and over again.

Saw the world's best financial planner at the top of the hill on my last lap, Troy (who happened to get 1st in AG on 70.3 earlier in the day) ran with me for a km and absolutely lifted my spirits. I carried that chat into that lap and had my already high confidence sky rocket.

The pace did slow towards the end, but the walking was kept to aid stations and I only used two of my four free 100m walk passes. One at 23km and the other at 35km when a cramp hit me. The rest was running…. Well, slow trot / hobble LOL

As my watch beeped for 35km my hamstrings, quads and the tops of my calves all cramped up. I got out all the pickle juices bottles, licking the insides to just capture the taste. It was enough to relieve the tension… for now. However there was a catch, I had to speed up my cadence. An athlete went past me and I used him to distract me, for the last 7kms.

I approached the turn at the back end of the dark street, knowing there were only a few kms left. The distance equated to a run from my home to the Shorncliffe jetty, on any other day I’d consider it a ‘warm up’ - I literally welled up. I had stuck to my plan and although it was far from pretty, it had worked. I was on track for a sub-4hr 30min marathon, if I could just keep these cramps at arms length. They twinged so many times, each time I would surge a little bit, change my body position, change my cadence, think the drill sergeant song. Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat.

Approaching town, the last aid station, I called out “Thank you volunteers you’ve been amazing”, some of the athletes around me clapped and cheered, the volunteers hooted and hollered and high 5’s were everywhere. It was a real lift in spirits and carried me - pain free - the finishing line. The volunteers really are the best. Their energy is incredible and second to none in the tough times.

I could now hear the finish line, I turned the corner and there was Thommo with his huge smile “Well done Greg, well done mate”. And then….. I looked up at my time.

RUN TIME 4hrs 28mins 51 seconds (24min PB) Fuck yeah !!

IRONMAN TOTAL TIME 12hrs 20mins 57 seconds (22min PB). Double fuck yeah and then some

This particular race was special for me. After racing with an injury in 2019 I knew I could do better. The race in 2020 was cancelled due to fires, the following year was canceled due to floods. 2022 saw me register for Ultra355. Over those years I have built a solid understanding on what training works for me, what is high value, where do I need to apply hard effort and where to be efficient.

Absolutely I could be faster, for sure I could train 20+hrs a week and bust my arse. However, this is meant to be fun and there was a time I had forgotten that. This sport can be soul destroying. Every single race there are times where you either step up or fall down mentally, emotionally and / or physically. And it is that journey that either draws people in or spits them out.

However, the fact is, racing is not as important as connections. Connections to family, friends, to those around you. Racing is not as important as family time. The life I lead is to show my kids that yes they can, all they need is to want.

I am incredibly fortunate in life, and I know it. My wife is intelligent, funny and beautiful, she supports me, she loves and believes in me. My kids are incredible. Sure, they can be a pain in the arse, but aren’t all kids LOL But, they are my pain in the arses and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They know they are loved, they know inspiration is all around them because I have people in my life that are inspirational.

My kids know the first names of many people who have swum around islands, people that run 100km’s, people who ride 500km ‘for fun’, people who take on challenges not because they know they can but because they are unsure if they will finish. They are surrounded by people who are planning to do epic things. But more importantly, they personally know many individuals who have tried something, fallen over and then got back up, dusted themselves off and kept going. My kids know that finishing is great, but the value is in the journey. These people, my close network, are good people.

I belong to a club that although early in years, is wise in energy. SSG has individuals who love ocean swimming, first and foremost. From very humble beginnings we have maintained a saying “Do Epic Shit”. And that doesn’t have to be 100km runs, it can be running your first km. It doesn’t have to be swimming around an island, it can be turning up to swim in the ocean week on week even though it scares the shit out of you. More than anything, Do Epic Shit is about stepping into your own space of uncertainty and facing off against your doubt. Every single person has doubt, SSG Multisports is a group of genuine individuals who understand the importance of the journey, your journey. Regardless of outcome.

Now to ‘Thank You’ As always, wifey, thank you. My early morning wake ups are all that much better because I get to come home to you. My two ratbags - Dyl and Mai. I love you so much it will be decades until you grasp the depth and width. SSG athletes - It is always a pleasure being on course with each of you. SSG supporter crew - thanks for the words of encouragement, for being on course and for your great vibe. SSG MultiSports team back home - as always, you lot are the best. Looking forward to next (recovery) swim at Suttons - See you Friday !! A special call out to Mary from RTC, she stepped into my corner on that run and her kind and wise words meant the world to me. If you’ve been involved in my journey to date, thanks. If you’ve managed to read this far, thanks.

A few have asked “Are you going to do Port IM again?” My initial response was “Not if that’s the bike course”. But now…….. Let’s just say that my next race is Sunshine Coast 70.3. Next year I’m looking at Ultra355 again. After that, I don’t know…

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