Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Nathan Portlock 2017 Race Day Report

So where do I start? I'd been asked before my first Ironman to write a report on my day & it's now become something I do after every race. 

Every race is different, & every preparation is different. Lining up for my 4th Ironman was certainly going to be a challenge. This report probably requires some background & context. So;
I started a new job in January & we moved into a new house in December. Annabelle is now 3 years old & Bec is expecting our 2nd little gift, a baby boy in August. So time management on the training track became an integral part of the preparation. Weekday morning rides were done & home by 7am, Thursdays before 6:30am so Bec can go & swim. I limited my swimming to only 2 swims a week & Saturdays I needed to be home for the family by 11:30am. This meant leaving home shortly after 4am to get in the volume. Sundays are a family day & largely off the table, though I did manage to slip in a run on 2 occasions closer to the event.

One day before Victor Harbor Olympic Distance tri in March, my back flared up & I lost function to my right tib-ant. I had tingles & pain down my quad, lost feeling to the big toe, had excruciating pain in my glute & lower back. James, my physio, was on the phone close to every 2 hours & I knew we were in a bit of trouble. I was in to see the doc, off for an MRI, back to the doc, then straight in for a CT guided cortisone into the L4/5 nerve root. I had 3 bulged discs & an impingement of the nerve root, shutting down function to my leg. I thought I was done. I was on my back & couldn't pick up a bag or put on a sock. James told me to keep the faith & June 11 was far enough away. I was sceptical, but wanted to give it a crack. 

I managed to get up the volumes I thought I needed on the bike, kept the swimming to an acceptable minimum, & had to build the run up from zero to 16km being my longest run 2.5 weeks out from race day. I was running well, but undoubtedly underdone. It was going to be a case of get to the run & see what happens.

Race Day – Sunday June 11 2017

Race day morning was a little breezy, but nothing like we'd seen over the previous few days. The seas at Palm Cove were choppy & rolling, but again nothing too bad. I started the swim about 5th or so into the water in the rolling 2 abreast start. I don't like these starts at all, as no one knows where you are in relation to others starting behind you.

I swam right, as directed by the locals, & was blown back straight to the 1st turning buoy. I swam solo for about 1500m, really not seeing too many others out there. Once I located someone up ahead, I decided to swim over & try to sit on some feet. We turned at the halfway mark & began for home. I spotted the blue cap I was initially looking for about 30m ahead & thought I'd put in a bit & try to get on his feet for an easy ride home. 

It took me a good 500m to catch him, but when I did I locked on & punched the clutch in, swimming at what felt like half speed. I considered going around, then thought that the plan all along was to find some feet & conserve, so that's what I did all the way to the last turning buoy, where 'blue cap' seemed to aim too far south & I aimed for home alone. I got out of the water feeling super relaxed & happy to be running for my bike. I got out of the water in 3rd place with a time of 56.32 which was about 2-3min slower than planned, but I later found out everyone was 2-4 minutes slower than expected too, so that's not too bad.

In transition it was great to see Cahn, a mate from the Beat Cancer Tour, standing outside the barriers next to my bike. Being 3200km from home, seeing a friendly face was just amazing. He ran across to the mount line & saw me on my way.  

On to the bike & I was feeling quietly confident. My now good friend Paul, had been helping me build my mid range torque, teaching me to peddle efficiently & not cook the legs. The plan being to get me to T2 in the best possible condition to run. In training my back had been blowing up around 150km & needing a quick stretch, so the plan from my coach Nige, Paul & James was to get off if needed, stretch & go again. I'd never gotten off by choice in an Ironman in the past, so had decided that was malarkey & was having none of it. 

We began rolling & headed north for Pt.Douglas. Regarded by many as the most spectacular bike course on the planet, where the rainforest meets the Great Barrier Reef, the bike course at Ironman Cairns begins at Palm Cove, heads north to Pt.Douglas, back almost to Palm Cove, back to Pt.Douglas a 2nd time, back past Palm Cove & on to Cairns. About half way between Palm Cove & Pt. Douglas is Rex's Lookout, about a 1km climb akin to something on Gorge Rd for those that know Adelaide. The course goes over this twice in each direction. The majority of the bike course is similar to riding Gorge Rd, with about 7km either side of Pt.Douglas relatively flat, & Palm Cove to Cairns relatively flat....but into the prevailing headwind.


1-2km in, I noticed my back was in a bit of pain, but thought I'd wait for it to settle as I continued on my way. I had a target of 75% HR & about 100RPM. After about 10km the back wasn't calming down & I realised I could be in for a long day. I kept my concentration on the controllables, which was my HR, my nutrition, hydration & my race plan. All of it was going beautifully apart from the back pain. After about 30-40km I realised I was in too much pain to hold 75% & had started to slow. My legs & fitness were feeling dynamite, but I was in increasing pain. A mate, Keph, passed me going up the lookout on the return & asked if I was ok. He said "I'm not meant to catch you until the run!" I told him about the back & kept on slugging. I was struggling & in a lot of pain.  I had no intention of stopping as suggested & therefore burning another 2-3 valuable minutes. But before too long I realised I had no option. It was either pull out, or pull over. I found a spot about 7km out of Pt.Douglas, at what turned out to be 100.0km. I unclipped, stepped off & stretched, watching a bunch disappear up the road. I stretched & massaged for what ended up being only around 1 minute, thought that'll do & got back going. To my surprise, I felt completely cured! There was zero pain whatsoever. I'd been riding the last hour at well below my target heart rate, so was feeling super fresh. I wound it back up to 75% & began passing picking off people that'd passed me over the previous hour. I was feeling sensational & well rested, spinning easily & super comfortable. I spun into Pt.Douglas & turned for Cairns feeling on top of the world. Back in the game! 

Back over Rex's for the last time, I picked up a guy on a Trek similar to mine & we descended comfortably looking for more. We sat the 12m apart & quickly pulled in another guy on a Trek Speed Concept. I told him to get on & we then had 3. Although you have to sit 12m apart in an Ironman, there's still an advantage having someone sit in your field of view, not far ahead. The original 2 of us did a turns each of around 5km or so until we picked up another & made it 4. I was in 3rd wheel & the front 2 took it in turns to swap for 5-10km each into Cairns. I sat spinning at around 95-100RPM, with a heart rate of anywhere from 68-72%. I was doing it easy & feeling super fresh. 20km out, I was already thinking about the run. 
I rolled into Cairns in 31st place, with a time of 5:19.52, almost 15min faster than my last time up there, but feeling like I'd just done a warmup. 

Off the bike & into T2, I was raring to go. The plan always was to spend a couple of minutes massaging the lumbar on the spikey ball, knowing a 2min investment in transition could mean the difference between finishing the Ironman & not.

I eagerly trotted out to begin my 4th marathon feeling super fresh & in control. My plan was to run all but the aid stations, keep it below 75% & trot on through the day. About every 2km there was an aid station where I would pour 1 cup of iced water on the front of my head, one on the back, one cup of ice down the front of my top, one down the back, drink 2 cups of coke & keep going.  
The plan was working like clockwork. I was feeling super fresh, eager to go & comfortable. My stride was long, I was striking the ground well & feeling I could run much faster. I had to keep telling myself to pull back & not let it go above 75%. It's a long day & a lot could still happen. I saw people I knew on course & was feeling proud & grateful to be out there, smiling & waving as I passed by.

The Cairns run course is a 3 lap course of approximately 14km each. It begins by heading south along the boardwalk, down to the wharf, then back to the finish area, north past the lagoon through the large crowds, then doubles back & heartbreakingly goes south for about 1km or so, back north again towards the airport & then turns for the 4km back to the finish. 

As ran I along the main street, heading for lap 2, I began burping like loud vomits as what became horribly obvious to me, was my body rejecting the nutrition. I tried switching to electrolyte drinks but that was no good & came up too. I was vomit burping on regular occasion & wondering when it might pass. Every time I did, people in a 10m radius would turn & look at me.

I swung past the finish chute & off onto lap 2, when Troy, my roomie, ran up alongside me on his 1st lap. I attempted to get a conversation going as we are both very good talkers, but I could tell he was in a place that had no space for niceties. It was here that my body started to struggle. With no nutrition going in, I was running out of fuel & it was quickly going pearshaped. My splits slipped from 5:30 odd, to 7min per km very quickly. I was then in survival mode, down to 8min/km & a very long way from home. I was well over my longest training run in months, completely in the unknown & a body that was accepting no fuel. I managed to run/walk the next lap at about 8min/km still trying to battle on. Out of ideas I tried a gel & it started to help. I was still doing the water & ice to cool down the engine & was able to pick the pace back up to just over 6min for about 4-5km. I thought I might be back...but the damage was done. I was soon back to Struggletown, population me. I was the Mayor, CEO & Minister for Health & Fitness. I was in the darkest of Ironman despair. What had started so well, was now a game of survival. 
There were still friends supporting on course & I used their locations to motivate me through. I passed Matty Rogers on 3 seperate occasions, where on all fours, he lost what looked like a litre of liquid each time. I kept telling myself he was in a worse place than me, & still going.

The sun had now set & I was still about 7km from home. I trudged on, walking & running as best I could, picking it up for the charge down the main street one last time. Oh the feeling of pulling into that finish chute is something you can't describe unless you've been there personally yourself. It's one of the main reasons we idiots keep coming back.  To run down that carpet to pumping music, cheering & hear the words "Nathan Portlock you are an Ironman" is something you dream of in every training session. 

I was done. I raised my arms & felt the emotion bubble up. #4 in the bag.

I got my medal, my finishers towel, & stumbled through recovery straight to get my bag to FaceTime home. For the last 4-5km I was thinking of the time & Annabelle as she had no idea why daddy is not there to give her a bath. I had to be back in time to call her, to say goodnight & ask about her day before she went to bed. I was exhausted to the point of tears.
I called my mum & she was in the same boat, having watched the live video with her sister on the phone.

I finished with an overall time of 11:24.28 

The rational part of me says how happy I am that I was able to complete an Ironman 11.5 weeks after a cortisone into my spine. It's a hell of a turnaround... but if I'm truly honest, I'm disappointed with the way it quickly fell apart when I was feeling so good. I'm immensely proud to have completed my 4th Ironman, but a touch embarrassed & letdown by the time. 

I'd love a chance to fix it but that's it for a little while now, while we turn life on its head & adjust to life with another mouth to feed.


From everyone who's contacted me to wish me well & followed online, it's truly humbling that so many people take time out of their day to check in.

12 weeks before the race I was flat on my back thought I was done. James Trotter kept the faith & encouraged me to keep an eye on June the 11th. Without his help & guidance I would still be on the couch at home. Nigel Pietsch was similar & encouraged me to keep ticking off the little goals & build from zero to Ironman. Paul Williams took it upon himself to offer his expert help with my bike leg, resulting in the most comfortable, relaxed ride I've had in my short triathlon career. Wil & Sharpy were there for countless early morning swim sets. The Lakers Early Bunch on the bike were inclusive & encouraging, even if I did have to leave home at 4:20am every Saturday. Phil & Rafo continued to turn up & do whatever I asked on long rides in the hills. Including one 300k loop back in January. 
Troy, the GM at my new work, bought me a stand up desk, allowing me to take the load off my back from sitting all day. At 41, my Mum continues to help & look after her boy as much as she did when I was little. & lastly but not least back home, Bec & Annabelle get ready by themselves every Wednesday & Friday mornings while I'm out swimming, then make themselves busy until 11:30 every Saturday as I'm off on my bike.
To all my friends & family that have offered advice or an inquisitive ear, it all adds up & all means a lot. I am truly grateful for every little bit. It does not go unnoticed.