IM Busso, Perth, Australia

By Damo Walsh

Posted on Sunday 1st December 2019

“Damo you are an IronMan!” and so it was called as I crossed the line on 1st December in Busselton in my first full IronMan.  Actually, I felt pretty good at the end, but I how did I accidentally get to this point.

Just as I accidentally got into triathlon back in 2012 when I moved to Hong Kong and Peter Hanna convinced me to join Tritons so that I had someone to run with at Track as I was a runner, I accidentally signed up for this after a few too many drinks at Tritons Christmas party last year I think.  It’s a little hazy, but I know it was some combination of:

  • Steph had just done Busso and done great and inspired me
  • All my cohort group from 2012/13 Tritons had done one and I hadn’t  : Toby, Margo, Ruth, Stu, Jeff and of course Ross
  • Lisa T was committed and looking for a buddy
  • Mary Ho said “I will if you do Damo”

Some or all of the above, led to an online entry and there I was signed up and a year to prepare.

So the first half of the year went by in a blur, did my usual fat and happy over Christmas and New Year and came back to training in poor shape, as evidenced by a lousy race in my first 70.3 of the year in Taiwan, where I had hoped to qualify for the 70.3 World Champs in Nice, but instead struggled across the line in around 6 hours and nowhere near qualifying.  Time to train a bit more seriously and have another crack in Korea.  This time I did train hard and had a good race and qualified….better.  Started training harder for Nice and the huge Col de Vence climb on the bike leg.

It was only about this time, I thought, holy crap, Busso is double that distance and I am exhausted at the end of a half, this is gonna hurt…a lot.  About a month out from Nice I took on a coach, not so much for Nice, but to get me to Busso.  I signed up with Stuart Harsley at Shot Coaching, and was a bit shocked at how much harder “real” training and full IM training was.  No more leisurely breakfast bike rides and chit chat jogs and meandering 2km swims.  This was a new level.  It definitely helped as I had a great race at Nice, and capped it off with a 1h41m run which I was pretty happy with.

As soon as Nice was over it was into full IM mode, cranked up the training and started preparation.  For most of the year I had a pretty charmed run with no illness or injury and was sticking to the plan.  The first and only real obstacle came 2.5 weeks before race day when I was doing a fast track session with my new Aussie club NunaTri Club.  My brain was running as a 25yo athlete doing a track set, and the body was not really at that level, on the last set…twang went the left hamstring.  Not torn, but quite a bad strain.  Essentially, despite a few failed attempts I wasn’t able to run from then till race day.  This became a source of much anxiety and sleeplessness…….as it was my only real weak point in preparation.  But after all this preparation this was not going to stop me…even if I had to walk I was going to do it.

Race week was the usual blur, Wed night 11pm flight to Perth cancelled an hour before fly time as pilot had a “sickie”…sigh, scramble to find a hotel in city and rebook on the 7am flight next day, 4 hours sleep not an ideal start…but survived.  Made it to Perth and hooked up with the Tong crew and Federico.  Was great to be with a gang, helps me relax and have a laugh and not take things too seriously.

Lead up days were the usual running around, assemble bikes, registration, bike check, raid supermarkets, expo shopping etc.  All pretty smooth apart from another failed attempted run on hamstring.  Lots of time chit chatting with the Tong sisters and Laurent.  Great amusement watching OCD Lisa and her visualisation exercises with our rookie Tracy.

Day before race and its bike checkin etc, all pretty smooth, made what turned out to be a good decision at that time to have my leg strapped for the race at the massage venue.  My life saver, an “experienced” gent called Angelo who had been doing this race since it started, applied rock tape to my hamstring.  At the time it didn’t feel that much but come race day it probably was what got me through.  My only other observation was how remarkably calm I was.  I think it was partly the experience of the 10 or so 70.3’s I had done, along with the hope/belief that I had trained and prepared well and had the swim and bike covered, and would find a way to get run done no matter what.

Race day finally comes around.  Early start, breakfast, change etc….all smooth as planned.  Still feeling amazingly calm.  Off to the transition to setup the bike.  Again all smooth, say hi (and selfie) with Alistair Brownlee then off to meet the gang and watch Tracy come out of the swim on the 70.3 which started earlier.  She looked great and happy, a good sign.

Time to put wetsuit on, weather is cool, but will heat up to 31 degrees later, and a bit of wind.  Pretty good conditions.  First little hiccup…….took shoes off to put wetsuit on, and notice my orthotics in my street shoes….I haven’t walked or run without them in 14 years and am not at all keen to run a marathon without them.  I immediately proceeded to irrationally panic, luckily Lisa and Connie far more sensible and calm me down and think through.  Transition bags are in lockdown so no option to put them back in there.  However the girls come up with the idea of putting them on my bike in helmet and wearing them on the bike which I don’t normally do.  No other sensible options so I go with that, will mean a double shoe change in T1 but beats the unknown of running a marathon without them.

OK its show time, chat with Lisa and Connie and Laurent to stay calm, then its line up time for swim.  Still feeling calm.  Enter the water and its bit of a bash and crash at the start but soon find my place, bit of a foot to the cheek but no damage.  However, goggles taking on water, spent most of race debating do I stop and clear and refit or just push on.  After about an hours debate I just kept swimming with slightly stinging eyes.  Overall swim was pretty good, managed to get a few drafts along the way, got another couple of kicks as well, but nothing serious.  Eyes stinging a bit as I came out of water, found out later they spoiled my finisher pix as it looks like I’m suffering , whereas in fact I felt great!!  1h15m….bang on target exactly, a good sign.

Now time for my weakest (by far) leg…the bike.  Had a great plan to ride to power…..until my power meter didn’t work properly…and then died due to low battery!  But didn’t really matter just rode to speed and HR instead.  A two loop course, the ride out felt ok but a touch slower than planned, but all was well when we turned around and had a tail wind on way back, so came in at 90km bang on target, all good.  Made a much longer than planned stop at special needs……first time to do it and really lost time messing around reloading gels and such.  But eventually got going again.  Again a bit slower on way out due to head wind, but didn’t worry as I knew a tail wind home.  Wrong! Just as I reached turnaround the wind swung around and had a head wind again on way back in.  Cost me a few minutes for sure, but still pretty happy with ride, and feeling OK going into the run, apart from a slightly sore foot from riding with orthotics in which I wasn’t used to.  Just over 6 hours, was targeting 6 to 6.5, so not too bad.

Took my time in T2…wise words from Toby, who normally doesn’t approve of anything slow!  Prepared myself for the marathon and hoped the leg would hold up, but mentally prepared to run on no matter what.

Set off on the run and felt pretty good, was aiming to go out at 5:30 pace, but found myself slipping up to 5:20 but HR was nice and low so all good.  Crowds were amazing, support the whole way, really gave a great sense of energy.  Lots of support from my own family and the Tong clan as well, really helped.  Leg felt great…till 5km mark when it strained again.  Bit of a panic as to what to do, slowed a little but then thought I can handle this, I may well destroy my hamstring for a few weeks to come, but only today matters.  So I shortened my stride length, lifted cadence a bit (thanks coach Stu for this emergency tip) and trusted that and the strapping would hold it together.  And it did, I had to drop pace a bit to 5:30-5:45 but was able to hold that with just a little pain and energy wise felt really strong.  I actually really enjoyed the run, being only able to go slow probably allowed me to enjoy the scenery, other athletes, crowd and volunteers more and I just got in a rhythm that I was able to hold till the end.  The last 10km of course were hard, but I had some clear goals:

  • Finish
  • Finish without needing a glo stick (sunset)
  • Sub 12 hours
  • Beat Ross time (11:45)

I had the first 2 well covered, but the last 2 kept me going in the last hour, visualising 11.xx on the clock and faster than Ross drove me to the line.  I got the finisher chute all to myself and just savoured the run up the chute.   Looked up to see 11:40 and a 4 hour marathon and I was all smiles.  High fived the family and friends up the chute then across the line and my coach was there to give me the medal as he was one of the official IM coaches that day.   A great feeling.  Hugs and photos with the family and then off to recover.

Met up with my great training buddy from Melbourne, Alexandra, she had a cracking race and saw her on and off all day.  She was 3rd in her AG and subsequently qualified for Kona, had a nice chat with her and my coach and Fed after race.

Then it was home for a shower and get back to watch the amazing and inspiring Lisa finish.  Good vibes from that and then it was home for a late night feast and a much needed sleep.

Goal achieved, I was an IronMan!! 

Whilst I did the exercise on the day, there are so many people to thank for getting me there, in no particular order :

My family : triathlon is a very selfish sport that takes a lot of time that could be spent in other ways.  Thanks to Connie, Liam and Aidan for allowing me to be selfish and supporting me all year and especially being there on race day for high fives and hugs at the end.  I owe you.

Coaches: to the coaches who grabbed an old tiring runner and taught him how to swim and ride a bike in HK, thanks Fen, AM and Georgia…..never ever dreamt I would do a triathlon let alone an IM.  And to coach Stuart for getting me to IM this year, huge thanks

Clubs: to all at Tritons in HK where it all began, you guys are amazing and my inspiration, it all started there and I will always be a Triton at heart.  And to my new “Aussie” club NunaTri, thanks for the support, especially Alex my training and race buddy who did both Nice and Busso with me along with those who accompanied me on the long boring training rides in their off season….Struan, Michael, Joe, Paul Damien and others…thanks for the help.

Friends : So many great people in both clubs, but a special thanks to the “Polka Dot Gang” who have been with me from the start of my Tri journey, and have supported, teased, encouraged me to get this done.  For your support both in Triathlon and in some more challenging things off the Tri course, thanks for everything.  Without you guys, I would have lost interest long ago.  And a big thanks to Lisa, my race buddy who inspired me and pushed me along all year, with her determination and dedication and not to mention brilliant organisational skills.

I’m sure I have missed some people, so apologies and thanks.  Its been a great multi year journey, at this stage that was a one and only Full IM….but you never know….but 2020 for me is back to 70.3 distance and try to qualify for my 3rd World Champ in a row in Taupo.  And that is a wrap for 2019…..Christmas parties, beer and lots of food are in my near term future!