Saturday, April 4, 2015

Ironman Australia Race Report - Jeff Kirkland

It’s hard to know how to start a report like this. The road to your first full Ironman doesn’t just start a week, month or even a year before the race. It’s an inner drive that has been inside of you for a long time.

Five years ago this September, my father passed away from cancer. I knew that in this fifth year of his passing, I wanted to accomplish a personal goal and achieve it to honor his memory. The goal I set was to race my first 140.6 Ironman. In preparing for this race, I partnered with the great people at Tour De Cure who are striving to find a cure for cancer. It was a privilege and honor to work with so many great people who are doing awesome work.

So here it is—Ironman Australia 2015. My wife had always wanted to spend time in Australia so this race became very attractive to me and that is one of the reasons I picked it. I have traveled to 36 different countries and find the Aussies the most friendly of anywhere in the world!

We flew out late on a Sunday evening and arrived in Melbourne Tuesday morning. We are very thankful for the upgrades on the fifteen plus hour flight. The first thing I did was drive directly to the bike shop that was recommended by my friends at Tour De Cure. Once we got that taken care of, it was off to find the apartment we rented and be tourists for the next few days.

On Wednesday morning, we woke up and drove down to Frankston, which was where the race would start. I wanted to get in an easy swim and get a feel for the ocean. This was going to be my first ever ocean swim! To my surprise the surf was rolling at about six or seven feet. That 1500-meter swim felt like 10,000 and I quickly thought “there is no way I can do this.” I spent the next few days as a worried tourist thinking I was sure to drown in the race.

On Friday, I checked in and got all of my race info I needed for Sunday. Again, thanks to my friends at Tour De Cure, I was able to do everything with the professionals, which meant no lines and being treated like a king. Saturday morning rolled around and I headed back down to Frankston to check in my bike. I got in a short ride and then joined a bunch of people for the Ironman sponsored practice swim.

This time the water was like glass with not a wave in sight, which helped my nerves. To say I was nervous leading up to the race would be a major understatement. I spent the rest of Saturday sitting around our apartment just relaxing and trying to get some sleep when I could.

Race day was finally here and I went from being nervous to just flat out excited. I totally enjoyed all of the prerace activities, but after a few weeks of taper and all the travel, I just wanted to do something! I had a small breakfast and jumped in the car for the 30 minute ride to the start. I arrived in plenty of time and was happy to see the water, although was not as calm as the day before, had just small swells rolling in. As the sun began to rise from the east, the adrenaline began to flow. I put on my Roka Maverick Pro wetsuit, kissed my wife goodbye, and took off into the water to warm up a bit. The water temperature was 18 degrees Celsius so the full wetsuit was perfect. I saw a couple of the pros wearing Roka as well, including Mirinda Carfrae.

The swim was a rolling wave start and you self-seeded where you thought your swim time would be. Swimming in the ocean makes me nervous and I wasn’t very confident, so I went with the last group.

This turned out to be a big mistake as my swim time was much faster than I thought and I had to climb through people the entire swim. As I went under the start arch, I was in the water and off at 8:00am local time. I felt calm and relaxed as I made my way out towards the first 1000-meter buoy. As I passed someone, his swinging arm hit my left foot and knocked my little toe out of place. I just reached down pulled it back in and kept going. I really enjoyed the swim and felt like all the training had paid off. I came out of the water officially at 1:12. Again, if I hadn’t had to pass so many people my time could have been better but I was predicting about 1:30 – 1:40 so I was super happy with my swim.

As I ran out of the changing tent to my bike, I knew that it was going to be a hot day. The expected high was 33 Celsius which is 92 Fahrenheit for this Oregon guy. I made sure that I had plenty of Hammer Heed for my electrolyte consumption and it was awesome. I had no cramps or GI issues at all on the race. I had a very specific plan for the bike. I trained with a local pro cyclist who agreed to help me in my weakest area. I was planning to ride completely by power and cadence and worry about nothing else. I have to admit, I was stoked to be racing for the first time on my new Trek Speed Concept Project One bike with a full DI2 setup that they had built for me in December. The bike was a 2 loop out and back course, the first half on the way out was a steady climb and into the wind but then on the way back it was a nice decline and a tailwind. Everything on the bike went according to plan. I was shooting to be around 7 hours and ended the bike leg at 6:07. At mile 80 the ride started to feel long! When I got to mile 90 I ate something that was like magic and I felt great. I spent mile 100 to 112 thinking “I now get to run a marathon."

My 45k bike splits were where I thought they would be with going uphill into the wind being slower by about 5k than riding the tailwind. As I pulled into transition, I was ready to be off the bike for a while. By this time it was late afternoon and the sun was in full force. I love the sunshine and the heat so I am always thankful to run a full race and never have to say “I am cold.” Overall, my bike time was better than any of my half distance races. I can tell I am on the right path to becoming a better cyclist. My Trek, along with my awesome Rolf Prima wheels that the guys down in Eugene set me up with, performed beautifully and felt unbelievable. If you are even thinking about a DI2 setup, I cannot recommend it enough.

Off of the bike, I went into the changing tent to throw on some socks, shoes, and a visor and then I was off for a little jog along the coast. The run is a point-to-point run from Frankston up to the finish in St. Kilda along the coast and might be the most beautiful run I have ever been on in my life. My goal was to never stop moving forward. For me, this meant I could walk, just don’t stop. There were aid stations every 2k which was fantastic. It gave me a goal every 2 kilometers to reach. I made sure to drink a ton of water, Heed and I even drank soda a few times at the aid stations. I hadn’t had soda in probably two years so the sweet taste was a little much, but the sugar and caffeine was what I needed.
I will never forget the moment when I had 29k left and a gentleman in the crowd ran beside me and put his arm around me. He called me by name (because of my bib) and asked if I had ever run 29k before. I answered with of course I have and he looked me in the eyes and said “good you’re going to do it again.” What a feeling having so many people cheering you on! As the sun set I began to hear the roar of the finish line and the adrenaline kicked into full effect. I will never forget turning the corner and entering that finish chute. I had many people tell me, “you only get one first time, so enjoy it”, so I made sure to take in all of the sights and sounds. The people cheering and banging the sideboards of the chute was like roaring thunder that moved my legs with force. I was so excited I didn’t even know what to do.

As I crossed the finish line and heard “Jeff Kirkland you are an Ironman”, I saw my wife waiting literally at the line for me. Thanks to our friend at Tour De Cure, she had special VIP privilege and was able to meet me at the finish line! I finished my marathon in 4:39 which is not even close to my best marathon time but at that point who cares.

My time goal for the entire race was 13:30, so as I crossed in just over 12:00 I was really happy. Of course now I know how to get better and what to do to have a much better time. I have to say that my first experience was unbelievable and I know my dad would be so proud. It is so true that running a race like this takes a team. My wife Kim and our son Kaiden paid the price with me. It is many early mornings and long weekends. The greatest moment of the entire race was having Kim at the finish line to meet me! I am thankful for my awesome Triple Threat Triathlon teammates who push, encourage, cheer and make me better. Your advice and encouragement is so helpful in these crazy endeavors. To all of the sponsors that make this possible THANK YOU! Roka, you make the best wetsuits hands down! Rolf Prima, your wheels have never once failed me and I am thankful to ride the best. To Hammer Nutrition, thanks for making the best products on the market. To the guys at Scotts cycle in Salem Oregon, thanks for being the best bike shop in the world! The list goes on and on but one last shout out to the guys at Tour De Cure, it was an honor to partner with you. I hope to do it again someday. At the end of my life I would like to be known as someone who had deep convictions, lots of compassion and just a little bit of crazy. I am starting to think that racing Ironman can check off the crazy part.

Related Posts:

Triple Threat Profile: Jeff Kirkland - Oregon

Jeff had tons of support both Down Under and at home

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