Hell of the West is certainly one of my favourite events to compete in for a combination of reasons; the wonderful community support, the fact that it is such a well ran event and that our group of friends make the pilgrimage out every February to see what Goondiwindi can throw at us this time.
I was lucky enough to have time off over the summer which allowed me to join in on training sessions with the other Retro athletes. I enjoyed the training as much as the race (probably even more than the race this year!). For me I love the whole experience; the months of training leading into the event, the road trip, the race and the celebrations after, that’s why this race is so great.
Morning coffee after running, riding or swimming with our crew became a daily staple during training and I loved it! Riding with the group made me much more confident on the bike and to push limits that I wouldn’t have done on my own.
After 12 weeks of solid training and showing improvement on the bike in our local club races I was feeling confident heading out to the race this year. I figured if I could break the race into 40 min swim, 2hr 30min ride and a 1hr 30min run I would be able to finish in around 4hrs 40min, 10 min quicker than last year. The excitement had been building for weeks and as I packed my bags I felt like a kid at Christmas time, the nervous anticipation of the excitement to come.
The trip out to Gundy comes with our routine scheduled stops at Guyra and then breaky at the Bridge Coffe Lounge at Inverell on the way out, and lunch at the Australian Café at Inverell on the way home – exactly the same every year.
Arriving in Gundy on Saturday afternoon we headed to our digs at the Boarder Motel then trekked down to get our race packs and test the waters of the mighty Macintyre River. The water seemed much cleaner than last year and though it was flowing the current wasn’t to strong. Feeling confident that the swim wouldn’t be to much bother we headed off for some Chinese take away and our beds.
Waking to the alarm at 3.45am I felt I had had a good nights sleep and went about getting my race gear on, having some breaky and packing a bag to take to the bag drop off. I was feeling fairly relaxed until, while talking to Joey who was still eating his oats, Mark mentioned we had 15min until transition closed! We dashed off to set our gear up and wait for the swim start.
While queuing up for the start the announcer mentioned that the water temperature was 30 degrees! It hadn’t felt that hot when we got in yesterday afternoon. Paddling out for the deep water start I got into a good position closer to the bank trying to avoid the current as Andrew had advised us. I felt much better in the swim than I had the previous year and as we made the turn I was confident that I was swimming well.
I had an intense desire to pull my swim cap off and could not wait to get to the boat ramp and out of the water, it was so incredibly hot by the time we got to the end of the 2km swim. I checked my watch as I ran back to transition and worked out that the swim had taken me around 45 minutes – what! – no wonder I felt so good I must have been swimming much slower that I should have been!
Heading onto the bike leg I was feeling confident as I had really focused hard on my riding leading up to the event. I had anticipated holding around 33km/hr on the bike but hadn’t taken the transition times into account when working out my target race time, as I was already 5min behind from the swim I aimed to try and get on the run in 2hrs 35min from leaving the bike transition.
The ride at HOTW is long and flat and boring but still seemed to pass quite quickly. I was alternating drinking water and having shot blocks about every 15min. There were some sections of the ride where I felt there was a headwind and I struggled to keep up my desired pace. I made sure that I finished all my water and changed over the biddon at the turn around, also retrieving a banana from one of the awesome volunteers.
As soon as I turned around on the bike I started to experience an intense pain on the inside of my left leg. I had to spend the rest of the ride constantly changing position and getting out of the saddle to try and find some relief. My replacement biddon was slowly leaking but I didn’t think it was much of a big deal. I ate half the banana, had some electrolyte and a cliff bar while taking the last of my cliff blocks.
I felt utter relief when the township came back into view, I could not wait to get off the bike and hoped that the pain in my leg would subside when I got on the run. I was slightly behind my target time for the ride but felt I had done ok considering the wind. I figured if I ran well I cold still beat my time from last year.
The first lap of the run I felt ok, the pain in my leg had gone and I started the GPS on my watch to try and get a gage of my pace and settled into a steady 4:15/km which I was hoping to hold for the whole race. The run was incredibly hot with the sun burning down on us apart from three small sections of shade near the drink stations.
Heading onto the second lap of the run it all started to fall apart for me. I felt extremely tired, nauseous and sore all over. I took a gel at the most westerly drink station hoping that it would revive me a bit but had no luck. I seemed to be missing all the electrolyte on the course and wasn’t going to start drinking coke. Just before the end of the second lap I had to take a loo stop because I thought I was going to vomit, nothing would come up though.
“You’ve only got one lap to go” I told myself, “Pull yourself together – you want that towel” I then proceeded to promise myself that if I made it through the run I would never ever do this race again, wouldn’t do the Gold Coast Half, would never do an Ironman – who does that anyway, running 20km was nearly killing me!
I passed coach Andrew who shouted out some advice and who I unashamedly through a dirty look at as I headed off to get my slap band – one lap to go.
It was a hard slog, but slightly easier mentally on the last lap, always is when you can say to yourself “I’ll never have to run past this drink station again, never have to run through this sun again” etc. etc. I tried my usual trick of visualising crossing the finish line and laying straight down in the shade and thought “The quicker I get there the quicker I can stop!”
I crossed the finish line, got my towel and wobbled over to the shade and fell to the ground – relief – it was over! A volunteer coaxed me up and in front of a fan and then I somehow ended up laying in the first aid tent. My legs were extremely painful but apart from that I didn’t feel to bad. The lovely ambulance lady packed ice around me, I drank some water and then decided that I felt good enough to go.
I got up and walked off with Mark joking how I would love to get in the ice bath one of the tri clubs had set up under their tent. From then I don’t remember a lot but Mark has filled in a few gaps. I started breathing rapidly and had to be carried back to the first aid tent. My blood pressure had fallen to 68/42 and my temperature was 37.5deg. I was hooked up to a drip and pumped full of fluid. Once my blood pressure started to rise I felt better but it wasn’t going over 98/68 and I wasn’t allowed to leave until it got up over 100. I was finally convinced to drink some electrolyte which I only agreed to after they threated to take me to hospital (I thought I would just throw it up) and my blood pressure went straight up!! Whoo hoo I was free to go!
Another tradition that we have is playing bowls after the race, it is a great way to unwind and have a great time relaxing with our friends who have made the trip out. The boys were also enjoying a bit of bottle flipping. Though exhausted I was feeling ok and enjoyed watching all the festivities and boasting about how great I was going to feel the next day as I had been rehydrated with fluids.
Waking up the next day however I felt like death. I was exhausted and extremely nauseous, it was going to be a long trip home!
Once we arrived home I decided to have an extra day off work as I was still feeling really unwell and totally out of it. I headed to the doctors who decided that he would take some bloods just to make sure i hadn’t done to much damage to myself.
The next day i dropped the kids at school and went home to have a lay down. The next thing I knew Kayne was shaking me awake, it was 3pm!! The doctor rang later that day and explained that I had low iron and low haemoglobin, hence why i felt like death and that i was booked in to have an iron infusion the following Monday, which seemed an awfully long way away.
I am happy to say that i have now had the infusion and am feeling much better, still waiting for the energy levels to come back up but feel ready to tackle BCU Coffs Triathlon in a few days time along with the GC Half Marathon and an Ironman one day, and Hell of the West – I will defiantly be back next year, wouldn’t miss it for the world!