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IMWA 09 race report: Russell Cox
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Wednesday 9th December 2009


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Russell Cox (www.trainstravels.co.uk) has been keeping us updated on his hectic racing schedule during the year, and after a great result in Kona, Ironman Western Australia was his sixth Ironman of the year, and he was looking to secure his 2010 Kona slot early. Despite a busy year, a personal best time a place on the podium and that all important Hawaii slot was the result. Here is his report.


It's been a busy year! Twelve months ago I was reporting on my race in the 2008 Ironman Western Australia. Here I am again back in Busselton with a new report from my third time here. A lot has happened in that year not least five other Ironman races. I must admit that I've been looking forward to finishing this one and not having to race so much!

Busselton is a small town that puts a big effort into the event. The community spirit is remarkable. People really seem to love it and enjoy having the competitors around. Join the local athletes for training sessions and you see the impact it's had first hand. The Saturday morning ride is larger than many back home and finishes with a coffee gathering that takes over the local restaurant.

If you've read my Kona race report you may remember a successful race there had boosted my confidence and raised my goals. I approached this race with two things in mind. My age group podium and the potential to break the nine hour mark. I knew from previous years that these weren't easy goals despite the course's fast reputation. Even so I was quite public about the nine hour aim.

A real mix of weather led up to race week. Sometimes hot, sometimes cold, often windy and sometimes stormy. Already an obsessive weather tracker I was checking race day predictions every morning. As the week went by it became clear it was going to be hot and windy. Perfect! I know I'm stronger than most under those conditions. Nine hours might be tough, but this could help me up to the podium.

As one of the states without daylight savings Western Australia the sun is up very early. Arriving at transition in light takes the edge off pre-race tension. As usual I got there early, but needed all of five minutes to prepare my bike. There's always the fear that if you leave it till the last minute they'll be a problem.

It wasn't long before I was standing in the ocean waiting for starters orders. The sea was exceptionally calm more like a pool than open water. The best I'd seen it all month. Perfect conditions for a fast swim. Time for me to start testing out all the work I've been putting in to put my swimming back on track. I can't deny the disappointment I've had with results in the swim lately. I was hoping to get things back on track.

We stood in the shallows, divided into zones according to swim ability. I'd put myself near the front, but with some of those Aussie swimmers I wasn't going to go right up there. The starting horn nearly took me by surprise. I knew it was imminent, but it went off a good minute or two before I expected. Maybe I missed the warnings. Fortunately I was standing in place and ready to go. A quick tap to start the stopwatch and off I went.

Following the course of the Jetty makes this one of the easiest swims. It would take real skill to have navigational problems. The opportunities for drafting are superb so it didn't take long to reach the far end. I'd hardly done any work to get there either! The return to shore presents two options. Those familiar with the course often save themselves some swimming by taking a direct line to the turn buoy. Most people follow the curve of the Jetty to get there.

I latched onto the feet of a couple of guys apparently taking the direct line. It was working so well until they headed in to an intermediate sighting buoy. All the advantages of the direct route completely lost! At least I'd still been conserving energy by sitting on feet. In with a larger group I progressed back to the shore and reached the beach on the hour. Happy with that I dashed over the road into transition. From the announcements I was the first mohawk out the water. Whatever happened I might be on the mohawk podium then!

In the transition tent I began to wonder if I'd mixed up bodyglide with glue. The wetsuit wasn't coming off without a fight. A struggle and I was free, but in the process created a couple of tiny tears in the seams. No time to worry about that in a race. I sped through the rest of my bike preparation and got out onto the course.

Just like the Long Distance Worlds in Perth I'd fitted my bike with a wheel cover on a powertap wheel. I was riding with a disc and powermeter to get the most from the bike. A three lap perfectly flat bike course makes for a solid 180km time trial effort. Sounds easy? You just have to factor in the strong Southerly winds and the building heat. The sun was out in force and as the morning progressed the temperature rose.

Having spent the past month pushing myself hard on the bike I aimed to do the same here. I've tended to ride conservatively saving myself for the run. With my race goals I needed to be pushing from the start. The higher effort had some consequences, not least that food was harder to digest. I found things a less palatable and occasionally opted for the tasty biscuits offered at aid stations instead.

By the third lap the effort and heat were taking their toll. I was finding it much harder to hit my power targets. The powermeter was extra motivation if I saw myself slack I'd push more to get the numbers up. Otherwise it was a case of spot someone up the road and chase them down! Last year I'd faded on the return to town, but not this time. I was going to work to the end of this bike whatever happened.

I came into transition painfully close to my 4:50 target. Just a minute or two in it. Given the wind and heat I'm pleased to have come that close. It was definitely far harder work out there than the previous two years. A flat course doesn't necessarily mean easy!

After the problematic first transition the second was remarkably smooth. Having moved well up the field I had the benefit of plenty of assistance. I sat down in the tent and asked for suntan lotion. A disadvantage of my new mohawk was the need to protect my head from the sun. A couple of ladies happily rubbed sun cream onto my scalp whilst a media camera filmed!

Russell Cox on the run - with mowhawk!

I'd been wearing some new calf compression sleeves since the start of the race. They helped keep my calves feeling good on the bike and now saved me putting compression socks. My run shoes were on in seconds and soon I was out of the tent and onto the final stage of the day.

It quickly became clear this was not going to be a comfortable run. My legs felt sore, my calves were like rocks! I wondered if I'd gone too hard on the bike. Perhaps I had an electrolyte imbalance; my right calf had cramped a couple of nights ago. Maybe it was the low level of run training since Kona. At this point it didn't matter. One way or another I needed a good run if I had any hope of nine hours.

In the build up to the race I'd boldly stated a goal of an Ironman marathon PB of 3:05. If I could do that I'd be nearly bang on nine. I settled into a good pace behind another runner. Things felt a little hard, but manageable and when I initially checked my time at the two kilometre marker I was happy. At the six kilometre mark I realised I'd mixed my paces up and was going slower than I thought!

Generally my race strategy is to run the final 10km hard. If pacing is correct it won't be a problem. Western Oz has three laps of just over 14km and I'd been planning to run the last one hard. Clearly I'd have to for any kind of marathon PB. There was just the matter of a second lap to get through before that.

The heat was now an issue, but I made a happy discovery. Copying the runner I was following I tipped a cup of ice down my shorts! The effect was amazing. Suddenly I felt rejuvenated and could pick things up a little. As in Kona cooling myself became more important than nutrition. At each aid station I'd do my best to get all the ice I could. With luck I'd leave the station with ice cubes rattling in my shorts.

Lap two proved tough going. My pace dropped and I lost connection with the runner I was pacing off. There were moments when I asked myself whether I really needed to keep this effort up. Something inside me wasn't going to give up and I kept pushing through the discomfort. Having survived the second lap I headed out for the third unsure about running hard.

Not far into the lap I passed Jo who did a great job of reminding me to dig deep. I knew I was off schedule. Lap two had made such a dent in my time there was little chance of a marathon PB. An Ironman PB was still in reach if I ran hard enough. I ignored all the protests from my legs and started making them work.

Near the turn around point I passed another athlete on his final lap. He asked my age group and despite thinking it might lead to a head to head race I told him. In too much discomfort to contest the race he told me I'd moved into second place. I was definitely on the age group podium, what a massive boost to my run! The mental aspect of this sport can be amazing, suddenly I was finding reserves I didn't know I had.

With eight kilometres left I was working the hardest I could. Hard enough I got confused over paces and distances again so was disappointed to discover I had six kilometres to go rather than four at the next sign! I managed to catch that runner I'd paced off of on lap one and left him behind. With four kilometres to go and a few final words of encouragement from Jo I put in everything I could.

I didn't want to lose this placing and who knew where number one was. No stopping now it was time to dig deep till the end. The final turning point was a relief. Still a mile from the finish, but that's nothing in the overall scheme. One final push saw me over the line in 9:19. No where near that nine hour goal, but a new PB and second in my age group!

It had been a tough day. If I was capable of a nine hour Ironman this hadn't been the place to find out. I certainly wasn't up to it in those conditions. That said everyone had struggled and in many respects my performance was a result of suffering less than those around me. The drop out rate was a significant 12% and something in the order of 75 competitors needed IV fluids.

The following morning I had the pleasure of collecting a slot for the 2010 Ironman World Championship. I'd been hoping to get my slot here, but after all the time it took me to qualify for this year's championship it seemed so unlikely! Yet my plan had worked and at the first opportunity I'd booked my ticket. All that was left was the awards ceremony and adding a second Ironman trophy to my collection!

Russell collects his trophy

It's no surprise I'm happy with such a great end to the year. Six Ironman's seemed a stupid idea at times, but somehow I've managed four good races in a row. Things seem to have clicked and I'm confident this means I can progress further next year. I'm not planning to repeat such a heavy race schedule. Instead I'll focus on more training and some ambitious goals. I've the luxury of three months till I next go the distance. Early March I'll be racing in Ironman New Zealand at Taupo.

I have to thank a number of people who've helped me along the way. As ever Jaggad (www.jaggad.com) who provide my distinctive kit and invited me to the VIP section at the carbo party! The guys at My Sporting Times (www.mysportingtimes.com) for the swim training and wetsuit. I didn't mean to put holes in it! Also all my friends in Busselton who are so welcoming and helped me during my final race preparation.


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