10 Times the Distance. By Coach Lew Hartley.
If I stood here today and said that I remember every moment of these ten events, I’d be lying. If I stood here today and say I remember only the good things, I’d be lying. What I can say is that what I do remember is moments of inspiration, from pain and success, and this is what this story is about.
For me it began back late in 2001 when I started a new project in Sydney. I walked into the office of Sjaak Verschoor, now good friend, back then project manager. On his desk he had two photos, one of him at the base camp of some mountain called Everest, which people make a big deal of, and the other one, the one that really caught my eye, a photo of him finishing an Ironman.
The dream began. It took me a season to find my way around the sport of triathlon during which time I did the BRW, joined BTC and found myself too scared to do club champs - swimming 1km in the open water just wasn't going to happen and I avoided club champs 2002... slowly.
I began to be more and more part of the BTC family, attending the track and brick sessions, staying in the background and checking out these awesome ironman athletes from a safe distance. Eventually early in 2003, staring another club champs in the face I decided it was time to take fate into my own hands. I contacted Energylink and explained to Chrissie my grand plan of starting on the road to eventually do Ironman Australia in 2005. The phone call was actually quite amusing and thinking back, it just becomes more and more amusing as the years pass by. The reason for my amusement was that Chrissie quite appologetically told me that Bruce is unfortunately fully booked and very busy with the ironman athletes at the moment and would I mind if she coaches me... Yeah right, Lew Hartley, elite athlete and heavy weight champion of the world was going to mind being coached by Ironman champion Christina Thomas, who by all reports had one of the toughest minds when it came to racing. "No probs Chris, we'll make a fine team..".
2003 Club champs came and went and I settled into the routine of being coached, which was quite an eye opener. As I was swearing at my coach, session after session, the changes in body and mind took place and the reality of doing my first half ironman in 2005 started to fill me with real excitement. The process was in full swing. It was around November of 2003 when I had a chat to Chris about who knows what when she dropped this little suggestion on me about doing Canberra half. "All the others are doing it, you might as well join them" she said. She probably added that it would be fun as well and of course I duely jumped into the fire. I've never done Canberra half again. I have no intentention of doing it again. This I can say though, after putting myself into one of the darkest places I've been, begging the marshalls to pull me off the course and Bruce handing me his phone so I could receive a rescue phone call from my coach, I got to the finish line eventually and somehow found it in me to put my race number in the draw for an Ironman Aus spot. Three hours later they drew my number and I really started to panic.
Sunburnt and tired to death I stumbled into my hotel room, serious doubts going through my mind. "Am I really capable of doing an ironman in little over three months?”. I sent a text to Chris asking her whether she thinks I can do it and whether she believes it's a good idea given where I'm at in my triathlon life. A text sent somewhat in hope that I'd get pulled out of the furnace by a rescuing hand. The response read something like "If you want to get there we'll help you achieve it". And so the first seeds were planted of the lesson I've heard so many times but took me ten ironman finishes to finally grasp. “Whether you think, you can or can’t, you’re right”. Yes I'm a slow learner, it's a good thing I have a great coach!
For the next 3 months I didn't miss a beat. As is typical for an Ironman virgin, the perceived immensity of the task I was embarking on demanded me to simply keep my head down and get on with the training. What I remember of my first Ironman in 2004 is the smiling. From the minute I got out of the water and realised I'm way under the cut off time to the point where I came down the finish shute for the first time, I was smiling - The distance done once.
The next season threw it's own challenges and curve balls and I was sent to Singapore by my company. Training in Singapore was different but the one consistancy among much turmoil was triathlon. It gave me a method to connect with people in Singapore and kept me in touch with my mates back in Sydney. To this date I'm not sure how I got to Forster in 2005. Looking back at the lifestyle I was living, it was a small miracle. What did remain though is my coach. If I say triathlon was the one constant, my coach was at the core of that consistancy. Being able to rely on my coach through a crazy travel schedule, always having an idea or method to get the training done no matter where in the world I was.
Race day 2005 was the toughest and probably the silliest thing I've put myself through. Having suffered diaree from 2 days befor the race, the wise thing would have been to pull out. If anyone ever asked me do I regret doing the 2005 race, the answer is yes. It's simple really - if you're sick, you shouldn't race. It took me about 3 months to get over the, mental effects of that day. The distance done twice.
2006 ended up being anoter year of dealing with mental challenges. After doing the first Port half in 2005, I didn't back myself to be able to race Ironman on that course so I enetered NZ instead. NZ 2006 ended up as the Ironman that never was and although I bost a finishers medal, the race was shortened due to severe weather conditions. That was two ironman dissapointments in a row. Something had to be done - I simply had to finish an ironman in 2006.
Busso 2006 ended up being the answer. So I kept my head down, picked up the training, did the race in the now famous Busso heat but felt as if I somewhat under petformed. Three times the distance.
In 2007 I continued to do my first Ironman in Port. It was a tough gig but under guidance of my coach the post Busso recovery went well and the lead up to Port was almost easy compared to previous years. What's more is I actually went faster in Port! Four times the distance.
2008 ended up being a consolidation year for me. I was in the groove with my training, comfortable with where I was and what I was doing even though in the back of my mind I had this nagging thing that I'm being beaten by people I should be beating. I cruised Port 2008 much in the same fashion as most of my previous races, sitting somewhere around the 12:40 mark, feeling that I'm under achieving. Five times the distance.
So after finishing the Iromman distance five times my mind cracked and my coach called me in for a pep talk – “Remember why you're doing this. It's about enjoying being out there. You can't control what others are doing so don't give them your energy. Just be the best you can be”. Then with great coaching and very supportive friends bringing me home in the final kilometers I broke 12 hours for the first time at Busso 2008. Six times the distance.
I followed this performance with a solid performance at Port 2009 but hoping to achieve a sub 12 at Port wasn't quite enough and althoug a pb for the event I didn't break 12 hours. Seven times the distance.
It's around about this time that the first major mental shift started to take place. I contacted my coach and said that I want to break 11 hours at Port. She asked me if I didn't want to enter Busso first, testing my resolve, and my response was no, if it's not at Port, it doesn't count. The course I once feared has become the meassure of my achievements and racing there is now like a complex love affair.
The process started. I looked at where improvements were needed. Racing at 95kg was probably a bit heavy so I look at losing a bit of weight and with my coach looked at bringing the cycle and run time down. Come race day in 2010 I was ready. Hoping to grasp that 11 hour barier but really sub 12 at Port would be fine by me. I did 11:39 and was ecstatic, hoping is not believing… - Eight times the distance.
Preparation for Port 2011 was a lot the same as the year before. Everything was ready for me to perform. On the day the conditions were a bit windy but my hopes were high. By the time I got off the bike I realised I'd need a sub 4hour marathon to break 11 hours. Prior to that my fastest run was 4:40+ so I decided to relax and enjoy the run. Somehow I managed to still improve my pb by six minutes to 11:33. Nine times the distance. Like I said, I'm a slow learner. Up to this point sub 11 was a dream I hoped to achieve. My coaches believed I could achieve it, but I just hoped. Finally the penny dropped and I realised if I'm going to convince my mind that sub 11 will happen on race day, I need to train in such a way that there is no doubt. My coach had the plan - I needed to execute.
Execution is not just what you do on race day. It's what you do from that moment that you make the decision to start training. 2011/2012 Was for me the perfect season. Everything went right. I had a solid winter training season and came out flying. Every mantra or saying about training I could remember echoed through my mind as I was training. "Be the best you can be, forget the rest", "do the hard things hard and the easy things easy", "consitancy, consitency, consistency". And I was ready. Approaching race day 2012, for the first time in 11 ironman attempts, when someone asked me, "Are you ready?", my answer was without hesitation "Yes!". I new I trained as hard as I possibly could. I new I was in my best physical shape ever. I was lighter, stronger and probably for the first time ever, arrived at an ironman event with no niggling injuries. And then we had a perfect race day! - That was 10 times the distance.
If anyone asks me what my favourite memory is, the answer is easy. Doing the ironman and knowing you're going well, having to control your excitement hour after hour, welcoming the familiar stages of fatigue you go through, focussing on executing the plan and then having your club, your long time mates and your coaches that lived through the previous events with you, run by your side as you pass them on the final lap, feeling their excitement and happiness, knowing you are realising your potential, that is the best memory I have.
So if I stood here and said every memory in here has been recalled 100% accurate, I'd be lying. Memories are what they are though, formed from moments of inspiration, through pain and success, remembered in a way that gives meaning to he/she who remembers.
I'm not finished yet. I know there's more and better to come. I also know I want to give back to this sport that has given me so much. So for me, as I continue this journey, I can only hope to honour my coaches and my mentors and the many many friends who assisted me in getting this far, by inspiring others to realise their potential. Maybe then, in some small way, I've given back to this sport which taught me so much in life and made Australia home.
Ten Times the Distance:
1. Ironman Australia 2004 12:43:53
2. Ironman Australia 2005 14:57:53
3. Ironman WA 2006 12:36:07
4. Ironman Australia 2007 12:24:10
5. Ironman Australia 2008 12:41:23
6. Ironman WA 2008 11:58:40
7. Ironman Australia 2009 12:13:33
8. Ironman Australia 2010 11:39::31
9. Ironman Australia 2011 11:33:41
10. Ironman Australia 2012 10:49:18