6 years ago I raced my first Ironman triathlon in the beautiful coastal town of Port Macquarie. I was very new to the sport and although I didn’t have a great day, fate had it that I received a roll down spot for Hawaii. From then on I became completely hooked on the sport and realised that long course triathlon really suited me and my hyperactive nature :) This was going to be my 13th Ironman distance race and my bib number was 13, so although a little superstitious, I convinced myself that it had to be a good omen...
I was really nervous in the lead in to the big day, but for a change managed to get a few hours sleep and felt calm and ready to rip it up come race morning. As a mass start (and after a few previous swim start disasters), I was just hoping to get cleanly through the first lap and then settle into a solid pace. I expected gun swimmer Hillary Biscay to take off fast and try to get a break out of the water, so I was happy to come out just 1 minute behind her, and with fellow Aussie Michelle Mitchell in tow. I focussed on a quick transition and getting swiftly out onto the bike course.
My plan was to let my heart rate settle and get through the hills quickly but without blowing my legs in preparation for the long day ahead. I lost my spare tyre and hoped that this wasn’t going to come back to bite me later in the race. Hitting Lake Cathie straight was when I started to settle in to a good groove. I felt strong and decided to push the pace to make a move to catch Hillary. Michelle came with me and we were getting updates to tell us that we were gaining.
It was around the 70km mark that the gap was closed and I was now in the lead. It was so exciting for me and for all my support crew who received the good news in town! Not sure whether it was just the excitement but I decided to attack up the always challenging Matthew Flinders hill and tried to make a break through the hills back towards town. I had the biggest smile on my face when I entered Clarence Street with the ‘lead female’ vehicle beside me. Michelle came with me again, but Hillary backed off through the hills, which is how I normally race- but today I decided I was not going to hold back- no regrets! By 110km the three of us were together again. It was quite hard to keep a good rhythm with a Technical Official riding along beside us the entire race and scrutinising the 12 metre draft rule, but it also ensured clean racing.
Suddenly I noticed something was wrong with my front wheel and I hesitantly pulled over thinking I had a flat tyre. Thankfully it was just some tape which I removed fairly easily and the wheel was sorted- phew! I lost some time and had to push the pace to get back up to the girls. The three of us pretty much stayed in touch until 30km to go when Michelle started to drop off the pace. When I saw she was gone I put the hammer down as I knew with her phenomenal run speed I was going to need some time up my sleeve when I hit the run course. My legs cramped badly up the arduous Matthew Flinders hill the second time around and I was completely embarrassed when I almost didn’t make it up the final kicker! (I am sure the spectators on the hill had a bit of a laugh though)... I freaked out a bit as I thought I had completely blown my legs so I let Hillary go and spun out the last section back into transition to prepare for the run.
Credit: Delly Carr – Sportshoot
I hit T2 and had another speedy transition as my plan was to get out in front and go as hard as I could. I didn’t feel great and maybe I took off a little too fast in hindsight (at 4min/km pace), but I knew I had to get out of sight if I was going to win. It was an amazing feeling to be leading as normally I am the one doing the chasing on the run! I led for the first lap when Mitchell caught me. I wasn’t going to give in without a fight so I dug deep and just tried to hang with her for as long as possible.
Momentarily I regained the lead but shortly my fuse went and I lost touch, but still managed to keep the gap within a few minutes. Not long after the halfway point of the marathon I hit a really low point and my pace started to drop big time. I was still doing everything I could to stay focussed as I have learnt from previous races that anything can happen in Ironman racing. I saw Michelle on the last lap and she was flying so I just focussed on getting myself to the finish line and soaking up the amazing atmosphere along the way.
My feet were killing me with each step and my stomach was sloshing. With about 6km to go I got a final burst of energy but made the most of enjoying the last few kms to the finish- high fiving and thanking all my fantastic supporters. I was so elated to see that finish chute. I always get a little emotional at the end of an ironman and sure enough I felt the tears well up as I put it all on the line today. I was so exhausted but excited and really savoured that finish line experience.
Port Macquarie has to be one of the best finish chutes and most electric crowd atmospheres that I have experienced in the many races I have done around the world. I was greeted by a huge bunch of beautiful flowers and an overwhelming media response. The highlight of my day was the celebratory podium finish with champagne showers- not that I was in any state to truly enjoy it!
I have had a fantastic season so far with 5 podium finishes out of my 7 big races, but this has to top it off as one of my greatest races to date.I am so incredibly grateful to be surrounded by so many remarkable people. My best friend and loving husband Bern, my wonderful family who are always there to support me, my incredibly knowledgeable, inspiring and passionate coaches Christina and Bruce Thomas (EnergyLink), and all my Balmoral Triathlon Club (NSW Club champions wooohoo!) training buddies, who continually enthuse me and make training so much fun!. As always a huge thanks to my wonderful sponsors who have backed me over the last few years to ensure that I have the best of leading edge products and support - Shimano, Scody, High 5 Sports Nutrition, Blue Seventy, Newton, Oakley, Turramurra Cyclery, Trek, Nashys Pix, Foot Levellers, DTR Sports Management. There are also so many other supporters that I want to thank for keeping me in tip top shape- Dave Steven (Bay Chiropractic), Paul Collins (The Body Coach), Paul Penna (Focus Performance), Sarah Fletcher (SJF Massage), Clare Walsh (Quay Therapy), my amazing swim coach Narelle Simpson, and my employer Westpac and all my awesome work colleagues who are so supportive of my double life! Thanks for taking the time to read my race report. I am so passionate about Triathlon and showing the world that you can still achieve your dreams by training between 18-25 hours per week, holding down a corporate job and enjoying life. As Layne Beachley says in her book “If you truly believe you can do it, go out there and give it a go. The ONLY failure in life is not trying!” Keep smiling and train safe!
Nic x Nicole Ward, Professional Triathlete
Bachelor of Sports Science - Exercise Science
Level 1 Triathlon Coach