Race Report - IM Australia (Port Macquarie) by Rahul Kulkarni (as told to Parul Sheth)
Updated: Jun 28, 2019
With 35 years of history, the Port Macquarie race is one of the oldest Ironman races. Port Macquarie, is a beautiful picturesque coastal town, north of Sydney, a five hour drive away. Lined with beaches and a lighthouse with stunning views, it’s a pretty place for a vacation with family as well. The race takes place in early May at the onset of autumn in Australia, and the weather makes it a perfect race to compete in.
We arrived 3 days prior to the race, to find our bearings, fix our bikes and check out the course. One important thing to note here, is that while there are many hotels/motels and apartments, the place gets booked very early for the Ironman dates and if you don’t book the accommodation well in advance, you will have to stay further north/south at Bonny Hills or Camden Head (that are about an hour away). That can add a bit of stress on race day, especially if you do not have a vehicle to ferry you around. There are a couple of good local bike shops around that came handy for unboxing and fixing.
Onto the race...
The swim is in Hastings River, so there is no substantial chop & the water is calm. The water temperature varied from about 19-21 deg celcius and was very comfortable. It is an easy swim but with a difference! About 1.8 km into the swim comes the twist. The estuary you swim up is blocked by a weir (a low dam). So we need to swim towards a set of stairs on the weir, climb out, walk the 5m over the weir, down the other side. After another 500m of swimming, you cross over the weir again, back to the other side. This breaks up the swim a bit and in a way gives you a bit of a respite, though one needs to be careful of wobbly legs while crossing the weir and hence holding the staircase for support is a good idea.
It was longer than most races, and the average duration of T1 was 11 minutes. We had to climb over a bridge, grab the gear bag, get changed, run to our bike, and get going. The good part however is that the volunteers there are extremely competent and well trained. The volunteer who helped me was fabulous and I must have saved a couple of minutes thanks to him.
I had expected the bike leg to be tough but it turned out to be tougher! The course is a two lap out and back circuit, notoriously hard.
Coming out of town there are some rolling hills, so I ignored my speed for the first half an hour. But that didn’t help! The elevation could be handled, I managed it well, but the road surface was extremely challenging. The surface was very coarse and certain sections almost felt like cobbled roads.
As I had done my long rides on the Mumbai – Ahmedabad highway (roads smooth as butter) this turned out to be a real challenge. In addition, due to the strong headwinds in exposed sections close to the coast I felt like I wasn’t moving at all, even though I was pedalling furiously.
The most talked about point in the race was the Matthew Flinders Drive. 12 kms into the start of the race and at 78 kms at the end of loop 1, this is a small but fiendish hill that is only about 200m in length, but very, very steep. One needed to get out of the saddle to crest it, losing precious time.
All in all, with a total bike elevation of 1216m over 180 kms, with hills primarily at the start and end of 90 km loop, the headwinds and the road surface, the bike course was really tough.
What made matters worse for not-so-strong cyclists, was the reduction of the time cut off (of the bike leg) at 10 hours this year, against the 10.5 hour cut off, from the years before.
I also had the regular issues with the chain slipping three times and falling once, though I was lucky not to get hurt. The bike course did me in, and I missed the 100 km cut off by 2 minutes. :-(
It was heartbreaking!
The Run: (which I did not do!)
The run circuit was pancake flat with 4 loops around the Wharf area and the additional half hour here cut out from the bike leg had anyway made it easier for those who didn’t have running as a strength. Being a runner, I was really looking forward to the Marathon!
Post my race, I went home and spent the rest of the day with my family. It’s great to have them around when things don’t go as expected. They helped me recover quite a bit from the disappointment.
Out in the evening again, I cheered the finishers in the dark, with a heavy heart. I should have been one them. That finish line is such a celebration of the work done, not just on this day, but of all the training, all the sacrifices, all the lost family time, all the missed parties/coffees/dinners.
As the runners finished their runs, to numerous cheers and the speaker boomed out their names calling them “IRONMAN’, I felt the disappointment more than ever. However, it made me more determined.
Signing up for the race had made sense as we started base training in October, and race specific training in January, and with the race in May. The bricks in April – peak summers in Mumbai, though, were really difficult- as we ran in the 2 pm afternoon sun!
In hindsight one wishes one had trained harder, swam faster and just done something (whatever) to make the cut. It was probably not a good race to pick, as my first IM 140.6, given the challenges.
Every experience, whether successful or failed, equips us better. Armed with the experience and an even greater resolve, I look forward to my next race soon!