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Chris Sanson day at the ironman worldchamps 2011


4am, the alarm goes off; who would have imagined three years of training would have come down to this day? I managed to fall asleep at 9 the night before and not wake up until the next morning – one of the best pre race sleeps I’ve ever had. Eating breakfast at this time of the morning is never an easy task for me but with Kate on the ball she was shoving eggs down my throat before I could say no. By 5am we were in the car heading down the Queen K on the way to the start.

We headed inside the tent to get our body marking done, then it was off to do the final checks on the bike – drink bottles, helmet, shoes and then wait in the huge line for the portaloo. One last nervous check of the bike then I was off to find Kate and the rest of the support crew (Sue’s family). On went my kit and loads of sunscreen. Before I knew it the pros were starting at 6:30am and Mike Riley started calling the age groupers into the water.


Down the stairs and into the water went the 1900 age group athletes that started that day. The nervous wait in the water began and with 15 minutes to go I swam out to the start line. I decided to start just to the left and about 5 metres back to try and avoid the worst of the whitewash and fighting which I had been warned goes on in the middle.

“3, 2, 1 BANG” and the cannon went off. WOW what a start, heaps of room to move, and I thought to myself – this is a dream come true, then I hit the first buoy and everyone on my right moved across to squeeze past the buoy and I got swamped; this was the case for the next 7 buoys! The turn seemed to come up quickly but getting around it was a challenge in itself. After the struggle I finally got around the two end boats and I was heading home. Halfway home I felt my left calf cramping – but after a few hard kicks it went away, and before I knew it I could see the pier on my left and the swim exit was not far away. I finished in 1.06. It was a hard current coming back and all the times were slower this year – even the pros found it tougher but I was pleased with my swim and ran into transition eager to start the bike.

I ran into transition and into a tent half the size of the tent at Ironman New Zealand but with double the number of people. You can only imagine how hectic it was inside. I managed to get hosed down and changed reasonably quickly and ran out of transition. I got half way towards my bike and realized my pockets felt a little light – all my bars had fallen out and there was no way I was going to risk my nutrition for just a few seconds in transition, so I turned around and ran back into traffic and found them scattered across the ground, so I grabbed them and my bike and headed out of transition.

My legs felt amazing as I started the 112 mile (180km) ride, I expected this with the amount of training I had put into my cycling. Up and around the streets of Kona, before I knew it I was around Hot Corner and out on the Queen K. About 30km into the ride I came across fellow New Zealander and friend, Simon Cochrane. He had swum a 1.01 so I knew I had made up some time, potentially 5 minutes on my competition already. 40km into the ride I found myself in a really big group, for fear of drafting (being closer than 7 metres to the rider in front of you, which incurs a penalty) I moved to the front of the group. Just moments later while I was sitting behind only one other person with a legal gap between me and the guy ahead and the bunch behind squabbling for position, a motorbike came up behind me and called out “1894 drafting – please stop at the next penalty tent” I was shocked that I would be the one that was chosen for a drafting penalty considering what was going on behind me and my seemingly large gap between myself and the next rider. I figured arguing would get me no where so I cruised along for the next 15km at about 70% until I found the penalty tent, where I found a line of 25 other guys all arguing and complaining about one certain official making unfair calls out on the course. I knew it would be a wait before I was given an official watch so I started my own. 2 minutes later a referee finally gave me an official watch and I tried to tell her I had been here for 2 minutes already and she told me it didn’t matter and my time started from now. What was meant to be a 4minute stand down was now a 6 minute one, all I could do was laugh it off and use the time to have a snack and drink while I waited.

I got back on the bike and decided to make up the time I had lost. I rode reasonably hard up to the turn off at Hawi and was making good ground. I poured water over my body at every drink station as the heat was really starting to crank up.  20km before the turn around point I was riding along having a bite to eat and I heard the motorbike coming up behind me so I looked at my following distance and I would have been a good 10 metres back, so I thought there is no way he can get me, but I was wrong, the bike pulled up next to me with a familiar face – the same referee as before and he called out “1894 – penalty for blocking” as I looked around I saw there was no one behind me. I was confused and dismayed but before I could voice my opinion the official had moved on to the next person to penalize them too.

At this stage my heart and soul was gone from the race; I had lost all motivation to carry on. I spent the next 20km to the turn up on my bullhorns with no intentions of riding hard anymore. I got to the turn and into the penalty box and did my (hopefully last) 4-minute stand down and headed home. While I had been in the box I had time to reflect and sort my head out and I was back in the game. I decided I would ride home avoiding groups because I knew one more penalty meant the end of my day.

There was a head wind on the way home but with reasonably fresh legs from the previous 20km cruise I didn’t find it too bad. With 10 km to go my clock said 4hours 40mins, I made the decision that I would cruise the last 10km which would still put me at 5 hours but would leave me fresh for a rocket fast run.

Into transition, bang on 4 hours and 58 minutes, I thought to myself – that will have to do just fine. Now I had to get through transition in the fastest time possible. I ran into the bag area and called out my number, an official handed me a bag and I carried on towards the tent. As I got to the door of my tent I looked down and saw that the bag I had been given was not mine, so I turned around and yelled to the officials that it wasn’t my bag, I put it back while the officials scrambled round looking for mine. 2 minutes later a lady came running out of the tent yelling, “Here it is, here it is!” They had given it to the wrong person prior to me coming in and that person had left it in the tent. I threw on my race belt and running shoes and out I went. My legs felt good and I got into my rhythm really quickly. I then made the decision to walk through the next two aid stations and take on as much water and ice as I could to try and cool myself down because it was so hot.

Ticking along nicely I got to the turn on Ali’i drive which was about 9km into the run, I went round the turn and with the change of speed both my calf muscles cramped up, so I reached down and grabbed my toes and pulled them as hard as I could, and thankfully the cramp stopped there and then. The run back into town seemed to tick by quickly and for the first time that day I felt as though things were going as planned. Then came Palani Hill; I started up the hill telling myself it’s not that big, but three quarters of the way up I found myself slowing to a walk with my legs screaming at me. From then on things went down hill pretty quickly. I got out onto the Queen K and struggled to find any sort of rhythm and the little voice in my head kept telling me, “Just stop and walk, just stop and walk”.

By the 21km mark my mind and the heat had gotten the better of me and I spent the next hour walking until I turned off into the Energy Lab. Even though I had been there for two weeks prior to the event, acclimatizing, nothing could have prepared me for the heat on that day, with reports saying the heat on the road out at the Energy Lab reaching up to 57 degrees Celsius!

I thought, with all the stories that I had heard about the Energy Lab, it would have been a good idea to try and run it and get out as quickly as possible. I made it down the hill to the turn around before I started to walk again. The walk out seemed to take ages but at this stage I wasn’t the only one walking; many people around me were suffering and had also resorted to a walk.

I left the Energy Lab and was so angry that it had taken me so long to walk out. I decided there was no way in hell I was walking the whole way home and I started running again. Within 5 minutes I was back in my rhythm and holding 5-minute kms along the Queen K Highway – what a sigh of relief it was to be moving faster.

My body put up one last hurdle to slow me down with a few stomach cramps, but I knew if I stopped I wouldn’t start again so I ran through them and overcame them.

As I ran into town for the last time it was an incredible feeling hearing all the people yelling and screaming. As I turned onto the infamous Ali’i Drive for the last 400 metres and it was lined with thousands of people.  I ran up to the finish line high-fiving as many people as I could.

I had done it; I had completed the 2011 Ironman World Championships – the hardest race of my life. My finish time was 10 hours and 20 minutes; the run had taken me 4 hours and 5 minutes. I thought to myself, “Now that was one long day, but it wouldn’t be my last!”