My Last Ironman Race Report

I often get asked what led me to choose Ironman as a sport? My normal response involves how I’d tried a few sporting events which eventually led me to this event and how my first experience left me feeling like there was so much more that I wanted to achieve. But I can pinpoint the moment when the seed was planted in my mind. I was 24, keen, energetic, open to possibilities, always looking for a challenge and a little injured. One of the downfalls of a life in lycra, for those who don’t know by day I’m an Aerobics instructor (we like to call ourselves group fitness instructors in this modern time, aerobics is so 80’s), is the occasional ankle injury. So after one high kick too many I was back on the bed at my local physio, my home away from home. Grant, a guy whose lines on his face showed the hours he worked but whose eyes maintained his deep caring of those around him, was working on me and like always he started talking about some amazing feat he had recently heard about. Grant loved true, epic stories and it was like he was a school teacher reading with enthusiasm when he told me about them. This day he started telling me about a guy he knew who was competing in an Ironman, ‘It’s crazy when you think about it, they run a Marathon after a 3.8 km swim and a 180 km ride!’  There was a magic in his words that sparked a fire in my stomach, in that moment I knew I wanted to be an Ironman. So my journey began. 

Over the next six months I amassed a huge number of ‘firsts’ in my athletic career. The first time I ever swam more than two lengths at the pool, rode more than 100 km, my first 10 hour training day (a little silly two weeks before the race!) and many, many more. The end of the period was wrapped up with me collapsing over the line at Ironman New Zealand in a time of 10:59!  Never in my life had I experience something that was so hard, to the point where the body couldn’t go any further but the mind just kept it moving to the goal. The next night as slowly hobbled in old man steps, a common look at the after party, I meet a man called Greg Frame in the line for food. Greg, a charismatic man who has a smile glued on his face, was a former New Zealand cyclist and had managed to finish the day before in a time of 8:59. By the way, Greg was 40!  While Cam Brown had impressed me with the win there was something about Greg’s performance that wowed me. I remember thinking ‘Man, 9 hours is unbelievable, that is awesome!’ It seemed so far out of reach but the experience from the day before had left me wanting more. 

Over the next 5 years I kept on developing myself as a athlete. During this time I achieved some of the proudest moments of my life, my first sub 10 hour Ironman, qualifying and competing in Hawaii, winning my age group in Ironman New Zealand and getting myself to the level where I thought I could race as an entry level pro. There were also many amazing life experiences that come with the training an Ironman brings. When you think how for most people a three hour exercise session would be one of the biggest days in their lives, and how they feel when they have achieved this, you can start to understand the level of esteem that comes with training days that can last up to and over 6 hours, week in and week out. It’s a magic that few get to know. I’ve also experienced some disappointments -- once I turned pro I struggled to get my big goal of doing a sub 9 Ironman. 

Fast forward to the night before the race last weekend. After having lovely tomato pasta for dinner I jumped into bed and my mind went into the ‘I wonder’ phase. Ironman is a sport where you always live on the edge of blowing up and losing everything you had aimed for. There are so many examples of the top athletes crumbling 500 meters from the finish line, having to crawl to the end and watching their lifetime dream slip away as someone drifts pass them in slow motion with their arms in the air to win the race. This race can shatter the strongest of people. You can go into a race being 100% prepared but there will always be that ‘wonder’ about what will happen. So as I’m lying in bed I start to think about now, yea now, I wondered what my race report would say? While setting my goals for this race I deliberately kept away from a time and made it about learning about myself and growing the process that makes Bevan James Eyles better. But as I lay there I knew deep down that my race would be defined by my time, if I did a sub nine it was a total success and if not I will have to find reasons why it didn’t happen. I went to sleep hoping it would be about success. 

My day started on a high, after a comfortable but strong swim I came out of the water in a time of 53 mins. This was a personal best which I really wasn’t expecting. Once on the bike my focus was to ride strong but comfortable with good technique and to make sure I kept fueling myself. Mentally I had the best Ironman ride that I have ever had.  Other than a 5 km section while I struggled a little bit I found it well within myself. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed when I got off the bike and found that I’d only ridden 4:55, I was hoping to do 4:45 and I thought I was at that pace. Getting off the bike I knew two things, I had to do an Ironman Marathon PB to do a sub 9 and the body has fallen apart around the 25-30 km mark in my last two races. I decided to keep the pace in the first half of the run very comfortable.  At times I did think I should go faster but I respected the race and held off. At the halfway point I’d done 1:32, I knew I had to 1:36 to get in under nine. This would be tough but if I didn’t blow it could be done, would I do it? 

Then it hit me, the thing I’d been planning all to avoid all day, I started hitting the wall at the 26km mark! I couldn’t believe it! I’d raced a smart race where I’d made all the right decisions and it happened again. For the next 5 kms it was like I was running with lead shoes on that were filled concrete. Everything was slipping away and there was nothing that I seemed to be able to do about it.  It was like I was crawling while watching my dream drift away. At the 31 km mark I knew my sub 9 had gone and I was in a place where I could stumble home and come in around 9:19, my current PB, or I could fight and finish this sport with my best day out there. I remembered a saying by Martin Luther King that goes something like, ‘It’s not what a man does in a time of comfort and strength that measures him, it’s what he does when he is confronted with conflict and struggle that truly reveals who he is’ and decided that I was going to do my best until the end!  So with 10 km to go I started moving the concrete-filled lead shoes as fast as I could. I had to dig deeper than what I have ever done before. This was a place where the body and the mind are both telling you to ‘just take it easy and get home’ but I wouldn’t let it beat me. My friend Glen, a guy who was around 3 mins off his PB after bugger all training (maybe that’s what I should have done), told me the next day that he didn’t recognise me as he saw me running towards the finish. He said ‘your face was grimacing like you were in a world of hurt.’ And I was. I came into the finishing area, that is filled with thousands of people cheering you on, and looked up at the clock to see that I would do 9:05. I punched the sky and raised my arms as I crossed the finish line and fell into someone’s arms.  

Being honest I have to admit that over the last two days I’ve been living in ‘what if’ land. I have created so many of them that wikipedia could have a page on it. I’ve laid in bed at night thinking of what I could have done differently to get that last five minutes. I found myself fighting the temptation to use excuses when describing the race to others (yea I want to tell you about them right now) and I’ve find myself drifting back to the race so I can do something!  But now I’ve come to the conclusion that I know I made the best decisions I could make at all times during the race, if I did it again I think I would do it the same. At the end of the day I wasn’t a sub 9 Ironman. But I know these things: in last three months I have experienced one of the biggest growth periods of my life, and this isn’t just as an athlete.  I did a personal best time by 14 minutes.  I raced a smart race and I dug deep when all the walls were crumbling around me. I’m proud of what I did!

Mum asked me I would consider doing another one but my life wants to go in new directions. Without giving up other passions I feel I’ve reached close to all the growth that Ironman can bring me. But don’t worry I’ll still be challenging myself physically, I love it too much! 

Since this is kind of my goodbye to Ironman there are a few people I want to thank: Fred Harding, Graham Ewing, Neil Graham, Albert Boyce and Adrianne Shaw -- these guys gave in very special ways. 

My Sponsors over the years: Genius bikes, Scotty Browns, Blue Seventy,, Coffees of Hawaii and Bolle sunglasses. 

Everybody who financially gave through supporting my fundraising to help me achieve my goals.  Your gifts small or large meant so much more than the dollar you gave. Plus the people who helped coordinate a lot of the fundraising, you gave your time and energy to help me achieve my goals! That still blows my mind. 

My Girlfriends over the time: Rae and Annelies. Ironman triathletes aren’t the easiest partners to be with but both of you were great at supporting a obsessed young man -- you both were amazing!

The Ironman Talk community; what started as a silly training idea has turned into such a valuable part of my life. I never get sick of the emails of support for my goals and the show. 

Members from the Christchurch gym, without knowing it you helped pull me through many tough days. Some of the loveliest people there are. 

My homestays: people who open up their home and let you make it yours! I will pay this forward and try to maintain the high standards you all set. 

The people who I have trained with over the years. There’s something about being around people who thrive on a challenge and know how to breath the air of life. 

‘Coach’ John Newsom, his passion for triathlon and willingness to share his knowledge is amazing. We’re shared some great experiences together, you are a real mate.

My friends. This sport has help me realise how important you are. Thanks for being there for me. A special mention must go to Dunk, Fraser, Geoff and Kate. These guys would come from all around New Zealand at a high cost just to yell at me on the side lines, plus do a little Ironman drinking ;-)

Mum, Dad and Shelley. I have to admit I’m getting a little emotional right now! I can honestly say that I have the best family in the world! Their love for me is unbelievable. I could achieve nothing without them.  Everything I have ever achieved is because I know those guys are there in my heart. I will never forget riding in the middle of nowhere in a race seeing a crazy bunch of people (often dressed up in the craziest gear) make the most noise of any supporters out there and thinking with pride ‘that’s my family!’

Tyla Jade Eyles.  If anyone has had to put up with someone being tired, it’s you. I love you more than you’ll ever know. I’ll never forget how you would go and get a blanket when you would see that I had crashed on the couch or how you knew ‘watching a movie’ together would mean I would fall asleep within 5 mins but you would cuddle up and enjoy being with your dad. You are very special!

Lastly, everybody who ever sent me an email, showed interest in or followed my progress. I truly believe that people are good and you always showed that side of yourself to me.

In our sport there’s a phrase that goes ‘one and done’ for the people who only compete in one Iron distance race. A wise triathlete once said ‘it’s a pity that those people don’t gain the true life lessons that competing in Ironman for a few years brings.’ I leave this passion of mine having learnt those lessons, what a journey!

Bevan Eyles