Steve Grace, CEO of Balance the Grind, shares his first-hand experience of tackling the IRONMAN 70.3 Western Sydney, a challenge that marked both his first Ironman and triathlon.
From the initial decision to sign up, through the grueling training, to the final race day, he provides an honest, down-to-earth account of what it takes to go from casual fitness enthusiast to completing one of the most challenging endurance events. It’s a story about stepping way out of your comfort zone and discovering what you’re truly capable of.
Before we even get started on what it is like to compete in an event like this, I do want to let everyone know that this was literally not only my first Ironman, but it was also my very first triathlon.
I have never in my life competed in an event that required 3 different sports, I have never even considered what it would be like to jump out of a swim race and then simply jump on a bike soaking wet, or had any thoughts about the process of a ‘transition” as they call them (the process of moving from swimming to cycling or cycling to running) which is arguably the 4th part of the race.
In terms of preparation before I decided to sign up for this race (which does cost between $500-$900 entry fee) I had been on a few runs of around 6-7 kilometres every couple of weeks. I had only really swum about 1 kilometre in one session previously and that was about twice a year, and I have not ridden a road bike since I was about 19 years old.
I did however keep fit, I did some mountain biking with my kids (nothing crazy here), I went to the gym a couple of times a week, I have been playing around with a new sport called Wing Foiling (this is another article) but considering my current level of expertise most of the time was spent climbing back on the board after falling in every way possible into the water.
I walked the dog (really not sure that counts), and I would run once a week, probably around the 5 kilometre mark. Being very naturally lean you could argue I was built for endurance sport, but I had never had the need to try. I did however have a crazy Texan friend (Matthew) a few years younger than me who had completed around 5 of these in the last 3 years, and we often spoke about how ridiculous the whole concept was, well that was my view.
The years 2022 and 2023 had been difficult years for me on many fronts both personal and work and I think perhaps I was looking for something to cling onto, something to do that I did not think I could do, I have always like to try and do things people do not think I can, I guess you call that stubborn / weird (also why I continued to fall of my foiling board).
Then when watching a game of rugby that my son and Matthew’s son were playing together, I made the decision to sign up. We had been talking again about it, he assured me I would not have an issue if I did the training, and I knew the only way I would do it was if I signed up and paid my fees and made the commitment. He was going to do this one so I thought great, I can do this with him, so that night I signed up.
It felt good, the website was super organised, it is a very well run global organisation Ironman, the experience was easy, the pictures looked amazing, everyone looked like they loved it and I spent the rest of the night reading articles like this about people who had done them, training tips. Wow there was so much information it was crazy, but I went to bed feeling great about my decision.
So for anyone who is not aware an Ironman 70.3 is a half Ironman, (yes only half), it consists of a 1.9KM swim (in this instance in a lake), and 90KM bike ride (around the foot of the Blue Mountains) followed last by a 21.5KM run (a half marathon).
All of this is done non-stop and is labelled a race, I am not sure I was ever really in the ‘actual’ race but let’s run with it. It also requires an enormous amount of equipment, all of which I did not have, there were many other things but here are the main items.
For the swim, googles, swimming wetsuit (these things are like no other wetsuit you have every tried on), and incredibly hard to get on, incredibly easy to get off, ultra-thin wetsuit with buoyancy and flexibility in the arms and shoulders (I went for an Orca APEX Flow) and swim cap (provided by Ironman).
For the bike, easily the most expensive part of the race, firstly a road bike, now you can use any bike that is roadworthy, and they do check them when you arrive, but considering the amount of training you will be doing I would suggest a really good one, it will be worth it, I went for Trek Madone SLR 7 Gen 7.
This was expensive, but I have to say I love this bike, it seems to weigh nothing, I think it is around 7kg, which is insane. A bike computer (I went Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT), spare tubes, compressed air, small toolkit, little bag for under the saddle, 2 or 3 high quality drink bottles, lights for training (you train so much it will def be dark at some point) helmet, bike clothing, bike clip in shoes, sun glasses.
You definitely need to get a bike fit completed by a specialist where they make minor adjustments to your own body, trust me when you spend this amount of time riding it makes a huge difference to comfort, as well as making your performance easier and more efficient, again when you are doing this sort of mileage this does count.
I went to Mick Cupitt from MC Bodyworx and this was a great decision, it made the aches and pains from a long ride simply disappear. I also bought a bike trainer (Wahoo KIKR) to train inside when it was raining, but never actually used it, these are expensive, my advice is don’t buy one unless you have too, especially if you live somewhere like Sydney, Australia as the weather was all good 90% of the time.
For the run, well pretty much what you think, a really good set of runners and I highly recommend getting them fitted at a high end store, don’t just buy a cool pair, you simply won’t care when you are 6 hours into the race or running your second half marathon of the week during training. You will need a watch, most likely a Garmin (I went for a Forerunner), it does not matter which ones but some are better for triathlons. You will also need a heart rate monitor, and a clip belt to attach your race number on during the race.
You would think that is it, but no, a Tri-suit is highly recommend, this is worn under the wetsuit and wear for the whole event, they are made to cope with very long periods and I highly recommend one, they are worth the money, again I went the Orca brand, countless supplements, gels, salt tablets, drink mixes, water bottles, various training apps and ideally an online coach.
This was a game changer for me and without 6 months of training under the direction of a coach based in NZ. I went with head trainer Graeme who are amazing, they train all over athlete all over the world, at the time of writing this they have trained over 750 athletes, Graeme was great, he would load up my daily training on Training Peaks app which would then synch with my Garmin watch and Wahoo bike trainer.
All of which would synch with my Strava account. I am not sure I would have, 1, not injured myself training and 2, actually completed the race. So just to prepare you, all up this cost me around $15,000 Australian dollars, actually probably more but I don’t want to think about it anymore. Ok you are ready to go and start training.