Almanac Running: Recollections of Marathon Running and Triathlons from an Old-Timer

 

Wayne Matthews from Ballarat recounts his experiences as a runner of marathons, triathlons, and ironman events nationally and internationally. 

 

 

Wayne Matthews competing in Ironman Australia 2014

 

 

Running a Marathon, swimming the Pier to Pub, or cycling to the summit of Mont Ventoux are activities for other people.  For me, I could only look on in admiration, along with an underlying acceptance of my own ineptness.  Some nineteen years ago when I was in my early fifties, and with considerable persuasion from others, I left a thirty-five year lay-off behind to run with an early morning running group, The Tann Clan, in Ballarat.  The group was formed in 1983 by Richard Tann.  Richard is now 85 years young and continues to guide the group and has humbly mentored hundreds upon hundreds of aspiring marathoners.  Some ten years passed and a similar number of Melbourne and Great Ocean Road marathons completed, an evolving process had included cycling and swimming to the weekly training program.

 

In May, 2012 I competed in my first Ironman Australia triathlon at Port Macquarie.  An Ironman triathlon comprises a 3.8km swim, followed by a 180km bike leg and finishing with the 42.2km marathon.  Three years later in 2015, there had been several days of heavy rain prior to the event.  Debris, including tree branches and deceased animals were drifting on the Hastings River swim course.  The contamination affected many participants causing some to withdraw, while others who were suffering the effects, became physically ill. Possibly, driven by a personal sense of achievement, they resolutely continued on to finish the event.  The following morning, on checking the results I had somehow managed third place in my age group.

 

 

 

 

Two months later in July, 2015, my wife Marcia and I travelled to Whistler BC, for the Ironman Canada triathlon.  It was the culmination of many months of planning, booking flights, accommodation and concert tickets.  We arrived at Vancouver Airport after midnight and I was relieved when we collected our luggage to find my bike had also negotiated the change-over at Hong Kong.  The following day we boarded the coach for the 120km road trip to Whistler. Bushfires were burning in the vast forests of British Columbia and the smoke haze from the fires lessened the visibility of an imposing landscape. Fortunately, over the next few days rain fell and the fires were extinguished.

 

We had arrived in Whistler some two weeks before the event, which allowed time to become familiar with the course. Particularly the hill climbing sections of the bike leg.  Arriving early also gave us an opportunity to return to Vancouver and take the ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island for four days.

 

Early Sunday morning, 26th July, under grey clouds and drizzling rain, the mass swim start with 2,400 competitors was chaotic. As well as Canadians, there were Americans, New Zealanders, Australians and Europeans participating in the event. The first kilometre took some time trying to avoid other swimmers and finding my own space and rhythm. Once settled, thoughts turned to long, easy strokes with minimal exertion as there was a long hard day ahead. The last 500 metres became difficult contending with a crosswind and choppy waves.  An indication of the approaching cold weather front.  Eventually leaving Alta Lake behind and into the cramped space of the swim to bike transition to change from the wetsuit and replace with bike shoes and helmet.

 

Once finding my bike among the rows of racks it was a considerable distance manoeuvring the bike before clearing transition and setting off.  Within a few minutes it was raining heavily, and cold.  So cold I’m shivering, and so are the handlebars. This is a Canadian summer so naturally I’m dressed as if it was Noosa.  It was difficult to see the road ahead and torrents of rain-water were flowing across the wheel rims of my bike making it difficult to stay upright.  I noticed Marcia sheltering beneath a veranda, she was shaking her head.  So early into the ride and my thoughts are, “I’m not going to get through this.”  These negative thoughts persisted.  I reminded myself, “You didn’t come here to pull out.”  Which became, “Keep going until they call it off.”  At 22km the rain stopped and the 13km ascent to the mountain summit began.  Feeling more comfortable and working the now familiar climb.  Past the ski jump which is close to the turnaround point at the summit.  The road was drier for the technical descent and return through Whistler.

 

From Whistler, the Sea to Sky Highway descends for 32kms to Pemberton and a further 50kms of riding through the valley.  An occasional opportunity to glimpse the landscape suggested it was reasonably scenic.  Returning through Pemberton, the last 30km to complete the bike leg is uphill, often a gradient of 8 percent or more.  A relentless grind.

 

To the run with more hills and an unforeseen early deviation as father and mother bear find the desire to become more acquainted. The run course was a series of forest trails, undulating hills and lake foreshores.  Running steadily for the first 20kms before the old body decided to complain.  Often the consequence of not taking enough nutrition or fluids.  At various points there are cheering spectators, some manipulated strange instruments which emitted even stranger noises.  Otherwise, it was eerily quiet.

 

With 3km to the finish and twilight approaching, it’s raining again.  However, now it’s a relief.  The end is near.  Through the tree-lined streets of Whistler, where a large crowd huddled in the chilly evening air.  The sound of inspiring music and an enthusiastic commentator announced each finisher’s name and where they’re from as they slowly ran, walked, stumbled, painfully tired, yet elated to cross the line.  Seventh place in my age group and second quickest bike time was beyond belief when your aim is to simply finish.

 

 

 

 

Following the event, we continued on to New York, Boston and Providence before returning to Vancouver on the homeward journey.  I had been able to leave my bike and gear in Vancouver following the event.    We returned home in early September and a few weeks later made our way to Port Macquarie for the 70.3 (half-Ironman distance) Australian Age-Group Championships.  In February, 2016 we travelled to New Zealand for their Ironman triathlon at Taupo.  The clear water of an expansive Lake Taupo and a mountain backdrop was a magnificent setting.  The bike leg followed a reasonably flat course through the Waikato region before an undulating, no, a difficult and hilly run. Very early into the run this slow learner was reminded, albeit too late, of the need to eat and drink before the internal workings decline the fare on offer.  No need to mention where the contents ended up.  Nevertheless, a wonderful and memorable experience.

 

One morning after a training session, and chatting over coffee, a training partner in a reflective moment implied a triathlete was someone who didn’t understand that one sport was hard enough.  Countless laps of looking at the black line at the bottom of the pool, pushing yourself on the bike repeatedly up every hill you could find, and running and running.  Learning all the time.  Recognising and understanding your strengths and frailties.  Can there be one more time?  I don’t think so, not to compete.  This septuagenarian is content now to roll through a few laps of the pool and try to keep up with the morning running group.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Fabulous read Nod, an inspiration to us all!

  2. Unbelievably inspirational stuff, Wayne. Thanks and congrats.

  3. February 23, 2021 at 9:31 pm
    You are such an inspiration Wayne!
    Well done and thankyou for sharing your fantastic story.

  4. Peter Fuller says

    Wayne,
    Thank you for this amazing account of your career. I’m astounded by your achievements. Although I’m a keen runner, triathlons are out of the question for me. My bike riding is casual, shopping trips and the like, and I’m a poor swimmer. Just contemplating a full marathon after a swim and cycle ride of such daunting length exhausts me. I have twice completed 50K marathons, but on two other occasions squibbed the extra 8 k and settled for the bare marathon distance.
    I particularly admire the fact that you picked up the activity after long years of idleness, unlike me. You remind of two wonderful athletes, Ken Matchett who began distance running in his fifties and was doing multiple marathons in his eighties, and the incomparable Des Renford, who as I understand it took up endurance swimming at 39. He completed 19 crossings of the English Channel.in just 10 years.

  5. Amazing!!!
    I am curious, but I gather that if you are still running you must not have any significant long term issues with injuries or burnt out joints etc.
    Keep on going.

  6. Extraordinary Wayne. Terrific read.

    What is it about Ballaratians and marathons? The town produces more than its fair share of long distance runners.

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