A pitstop in Melbourne on Ironman journey for the SriLankan Airlines half marathon

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For most of us, Melbourne is situated in a galaxy far, far away.

A city of historic sports venues, pristine Victorian architecture, trendy coffee shops and laid-back citizens is apparently of this planet, but it’s hard to verify when it wakes up just as the sun is setting nearly everywhere else.

I travelled more than 11,000 kilometres to find out – and ran another 21.1 of them when I got there.

IRONMAN INTERLUDE

With Ironman Arizona looming next month – a challenge in which competitors traverse a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike course and a marathon to finish – flying halfway around the world is certainly not what my coach Dmitriy had prescribed.

With his (reluctant) blessing, however, I stepped aboard the SriLankan Airlines flight bound for Melbourne, via Colombo, and despite the 14 hours of combined air travel that obliterated my personal record, the flight proved far less intimidating than I’d imagined.

As for the legs, already weighed down by months of Ironman training, they were as stiff as a jar of pickles. And it wasn’t a week of relaxation that had tempted me Down Under – I was going to be touring Melbourne quite literally on the go.

CRADLE OF SPORT

The Melbourne Marathon Festival is held just as Australia closes the book on its winter sports, chiefly Aussie Rules and rugby, and ushers in its spring and summer pastimes.

No matter the season, though, the place reverberates with the echoes of Australia sporting legends. Stand on a particular balcony of the MCG, the shrine to Australian cricket, and you’ll have a full view of the Rod Laver Arena – with Margaret Court Arena peeking out from just behind – where the Australian Open is held every January.

Turn 45 degrees west and the multi-purpose Melbourne Arena, which is also used for tennis, is in full view. A stone’s throw behind that is AAMI Park, where the city’s rugby league and union teams play as well as football club tenants Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City.

I’d be touring some of these famous sites on my feet for the SriLankan Airlines half marathon, though it would be at the MCG where I’d finish my pilgrimage.

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It’s less stadium, more gladiatorial arena.  Down on the field hemmed in by each stand, it must feel like a bearpit for English batsmen when surrounded by 90,000-plus baying Aussies.

Thankfully, those in the stands for the half marathon would all be on my side. There was however a two-hour detour to navigate first.

RACE DAY

Having sampled the gastronomic delights of Melbourne rather extravagantly in the preceding two days – and worked up an angry little blister between my toes – the rest of the field didn’t have to worry.

But I wasn’t there to do a Kipchoge. Dmitriy’s race plan was to top heart rate out at 155, around 80 per cent of my maximum, for the first 11k before cranking up the pace bit by bit towards the end.

There was enough to take the mind off my grumbling foot alongside a record-breaking 37,000 festival participants, as we wended our way around the streets and parks of Melbourne.

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First we paid our respects to St Paul’s Cathedral, turned left from there before bisecting Federation Square and Flinders Street station, the historic nerve centre of Australia’s railways.

Over the Yarra river next, chaperoned by the botanic gardens, art centres and museums onto the leafy boulevard of St Kilda.

Formula One fans can pay homage to Albert Park and amble around that famous lake, though a lap will take you around half-an-hour longer to negotiate than Lewis Hamilton and company.

Then it’s back up towards the MCG, where at this point I finally started to reel in some of the runners who’d gone out a little too hot.

Apart from causing a minor spillage at a water station where I’d over-exuberantly joined the ‘queue’, the race had gone without incident.

The legs were starting to moan, but there were no complaints from me having trudged soullessly on the treadmill through the Dubai summer months.

A light breeze, puffs of cloud, even a spot of rain – as a Brit I was in my element.

As I rounded into the MCG, I may not have swept the spectators off their feet, but I went on to beat my first-ever half-marathon back in February by nearly half an hour with a time of 2hr 20min.

Surviving and not thriving – the Ironman mentality. Melbourne, I’ll be seeing you again.

COACH’S CORNER

Dmitriy Firsov – ILSS Dubai coach

It’s now less than five weeks to go and we’re now in the final preparation stage for the Ironman. There will be two more weeks of heavy loading, and then we have a main workout which will start our tapering three weeks before.

The deloading process decreases the volume, but keeps the intensity on a high level. That will help us increase the performance on race day, while being able to recover better between workouts.

Acclimatising to a different place can cause some short-term dysfunction, so you may feel a headache, tired, or even get sick because of what is happening to your body when you travel to a new location – especially with the jet lag when you’re adapting to a new timeframe.

When you travel to a competition it’s a different story, as you’ll be planning it specifically months in advance and you’ll be at the peak of your performance. We’ll be taking that into consideration up to raceday in Arizona.

To recover from travel first and foremost you need a lot of sleep, then easy workouts just to make sure the body adapt softly and not have an effect on overall health and performance. You also want to make sure you’re eating the usual food and taking the same supplementation, else it might affect your digestive system.

Also, when you’re travelling to a new timezone, try and initially eat close to your regular dining times at home. Maintaining those habits helps your body adapt faster.

Has the half marathon hurt Chris’ preparations? Yes and no.

Yes that it’s a long way to travel and to a place where he’s never been.

But the half marathon itself, no, as I was told in advance and we implemented the appropriate workouts around it. The race counted as loading, so we weren’t dragged out of the process itself.

If you’re interested in getting into triathlon or improving your times, check out the ILSS Dubai, the UAE’s best endurance sports school – especially with Ironman Dubai 70.3 coming up.

The registration opens on October 28, with the race confirmed for February 7 next year. For group classes, private plans and more, visit https://dubai.ilovesupersport.com/.

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