The news reported Tony Abbott's physical achievement which brought attention to his politics, his policies and the time he spends on them. We should therefore ask, what is the IronMan Triathlon and, and what did Abbott face on this 14 hour day?
From Jeremy Dover's personal experience, this is what he and every IronMan Triathlete goes through.
The Australian IronMan Triathlon was originally held at Forster-Tuncurry on the NSW north coast. With the increased popularity of the race it was moved to its current home of Port Macquarie, NSW. The IronMan is regarded as the toughest one-day sporting event in the world.
The day starts early with a 3.8km swim. Competitors must then complete a 180km bike ride only to face a full length Olympic distance marathon of 42.2km. For the professional athletes, this means a 8hr 30min work day. For Abbott, it was with overtime, completing in just under 14 hours.
The swim offered Abbott several major challenges. Firstly, as an open water swim with ocean swell and currents meant that Abbott had no black line to follow as pool swimmers do. Navigation in such conditions is hazardous, as Abbott would have to lift his head every few strokes to check his direction (and make sure he was not drifting too much to the political left). Even with the large ocean buoys signalling turning points this can be a challenge.
For the inexperienced ocean swimmer, poor navigation can mean the 3.8km swim can easily become longer, as the swimmer weaves across the course. The other major hazard is the other competitors. With 1464 athletes in the water together, it is not uncommon for athletes to receive injuries from body contact. From arms crashing into other athlete's faces, to being swum over, the swim leg would be more physical than Parliament Question time. While the pros exited the water in just over 46min, Abbott had to suffer longer, exiting in 1hr 27min.
They say the 180km bike leg is where the IronMan is won and lost. For the pros, averaging close to 40km/hr, the bike is critical to putting a gap into their fellow competitors. For Abbott, the bike also was a make-or-break. Most IronMan athletes feel good at the start of the bike. The excitement of finishing the swim and the large crowds mean athletes often go too hard too early on the bike. The other challenge is to maintain fluids and fuel. Abbott would be constantly monitoring his fluid intake.
Water and sports drinks are provided out on the course and Abbott would be drinking over one litre an hour to maintain his effort. Replacing expended energy is also critical, with Abbott eating high carbohydrate fuels such as bananas, sports gels and sandwiches. Abbott's cycling jersey is designed to carry food, but over his 6hr 50min bike he would have stopped at refueling stations to stock-up on essential supplies. The constant cycling movement and the rough road vibrations take their toll on even the experienced athletes. Combined with the exposure to the sun and wind, the bike leg provided Abbott with a real test of physical and emotional stamina.
If this was not enough, after a quick change of clothing, Abbott started the 42km marathon. By itself the marathon is regarded as a tough test of endurance. However, doing a marathon after 8hrs of swimming and cycling is regarded as crazy! The pros seem not to care, running under 3hrs for the marathon. For most of the 1464 competitors, including Abbott, the marathon becomes a survival shuffle.
It is during the run when athletes "hit the wall." The term is used to describe when an athlete runs out of energy in the muscles and blood sugar levels reach rock bottom. Abbott's legs would become stiff and heavy. His concentration and awareness would be affected, and the desire to stop overwhelming. To attempt to overcome the effects, Abbott would have resorted to drinking sports drinks and even cola for the sugar and caffeine. Even while running, Abbott would have attempted to eat to replace the thousands of kilojoules of energy burnt up over his 5hr 38min marathon.
It is at this moment of adversity that an IronMan is made. Athletes in the IronMan have a close bond which is forged through this harsh experience. The support Abbott received from spectators and other competitors was testimony to this bond. Athletes often acknowledge that it is the cheers and encouraging words from others that get them through. Athletes often set small short-term goals to keep them going, such as running to the next drinks station. Kilometer by kilometer, step by step, Abbott would have battled through the run.
It is Australian IronMan tradition that spectators and competitors don't leave the finish precinct until the last competitor crosses the line. To finish an IronMan is the ultimate test of endurance, and all IronMan competitors and spectators stay to honour every athlete's efforts. As Abbott ran down the long finishing chute the 13hr 57mins of pain would have been all but a memory and the elation of finishing overwhelming. The smile on Abbott's face tells a story of an athlete that, like 1464 others, made it through the toughest one-day sporting event in the world.
Time will tell if Abbott succeeds in winning the top job in politics, but his efforts at the IronMan Triathlon have won him praise from his fellow IronMan competitors.
The endurance needed to complete sporting events like the IronMan is often compared to the endurance needed for a Christian.
The Bible talks about the need for endurance in the Christian faith. What is called for is keeping going when times are tough. The cheers from the great crowd of other believers spurs the Christian on towards the finish line. The cheer is to remind the Christian to keep eyes fixed on Jesus as the one that has already won the race and who is our coach guiding us on to the prize. And the prize is described as a vibrant relationship with Jesus.