I recently caught up with Mick Schuddinh, a Bayside member who this year competed in his first Ironman event. Read on to find out more about this epic adventure that Mick embarked on. (Mick and I caught up some time ago, but between the two of us have spent a few months out of the country, so apologies for the delay in writing and publishing Mick’s story).
Interviewing anyone who has completed an Ironman is a great honour. The Ironman label is not won lightly. Inevitably, the first question to open up the conversation is “So what made you decide you wanted to do an Ironman triathlon?” Mick credits Ian Watt with planting the seed in his mind many years ago. “After a swimming session, I noticed Ian going out for a run and asked what he was training for. Watty explained Ironman triathlon, and told me the distances involved. I immediately thought ‘this body will not do that’ and packed the idea away. But it didn’t go away.”
The more Mick thought of it, the more he realised that he didn’t want to look back in future and think “I could have done that”. Mick’s answer put me in mind of a quote by author Mark Twain:
So he approached his coach, Karen Short and talked to her about doing a half Ironman. Mick describes his first 70.3 as superb and realised after tackling the Sunshine Coast course in September 2014 that he could in fact do a full Ironman event.
The only limitation that Mick had to successfully undertaking the challenge was his eyesight. Mick has a condition known as Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). RP is the collective name for a range of diseases that damage the light sensitive cells of the retina and cause vision to fade. The condition means that Mick has difficulty seeing in bright, glary conditions, changing light (eg going from light to dark to light) and has limited peripheral vision as well. So the biggest challenge was going to be the run, as it was anticipated that Mick would be running in the dark. His coach came up with the idea of running with a headlamp to assist with his vision, and Mick began his training.
3 months prior to the event, Mick and his wife Marion made the decision that Mick would require a guide to assist him with the run leg. While he thought he would be able to squeeze 10-15km out of the remaining light in tropical Cairns, there was still another 30ish km that he would effectively be running blind. Marion began to train for a 30km run so she could act as his guide for the end of the run. This required special permission to be granted for Marion to run alongside Mick, with strict directions that she was not to run down the chute at the end – but more on that outcome later in the story!
Mick doesn’t mince words when he says that the training is tough. In his words, “you have to approach your training properly.” He gave his coach two goals – 1 to get ready and get fit, and 2 to do so injury free. With his limited vision, Mick was restricted to a lot of wind trainer sessions on the bike, including regular sessions at Cam’s Cycle Coaching to simulate the Cairns Ironman course on the Computrainers. To his credit, he never shirked away from the tough stuff, even riding 90km around the Murarrie Crit Track to get his hours on the bike up.
I asked what it was like to transition back onto the road after spending so much time on the trainer. Mick describes it as like a meat tenderiser hitting him from below!
Thinking of two of his best friends back in South Africa are what helped him get through the pain of training. One friend was diagnosed with cancer, the other had a quadruple bypass and had also been diagnosed with RP (one of the only people over 50 to be diagnosed so late in life). When the going got tough, Mick would think how much his two friends would love to experience the pain that he was in and it assisted in building the mental strength required to get through Ironman training.
And so the day arrived when Team Schuddinh arrived in Cairns, and according to Mick, everything was aligned and to plan. The usual pre-race hiccups occurred, with Marion requiring a wristband to be able to enter transition and Mick leaving his helmet at the hotel and having to drop it in on the morning of the event. Mick speaks highly of the event organisers, and believes that their aim is to get everyone out on course.
The morning of the event, the atmosphere on the bus was electric. Mick knew it was going to be a good day when he got to the beach and Tom Petty was blaring from the stereo speakers. While others saw swell and dirty water, he saw “Paradise”. The swim leg in Cairns involves exiting the water, running around a can and going back into the water for the second half of the swim – something that Mick wasn’t prepared for, but that turned out to be a bonus, as it gave him the opportunity to check his time.
Swimming against the current in the second half, he got out of the water and realised that he had swum about 2-3 minutes slower, but rather than worry about his time, he reminded himself to “remember the plan.” That plan – not racing for a good time or to do well, but to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the event. When I asked about his memories of the day, Mick remembers them as clear as crystal.
In the transition tour, one of the tips that stuck with Mick was to take a proper shower after the swim as the salt can really leach the fluid from the body. It may be that he took that tip a little too seriously as he spent quite a good deal of time having the shower, and Marion had to track him down under the showers.
Mick credits all of the volunteers and the marshals on the day for their attitude and assistance. His nephew in South Africa, who was watching footage of the race even managed to capture a screenshot of Mick and one of his volunteer guides who was leading him to the bike transition – something Mick is grateful for, as he remembers the assistance rendered by that particular volunteer.
Sections of the bike ride proved difficult, especially the road out of transition, that not only had humps to negotiate, but areas of light and shade making it difficult to see. Mick wore a bib to identify that he has vision and hearing impairments to alert fellow competitors on course. He also called out to marshals and volunteers to ensure he didn’t get lost on course. At one stage, he even found a female rider to keep in sight, but admits that he just couldn’t stick with her. I believe in triathlon terms, that’s called “getting chicked”, Mick!
Cairns is known for its hills, but when I asked how he found the climbs, he remembers thinking at the time, “Is this it?”. The hours spent on course on the Computrainers had certainly paid off. And just as his plan said, he soaked up the atmosphere by stopping at the top of the lookout and enjoying the spectacle below.
Even the rain couldn’t dampen his spirits, as the cloud cover provided standard light and makes it easier for Mick to see. Looking back, Mick saw that he was 365th out of the swim, but by the time he was getting off the bike, he had moved to 1222nd off the bike, however he did let me know that there were still others on course while he was coming in.
Mick claims that his bike is the cheapest bike to ever do an IM – it being a cheap off the rack bike from Kmart. Coach Karen Short tried to convince him to buy a new bike, but he just couldn’t justify it. So it was a matter of ensuring he had the best bike set up possible to keep him comfortable on the bike and Toby got it just right for race day.
It was during the last part of the bike that Mick realised he wasn’t going to be able to complete any of the run leg without assistance. Marion had expressed her concern previously, and had hoped that she would let him down. As Mick pointed out, she was going to be running on fresh legs, his would be fatigued.
When they discussed race strategy, Mick told Marion that he didn’t want to walk, he wanted to run the entire event. He may have later regretted sharing those thoughts, as Marion proved quite the taskmaster of keeping him on track and keeping him moving during the run. At one point, Mick noted that he told Marion he needed to walk, but she was having none of it and kept them moving along.
I was fortunate to be a spectator at Ironman Cairns, and I must say that I saw the dynamic duo pass me three times while I was watching the run leg. You could not wipe the smiles off the faces of these two amazing athletes as they completed the marathon-length run. Fitted with a bright bib that advised that Mick has vision and hearing impairment, he was clearly a crowd favorite, because I could clearly hear the crowd roar as they were coming, well before I got a visual on them. They both clearly looked like they were soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying the gorgeous Cairns evening.
As they approached the finish line, Mick questioned a marshal to find out who would escort him down the chute for the final red carpet run. Prior to the race, Mick had been advised that although Marion would be allowed to run with him, she would not be allowed onto the chute and he would have to run it by himself (or with the aid of an on-course marshal). Have you ever been at the end of an Ironman after dark? There are lights flashing everywhere, loud music, people screaming and clapping – not exactly the ideal conditions for an athlete suffering from RP to run “blind” for 150 odd metres! However, you have to comply by the limitations set by the Race Organiser, so the plan was that Marion would try to run around the back of the chute and capture the moment that Mick crossed the line.
Approaching the chute, Mick asked the marshals who would escort him down the runway. The marshal looked at him and said “your wife”. When Mick explained that he had been told that she couldn’t, they told him in no uncertain terms, “your wife has run with you and she will finish with you.” Mick describes the finish line like sharing the ultimate moment, and that that was the best. Marion had a lump in her throat as they crossed the line. Looking closely at the finisher photo, you’ll notice that Mick is holding the headlamp that he had initially planned to wear for the run. He carried it the entire 42.2km and is holding it aloft as he crossed the line, but let’s face it, it’s the last thing on his mind as he crosses the line in 14.59:30 and hears the words, “Mick Schuddinh, you are an Ironman” .
After collecting his towel and his medal (they also gave a towel to Marion, however she turned down the offer of the medal, as she hadn’t completed the other two disciplines), Mick’s first thoughts were “I need a Coke” and then they were off to the pub for a beer. They knew the pub would still be open, because Mick had checked with the publican pre-race to ensure they would be trading late.
When I questioned Mick about his post-race recovery, he said he slept well and attributed only a small amount of hamstring tightness to the training he did in the lead up to the race. Looking back at the race as we spoke, he noted what an experience it was, what a journey he had been on. His main motivation for completing the event was that he would hate to look back and think that he could have done that had been realised – now he will look back and think, “I did that”.
Mick hasn’t ruled out future endurance events. He’s currently plowing through the necessary medical paperwork to determine his eligibility as an entrant in the Para-athlete category. We’ll keep you posted with more info when we have some results to let you know where to watch for Mick in future events.